ron offen | mike kohler | bill jacobs | miller hanks | poetryjazz quartet

12 03 2008
Poetry Dispatch No. 216 | March 11, 2008

POETRYJazz Quartet

Ron Offen (on horn) | Mike Kohler (Blues vocalist) | Bill Jacobs (on vibes) | Miller Hanks (on drums)



From scratchy 78s with Bird
announcing sloppy chops
could say as much as tight-ass
technicalities of Clifford Brown;

to long-played Kind of Blue
maintaining silences between the notes
could fill the ear as full
as the cascades of Dizzy’s slippery bop;

or ‘Valentine (my favorite work of heart)
flashing more new smiles
as you got lost to find
another shade of colors;

then Bitches Brew’s new voodoo
leaving everything behind
bedeviling the past with tracks
of new and new and new for miles;

until your only groove was out beyond,
the fuse on which you sparked
a wired electric vision — popping,
rocking with a new age horn;

now leaving us again at sixty-four
I hear the rasp of your bemused,
accusing voice put down, well shit!
it just ain’t hip to live too long.

*First appeared in The Mockingbird



Blues TimXes 2, to Ya by Mike Kohler

Never pass up a chance to listen to the blues.
Maybe it is not to your taste,
or there is no time, or the years
have numbed you to the point
all the songs in life are just background noise.
In the darkest hour of your night,
blues dances up the stairs, waits for you
to open the door.
It has a pint of whiskey, a pack of smokes,
and till sunrise to hear everything you have to say.
Even when you are up and life is good
and you can sleep at night
listen to a blues song.
Go quiet as an empty hallway
waiting for footsteps and a knock,
and know the blues will always be there.

I know it would be cool to admit
to smoking tea, swaying to Coltrane and
Mingus, spacing out,
drinking cheap white wine,
pretending its cool to rebel.
Like that time with Kerouac,
all those other beat catch phrases.
Not my bag.
Put some Cream in my tea,
a Spoonful, no more,
Momma needs a new dress,
I need new shoes,
and when I wake up I know
the Thrill Is Gone.
Jazz is after Midnight,
smoky and tired. Blues is
the walk home, eying shadows,
holding the pistol in your pocket.

[Thanks for the poems, Norb. Gimma a poem, gotta have a poem, i needa poem, oh wait, here’s one. Ya need a poem?]



Jazz Chicago / Bill Jacobs

Plugged Nickel

Hunched down, hunkered down
closed in on the horn, the valves like jewels, the fingers like spiders.
The tight smoky eyelids looking in their own direction
oblivious to whoever is listening.

Who cares. So what.

How can disdain sound so good?

Ode to Joe

The low ceiling all black with spots
highlighting the smoke falling down on the stirring crowd
waiting patiently for the music.

And out comes Joe as if announcing a prizefight speaking of
champions soon to set foot in his ring that he calls the Showcase.

The stunning drum set stands silently behind waiting impatiently
to explode.

Sardine Bar

Not five feet away a line of golden tubes fence off Lionel as he wails with
mallets surrounding us in waves of sounds
in the confines of the smallest club in town.

Sleek, sexy, chromium accents set off the pale gray walls
containing the brilliant colors pouring forth from the
tenorman’s horn as he takes the tune to the next level.



by Miller Hanks


August 17, 1999—the 40th anniversary of Miles Davis’, KIND OF BLUE.
Bill Evans & Wynton Kelly on piano; Cannon Ball Adderly. on alto sax, John Coltrane on tenor sax, Paul Chambers, bass & James Cobb on drums…

Evans wrote the liner notes on the old vinyl album comparing Miles’ artistry to that of Japanese sumi painters who practice a lifetime the discipline of getting it down right in a single stroke.

Before the recording session forty years ago, Miles made a few sketches concerning what he wanted them to play.
And each man went his own way
Without exception, said Evans, every piece in the album was recorded in one take.

“So What” “Freddie Freeloader” “Blue in Green “ “Flamenco Sketches” “All Blues”

Nobody knows where the time went.
It was all over.
It’s still here.

KIND OF BLUE is the best selling jazz album in the world and still sells 5,000 copies a week. No one can quite explain its popularity.

Except it is something close to perfect…
the beautiful imperfection of jazz.

