Friday, August 28, 2009

fire poets

We saw many fires near King City—whole ridges smoking. Some 50 poets from across the state are gathered in La Casa de Maria, an ex nunnery in Montecito, the Santa Barbara foothills, and fire poems are on the menu. We have gathered with our feet firmly planted on solid air—er, ground! At least we’re not walking on hot coals. The air is thick. Maybe a little winged evolution is all we needed to really soar. We’re an energy of poets. David Starkey read his fire poems in the church. We were all on fire after his reading.

From a FB post, 8/19

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Making a Card for Susan Sibbet



I made a huge group card today for a poet friend undergoing radiation treatments. It began as a card and morphed into a piece of art. Something I have no control over. It's quite big: 12x18", drawn in stabillo (water soluable wax pencil) and colored pencil. The CPITS poets will all sign it this weekend in Santa Barbara. I think I will make an insert and have them sign it, and not the drawing. It's too good to be defaced with writing. Then I can stitch it inside. Still to do: make a really big envelope.

I had very little time or warning to make the card. A phone call on the afternoon of my departure for the conference. So I drew and drew until the light faded, not stopping once. (about 2 and a half hours). I didn't dare think, or interrupt myself because that unbidden self that draws like this is not me, the control freak. I have to step aside in order for my other self to draw. It's a place of no words. In that place I'm a near illiterate.

And there's a near synaesthesic quality to that zone. It's almost as if I feel the shape come alive and off the page as I draw. I can't quite describe the sensation—but it's pleasurable in a tactile foodish sort of way. I'm hearing the sound take shape. Something between music and dance. But not melody. There's something else shamanistic in it too—as if the physical act of drawing could somehow heal her, and my aunts too.

It's all about that transformation of a flat line into something sculptural—nearly 3-D. I've never drawn a star lily that big before. Certainly not under time pressure like that. I was afraid it would look anemic on the page, but it holds. It holds. It's also the first time I've drawn one without a live model. OK, I did look at some old drawings. But I prefer to draw fresh each time from real life.

I will set up the image on silk and have poets paint a matching scarf for her as well. As I drew the card, it occurred to me that my aunts, both in the throes of chemo, are going bald as well. I should make them some scarves too.

Susan Sibbet has been a pillar of strength for CPITS, serving as a poet, mentor, director, and board member. She has also played a crucial role in Poetry Out Loud. An amazing arts leader and organizer, she always brings to the table, no matter how barren, or overloaded, a "can-do" attitude. A true leader.

(My aunt Canice died 5/12/12—3 years with Stage 4 cancer. It was mercifully quick. Susan is still fighting it but cancer is a formidable opponent. )

UPDATE: 7/9/2013 Susan is losing her battle with cancer and is in hospice but she looks forward to phone calls and cards. Please contact her ASAP. 

Tuesday, August 25, 2009


—For Pat Nolan & Phil Coturri

It was Octoberishly chilly before the harvest,
we uncorked the wine, staggered thru vineyards,
& read to the vines a little renku, some senryu
to remind them of their job—to inspire.
We linked verses, hiccuped in fine haikai format,
the vines were black, last year's vintage blacker yet,
but the moon, oh, the moon shivered
beneath wavering stars,
& our words lingering on the air in ghost blossoms,
grabbed a bottle, thumbed a ride to the river
on the tule fog.

Monday, August 24, 2009

My Life According to (POET) LESSON PLAN

I got a fun poetry "weegie" writing idea from Lorna Dee Cervantes who got it from Shesshu Foster on Facebook. When I first began teaching with CPITS, I used a lot of random cut up writing and word gambling to break up old writing patterns. Word cards, six books and dice, blind Biblical scrying for answers, 8-ball answers, tarot cards, and eavesdropping.

Here’s an updated exercise in a similar vein. You could also use first lines of poems, or several poets—including students. Feel free to break the rules. The only allegiance you owe is to the poem itself.

Using poem titles (or first lines) from one poet, (choose a poet important to you—who is your muse?) and answer the questions using their titles—use as many books as you like.

My Life According to (POET)

Are you a male or female?
Describe yourself:
How do you feel
Describe where you currently live:
If you could go anywhere, where would you go:
Your favorite form of transportation:
What's the weather like:
Favorite time of day:
Your relationships:
Your fear:
What is the best advice you have to give:
If you could change your name, it would be:
Your soul's present condition:

Donna Chamion:My Life According to Neruda

Old women of the shore
a certain weariness
sonata with some pine trees
goodbye to Paris
dreams of trains
autumn testament
day light with night key
furious struggle between seamen and an octopus of colossal size
through a closed mouth the flies enter
sweetness, always
oh, such bottomless Saturdays!

Maureen Hurley: My Life According to Kinnell

I am the last river
Lost loves. Some song
Fossils. The old life
Two set out on their journey
Another night in the ruins
Vapor trail reflected in the frog pond
The last hiding place of snow
Testament of the thief
There are things I tell no one
Daybreak. Cemetery angels
The road between here and there
The past. The waking
How many nights...


