She promised that she’d be right there with me
When I paint my masterpiece.
On most days I wake up and ask “Where am I and how did I get here?” After a hot shower and hot coffee, I even ask the poignant question, “Where am I going?”
I am age 52, balding, graying, and growing in girth. I am trying to balance a career in motion picture post-production with my life as a husband and father. These grownup duties produce a sometimes-harrowing schedule of deadlines and impediments. Despite the weight of responsibility, I am enjoying a new adolescence.
As a poetry student, I follow contemporary poet geniuses such as Laurel Ann Bogen and Michael C Ford. I take inspiration from the likes of Ferlinghetti, Corso, Levine, and Collins. I run with a crowd of artists that are either young enough to be my children or old enough to be my parents. On this journey, I write poetry, recite poetry, and listen to poetry in the Los Angeles scene. I study what is good, ignore what is bad, and encourage the other serious student’s of poetry who ride at my side.
On neat bound pages, on the Internet screen, through sibilant sound systems, so many words fabricate so many images that I wonder if I should really be adding to the din. Do I really need to be a poet? In the dry-eyed, nasal congestion of my morning rituals, I shout a resounding “Yes!”
However, finding time for the activities associated with being a writer adds to the complexity of my life: rushing to readings and workshops in cross-town traffic, making time to write (often at the midnight hour), and relegating reading to the few moments when I have no fires to extinguish.
There is a recently published Poets and Writers magazine article about working writers. These are successful writers who keep full-time day jobs; they manage to be of service to their employers, clients, families, and children. All the while, they produce at a measured strain. The P & W article reminded me that my poetry requires a strong determination to produce. Writer and lecturer Anne Lamont says that no one needs me to be a writer. No one needs another poet, another novelist, or essayist. Therefore, I must create my writing for general consumption, but be willing to accept that it may please only one recipient, me.
Ironically, poetry allows me to focus and energize. It relieves me of the coffin-like confinement of my daily routine. Poetry allows me the opportunity to practice a craft that is less service oriented and more introspective. It is an opportunity to produce ideas and images that I would like the readers to absorb. Poetry is an art form that satisfies my personal need to create while making the opportunity to share my observations with a community.
My personal history is rooted in the complex political and emotional turmoil of the 1960’s. While my parents feared the bomb, I felt the effects of third world revolution and absorbed the shock of insane ideological diversity; I feared concepts and realities, which I could not understand as a child. My parents could not stop the changing times: along came Sputnik and the challenge for space dominance; along came the Cuban Missile Crisis and the fear of an exploding world; along came assassinations, race riots and the panic of an exploding nation. In my living room, these horrors were peppered with the amusements of Lucille Ball’s screwball comedy and Car Fifty-Four Where are You?, a comedy about the inept antics of a New York City Police Department.
Having survived the black and white of the JFK assassination and the limousines of mourning, I remember the color that came through the old Zenith on February 9, 1964 when the Beatles appeared on Ed Sullivan, followed by the Stones and the Animals and later Jim Morrison and the Doors. When I was nine, I wished Ed Sullivan were my father, that George Harrison could be my brother.
I wanted to be a rock star; that would be my dream for a thousand years. However, dreams without achievement are fantasy. Through the Patchouli of my incensed teens, I struggled to practice guitar, write song lyrics and sing. Though my dreams were to perform, my talent and commitment were that of a very enthusiastic spectator. Alligator clips connected my Craig cassette recorder to the speaker of an old RCA radio when I taped the closing days of the Fillmore West, Dave Hull (The "Hullabalooer," a sixties radio icon still broadcasting in Palm Springs) and Casey Casem’s Top 40. I lived for lyrics and guitar licks.
Amidst the plague of Vietnam, the fires of Los Angeles’ Watts race riots, I became a teenager and a hippie "wanna-be.” This persona was out of character with the driven, Catholic school “gotta succeed” religion of my parents. My East Los Angeles neighborhood was in transition. I often wondered how I fit into this world. I had conflicts of religion and spirituality, cultural identity along with the characteristic helpless feelings of youth.
During my junior high school years Eric Burdon was singing, “We gotta get out of this place” and “please don’t let me be misunderstood.” These had been my anthems, but one day I morphed from that self-absorption to a mixture of altruism and conceit. I heard those archetypes of dissent — Pete Seeger, Phil Oches, Judy Collins, Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, and Richard Farina who sang protest songs and social commentary with the ghost of Woody Guthrie.
Poetry came to me by way of a nun in 7th grade, who taught me about Carl Sandburg and Robert Service. The literary anthologies of my parochial school had the normal list of poets: Frost, Shakespeare, Wordsworth, and Tennyson. The times were of protest, those who spoke against war and for human rights impressed me as the artists I could follow.
In high school, I learned from e.e. cummings that there was an art to rule breaking. I learned that poetry was another form of music. I learned that poetry was a better form of protest. I enjoyed rhythm and economy of words. I jotted poetry in the margins of composition books, in journals, on my bedside wall. In college, I joined the literary review staff where I wrote and illustrated poetry with my photography. I restlessly bobbed from poetry to photography, to screen writing and filmmaking.
Writing fell by the wayside when I apprenticed as a film editor in a television commercial factory. Long hours at this craft made it hard to get back to the typewriter. For many years, the words I worked with were advertising copy and jingles. I saw many talented artists writing metered verse and expository prose to the glory of soda and cereal.
As our world left what Salman Rushdie calls the “Epoch of Analog” and we entered the digital era, technology became my focus. Film visual effects evolved from hand-drawn animations to the manipulation of pixels. Technical systems and integrated workflow became my craft. It is with much irony that technology brought me back to the written word when the word-processing computer became the tool to revive my love of writing.
Some say that cinema is the culmination of the arts. That may be true at a group level. Cinema brings together fine artisans working on one project with their various applications of art. However, with poetry one man can synthesize the many arts on a blank page. In poetry, images from painting and photography, rhythm and sounds of music coexist with the depth of sculpture and architecture on a page written with the content of thought. The poet fashions image, rhythm, and affirmation.
My job, the craft of film editing, is a strong parallel to the craft of poetry. I edit words as much as I write them. I have never read for an audience or submitted for publication any poem that has not been through a series of revisions. I believe this process develops what would only be thoughts on paper into poetry. The quality of my poetry is for the reader to decide, but I believe I have given the work every chance to succeed.
As I have entered my sixth decade, I recall those teenage years, fears and expressions. My desire to produce a masterpiece of form and substance exists stronger than ever. The poetry community in Los Angeles has allowed me to present my work for consideration and feedback. At night, without light to capture photographs, words become my images. I write and edit as though I were an editor at my Moviola. I rework phrasing and structure, count beats, research ideas and style. I succeed and fail at experimentation, throwing out the rhythms in aid of statement, revising the statement to create a rhythm, following rules, breaking rules.
The Digital Age is not just about blogs and blustery opinions and condemnations and mean-spirited people ribbing. It is a celebration of communication, where people still gather in coffeehouses and libraries to recite and share the Word. As I sit by the light of my LCD, I do choose to add to the din; perhaps somewhere, someone will identify with my hopes and sentiments. On the other hand, I may be relegated to just another "wanna-be" poet, aiming for Dylan Thomas, but resembling Weird Al Yancovich.
Thanks to poeticdiversity for printing these ramblings.