How Reporters Helped Me Write Better Poems   Thursday, July 18, 2019







how reporters helped me write better poems

for a number of years
earlier in my life
I was the go-to
for area media wanting
a local slant
on business and economic
news that was rarely good

TV, newspaper
and radio interviews
several times a month,
usually covering
the same story, breaking news
mostly, sometimes a reporter,
either on assignment
or on their own initiative,
looking for a more
far-reaching, deeper story

newspaper
and radio were usually done
from my office, relaxed
conversations, mostly, with
reporters I knew and had worked with
often

television was different and more varied,
taped and live

interviews were most often taped
in my office, but I did a few minutes
on a live local morning news and talk show
several times a week, and several times,
when news broke to late for reporters
to get down to my office for tape,
I did live interviews behind the anchor desk
with the anchor, 3 to 5 on-air minutes
to respond to 4 or 5 questions
from the anchor


I learned how to do those live spots
without embarrassing myself
by doing taped interviews
a couple of times a month -
just a reporter, a cameraman and me,
getting the interview done in three basic
set-up, a wide shot of the reporter
and me, talking, a close-up of me,
talking, and a medium short of the reporter
talking, usually taken from behind me

audio was added later

two lessons I learned - the first
and most basic - never piss of a reporter
because, in the end they will define you
by the way they cut the tape and a happy
reporter will be much nicer to you
than an angry one

some reporters, especially the new ones,
came into the interview already set
on the story they wanted to write
and there was no sense in arguing with them
about what their story ought to be

the better course for me
was to find a way to tell the story
I wanted told within the context
of the story they wanted to write

and the secret to doing that
is part of the second important thing
I learned

I came to understand that even a 10
minute interview with me would end up with
no more than 45 seconds of me talking,
so what I had to do was toss in,
throughout the 10 minute interview,
little bits and pieces so good I knew
they weren't going to be able to leave the out
of of my 45 seconds

it's the power and the art of the good quote

all reporters are expected
by their editors to find the quotes
they need to support their story -
a story without quotes, to many editors
is an editorial, not a news story

so I learned to see that my job,
as someone with a story to tell,
was to give reporters the quote they needed
even if it wasnt' strictly the quote they wanted

(I was told by a couple of reporters
that the reason they always came to me
on a story was that I gave "good quote")

and, so what's a poem -

a memorable, logically connected, imagistic
construct of words and phrases -

in reporting terms, a good quote...

and that's how doing news interviews
showed mt the way to write better poems

(except in the case of this poem,
which is more like
and instruction booklet
- in four languages -
on how to build and repair a
diesel engine)









Standard stuff this time around.


Me 
how reporters helped me write better poems

Joanna Weston
The Fisher
Absence

Me
pumping and grinding

Me
deciding which kind is which kind

Me 
weep for me for I am a hero

Rohn Bayes 
a myth for our time

Me 
the woman with the scar

Me
la mujer de la marea

Ethridge Knight
a poem for the black relocation centers

Me
300 miles south

Me
the woman who laughed so big

George Trakl
Grodek

Me
no fish swims in the same sea twice

Me
mysteries of night and morning

Kathleen Spivack
Tipping Point

Me
about tattoos

Me
a happy man















Here are two poems by my Canadian friend Joanna Weston.





The Fisher

a man hip-deep rod in and
in the wide curve of the river

water purls against his legs
evergreen on each bank
distant mountains purple

a glimpse as we drove past
yet he remains
always fishing the Athabasca
in a grey morning
the song of his reel still unwinding
a glimpse as we drove past
yet he remains
always fishing the Athabasca
in a grey morning
th song of his reel still unwinding
as the line lengthens
to a fish I'll never see


Absence

when branches blow
across he window
I hear his breath
against my cheek
his voice taunting
brother-like
across the room

when I find old stamps
in second-hand stores
his hand reachers
fom behine me
he quotes a price
buys them and I am
crouched besid him
studying his collection

the wind dies down
the stamps too new
and my brother lies
quietly under the grass









From an early morning diner.



pumping and grinding

the bald man
eats his breakfast
with machine precision

his arms
pumping as he cuts
his eggs

like pistons
in an 8-cylinder
turbo-charged Thunder-

bird,
his jaws working
like industrial grinders

particulating
each little bit of egg
and dry wheat

toast.

