Sidewalk Reading Series
Woodburners We Recommend: SIDEWALK READING SERIES Visit Photographs of the Readings Updated July 12, 2006 : The Sidewalk Reading Series continues weekly at the usual spot on Elliot Street, Brattleboro, Vermont with poets Bob Arnold and Greg Joly (April 15, 2006) Happenin' Monday - Sidewalk Reading Series Marches On 17 April With A Reading To Benefit New Orleans And Its
Musicians And Poets With Bob Arnold, Greg Joly, Cralan Kelder Reading at the spot on Elliot Street Brattleboro, Vermont
(April 14, 2006 update) - The reading series has continued throughout the Winter each week and will no doubt be at the spot on Elliot Street throughout the Spring. Many thanks To Bob Arnold & Greg Joly! (12/28/2005 update) - The reading series has continued throughout December and will no doubt be at the spot on Elliot Street throughout the winter. Many thanks To Bob Arnold & Greg Joly! (11/28/2005) The next Longhouse Sidewalk Readings event for New Orleans Musicians will be Monday Nov 28th at 3-4 pm at-the-spot on Elliot Street Brattleboro with poets Bob Arnold & Greg Joly. (11/14/2005) The next Longhouse Sidewalk Readings event for New Orleans Musicians will be Monday Nov 14th at 3-4 pm at-the-spot on Elliot Street Brattleboro with poets Bob Arnold & Greg Joly. (11/10/2005) The next Longhouse Sidewalk Readings event for New Orleans Musicians will be Thursday Nov 10th at 3-4 pm at-the-spot on Elliot Street Brattleboro with poets Bob Arnold & Greg Joly. (11/7/2005) The next Longhouse Sidewalk Readings event for New Orleans Musicians will be Monday Nov 7th at 2:30-4 pm at-the-spot on Elliot Street Brattleboro with poets Bob Arnold & Greg Joly. (11/3/2005) The next Longhouse Sidewalk Readings event for New Orleans Musicians will be Thursday Nov 3rd at 3-4:30 pm at-the-spot on Elliot Street Brattleboro with poets Bob Arnold & Greg Joly. (10/19/2005) Hear Ye! Hear Ye! the next Longhouse Sidewalk Readings event for New Orleans Musicians will be Thursday Oct 20th at 1:30-3:30 at-the-spot on Elliot Street Brattleboro. Bring your dancing shoes and ears - fiddlers from New Hampshire's "Wind in the Timothy Press": Jacqueline & Dudley Laufman will join Bob Arnold for poetry reading and music on the street. (10/14/2005) Week of October 17: We will continue our work this week with the Sidewalk Reading Series for Hurricane Relief with poets & musicians. Look for us on the street at our 'usual spot' on Elliot Street, Brattleboro, Vermont (all above subject to rainouts, or look for them under a nearby overhang!) ~ all donations to benefit New Orleans Musicians' Hurricane Relief Fund. Thank you! (10/11/2005) 11 October 3 pm: poets Bob Arnold & James Koller read their poems.
