Summer and Winter

the freezing leaves and all this grieving
since we left and lost the sea the blues
so far from home why we did roam
the roses frozen now the pipes broken

the hats and coats gloves and galoshes
umbrellas tire chains space heaters
and as our hearts grow colder winter
comes a tidal wave of muddy gloop

wanwood and wormwood show the lies
we strive to live by never mind spring
who lives through the endless summer
cares not when the sun comes or goes

the sun rises not for us nor sets just
past our roof where the real mingles
with mindful reveries of delirious
waves of unknown origin washing

we danced across sand dunes
drifted past coastal goldenbush
sea dahlias and evening primrose
and slept in beds of sober poppy

not to worry not when now my love
we will come again to this summer
this cold for now allows us a deep
sleep a slow dive for full seashells

so we hear in winter the blue sounds
of the sea green vibrations upshore
we grow old and leave behind us
only one place to have summer fun

Wonder of the On-Line Literary World

This month, Berfrois, the small literary magazine, has closed its virtual doors. For the last 14 years, Berfrois, under intrepid editor Russell Bennetts, an economist out of England, has published daily writing, forming over time an eclectic list of contributors and an audience of intercultural competence. The end of active writing appearing in Berfrois comes 100 years after the closing of the modernist journals period, which ran, according to the Modernist Journals Project, from the 1890’s to the 1920’s, ending in 1922:

We end at 1922 for two reasons: first, that year has until recently been the public domain cutoff in the United States; second, most scholars consider modernism to be fully fledged in 1922 with the publication of Virginia Woolf’s Jacob’s Room, James Joyce’s Ulysses, and T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land. We believe the materials in the MJP will show how essential magazines were to the rise and maturation of modernism.

Modernist Journals Project, About page, retrieved 15 Dec 2022.

They were mostly referred to, and still are, as small literary magazines, little magazines. Most did not last long. Blast ran just two issues, 1914 and 1915. They were of course hard copy, printed magazines, small publication runs, small format. The most famous now might be The Egoist (1914-1919) and Little Review (1914-1922), which ran installments of Joyce’s “Ulysses.” Harriet Monroe’s original Poetry ran from 1912 to 1922 (still alive today as a kind of First Wonder of the Corporate Literary World).

Is today’s on-line literary world, in 2022, now “fully fledged”? It might be, given the disastrous turn of events surrounding the social media platforms that create, sustain, and destroy – in situ. What can it possibly mean to be on Twitter, for example, with a million followers? Even 100 followers would be impossible to keep up with, even if managing your Twitter feed was all you did. Yet most tweets are never read by anyone. At most, they have the life span of a mosquito, and can be just as viral and vile. We shall be glad to see our current winter of discontent freeze them all in their tracks. For the tracks of tweets carry no real cargo.

Most poems are never read either, but that’s a different story. And I digress. Some of my own writing appeared in Berfrois. Mostly prose, discursive writing. Berfrois published the academic, the non-academic, and the anti-academic. Its editorial voice appeared often to be one of casual interest. In a sense, Berfrois was a general interest magazine, and sought to publish the best it could find of both the best and the worst – for what is often considered today’s worst of writing ends up being tomorrow’s best.

One of the most attractive features of Berfrois was the lack of advertising. It sought to be reader funded before its time. It might have found a good home at today’s Substack, where we find everybody that’s anybody cashing in their lotto tickets. “Thousands of paid subscribers.” Sounds lucrative, but a poor warrant to join a new fray.

A bit of money but a lot of time it takes to run these endeavors. And we run out of both, lose steam, wonder what all the fuss is about, what it might be like to go for a walk down Broadway unnoticed or dismissed, or to wander to and fro with no desire whatsoever to be followed. In the meantime, a heartfelt thanks to Russell Bennetts for his contributions via Berfrois to the life of modern journals.

Out of the Heart

Out of the heart they climb in trunks
into cold sweeps of wind and ocean
rain waves hearing for the first time
trains pausing at the rotting depot.

The silence catches our attention
creates expectation who will get
off who will go away who has come
home to stay surfboard on hip.

Some succulent and juicy tales
and coffee of the road cafes
the strands swept with sand
the cold duffle bags for beds.

Nothing much at home has changed
the cat has slowed to a crying crawl
Mom wears her frayed shawl all day
long and Dad looks like he hears

a screaming coming across the sky
the strain of the streets texted
into the ether a cartoon masks
his bowl of nuts cracked shells.

