Robert M. Zoschke | Norbert Blei’s writing quarters

7 07 2013

Norbert Blei's writing quarters - before

click the image above to enlarge…

Robert M. Zoschke | Norbert Blei's writing quarters

Robert M. Zoschke | Norbert Blei's writing quarters

Robert M. Zoschke | Norbert Blei's writing quarters

Please find the three photos of Norbert Blei’s writing quarters after Robert M. Zoschke and Norb’s son Chris Blei finally got it cleaned up. Please see Chris’s note to me as well. As Norb’s health seriously declined the past few years he spent less and less time in his beloved writing coop. During his final winter he wasn’t there much at all and the place became neglected and penetrated badly by mice. Imagine all the bare floor space and the one clear wall all covered hip-deep with stuff, that had to be sifted through with gloves and masks on…that was the cleanup. We were able to unearth several issues of literary magazines and journals from the Sixties and Seventies that Norb’s poetry and fiction appeared in that we were not aware of, and we have been able to amass a bibliography including all the unpublished manuscripts found.

Perhaps it would not surprise your loyal readers to learn that Norb was a saver, he didn’t throw anything away. As we cleaned, we found out that this included Norb saving everything left behind by his father, including his father’s old “stag” books that pre-dated Playboy et cetera. So we had some laughs along the way, and beautiful moments when we found such things as all the crayon cards and poems his children had done for him when they were little. While we were staggered to find some of the classic First Edition books of Modern American Literature that were damaged into poor condition or not even capable of being salvaged, due to mice nesting and mice droppings and years of not being protected…it was heartwarming to find his children’s cards, poems, drawings, and schoolwork protected and saved in mint condition…and in the end, that is as poignant a tribute to Norb as one can witness. – Robert M. Zoschke

Both Bridget and I are forever grateful for all the help you have given us.
Thank you Rob.
Chris





Rick Kogan rediscovers Norbert Blei

29 06 2013
Norbert Blei

Norbert Blei | 1935 – 2013

The last time the name Norbert Blei appeared above a story in the Chicago Tribune was June 2, 1985. He wrote about the Clearing, a folk arts school founded in 1935 in Door County, Wis., by renowned landscape architect Jens Jensen when he was 75.

“Quite a legacy. Quite a man,” Blei wrote. Jensen “believed it was time for him to establish his ‘school of the soil’ down a woodland road toward the bluffs north of Ellison Bay. Essentially it would be a place for young students of landscape architecture to live close to nature, get a feel for it in their hands, discover its teachings and apply these discoveries to their own life and work — much as Jensen had done. Today, 50 years later, 34 years after his death at the Clearing at 91, the essential teachings of Jensen’s school remain the same: the harmony of man and nature.”

Blei moved to Door County in 1969, and it has been his home ever since, a place where he has lived and loved, painted, raised two kids, written, talked and taught, serving for many decades as one of the most inspirational instructors at the Clearing.

Blei was born here in 1935, an only child growing up on the West Side before moving to Cicero in grade school, and he has ever remained tied to this place. He was a high school English teacher for a bit and later a minion of the City News Bureau, that bygone training ground for journalists.

“I’m out of the newspaper tradition,” Blei once told me. “But the sort of stuff I do doesn’t seem to fit new demographics. There are so few publications reflecting the life of the city’s neighborhoods. They don’t seem to realize that the stories are still out there.”

Still true today, all of that, but for some years Blei was able to find homes in local magazines for his stories about the city. Eventually, though, the pages that once welcomed Blei’s nonfiction began to vanish, and he was increasingly compelled to use material he once would have put into what he charmingly called “pieces of journalism” into his fiction.

I have ever admired Blei and have talked with him many times over the years, when he would venture south to see old friends and re-explore his city.

He was always good for a story, and here is one of them.

“I was entertaining a Chicago editor in Door County not long ago,” he said. ”And after a lengthy evening he looked me in the eye and said, ‘OK, Norb, let’s be straight. The bottom line is money.’… How dead wrong. The bottom line is not to sell. I am a storyteller. I am called to the page.”

