Flashback Friday, Matthew MacFadyen Does Poems

matthew_macfadyen

Matthew Macfadyen (Photo credit: mundo Floser)

I know, the recent trend is Throwback Thursday, but as a poet, I just cannot do it. Too many other meanings to “throwback.” When I was a kid dad took us fishing, and the fish that were too small got thrown back. I cannot help associate throwbacks with things that are not worth keeping, things that must be tossed away as insufficient. Sorry, that’s how my mind works, despite the latest lingo.

I prefer to Flashback, old-fashioned as that sounds in the oh-so-hip world of the interwebs. Be happy that I don’t Flashdance. That would be a disaster, though it would probably be a viral sensation: Poet/Blogger Flashdances to Yeats! Now, that’s an idea. . .

Anyway, yesterday it was a delightful discovery to me to find a video of Samuel West performing a Tom Vaughan poem called “Proposal.” Click back and check it out. It’s only a minute and it’s a treat. Hopefully I’ll be able to find them on CD somewhere. If anyone sees the source on Amazon or Ebay or such, please let me know in the comments.

Mr. West got me thinking of these little clips I shared a couple of years back of Matthew MacFadyen dramatizing poems. And let’s face it, Matthew MacFadyen is not a Throwback. He’s what we call in technical fishing terminology a Keeper. There are more to this series, but the only ones I can find on YouTube are the following three, a heartbreakingly beautiful reading of Yeats, an uplifting interpretation of a Shakespeare sonnet, and a fun portrayal of a William Carlos Williams piece.

Enjoy!

 

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Barbara Brownskirt Sets the Example

National Poetry Month

National Poetry Month (Photo credit: djwudi)

I tried to reblog this video the other night, but for some reason the video wouldn’t play so I had to delete it. When I went back to find it again, I lost track of what blog I had found it on in the first place, so I don’t know if the technical problem ever got solved. So whoever you are, if you are reading this now, thank you so much for introducing me to this brave lady, this “Poet of the People,” as she is called (by herself as best I can tell).

I don’t know where she is from exactly, as she just burst on the scene from the masses of humanity about two months ago, as far as I can tell from her YouTube channel, to become the writer in residence at bus stop 197.

On this (Inter)National Poetry Month many of my friends are engaging in multiple variations of the NaPoWriMo challenge to write a poem a day for the whole month of April. Do you wonder where there inspiration comes from? Does it baffle you how they do it? Well, Barbara Brownskirt shows us in the following video how it’s done. She lives and breathes her poetry morning to night. This is how the poets do it. This is Barbara Brownskirt, Poet of the People.

 

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Happy National Poetry Month, 2014

My recent posts in a Wordle Word Cloud

So, here we are, done with day one of April, 2014. No foolin! And for the first time in years I do not have myself committed to a National Poetry Month Challenge.

In years past I attempted the NaPoWriMo gig of writing a poem each day. I ended up with a lot of great starts, and some really turned into good pieces, but I never ever managed to complete 30 poems in one month. I have some amazing poet friends who have, and who are doing it again this year, so I decided I’d leave that challenge to them, and just personally strive to at least be starting something new as frequently as possible. It has been helpful in stirring the creative source waters.

The last couple of years I made my own challenge here to record and post a poem each day. The first year, 2012 was all YouTube and it was a wonderful experience. Thirty Poets in Thirty Days was the challenge, so only one of them was my own. The rest were from Shakespeare, to Yeats, to Dickinson, Frost, O’Hara and many others. It did however take up at the very least, when I was hurrying and skimming by, two hours of each day, but more often it took about four hours by the the time I had a recording edited, description into YouTube and written commentary into the blog. So none of my friends or family heard from me. Only my work-mates were able to attest to the fact that I was in fact alive and breathing in April of 2012.

But wow, what a learning experience! All the recording and research on the poets and poems, as well as the writing about what I was learning each day, pretty much amounted to a whole semester course on poetry crammed into one month.

My son Jonathan and I trying not to lose it.

My son Jonathan and I trying not to lose it.

Then the next year, 2013 I decided to mix it up just a bit and allow myself to repeat poets if I wanted to, but most importantly for my schedule, I recorded more than half the poems on SoundCloud rather than YouTube. This took a bit less time, as I didn’t have to look pretty,  and could sound poetically legit in my Jammies or boxer shorts. Still it was a college course of fun for me in 2013 as well.

