Why is that boat on the sidewalk?

Note: Poetry is not my usual form of expresssion, but this came out tonight, so I thought I’d share it with you here.

Why is that boat on the sidewalk?
Why does reading the newspaper make me cry?
Why can’t Eddie and Ray and David and Mary quit fighting with each other?
Why are there men with machine guns in the parking lot at JC Penny’s?
Why are my friends suddenly spread across the world?
Why is it quiet on Frenchmen Street?
Why do I miss the Thai monkeys?
Why can’t I have lunch on the porch at Sid-Mar?
Why can’t I hear Kidd and Fred on Sunday?
Why can’t I make a phone call?
Why does it take 30 minutes to drive 3 miles?
Why are those men laughing?
Why does the music sound so good?
Why do I still feel fortunate and blessed?

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On a different topic…

(Guest post by Jeb Bishop)

Over a beer the other day I read Harry Frankfurt’s essay On Bullshit, published by Princeton University Press. Frankfurt was a professor of philosophy at Princeton and this essay apparently circulated underground for quite a while before its publication, acquiring a semi-legendary status.

The humor inherent in the idea of an academic approach to this topic is obvious, but the book (a fairly quick read) is not a joke, being in fact a serious attempt at “the development of a theoretical understanding of bullshit,” or an articulation of the “structure of its concept.” I found it absorbing and thought-provoking, especially in light of the fact that, as its very first sentence states, “One of the most salient features of our culture is that there is so much bullshit.”

But the reason I was moved to post about it was simply that I was so delighted by the following sentence, which in its style and perspicacity puts me in mind of Mark Twain:

“The realms of advertising and of public relations, and the nowadays closely related realm of politics, are replete with instances of bullshit so unmitigated that they can serve among the most indisputable and classic paradigms of the concept.”

You just want to cheer a sentence like that.

(It occurs to me to hope that I am not breaking any posting rules here. What can I say, I like the word “bullshit.”)

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How to use a Spoon

Tonight my family had dinner at a Chinese buffet. Next to us were two tables occupied by a pair of families. One table was populated by the adults, and the other by four teenage offspring. Not children anymore, but not adults yet either. There was one young man at that table that seemed to be going out of his way to be different. He was a bit dorky and seemed like the type of guy that ten years from now would either be the manager of his local Radio Shack, or selling his software company for $35 mil.

At one point I looked over and he was eating his ice cream with the handle end of his spoon. It seemed apparent that he was doing this in the hope that someone would tell him he couldn’t. No one did. The parents were at the other table. When nearly all of the ice cream was gone, he flipped the spoon around and used the standard end, because otherwise he would have had to leave those last few precious drops of melted chocolate ice cream at the bottom of the bowl.

My first reaction to all of this was, “He can’t do that!” Then I asked myself why he couldn’t do that. There is etiquette that tells us we must use the proper end of the spoon to eat our ice cream. I also had a college composition teacher tell me I couldn’t put the #11 in the bass line, especially on beat three. I changed it for my senior recital, but I changed it back 12 years later when the tune was dug up and recorded. I was told I couldn’t do that, but I did, and no one got hurt, and people have even told me they like it! If they only knew about the #11 in the bass line. What would they think then?

The rules of society are there to guide us to behave in a way that will elicit the desired response. Those rules change to some extent depending on one’s target audience, and one’s desired response. Painting your fingernails black is not the best way to get invited to the church choir potluck, but in the ’80’s I knew people that would hardly speak to anyone that didn’t have at least one black fingernail.

Most great art breaks the rules, or at least breaks the rules of the preceding generation. Charlie Parker was all about playing great melodies through lots of changes. Ornette Coleman is all about playing great melodies over no set changes. They both broke rules and upset people, but now kids are being taught rules for how to play like Bird. If we follow the bebop rules, we will get a certain response from a certain audience. Someone out there right now is breaking those rules, and being told that they are wrong. 30 years from now kids will be taught the rules for how to play like that someone, and the next someone will break those rules.

It’s funny that I am a greater stickler for societal rules than musical rules. I keep telling my stepson to put on socks and tie his shoes, but I keep telling my improvisation students to forget what I say and play what they hear, and it’s ok.

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For New Orleans

Regarding “Woodburners We Recommend”: Poet Bob Arnold writes, publishes, and distributes books in Guilford, Vermont. He is currently raising money to help displaced New Orleans musicians through street busking: poetry and fiddle, guitar and verse. You get so used to big bureaucratic relief efforts, Red Cross, FEMA, these sometime giants who arrive in your ruined neighborhood, stay a month, and then take off for the next disaster, that you lose sight of what one person can do to assist. A nation of activists is what we need. Yesterday Bob raised $40 on the streets that he’s sending on to a musicians’ relief effort. Today he sent $100 to a fund established by Preservation Hall. It takes just a little, to mean a lot…

Each one, reach one.

The poem below, by Mikhail Horowitz, was published by Bob Arnold in his Woodburners We Recommend series and is available as a postcard for $5 American money. Bob’s “mission statement” for the Woodburners’ series follows the poem.

A Woodburners We Recommend Publication 2005 series

Mikhail Horowitz
For New Orleans, 9/7/05
Love Thy Poet Postcard Series

For New Orleans, 9/7/05

Fell asleep last eve
to the TV tolling its knell

a bottomless bass chord
over the drowned ninth ward

& dreamed of divine intervention:

a congress of loas
& a subcommittee of spirits

raising & conjuring
all of the city’s pianos, &

sending them in a great
mahogany armada to plug the

levee, stopping the water &
stemming the flood of betrayal,

the deluge of political indifference,
with all the music of all the hearts

that made this city the soul
of these drowned States

~ Mikhail Horowitz

Available ~

Mikhail Horowitz. “For New Orleans, 9/7/05”. Longhouse, 2005. First edition.
Love Thy Poet 35. Card. Fine and bright. Limited edition. Poetry. $5 (+ $1 s/h).

As an act of goodwill and for poetry – Longhouse is sending out each month complete publications – online – of one poet (or more) we have published in booklet, broadside or postcard form for everyone to share.

It’s a way of giving back to many of you who have sent to us poems, letters, purchases and the same goodwill over the years. The series will fly in under the banner of our Woodburners We Recommend. It should also be felt as a certain warmth in memory to all our close and dear poetry comrades passed along – each one becoming more of a loss.

Each monthly booklet will also be available for purchase from Longhouse. Issued in a very limited keepsake edition of 50 copies. Starting in 2006 we will begin to reissue and present past issues from Longhouse of select poets. For those readers that travel back as far as 1972 when Longhouse began, you know poetry was released like bandits by the day, by the week, by the month, and always free. We have never taken on grants and meant poetry to be seen & heard & on poetry terms. From 2005, into the Infinite, and within the universal cyber cosmos, we would like to share multiple poets with you….and only ask that you share them further.

2005 Mikhail Horowitz
September 2005 Bob & Susan Arnold at Longhouse

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