August, 31 between 10 and 10:30 am via WGN Radio by clicking here please…
August, 31 between 10 and 10:30 am via WGN Radio by clicking here please…
Norbert Blei is whispering in my ear.
“Don’t forget to say that it all begins with poetry.”
“Make sure they understand the power of the small moment.”
“We breathe telling tales.”
I am preparing to teach The Norbert Blei Writing Workshop at The Clearing Folk School in Ellison Bay, Wisc. This is the second year that I will lead the class without Norb. Of course, I have a partner in teaching the class (just as Norb always had his “assistant” which over the years became “co-teacher”) and I couldn’t do it without her. We are both long-time Norbert Blei students and truly co-teachers. Last June, when many of us were still hurting from the loss of Norbert in April, I tried to incorporate as much of Norb into my teaching as I could. His presence was so strong within the class and at The Clearing. Of course, I cannot be Norb. There is only one Norbert Blei. I will teach the class as Albert DeGenova. Norb would have insisted on that.
Yet, Norbert continues to whisper in my ear…and he keeps “sending” me things to read, quotes from Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Basho, Kerouac.
“Write what is true.”
“Write what you know.”
“Your way is the only way”
As with any teacher and student, I know I have absorbed much of Norb’s direction and style. Both of us who teach the class cannot deny his influence. But just as any great maestro brings the wisdom of his own life and learning to his student, the student becomes their own artist. We have become the writers we are, and the teachers we are, because of Norbert’s influence on the people that we are. This is the way.
And in this way we keep the legacy of Norbert Blei alive. Here in the Poetry Dispatch, at The Clearing, as Norbert’s books continue to sell, but most importantly in our own writing. His voice keeps whispering in all of our ears. Norb recognized the power of the internet and embraced it. Simply search Norbert Blei’s name and you will find his legacy. Or join us at The Clearing for the annual workshop, all writers are welcome.
To some this may be old news now, but it bears repeating. Nearly two years prior to his death in 2013, Norbert invited some of his long-time students (all accomplished writers themselves) to contribute essays to a book he intended to write about his years as a teacher at The Clearing. The book would be his personal perspective on teaching, students and the importance of place, specifically The Clearing.
The Professor’s Quarters is a collection of those student essays. It is a book about Love: the love of a teacher, a place and the writing life.
The book is published by After Hours Press through the financial support of enthusiastic sponsors and will be donated to The Clearing for sale in the bookstore, beginning June 22, 2014. All profits from the sale of the book are dedicated for use as a scholarship fund for the continuing Norbert Blei Writing Workshop week at The Clearing.
For those readers of Norbert Blei’s books, articles and blogs, The Professor’s Quarters offers insights to the man and his teaching style, but also the place he found so important in his own life. Order at: http://goo.gl/v2UTje
Photo by Al DeGenova
POETRY DISPATCH No. 356 | October 17, 2011
Alice D’Alessio, Al DeGenova, Ralph Murre, Susan O’Leary
Editor’s Note: I presented a weekend writing workshop, “the poetry of prose” on Washington Island almost two weeks ago. I see prose poetry not so much as a strict form but more as a way to make a clunky prose line breathe, sometimes sing.
It was a good weekend of writing, discussion, reading…with great participants, as always–mostly my tried and true, solid bunch of Clearing advanced writing students, with solid credentials of publishing and/or book credits behind them.
I learn a lot from them, whether it’s my annual Clearing class (beginning and advanced) or this new, autumn-weekend writing workshop we established on the Island a year ago–thanks to Karen Yancey, who handles the registration details, keeps the party going on the Island; Dick and Mary Jo Purinton, who provide the perfect setting for Island living and learning; and Jude Genereaux, who facilitates communications, easing much of the burden from my back, especially last minute glitches. My thanks again to all of them.
Without going into definitions galore of prose poetry or class instructions, assignments etc., I promised the class a lot of work–and a little exposure on “Poetry Dispatch,” if things went well. So I thought I would share with readers three of the prose poems the students themselves selected (by secret ballot) from their reading on Sunday morning, when each writer read a favorite, best ‘polished-to-perfection’ prose poem of his or her own from class assignments just the day before.