Be in the dark,
Hear the blue prayer

Broken Wing

Chet tells it in
his auto bio graphy:
(The Lost Memoir)

Tells it as he lived it
once, early on, playing trumpet
in the 6th Army Band…
It’s all about flying
Finding the music
With both feet on the ground.

Tells about that time in the army band,
his second hitch, when the foot soldier musician
had played just about enough grounded omp pa pa
and sought a discharge
like some of his other mad-hatter friends in the band
who had feigned a way to freedom..

“Right about that time two
flute players had managed to get out,” says Chet. “One guy
put himself in a trance & was carried out,
no stretcher,
stiff as a board by two army corpsmen
who jabbed a pin into the bottom of his foot
to no avail.”

The other guy told the band leader:
“There’s a little man inside my flute.
and he’s playing all the wrong notes.”

Both flute players went free, discharged.
While Chet admitted smoking grass,
chimed to shrinks about lack of privacy on the toilet ,
took tests where he always chose
the most feminine answer,
till he couldn’t claim less than life anymore and
went AWOL—a third of the band following suit.
only to turn himself in in time, come clean,
spend three weeks in the stockade and be given a
general discharge,
deemed “unadaptable to Army life”

And so returned and sentenced himself to a life of jazz instead

joining Stan Getz’s band for awhile…
then finally footloose and free…
freeing himself in his own sound:

Chet Baker & Strings, l954
Chet Baker Sings, l954
Alone Together, l955
Reunion, l957
It Could Happen to You, 1958
Chet Is Back l962
Cool Burnin’; l965
Into My Life, l966
Blood, Chet and Tears, l970
You Can’t Go Home Again, l977
Broken Wing, l979

Forever hooked and flying higher (“as though he had wings”)
till Amsterdam,1988,
flying through a second story hotel window
3 in the morning…
fallen notes
broken wing

unto the earth’s return
without a sound…
save what he left up there
in the night sky
down here for us


ron offen | winternacht

30 01 2008
Poetry Dispatch No. 209 | January 28, 2008

Winternacht by Ron Offen

Busy all day like children at play,
the snow grew tired, then suddenly
stopped and came to rest,
stretching out upon the fields
up to the pillow of a hill.

In sleep, a swirl of white enfolded me,
a bosomy Tante from an ancient time,
who cradled me as if I were a child
and sang a lullaby that said
I’d go where she would carry me
and dream and dream my life away.


The beautiful poem above, “Winternacht” by Ron Offen, appears in the recent Happy New Year flyer from Offen’s little but long-standing, extraordinary literary mag, FREE LUNCH (Arts Alliance), one of the best little mags around for any poet to land his or her poem. The mag has a long history of publishing poetry of substance and art.

Check for more of Ron Offen’s own work and more information on Free Lunch.

No, there ain’t no “free lunch” but then again there is or was…or might be. (At one time, in the early days, if I rightly recall, Offen indeed tried his best to nurture everyone with a free copy—a free literary lunch.)

The recent flyer addresses THE FREE LUNCH ANNUAL FUND DRIVE. So, that’s part of the answer and one of the reasons I am featuring both this poem and the literal message that goes with it:


issue38.jpgDear Poet or Subscriber:

Thank you for donating what you can afford to support Free Lunch. Even a dollar will help. If you can’t donate at this time or have donated recently, please excuse this request. Due to increased printing and mailing costs. and dwindling funding resources, we must ask for your support to maintain our schedule of publication. Not that all donations are tax deductible, since we are a non-profit organization. –Ron Offen

Amount of donation (Checks payable to Free Lunch)________

(Please cut on the dotted line and send to Free Lunch, Box 7l7, Glenview, IL 60025)


It’s a good cause, a good publication, and he’s a good man and a fine poet. He’s not asking for much…but he is asking for something to keep the stove going, the pots boiling.

I was going to take a friend to lunch today, probably spend around $20 bucks. Instead, in the spirit of what’s free and what’s not…I’m sending Ron the cost of a lunch I never ate—yet feel nourished just the same, knowing in due course (with a little help from a friend), more Free Lunch will be served for the literary needy.