His heart opens like a walnut
two halves and one have not
together all three squirrels come
to rest and stay the cold season.

Site Has a Thousand Smiles

Just what the on-line world needs, another Joe Linker site. But while The Coming of the Toads blogs onward, I continue to doodle, and the results often suggest cartoons. A perfect cartoon is one that needs no words. Thus my new site, titled “Cartoons at Joe’s,” promises: “The less said the better, but there will be captions.” Interested readers, anyone looking for a smile, can find “Cartoons at Joe’s” by clicking here. It’s over at Substack.

The set up for “Cartoons at Joe’s” is minimalist, the writing sparse. And the readers few – so far 3 subscribers. Subscriptions are free, but at the cost of yet another email in your inbox. But the reward of a smile hopefully defrays that cost. But you can also check out “Cartoons at Joe’s” anytime you want with a Google bar search, or by saving the link, or a thousand other ways well paid programmers have come up with. I’ll be sitting at the bar, where there’s no wait.

You might have seen a few of the cartoons before, elsewhere, here, in fact, maybe. That’s ok. Watching reruns of classics is a perfectly acceptable use of your time. And I’ll always be doodling for new cartoons.

Taking Off and Landing

Taking off and landing are functions of style. Once aloft we don’t stop until we reach our destination. If you think writing is all about following rules on how to stop and go, you’re not flying.

The old open cockpit planes were good for your health. Today’s jets are claustrophobic and the air that circulates within the cabin is not fresh. Recent studies suggest old drafty houses are also better for one’s health than the hermetically sealed structures whose designs aim at uniform temperature and locked-in air flow. We should get as much outside air flowing through our inside environments as possible.

Driving a car isn’t about stop signs. Likewise, air fresheners pollute. That’s why Henry Miller titled his book, “The Air Conditioned Nightmare,” even though his 1932 Buick sedan was not airtight, and his destination was the open road across the US.

When we wake up we take off, but our destination is not back to bed, sleep again. When we go to sleep, we land. All day long we are airborne. We wake up, take off – which doesn’t require a destination. But our first thoughts might be for love and sharing, for avoiding conflicts. Slip into our shoes as selfless as the crab out of its shell. Our first act upon awakening ought to be to go outside, or at least to open a window. To awake is to breathe again new air. So too when we write, we don’t want to sing the same old songs in the same old way, following the rules of yesterday.

There’s a mentality constantly on the lookout for conspiracy, as if to uncover the duplicitous explains everything, and then we must punish those who have broken the rules, the comma splicers and the run-ons looking to get away like California stops. Always smug, that mentality, always looking for what’s really going on, behind the scenes, and self-vindication is their reward, though nobody else gives a poop about the guy on the corner who has lied on his handwritten cardboard sign that he’s a sick vet and can’t work. His enterprise is capitalistic, same as most corporations and non-profits, for that matter. Your money is going to go somewhere; why not to him? Always in fear of being taken advantage of, of paying too much for something, of being lied to. The birds of the air and the fish of the sea live more freely, though they too are part of a food chain.

When I worked at the Ross Island Center of Portland Community College, in the late 70’s, early 80’s, the building echoed freshly, three stories with humongous basement and boiler – H shaped, its corridors, with spacious rooms with large double-hung windows that opened without screens to the city. The rooms were hot in the summer, cold in the winter. But the air was always fresh. Then I made a career change and found myself locked into a modern air-conditioned (and heated) nightmare. In my new building, one could not just walk over and open a window – there were ample windows, and lovely views, but the windows did not open. In a sense, they were virtual windows only, like the windows of a jet airplane. The old PCC building is still there, at the west end of the Ross Island Bridge, repurposed now as part of the National College of Natural Medicine, but still bears its original name, the Joshua Failing School, built in 1912. And the corporate building I spent time in, built in 1982, also three stories, but no basement, was repurposed around twenty years ago for use by a state agency.

May your day be filled with windows open, doors freely swinging, and writing, writing that awakes and flies through open windows and unlocked doors and breathes fresh air, though having said all that, the stale air of the evening pub, table sticky from spilled beer, sawdust floor that soaks up the spit, also still attracts the writer, but not necessarily the reader – and there’s the real rub, the real conspiracy, the wake-up call, the epiphany that equalizes.

La Dolce Vita

Jesus returns to Earth in his space soot
lands near a vineyard swarming with on-scene
reporters and a poet drinking wine
with a comely girl like in an old dream.

