My Feet

Today’s piece uses words from a more modern poem from a Minnesota poet: Renée Robbins. I met Renée after this piece was written, but I recall going with her to a very nice soirée celebrating the publication of this collection of poems by Minnesota poets, including her “My Feet”,  40 years ago.

A Coloring Book of Poetry for Adults

A good attempt at a broad-view of 70s Minnesota poets, including Renée.
Oddly, I can’t find the credit for the cover artist. Anyone know?

 

This was the 1970s, and from our age or our ages, an optimistic time to be a poet in Minnesota. Running down a list of names, I’ll slight anyone I leave off out of concerns of length and focus, but locally it was still the age of Robert Bly, John Berryman, and James Wright. Minnesota literature, at that time, seemed to have placed poetry at least equal to the novel or memoir.

I had come recently from New York and had reconnected with Dave Moore who had finished college. I was writing furiously, filled with a Twenty-Something desire to set on the page all the patterns I could see in our still forming lives. Renée had taken a shorter trip, going to college first in Duluth and then in Marshall Minnesota where she studied with Phil Dacey.

There is a longer story here, full, like most life stories, with twists that seem meaningful to us—even if not invested with the same importance by fatebut let’s return to poets, and the 1970s, and Minnesota.

Renee Robbins 1970s

Renée Robbins, later the 1970s

 

Note that truncated list I gave of the exciting characters, the names of poets that would be in someway connected to Minnesota in that time. No women. I find that odd. No similar list of the most notable contemporary poets in the United States made the middle ‘70s would be so gender singular. Is this an accident, a side-effect of the stubborn impact of Robert Bly locally, a reflection of a lingering patriarchy, or just a reflection of my own framing as I look backwards? It could be all of them I suppose. Established names or not, woman’s voices were coming forward.

Renée and I fell in love. Eventually we married. Eventually she got sick and died shortly after the turn of the century. As I said, these twists in the stories we hold as ours seem meaningful to us. Perhaps it’s a meaning like a deep poem, one with a deep image, one that doesn’t stand for anything other than itself, one that can bend light around it, leaving the densest shadow, as life still glitters around it, with a strange margin where they meet.

Robbins’ “My Feet”  may not be that kind of deep poem, but as I tried to argue here recently, poetry is richer and less constrained when we feel we can use it for more than the deepest things. And Robbins’ choices in “My Feet”  implicitly make that argument I think. Ozymandias may have two vast and trunkless legs of stone and those meaningful sands mocking them, but the rest of us have only our tired dogs, like to those Renée can apprehend with her characteristic artistic focus on close looking. Her time on the farming plains of Southwest Minnesota may have given her a new landscape to appreciate those feet.

To hear my music and performance of Renée Robbins’ “My Feet,”  use the player below.

Butterly

We’re approaching the halfway point in the Parlando Project’s first year, and my plans for 2017 are to feature more 21st century words, when and if I can get permission from publishers/authors to use them here. Today’s audio piece features words from the first “external” 21st Century author to be used here: Philip Dacey.

Philip Dacey

Philip Dacey

 

This year has been much commented upon for the death of musician/lyric writers, two great cultural stylists and movers, David Bowie and Prince, foremost among them.  It would be careless to extend the list of 2016’s lost musician/poets for fear of who would drop off the bottom for reasons of length. After all, Merle Haggard or Phife Dog or Greg Lake mean as much or more to some listeners as Prince or Bowie. For me personally, two Fall 2016 musician/poet deaths hit me with specific force: Leonard Cohen and Mose Allison. You might have guessed that, for this is the place “Where Music and Words Meet”—though both are better composers than generally realized, both Cohen and Allison were known for their lyrics.