Norbert Blei

ron offen | my polish connection (for wislawa szymborska)

28 10 2007


Poetry Dispatch No. 119 | November 6, 2006

The work of poet/publisher (FREE LUNCH), Ron Offen has been featured in a number of Poetry Dispatches. Today we feature him in relation to another poet, the Nobel Prize winner in literature, Wislawa Szymborska, who has also appeared on these cyber pages a number times. It’s a fascinating connection in words and identity. One is also reminded of Szymborska’s feelings about poetry:

“Poetry doesn’t save mankind or people. It is my strong belief that poetry cannot save the world. It may help the individual reader to think. It may enrich his spiritual life. Reading it one may feel a little less alone.” Norbert Blei



Foolish to feast on your work
in bed at night with wine of candlelight,
savoring dark Slavic recipes
of your life. For little pieces fall
each time I turn a page —
sharp crumbs of insomnia.

And no use reading your words
so upright at my daytime desk, wondering
about the za czyms´ * behind the that
till they’re erased by some invisible hand,
only the sound still there, the catch
of your dry laughter at my throat.

Best to recite your lines
some bright morning after rain
along a muddy path that wanders
to a Polish village and my great-grandmother Zabinski,
one eye on the book, the other watching
for the potholes that might send me sprawling.

* za and czyms mean “the that” in Polish

First appeared in 5 A.M.

ron offen | untitled | lost forever | uncle jack recollects

21 10 2007


Poetry Dispatch No.94 | August 2, 2006

Ron Offen

This is the second or third appearance of Ron Offen in Poetry Dispatch, but today we celebrate his new collection of poems OFF-TARGET, with drawings by William Anthony “…hilarious and often profound,” says the New York Times.

A perfect match. Offen’s pensive lines, and Anthony’s sharp/sad pen which pull both word and image together on the page, leaving us somewhere in a Woody Allen world, talking in the dark, trying to convince himself life is okay and he will live another day. Maybe. There are many funny poems written, but not many that make us smile, wince, and think at the same time. Then linger around awhile, days later. Ron Offen is one of those rare poets who reinvents the language of the human comedy in each of these poems.

Definitely, on-target. Norbert Blei



The rain had stopped, the wind had stilled.
Across a distance of wet warmth
the gonging of the bells
uncertain of a destination.
Announcing what? he wondered.
Summer had tossed a salad
of its greens into the air.
“Isn’t this where we belong?” he asked.
“I guess not,” she almost thought
out loud.


Lost Forever

“It makes you feel like you’re going to be lost forever.”
—Mark, an autistic man, describing his favorite Disneyland ride, which he couldn’t name.

Unlike you, some can name the ride—
sex, sunsets, or some odd obsession,
like poetry—that can roller coaster them
up, up, then down, a whoosh to where
there is no them, except a take-
your-breath-away delight.

Yet, we do share your oblique
perspective on the paradox of why
we seek what fills us most
with life in order to escape it.
It seems the “lost forever” that we long
for, can’t be there until we’re gone.


Uncle Jack Recollects

When life was black and white
as the snapshots we’d exchange,
when romance was as serious
as one’s first Monopoly game,
when kisses were sweet questions
and tomorrows sure as breath,
then time replayed like a movie
in which only losers met death.

from OFF-TARGET, poems by Ron Offen, drawings by William Anthony, d’cypher Press, 2006, $10.

ron offen | 2 poems and more about…

10 10 2007




Poetry Dispatch No. 48 | January 13, 2006

Two Poems by (and more about) Ron Offen …

I knew Ron Offen back in the Chicago Days, early/mid l960’s, when he did a first book of poems called POET AS BAD GUY—which I now hold a copy of in my hands (mint-condition), inscribed: “To Norbert, Gotta have that beer some night. Ron”. Cyfoeth Publications, l963, 20 pages, $1. (Here’s to the everlasting and intrinsic value of small presses and little magazines. Long may they live. The older they get, the better they read, feel in one’s hands.)