Bert Koller on guitar & music aura 'at their spot' on Elliot Street, Brattleboro, Vermont
(10/7/2005) Poets Bob Arnold & Greg Joly will read Friday, October 7 4:30-6 pm 'at their spot' on Elliot Street, Brattleboro, Vermont / 8 October: Bob Arnold reads, Becky Arnold on violin (all above subject to rainouts, or look for them under a nearby overhang!) ~ all donations to benefit New Orleans Musicians' Hurricane Relief Fund. Thank you! (10/3/2005) Poets Bob Arnold & Greg Joly will read Wednesday, October 5 4-6 pm and Friday, October 7 4-6 pm 'at their spot' on Elliot Street, Brattleboro, Vermont ~ all donations to benefit New Orleans Musicians' Hurricane Relief Fund. Thank you! (10/3/2005) The sidewalk readings series will continue this week as it happens with poets Bob Arnold & Greg Joly and Terry Hauptman & musician Becky Arnold 'at their spot' on Elliot Street, Brattleboro, Vermont ~ all donations to benefit New Orleans Musicians' Hurricane Relief Fund. (9/29/05 update) Poet Bob Arnold & musician Becky Arnold will read in the sidewalk reading series Friday September 30 3:30-5 pm, 'at their spot' on Elliot Street, Brattleboro, Vermont all donations to benefit New Orleans Musicians' Hurricane Relief Fund. (9/26/05): Poet Bob Arnold & musician Becky Arnold will read in the sidewalk reading series Tuesday September 27 3:30-5 pm, 'at their spot' on Elliot Street, Brattleboro, Vermont all donations to benefit New Orleans Musicians' Hurricane Relief Fund. / Bob Arnold & Greg Joly will read late Wednesday afternoon September 28 'at their spot' on Elliot Street, Brattleboro, Vermont all donations to benefit New Orleans Musicians' Hurricane Relief Fund. (9/23/05) We continue our work this week with the Sidewalk Reading Series for Hurricane Relief - having visited the Brattleboro farmer's market for a few hours on the last day of summer's blazing sun, and we will continue on Friday back at our spot on Elliot Street in Brattleboro. I have invited poets Greg Joly and Terry Hauptman to join me on separate occasions, and have recently stretched out the invitation to others - mainly musicians - but none, so far, have come acallin'. Unlike many street readings of yore, these are nonperformance Performances: asking not for just the political or social commentary poem but more in these desperate times: poems of love, family, companionship, community, earth people chants. Poetry of survival. So if you happen to be coming to Brattleboro and want to read alongside with me, send word. Words are the start. It is music. ~ BA (9/20/05 update): Future readings as they happen ~ Bob Arnold & Greg Joly at the Brattleboro Farmers Market, Brattleboro Food Coop Plaza, Wednesday September 21 between 11:30-1:30 pm (9/17/05): Bob Arnold & Terry Hauptman will read in the sidewalk reading series Monday September 19 1-3 pm, 'at their spot' on Elliot Street, Brattleboro, Vermont all donations to benefit New Orleans Musicians' Hurricane Relief Fund. (9/14/05) Bob Arnold & Greg Joly are now taking their sidewalk reading series of poetry on the road for the next month or so. On Wednesday, September 14, they plan to land the pickup truck from Vermont in Northampton, Massachusetts and begin reading from the hours of 11:30-1:30. Their usual m.o., is to arrive, case out a sidewalk location and begin reading. In Northampton, the best chance to find them will be on the Main Street, or possibly around the corner down Pleasant Street. It all depends on the friendly nature of the natives at allowing these critters to bark. Though they are quiet. Look for a battered violin case and its small sign for HURRICANE KATRINA RELIEF FUND. That's them. That same day, from 3:30-5:30, they plan to be in Amherst, Ma. doing another reading stint. Their location will be around whatever music store or bookstore that will have them outside their door on North Pleasant Street. They are shooting for the good graces of the great record store Mystery Train's sidewalk vicinity. On Friday, September 16, the reading sled-dogs plan to be back in Brattleboro, Vermont at their "spot' on Elliot Street, close to Peter Havens Restaurant, through the hours of 3:30-5:30. The Brattleboro Food Co-op is another possible location. They work catch-as- catch-can. This past Monday they read in Brattleboro on the main street and counted 8 log-trucks, a few Harleys and each with their distinctive rumbles and down-shifts. The best sighting was a bobbing town backhoe seemingly lunging out of control toward a stop light. The poems were buried momentarily in all this noise, but the poems went on. All proceeds to benefit directly New Orleans Musicians' Hurricane Relief Fund. 100% of the money raised through this fund, and these readings, will go directly to New Orleans musicians. Through hook or crook, we will all, again, be Walking to New Orleans. WOODBURNERS WE RECOMMEND : FIDDLIN' & POESY in memory of Shirley Horn
It certainly is a moment to celebrate when poets & fiddlers get together. This happened a week ago when fiddlers Jacqueline and Dudley Laufman drove over from their home in Canterbury, New Hampshire to play their fiddle and barn dance music on the sidewalk in Brattleboro. Dudley is equally known as a poet and so already his interest was perked as to what I've been up to with other poets and musicians ever since the levee broke and flooded most of the city of New Orleans. Darkening the lives of countless musicians and artists from the city. We have been raising money ever since. A wise one broached the subject about how the recent flooding in our New England neighborhood of Alstead, New Hampshire and other parts could use similar donations. Good point. Money should also be raised for that damaged part - many homes and lives have been lost, ruined, at least horribly upset. We may get to that later in the season, but for now it would be something else to see another part of the United States also addressing the plight of Alstead, NH and sending some donations their way. One of the reasons for our sending funds to New Orleans is to get folks out of their own neck of the woods, into other cultures, and toward the goodness of actually being united. I believe it is working, however small it may be. Add a stick.