Bright lights big city and the poet cuts
out pieces of his heart installs plumbing
pipes in and out his body for his loves
to and fro rich and poor pub and nightclub.

Paparazzi poets loiter about
and caricatures party at a news
conference where Jesus is forgotten
dawn the city emerges beautiful.

From a cathedral altar the poet
lectures on gypsy jazz guitar grammar
and Jimmy Smith plays the Hammond B-3
while nine nuns discuss floral arrangements.

Visions of the Madonna go viral
but she disappears into a crazed crowd
crying out for miracles and passing
deep probes by the church and city fathers.

The poet visits a custom made home
paid for from funds of the company store
views of the city lights from the dark hills
and children run and play games safely.

The poet paints through the day en plein air
ocean views from the El Porto sand dunes
while Lily waits tables at House of Pies
with Marcella both flirting with the cooks.

Lily’s father visits dropped by a cab
and teaches the poet how to handle
a steering wheel on the San Diego
freeway to Long Beach everyone silent.

Lost feelings of forlorn hope and lovelorn
forgetfulness as the poet cruises
up Highway 1 past Malibu beaches
away from the ruins of the city.

An explosion rocks the morning beach town
an El Segundo Blue butterfly lifts
away from its warm studio setting
eriogonum parvifolium.

Endangered by human cravings the poet
absconds but returns sometime later
to a marketing and sales derived party
fueled by money libido and ego.

In the morning the poet washes up
on the beach caught up in sad fisher nets
Lily from the Strand smiles falling waves crash
the poet untangles and follows her.

No Way to Git Along

– This ain’t no way to git along, Honey,
no way to git along. There’s plenty’ll
get in our way, Babe, so let’s git along.

– Life’s no song and dance, it doesn’t
rhyme, and it’s get not git.
– Git is the cowboy variant.
– I once knew a guy named Gil.
– Was he a cowboy?
– Cowboys spell same’s everybody
else. You’re just a romantic fool.

– Git along home, git along down
the line, git to bed, git up and running
coffee and runny scrambled eggs.
Pull out a paper and jot this down,
no way to git along, weary Deary,
no way to get it all back home.

– I ain’t no doggie and even if I was
I don’t like to git get nor gat for
that matter. And this singing
cowboy gig of yours ain’t
worth a saltine cracker
in a bowl of filé gumbo.

– This is no way to git along, my
Shepherdess, no way to git along.
Come ride with me and we’ll mend our
fences and bring the doggies home.

A Hard Fall

A hard fall separate and divided
the returns bags of bottles
and illuminated cans
set lists of dying songs
and a guy in a brown study
disquieted over how much
everyone paid coprophagous
possum grin pocket change
and beer in his beard.

Heard not smelt nor sniped
learning to relax and unblame
to understand every Tom
Dick and Harry and Sue
Jane and Mary their woes
worries whys and wherefors
until the body oak cask aged
slows to a broken bicycle crawl
drink from a cold army canteen.

In fall when worry turns
to gold and rust the lorry
covered with lurry tarps
and no leary ear longing trips
by the river down the valley
to the coast faraway swells
ocean crossed turn to waves
everything that ever came
breaks in this only moment.

Bob Dylan’s “The Philosophy of Modern Song”: Playlists: Part Two

Bob Dylan has a new book out, titled “The Philosophy of Modern Song,” in which he proffers nonlinear essays of original and freewheeling exegesis of sixty-six mostly 20th century songs. The book is a mosaic of writing and photographs, the pics spread thematically throughout the pages (many from Stock or Getty; tracking them all down to their original source would be a mountainous research climb). There is a table of contents, showing the titles of the songs, but no index. There are no footnotes.

The book should be read aloud. If you’ve heard any of Dylan’s introductions featured in his now defunct Theme Time Radio Hour, you’ll know how the orality of the work is so important to its content. I’m reading the book aloud with Susan evenings this Fall. And I created a playlist on my YouTube Music channel of the sixty-six songs, so that we can listen to each song as we read the Dylan essay on it from the book.

Dylan’s sixty-six songs don’t amount to a best-of list. Each song is approached with a creative reading and listening analysis and appreciation. But why the song was selected, made the list, fished up out of the overstocked pond of popular songs – well, I don’t know. The underlying philosophy might be that any song has a story behind the story, an environment it came out of, that warrants description and understanding and an in depth discursive discussion of its time and place, and some songs lend themselves to this kind of analysis more than others. There is a kind of, not formula, but song archetype that’s uncovered, that might teach us how better to listen.

