This Saturday, May 30th at 12pm, I’ll be performing a virtual reading of my favorite parts of Walt Whitman’s Leaves Of Grass for his 201st birthday, as part of Laurel Hill Cemetery’s #ArtistryAboveGroundMarket. I’ll also read from Joy Harjo’s An American Sunrise, a collection of poetry by our current poet laureate that offers an indigenous perspective on the American pastoral. This reading will be followed by a demo where I lead the audience through my writing process for spontaneous typewritten poetry.
As part of the virtual market, I’ll also be typing poetry on demand based on requests given in real time. Follow the link and sign up for a time to get a poem on any topic and support the other vendors at one of the coolest cemeteries in Philadelphia.
I think as a contemporary writer, it’s important to pay homage to the literary giants who drafted the modern canon before us. I think it’s also the task of every poet out there now to find ways to celebrate the writers who redraft and update this canon for the present moment. I’m excited to share these two narratives in celebration of one of Philly’s literary voices on his 201st trip around the sun. Hope to see you there! . . 📸 by Alexa Lewis
The moon comes out from behind the fog
Radiant and alluring
She has so much to say
And yet she remains
Perhaps musing where the ocean tide will take her next
Charm in a smile that makes the coyote howl
I have dreams of her
And they always end badly
But the reality is much more satisfying
For in my waking state
I know it is better to stand back
And admire her glow.
This morning I watched the fog roll in off the ocean, expand over the bay, and traverse the hillside like an invisibility cloak transporting us all into the spirit world with ghostly wonder. I felt the sadness in the stillness when I looked at it from afar behind a closed window, but once outside in its embrace I felt its potential for casting magic, the full moon already set and the sun not quite over the horizon though gaining momentum, the whole scene ripe for a vision. In my half awakened stupor I light a block of palo santo wood and a stick of incense for vitality. The sunlight begins to break through and for a moment I breathe out huge funnels of smoke and behind it what I expect is fire. There is a gift in this rebirth, this revolution in the fog, the dense vapors passing over me and soaking every living thing in its wake. There is the insight that every day is temporal and this reality a shift in perspective from dreamworld to the living. Ultimately, the trick is being able to lessen the instituted divide between waking life and the wandering dream body. But I already know this from my own studies and I think to myself about each time I have been faced with the metaphysical transportation through a cloud and what it has offered along this trip. The animal spirits found in Crater Lake and the dreams of giants up on Shasta. I laugh a little that perhaps the next time I find myself in the fog again drifting so deep I will finally have the balls to take the leap and attempt to fly. Perhaps my dream body will carry me higher up into the sky. And my vision will take me to a place deep inside myself and closer to my own being than I have ever been before. The invisibility cloak wraps around me tighter and I and this city, still blowing smoke and fire, we all disappear.
Mountains so high they turn blue along the horizon Everything covered in an earthy layer of lichen Detritus and fungal matrimony Reshaping the heavy landing Wearing away at the jagged crags That space and time spent eons waiting to form Working on one stone at a time Relatively, in the blink of an eye A whole range of mountains beginning to disappear Like a whole clan of humble Buddhas Transcending the otherwise normal egocentric dive.
To all the beavers swimming past The water snakes shedding skin Fish big and small hopping into the wind The bald eagles flapping heavily The mournful loon echoing through the trees The geese gliding gallantly The icy water that is everywhere The fog rising up thick like outstretched arms The mountains in and out of consciousness The water bugs The floating flowers The dog sleeping in the cabin The crickets The daddy long legs The bat with a broken wing To all of you and everything else To every single one of you I want to say Good morning Good morning, Maine Good morning and hurrah! hooray!
We went to Maine and all we found was the American Dream.
Camped out on a lake in the mountains Swam and canoed in the clouds in the morning Felt the stillness, the subtelty, the cool-breeze warmth of this raw American dreamland and then rested a little till early afternoon. There is where there were trees floating in fog that swayed like men And men standing nearby that settled down like the trees on the horizon With leaves changing all the shades of red and orange. Islands only approachable during low tide. Whole areas of land rustic and uncivilized Small hill tops Water like glass Heaven’s playground Hop to and fro Gallop like a goose In the honky tonk air This is how simple life could be Fashion yourself a rich pilgrim And climb into the ease of the earth Don’t think too deeply Just imagine you are there And there you will be The American Dream Opening up wide at the seams.
This one goes out to my main man, Walt Whitman! But also Ben Frank and Betsy Ross who keep equal watch over this resourceful river front in Philadelphia. And to Marian McLaughlin and Ethan Foote for sharing this awe-inspiring adventure with me today. And my buddy Matt Bennett for first putting the terminology of how a forest first finds it’s roots onto my periphery. Peace and love. Peace and love. Peace and love, my friends!
Where The Water Meets The Wind
Hold fast, my dear Hang on for dear life. The breeze that pushes against the sails of your soul And gives you flight Is also what stirs the butterflies Fluttering their little hopeful hearts Careening down the stream A warm vibration Across the river top Making eddies and waves against this abandoned pier
Hold fast, my dear. Hang on for dear life. In the abandoned land of industry Lies a quiet revolution Slowly growing Making waves of its own As well as peaceful eddies For us to find our balance in.
There one can spread out fully In a meadow Surrounded by sunflowers Slowly growing In the cracks of urban decay Replacing destructive habits With a new reality.
It was the muse who first brought me here When I was still finding my way Now that I am back again I see what I have been missing all along Even in a city, There are places where things still lie still Where flocks of gold finches Fly neon yellow wings in the summer sun And crickets sing their tribal chorus In tall grass made to lie upon Where local herbal remedies Slowly grow naturally Repopulating what was once arid With a truly holistic scene.
See, let it be still. Let the earth take root. Let it gain some energy. And soon enough, Along the side of the long eroded jetty You can find the magnificent color Of purple thistle Hanging on to the wind Where it meets with the water.
Today I am all poetry. Some days, not so much. But today everything I do is poetry. Everything I feel is poetry. Everything I write is poetry. Today I am all poetry. And these are the kinds of days I look forward too. The morning starts with pleasant dreams And a humble dance with bedside literature. When I finally venture out, the warm sun is there to greet me. Blue skies and playful clouds Turning from one recognizable shape into the next The birds chatter and without anything better to do I hike in a park and climb a mountain The city rolls away from me Along with its depression Instead there is only the earth and me And today I am all poetry These are the days I look forward to.
Thunder showers pass over the city Washing away all of this heat wave Along with the aggression The confusion The violence The starvation We are going to live through this summer And this rainwater is going to nurture us like no other.
A poet’s job is to breech people’s short attention spans with a timelessness that exposes them to another layer of reality. This new layer could involve mythology. Or it could be all astrology. Mescaline or some other pseudoscience. Acid and dream theory. Meditation or just plain simple unrelenting intimacy.
The point though is that we are in fact a very closed sort of people. Poetry is the life force to open us up. The same could be said about all forms of art, though with poetry this process just happens to be the most literal.
The best poetry is that which connects the greatest amount of people to this other side. To do so, it needs to be simple. It needs to be in the same language as that which is popular at the time. It needs to do all of this and somehow still manage to stand the test of time. So that it stays current for many more generations to come.
This is what makes good poetry hard. It’s also what makes it so easy.
None of this clouded meaning, inside joke, tongue in cheek, meta drivel.
We need something that is real. Something honest. That’s got feeling. The word on the street. Leave no reader behind.