I knew fiddlers must be coming to town when last week Susan and I were setting up shop at our spot: old crate, old violin case on top of crate, now old but still attractive poster leaned up to describe who we are and what we are doing. The poster has had many rain days on it, so I framed it onto a pine board which also helps the poster from not blowing over quite as easily. So coming down the street I see two almost Mutt & Jeff wonders: heavyset guy in cowboy hat, white beard, strolling like a bear with a winning smile. Next to him a roasted wisp of a fellow, woolen lumber clothes from the 50s, ragamuffin gray beard possibly aging him ten years and his eyes still blinking getting used to the town life and brighter lighting - woods folks, fiddlin' folks. They drifted up and asked for "Dudley". Said they were old friends. I suggested they settle in beside the parking meter because poetry and music was soon to happen. I spotted tallward Dudley coming down the sidewalk . Greg Joly with him. They had probably met up in the parking garage and this was a first meeting for the two. Both being Scott and Helen Nearing fellows it took only the short walk from the garage to our reading site and they were new friends. Dudley with his fiddle case strapped over his shoulder. In his 70s but still with boyish hair and grin. Younger Jacqueline arriving shortly thereafter with her own fiddle case and beaming smile. I swear country folk are going to save this planet yet! A brisk day and we're all now formed in a tribe ready to work.
Right out of the box I notice a fellow walking toward us, shirt & tie, not looking particularly happy. I throw a rope and ask if he wants to hear some reading. Normally no reason to be this out spoken but the gathering of many workers ready to read and play music causes a storm of improvisation...so I begin to read from Bob Dylan's Chronicles, his passage about New Orleans. My visitor is nodding, he knows the book, has read it in fact. So many of us bond by this realization. Something in the reading, the telling, the unity of spirit, maybe the maple lighting from the nearby tree cast around us convinces the guy to leave a very generous donation. The day has started. Greg, my sometime but stalwart partner from the beginning of this reading series, stands by the violin case and sends me a wide-eyed nod. We're cookin'. Fiddlers are warming up. Soon they will lift the lid off the whole neighborhood and replace log trucks down-gear, traffic busting and general commotion of side street small town America into a sweep of ears, feet and heart. The neighboring bookstore owner leans out the door for a peek. Across the street a mother with two young daughters passing has the two little girls dancing. Add music and there's an immediacy of pleasure. The poets know to run their poems up this spine while the feeling lasts.
