Saturday, November 27, 2010

Me and Dana Teen Lomax CPITS

Me and Dana Teen Lomax, Presidio, David Sibbit's office, CPITS event

CPITS workshop on pocket poems. She won the lavender. It looks like a pot plant.

Dana was my CPITS protégée, I trained her during the 1980s at Mark West School in Santa Rosa, where I had my California Arts Council grants. Poet-teaching became her life's work. Though I've trained many CPITS poets, if I had only one person to choose to pay it forward, it would be Dana.

added 4/24/2016

Monday, November 15, 2010


              —for Bruce Moody

After the poetry reading, we sit on the balcony
it's sultry for November, real earthquake weather.
The lights of the new bridge glaze the bay
and the train hugging the shore wends its way
along the narrows, sounding a two-chord jazz note.
The frosted pink C&H sign sweetens an indigo sky.
We offer pinot grigio toasts, catching-up with the years,
myriad stars and the Big Dipper whirl above our heads.
Bruce asks, if you had a billion dollars,
where would you go? Not what would you buy.
Death will discharge our debts.
On the far shore of the Carquinez Straits
the new houses ring the hills like fireflies.
Mesmerized by their own beauty
they crowd the shore, a thirsty herd of wildebeasts
waiting for a sacrificial leader to take the plunge
into dangerous waters and force them into the drink.
Perhaps an earthquake will do.

Sunday, November 14, 2010


Yearning for another time
we strutted along Petaluma Boulevard,
once the chicken capitol of the world,
and clucked fuck-fuck-fuck-AFF
to a startled gaggle of tourists
aimlessly clogging the sidewalk.
We arm-wrestled them down
to the ground with our eyes.
Reclaimed our turf, and moved on.

Halloween 2010, Petaluma

first draft 

Walking Petaluma Boulevard,
once the chicken capitol of the world,
yelling fuck-fuck-fuck-AFF
at startled tourists
We arm-wrestled them down
to the ground with our eyes.

Remembering John Prine's Brother at Garbo's

Chicago Sun Times columnist and movie critic, Roger Ebert, wrote "John Prine is the poet of my life. People say he's great, but he's a lot better than that." I recommend reading Roger Ebert's Journal, a column he originally wrote in 1970, "John Prine: American Legend—A Singing Mailman Who Delivers a Powerful Message in a Few Words."

(Ebert's also updated the original story by posting some great John Prine YouTube links. The " Angel From Montgomery" backstory is worth the price of admission.) Bob Dylan once said "Prine's stuff is pure Proustian existentialism." I concur.

I have an interesting John Prine segue too via his brother. Circa 1980, John Prine's brother played John's songs for drinks at our Russian River Writers' Guild Monday Nite Poetry & Prose Reading series at Garbo's bar in Guernewood Park, CA. That's how I first learned to really listen to the words of John Prine's songs as poetry.

Ironically, it was songs—Irish ballads that first led me to writing. But that's another story. Prine always had such good angst-riddled lines: "You've broken the speed of the sound of loneliness...How can you ask about tomorrow?" My kind of lines. I was living in a perpetually warped möbius strip time.

(In the 1980s, we were living under a dark cloud: many of the gay club owners who housed our poetry venues were succumbing to a mysterious disease. Nobody knew what it was. Or its name. But we personally knew the names of the fallen: Peter Pender, the pianist/gold medal figure skater, bridge/chess champ who owned Fife's Resort with partner Hugh Ross, Stumptown Annie's owner, decorated Vietnam Purple Heart veteran, Leonard Matlovich, the first gay man to "come out" while in the military—was no longer looking like Kevin Spacey. It was too much to bear.

There was also my neighbor, handsome Bill Dutra, the original Marlboro Man, his beautiful face ravaged... Note Bene: I can't find info on Bill on the internet but he may have been Christian Haren. The info on Christian (or Chuck) fits—he owned The Chocolate Factory in Guerneville. But I can't find a photo.

Bill showed me an old tear sheet photo of him as the Marlboro Man—which I recognized. Bill told us amazing stories of being an actor, working with John Wayne—how I found out Dr. Kildare was gay—and stories of Key West. So all the pieces fit—just not the name of the Castro Street Cowboy.