This year Poetry Month sort of creeped up on me unexpectedly. I mean, I knew it was coming, but I had some publishing goals for the end of 2013 that I didn’t quite make, due to a death of a loved one, various illnesses in the family, car repairs, and all those things that life throws at you when it’s not paying sufficient attention to your own plans. So I’ve been working hard at catching up on those publishing goals, including the compilation of my first chapbook that I’m entering into a few contests this year.

So I won’t be writing a poem each day, neither will I be recording one each day, but I’ll try to post once a day to give you info on all the cool things that poets across North America are doing this year (apparently it’s a Canada thing too). I may throw in a reblog or three when I find incredible things that my fellow WordPressers are doing for NPM, and I may bring a few flashbacks out, sort of a Best-of compilation from previous years, whether they be poems I wrote or poems of others I recorded.

If you are new here you can click on the Links above (in bold blue) to look back at the recordings and their companion posts for the last two years, or click here to find the playlists on my YouTube channel, and here to listen in on what I’ve been up to on SoundCloud. The links are also over there on your right in the sidebar if you want to come back later and check them out.

Again, no challenge this year, but I will attempt to post something each day here for National Poetry Month, give or take an hour as I am often sitting down to write here at just around midnight.

So what are you doing for National (ah, go ahead, make it international–March’s World Poetry Day was too short!) Month? Feel free to let me know what you are up to for April in the comments below, whether it be NaPoWriMo or some other crazy fun poetry focus! Happy poeming!

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Bette Midler Meets The Beatles for a Saturday Love Song

all you need is love

all you need is love (Photo credit: katerha)

So the yearly spike in page views, from folks who sadly only Google love poems for Valentine’s Day, has come to an end. You want to say that Valentine’s Day is over? I’ve got news for you, love poems, love songs, turkey, and candy canes are just as delicious on President’s Day, or even Thursday. Love is not relegated to a holiday, my friend, and if I want to listen to Christmas music on a Wednesday in August I will. So there!

I’m all for holidays and celebration, but what’s with all the strict rules about how and which days? When are we going to quit letting the advertising industry tell us when to send flowers, when to read love poems to each other, when it’s okay to eat fruitcake? Okay, okay, so maybe there is no time that’s good to eat fruit cake, but then again, I suspect that’s another bill of goods we’ve been sold. Surely there are people out there who make a smashing, moist and tasty loaf of the stuff.

It’s sad that we are nowhere near as free-spirited and unencumbered by societal expectations as we pretend to be. Sure, traditions are nice. They give some stability to our lives, but not when we are weighed down so much by them that we cannot move freely on our own. I had to work last night, serving amazing food and desserts, opening bottles of wine for lovers of all ages and kinds. So we decided that since I have the weekend off we’d celebrate our love feast today.

Ingredients are ready to make the sauce; strawberries are waiting to dip. Valentine cards have not even been given yet. Later, after dinner, that’s our tradition. It’s Valentine’s’ Day here at our house and I don’t give a flying fruitcake what the calendar says.

So my brother Jeff, in another forum, played a request for Brian and I. It’s a song originally recorded by the Beetles, and I love their little happy ditty, with just a touch of nostalgic melancholy. It’s a classic. But it’s Bette Midler’s version with its slow and sexy tones that I want to dance with my husband to at my wedding. So like Jeff did, I give you both versions. Happy Valentine’s Day. Go read a love poem to someone, even if it’s the cat.

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A Love Song from Elvis, Pete Seeger and Arlo Guthrie

Pete Seeger concert photo b&w

Pete Seeger concert (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Since last Valentine’s day the most popular posts on my pages have undoubtedly been from the series “Love Poems You Wish You had Written,” including this article featuring E. E. Cummings and why his name should be properly capitalized. And if this lights your valentine fires, please see Suzie Grogan’s blog, No Wriggling Out of Writing, in which she was doing a parallel companion series.

So this year over Valentine’s weekend I thought I’d bring you a couple of love songs that I wish I had written. Today’s is in honor of the legendary folk singer Pete Seeger, who passed away in January at the age of 91.