   —after titles of Galway Kinnell's poems

I am the last river
Lost loves. Some song
Fossils. The old life
Two set out on their journey
Another night in the ruins
Vapor trail reflected in the frog pond
The last hiding place of snow
Testament of the thief
There are things I tell no one
Daybreak. Cemetery angels
The road between here and there
The past. The waking
How many nights...


Shortened blog to Literrata

I shortened my blog name to Literrata once I realized that the site is actually linked to my Google account at, and not to my title. Good move, there, Google. You must have foreseen what would happen.

I had to change my blog title, as I couldn't remember, let alone, spell it.... Trying to tell people how to find the blog was a virtual nightmare. Hopefully I can remember it now. Sigh.

My clever play on words was driving me crazy and all this time I thought I was stuck with the albatross. Argh! I had named it on a whim before I actually began blogging and I never even remotely envisioned how difficult it would be to direct people to my site with two non-standard wordplays separated by an ampersand. Undone by my own clever convolutions of dyslexic orthography, I was.

I had far too many nonsensical Pythonesque conversations that went somewhat like this: Is that spelled with one or two "r's"? Is that one or two "t's"? How do you spell it again? What is the second word: cyber-what? Is that with a "y" or an "i"? Huh? What's that? How many "r's" again? Is it literate or lactate? You mean like cat litter with an 'a"? You mean there are no "a's" at all? Oh, there is an "a" but not there. Where is it?

And we hadn't even gotten past the ampersand to the second word. No, it's not an "and", it's an &. What's the difference between and and ampersand. What's a cypher? Is that a Cypher or Cipher? You mean like translation? It's Cyber??? Like in cyberspace? You mean like Arnold? Oh, how clever. And so on....

Needless to say, there was far too much unorthodoxy for even literary punsters to remember. Not exactly a handle you can shout out while standing in line at TJ's. The end result was that I didn't increase any traffic to my site unless I sent a carrier pigeon.

The point was driven well and truly home with square nails when a blogger from Melbourne tried to link up to my site and came up with an interesting, if bizarre version of the title.

Now, maybe the play on words within the title: terra/ errata are more visible. Maybe I can remember it now. The title originally came from the idea of lit-errata. Hopefully this will make for an easier Google search. I wonder how long it will take to purge the Google engine?

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Nickel the Bison

I wonder what the heifer thought of the bison? It looks like the only romance going on was with the hay. Old Man Nunes was so proud of his bison calf. What was he thinking? They're completely unpredictable and are like bulldozers when it comes to fences.

There's a backstory, bison are part of the fabric of my childhood—when I was a kid, there was another bison—yes, we called them buffalo—in Nicasio right by the church. The only reason why Belle the Buffalo stayed put in the church pasture was because she liked the cows. I used to save my buffalo head nickels and named them all Belle. Then one hopped up Saturday night some hoodlums came out and shot the poor buffalo for no reason at all. Or, so the story goes. We were all devastated.

So when Nickel showed up, we were all insane with joy. I used to take my grandmother up to the Nunes ranch for a visit. It was a case of Meet the new family pet, Nickel. I wonder what happened to the little bison when Old Man Nunes died. He was fence resistant as I recall. The bison, not Mr. Nunes. Now there are fancy houses on Portola Road (the fire road) once my own private Eden, and I can't imagine they'd tolerate a wayward bison.

(Maureen Hurley photos)
from a Facebook photo album

Friday, August 21, 2009

The Great Blaskets

Twitter Photo: Dr. Kate Riordan @cathorio
ἐξίσταται γὰρ πάντ' ἀπ' ἀλλήλων δίχα
(existatai gar pant' ap' allêlôn dikha),
"for all things change, making way for each other."
Euripides's Heracles From the fronticepiece At Swim-Two-Birds

An old college friend, poet Jack Crimmins wrote a note on Facebook saying that during the summer of 1981, the year Bobby Sands died of the hunger strike, he went to the Dingle Peninsula. Well, now, handsome blue-eyed Jack spent a week in Dingle, County Kerry, Ireland, writing, writing, writing. An scriobh. I was immediately jealous of that experience, wanting it for my own.

This then, was my reply, which, of course, morphed into something entirely different, as is the wont of blogging, one-eyed-jacks, and wild card Monty Pythonisms. Once I began expanding and explaining the note, it went feral, or ferile as in rhymes with all riled up—as we like to say it.

You'll hear the Irish-English tone change, which I may revise at a later date, but I was after hearin' my great aunt Aine speaking t'rough me, and there's no denying of that. You DO know that prepositions do all the durthywork in Irish, right? Well, then, hard "T"s aside as the divil's own tongue, and now you have it.

Now, understand, Jack Óg, that I grew up with two Englishes—make that three Anguishes. 'Mericun-Englush and British-Anguish. A h-aon, a do a tre... Betwixt and between was the Irish-English, or as Oscar, the little Wilde deer, put it, Hiberneo-English—which I hid from my classmates. Except for the word, "oft-ten" which tripped me up. Tangle my tongue with hidden "T"s and hyphenations. Everything was in translation. No Irish Need Apply. Please spit here. I was such a walking linguistic sham-rockery, people mistook me for being British! Now, ain't that a twist of treason!