I had one once,
not particulating grinders,
but a 8-cylinder

turbo-charged Thunder
bird and I was a hard-pumping
dude on the highway.

but I never ate
like the bald man,
tending toward a more

Southern,
more laid-back
style

of ingesting
finding my grits
in the morning

to encourage a more
leisurely
approach to living










A bookstore observation





deciding which kind is which kind

so I was
in the bookstore

and I saw this little boy
run to his mom

with a book,
"mommy, I want this book"

he said,
"you can't have that book"

she said
"but I want it"

he said,
"you can't have it"

she said,
"its a girl's book"

so he  says,
"okay, mommy"

and heads back
to the children's book section

to find
a boy's book

and I'm left
with questions

like,
whose job is it to decide

which kind of book
is which kind of book

is it the librarian,
after she returns all the returns

to their proper shelves
and straightens the magazine racks

and makes a list
of the overdue books

not returned today,
does she go to the children's

book section
and search every hook

page by page
cataloging the little boy penises

and the little girl ia\\viginas
that distinguish the one kind of book

from the other kind of book
and mark it with the appropriate stamp

so no mistakes of identification
can lead a little boy to reading

a little girl book
and vice-versa

and does she keep a list
of which kind of book each kind of book

is










I wrote this in response to the fetisation of the 9/11-2001 attack and the resultant confusion between heroes and victims.

There were and still are real heroes, often lost in the wailing of victims claiming heroism for their victim hood.




weep for me for I am a hero

it was a terrible
evil thing
done to us that day

by terrible
evil
motherfuckers

but
this world is full
of terrible evil mother-

fuckers
doing terrible evil things
everywhere that people live

and the fact that
they did it to us doesn't
make, them, or the thing

they did
special or unique - it's just another
case

of the human race
racing
to its own destruction...

now it is true
we need to kill every one
of the terrible evil

motherfuckers
who had anything to do
with the thing they did to us

(but it would be nice
if we could kill more of the evil
motherfuckers and fewer

shepherds and
shopkeepers and women
an children an babes-in-arms)

I take that last as a given,
one that I would think we could
all share

but I know we don't
for there are those who say
kill them all

and let God, theirs or ours
or who cares,
sort out the innocent from the

evil motherfuckers -
it is the psychology of victimhood
that makes a person

feel they are a special case,
that regular rules
don't apply

after all,
I am the victim here,
poor me poor me kill them all

burn their church
(or don't let them build one at all)
mock their god

for I am a victim,
pray for me, weep for me,
send me money

for I am a victim and victims
are heroes now
and we all know how we love

our heroes,
weep for me, a hero,
daughter of the first cousin

of a neighbor's aunt's dog
groomer killed in that terrible evil
thing done by those terrible

evil
mother
fuckers

weep for me weep for me
for I am a victim
and a hero

and how
I am
loved

and how I love in return
my victim's
role

in this ticker-tape land
of victim-
heroes














These little snippets, one to a page, are from a tiny chapbook, there is comfort in the city, by Rohn Bayes, about whom I know nothing. I bought the little book at my coffeehouse for 99 cents.

It is about San Pedro Springs in San Pedro Park across the street from San Antonio College near downtown. It is the story of life that has grown around the spring where human habitation can be traced back at least 10,000 years.

About this city of a million and a half in a semi-arid environment where much of its history and culture is about  water and the rivers and  creeks and springs the city is built around.