I could have confabulated the name—but I've an uncanny memory for details. Whoa! Now I've segued so far from my story, I'm even scaring myself. So sorry. Another story, another time. (The Russian River basin attracted many Hollywood types, Fred MacMurray, Raymond Burr, Irene Dailey all lived in its watershed.)

My personal John Prine favorites were the songs that had recently made the charts. I loved "Paradise," but we all called it " Daddy Won'tcha Take me Back to Muhlenberg County," a song Prine says he wrote for his father. There's some good backstory video on the song here.

When I was a senior in high school in 1969, the town of Paradise, in Muhlenburg County, was drowned by the floodwaters of the Green River when a dam was erected, so barges could get to the Peabody coal fields. All about progress.

For some reason, it was a story that stuck to my psyche like laden flypaper to the forehead in deep summer. Prine sang so beautifully about such horror. It reminded me of the backstory of the Tennessee Valley Authority Act, the dams displaced 15,000 families—hardscrabble farmers who were forcibly resettled.

I especially loved that John Prine song with the chorus that went: "...from the jungles of East St. Paul." I Googled it and found that it was called: "Sabu Visits The Twin Cities Alone" —a title about as cumbersome as an elephant in an elevator, I never could remember it, not in a million years—only the chorus line. The video link is from 1999 after John's voice was ravaged by chemo therapy in '98, but he still sings a good gravel road.

Probably the first John Prine song I ever learned was, "Hello in There," not from the lips of John Prine—but from Joan Baez. I was working for Joan's sister, Mimi Fariña back then—cleaning the Bread & Roses office in Mill Valley. The music was good, the pay was poor, but I adored Mimi. So I wound up donating a lot of time at the big Bread & Roses concerts she'd put on at The Greek Theater in Berkeley.

I met a lot of fine musicians in those days, but I never met John Prine. Yeah, yeah. Another story, another time. But my friend Luanne ran into him at a bar after a concert up in Oregon one night and—in polite terms—well, she dated him. Only she uses a stronger Anglo-Saxon term for it. So I'm one degree of separation for John Prine on at least three counts.

During the early 1980s, the West County poets and writers gathered at Garbo's Nightclub & Bar beneath towering redwoods. Just two miles outside of town (Guerneville), the pub was nestled on a thin sliver of land between a misbehavin' creek, the road and the raging beast of a river.

Once an old roadhouse, and a former bowling alley, Garbo's was a massive log lodge with hand-hewn beams, and a riverock fireplace crackling away. The stale odor of cigarette smoke, sweat and puke from the weekend traffic hitched a ride on the woodsmoke haze mellowed with an angel's portion of whisky. But the sound system was sweetness and light.

What I remember are the winter nights, the rain falling in torrents, the Russian River rising ominously in the dark. The river kept us preoccupied during flood season: would it leap its banks? Would we make it home if it did? Would the water-laden cliffs at Korbel's Winery hold as we drove down River Road?

Seems like the hundred-year flood plain was being inundated on a yearly basis—or it was just seriously math-challenged. With that as catastrophic background music, we'd tuck in for an evening of poetry and line up for Open Mike.

We were pretty much the only Monday entertainment on the River. Most places were closed—dark. So, after the poetry reading, songwriter-musicians would drop by to test their wares. Sometimes we'd stay after hours, we'd buy up several rounds of drinks at closing to last us through the night, Sam would lock the doors, and the folksingers would play.

John's brother always obliged me my requests. He'd play other John Prine songs–perhaps even a few of his own—I don't remember. They didn't stick. Perhaps he also sang "Angel From Montgomery." One of my all time favorite songs of John Prine's. John's brother would tune up his Martin guitar, step up to the mike and Sam the bartender would set up another round of liquid amber when I made my request.


The movie wasn't really doing so hot
said the new producer to the old big shot.
It's dying on the edge of the great Midwest
Sabu must tour or forever rest.

Hey look Ma, here comes the elephant boy
bundled all up in his corduroy
headed down south towards Illinois
from the jungles of East St. Paul.

His manager sat in the office alone 
staring at the numbers on the telephone
wondering how a man could send a child actor
to visit in the land of the wind chill factor.