And in the midst of all this prattlin', Maurice O'Sullivan steals the story of my relative Aine, out from under me, and runs away with it. Maybe I'll be linear and wrestle them apart and make two stories with no point to them at all. But this will have to suffice for now. As writing is its own ugly beast rising from the bog. This is why I am not a novelist.

I secretly wish I was a rebellious Guiness-drinking protagonist blinded by beauty in aka Flann O'Brien's novel, At Swim-Two-Birds, asking what was the color of the wind on the day of your birth? But then, I'm no Fionn mac Cumhail or King Suibhne. Fuck the Puca and the goat pizzlin' on the blackberries mid-winter! Language's job is to do its appointed work.

Words are Nantucket sleigh rides, or more like slay rides... To be on the slaying road is a metaphor to go to war, the Irish sluaighan, spawned the Anguish word slogan. And I am certainly at war with a sluaigh or is it a slough of words. Perhaps Jack, you will share your Irish writing with us someday.

Well, now, Jackín, didn't I have a great-aunt, Aine Sullivan, who married a Sullivan by way of Walsh, with only a generation or two of Walshes separating them. My great uncle Mícheál Walsh's mum was a white-eyed Sullivan (my great-grannie). And yes, Mícheál is how you spell it in Irish. Pronounced Meehaul. But he went by Mikie. Short for Michéalín (little Michael). And him in his near-80s.

Jane Rose Sullivan Walsh, Bantry

My relatives, Mikie and Aine were a rotund elderly childless couple living next door to the family of my first cousin once removed, Mary Walsh, in Bantry Bay. Mary's lot had a large brood packed clean to the rafters as if to make up for the profound lack of children next door.

We sat in Aine's kitchen drinking tea and she went on talking to herself and the peat smoke blackened tea kettle, calling it dubh, as if we weren't there, come all the way from Amerikay, we did, a once in a lifetime visit—and she was talking nonstop to Mikie and the damed cat, Piscín.

And when Aine spoke, I couldn't understand a word she said—and her speakin' the Queen's English to the cat with a heavy Gaelic singsong lilt peculiar to that of the Blasket Islanders. English was her second language, after all. That, or maybe church Latin. Anguish ran a rare t'ird leg.

I drank tea strong enough for mice to skittle across and nibbled on chocolate-covered graham tea biscuits as she talked non-stop. I marveled that in the late 20th century, living in the middle of Bantry town, they still used an outdoor "bog" and would I have to use it too?

Well, Aine (Awnye) might have been an Ó Súilleabháin—versus the Anglicised Sullivan. Certainly the Anglicised spelling is easier on the eyeteeth to pronounce it right. The Anglo-Norman addition of O means "of the clan" and the Sullivans were a large bear worshiping tribe. O' Sullivan Bear—Clan of the Cave bear, er, make that Beare to be exact. My grandmother said there was a cave near Bantry where there was found a painted cave bear skull on a stone altar pyre...

But we were just ordinary vanilla Sullivans. Not O- nor were we -Bear. In other words, our family was part of the original lineage as in O'Sullivan Mhor along with our near cousins, the MacCarthys of Bantry.

Mor means big or great or main lineage. There were so many Sullivans in Munster that the Beares split off from the Mors just to keep everybody straight. All the Sullivans, peaceable cattle-rustlers and goldsmiths, were the descendants of the MacCarthy Mhor, said to be a descendent the original Munster Eoghanachta, whose ancestors were the Children of Owen, aka the Eoghanachta, who settled in Bantry Bay and the Ring of Kerry, ca. 1600 BC.

There was also the silver-tongued MacCarthy Mhor who won back his baronial lands from Queen Bess with his honeyed words, but that's another story about why we don't need to kiss the Blarney Stone, we're born with the argentish gift of the gab. A convoluted story, yes. I've a poem about that somewheres. I didn't say it would be easy. Or aysy. All this to say, my family's lived in Bantry and Kerry for quite some time.

After the Battle of Kinsale, (1600 AD) this Gaelic sept of the Sullivans did not flee to Spain during the Flight of the Earls, aka as the Flight of the Wild Geese. My grandmother said that in 1603, a thousand surviving Sullivans left the war-ravaged rout of Kinsale (Ireland's sovereign demise became Britain's prize); they fled to the Ring of Kerry and to Bantry Bay, but only 35 survived the arduous journey. It was our own Trail of Tears— and presumably they were our ancestors. Only bones, says Cúmla.

Not like the O'Sullivan Beares who fled to Spain, we stood our ground—what was left of it as there was no place else left to go, other than into the sea, or to the Great Blaskets beyond, or to Tír na-nÓg, that undiscovered country from which no man returns. "Make no mistake about it, we stayed put," she said. Though Donal Sullivan did go to Spain, he died back home in Kerry.

Súill means eye, and ban means white. The Sullivans were the white-eyed ones. Either that, or they were squinty blind, or perhaps they were the Seers. Or both squinty and blind Seers. Or maybe they had light blue eyes. Another take was that they were weak-eyed, one-eyed, or hawk-eyed, or shifty-eyed. Still, we do have the characteristic Sullivan squint.

Dall is the Irish word used for purl-blind—but it means half-blind, as in sam-blind, or sand-blind. Seers seems to fit the family legend as there are no light-eyed ones among our clan. Most of us have the gorm-grey Celtic eye, verging on hazel. We do, however, have the gift of the Second Sight in the family.