I think there is a less from me in this tiny book. Instead of publishing eight  books with a hundred poems or more in each book, I should have published hundred books with ten poems in each.




a myth for our time

before the spanish marched in
straggled in more likely thirsty and dusty

before the payaya 500 strong showed up
oh lord this enchanted spring

long before any human being dwelt here
around the mouth of god the womb of mother nature

the cradle of humanity the water nymphs the frogs
and the tall cypress resided here

occasionally visited by the mastodons
a saber toothed tiger or two
and the snake people

oclonoclith and sawana tati
also known as brother tree and sister brook
tended the garden

they have always been there

it was their voice calling back and forth
oah tah nea kah / oah tak a nea

where are you??


i am here

that sounded in the water in
the splashing of the rocks in the
call of the ducks coming down
thru trees in the silence
at twilight when everything changes

when

the first people
stood here at the edge of this pool
and saw these things

10,000 years ago

they saw more than we see now

but they could not imagine us

heaven is forever and stories are about the past

we can imagine them through
look back and make a myth

train your tired eyes to see
train your weary heart to feel

find your inner voice and listen









A coffeehouse observational from a couple of weeks ago.

the woman with the scar

the pretty young woman
with fint burn scars
on one side of her face
struggles with two yoga mats
and two large bags
paces
one end of the coffeehouse
to the other, quietly desperate
as she talks on her phone,
something about money owed,
past-due, and car problems
and maybe a car wreck, asking
for help, asking for forbearance,
pacing
one end of the coffeehouse
to the other, bags and yoga mats
clutched in one arm, telephone
pressed to her scarred cheek

never a tear, seeking help,
but never a tear, never a voice
higher than low, arranges
to meet someone, somewhere,
she gives intricate directions
to get to, but later,
first, her work for the morning,
yoga instruction in the open air
atrium outside the coffeehouse

paid according to the number
of her students - so far,

she is alone











For many years I lived in Corpus Christi, Texas, on the Gulf of Mexico (actually on Corpus Christi Bay, separated from the Gulf by North Padre Island.) For a short period of time, I lived right on the bay, but for most of my time there (15 years) I lived a few blocks from the bay. In both cases, driving along the bayfront to get to my office downtown was a great way to start the day, whether on sparkling clear days or through fog so mysterious and dense all you could hear was the sounds of seagulls calling, the rustle of shrimp boats heading our for the day's catch and wind-blown waves lapping on the shore.




la mujer de la marea

gulf winds
push strong and stubborn
from the southeast

and the sound of their
blowing
and the sound of surf

chasing down the
barnacle-spiked
sea wall

is a low moan,
like an old woman
crying in her sleep...

an old woman
far from home, remembering
when she sang of lost love

and drew sailors to their death
on the jagged rocks
of her unrequited desire













This poem is from Every Shut Eye Ain't Asleep, "an anthology of poetry by African Americans since 1945". The book was published Little Brown and Company in 1994.

The poem I selected to use here is by Etheridge Knight, a poet who made his name with the publication of his first book in 1968 featuring poetry from his eight years in prison after his arrest in 1960 for robbery. His second book in 1970, Black Voices from Prison, established him as one of the major poets of the Black Arts Movement.

Born in 1931, he died in 1991.




A Poem for Black Relocation Centers

Flukum couldn't stand the strain. Flukum
wanted inner and outer order, so
he joined the army where U.S. Manuals made
everything plain - even how to button his shirt,
and how to kill yellow men. (If Flukum
ever felt hurt or doubt about who his enemy
was, the Troop Information Officer or the Stars
and Stripes straightened him out.)
And, we must not forget
that Flukum was paid well to let the Red
Blood. And sin? If Flukum ever thought about sin
or Hell by squashing the yellow men, the good Chaplain
(Holy by God and by Congress) pointed out with
Devilish skill that to kill the colored men was not
altogether a sin.









 A birthday celebration, summer 2011.




300 miles south

in the coastal borderlands
of equatorial heat and humidity,
a place of cotton and sugar cane
and palm trees and the dirty low-flowing
river, a barrier that is no barrier but to reasonable
thinking among vote-sucking politicians,
and crowded beaches with bikini babes leaping
and sand crabs scurrying and sea birds circling
and a birthday party at the church,
with a mariachi band, the leader,
older even than the birthday girl,
looking like Buster Keaton
dancing with little shuffle steps
while playing his violin
and then, lights down low
a very loud conjunto band, ka-thunka-
thunka bass and accordion,
like a rabbit running in a high grass field,
and old women with dancing feet
and swivel hips and the priest
in the corner, a presence of conspicuous
oversight
not obviously noticing
the line to the dark alcove where
abide the Lone Star and Dos Equis
and a fifth of Jack and a quart of Bacardi
and the Styrofoam cups
so the priest won’t know, wink, wink, what’s
going on in this his Sunday realm
on Saturday night…

five sons and a daughter
dance with mom, one after the other
sing happy birthday,
while grandchildren and
son-and-daughters-in laws join in ...

