Category Archives: prose

Ireland, here or there

I recently traveled to Ireland with my son, and we experienced the wonderful scenery, the friendly people, the history, and the delicious food and drink that this island has to offer.  We flew into Dublin – and after an exciting time on Saint Patrick’s Day – we set off by rail to the western, more wild part of the country.  The scenes from the train changed from urban to countryside, as we made our way to Cork.  All the little village stops along the way were quaint and the conductor would announce the stop in both English and Gaelic, concluding with a thank you:

Thank you for riding Iarnród Éireann. (Thank you for riding Irish Rail).

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To my ears, it sounded like he said, “Thank you for riding, here or there.

This thought resonated throughout the journey as we went by bus or shuttle to remote locations or simply walked through villages and towns in which we spent the night. There is something exciting and wonderful about rambling through the country-side and discovering new places.  Whether it was the colorful row how houses above Cobh harbor or the barren stones and sea/landscape of the Burren, forests near Killarney or the city street, Ireland offered what seemed like all possible combinations.  And these were accessible from points A and B or C or…Z

Just by what seemed a random direction, any number of beautiful sights and experiences could be found by wandering.

It is no wonder then, that the Irish poets and storytellers, or those that emigrated over the last couple of centuries, spoke and sang so fondly of this beautiful country.  It stands in stark contrast to the tragic history of conquest, famine, civil war and unrest that has plagued the people of Ireland over the centuries.  Both sadness and beauty erupting from the same surroundings is remarkable, and dare I say, poetic.  The countryside simply cries and laughs and inhales – everywhere you look.

Here or there.

 

Clearing the cobwebs II

It is time for me to – again- clear the cobwebs of my brain and write about anything. Sometimes it is hard for me to focus creatively. I consider myself, first and foremost, a poet, yet I wonder if I sell myself short sometimes by limiting the genre that I write. I’ve been trying to change that a little over the last year or two by writing different things, some of which I share – some of which won’t see the light of day. It is difficult, because when I write here, I want to create something artistic. Yet, deep down, I aspire to some semblance of the “writerly life,” and I figure the only way to eventually get there is plug away, head down, and try to broaden my approach. I know the blogging world is filled with such dreams, and people who write about their struggles with their craft. What makes my struggle unique? I don’t know…It’s me and I am unique.

What I am thinking about

Earlier this year, I converted this blog over to its dot com domain.  I figured I have a lot of writing invested here and should work to keep it organized.  Also, I have recently been using the Upwork app to peruse freelance writing opportunities, just to gage what is out there and how I might fit in.  I’ve applied to a few opportunities over the last year, but have not gotten any nibbles.  I want to get my feet wet with a writing opportunity that isn’t necessarily driven by my own time-table just to see if I can get it done.  Does anyone else out there use Upwork? Do you have any advice about using the app or the application process? Are there any other freelance boards or websites that work for you?

The political climate in this country is making me ill

It started with me during the election of 2016 (like most people), and the elevation of rude discourse and name-calling and gas-lighting as debate, rather than research and fact-based discussion.  45 is not fit for this role as president and the Republican leadership shows no interest in trying to maintain a balance.  We have seen enough and need to put a muzzle on the current administration before any further damage is done.  Elections are coming up.  Do your diligence about learning the facts about issues from multiple independent sources – not just someone’s opinion or interpretation or spewed nonsense from 45.  And if you want to read opinions, select a balanced view – from both sides of the aisle – and at least try to understand both opinions  – and VOTE.

What I am reading

I am currently in the middle of a couple mystery/thriller novels:  The Alienist by Caleb Carr and Origin by Dan Brown.  This genre of novel is my wheel-house for reading. While growing up, I read a steady diet of mysteries (Hardy Boys, Agatha Christie, Ellery Queen) which lead to espionage thrillers from Jack Higgins and Tom Clancy, and later in my life, other mysteries/thrillers by Kathy Reichs, Steve Berry, Dan Brown, et al.  I enjoy the pacing in these stories and the details that get embedded in the books.  It makes me wish/hope that I could research and write a novel like that someday.  But mostly, I enjoy following the journey to solving a mystery.