Everyone quietly listened to everyone else, then secretly noted on a piece of paper (folded and passed on to me) the three favorites. The three favorites became four because of a tie.
Here they are, presented alphabetically by author. Enjoy, enjoy. –Norbert Blei
by Alice D’Alessio
Perfect, save for one flawed knuckle, beautifully seamed and creased, I am content to be what I am, the left hand, the second hand, the neglected hand. For I have a secret.
It is true that my neatly fitting skin is turning blotchy now, stretching into ridges and crevices. Yet it does its job so well, wrapping tight the underworkings, the critical bone and tendon, the rivers, streams and estuaries of blood and other juices that keep the fingers active and lubricated. It protects from invasion of those enemies that would enter and do great harm.
After seven decades of flexing and gripping, I am capable and strong, my five digits line up like soldiers for review, from short to tall, and back to short, to my sturdy thumb, altered a bit at the base with a lovely triangular scar. How well they stand at attention.
It’s true my partner, the right hand, gets all the glory. It is the one extended to shake the hands it meets, it picks up the pen and writes, brushes teeth, waves, plays a major role in buttoning, tying, stirring. But behold – on keyboards we are equal! And furthermore, there were glory days, now gone, when I was supreme. When we teased that violin into music, the runs and trills, the haunting melodies – it was I and I alone who found the notes, knew exactly where to press the string – never flat nor sharp – to make the purest sound. All the other one did was saw that bow across and back, across and back. I made the music, created the sweetness of tone with my vibrato. I, the genius twin, blessed with the gift of perfect touch. The other one, purely utilitarian. I rest my case.
by Albert DeGenova
Drunk with what? With wine, with poetry, or with virtue, as you please. But get drunk – Charles Baudelaire
The hanging Spanish moss looks one-hundred years younger today, I’ve drained the ancient pond through a red and white striped straw and licked the salt from the rim, the frog sings plop and I’m tokin’ on his flip flopping feet, on mind altering harmonic resonance, the whole band is in tune – the cool cats, the birds, the wind, the dirty swamp, cars speeding by pulling boat trailers, the hammering on the roof, the knife as it slices the bread, the dentist’s drill, the kid next door practicing guitar. Wake up!… Plop goes the blue-orange sunrise. Plop goes the weasel. What is the sound of stagnant water, water filling the bathtub or poured from a bucket, water as it gulps air swirling down the toilet? What is the sound of Eve’s first orgasm echoing through the universe? Of one hand clapping?
Plop! Plop! Plop!
by Ralph Murre
It, too, is called a thimble; this heavy galvanized fitting I splice into three-strand hawser on deck. Outbound tug Maria. My old man at the helm.
But the notion of “thimble” takes me back to that other sort, silvery there on the third finger of her arthritic hand. Grandma Maria. Seems it’s always been there, protecting that fingertip from the little stabs she knew were coming, leaving the rest of her bare to the unforeseen wounds that would come. There was the thimble as she pushed and pulled needle and thread, stitch on stitch, as depression flour sacks became dresses, as a spare blanket became a suit. Stitch on stitch, still, as my christening gown was shaped. White on white, as a tiny row of sailing boats was embroidered upon it. Rising infant to be bestowed beneath crosses of cathedral’s spires on the high hill. And her father before her, sewing stitch on stitch, white on white, patching sails blown out ‘round The Horn, stitch on everlasting stitch, triangle needle and leather palm, from Roaring Forties to Tropic Trades, and more than once, stitching a shroud: a benediction, a blessing. Fallen sailor to be bestowed beneath crosses of brigantine’s rig on the high sea. Aroma of pine tar, beeswax, mutton tallow. A very old man, long at anchor, calls out “Daughter, bring me rum.” She looks up from her sewing and agrees, “A thimbleful, Father,” as an ocean of time slides by, sewn with a meridian of stitches.