Saturday night
in the coastal borderlands…

Sunday morning, waking from a hard night
in a too-soft hotel bed, Dee asleep on one side,
the dog, Reba, asleep on the floor in a corner,
myself,
ready for coffee, ready for breakfast, ready
to leave,
300 miles north to the hard caliche and
limestone hills of home…

myself,
ready to go home









Another coffeehouse observational from July, 2011.




the young woman who laughs so big

young woman,
nice looking, short,
with a gargantuan laugh,
ack, ack, ack,
like an anti-aircraft barrage
over London
rattling the windows
amazing
from such a small
person

a full-bodied laugh,
her body
leaning backward
like marsh grass in the face
of a mighty lowing wind,
head thrown back,
eyes half-closed, mouth open,
like turkeys
in heavy rain, amazed
at the rain, drowning
in it
as the rain pours
into their open mouths, too
dumb to close it, too
enthralled by the curiosity
of the rain
to shift their gaze
to the ground

endearing,
this happy young woman
might be
if her caution-to-the-wind
wide-mouthed,
head-back
laugh
didn't remind me
of drowning
turkeys
and if it wasn't
so damn
loud












The next poem is by George Trakl, taken from Music while drowning, a collection of German expressionist poems from the expressionist movement that began between the First and Second World Wars, reflecting very often the zeitgeist of the time. The book was published by Tate Publishing in 2003, It is a beautifully bound book with thick, slick paper and many dark illustrations.

Trakl, born in 1887 and died in 1914, was considered among the most important Austrian expressionist. The poem below is his best known work, written shortly before his death of a cocaine overdose.

He served in the Australian military  medical service during World War I, including at the battle at Grodek near Galician in 1914. Charged with providing assistance to 90 badly wounded soldiers with inadequate supplies, he was unable to ease the soldiers' pain, he suffered a mental breakdown and was hospitalized for psychiatric observation. He never completely overcame the experience as suggested by this his last poem before he died of suicide by overdose.

The poem was translated by Michael Hamburger.




Grodek

At nightfall the autumn woods cry out
With deadly weapons and he golden plains,
The deep blue lakes, above which more darkly
Rolls the sun; the night embraces
Dying warriors, the wild lament
Of their broken mouths,
But quietly there in the pastureland
Red clouds in which an angry god resides,
The shed blood gathers, lunar coolness,
All the roads lead to blackest carrion,
Under golden twigs of the night and stars
The sister's shade now sways through the silent copse
To greet the ghosts of heroes, the  bleeding heads;
And softly the dark flutes of autumn sound in the reeds,
O prouder grief! You brazen alter,
Today a great pain feeds the hot flame of the spirit,
The grandsons yet unborn.









Sometimes it just gets boring outside the window looking in.




no fish swims in the same sea twice

all of us
think sometimes
of getting back into the thick of things,
a little bored
looking on from the outside,
certain we could fix it,
whatever it is,
certain the world must truly be suffering now
from lack of our attention

sometimes
we listen in to those still swimming
in the turbulent seas
we left behind,
and when we do, the truth,
painful, but clear...

it is not our sea
they swim in, but some alien ocean
devoid of the kind of honor and challenge
that sustained us,
a new sea where the predator
is the sea itself

a sea too small now
for us
and our wider, deeper dreams -
better in such waters
to be a smaller, faster fish
than from our history we are prepared to be










Too hot for this kind of stuff for the next month or two. But when the cool nights and clear early mornings come and the mosquito's are chased off to wherever blood-sated mosquito's go, there are beautiful nights to embrace the time and the season.