What I am watching

I caught onto the new Doctor Who fever with the series premiere a couple of weeks ago.  I like Jodie Whitaker as the Doctor and I am still undecided on the companions.  As with all previous transitions to new Doctors, it will take a bit for the show and the characters to take hold.  Leading up to the premiere, I got to revisit old episodes and saw a couple of my favorites:  Blink, with the introduction of the Weeping Angels is still a top episode in my opinion.  The Eleventh Hour gave us the introduction to Matt Smith as the Doctor and Karen Gillan as Amy Pond, and is in my opinion, the best that the series has done with introducing a new character (two in fact, three if you count Arthur Darvill as Rory).  The Angels Take Manhattan, another solid episode involving the Weeping Angels – gave us Amy and Rory’s farewell.

Halloween Time

Tis the season for scares and bumps in the night.  I’m not much for modern horror movies.  The recent glut of slasher and gore movies doesn’t really appeal to me – and how many times can one antagonist (Jigsaw, Michael Meyers, Freddie) stay alive… AND how many times can someone remake the same movie (Halloween – Geesh).

Horror movies I do like include:  It (the recent theatrical release was awesome), Ghost Story (from 1981, starring Fred Astaire, John Houseman, and other legends – a great adaptation of Peter Straub’s novel), Insidious (the 1st movie scared the be-jezus out of my family – I haven’t bothered with the sequels) and The Shining (Stanley Kubrick’s film is, hands down, the best adaptation of a Stephen King novel – though I think the recent release of It has righted a lot of wrongs with Stephen King films). I recently watched Army of Darkness and enjoyed it – less scared by it than amused. I admit that I also enjoy the campy and understated horror of the Hammer Studio films from the 1960’s and early 1970’s.

Have a thought or opinion about anything here – leave a comment!  Thanks for reading.

John

 

 

wood would knot

It’s a reminder of dead branches in a tree trunk.
A natural thing. When processed and managed, it is a would-be imperfection that could be nice to look at, causing a waving grain, adjusted in directions exploited by purpose. It is decorative and agile in its language, but still a defect.

A flaw to the strength of wood, it leads to weakness for tensile and compression, especially when under perpendicular forces or being pulled in opposition. This would be structurally unsound to build upon. The knot can lead to cracks and would not be of benefit in building because of the warp, the check and the shakes.

Some who construct would know the impact.
In a dissonant chord, it is the note that sings loudest and rings a disjointed sound.
In a poem, it is the missing iamb of a sonnet, tripped and stumbled upon. In a house, it is in the failing wall or a cracking joist, unable to stand the weight of heavy burden.
In speaking-it is missing a word and rushing over – leaving a hole. Such work is helpless and unsound.

What remains would not be usable.

Dispatching the Doldrums

It is time to clear the cobwebs and write about anything.  Blog writing for me is  a way for me to exercise my creative skills and (bravely) share what I’m writing.  Every now and again, I like to share what I’m thinking/doing/reading/listening to/watching.

Watching

A week ago, I just finished watching Band of Brothers on Amazon, which was based on the book of similar name by Stephen E. Ambrose.   I  know I’m a little behind ( it first aired on HBO in 2001).  But, I didn’t subscribe to HBO then, and never invested in DVDs of the miniseries.  Wow.  An incredibly well-done set of vignettes from the history of Easy Company of the 101st Airborne during WWII in Europe.  It was produced by Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks – it has much the same feel as Saving Private Ryan.  Each episode centers around a different event and focuses on a different character’s perspective.  My favorite episode involved the Battle of Bastogne, and told the story from the perspective of Doc Roe, the company’s medic.  He displayed courage and a singular ability to keep going in bone chilling cold under relentless bombardment, while keeping the men is his company in fighting shape and providing care to the wounded.  The scenes are graphic and the emotion is raw.  The miniseries drives home the point, that in war- there is no rest.  Even when you think you may get a weekend leave, something happens to call the company back into the fray.  After battles, you move on to the next line.

Reading

I’ve mentioned before that I’m a slow reader and one who is prone to start multiple books to find one that captures my interest.  Right now, I think have five books in various stages of reading.  Most recently, I started reading Dispatches from Pluto: Lost and Found in the Mississippi Delta, by Richard Grant. It is a true tale, a collection of tales actually, of a British travel writer (Grant) and his girlfriend after they decide to buy an old plantation home in heart of the Mississippi Delta.  Stories of Southern tradition, along with the tenuous combination of gentility, race and class, are told without judgement – but with a keen perception of the relationships involved.  This book is a great look into this forgotten region of the country.  Truth be told – I am related to people who grew up in this area of Mississippi, and am very familiar with the themes of this book.  The Delta is a both a wasteland and a land of riches.