I had no idea of the ethnologic significance of the Blasket islanders until decades later when I read “Peig.” I fancy the notion that Aine was related to Maurice O'Sullivan, aka, Muiris Ó Súilleabháin who, out of the blue, never having written a literary thing in his life, let alone, a metaphor, wrote (Twenty Years A-Growin' or, Fiche Bliain ag Fás, as it was originally published in Irish in 1933, and translated into English in 1953).

It was entirely possible that Aine and Muiris (pronounced Mweerish, not Morris, ancd certainly not the French, Moriceee!) were related since most people on the island were related to each other. Such is the nature of island living. Fambly tree goes straight up on both continents—but uisht! That's a fambly secret.

The last Blasket Islanders were moved to the mainland in 1953. Years later, I met Peig's son and scribe, Mícheál Ó Gaoithín, (Maidhc File) or Michael the Poet, at Cody's Books in Berkeley, a poet estranged from his lost homeland and what a right miserable cranky ill wind he was (Gaoithín means little wind)... I have a book of his memoirs and poems somewhere.

Or was it Micheál Ó'Guiheen's book I'm thinking of, A Pity Youth Does Not Last. Now that rings a bell, I will have to dig it up. I'm thinking that Guilheen is merely the Anglcised spelling of Gaoithín. No matter that we've lost an "L" in the translation process. The discrepancy between the spelling and pronunciation of Irish, a highly inflected language, is a wild card, at best.

My cousin Frank Walsh of Tralee was always saying the Blaskets were so far to the west of Ireland, that the next parish was America, or Tír na-nÓg. Now only ravenous tourists go out to the island to take photos of the skeletons of abandoned homes. There is talk of turning it into a Tura-lura-lura-fied Irish tourist destination. Because of its unique culture and heritage, there's also a movement to make the Great Blasket Island a World Heritage site, along with the Hill of Tara.

E.M. Forster rather disparagingly wrote of Maurice's Fiche Bliain ag Fás, as a document of a surviving "Neolithic civilization from the inside." The British were in love with the Romantic notion of the purity of the Noble Savage, stone crofts and peat fires and wise old women bundled in layers of red wool petticoats, smoking pipes by the hearth telling stories of the old ways, suited them—as long as everyone kept their place. Perhaps,"Late Medieval" civilization would have been more accurate moniker than "Neolithic," but you know the British are justly famous for their notorious use of back-handed compliments. The old double-bitch trout-slap.

Certainly the Blasket Islands were one of the last strongholds of uninterrupted rural Irish culture and language to survive half-way into the 20th century. Because of the island's relative isolation, inclement weather and stormy seas conspiring against the lonely sailor, it was left relatively undisturbed by the Catholic church and by the vagaries of the British Crown.

During the post-Classical and early Middle Ages, as poet Kathleen Raine coined it, "the spiritual geography" of the western Irish (and Scottish) islands, were powerful strongholds of the imagination, not to be underestimated. The Irish were fond of ecclesiastical refuges, and often these cells were the last bastion of learning, as the continent went dark. Irish strongholds, Iona, Lindesfarne and Skellig Michael stand in mute testament today. The Great Blasket was a safe haven for an invention of poets to flourish.

There is something to be said of living in isolation and the flowering of oral tradition. The Blaskets were so isolated, even the notorious Vikings didn't want to land. I guess there was nothing there they wanted. Not like Iona. No ecclesiastical gold, only rabbits, sheep and stories.

It didn't mean the Blasket Islanders were irreligious heathens. On the contrary, there were stories of wild island men rowing their women three rough sea miles across Blasket Sound to mass in the parish of Dún Chaoin (Dunquin), on the mainland, in naomhógs, (young heavens/skies), or tiny curraghs, the leathern ox and seal hide boats made famous in the St. Brendan Voyage tales.

Imagine the islanders being moved from one island to another island like cattle—for their own good. What was the sense in that? Echoes of an earlier forced relocation by the Lord Ventry in the early 19th century. And they, just barely recovered from the Great Hunger that came late to the Blaskets. But by the 1940s, most of the young people had emigrated to America. There was no one left to look after the old ones.

And the massive storms of '46 and '47 left the Blasket Islanders stranded and starving. Evacuation began in 1953, a year after I was born. When I was 19, I stood at Slea Head and Dunquin Pier with my cousin Frank, looking a long time at that island, thinking I'd missed out on something so intangible I couldn't put a finger on it. But I was 19, what did I know?

Twitter Photo: Dr. Kate Riordan @cathorio

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Scanning B&W negatives

At long last, I am able to begin scanning my B&W negatives from the 1980s. I just rescued my negatives from cold storage, and my first scans were of Bob Kaufman at the Black Bart poetry reading in San Francisco, May, 1983. Pat Nolan and Alastair Johnston of Poltroon Press in Berkeley, plan to scan all the old Black Bart Life of Crime newsletters and turn it into a book. Which led me to the negative resurrection thing.

