Why Beard?

Posted: November 19, 2014 in Uncategorized

Another poem post?

Well, kind of…

CONTEXT: May, 2012

Rather than put an explanation here, I think I will connect through to where I have already explained it.

It isn’t the BEST parody of Why Art? ever done. (That would be Nathanael Larochette’s ‘Why Fart?) But it was still pretty epic.

But, now, I am going to include the cam-footage of the blessed event.

Why Beard?

I heard asked,
“Why Beard?”
At first I couldn’t
Understand the question
As Why Beard sounded
To me like
When your ears or
Where your nose.
Then I realized they meant
Why grow a beard eschewing
Razors and having cream.
I think that is the wrong musing.
It should be, “If not for
Beard, why exist?”
Facial protection needs to persist
As people look for a covering,
Something less galling or appalling
Then one of those over-groomed
Chin-strap things.
Whether it is a wizard flow
You bring from an upper lip
And a chine of a devil’s fork
You grow to pretend at
Sin.
Since we were apes
We knew to not be nude is to be
Covered, furry, shaggy and fuzzy.

So is it beard for beard’s sake?
Life without beard is breezy and chilly.
Clean shaven is childish and silly.
Life grows beard, shows beard.
We stroke it every day,
Admire it in every way.
Beard coats us,
Covers us, disguises us,
Protects us from windburn and
Snow chill and unfettered
Face slaps.
It takes your cheek and
Gives it a sweet caress,
It takes your lip and covers it
In a fuzzy mess.
It takes your chin,
Sprouts your follicles
Until it is full of a curly
Garden of copper and rust
And maybe some moist remnants of lust.

So is it Beard for Life’s sake?
Do beards just get you through the day?
Morning to night just to say
Job well done, its purpose served?
A fuzz for a chin preserved
Like an orangey apeman face
To make up for a receding hairline
One inch at a time.

Beards makes cold cheeks warmer,
And spongier, and even softer!
They can look distinguished
But don’t have to be,
They can be grizzly
But that’s not all they can be.
They can be chaotic and tangly,
Playful and meandering,
Pointing the way ahead
Or growing down the neck
Or thrusting to the sides,
Nowhere to hide
Except behind beards…
But beards expose instead of disguise,
Or is it the other way around?

So is it Life for Beard’s sake?
Do we like to just grow our chops,
To be unique and warm-cheeked,
Loved and be-fuzzed.
Are profiles adorned
With majestic man-fuzz of
History and the promise
Of chin weasels to come?

Beards as adornment
Remember only the outward
Protrusions, ignoring the
Trimmer, shaver, barbers
With razors.
Beards extend from ear
To lip and chin,
Beards show our face
And hide your sins.

Beards are Life
And Lives are Beards.

They cannot be
Artlessly shorn
Like a dwarven version of
Samson as
Gandalf reminds us that
Beards impress, egress,
Flowing and showy.

All that is manly is beard,
No matter whether grown or
Put on with an applique.
A grizzly adams is a beard.
A goatee is a beard.
That little tickle on the
Curve of your cheek,
The nape of your neck,
Or the insides of your
Thighs
That tells you…

Oh… HE is the ONE-
BEARD!
To ignore beard is to
Ignore wife,
So Why Beard?
I’m afraid I’m going to have to
Start regrowing one.

Joe DiMaggio (new version)

Posted: November 18, 2014 in Uncategorized

The other day I posted a poem called Joe DiMaggio.

After I posted it, a talented fellow poet of my acquaintance (Meme), pointed out that the juxtaposition of the content of the poem with the title didn’t work. There was a story behind the title, but DiMaggio himself had a very troubled history filled with abuse, especially towards his one-time spouse, Marilyn Monroe.

I read up and couldn’t agree more. I considered changing the title of the poem but instead I added a verse.

Here is the new version.

