Introduction to Poetry

I ask them to take a poem
and hold it up to the light
like a color slide

or press an ear against its hive

I say drop a mouse into a poem
and watch him probe his way out,

or walk inside the poem’s room
and feel the walls for a light switch.

I want them to waterski
across the surface of a poem
waving at the author’s name on the shore.

But all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope
and torture a confession out of it.

They begin beating it with a hose
to find out what it really means.

— Billy Collins, former Poet Laureate


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LaMont Johnson, the Answering Service, and Improvising Music

[This micro-story is adapted with permission from the Appendix in “Easy Touch-Style Improvisation,” a method book for playing two-handed touchstyle bass, by Traktor Topaz and Henri DuPont.)

Los Angeles, January 29, 1969: There was this jazz piano-player named LaMont Johnson, who was a roommate in our large house on Western Avenue. He lived from October 1941 until October 1999, but back then 30 years earlier, at that time he was very much alive. He bristled with energy.

He was very, very good as a piano player, ranging from funk to jazz and it all rocked. He had played and done recordings with Woody Shaw toward the end of bebop, and with Ornette Coleman, George Benson, and other luminaries of jazz.

I mention him because I had decided to learn how to play music. I wanted to learn how to improvise like he did, making up new songs on the fly. That’s what drove me. I wanted to be learn how to improvise.

And so it was that I asked him a simple question —

What are the good notes?

What are the notes to play?

Now, although he could play the “good” notes, Continue reading

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Charlie’s Big Adventure

Medford, Oregon, April 25, 2016: I guess he’s been getting restless. I’ve been lousy about taking them for walks, and running around the back yard has probably grown passe.

Of course, Daisy is getting old. She’s creaky, slow, and her back legs erratic. But Charlie, though almost as old, still has a lot of Get Up And Go. And the fact that Daisy is now mostly Got Up and Went gives him no pause. He’s a busy guy.

Today started out normal, like any day, and since I wanted to get soup for lunch at Great Harvest, I herded the dogs into the garage/backyard, and sure enough, the soup was swell.

When I arrived back home and parked in the driveway, behind me cars began stopping in the street, a line of them in each direction. And that was because Daisy was wandering around on Siskiyou Boulevard. Continue reading

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So Long – Prince

Minneapolis, April 21, 2016:  Prince is gone.

I remember the first time, around 1980, in a record store just off Geary on Arguello, in a bin I saw this strange, skinny, prissy-looking latin guy on the cover of the self-named album, “Prince.”

Who would have thought that, all these years later, yesterday for no reason the songs “Purple Rain” and “Rasberry Beret” were spinning around and around in my head all day long, and I kept visualizing a scene from his film, as he pulls away on an oversized motorcycle, looking such a tiny tough guy.

And today, Google had a google-doodle. It was purple, and pressing the play button I saw streaks of rain.

And now, I miss him.

His Royal Badness

His Royal Badness


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Haiku: Your Constant Nature

You are magnetic,

turning every which way with the

shifting polar ice.

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