When not fiddling, Jacqueline runs off to do an errand. Poems go on, passersby mingle, keep going, at least glance over. Definitely people walk slower to catch a little something of what is being said or played. As I'm finishing up a short poem, Jacqueline is back armed with many sticks of thick chalk. Multicolored. With no hesitation she begins to draw on the sidewalk what she is hearing for poems. As soon as a poem is heard, she writes. Thus: "I think/of a tree/to make/it last" Lorine Niedecker. The line breaks are now oral, reinvented, catch as catch can. There's a brilliance to see the poems go so splendidly from street reading onto sidewalk in-the-moment permanence . Jacqueline doesn't stop there - she florals each poem with accompaniment tree design, laurels...and moves to the next poem as it's heard. One of mine on purple Japanese irises, one of Dudley's on square dancing. People, despite their tastes, are curious, they are now stopping in their tracks realizing they are standing within a poem! They read. Especially the children. Before we know it fiddling, poetry, conversation and thirty feet of sidewalk has been taken over. Dudley has earlier asked if we needed a permit to do these readings. I shake my head, "We've always lived quietly, neighborly with the local businesses. No one seems to mind." We both nod in agreement while surveying the sudden anarchy covering the sidewalk.
Next up is a UPS truck and young driver sliding in to park right at our curb. The driver has unloaded and begins to push his handcart of goodies our way. I look at him and teasingly say, "So, you're going to ride over our newly painted sidewalk?" A smile from him that wins our world immediately, "Yes! I have to!" he cries. These brown uniform workers always on the go. I throw my hand in waving gesture as if an old tale Arabian sheik allowing passage....off he goes. But! he has to return. On the rebound we all stop his cart with a full motion of celebration and say, "Now, it's time for a poem." He smiles, fusses, even shouts, "But, They are watching me. I-know-They- are," he pleads, as he looks to the sky with that possibility of cameras, video, Big Brother dooming his job and life. "But, we are watching you as well", we jest. He acquiesces. Out comes one more of the short poems; no matter, he's in the clutches with us. Right after the poem (15 seconds) he almost jumps and blurts, "Look! See what I mean?" and sure enough, there's his supervisor (even surprises us) leaning against a parking meter and taking mental notes to everything before him. The full form fest of poetry, music and donations. Circus miniature. He isn't a hard ass, is even cordial, smiling, but all business when he gets his minion back up into the box truck. So I follow them in and read a very short poem on the truck steps to the boss and tag him with "Now, you've been read to." He gets it, the driver is still smiling, but the tension and the authority and who-is-who-here is clearly rippling off the small space. We've all been there.
Soon after, a twelve year old boy, timid, hoarse low voice and clearly curious as to what antics were going on in his town, came poking over and in his curiosity was gifted a poem about "a perfect world". He smiled at the title as if possibly a genie were in some bottle and replied, "Boy, wouldn't that be nice". Yes, you wanted to hug him. So I read the poem, which was about as close as I could get to embracing him, and being a simple poem but loaded with dense parameters, the boy thoughtfully blinked once, twice, then smiled with that sureness of knowing. It restored enough energy and hope in all of us to stay on the sidewalk for maybe the rest of our lives.
How did the day end? With Mount Wantastiquet, towering over the main street buildings, losing more of its sunlight. A chill coming and some fine donations made in the violin case. We headed down to the Korean restaurant and a window table and shared bowls of hot soup. Jacqueline handed over to us the many remaining chalk sticks for another day. And another day after that.
For more on Jacqueline & Dudley Laufman please go to: http://www.laufman.org/
copyright Bob Arnold 24 Oct 2005
WOODBURNERS WE RECOMMEND: SIDEWALK READING MAKES A BAKER'S DOZEN
"We picked up one excellent word a word worth traveling to New Orleans to get; a nice limber, expressive, handy word "lagniappe." They pronounce it lanny-yap. It is Spanish so they said. We discovered it at the head of a column of odds and ends in the Picayune, the first day; heard twenty people use it the second; inquired what it meant the third; adopted it and got facility in swinging it the fourth. It has a restricted meaning, but I think the people spread it out a little when they choose. It is the equivalent of the thirteenth roll in a 'baker's dozen.' It is something thrown in, gratis, for good measure. The custom originated in the Spanish quarter of the city..." from Life on the Mississippi - Mark Twain
7th October will be our Baker's Dozen moment in the Sidewalk Readings, having stretched the show from western Massachusetts towns back home to Vermont and aligning today when the Brattleboro Literary Festival kicks off, which will entice a few more folks to town. Yesterday we were heckled by a friendly enough kid in big black work boots, who was seething over something about putting a bullet between the eyes of pandas. He seemed to have his reasons. He then asked if we had any poems by Gary Snyder? "No". WS Merwin? "Nope". Then his fat chance wild-card, "How about Lew Welch?" turning to go; but we surprised our visiting crank call when we said, "Sure. We happen to have a poem from Courses in the bag." He was talking to two vintage backwoods types. Then I asked him to take the brick 'stage' and put his money where his mouth was. I was almost proud at how well he quieted down and got the job done, setting the Lew Welch poem out onto the street. When it came time for our reading, naturally enough, he was back with mysterious jabs, hoots, comments. Blithering nonsense. At least he was active.