Listening

I have eclectic music tastes.  I will listen to almost any genre, depending on my mood and as long as it is well done.  In recent years, I have become interested in Americana/folk styles.  I like the realness of it and how it can impact you emotionally.  With that in mind, I want to recommend music by a friend.  I met Mark Currey in high school, when we both attended a Gifted/Talented Summer Camp.  We were in the choral program, and were introduced to many different genres of music in the program.  We were encouraged to be creative in our free time, and it was obvious that Mark was a songwriter even then. I wrote in my journal in my free time- ain’t life funny.  We weren’t best friends, but we got along well. After that summer, we parted ways (like most everyone does), only to reconnect many years later via FaceBook.  I found out he had recorded an album, his first, in 2017.  The classic story of the Late Bloomer – I can relate.  His record, Tarrant County, is part Country, part Americana – and I encourage you to give it a listen. Mark has a very warm vocal style (he’s a tenor), and his lyrics are real storytelling.  You can download it at the either of the links above, or you can find it on streaming services.   There are some really nice musical moments, some thought provoking lyrics, but never overdone.  You might find something you like.

Thanks for reading.

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A Cappella Friday: Choose Something Like a Star

A cappella music (without instrumental accompaniment) is particularly enjoyable for me to listen to. As a poet (and an avocational musician), I am drawn to the similarities that poems and a cappella music have. Lyrical phrasing, meter, rhyming, and onomatopoeia mean so much to a cappella music, because it relies so heavily on the human vocal element.
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Anyone that has followed me since my origins here with Taps and Ratamacues may recall this as a semiweekly feature for a while, but I haven’t written about specific music/poetry combinations in quite some time. Again, as in other entries, this is not an a cappella piece specifically, but the positive interaction of music with poetry is undeniable.

This entry came about as a result of phone conversation with my mother and father, both life-long musicians – now retired. They both have an impeccable memory for musical anecdotes.

We were discussing the word taciturn, as it described a friend of theirs going through rough time, to which my father said the only other place he ever recalled hearing that word was in a choral setting of Robert Frost’s poem, Choose Something Like a Star.

My curiosity was peaked, and I went searching.

Frost wrote the poem in 1916. It is a remarkable piece that addresses humankind’s need for reassurance from a greater being.  It contains elements of philosophy, religion, and science – the trifecta of sought meaning.  It is one of Frost’s more direct and driven poems.  We seek meaning in life, and can choose things to convey that meaning. We expect these icons to give us direction and explanation.  “To be wholly taciturn is not allowed.”

Frost’s point was that in choosing “something like a star”, something distant and far off, we can be comforted in the fact that it exists and “it burns” despite our desire for clear explanation.

Randall Thompson (1899-1994) wrote a collection of songs using Frost poems as lyrics, entitled Frostiana (Seven Country Songs). In 1959 Thompson was commissioned to write a piece commemorating the bicentennial of the town of Amherst, Massachusetts. It was decided that the piece should include lyrics comprised of Robert Frost’s poetry, as he had lived in Amherst for a number of years. The town originally lobbied for The Gift Outright, which Frost later recited at JFK’s inauguration.  Not believing that poem to be appropriate for this occasion, Thompson gained permission to select poems himself.  He eventually  chose seven texts – including the well-known poems The Road not Taken and Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.  Also chosen was the poem Choose Something Like a Star.

The vocal arrangement starts ethereally, with sopranos singing the ‘O star’ phrasing as if it is a far away object and the other voices of the choir building in the harmony – pushing outward to meet this fairest object in sight.  Thompson is masterful in his use of chord structure and phrasing with Frost’s poem.  There is tension in the unanswered questions, there is calm in the resolution.

Frost and Thompson knew each other and held great mutual respect for each man’s work.  Frost was in attendance at the premiere performance of Frostiana, and was so delighted by the performance that, at the conclusion of the piece, he stood up and shouted, “Sing that again!” In fact, he was so impressed by the composition that he banned any other composers from setting his poems to music.

We seek meaning in the universe, and often we can find it in the beauty and unexplainable mystery of existence itself.