The faithful Maria rises to meet the oncoming swell. Settles. Rises again.
by Susan O’Leary
The hands come to the face to hold, to hold, as a rounded comfort to sustain. And in that comfort, the balm of touch. The hands become the Pieta of self, embracing with such tenderness, such desire to undo crucifixion, to bring solace to the impossible, to physically counsel grief.
With their sure shield, knowledge and reality can be shut out. At least in this moment. At least as, echoing their curve, the shoulders bend forward, the neck bows, and with eyes closed, words unspoken, breath halted, the body forms its own safe cave of retreat.
They have arrived too late. Or like Mary have had to remain and unwillingly witness sorrow. But their paired presence signals we are not alone. The earth spinning, they are the space that holds spinning in its orbit.
Photo by Mary Jo Purinton
Poetry Dispatch No.302 | December 2, 2009
When I consider some of my original intentions in starting a small press some fifteen years ago, and when I look at the book of Al DeGenova’s poems I published in BACK BEAT (CR+P #15, 2001), along with Charles Rossiter, I couldn’t be more pleased considering all Al has accomplished since then, including his most recent book, THE BLUEING HOURS, Virtual Artists Collective, 2008, (http:// vacpoetry .org).
While the hum of Kerouac and Co. drove much of his word-music in BACK BEAT, there is all that and much more in THE BLUEING HOURS, and its three parts: “The Red Hours, “The Black Hours,” and “The Blueing Hours.”
Maybe ‘blue’ is the working. defining metaphor for all he has to say and sing. Al’s drive is music, Chicago, family, relationships, the poem as ‘memoir’ to some degree…and something bordering between eroticism and love–not a bad ‘red’/‘blue’ place to be, though a hell of a territory to define, call your own.
My idea with CR+Press was to help launch, publish a limited edition, ‘first book’ by writers who could show me something. And not publish a second printing, no matter how well the book may have sold. My preference was to put my efforts in another first book by another new–or older small press writer who had faded into obscurity.
My hope was that the writer would ride the wave of the first book and, when he or she was ready with the next manuscript, find a new, different publisher. Continue to expand, grow make a name/reputation. New horizons. Many publishers. All this was part of the learning process. Al did this—and more. Even found another publisher to reprint the first, best-selling book, BACK BEAT. I could not be prouder of him.
He continues to bring his own kind of music to the writing. Continues to find new pathways to the interior. He is also the publisher/editor of one of the best literary magazines coming out of Chicago, AFTER HOURS.
Here are some poems from THE BLUEING HOURS which capture much of what I see and applaud in the man and his art. –norbert blei
We were to play together
a gig, father and son
sax and piano
like some modern-day notion
of vaudeville, or
talent night at the PTA.
I taught him a greasy
fried and dirty blues
like teaching him to tie a half-Windsor
or drink beer
or to live in the wilderness
with what we carried on our backs –
blues in G, that’s what I said
anxious to relive some smoky jam session memory,
as if there were some
in those 12 bars.
We’ll learn Chicken Shack.
it’s just a blues.
as if there were nothing to it.
But at least
the first time he played
it was with
growling low G
a father playing the blues
for his son
opening the door
to free the red rooster
to feed the gray fox.
Hemingway’s breath still lingers
here on this street, my street,
Did he ever walk across
my lawn, sit on my porch
on his way to school, the same school
my sons sit in now?
I walk past his boyhood home,
look up to his third-floor bedroom.
The light is on tonight in that center window.
Whose 17-year-old shadow
contemplates the glory of war?
Do those old floorboards still hold
the crescent moons of his fingernails?
If matter and energy can never be destroyed,
then history is a fishbowl -
we share this same water for eternity.
The song Hemingway hears
as he runs to catch a football
is my voice, my son’s piano from our open door
then, if it’s all true
I swim in the same salty Mediterranean
where my grandfathers wash their feet.
I touch the skin of the dead then,
when I write my name in the dust
on my brother’s Manhattan bookshelves
and the dead know me, know I am
here – now – trying to taste
their history like a ripe plum
like sour mash, like
all the lovers who’ve kissed my lover’s lips.