With the13th reading under our belts, I would like to thank, so far Greg Joly for sticking with me. He brought more & more Scott Nearing readings to the curb. Likewise Terry Hauptman and our way of corralling any sort of school child into our circle for poetry. All kids chimed in how they wrote their own poems. There's hope eternal! To my new daughter in law Becky, violin floating with her walk. Susan, ever there at every match. For our neighbors on the street, Brattleboro Books, and their 75,000 used books and how they put up well with customers who would duck off the sidewalk into the store and ask, nodding back toward us, "Were (we) a religious group?" Yes, religiously spiritual!
Thanks to each and every passersby who left us heartfelt donations in the violin case. Every penny went to New Orleans musicians, and more will follow.
I've made invitations to other poets and musicians to come along and work with me, and we'll keep at the readings wherever we can find a patch of sunshine to stand in, come winter. All you can do is invite.
Networking continues with good folks in the devastated Gulf region like Dennis Formento of Slidell, LA (across from New Orleans) and his very fine Surregional Press. Here is his recent contribution to the Scratch My Brain blog which will make connections for any of you to tap into.
"Monday, October 03, 2005
For New Orleans
Regarding "Woodburners We Recommend": Poet Bob Arnold writes, publishes, and distributes books in Guilford, Vermont. He is currently raising money to help displaced New Orleans musicians through street busking: poetry and fiddle, guitar and verse. You get so used to big bureaucratic relief efforts, Red Cross, FEMA, these sometime giants who arrive in your ruined neighborhood, stay a month, and then take off for the next disaster, that you lose sight of what one person can do to assist. A nation of activists is what we need. Yesterday Bob raised $40 on the streets that he's sending on to a musicians' relief effort. Today he sent $100 to a fund established by Preservation Hall. It takes just a little, to mean a lot...
Each one, reach one.
The poem below, by Mikhail Horowitz, was published by Bob Arnold in his Woodburners We Recommend series and is available as a postcard for $5 American money. Bob's "mission statement" for the Woodburners' series follows the poem..." Please go to http://scratchmybrain.blogspot.com/ for more of this and other postings.
copyright Bob Arnold 7 Oct 2005
Thank you Dennis Formento at http://scratchmybrain.blogspot.com//
Monday, October 03, 2005
For New Orleans
"Regarding "Woodburners We Recommend": Poet Bob Arnold writes, publishes, and distributes books in Guilford, Vermont. He is currently raising money to help displaced New Orleans musicians through street busking: poetry and fiddle, guitar and verse. You get so used to big bureaucratic relief efforts, Red Cross, FEMA, these sometime giants who arrive in your ruined neighborhood, stay a month, and then take off for the next disaster, that you lose sight of what one person can do to assist. A nation of activists is what we need. Yesterday Bob raised $40 on the streets that he's sending on to a musicians' relief effort. Today he sent $100 to a fund established by Preservation Hall. It takes just a little, to mean a lot...
Each one, reach one. ---"
"one should always go further than one should go" - Cocteau
This is what happened the other day on the sidewalk during readings for raising funds for musicians and Preservation Hall in New Orleans....