I honestly thought I wouldn't be able to find the Black Bart contact sheet and negatives, as most of my poet negatives had a slight mishap at a really good party (people wanted to see my photos so I brought my binder with contact sheets and negs—mistake). Later on in the evening, my negative binders met up with an overturned carton of half and half—which led to late night washing of thousands of negatives and separation from their contact sheets. A logistic nightmare.

Migod do I ever have photos of dead poets....Brodsky, cold fish that he was, was right on top of the pile. And all the kazillions of Poetry International poets I documented over the years. Hugo Klaus, Bert Schierrbeck. All the late great Dutch & Belgish poets. Bert's funeral was a veritable who's who of the poetry world. The UK Adrians of Yellow Submarine easy to get distracted.

But scanning on a borrowed Nikon Coolpix L1000 has its' crankies. For starters, it's SCSI. That means I have to use a G4 and boot in OS 9 as there hasn't been any SCSI support for 15 years.

Most of the time the scanner won't show up for work. Restarting the Mac usually doesn't resolve the problem, But it's my only hope. My last and best hope. Oh, how I do love that three chord Mac cresendo: BOOOOONNNNG. Over and over and over again until I wish for the solitude of Zyzzyx Road in the Mojave Desert. So when I do get the scanner up and working, it's an all day and into the night marathon....

The first photos I posted to this blog were of Padraigín MacGuillicuddy (see Nov-Dec 2008). I was wanting photos of her as I'd posted a first draft of my story on her... Maybe someday, I'll find the final version of her story among clippings. (Another waiting in the wings project. Where, exactly, does the time go?)

Her daughter found my blog and wrote to me.. .she was going to send photos as was Sean Folsom, but nada. I'm glad to say that if you'd like to see that classy lady, the photos are up. I didn't realize how drop-dead gorgeous she was...very Maureen O'Hara.

I may post a few of the Black Bart photos here as well as a sneak preview—just because I can (besides, I suspect that the photos will be printed old school—read tamizdat—so very Cold War)... and Bobby Kaufman, the father of all Beatniks (tho Herb Caen is credited with coining the word Beatnik, a dirty word in both the USA and the USSR, Herb heard it first from Bobby's lips before immortalizing it in print.) I'm so jazzed. Can you dig it, baby?

(Editor Alastair Johnstone added a footnote: the term "'beatnik' was coined by Mrs. Getchoff a Russian immigrant who ran an art gallery on Grant Avenue, though Herb Caen took the credit. this according to a letter to the Chronicle in the '70s from Bruce Conner, that I saved.")

(Tamizdat—no slight intended—is not a typo but a second generation offspring of Samizdat. Tamizdat is what the Soviets called our limited edition small press printed books—not State approved or financed. Not massive offset runs printed on government presses.

Unlike the underground Samizdat, which was made from carbon paper copies printed on a manual typewriter, which meant there were only a few copies available for each "edition," Tamizdat publications were made on mimeograph machines—hundreds copies per print run were possible.

I did several issues of Open Hand at Sonoma State University on the purpleyblue mimeograph with the redolant brain-dissolving fumes. Then came the Rapidiograph, or Rizograph—suddenly we could print in black and white. Copy machines were still far too primitive (and unstable) on that strange smelly coated photo paper stock. But anything printed on a copy machine was considered tamizdat as well.

When photocopy machines came to the USSR in the late 1980s—I remember the first Kinko's opening in Moscow—we made a pilgrimage to it and I demonstrated how it worked to Soviet writers. There were many "oh's" and "ah's" but even copying was out of their realm as the machines only took valuta—hard currency. A quarter a pop, to be exact. Practically a day's wages, back then. And it was illegal for Soviets to own hard currency or coin.)

Black Bart and the tamizdat style printed "Life of Crime" deserves a blogeen of its own but the film scanner hums. Maybe today it will work? Suffice to say, Charles Boulton, the man slighted by Wells Fargo, donned a mask, called himself Black Bart, and penned poseys for every stagecoach he robbed, signing himself, the Gentleman Po8.

Most of my comments below are a work in progress—notes for the benefit of Alastair and Pat who are editing the Black Bart book. I am constantly swapping out photos as I get better copies. Most of this techno-blather will disappear as I get closer to creating acceptable prints in this new to me format. Then I will begin to migrate pix to Flickr (Pat's suggestion) as I'm not sure if posting poet pix here is what I want to do. This is a maiden voyage. And the blog is already out of control. But I must admit, I do like having a photo here & there to alleviate the tedium of print.

Bob Kaufman & Pat Nolan (I love the rich depth of the scan)

Bob Kaufman & Pat Nolan

Pat Nolan (This is not from a negative but from a print. Though the print was dormant in a film archive box for over 20 years, emulsion cracked over time!) Luckily the glossy Ilford paper I used has depth and scans well—even if the clean up is a bitch. At first I was smudging and dodging the flaws out; I even resorted to airbrushing. It wasn't an exact art and most copies were so obvious I had to toss them and start over—until I discovered cloning. With the right manipulation, I can erase the dirt and water spots—really minerals and fine silt from the Russian River hard water that embedded itself in the soft jelly-like emulsion on the back of the negative. No way to remove it.)

Steve Abbott & Mimi Mimeaux (revised)


Jerry Rosen (startled deer in the headlights)
this version's better but I need to tone down the sepia and not loose the face...I tried lightening it and he really looked startled!