The Rolling Stone posted a little gem of an article this morning which features about ten minutes of “recently unearthed Pete Seeger footage” from a 1961 documentary “Wasn’t That a Time?” Brothers Michael and Philip Burton, the producers of the film were obviously Seeger supporters, but I find it sad that even believers in peace could be so cynical as to describe him as “idealistic to an unrealistic degree,” as if it was perhaps something naive to be “community-minded, obsessed with curing social ills through music.” That sounds like a pretty worthwhile obsession to me. His vision of peace was far ahead of his time, but time will tell whether or not such dreams are unrealistic. I see no value in giving up hope.

Today’s love song was written as something personal and specific, but Arlo Guthrie in a concert with Pete in Denmark made it universal. My brother Jeff first introduced me to an earlier live performance of this story in which Arlo had said that folks songs were not always about “stuff,” but sometimes just the result of an intangible feeling that compels complete strangers to “suddenly erupt into chorus. It’s a heart thing!”

And so appropriate to this day of hearts and love. Listen to Arlo Guthrie, son of Woody Guthrie, and patron saint of “Alice’s Restaurant” tell the story. And watch Pete Seeger and his grandson Tao sing along in this live concert clip from 2008.

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1979 Footage of William Stafford in Scranton Resurfaces

Poet William Stafford (1914-1993) Photo from the William Stafford Archives, Lewis & Clark College

Poet William Stafford (1914-1993) Photo from the William Stafford Archives, Lewis & Clark College

Often YouTube is prone to fail for me when I get its automated suggestions of “videos to watch.” Yesterday it suggested some wonderful music tutorial videos from my sweetheart Brian from five years ago, while pushing a recent video of my friend and fellow poet Rachel Bunting’s tribute to Maxine Cumin, recently passed poetry legend, way down the list, hidden below the infinite scroll bar.

Now, I love my Brian, and I love his music, but I cannot play a piano to save my life. My piano and music theory classes were over thirty years ago, and I’ve probably forgotten more than what I had learned, so his wonderful tutorials are made for other more talented and apt. students of music.

I am however a poet who reads the poems of others out loud on both YouTube and SoundCloud. I am subscribed to Rachel’s channel, so you would think that Rachel’s video would top my list of recent “must see” content (by the way, that’s a buzzword I’m starting to hate, content. More about that another day). For more of Rachel Bunting click here.

However, from time to time YouTube really gets it right and redeems itself, like yesterday when it brought to my attention today’s share, a poetry reading from William Stafford from 1979! I nearly leaped from my chair and cheered. You see, if you read The Dad Poet much at all, you already know that this man is a hero of mine, not just in the poetry realm, but in his calm and steady stand for peace, both in the world and in the human heart. He has a connection to nature because he is an observer as well as a participant, as any reading of a handful of his poems will show.

Sunday I featured a video with photos from the Juniata River this winter, and Stafford’s poem “Ask Me.” The post was also a reflection on the beautiful life of Brian’s Aunt Cathy whose memorial we attended Friday. The scenes of the Susquehanna under ice and snow got me pondering, and nudged me to share the video here on the blog. I am tremendously grateful and humbled by the popularity of that post. Thanks so much to those of you who shared it and liked it.

Published in 1987 by William Stafford (Amazon.com photo)

Published in 1987 by William Stafford (Amazon.com photo)

While writing that post I came across a couple of other lovely poems of William Stafford’s with which I was not previously familiar. One was over at Poetreeforlife, called “Malheur at Dawn,” a stellar example of one of his one-with-nature poems. My favorite line: “Some day like this might save the world.”  The other was posted back in June at Izmansral, entitled “For You.” Please follow the links to those blogs to read the poems.

I’m sure I’ve told a bit of my own story before about falling in love with William Stafford. I was away in the flatlands of Indiana, missing my hills, ridges, waters and woods of central Pennsylvania where I had grown up. I was studying for the ministry at an early age, my young bride still back home for a month or two as she made job inquiries and preparations to join me. It was such a lonely time, but I had picked up Stafford’s book An Oregon Message at a bookstore, and somehow that “regional poet” made me feel at home, connected even to the few little tracks of forest, and the vast fields of corn and soy of central Indiana.

It’s his art of always being present and yet connected to times and places, past and future. His unique syntax and diction were intriguing enough to pull me in, catch the spell of his own way of looking at the world. I will always be grateful to him for that.