We are the ancient dirt beneath our feet,
are the Nazis, the Popes, the Michigan militia
all the hot dog vendors on Bourbon Street,
we are the Presidents, we are the bombs,
the dead babies, the homeless garbage eaters,
we are history—
the waiter delivers our fathers’ tabs,
and we pay, we pay.
A small move
white key to black
one half-step forward or back
colors major with minor
the smallest distance
between piano keys
transforms gospel to blues
Mozart to Monk.
The twitch of a muscle
sounds a missed note
pinches the corners of a frown
winks an eye
pronounces a wrong word
brushes a finger against a cheek.
To think the end
of a concerto hangs
precariously on the touch
of one little finger as
delicately as an explanation
between wife and husband
of the phone call
that rings dissonance
the caller outside the chord.
Crows line the horizon.
The milk in your breasts sours.
The piano is out of tune.
Your cheeks smell like mascara.
You walk through the valley of fear.
I fix the plumbing.
I carry the groceries.
You are the wind at the curtains.
I read suicide poems.
Your voice calls from a locked steel box.
I read without light.
You eat the leftovers.
You pull the weeds.
I smear gray ink.
You scream at the laundry.
at the laundry.
[from the BLUEING HOURS, Virtual Artists Collective, 2008, http://vacpoetry.com]
Al DeGenova and Charlie Rossiter
Poetry Dispatch No. 90 | July 13, 2006
Al DeGenova and Charlie Rossiter
I’ve known both Al and Charlie for a quite a few years—even ‘performed’ with them on one or two occasions, both here in Door County and back on their/my old Chicago turf. They are a unique team as performers, while at the same time, very different poets., each bringing his take, his perception of the Beat spirit, still alive and well today all over the world. Thanks to poets like Al (mixing sax and flute sounds at times with words as he reads) and Charlie, a kind of happy shaman on the stage (his beloved Han Shan in the flesh),laughing out lines, beating his bongo drum.
About five years ago I worked with them in putting together a combination memory/poetry book to be published by my small press, Cross+Roads Press, which I did. BACK BEAT (2001) was almost an immediate sellout/hit. And since my policy with the press is not to do a second printing…well, even worse than being a poet out of work, is a poet out of books. But I’m pleased to announce that a few months ago, another press picked up the second printing—some small changes, a few additions, but the same Emmett John’s cover of Kerouac—and readers should please contact either Charlie or Al for copies. Or catch them somewhere in Chicago, the Midwest at a reading. They have a new CD too. Norbert Blei
(excerpt from Song For My Son) #6 by Al DeGenova
Writers’ ghosts walk on Kerouac Street
Beat poems on beat up shelves
stands unchanged (and not)
on the border between Little Italy and Chinatown.
Diane di Prima loses her virginity
again and again
as I sip espresso
with her Memoirs of a Beatnik.
I feel their sour breath;
the writers’ ghosts of 1960 San Francisco
are wheezing, laughing, fucking, drinking
while I am here doing my duty
for the corporate god.
A saxophone calls me into Chinatown
(wheezing voice of the poets).
Oh spirits, we are kindred
in this dirty, old, beautiful, alive, dead
city with the bridge
am a conspicuous, lamenting conventioneer tourist,
part-time poet, part-time saxophonist, who
chose the path
Cole, listen to the poets.
Listen…”to thine own self be true.”
Listen…”Blow, man, blow!”
THE EX by Charlie Rossiter
She’s the worst kind of monster
made up of old parts of yourself
that needed a woman like her
and couldn’t see disaster looming
like a bad dream that keeps coming back
when you let your guard down
you see her in a dark cafe and shiver,
it’s like a visit from the grave
you try to recall good times
but you’re torn–how else
how else to move on
you’ve switched back to your old brand
of toothpaste, but you still wear
clothes you wore with her
and drive the same car. You wonder
how far you’ll have to go.
You want to blame it all on her
then you want to blame it all on you.
In your better moments you wish her well.