Here’s the playlist. Give it a listen, and get the book.

The 66 songs from The Philosophy of Modern Song, Bob Dylan, Simon & Schuster, 1 Nov 2022.

Playlists: Part One

I recently subscribed to the YouTube Music streaming app, and have been making playlists. There are now many music apps to choose from. I was using Tidal and before that Spotify. To the neophyte, they’re all pretty much the same, click and listen. But for messing around, collecting music, forming playlists, using the app as a reference and research tool, YouTube Music seems to be working well, with one major caveat: lack of performer credits and original recording info easily obtainable while listening – but in that regard, neither Spotify nor Tidal were much better (Prime Music has some info, but lacks detail amid glitzy formatting, while YouTube Music has imported some Wiki discussion). The YouTube Music library is huge, and the search engine responds intuitively, bringing up at least as often as not what I’m looking for, and when not, the discoveries are a pleasure.

I created a YouTube channel to post my playlists. The playlists I’m making are referenced to songs pulled from my music book collection: songs and pieces from readings from books on music, with a special emphasis on guitar.

The first two playlists I made contain pieces adapted from Jerry Silverman instruction manuals, books I’ve managed to keep around me over the years: The Folksinger’s Guitar Guide: An Instruction Manual by Jerry Silverman, Based on the Folkways Record by Pete Seeger (an Oak Publication, New York, 1962), and The Art of the Folk-Blues Guitar: An Instruction Manual by Jerry Silverman (Oak Publications, New York, 1964, Library of Congress # 64-18168). These two books are similar in format, the old black and white pictures alone worth the price of admission, and include notes, tablature, chord diagrams, lyrics, musical analysis, and historical discussion.

In his introduction to his Folk-Blues guitar book, Silverman outlines his predicament at the time: “… there is more information on blues in general in the New York Public Library, for example, in German and French than there is in English!” (11). And Silverman goes on to describe the problem, how, for example, working on his 1955 New York University Master’s Thesis on blues guitar, and his book “Folk Blues” that followed, discussion was limited to piano arrangements, since it was thought that “bona fide guitar arrangements would limit the book’s general usefullness.” This should come as no surprise – Julian Bream, the classical guitarist, when studying music at the Royal College of Music, in the early 1950’s, was told to leave his guitar at home, literally. The school had no guitar classes, no guitar program; the guitar was not considered a viable, virtuous instrument. There was no academically established canon of guitar music available for study or performance. This prejudice against the instrument, in spite of its obvious public popularity, was no doubt also pervasive and included in the States in attitudes opposed to black music, initially of rock and roll music, and of folk music in general, though what is now called the American folk music revival, lasting from the 30’s to the 60’s, did much to mainstream the popularity of the guitar and of blues and folk music.

Silverman also describes his purpose as follows: “Naturally, some basis of what to listen and watch for and whom to imitate must be laid. Throwing the fledgling bluesnik into the turbulent waters of Bluesville without the necessary basic information and technique would render a distinct disservice to the general cause – not to mention the specific aspirant” (11). Of course whole rivers of water have passed under cities of bridges since Silverman’s early 1960’s comments. But the following statement explains something that has not changed: “To get to know how things really are done you must actually observe the player in action. Since there are so many individual styles one never stops learning if one can get to see as well as hear as many guitarists as possible” (Folksinger’s Guitar Guide, p. 5).

The academic bias against the folk guitar may have been somewhat justified considering Woody Guthrie’s description of his method (quoted by Silverman in Folksinger’s Guitar Guide, p. 6): “Leadbelly learnt to play the guitar the same way I did, by ‘ear’, by ‘touch’ by ‘feel’, by ‘bluff’, by ‘guessin”, by ‘fakin’ and by a great crave and drive to keep on playing.”

Well, these were real folks, with real blues. Hearing the lyrics, the stories, of these old tunes one may be surprised to learn or be reminded of how real and how blue. In creating my playlists, I want to stay true to original material but also to benefit from new styles and covers of these old songs.

Give them a listen:

Songlist adapted from Jerry Silverman’s The Art of the Folk-Blues Guitar, 1964
Songlist adapted from Jerry Silverman’s The Folksinger’s Guitar Guide, 1962