Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Poem - Cleaning Up After The Poetry Salon

Robert Bly's Great Mother/New Father Conference
Orcas Island, Washington June 2003
After 9 days of A Poetry Salon A Day I couldn't help it!!!


It's not always easy.

Proper nouns are manageable.
They stack well.
Biggest on the bottom -
The Great Plains, Idaho, Mt. Rainier -
then the smaller stuff left behind -
Boxcars, photographs, you know.

Adjectives are remarkably tough to clean up.
The dry ones catch on the furniture,
bury themselves in cracks
hide in the pocket of an old sweater.
They crumble to awkward, ungainly,
unmanageable, yes fragile
pieces …that somehow cunningly avoid
the shedding broom some poet has
left behind.
And wet ones like sticky and slimy - yikes!

Cleaning up the leavings of Wendell Berry?
it's a grange meeting hall.
Rich black dirt everywhere,
corn stalks, the lingering thick odor of
compost and just a hint of cow manure
on your shoes and your best carpet.

And Jesus! Those poems about stars -
the poets have no idea.
Whole constellations left behind -
Watch it with the Pleides, they have sharp points
And yes, the Dog Star does bite.

My rule would be -
you brought 'em, you take 'em home.

Food is good in a poem.
Mom's apple pie and romantic dinners for two
are usually digested by the salon - no leftovers.
It's the ethnic dishes with strange names
luedafisk, sauerkraut, gefiltafish
and anything made with hot peppers
Well, you know.

Poets - a little consideration -
slip in some sponges, maybe
a mop or really - just a mouthful of food,
a spoonful -
yes, spoons for everybody.

And come on,
no animals bigger than a cat or small dog.
polar bears and coyotes are disasters.

Oh I could go on…
mixed metaphors sliding
down the walls and tangled
in the drapes.

Cliches hiding their heads in the corners.
shy, embarrassed marmots standing by dead seals.
stinking sea weed and sharks behind the sofa
And fish - fish beyond number -
flopping on the floor.

Verbs are easy - they move around
so much - just
open the door and they
take care of themselves.

But poets,
It's the birds left behind…
Egret, Robin, wrens, a flock of seagulls,
a murder of crows…
For God's sake leave a window open.

But eagle, oh my friends, the eagle
he glowers there
from the chandelier
Royally pissed!
A moment in a poem
then forgotten
in the closed room.

I know, I know.
I'm making a new mess now -
I'll need some help here with
Idaho and that eagle.

For the rest
I brought 'em.
I'll take 'em home.

- Doug von Koss

Friday, December 5, 2008

On sound and vibration, tea cups and knowledge

One summer day in the early 1980s I found myself in an old growth redwood forest near Mendocino, California. I was sitting in a clearing with two men at a very thick redwood slab picnic table. We were finishing cups of tea made the old fashioned way that left tea leaf fragments collected on the bottom of the cups. The cups were beige colored, plastic, stack able, industrial, institutional and otherwise unremarkable.

The three of us occasionally talked but mostly listened and felt the huge sound of at least 30 big drums being stroked in solid close ordered rhythm. The sound was coming from a log cabin lodge hall across the clearing. We were part of a group of 90 plus men gathered for a week in great nature to explore heavy weight masculine issues with some great teachers.

The community of men had been divided up into three smaller groups and the group I was in had finished drumming some time before. Since the coffee pot was empty we were taking a tea break in the sunshine while another group was introduced to the power of the drum at what called drumming 101A.

Inside the lodge, built as a W.P.A. project in the 1930s, men were sitting in a circle of conga drums arranged in sections by pitch. The drums were grouped together from the highest sounding all the way down to the lowest pitched which the drum teacher called the Grandfather drums.

When the teacher had the Grandfather drums beating out a simple uh-one, uh-two, uh-one, uh-two by themselves inside the lodge, I could feel from across the clearing the vibration of their beat pressing on my back. It was as if my body were a drum. I placed my hands lightly on the table and it too was lightly throbbing like a drum. Hum-mm, I wondered. What's happening with the cup?

I looked down into my nearly empty mug of tea and saw, to my total amazement, a beautiful mandala pattern formed by the tea leaves. The tea fragments were in a perfectly coherent and ordered pattern. I then checked out another cup and it was the SAME! I didn't say, "Eureka!" but I surely thought it. Checking the third cup, there it was again. I called this phenomenon to the attention of the guys and we immediately stopped talking and just watched the leaf fragments.

When the Grandfather drums stopped their beat then the higher middle section of drums began to play. Our tea leaves mirrored their ragged beat as the first mandala from the deep sound disappeared into chaos. Then the miracle occurred again. As the middle drums 'got it together' so did the tea leaves. Now a different pattern emerged in all three cups.