CORRECTION Obit Leonard CohenMose Allison

A Cohen and a Mose

But that’s not exactly why. You see Mose Allison and Leonard Cohen shared a writing sensibility that I particularly prize: they’re funny as hell. “Funny as hell”—not as merely the common idiom— “Funny as hell,” in that both saw clearly the fallen human limitations and made us laugh at it. Laughter can be a good teacher, and as the profoundly comic blues sensibility tries to teach us, even what we can’t learn or think our way out of can be better endured knowing that it’s not right, that it’s incongruous, illogical, unexpected—in other words, that it’s funny.

The importance of our musician/poets may be falling in the 21st Century, though the speed of that decent is hard to judge, as we, their human society, are falling too. And if we look below we see the poets of the past: Dickinson, Whitman, Keats, Blake, Frost, Sandburg, Yeats, Eluard and all their heavenly host, and Shakespeare, Sapho, Basho, Homer, Li Bai, and many more that we cannot name and have never heard. We are falling toward all of them.

Blake Fallen Angels

not Phil Dacey

 

And Philip Dacey falls with us, and he smiles “Look, we are all falling.”

Dacey too is funny as hell. So if you are coming to this podcast from a musician/poet listenership, you could think of Philip Dacey as a Midwestern Leonard Cohen without all the sackcloth and ashes; or that Dacey is Mose Allison without the constantly modulating piano. And there’s another difference: Dacey’s poems find forgiveness more consistently and honestly than Cohen or Allison, or most any other writer.

We are all falling, and Philip Dacey falls with us, and he says “I’ll bet there is an end to this fall, but who knows?”

Butterly: Upon Mistyping Butterfly is a love poem based on simple mistake (as love sometimes is). Phil, like Leonard Cohen—but like Phil—wrote a great many love poems. This one is uncomplicated (as love sometimes is). Mose Allison, wrote far fewer love songs, though I can think of one that is goofy and joyful, like these words of Dacey’s.

It’s not a coincidence that I put my remembrance of Philip Dacey as one of the first Parlando posts, because when I heard that Phil had died I was working on gathering, performing, and producing material for the Parlando Project. I’m grateful for the permission to present the LYL Band performing my reading of this poem of Phil’s. If you like this, you may want to seek out one of Philip Dacey’s books or read more about him online at the philipdacey.com web site. If you’d like a taste of how Phillip Dacey presented his poems, there is a 30-minute video of a late reading by him here.

To hear the LYL Band perform Butterly: Upon Mistyping Butterfly, click on the gadget you’ll see below.

Phil Dacey and Trains

I knew Minnesota poet Philip Dacey through my late wife, who was a writing student of his back in the 70s. I had the good fortune to hear him read his poetry several times, as he was an excellent performer of his work.

One indelible memory I have is Phil reading a poem in which Marlene Dietrich was mentioned, and rather imperceptibly he transformed into Marlene Dietrich, leaving the lectern and slowing reclining on a desk chair in the Blue Angel pose.

Sound hokey to you? Sound like some kind of Am-Dram over-reaching to make poetry more palatable? Nope. I was there, and it was riveting. Phil was so damn generous and genuine, and the actions so integrated into the open and honest poetry he wrote, that there was not a bit of disingenuousness about it. His being illuminated that poem.

Another Phil Dacey reading I’ll remember was a performance of several of his poems backed by a rock band his sons had formed. While that was not the origin of this Parlando project, it was one of the several threads that helped form this thing.

I was saddened to hear that Phil died last month. I suspect that Phil the performer of his poems now will only exist in our memories. Of course we can still read the poems ourselves, and we can be happy for that. Luckily for us, his poetry is full of his irreplaceable personality.

The story in this poem is more or less true. I was visiting his house with my wife, and he was talking with me as if I was some kind of peer as a writer, which was so welcome to me. I should have left the moment be, taken a good long pause to listen, or perhaps I should have just given him a big hug of thanks. Instead I just rattled on about things I sort of knew, an unfortunate personality trait I often inflict on others. Oh well.

You should see a player gadget below which will let you listen to my poem about that afternoon I talked over Phil and my current thoughts on trains.