He has filled many of them, writing 17 books of nonfiction, fiction, poetry and essays. In 1994 he founded Cross+Roads Press, dedicated to the publication of first chapbooks by poets, artists, short story writers and novelists, thus empowering a generation of younger writers.

“Since my first class with Norbert in 1996, he has become a true mentor in my writing life,” says talented Chicago poet Albert DeGenova, who also is the publisher of After Hours Press. “His passion for the literary subjects he chooses to teach, his dedication to the writing life, to the purity of the word, to the flow of feeling to thought to words on the page … his stubborn adherence to ideals and perfection … these are what inspire his students, a special kind of student that only needs to stand near the fire to find personal ignition. And a powerful fire Norb is, though he never burns.

“And though a great teacher, Norb is first and foremost a writer. His books are alive with people, neighborhoods, the sights, sounds, smells of real living.”

If you would like to explore his work — the Internet makes almost all of them available with some digging — I would recommend starting with, in any order, three books that form what I consider his Chicago trilogy.

There is “Neighborhood,” about which the writer/critic Laurie Levy wrote in the Tribune, “There is the soul of a poet as well as a journalist at large in these pages, recalling for the less articulate those lost moments we try so hard to remember.”

There is “Chi Town,” which he called his “love letter to a city that has meant so much to me.” In it one can feel his passion for this place, whether writing about such familiar characters as Mike Royko, Studs Terkel, sportswriter Jerome Holtzman or less famous folks.

He devotes an entire chapter to Van Buren Street, asking, “But who sings of old Van Buren, groveling there like a lost hymn under the El tracks, holding the line of the Loop’s south end?” Well, he does, writing about the business and people and the feel of the street as it was a few decades ago, including a joint called the Rialto Tap, which had an unforgettable window sign that read, “WE SERVE ALCOHOLICS.”

And then there is “The Ghost of Sandburg’s Phizzog,” a sort of prose poem in honor of one of his greatest influences. Here he is echoing Sandburg’s affection for painted ladies: “Oh, she was young, oh she was blond, oh she was beautiful and oh, she could dance a Lake Michigan moon out of the water and onto her hair. Swaying in black velvet, she moved out of the river within me. Oh prairie night, oh, dark thunder, oh shimmering woman, I am one of your boys.”

Yes, Blei has written about his adopted home in such books as “Door Steps,” “Door to Door,” and “Door Way.” He used to write a newspaper column for the weekly Door County Reminder.

Since 1976 he has done most of his writing in a converted chicken coop near his Ellison Bay home. But when you read what he writes about Chicago, you’d swear he did it all while riding the “L.” – January 18, 2013|By Rick Kogan

This piece first ran in Printers Row Journal, delivered to Printers Row members with the Sunday Chicago Tribune and by digital edition via email.

Rick Kogan is a Tribune senior writer and columnist.





Norbert Blei’s grave

28 06 2013

Norbert Blei's grave





Norbert Blei | August 23, 1935 – April 23, 2013

23 04 2013

Norbert Blei

Photo by Jude

Norbert Blei | August 23, 1935 – April 23, 2013

Stories at birth, before birth, every moment of our lives to the end. We breathe telling tales. And then what happened? The story ends? The story never ends. We are immortal. We are myth. We remember. — Norbert Blei





richard blanco | one today

24 01 2013

Richard Blanco

POETRY DISPATCH #388 | January 24, 2013

RICHARD BLANCO

EDITOR’S NOTE: If you missed President Obama’s Second Inaugural celebration on Monday, you missed a great moment in American history. The evening news is such a dumbing-down of major (too often minor) daily events, that anything the networks tried to report of the Second Inaugural in sound-bites was close to total failure.