Joe DiMaggio

Where have you gone, Bob Dylan?
We could use the
Call from the wilderness
And a voice of a generation
To stand up and say
Enough is enough
And it is time for a change
But be careful
Because not all change is
Progress
And the times they are
A’changing back
To a simpler time
When men were men
And women knew their place,
Birth control was god’s will
And abortions were kept in
Back alleys.
Workers were just parasites
And Lady Justice had
A direct line to societal
Cheques and balances
Where a verdict was tied
Closer to bank account And skin tone then
Facts and evidence.

Where have you gone, Margaret Sanger?
We have come so far
Yet watching the systematic
Dismantling of women’s rights
Under the guise of
Financial conservatism
And religious determinism
Feels somehow unreal
Like watching a parallel
Dimension where
Don Draper chauvinism has
Remained static for forty years
Instead of being forced under
Wraps behind a veneer of
Progressive civilization.
They are building a
Sexual prison where
Women’s bodies are public property
And roles are proscribed and
Atwood-esque.
All aided and abetted
By well-meaning men
Who think that dictating
Dress and behaviour and
Calling it freedom
Isn’t another word
For misogyny.

Where have you gone, Tommy Douglas?
As Stephen Harper lines up
His strike busting goons
Carrying briefcases
Rather than axe-handles
Forgetting than a union
Is a joining of strengths
And an attack on unions
Is an attack on people,
But when the right
Doesn’t care about rights,
Cries for a fair deal
Are all that is left.

Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio
As the nation turns it’s lonely eyes to you?
Conflating talent with heroism
While not all obsessions are created equal.
A career of piling up the hits
Didn’t end with him hanging up the glove
But we keep protecting damaged men
Instead of dealing with the damage
Without concern for those women
Not wearing the away team’s uniforms.

And where have you gone,
Martin Luther King Jr.?
Oh wait, I know that one –
He was gunned down for
Saying things that challenged
Society because
Words can be dangerous.
But how far have we come
If now all a black man named
Martin had to do to be shot
Is wear a hoodie
In a community designed to
Keep him out?
We inherited a world
Moving away from wives as
Property, workers as serfs
And pride in a White America
And we have sat back and
Watched a backslide to
Regressive double-speak
Like Family Values and
Moral Centers.

Do not be complacent.
The snake is speaking in tongues
And it whispers stories of
Fear and control.
Do not be complacent
As the right continues
To plow us under
Using economic leverage
To get us to agree to
Anything.
Do not be complacent
Or the world is already theirs.

Joe DiMaggio

Posted: November 16, 2014 in Uncategorized

What’s that? A new poem post?

Well, I usually wait unit I have slammed a poem, but that may to change to when I perform a poem. At least that is the case right now and I did this piece as the sacrificial poet at CapSlam last night.

CONTENT: April, 2012

Wait, did I call this a new poem?

This shows you how far behind I am in slamming. Whenever I spend time on a team or whatever, I concentrate on working poems for that team and just get further and further behind.

One thing you may notice, if you have my latest book, This is Day One (plug, plug), is that the poem here is slightly different from the version printed there.

The wonders of Spoken Word!

Here is a story. I was at VERSeFest (a poetry festival in Ottawa that I used to help organize) talking to one of our features (good friend and amazing poet, Mary Pinkoski) as we heard one of the ‘page’ poets say (more or less): well, I am not sure I like the ending. I changed it back and forth a few times but now it is the book so I am stuck with it.

Mary and I looked at each other and said: uh no. You can change it whenever you want.

That is Spoken Word. We can change it whenever we want.

One of the strengths and drawbacks of Spoken Word is that people can’t always see what you are saying as part of the bigger context. Not everybody listens intently to every word so there are certain things that are hard to pull off while assuming that everybody will understand what you mean.

One of those things is sarcasm.

So, as I was memorizing this poem I realized that I had a couple of problem spots. In print, I was pretty sure what I was saying was crystal clear, but out loud, I wasn’t so sure.

One of those lines was “Abortions stayed in back alleys where they belonged”.

I thought in the poem it was pretty clear that I didn’t mean the “where they belonged” part. Out loud, I wasn’t so sure, so I dropped that part of the line.