mysteries of night and morning

it began
about nine
with thunder and lightning
and rumors of rain
which, turned out, were
only rumors,
but it was a nice threat
to ponder any-
way

all that fuss
had settled by four thirty,
with a clear sky
and a full moon, bright
and silver on a soft black sky
like a cushion, a night
to rest your head
on

I lay
in the blazing moon glow
like a white-bellied cat, stretching,
lazing on a dim sea shore,
shining under the moon's ocean
of bright

my head pillowed back
I watched the moon as it slipped
toward morning - west, behind pale
passing clouds, slowly
dipping
behind the trees that line the creek

no sun yet
but you can hear the night give up
with a sigh, a rustle of birds
in the trees, dogs sensing the scent
of a new day, barking
at the moon
settling
around the curvature of the earth,
soft, like a reclining woman's
rounded hip,
its night shadows
overtaking
the fading light
of the other side of the world,
the part that is not my part,
where other people live
lives as mysterious to me as
the traveling moon
itself,
ancient
and steady in its orbit,
silver side to me,
dark side unknown

my day begins
here,
now,
unknown
as to what it will be,
another dark side hidden
before its moment
arrives,
fresh
and untested,
as mysterious, i suppose
to those others
and their is to me













This is a piece from The Spoon River Poetry Review - Winter/Spring 2007.

The poet I selected from the issue is Kathleen Spivak, born in New York and raised in Vermont. She graduated from Oberlin College in 1959 and won a fellowship to study at Boston University. She was a Fulbright Senior Artist/Professor in creative writing in France, 1993-1995. She help numerous teaching posts at universities in France.




Tipping Point

How this soft green garden strokes
and soothes as we walk among her:
the brush tips of grasses feathering paint me paint me;
translucent mauve fingers of children
shifting sun's shadow, the certainty of light.

You know the descending moment, day's end,
dark ending I'm speaking of
when the green glimmer inhales its fragrance, holds
an exact calibration, deliberate & slant-wise, the
breath-angle - you've seen it too -
making everything perfect and therefore unbearable.

That moment before the over-spilling pitcher is poured from,
with the seen of droplets still shivers on its oval surface,
before liquid, brimming, melds with the Great River Thirst
and we, silver winged, lunar, are emptied and earthen -
I could love anyone right now: you, for instance.









It's not the tattoo I dislike, it is the spoiling of a perfect canvas.




about tattoos

the thing with me
about tattoos
is that I hate them

being the great appreciator
of skin
I am

(the more the better
is my philosophy)

I've never seen
a tat
looking better
than the skin
it covered









Back in my career days I knew a lot of politicians, and wasn't so bad at the game myself, though I was never elected to anything. Some were very smart; some were dumb as rocks. Some were just plain ordinary people wanting to do good, but sometimes in over their head. Some I trusted and some I wouldn't trust to take out my garbage. Some I really truly liked. This is about one such.

It occured to me as I was transcribing this piece from 2011 telling of a meeting 10 years earlier, how much Joe Biden, to the degree I know of him, reminds me of my politician friend.




a happy man

he always seems
such a happy person,
always so happy to see me,
like yesterday,
running into him
while having lunch with a friend,
so enthused,
so happy
after more than a few years
to see me again

I feel his pleasure
and it gives me pleasure

not longer in politics now,
he was for many years
and was good at it, and part
of his success was his evident joy
in people, smiling as all politicians must,
but seeming to mean it,
not the general smile at the space
between him and you
that good politicians must master,
the institutional smile
of someone who imagines themselves
an institution, not the you-think-you-know-me-
but-yo-don't-so-don't-take-this-personal
smile of the TV pitchman, none
of those media-age smiles,
but a real smile,
a smile at you, at your face, at your eyes,
his eyes to your eyes, a meeting
of congenial spirits

he seems, always, a happy man
and it is always a pleasure to see him,
whether the separation
was a day, a week, or a number of years

he's just happy to see you
and by golly
you're just happy to see him
too

and if he has dark secrets,
you don't want to know
them










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