If you missed the address itself, the singers and speechmakers alone, you missed much. Judging by what I heard and saw ‘captured’ in later news reports (which totally eliminated our present poet laureate, Richard Blanco,) you also missed a poem and presentation so perfectly pure and “American” in celebration of the occasion, that I feel compelled to spread the word–a poem that will inevitably find its place in the fabric of our American literary history. “Hail to the chief”—poet. — Norbert Blei

One Today

by Richard Blanco
(read at President Obama’s Inaugural Ceremony January 2, 2013)

One sun rose on us today, kindled over our shores, peeking over the Smokies, greeting the faces of the Great Lakes, spreading a simple truth across the Great Plains, then charging across the Rockies. One light, waking up rooftops, under each one, a story told by our silent gestures moving behind windows.

My face, your face, millions effaces in morning’s mirrors, each one yawning to life, crescendoing into our day: pencil-yellow school buses, the rhythm of traffic lights, fruit stands: apples, limes, and oranges arrayed like rainbows begging our praise. Silver trucks heavy with oil or paper— bricks or milk, teeming over highways alongside us, on our way to clean tables, read ledgers, or save lives— to teach geometry, or ring-up groceries as my mother did for twenty years, so I could write this poem.

All of us as vital as the one light we move through, the same light on blackboards with lessons for the day: equations to solve, history to question, or atoms imagined, the “I have a dream” we keep dreaming, or the impossible vocabulary of sorrow that won’t explain the empty desks of twenty children marked absent today, and forever. Many prayers, but one light breathing color into stained glass windows, life into the faces of bronze statues, warmth onto the steps of our museums and park benches as mothers watch children slide into the day.

One ground. Our ground, rooting us to every stalk of corn, every head of wheat sown by sweat and hands, hands gleaning coal or planting windmills in deserts and hilltops that keep us warm, hands digging trenches, routing pipes and cables, hands as worn as my father’s cutting sugarcane so my brother and I could have books and shoes. The dust of farms and deserts, cities and plains mingled by one wind—our breath. Breathe. Hear it through the day’s gorgeous din of honking cabs, buses launching down avenues, the symphony of footsteps, guitars, and screeching subways, the unexpected song bird on your clothes line.

Hear: squeaky playground swings, trains whistling, or whispers across cafe tables, Hear: the doors we open for each other all day, saying: hello, shalom, buon giorno, howdy, namaste, or buenos dias in the language my mother taught me—in every language spoken into one wind carrying our lives without prejudice, as these words break from my lips.

One sky: since the Appalachians and Sierras claimed their majesty, and the Mississippi and Colorado worked their way to the sea. Thank the work of our hands: weaving steel into bridges, finishing one more report for the boss on time, stitching another wound or uniform, the first brush stroke on a portrait, or the last floor on the Freedom Tower jutting into a sky that yields to our resilience.

One sky, toward which we sometimes lift our eyes tired from work: some days guessing at the weather of our lives, some days giving thanks for a love that loves you back, sometimes praising a mother who knew how to give, or forgiving a father who couldn’t give what you wanted.

We head home: through the gloss of rain or weight of snow, or the plum blush of dusk, but always—home, always under one sky, our sky. And always one moon like a silent drum tapping on every rooftop and every window, of one country—all of us— facing the stars hope—a new constellation waiting for us to map it, waiting for us to name it—together.





lawrence ferlinghetti | populist manifesto no. 1

2 01 2013

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POETRY DISPATCH #387 | January 1, 2013

New Year’s Day

LAWRENCE FERLINGHETTI

Part I—(of a possible Part II)…

Editor’s Note: Let us now praise…Felinghetti, while he furiously finds the words to hurl amongst us, age 93, never missing a beat. America’s only true American poet of conscience, given our time. Which is forever his time, whether one goes back to his beautiful CONEY ISLAND OF THE MIND, or peeks into his present take on America singing, crying in his two ‘instant’ classic works: AMERICUS, Book I (2004) and TIME OF USEFUL CONSCIOUSNESS, Americus, Book II (2012), where he takes on Williams, takes on Olson, Ginsberg, Kerouac…takes on the wonder of Whitman and becomes them all in their love and angst over America the beautiful bad.