Opened

I’m having serious writer problems.

Nothing inspires me to write at the moment.

For the past 6 years, I have had a run of productivity that was enjoyable and creative.  I looked forward to the times I could sit down and craft a poem or write a quick blog post.  There was the period in 2014 (while job hunting) that I put together a chapter book of poems and I wrote about everything from gardening tips to snippets about life.  Heck…I even wrote a short story earlier this year.  I once told myself that I would never write long pieces – I didn’t have the attention span.  I probably shouldn’t doubt my ability like that, or make a big deal about “can’t/won’t do” something.  The universe typically calls your bluff.

I’ve been reading more posts lately.  It seems that many of my past favorite blogs have faded as well, so I’ve been searching for new things to read – and I’ve found a few.

The Haunted Wordsmith
Some prolific output in short fiction by a talented writer and engaging posts.

O at the Edges 
Mr. Okaji writes poetry in eloquence and brevity. I’ve been following him for some time now, and I aspire to the ability he demonstrates (and frankly, the output of poetry he produces).

Derrick J Knight
A blog diary of sorts. Mr.Knight is recovering from knee surgery at the moment and writes about his day. He has a beautiful garden.

One of my favorite blog entry formats is the list.  Other people’s lists are ways to get me to open my mind again and thinking of my own. Perhaps it will get me back on the path of writing.

Thanks for reading.

//John

Thoughts, and Prayers

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the use of the phrase “thoughts and prayers,” and its use after events of loss and suffering.  We all tend to say it.  Your best friend’s Grandmother passes away, and your response is “my thoughts and prayers are with you in your time of loss.”

What does this phrase mean?  Thoughts and prayers of what, exactly.

In this case, I think these are thoughts of sympathy (or empathy) and prayers of comfort directed towards those who have lost someone.  The thoughts are just to let the person know that you have them on your mind. It seems kind, and harmless, but I believe that this is most meaningful when you know them, or have shared the relationship that they just lost.  Prayers of comfort (in our society, from my perspective) stem from the Judeo-Christian belief in an all-powerful God, one who can (for lack of a better word) gather you up and give you a big spiritual hug.  I believe this expression is less effective (for the person who experienced the loss) when you don’t really know them, or you sense that the conveyance of sympathy is insincere.  The issue of late, where our nation’s leaders express their sympathies (time and again) over a repetitious tragedy – that could have been avoided – is an example of this.  Their approach to this expression of sympathy weakens the concept of prayer.  Why? Prayers are supposed to be powerful, they are intended to reach us, change us, and help us.

Let’s talk about prayers a bit.  There are different kinds of prayers:   thanks, confession, hope, comfort, deliverance – to categorize a few.  All prayers are goal oriented.  They are intentional- to get us to believe, to convict our minds of something, to help out someone, to give ourselves clarity, etc.  They are meant to spur us to action.  The strength of our humanity is in our ability to act, in compassion, of one mind.  I think prayer facilitates this.

But the issue is, you must act.  Prayer without action at some point, is empty.  The very act of prayer should indicate that you are considering a problem that needs a solution. Our lawmakers offering their prayers to those who have lost loved ones in a senseless mass killing is an empty platitude without some intention to make their suffering worth the cost.

Churches should know the power of collective and intentional prayer. It is the “superpower” of churches (I know it sounds silly, but in today’s language – this is it). Yet, I believe, in these times the focus has been misguided.  Too many are concerned with their belief that “we” have pushed God out of society and they pray for supernatural intervention.  First of all, the idea that an all-powerful, ever-present God could be pushed out is – ludicrous.  Did you ever think that God may have taught us about prayer so that we could discern and then act with conviction to make changes that impact each of our lives, to meet people where they are, to comfort them out of love, or to right wrongs? Perhaps, that it is a lesson to learn to be more like him.

This is complex, but not hard.  Lawmakers should take up and pass better legislation that reduces assault weapon availability and improves mental health assistance. It is heartless and cowardly to not do so.  Those who pray for supernatural intervention should pray themselves for discernment about the importance of lawmakers who can act in the best interests of all humanity, collectively and individually.  They could also pray for strength to act out of love – not morality, not condemnation, not prejudice, not to point out faults, and most of all – to not be afraid to admit they are wrong.

And then do it.