There also is a line “When men were men and women knew their place”. I left that one is because I figured in my performance I could make it clear what I was saying. I think it worked. (There are other small changes as well.)

Now, let me tell you about the name of the poem.

You may wonder why it is called Joe DiMaggio where there is literally no mention of Joe DiMaggio anywhere in the poem.

Well, there used to be. When I was initially writing it, I used the ‘where have you gone’ motif as a hook. I took that motif from the song Mrs. Robinson by Simon & Garfunkle.

(That is the sort of song you used to not have to explain. I am getting old…)

The first line of the poem WAS “Where have you gone Joe DiMaggio?” When I worked the poem up, however, the DiMaggio section DIDN’T work. (I also need to add the Margaret Sanger section.)

So I dropped it… but kept the title. Why? In-jokes amuse me.

So, does everyone want to know who all the people named in the poem are?

Learning is fun!

Joe DiMaggio

Bob Dylan (and the song reference)

Margaret Sanger

Tommy Douglas

Stephen Harper (boo hiss)

Martin Luther King Jr.

Trayvon Marton (the ‘black man named Martin ref)

So, here it is…

Joe DiMaggio

Where have you gone, Bob Dylan?
We could use the
Call from the wilderness
And a voice of a generation
To stand up and say
Enough is enough
And it is time for a change
But be careful
Because not all change is
Progress
And the times they are
A’changing back
To a simpler time
When men were men
And women knew their place,
Birth control was god’s will
And abortions were kept in
Back alleys.
Workers were just parasites
And Lady Justice had
A direct line to societal
Cheques and balances
Where a verdict was tied
Closer to bank account And skin tone then
Facts and evidence.

Where have you gone, Margaret Sanger?
We have come so far
Yet watching the systematic
Dismantling of women’s rights
Under the guise of
Financial conservatism
And religious determinism
Feels somehow unreal
Like watching a parallel
Dimension where
Don Draper chauvinism has
Remained static for forty years
Instead of being forced under
Wraps behind a veneer of
Progressive civilization.
They are building a
Sexual prison where
Women’s bodies are public property
And roles are proscribed and
Atwood-esque.
All aided and abetted
By well-meaning men
Who think that dictating
Dress and behaviour and
Calling it freedom
Isn’t another word
For misogyny.

Where have you gone, Tommy Douglas?
As Stephen Harper lines up
His strike busting goons
Carrying briefcases
Rather than axe-handles
Forgetting than a union
Is a joining of strengths
And an attack on unions
Is an attack on people,
But when the right
Doesn’t care about rights,
Cries for a fair deal
Are all that is left.

And where have you gone,
Martin Luther King Jr.?
Oh wait, I know that one –
He was gunned down for
Saying things that challenged
Society because
Words can be dangerous.
But how far have we come
If now all a black man named
Martin had to do to be shot
Is wear a hoodie
In a community designed to
Keep him out?
We inherited a world
Moving away from wives as
Property, workers as serfs
And pride in a White America
And we have sat back and
Watched a backslide to
Regressive double-speak
Like Family Values and
Moral Centers.

Do not be complacent.
The snake is speaking in tongues
And it whispers stories of
Fear and control.
Do not be complacent
As the right continues
To plow us under
Using economic leverage
To get us to agree to
Anything.
Do not be complacent
Or the world is already theirs.

For those of you that know, the term ALLY is used to refer to people who stand up for people fighting against various social ills despite not being part of the group that is being oppressed or otherwise discriminated against.

This is a term that is generally used as a compliment, bestowed by someone FROM the oppressed group upon the person doing the supporting. (Though sometimes it is used by someone to refer to themselves… that is kind of weird, in my opinion. It is like referring to yourself as enlightened or insightful. That is the kind of label that should only be applied by others.)

I am male. If I stand up against misogyny, I am called an ally.
I am white. If I stand up against racism, I am called an ally.
I am heterosexual. If I stand up against homophobia, I am called an ally.
I am cis-gendered. If I stand up against transphobia, I am called an ally.