After a while the two guys went for a hike. I remained watching the leaves and creating variables like a kid with a new toy. More tea fragments, less tea fragments. More water in the cup then less. Tea cup on the ground then held in the hand. Chaos and order. And the "order" was always moving toward beauty.

Then I thought, if this sound is affecting the tea leaves, what is it doing to my body? What is happening on a cellular level? Does my heart beat speed up when the drum does? Of the three basic drum pitches, what makes me feel really good? What happens to my body when I sing?
On and on the questions came while those tea leaves kept changing in front of my startled eyes!

Wendell Berry has a wonderful line in a poem called, Rising, where he says, "Ancient knowledge seeking new minds." Looking back on the excitement of the moment, I feel I had an encounter with very old, sacred and thinly veiled knowledge. A Rosetta stone moment of beauty if you will. The memory of that experience remains clear with me today. I count is as one of the pivotal encounters with something emense that placed me on this path of healing sound and vibration.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

In Praise of Mentors

I was about thirty years old, a green pea stage hand at the San Francisco Opera working in the carpentry department. I was hungry for extra work to feed my little family. I had heard if the union office called looking for extra men to take evening calls around the city of stage shows, ice shows, rock shows or whatever - you did not turn them down. If you turned them down it would be a long while before they asked you again.

So the union called this day around 1PM in the afternoon and all of us extra men lined up at the payphone in the hall. One by one, luck of the draw, my turn and "Could I run a follow-spot?" I said, very stupidly and much too fast, "Sure."

The dispatcher said, "Good, be at the Masonic Temple tonight by 7:30 half hour before curtain. Wear a tie." I passed the phone on to the next guy and it sunk in that I had just stepped in it up to my chin. There was no way I could do it. I didn't even know how to turn the darn thing on.

I was walking away down the hall and here comes the Moose. Now Moose at that time was around sixty plus. He was an institution within an institution. He had been the sound man when the United Nations first convened at the Opera House and he was a legend.

I had been assigned to Moose my first day at the opera. I was to go everywhere he went, "learn" the building, listen to everything he said, and anything he asked me to. I was to literally learn the ropes; knot tying, cable splicing, counter weights and on and on. God bless him, he kept me alive and learning in an oftentimes dangerous and ever changing environment, sometimes in utter darkness.

Once a giant, hence the name Moose, now his knees were shot and he walked with a lumbering painful gate, always dragged down by a ton of tools he carried on his body.

So Moose clanks up to me and says something like, "What the hell happened to you? Your dog die?" I told him what happened on the phone and that I had really screwed up big.

He said, "Come on." He got someone to cover for me and we went down to the bowels of the building and he began to draw on a wall with chalk. He drew a diagram of a carbon arc light and its wiring system. Then he drew a cut-away version of what it looked like inside the lamp. Then a top view of where the colored gel frames and focus handles were. Next came a diagram of the lens housing and how they focused the light. He told me of the extra high voltage and the certain danger if the two carbon rods fused and the proper way to go inside the unit and change the rods. He must have kept me at it for an hour. Questioning me over and over.

He left me after a while to study by myself. At five o'clock as I was leaving he asked how I was doing. I said, probably without too much enthusiasm, that I'd "give it my best shot."

He said, "Oh, and wear a jacket and tie, you have to go through the audience to climb up to your booth." And I watched him hobble off, his legs paining him after a long day.

I got to the Masonic Temple at around 6:45 that night, found out which booth I was assigned to, climbed up the ladder, pushed open the heavy trap door to enter and there, sitting on a stool, was the Moose.

He said, "Let's get to work." Can you imagine what I felt?

How he had got up that ladder I'll never know. But he had made the climb and was there for me. He took me through it all one more time but this time it was the actual huge spot-light with all it's handles and switches and gears. He said, "I forgot to tell you about the little knurl knob on the lamp...that's why I'm here."

Well, of course he had told me about it, several times in fact, but that was how he was. He understood my plight. He wanted to help me succeed. His gift to me and to my family that night, while I know he was in pain, will never be forgotten. I later found out he was an unsung man of great service to many, many men in difficult circumstances.

With that sweet old memory clear in my mind I lift up the name of Thomas "Moose" Edwards...teacher, mentor and friend.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Love Comes Quietly

We are awakened through poetry.
We are affirmed through ritual.
We are fulfilled through music.

Robert Creeley wrote an exquisite poem on love...

Love Comes Quietly

Love comes quietly,
drops around me,
on me,
in the old way.

What did I know,
thinking myself
able to go alone
all the way.

Some years ago, after I spoke the poem aloud a few times...the words seem to take on their own life...as if the poem demanded to be sung. So I did. And so I do. And love is still coming quietly on every note.