Sabu was sad the whole tour stunk
the airlines lost the elephant's trunk
the roadie got the rabies and the scabies and the flu
they was low on morale but they was high on…


           —John Prine

I'm not sure why I was so enamored of this particular song, perhaps because because of its sheer quirkiness or because I was having a run of luck getting poems and essays published in St. Paul when no one else would publish my work.

I don't recall John's brother's name. It could have been Bill, not David (the song goes: "We lost Davy in the Korean war..." Younger brother riding on coattails seems to ring a bell. I'm hoping someone from the good old days will remember him and Sam the Bartender's last name—Russian, or Polish, I think.

The venue of Garbo's Niteclub was pretty amazing—one owner Margery Summerfield was a novelist with a new novel, "Compression Tested,"about existential life on the Russian River. She (and her partner Allen) were our literary angels, she let us have the space for free on Monday nights. Clubs were traditionally closed on Monday nights—called Blue Mondays because the lights were out (sort of).

I was asked to join the Russian River Writers' Guild (RRWG) by a lover, Lee Perron—that's how I met the RRWG coordinators Marianne Ware, Donna Champion, Pat Nolan & Gail King. Andrei Codrescu of NPR fame had moved onto the Big Easy by then.

I was fresh fodder. Newly arrived to poetry, I was snagged by open mike and and then reeled in for booking poets and emceeing, and before I knew it, I was doing much of the publicity/newsletter. How did that happen? Then everybody dropped out. Leaving me as the bagman, or the doorwoman.

When Garbo's closed, we bounced up & down the River into any joint that would have us, then we moved to several venues in Santa Rosa, and Sebastopol (Johnny Otis's Niteclub was one of the last ones)—with many co-coordinators along the way: Glenn Ingersoll, Joe Pahls, Jim Montrose, Craig ____?, Ann Erickson —even David Bromige & Steve Tills did a stint—but I was the longest running co-coordinator.

I met a lot of poets, good and bad. Some went on to worldwide fame: Michael Oandatje and Jane Hirshfield come to mind. We also booked local and traveling musicians: U. Utah Phillips, Rosalee Sorrells, Ed Balchowsky, Holly Near, Ronnie Gilbert, Nina Gerber, and the Beat poets: Bobbie Louise Hawkins, Joanne Kyger, Diane DiPrima

I'm sure I'll remember many other names—now that I've disturbed the relative harmony of age, distance and forgetfulness—and expand this piece as I go. (Or write another blogeen). This is merely a placeholder. But I'm wandering far from John Prine.

After her mother's funeral, Donna was cleaning house and offered to give me all the old RRWG newsletters and memorabilia. I said "No, not yet," not wanting to open that particular Pandora's box. It swallowed me whole then, and threatens to engulf me now from across the suspension bridge of time. When I look at the proof sheets, I am overwhelmed. (It really launched me into a lifetime passion of taking photos of poets, as I felt an overwhelming need to document our ephemera).

It took me almost 20 years to let go of that stick. I hardly ever go out much to poetry readings anymore. Can't seem to bear it. What can I say? Hello in there. You can't get much better than that.
For more video links, see also Roger Ebert's Journal, John Prine: A concert in Ireland

Tuesday, November 9, 2010


Ever notice how the really orange cats, the ones with the tiger stripes tend to be male? I know, this is supposed to be about the Buk. Bukowski was orange. Nothing to rhyme with that. Savior's a nuisance to live with at home as Joan Baez once said. Not that I lived with him. I was living out of my car at the time. A rusted blue VW Bug. Bukowski was crashing on a friend's couch at a farmhouse by the railroad tracks in Cotati. I was running the poetry center, trying to hide my backstory. Bukowski wanted to lasso a reading but he was always drunk on cheap red wine by 3 PM, and he stank of stale cigarettes. I was recovering from an illness and they called me a China doll, taunting me as they grabbed at me as if in jest because I was pale & wan. Little did they know I was near death's door. Anorexic. An abortion gone south. A river of blood raged in a flood tide. Redredred. The edges of the world closing in. My periphery darkened before the clamping down. And the will to live had something to do with it. But they saw my slender self as desirable. And so they, showing their stripes, grabbed at life, grabbed at me, but I was dead inside. I felt lucky to make it back outside‚ gasping for breath, I doubled over. Puking in the weeds. An orange cat frantically wove his way between my ankles as if to shackle me too. But it was a clear fall day, facing south, the sunshine cradling me. That was before Rohnert Park overran Cotati and there were still vast tracts of adobe fields and blankets of oat hay surrounding the campus. George Rohnert's seed flower beds bloomed in wide ribbons of pink and red. Waiting for the harvest, fields wrapped like a present.