The reason I am not completely at ease with this term is that it implies that these things ‘aren’t my fight’. It implies I am somehow being altruistic or something.

Let me make it very clear that I DO recognize that there is a BIG difference between being the object of oppression and being witness to it. I am not claiming AT ALL that the experience is the same. If I wanted to turn my back and pretend it wasn’t happening, I could do that. (That is, if my conscience would let me.)

Having said THAT, I don’t agree that it is ‘not my fight’. I am a human being. When I see misogyny, racism, homophobia, transphobia etc. I SEE it. I FEEL it. It makes me feel worse about the world and worse about the human race.

It is my fight because I care about it.

But still… I don’t feel those daggers except through empathy. Not the same. I GET that.
So, why do I still like it when I am called that?
Because when it happens, that person may be calling me a supporter in THEIR fight. They may be calling me someone who has their back. They may be saying that they appreciate the effort. They may be saying they felt alone and unsupported until that moment.
But mostly what I hear is them saying ‘Thank You’.

So if someone calls you an ally, don’t worry about the etymology of the word. Just be glad that your efforts are appreciated.
If nobody calls you an ally, that’s fine too. Just keep doing what is right. (But don’t label yourself, that is just weird.)

Mostly, let’s just try to make things better, one day at a time.

Day One.

John Akpata and Anthony Bansfield!

Zach: Stories

Posted: August 29, 2014 in Uncategorized

On Wednesday I featured at The Reading Series at the Clocktower Pub. It is put on by In/Words and is one of the few chances I have had to perform to a non ‘spoken word’ crowd. That was nice. Quiet crowd but I have learned to deal with that.

 

But then… but then…

 

We got home a little before midnight and I went straight to bed. I had to get up at 6am to go to work.

 

Somewhere around 2 I was woken up by a cry from the other room. I shot bolt upright and called out to Ruthanne who was sobbing in front of the computer.

 

She came in and told me, with tears streaming down her face, that Zaccheus Jackson had died.

 

I was stunned.

 

All we knew at first is that he had been hit by a train in Toronto. For a moment, I couldn’t even register what he was doing there, instead of home in Vancouver, but that is the life of a travelling artist.

 

I spent the next couple of hours, poring over Facebook – seeing the outpouring of grief and sharing in it.

 

I saw the nation-wide communities discover what we had lost… including those who should have found out in different ways.

 

This is the blessing and the curse of social media.

 

I ended up sending in that I wouldn’t be at work on Thursday… if for no other reason than my lack of sleep.

 

I slept for a bit and then got up and went back on FB… to discover the rest of the country waking up and learning what had happened.

 

Over and over, people learned for the first time what had been lost.

 

 

By the time Brad reached out and asked for a gathering of poets in Ottawa, I couldn’t do it. I asked Brad to hoist one for Zach for me.

 

That is what I needed, but what I lost was the telling of stories that comes with such gatherings. This little nuggets that mean so much to each person.

 

Here is mine…

 

I first met Zach at CFSW in 200 in Halifax, but it is two years later that resonates. At the festival that year, there was a ‘Last Chance Slam’ to make a Wild Card team. That team was really, really good. It included Magpie Ulysses, Truth Is…, Made Wade and… Zaccheus Jackson.

 

This was a good team and come finals day, they were right there.

 

Of course, this was 2009 and that was the year of The Recipe (though they weren’t called that yet).

 

Before the slam was over, the CapSlam team had won, mathematically, so when it was Zach’s turn to hit the stage, it wasn’t possible for his team to win, and he knew it.

 

So he went up, took the mic and said, “How are you all doing?” to the crowd and waited for an answer.

 

The answer was a gasp and mumbling from the poets.

 

For those that don’t know, in slam your time starts when you address the audience so to the poets, Zach had just ‘screwed up’ and it was going to cost him… but he knew that it didn’t matter, so he did it on purpose.

