My in-box bore a gift on this rainy Friday morning: a link to this lovely review of Americana via the Alabama Writers’ Forum and reviewer Jim Murphy, a fine poet and scholar in his own right! It’s always nice to be read at all, but to be read generously, closely, and well is almost more than any poet can expect these days. After all, there’s a lot of poetry out there. Count me happy to have contributed my one voice in the eight millions…and (as ever) ecstatic to have had it heard!
The fine folks at the Nitty Gritty Magic City Reading Series have invited me to read alongside two of my inimitable colleagues at ASFA, Kwoya Fagin Maples and Ashley Jones. This’ll be the first time I’ll be reading from Americana, and I’ll have copies of the book available for purchase at the event. Fun times. Here’s the details and coordinates:
- Where: Birmingham Museum of Art
- When: Friday, October 16 @ 7 p.m.
- Why: Poetry!
Leaving Las Vegas…
My first inclination toward Vegas is to call it what it is: lowest common denominator sensualism. Excessive. Gross. Way, way too crowded. Way too smoky. Way too expensive, bright, loud. Oversexed, obsessive. Mindless and meat-headed.
My second inclination is to leave it at that and never go back there. And I probably won’t go back. But I’m glad I went the once.
I went there to reconnect with old friends, and that alone made enduring the excess worth it. As a man of a certain age, one who’s settled hundreds of miles away from his boyhood stomping grounds, the opportunities for concentrated catch-up time with chums from schooldays are few(er) and far(ther) between.
I’m also an American. And a writer. I like to think about our foibles. And our marvels. And I like to think in metaphors.
The thing to remember — maybe even the takeaway — about Las Vegas is that it’s set in the desert. Not just any desert but a rocky and austere moonscape. Drive just a few miles out into it — away from the neon technicolor blare — and thoughts turn to other sorts of marvels. How does that bush, that hummingbird survive here? Yes, the Hoover Dam and Lake Mead — plus, of course, the trompe l’oeil Sin City they’ve made possible — are true marvels of human imagination, invention, ingenuity…but how on this stark and dusty red rock did ancient humans survive and thrive here? Yet they did. With nary a casino in sight.
I believe in God, which means I believe in One Soul. I believe it’s complicated. I believe I don’t understand it, and I’m pretty sure I’m not supposed to understand it. Paradox and inconsistency — what we might be inclined to call chaos; what we might label as one form of excess or another (sensuality | austerity), the needle lurching awkwardly toward either end of that strange continuum; what drives us forward, what reins us in…this continuous becoming and unfolding, doing and undoing, gain and loss, gathering, dispersal…
Vegas is an expression of that, full and concentrated. Unapologetically human. If not a celebration of our ambiguous, multifaceted Oneness then at least an opportunity to come face-to-face with it. Foibles. Marvels. Lush, dry. All of it. In all of us. Even — especially — if we don’t care to admit it.
(1) Unlearning no. No can be useful. Don’t get me wrong. But usually it’s debilitating. Almost always, actually. | (2) A little dog called Marilyn. | (3) Pearl Jam. | (4) Cut grass. | (5) Goya products. | (6) Which is to say: Adobo… (7) Sofrito… (8) Sazon (a unique seasoning) con Azafran… (9) Sazon (a unique seasoning) con Culantro y Achiote… | (10) Which is to say: ghosts. Culinary ones. But all kinds. | (11) Which is to say J–, medium, necromancer, exorcist, and etc. | (12) The fact that it is much easier to move me to tears now. | (13) How May 2015 has somehow become this trip into the Underworld. Shades of the past. Wherein I get right and get ready to move on. | (14) This dream I had, of my dad, where I walked with him into the Appalachian mountains, my favorite place on earth (really) and all we did was talk about how beautiful everything was. (Okay. Yes. I’m crying right now.) | (15) Talking to people I’ve dreamed up, people I can imagine being real. | (16) Stew beans. | (17) Fried pork chops. But I mean, fried. Like submerged in angry oil. | (18) Plantains. | (19) Abundant starches. | (20) Filling your (my, her, his, our?) belly. | (21) How all good food is peasant food and how everybody knows that and how it’s always been true and it always will be. The mouth and the stomach (and etc.) are two places that connect us to everything that lives. How…well, right: how “all of that” works, how it animates us. | (22) Astral Weeks. On a Sunday afternoon. | (23) I said cut grass, right? But. I really like it. (I like it having been done. Will you cut my grass? Please?) | (24) This bittersweet season. Any teacher knows what I mean: light at the end of the tunnel, long goodbye. | (25) My mother. Who I choose to believe is animating this particular bittersweet season, in order to facilitate #13 above. Because she loves me and (still, always) knows exactly what I need. Now she’s just, you know, putting her thumb on the scale. | (26) “Daughter.” | (27) A Bolognese simmering on the stove. | (28) Sunlight. | (29) Silence. | (30) My sisters.
He cut supremes, dreamed this succulent flesh tracing the sweet woman’s dry lips.
(1) My warrior girlfriend. | (2) Mid-spring in Alabama. | (3) Poetry. | (4) Fiction. | (5) Interstellar, which is actually a good movie. | (6) Risk. | (7) Makeshift cioppino. | (8) Anthony Bourdain. | (9) Television. | (10) Acupuncture. | (11) Jason Slatton. | (12) Ben Gunsberg. | (13) Stuart Flynn. | (14) Don Gilliland. | (15) Mark Neely. | (16) Eddie Watson. | (17) John Malatino. | (18) Mike Hamilton. | (19) Se Chung. | (20) Rob Waller. | (21) Athansios Demetrios Gadonas. | (22) Robin Heilig. | (23) Okello Dunkley. | (24) Frank Talbert. | (25) Which is to say (#17 – #24): the Nerd Herd. | (26) Also surreptitious late 20th Century soccer girls: nee Hellmuths and Hales and etc. | (27) Which is to say (#1 – #26): my people. | (28) Which is to say: nostalgia and beauty and that which is inherently famil(y)iar. | (29) Which is to say: Hope and Faith and, which is mostly — only — to say, (30) Love.
Our way was to dive, deep. Then the tensile surface language revealed itself.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars. So sometimes you know the poet. Sometimes you’ve known the poet for a long time, and you know where the bodies are buried. More or less. I know Mark Neely. I’ve known him a long time. I’ve eaten his chili. I’ve stared into the guileless eyes of the beautiful dog he named after Walt Whitman. And I’ve read his two books of poems. The first I loved. Not only (but not least) because I knew where the bodies were buried. This one I love because he’s made the daring leap the first book promised. From consummate craftsman to essential, necessary voice.
(1) Beets. | (2) Beet greens. | (3) Baccalow. | (4) Chayote. | (5) Yucca. | (6) Plantains. | (7) Poetry collections by guys named Mark/Marc: Dirty Bomb by Mark Neely and Bewilderness by Marc McKee. | (8) Typing standing up. | (9) Saturdays. | (10) Sundays. | (11) J—‘s family pictures. | (12) Mad Men. | (13) Lemon balm. | (14) Valerian. | (15) Scones and coffee on Sunday morning. | (16) The honeysuckle on the fence. | (17) J— in the backyard, in the magic-hour afternoon sunlight. | (18) My purple pen. | (19) Kind bars, especially the ones with sea salt in them. | (20) Instant oatmeal (with extra fiber!). | (21) Praying. | (22) Eating better. | (23) Drinking water. | (24) Stolen moments of meditation. | (25) Tea on Wednesdays after work. | (26) Reading poetry. | (27) Washing dishes by hand. | (28) How 26 and 27 can also be 24. | (29) Fungee. | (30) Exercise. With J—.