David Moe

HD David Moe

Cole Swensen & David Benedetti

Rod Iverson & Pat Nolan

Steve LaVoie, Gail KIng, Bill Hawley & wife, Susan, Cotouri bros.

Bobbie Louise Hawkins & Pat Nolan (seems too flat)

Bobbie Louise Hawkins & Pat Nolan (seems too flat)

Gail King & Bobbie Louise Hawkins

(The tough decision of grayscale: I like contrasty images; but those images will blow out in reproduction, or worse, if they're too monotone; turn all dark. This one needs to be a bit lighter but I will need to be careful not to lose detail.)

Bobbie Louise Hawkins

Lee Perron looking a little insane between sets

Lee Perron

David Benedetti

Alastair Johnston

Alastair Johnston (the problem with these pix was that I had to choose between focusing on the wall projection or the poet. Couldn't get both in focus. Nor could I get an aperture to work for either one. I shot the wall, or the poet—never dreaming that 26 years later I'd have to figure out a way to develop them on a computer. The Mac hadn't yet been invented! Developing a print is a nightmare too as the wall is at least 3 times darker than the illuminated poet. There was almost no detail on the face. A lot of layers were involved. I'll probably redo Alastair's as I'm just now getting the hang of the layers and I just discovered the power of erasing.)

Joanne Kyger (When Blogger moved my pix to Picasa, these were lost. I was able to find several but not Joanne—yet.)

(These pix of JoAnne are with the new layered sandwich technique. I just discovered that I can erase everything but the head and get a little more detail in. I also rescanned all the performance photos on a darker setting, using curves to control the light. Definitely more info when I scan in color but I get strange artifacts when the color haloes in curves. I then make them greyscale in Photoshop, clean them up, do the layers, then in iPhoto, I enhance and sepiatone them...there a lot of steps but the results are much better. If I vary the order at all, the results are different.)

Pat Nolan & Steve LaVoie

There are lots more photos to process of the reading, etc., coming soon to a blog near you.

Scanned in PhotoShop 6 with a very retro Nikon CoolPix L1000 on an old even more retro PPC G4 Mac with a SCSI card and booted in OS9. No other way to get SCSI card to work, as Mac abandoned SCSI and OS 9 back in 1995. Scanned in full color, dirt and hard water marks cleaned up, layers made to correct exposure and huge Tri-X grain, and then image is converted to B&W; in iPhoto, then converted back again to a light level (color) sepiatone to deepen depth of field and saturation for rich blacks. Computer B&W is too cold and flat.

Why scan a black and white negative in color? I've scanned them in B&W too, easier to clean up and contrast is better but images aren't quite as saturated. There's three times the pixels when scanned in color (RGB) vs. grayscale. Color scanning generated large 28MB files vs 8 MB files. Do the math. Images were shot in Tri-X pushed to 800 ASA, with a Pentax K-1000, and Vivitar lenses.I don't think I had my 28-80 lens yet in '83, so no zoom lenses.

Note to myself: next time convert to 600 dpi, 4x6" send as med resolution!

© 1983 & 2009 Maureen Hurley Photo. Photos may not be used without express permission from me. That's the fine print.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009



Last night was small islands of sky in a sea of fog,
like random pieces of an indigo jigsaw puzzle
floating in a moonlit mist of gossamer raiments.
Not a shooting star traversed the sky
& I was too tired to move to a better view. 

I listened to the Ethiopians on the balcony. 
A whiff of clove & the small red eyes of Gauloises.
It's 2 AM. Do they never sleep? 
An oasis of clarity in a diatribe of foreign syllables, 
as they said "yeah, sure" in perfect American, 
but "OK" with an accent: Ok. So, Ciao. yeah.

Then I imagined I heard the Arabic for stars.
I was listening to the language of the Bible,
learning a Babylon of Amharic by osmosis.

The Ethiopian god who lives in the clouds
Waqa, leaned over the balcony of the sky
and the laden fog spit its secrets on the trees
into a testament of dew and fiery dawn.


Monday, August 10, 2009



When I wrote the word banana,
I heard it, not in my own voice,
but in the voice of my girlhood friend's father.
He'd drawl: bawnanah. He was from Jersey
(as in the Isle of—not the Jersey Shore).
Pat Wall sold the family farm and arrived here
by way of the Big Apple—and he marveled at it all.
A failed farmer and artist who never even tried to paint,
he opened the first modern art gallery on the West Coast,
in Carmel-by-the-Sea. He was a friend to Steinbeck,
Miller, and Doc RIcketts. The art openings lasted 'til dawn,
with patrons slipping a little something into the punchbowl.
Then staggering home for brekkies of bawnanah and milk
to combat the colossal group hangover, I assume.