Saturday, November 6, 2010



A painter of hollyhocks
a treatise of light 
where the laws of departure 
collided with mirrored chaos
 an apricot cloak across the sky 
but a departure of words 
ceaselessly scraping against 
the drama of ink.

Random nomads
A purgatory of treatises
whisper about the pleasures of the heart
a eulogy of delicate pointillism. 
So we have the words
we must shake them out of our heads. 

Susan Wooldridge workshop


If I was a container
I would hold the stars closer
If I was a source of light
I would burn at absolute zero
I'd be a constellation of chaos
I would write treatises of surrender
I would be a purgatory of fire
I would whisper an elegy of delicate smoke
against a horizon of bleakness

We need Joycean words to hibernate our shadow souls
Sometimes the words just start writing themselves
Sometimes we're just stuck inside  our own heads.


She was a painter of night-blooming flowers
She made color: apricot, tangerine, cerise
swirling around a dervish of bright pollen.
There was something profound about that act,
the brush spiraling in towards the center like a dancer.
Dawn was a treatise of light, a constellation of fire.
The lake mirrored the feathered cloak of the sky.
It was a departure of worlds, a murmur of words
ceaselessly scraped against a dark drama of ink.
Sometimes the poems just started writing themselves.
She was mesmerized. There was no turning back.

Write a metamorphosis poem. This is an excellent opportunity to use metaphors and/or show changes in a season, person, animal, plant, or whatever. (Also used Susan Wooldridge's word tickets.)


I am without flagrant words
the family transports 6 million pieces
of angst into every room, the hearth
I am not a bittersweet song of iron tracks
the oncoming train, or stunning constellations
a silver center deep in the mines
or a lone candle by the river
I am the forgotten pointallism
the ears of night listening to blue piano notes
I am the river of singing stones
I am the Apúrimac, while the Andes wept
an ancient glacier of rhythms melting
into dry sobs of the coming summer.


Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Gold star voting badge

In response to the prompt of a Facebook badge, I snarled, I voted days ago, OK? And I don't need no stinkin' badge to prove it.

Zana Darrow said: My dad held on to "Bohemian" as a descriptive for a long time. When we settled into the San Anselmo house for his project building BART, he knew we would probably stay for awhile. That we would not be living like bohemians anymore. We had been moving every 2 yrs or so. When I came to WI the summer of 70, I was labled a hippie. Just being from CA got you that, In the 90's the competition called me the hippy realtor.

Ken Bullock said: Bohemian. That one may go back to the Middle Ages ... but it essentially meant living like a student, a protracted adolescence. "Hippie" originally meant a white guy trying to act like a black hipster ... a derisive diminutive.

I said, Ah but you were a svelt young waif in 1970, Zana! No hips at all! It doesn't mean that we didn't absorb some of the hippie lifestyle, we were native northern Californians, and therefore, not hippies—who came from elsewhere—primarily NY or LA by way of NY.

Centa Theresa said: You are kind of a farmer/hippie/bohemian poet type, yet completely unique. Are you sure you didn't grow up in Berkeley?

I replied, Born in SF, and grew up in West Marin with the cows. We were a little too young to be true hippies! I was in high school during the Summer of Love. I wasn't a hippie—wrong income bracket/social class. Poor immigrant family. Irish Victorian era roots.

I just hate this Facebook badge thing. Reminds me of why I didn't like school. I'm like Ferdinand the bull seeing red with all these Facebook badges (in general). I appreciate the sentiment, I hate the concept.

Zana said: I ignore that stuff. I don't trust it. How about a gold star? I am waiting for my daughter to get moving so we can go vote together.