 

In fact, he then spoke again into the mic saying, “Come on, we all know what’s going on here!” He then turned to where we were sitting, gave a little bow and said, “Congratulations Ottawa.” Zach was the first to ‘announce’ our win.

 

He did so with respect and irreverence – which was a mix that defined Zach to a T.

 

I’ll admit that there were times in the last day that I was kind of mad… not at the universe or whatever, but at Zach. To die doing something that to me is just so stupid… so preventable…

 

But I will take my lead from Zach and with respect and irreverence just remember that gangly poet with the cocky demeanor and heavy introspection and rather than feel sad for him… or myself or the community… I’ll feel sad for all the kids that he had not yet spoken to.

 

But that is my story. If anybody else wants to share theirs, feel free. The mic is open…

Drawing Lines

Posted: August 26, 2014 in Uncategorized

How long has it been since I posted a poem… yet I am way behind. Why is that?

Explanation:

CONTEXT: April, 2012

Some things happened in the national poetry community around then. Or, more exactly, things that had been happening came to my attention around then.

I was angry.

REALLY angry.

So I wrote about it and performed it at the CapSlam… semis? Finals?

I received a partial standing ovation and not really great marks. It seems that people who understand it liked it, but it went past others.

So why haven’t I posted it?

Because I wanted to slam it again when I got to it in my book.

And then I got to it in my book.

And I tried to re-memorize it… and put it off… and again and again…

The problem is that it is a very angry poem and two years later, I don’t feel angry. Instead I feel sad, disappointed and a little ashamed at how little has been done to REALLY change things.

So, instead of performing the poem, I have done some things to try and change things. Some things. I don’t claim anything, though…

So, here is the poem.

Drawing Lines

Lines have been drawn,
Lines to pick sides
And chalk outlines
Marking innocence and
Aggressive ostrich-necking
With sand filling ears and eyes
Grinding down the resolve
For justice.
I thought we were so lucky.
We built a home of love and ideas,
A canopy of voices held aloft
By a support beam of art
Braced on a foundation of
Respect and openness,
But my onion-peel blinders’
Rosy glow comes from
A mixture of blood and sweat.
Cutting into that onion
Too quickly brings stinging tears
Leaving lines of pain
Printed on my face
For everyone to read.

We have asked for years
Why women were less likely
To lay roots in our soil.
I had theories about wind and
Rain – finding the best
Environmental conditions
To grow and nurture -
Never knowing that irrigation
Liens were for naught
As incisions were being
Made at the root -
Fresh fruit
Plucked from the vine -
But even these analogies
Hurt and make cute
Out of a poison
That turns to fire in
My veins.

This is my home,
And seeing my home
Turned into a grazing pen
Where judging eyes come
Not from white boards
But red-lines predator gazes
May as well be wrist-cut
Bloodlines.
It wasn’t here that I heard
The word rape.
But the line from appraising gaze
And art-rush inspiration to
Supportive ear and helping
Your career to
Pressure points and
Exploiting weaknesses
Can’t always be washed away
By morning sun rays through
Drawn curtains across scarred skin.

I thought of this place as a haven
But I will try it tear it down
In a hail of fire and fury
Rather than let false safety
Turn into opportunity to
Shatter illusions and
Filling an ego tank with
Another’s lifeblood.

If you think this poem
Is about you and you have
Felt that wolf gaze that
Lingers even after you
Have left the room,
Then I am sorry.
I am sorry that I have
Worn these blinders for
So long that I forgot
That freedom can not be
Purchased at the expense
Of another.
I have failed you
And I will pluck out
My eyes before
I let them NOT see again.

And if you think
This poem is about you
Finding your gaze and
Ways questioned
As curves come before words
And your idea of being
Supportive is hard-wired
To suggestive and your
Mind stops in at your heart
Before continuing to the
South, know this -
Lines have been drawn
Exing out pick-up and
Deal closing lines
Because no space is safe
If it isn’t safe
For everyone.