...The weather was a delight. I went into Brattleboro and read poetry for 90 minutes on the sidewalk with Becky, my daughter-in-law, she sawing with elegance on her violin (nearing the depth tone of a cello). Susan stayed with us throughout it all. Like new 'parents' to this young woman we can't resist being overwhelmed by her taking on this act, freewheelin', thinking up something to do on the spur of the moment with poetry, and how gorgeous and lifting-high each note floats out over the street. A moment later we find out all the power on this side of town is out. People are on the street, clerks wander from their darkened, worthless stores, in a dead volt instance this corner of town is moving and thinking at foot-speed. It's yummy for a poet.
We attracted all sorts of folks. The energy level was mesmerizing, because there was an old mechanic I once knew, in one of his other lifetimes/my other lifetimes, sitting in a car with his wife right at the curb near me as I read. As we worked out music & poetry, he rolled his window down a crack. I was able to chase by hand gesture his young grandchild out of the vehicle to come hear a poem about deer hunters. As I read, my young participant watched me closely. When I was done I asked what he thought of the poem; tiny, 10 years old. The child pointed to my belt and said I had "something on my pants." I looked down. There was a hornet climbing up. Great kid. Poem was hornet.
Then I saw three teenage guys come around Becky as she played, and one seemed to be teasing on her as she tried to swoon some Gershwin...the kid was mouthing off Beck lyrics. I told him, "nah nah nah, come with me"...as I tugged his sleeve and brought him into the open onto our brick 'stage' of a sort, and said, "Fire away". Good of him: out came the Beck in a steady stream a la Subterranean Homesick Blues. When he was done, I smiled, then said: "Maybe now it's your turn (looking at all three guys) to listen to one from me?" They nodded. I took out the Henri Michaux poem for them by Louise Landes Levi's hand translating. A poem Michaux wrote deep back in the other century, for the masses/for the one, for boys who would die in wars. These three boys listen. Closely. A ton of shattered nerves and attention smattered problems and rotten schools, neighborhoods, families, bodies, down to the molecular infinity of hopelessness, and they're listening. Looking at one another to see if the other one was listening. He was, so they are. It's always how it works.
They dug it.
I went into my books of bear poem, love poem, farm poem: after the third poem, one of the guys asked, "Are these all by the same poet?.. I like them." I nodded. "Yep, they are. By me." Me becomes him because I'm standing right in front of him. We can talk. Touch. Breath/breath again. Sound goofy? Well, for years now I haven't seen anything work better, just worse.
"Really!": they jumped. Then they wanted to buy all my books out of my hands. Kids. No money. All heart. Suddenly they had money. Who was planning on selling books? Not me! A few dollars, each day, in the till has been the m.o. for weeks now. I was left with an old ragged volume of selected poems I made up years ago for a reading session. Becky started playing violin again. It's amazing, like a large bird leaving the ground. Wing span.
Every face looks radiant.
Carson strolls up from his music store and is thrilled at all the street action around us. I went up to the old mechanic's open window, creeping down lower, he's still there, and asked, "Do you want to hear a poem?""Sure", he says. Trying to sit up straighter. A cane at his legs. I read him a poem about the time I built a stone building ("Specifics"). The other guy in the poem is a mutual friend - the mechanic doesn't know this until I get to that part - the beam in his eyes spans centuries when he looks up at me.