When I wrote the word banana this morning, I heard it, not in my voice, but in the voice of my girlhood friend's father, Patrick Wall. He'd luxuriously drawl it out several full syllables: bawhnawnah. Redolent on the tongue. But he was a curmudgeon of affection with his only daughter. Patrick was from Jersey (as in the Isle of); he took his family inheritance, sold the family farm, and emigrated to California. Patrick was the first to open a modern art gallery on the West Coast, in Carmel. He was a friend of Henry Miller, John Steinbeck, Doc Ricketts, etc. The stuff legends were made out of. Oh, the art opening parties they had were legendary, where Patrick provided the starter tea punch and everybody contributed a flask of hootch. The parties lasted until dawn, everyone staggering home for brekkies of bawhnawnah—to combat the cumulative hangover threatening to sink the entire Monterey coast, I presume.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Mike Seeger

It is difficult getting the news from Twitter, but an old poet-musician friend & guitar maker, Layne Russell just tweeted that Mike Seeger died (8/15/1933 – 8/7/2009). It seems that lately my blog has been turning into an obit column. The sloughing of mortality's coil—a sign of the times. Our times. Sigh. I've been playing YouTube and NPR clips of Mike Seeger all day long in remembrance.

I met musicologist-folksinger Mike Seeger at a Grass Valley folk concert in the early 1970s. All the locals turned out for the event set in a rustic converted storefront space replete with creaking floorboards—it was a veritable sea of plaid shirts.

* * *

There was not a whole lot going on in Grass Valley in those days—or nights. Or locals. Not since the mine closed. Unless you counted the time when your front yard caved in because one of the old boarded up Empire Mine tunnels collapsed. That happened to Bob's next door neighbors. Step outside your front door and directly into the mineshaft. No commute.

My boyfriend, Bob Hamilton, who grew up in Grass Valley, which was more of a retirement community than a mine town in the 1950s and 60s, never forgave his family when they defected to the suburbs of Fremont. So, in the throes of young love, we spent most weekends camping out around Grass Valley in a blue VW bus, taking inventory of all his old boyhood haunts.

We traveled the backroads to the goldmine towns of Downieville, Rough and Ready, Red Dog, and You Bet; scree-riding the slippery slopes of Malakoff Diggins, climbing up to the old lookout fire station made famous in a poem by Gary Snyder.

We admired the sunset at the garbage dump, hiked the ridges and drank in the sweet odor of mint, pine and bearmat, visited the old flooms he floated down, swam in the deep canyons of Greenhorn Creek and in Scott's Flat Reservoir above Nevada City. Went into the old Nixon Family store at the Quaker Camp.

We very nearly moved to Grass Valley, like everyone else, we were going to live off the land—but the land deal fell through on the west facing high ridge above the old Abrogast Ranch Road, by the YCC Camp: the crossroads of a life we might have lived.
Bob Hamilton & Maureen Hurley, Fremont, CA, 1973
* * *

It was a full house that night, people came from miles around, so we were seated right onstage. Mike Seeger played the banjo, the dulcimer, the mandolin, and danged near every stringed instrument that strummed or resonated, while keeping up a running inventory of jokes and stories as he tuned and retuned that slippery stringed eel of a banjo and played it like the music of a mountain creek.

Mike was joined onstage by (if memory serves me right) his sister Peggy Seeger and Ewan MacColl; they sang The Wind and Rain, Darlin' Cory, and Wildwood Flower. Mike also played the autoharp, the mouth harp and the Jew's harp. And sitting stage center, I was all tangled up in his eyes—it was as if he sang for me alone. I was mesmerized, a deer caught in the headlights— within the supple songs of that folkstream.

Mike Seeger, half-brother to folk musician Pete Seeger, was born in New York, 1933, and largely raised in Maryland. His was a prominent musical family: Mike's parents were collectors in the emerging field of ethnomusicology; his father Charles was a noted folklorist and his mother, Ruth Crawford Seeger, a music scholar and avant garde composer.

Mike was a self-taught musician, but the likes of Lead Belly, Woody Guthrie, John and Alan Lomax were frequent visitors to the Seeger household. Elizabeth Cotten, for which the"Cotten-picking"technique is named, worked in the household as well. one of the first traditional folk music audio tape collections Mike made was of Elizabeth Cotten. In 1958, at age 25, Mike founded the New Lost City Ramblers, he was instrumental in rescuing and reviving "old time" traditional music folkways of the South. He settled in Virginia, his spiritual music home.

I don't quite know why at the end of the concert, Mike singled me out for such a grand-glorious hug finale. I was probably shining with something like enthusiasm. Or something like love at first sight. Or because I sang all the words of Elizabeth Cotten's Freight Train with him. We held each other tight, as if for dear life, as if the world itself were coming to an end—Mike cathartically laughing and sobbing into the crook of my neck and shoulder. It was as if time itself stood still.

And then it morphed into something like a group bear hug. Mike, Bob and me, we held one other for what seemed like an eternity. The early '70s were a time of great upheaval and change, people routinely ran off with newfound lovers and soulmates, and hooked up with gurus or musicians at the drop of a hat. But when it came to things like that, I was an emotional and spiritual coward. Not like my gypsy mother who boarded the Magic Bus. Besides, he was old enough to be my father—though you wouldn't know it by looking at him.

Peggy Seeger & Lancashire-Scottish songwriter-activist, Ewan MacColl were more reserved than Mike. They didn't mingle with the crowd like long lost relations and looked at us oddly. The proscenium of fourth wall between audience and performer was firmly hammered into place. No fraternizing with the audience.