The following video is part of a project that I am delighted to have just stumbled upon, thanks to YouTube getting it right in the recommendations I mentioned above. The Lackawanna Valley Digital Archives have been converting old film to digital formats and sharing them on YouTube. Many of the videos in the Friends of the Scranton Public Library Poetry Series are from visiting poets who have become big names in modern and contemporary American poetry, including Robert Bly, Charles Simic, Lynn Emanuel, Gerald Stern, Susan Rae, W. S. Merwin, and of course William Stafford.

The video below of Stafford’s 1979 reading in Jefferson Hall at the University of Scranton is the property of the Scranton Public Library, and I am grateful that they have made it public via YouTube. Cedar Mill Newsletter in January made these recommendations of good reads from Stafford. And this marvelous piece by OPB.org is a great way to introduce yourself to the poet who would have celebrated his 100th birthday last month.

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“Ask Me,” William Stafford, River Ice and Aunt Cathy

River Ice, by Michael McFarland

River Ice, by Michael McFarland

Brian and I drove an hour south to Harrisburg on Friday for a memorial service to celebrate the life of his beloved Aunt Cathy. Let me tell you that lady lived like she was living her life, present and all in. In a beautiful eulogy her sister recalled how she was not afraid to reinvent herself over and over again, and to learn new things, constantly reveling in her world.

I wish I had known her longer and better, but what I recall those few family gatherings when we had met was how full of joy she was, how her eyes took in every experience, how they met you full on when she talked with you. I want to learn how to embrace people with my eyes like that.

On that drive down the Susquehanna and back up we got to witness more of the river completely iced over. It’s shallower and wider down there. As our thermometers have fluctuated between below zero to 42 degrees Fahrenheit, and back to the single digits again (a calm 7º outside the window this early Sunday morning), the river here has frozen over, thawed and frozen again to our north and west. Here where the two branches meet it is wide and deep above the dam.

I wonder what sort of winter it would take to freeze that entirely. I’m sure some old locals here could tell me. So I’m going to ask around because, you know what, people are beautiful and they have such stories to tell.

That’s how I will remember Aunt Cathy, as a river overjoyed to be a river, rolling out to sea and loving every minute, learning from each rock, bird and butterfly along the way, because ahead is only the sea, whatever that is, and there is no going back to do any of this over again. “Life is not a rehearsal,” I’ve heard one old man say, and so I want to live by her example and take it in both hands and live it.

Poet William Stafford

Poet William Stafford

Some people affect us that way when we see them, but even when that river is ice, there is still water flowing down beneath. And summer or winter we cannot know all of what is going on under there. Even when we see its rocky bottom, we cannot glimpse every prize catfish and silver minnow darting about in the depths.

Ah, Mr. Stafford’s poem says it better than I can, so I’ll let him tell you.

These photos were taken, not of the Susquehanna, but of the Juniata River, a little over an hour to our south-west near the little village of Mexico, PA where, when he’s not backpacking across the American wilds, or painting the rich colors of Penn’s Woods, my friend Michael McFarland and his family run the lovely little Buttonwood Campground, a perfect place to spend the day kayaking or fishing, in warmer weather.

“Ask Me,” by my beautiful old hero William Stafford, is one of the few modern free verse poems that I have easily committed to memory. A year ago on February first I recorded this poem. This is the same audio, cleaned up and put to video, because I just cannot thank the old man enough. He would have celebrated his 100th birthday last month (I know, I cannot believe I missed it!). I wish I had known him while he still graced the earth with his life. He was one, like Aunt Cathy who treasured each moment too.

Ask Me
by William Stafford

Some time when the river is ice ask me
mistakes I have made. Ask me whether
what I have done is my life. Others
have come in their slow way into
my thought, and some have tried to help
or to hurt: ask me what difference
their strongest love or hate has made.

I will listen to what you say.
You and I can turn and look
at the silent river and wait. We know
the current is there, hidden; and there
are comings and goings from miles away
that hold the stillness exactly before us.
What the river says, that is what I say.

“Ask Me” © Copyright 1977, 1998
by the Estate of William Stafford
from The Way It Is, New & Selected Poems,
Graywolf Press, St. Paul, Minnesota

More poems by William Stafford, and “Ask Me,” the recent collection edited by his son Kim Stafford.

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