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Storytellers & Poets

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Tournament of Hearts - The Weakerthans (mp3)
Sax Roehmer #1 - The Mountain Goats (mp3)

My college poetry professor gave
me fair warning.
Two hours of it, to be exact.
Only an Appalachian with a penchant
for moonshine and a time beyond us
Could coax a commission
From the honcho of an iron skillet corporation,
Gas food lodging verses and some beers to boot,
on tap and on tab.

He was in town and needed Lookouts.
Up to the task, I grabbed two beers
from the pockmarked malcontent
beside the red slushies
before saddling up to his seat
behind the visitor dugouts,
just outside the safety net.

Our banter lives in a past
closer to Nirvana than homemade
cornbread straight from granny’s black stove.
Sweet as cotton candy from any state fair,
our flash-in-the-skillet reunion evaporates quickly,
a new memory rising in that kitchen of days gone by.
______________

Michael is a poet. Like, for real. Published eight times over.

Everytime I see Michael reminds me of parts of me that mostly drowned on my swim to the other side of adulthood. Twenty years ago, as I spent three semesters and much of my heart in his poetry classes, the turn of phrase and the turn of a line tickled my fancy more than any Faulknerian run-on sentence or clever socio-cultural slam.

He was clever and sincere. His criticisms were always honest, often biting, and rarely wrong.

In my youth I trained at an economy of words I’ve long since forgotten, riding the easier ecstasy of rants and 800-word blog posts. Poetry isn’t communication to the masses. It’s words strung together like a ladder, demanding a reader climb instead of walk.

My unhealthy and immersive love of music is tied to my love of poetry. My exposure to quatrains and sonnets, villanelles and near-rhymes may ebb and flow, but the songs remain the same. When I’m not enjoying the regular and guilty pleasure of pop tripe like “Call Me Maybe,” and when I’m not listening merely for the musical bombast (Sleigh Bells), I’m listening for the poetry and the storytelling.

Take The Weakerthans, or the band I like to call The Mountain Goats Go To Canada. Their song “Tournament of Hearts” is the best kind of musical poetry. It’s clever and heartfelt. It captures a moment in time (and out of time), and it reveals the people in all of their humor and beauty. I always enjoyed this song, but only recently did I find out it was an homage to curling, a.k.a. The Winter Olympic Sport Everyone Mocks. Now I’m listening to it all the time. The damn thing is amazing. It compares the difficulty of expressing and communicating in a romantic relationship with the sport of curling, and if it ain’t poetry, I don’t know what is.

Bob is much more consistent with his love of song-poets and song-storytellers. The candy of pop music is too alluring. Pop music is the Sour Patch Kids of my life, and I know the acid is destroying my already fragile teeth, and I know there’s not an ounce of vitamins or good minerals in there, but I just keep eating them, mindlessly, as the movie of my life rattles on.

But it’s the poets and storytellers who keep me in the mix.

Thank God for them,
and the poetry professors,
and the English teachers,
and all the others out there
who have found the meaning
of life in a turn of phrase and a break
in the line and passed
that vision and love down
the generations.

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