Before that though, in keeping with the new year, in keeping with the always new-old Ferlinghetti…let us celebrate (poets and readers) the new day with a reminder of a poet’s work. Let us listen, sing, think, write our hearts out to this beat in the days ahead.
We are all in need of manifestoes. — Norbert Blei

POPULIST MANIFESTO #1

(1976)

Poets, come out of your closets,
Open your windows, open your doors,
You have been holed-up too long
in your closed worlds.
Come down, come down
from your Russian Hills and Telegraph Hills,
your Beacon Hills and your Chapel Hills,
your Mount Analogues and Montparnasses,
down from your foot hills and mountains,
out of your tepees and domes.
The trees are still falling
and we’ll to the woods no more.
No time now for sitting in them
As man burns down his own house
to roast his pig.
No more chanting Hare Krishna
while Rome burns.
San Francisco’s burning,
Mayakovsky’s Moscow’s burning
the fossil-fuels of life.
Night & the Horse approaches
eating light, heat & power,
and the clouds have trousers.
No time now for the artist to hide
above, beyond, behind the scenes,
indifferent, paring his fingernails,
refining himself out of existence.
No time now for our little literary games,
no time now for our paranoias & hypochondrias,
no time now for fear & loathing,
time now only for light & love.
We have seen the best minds of our generation
destroyed by boredom at poetry readings.
Poetry isn’t a secret society,
It isn’t a temple either.
Secret words & chants won’t do any longer.
The hour of oming is over, the time for keening come,
time for keening & rejoicing
over the coming end of industrial civilization
which is bad for earth & Man.
Time now to face outward
in the full lotus position
with eyes wide open,
Time now to open your mouths
with a new open speech,
time now to communicate with all sentient beings,
All you Poets of the Cities’
hung in museums, including myself,
All you poet’s poets writing poetry about poetry,
All you dead language poets and deconstructionists,
All you poetry workshop poets
in the boondock heart of America,
All you house-broken Ezra Pounds,
All you far-out freaked-out cut-up poets,
All you pre-stressed Concrete poets,
All you cunnilingual poets,
All you pay-toilet poets groaning with graffitti,
All you A-train swingers who never swing on birches,
All you masters of the sawmill haiku
in the Siberias of America,
All you eyeless unrealists,
All you self-occulting supersurrealists,
All you bedroom visionaries and closet agitpropagators,
All you Groucho Marxist poets
and leisure-class Comrades
who lie around all day
and talk about the workingclass proletariat,
All you Catholic anarchists of poetry,
All you Black Mountaineers of poetry,
All you Boston Brahmins and Bolinas bucolics,
All you den mothers of poetry,
All you zen brothers of poetry,
All you suicide lovers of poetry,
All you hairy professors of poesie,
All you poetry reviewers drinking the blood of the poet,
All you Poetry Police—
Where are Whitman’s wild children,
where the great voices speaking out
with a sense of sweetness and sublimity,
where the great new vision,
the great world-view,
the high prophetic song of the immense earth
and all that sings in it
And our relation to it—
Poets, descend
to the street of the world once more
And open your minds & eyes
with the old visual delight,
Clear your throat and speak up,
Poetry is dead, long live poetry
with terrible eyes and buffalo strength.
Don’t wait for the Revolution
or it’ll happen without you,
Stop mumbling and speak out
with a new wide-open poetry
with a new commonsensual ‘public surface’
with other subjective levels
or other subversive levels,
a tuning fork in the inner ear
to strike below the surface.
Of your own sweet Self still sing
yet utter ‘the word en-masse’—
Poetry the common carrier
for the transportation of the public
to higher places
than other wheels can carry it.
Poetry still falls from the skies
into our streets still open.
They haven’t put up the barricades, yet,
the streets still alive with faces,
lovely men & women still walking there,
still lovely creatures everywhere,
in the eyes of all the secret of all
still buried there,
Whitman’s wild children still sleeping there,
Awake and sing in the open air.

Lawrence-Ferlinghetti-Quote








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