Today we're setting up our little scene of milk crate, violin case, our miniature classy poster and ready to whirl. An old guy, whiskered and sassy, is standing there and wonders aloud: "Where are the two pretty girls who were with you yesterday?" Ah, showbiz! I have Greg with me today and say to smart-as-a-whip, "Isn't Greg pretty enough for you?" The old one gets right to the point, studying Greg's hair halfway down his back, "Are you a man or a woman?" he quips. Greg tugs on his beard and grins. Then we made nothing after almost two hours of reading poems about local losers like ourselves in the backwoods. Some grandchildren think these same losers are heroes. Trucks, dogs, chain saws, old boots, seasonal clothing. During the last half-hour two 12 year old girls appear like what can only be called magic. One is clasping a paperback copy of In Cold Blood. The other's straight out of great blond tomboy fame. I ask if they'd like to hear some poems. Like my mechanic, they're quick with a "Surrreee!" And they're right there, ready to listen. Some love poems get passed out, since that is actually their request. The woman I wrote them for decades ago, years ago, a moment ago, is standing on the sidewalk watching. Smiling. These little girls like that fact, I can see that....so a certain unannounced gift is exchanged between us all. Sound goofy? Show me something better. A dollar in their hands is $100 in their parents hands, but bless their hearts, they leave us $2 for our time. We say goodbye and close the violin case up. A fellow and his wife walking home from work want to leave $5..."Can we?" he asks. "Sure!" we all chime in, as the bill is slipped under the strap that keeps the case closed.
"Don't shit in camp" - old old saying
We've been angry, we've been bitter, we wise ones who know it all and sit with royal arts to explain it all one more jaded, ugly, senseless, erudite way. As if we're smarter than Emerson. Time's up. We need to hug.
© Bob Arnold 29 Sept 2005
WOODBURNERS WE RECOMMEND : POETRY HITS THE STREETS I got down on my knees,
For rain I thought I'd pray.
Along came a great big flood,
Washed everything away.
There('s) not a thing for a poor man
In this world.
- Frank Proffitt
I stopped writing because I was repeating myself. It is the beginning of the end when you discover you have style. - Dashiell Hammett ~
Every day, almost by the hour, I have more & more ideas and dreams and tugs about what to do with these sidewalk readings. A few days ago, Greg Joly met up with me on the main street sidewalk of Northampton where we earned donations over two hours work. A guitar player 50 feet up the street had made about the same, according to Susan after surveying the scene. Noontime passersby. One woman came up, listened awhile, read our sign carefully about all donations going to New Orleans musicians, and set her dollar down like it was a million bucks. These are the graces.
Later that day, we drove over to Amherst and read another two hours. We positioned our camp right near the door of our friend's music store Mystery Train, and it was their contribution into the kitty that started off the swing of things. Mostly students strolling past, we seemingly oblivious to them all, a fairly intimate situation and easy to stop, listen and add in. I remember this town in the late 60s and early 70s when students stopped the campuses and shut everything down for common causes, justice, all those freedoms. To End A War. Completely unrecognizable today. In those early 70s, it was Black Power strikes that spunked the town. Where we read was less than a five minute walk from Emily Dickinson's home. In the other direction, go a five minute walk to her gravesite. There is no complaint here. Poetry remains constant. Even if we make little.
As trucks down-geared that day alongside our street of readings, I came right onto a poem of mine with a line about a work truck downshifting, as one, on cue, gear rumbled by. Greg looked up with a smile, "You got your sound man working it!" It's what I like about Greg; he can also pick up from a natural act.
Remembering earlier that day in Northampton, when I opened up the reading with three poems by: Samperi, Deemer, Carver, it took less than a minute to share. Expending energy at a bare minimum, the results magnificent. Right out of the box a young Christian zealot came up to me, stood a foot away as I peacefully read aloud a group of Cid Corman poems. I picked up on his Jesus fling and so read Cid's poem "Solomon". Naturally, the Christian's eyes perked awake. Most of these modern Christians are as junkiefide as the greatest street hustler - it's all about their Lord. Call it what you want, but we all have a "Lord". So I swam into the Jesus pool to see what would bite. He was gushing, spinning, stabbing at ideas, then he had to spin away like something was getting the best of him. So off he rambled with his worldly possessions pack on his back . But he didn't get 10 feet down the sidewalk when he hollered back, "Hey, I was wondering: are you a Christian?" I knew something would be coming, so shot back, "No. Human". He chewed on that a second and then went on his way with a hand wave. A half hour later, he was back, while I was midway into one of my poems and asked to hear the "Solomon" poem again. I said, "So, it's song request time, eh?..." picking up the book, looking into that dead serious look on his face waiting for the poem to reappear. "Now, when I see a smile come back on your face, I'll begin to read," I smiled. He got it. Gave me a grin. I read Cid.