I bought an audio cassette from them and thanked Peggy for singing her Gonna Be an Engineer song. I wanted to speak with Ewan too. That night they sang many Child Ballads. Their rendition of Black is the Colour gives me goosebumps to this day. But Ewan was a chilly wind. (Few know that Ewan wrote The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face for Peggy; many of his songs recorded by Planxty, and other groups, Dirty Old Town, Sweet Thames Flow Softly, and Shoals of Herring are often mistaken for traditional songs).

I'm sure everybody at the hall was wondering what all the commotion was about onstage. People were all abuzz, wanted to know if our connection with Mike went way back. Were we long lost friends? Relatives? Or what? What can I say, it was a matter of phenotype or random pheromones? A case of mistaken identity? Maybe he thought I was my mother—an actress/custume designer, and friend of Tommy Smothers, she got around. It wouldn't have been the first time I was mistaken for her. Whatever the connection was, it was a chance meeting and some wild vines got tangled up in my heartstrings.

* * *

I had met Mike before, but I can't explain that moment—or why it profoundly affected me. Now, in 1972 or thereabouts, though he'd done amazing folk music revival with The New Lost City Ramblers, Mike wasn't exactly a household name, like his half-brother Pete Seeger (whom I've met many times). We exchanged addresses and meant to keep in touch. Newfound friends. But in the days before email, it was much harder to stay in touch.

But Mike turned me on to Sing Out, and Alan Lomax. I felt his presence whenever I sang folk songs. With renewed passion I picked up the old Martin guitar, determined to learn all of Elizabeth Cotten's Freight Train right through to the end. No matter that she strung the guitar backwards and played left handed. However, I was no real musician, a lover of folk music, yes. I was a fair (and painfully shy) singer of Old World Irish rebel songs learned from my Irish grandmother. Mike taught me to be true to the folksongs: to sing what I knew best. And to preserve the authenticity and dialect, not to succumb to the temptation to modernize or steal the songs like pop folk singers, change a few words, and then have the audacity to call them their own.

* * *

In those days, I foolishly thought that love lasted forever, and that Bob was surely the one who I would go through time with. Mike was long and lanky, he reminded me of my Irish cousins, with his unruly forelock foisted out over a smooth brow, great beak of a nose, and those gorm-grey eyes.

He sang the music, not like a showman, he surrendered himself to it. The performance was about the music, not Mike. When Mike played, music itself took center stage. Mike didn't have a great "classic" voice, he was the translator, the redactor, the incandescent transmitter of folk culture.

Mike instilled within me an enduring lifelong passion for collecting folk music. There is something profoundly intimate when you breathe in the bodyheat and the sweat of another man's labor and it rubs off on you. I knew Mike's odor mingled with the sharpness of laundry soap from his blue cambric shirt. Bob and I made our goodbyes and giddily headed up Harmony Ridge off Highway 20 into a night chock full of wavering stars, to plan our future together.

But I soon discovered that the only time that love lasts forever is when it's sampled from afar. The gods of dailiness grind down the seeds of love to a fine powder, and then one day a gentle spring wind came and blew it all away. Bob had found someone else, an ex girlfriend, to love. She was sleeping in my bed and I was out on the backroads of Cotati, broke, living out a nightmare in my VW bug. But that's another story.

* * *

And so I loved Mike from afar, with that rare unrequited troubadour love that knows not the details of domestic dailiness of dishes too long in the sink or dirty socks on the bathroom floor. A vague, if distant memory, of ideal love's chivalrous purity unencumbered by the fetters of reality. Had I been free, or braver, would I have followed that folksinger—whether a one night stand, or nothing at all? He was surely a pied piper.

At the time, I didn't know anything about Mike's personal life, whether he was married, or not. Probably not, judging by Peggy's steely glare. But I was true unto my one true love. And I was also a coward. And with regret, I distanced myself from Mike's embrace. Chalked it up to the inner workings of a young woman's flight of fancy.

* * *

I kept tabs on Mike over the years, for he was also an artist in residence, working in the schools like me. He won fellowships and awards from the same arts organizations we also applied to, including four NEA grants. One year, Mike, and the organization I teach for, California Poets in the Schools, both got Rex Foundation grants. Mike also was awarded a Guggenheim Fellow and received six Grammy nominations.

I saw Mike's west coast performances whenever I could. I may have even written to him, or, perhaps they were merely letters written in my head. Later, I looked him up on the internet but none of the photographs I found did him justice. For one fleeting instant we had looked deep into each other's eyes, saw beyond the trappings of skin, sinew and bone, age and wisdom, and I was forever changed.

Nearly 40 years later, I mourn his passing. This man I never knew. Heartsick, and wondering what might have been in another lifetime. Another crossroad. Another country.

A lyric rose to my lips: I am a poor wayfaring stranger, a-traveling through this world of woe....

And I realized that Mike is still singing, he is collecting songs in that bright land over yonder.

I apoligize for using the publicity photo of Mike sans permission as I do not know whose photo it is. Something I rarely do. I did an image search, and found nothing. But I also wanted to honor Mike this day, though it doesn't do justice to the image of Mike buried in my memory. If you know who took it, please let me know and I will photo credit—or remove it if needs be.