The wrap-around cover features a black and white photograph of a crumbling brick building (just another Chicago street hymn to dereliction indeed, confirmation of Sandburg’s city of “….Shoveling,/ Wrecking, /Planning,/Building, breaking, rebuilding”) with poet Offen (in regulation trench coat) standing off to the side (lower right hand corner), right hand braced against the broken brick building, a cigarette dangling from the tough guy’s lips, and a show-me-what-you-got expression on his face, staring down at whatever lies beyond that crumbling brick wall of abandonment, decay and destruction, past and what’s next?. He was a poet. He was a bad guy. He was one of us. He was ready for whatever the city of the big and broken shoulders flung in his path.

We were part of neither a lost nor found generation, but more like an unknown generation of Chicago writers (unknown even amongst ourselves), which one of our own (spiritual leader of hard knocks and street-wise mentor, the incredible and inimitable Jay Robert Nash), with considerable Hemingwayesque bravado had dubbed us: “The Anti-establistmentarianists.” Or something like that. There’s an historical record somewhere in Chicago. I once had a copy. A news magazine story, with accompanying fish-eye photograph taken from above, of a group of some angry young Chicago scribblers standing in a circle staring (sneering?) up and into the viewer’s face. It appeared in the old Chicago Tribune Sunday Magazine, back in the golden days of real Sunday newspaper magazine publications. I wonder how many of us are left? Who we all were? What they hell we actually accomplished in the writing world.)

I’m happy to report that Ron Offen is one of the survivors of that acknowledged periods of Chicago’s literary history. That he was one of those who at one time in his life, under whatever condition(s), made the pact with that divine devil standing at some Chicago crossroads: Ok. Here’s the deal. I get to concentrate my whole life, inner being, on writing; you guarantee me nothing by way of fame, financial success, honors– only survival, for whatever number of days, months, years that remain. And you hold that pawn time-ticket too.

I loved Ron Offen’s poem. “Poets As Bad Guy, then and now: ”I like to enter small jerkwater towns/with engine roaring, then rock to a stop/and park before a group of local clowns/to make a cigarette-dangling entrance./I glance past them with a frown,/puffing, turning my collar up, and digging my hands deep down/in my trench-coated stealth; then weasel my eyes around/for some unknown assailant and proceed…” That’s how Chicago poets and writers perceived themselves. Bad guys. But heroes with heart—and some humor.

Stop me before this turns into memoir!

Let me conclude by mentioning that I have not seen Ron Offen since those early Chicago days—though we are occasionally in touch via the mails and internet. That he worked as an insurance investigator when I first met him, and was once a nightclub doorman. That he later moved on to California where he spent most of his life as an editor, drama critic and librarian. He co-edited Odyssey: Explorations of Contemporary Poetry and the Arts, was the poetry editor of December and The Chicago Daily News. His poetry has appeared in over a hundred publications, and he has published four books of poems to date. In l989 he founded (still publishes/edits) one of the best literary magazines in the country, Free Lunch. (“Subscriptions are free to all serious poets living in the U.S.A.” ) That’s another thing about old, Chicago anti-establismentarianists—generous hearts, all.

A few years ago Offen returned to the midwest, (Glenview, IL) and word has it, inhabits a summer cabin upon occasion somewhere in Wisconsin. One of these days, some summer night, I hope to run into him and have that beer we never had way back once in Chicago, when we were anti-establishmentarianists. Bad guys. I plan to wear my old trench coat–and dangle a cigarette from my lips. Norbert Blei



In my sixth year I escaped
into the blue lights of the exits
while Buster Crabbe and Lon Chaney
battled tattered, tottering monsters.

Later, in the Sunday museum
that smelled like the dead pee of little children,
I rushed past the reconstructed Mastodons
and rouged Neanderthals
to the cool basement where the Pharaoh’s bandaged,
time-burned children lay.

And somehow alone on summer mornings
cutting strips of rags for wrapping the clay men
I buried in tin cans,
I dreamt of a child a million years away
discovered them and knowing
I was there.


FATHER by Ron Offen

I have this image of you
that I never saw. I’d left you alone
high on a summer dune,
flying a kite you’d launched for me.

It had blown so far
that its taut tether disappeared
half-way to its rag-tailed, buffeted back.
And all of this I didn’t see

but can remember clear as if
I’d been that Hi-Flyer pulling further
and further from the earth, now that I’m left
as you were, holding the string perplexedly.

from GOD’S HAIRCUT And Other Remembered Dreams, Pygmy Forest Press, 1999