Meanwhile, the military takes over New Orleans. Many in America now figure this is normal. Blackwater mercenaries (trained killers) moving throughout the Crescent City like marauders of old. Civil War. Red Legs. Lynchings. Drownings - have never left our history. It's our own fault we have a corporate junior executive in charge of the Presidency (Eisenhower knew this was coming) as he and his cronies fleece every morsel of soul left in our pastures of plenty. Crooks walk free, gas and oil prices sky rocket monumental profits for a few corporate cultures, while the truest homemade businesses diminish like forests in the Amazon. Fear is a doctrine coursing our bloodstream as an implant. Tear it out.
Yesterday, in Brattleboro on a side street, I read Lucille Clifton's gorgeously biographical (for anyone) poem "memphis". Her claim of "northern born", here where I now stand northern born and northern placed, reading of the foreboding and magnificent Mississippi. "I'm a-gonna tear down that devil's kingdom," as Frank Proffitt sang it. That's what we are doing with the sidewalk reading series. It's organic, spontaneous, normal, natural-voiced. No program, no flyers, no rent, no chasing the choir into the audience to hear more poets listen to more poets read. That power of worship is essential for a march on Washington 24 September 2005: showing expanse and community action. The sidewalk readings are daily, continual, active by the second, spring-fed. There is nothing better these days than to have a poet read and be lost in the hum and crash of daily existence! It's humbling. These poems of usual life: farm doings, animals, love touch, sea bearings, cloud shade, harvesting. No audience. No schedule. No theory. Voice played and addressing for some inclusion. To show the poem is ordinary and remarkably unique in its durability to last out in the weather of the street. Read again and again and again. There isn't much else to take its place.
That day on the sidewalk - another two hours - a middle-aged woman and her husband stopped a moment...the guy walked a little ahead...one of those: 'what is she up to now?' looks on his face as he studied his wife. The woman seeing the open, battered violin case that holds donations, asked me (while I'm midway reading a poem), "Where's the violin?" I smiled and pointed to my mouth saying, "Much older than the violin...the violin is but a tool, the mouth is the first instrument." She's listening. A small crowd gathering. At that point, I take out the Bob Dylan quote I used in the last Woodburners on New Orleans. It's from his book Chronicles, page 180 - ending with comrades requesting comrades to aid them in some way - then the William Gass quote used in the same Woodburners - culminating with So be advised. For works of art, the rule reads: never enter Time, and you will never be required to exit - finally, I read an Ed Sanders poem on ridicule - you have to be ready for ridicule, as the poem's fine chant rolls along. Another woman has stopped and has a wonderful and steady eye contact on the Dylan passage. She contributed in her way. The violin betty kept on me..."I play the violin. I don't like seeing a violin case without its instrument. I have a violin shop right up the street..." "Oh yeah?" I inquire. "Yes", she says. "I tell you what," I offer, "bring your violin back and we'll play together. You with music, and then I'll read some poems." "What? Oh no, it's going to rain any minute now," she frets. "Then come back next week when I'm here," I say, adding with a friendly twist, "I dare you." You can only invite, the rest is reply.
We then noticed, next door to us, over a dozen people pile up outside one of the richest restaurants in town. The door will open at 6 o'clock. The owners and workers all seem hip to us being there. The customers are in a soft tangle behind us and close enough to hear all the poems. But no replies. Instead, a heavy set woman came out of the neighboring pharmacy with her purchase and still a little money left in her pocketbook. She stopped. Listened awhile. Read our sign, and allowed the gears to roll in her mind. And like that woman earlier in the week in Northampton, set a dollar down like it was gold. And it was.
The meek have already inherited the earth.
© 2005 Bob Arnold (September 18, 2005)
© 2006 Bob & Susan Arnold at Longhouse
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