Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Yurt place or mine?


Well, winter has officially smacked the north coast upside the head with a slush ball. The yard is six inches deep in snow, it's windy, and the sun is gauzed over with gray the same color as mold on an orange. Any sensible person would escape – and in a couple weeks we will be doing so. Where are we headed, Key West, Tucson, Jamaica? Not a chance – we trekking to glorious Kazakhstan! Of which the lonely planet guide quips, paraphrased: "If you're a fan of lunar landscapes, hypnotically long train rides and horse sausage – this is the destination for you!" Oh, and it should be colder'n a bejeezus there too! The country (the 8th largest in the world – who knew?); slapped to the left side of a border between Russia and China is the first of a triumvirate of trips we are making this winter. Our second is to Jakarta in February – a much more climatically timed excursion and Istanbul in March.

Like all folks making a living as poets we are filthy rich and globetrot for amusement.

Right, believe that and I have a bridge to sell ya in Brooklyn. We are lucky enough to have found our way into the international school circuit as teaching artists, spreading the power of poetry and performance as a part of an educational curriculum designed to enhance literacy and comprehension skills at all grade levels. So why do we work in such far flung destinations? First and foremost, we are adventurers – the opportunity to mix teaching with seeing different cultures and locales is an experience that appeals to both of us – we are not homebodies. But secondly – and a bit scary, because the opportunity to do our kind of work here in the US of A seems to be becoming fewer and further between we have to look across the oceans to practice what we preach.


The current climate of public education toward any programming that is not part of a cookie cutter fodder destined for a standardized test oven is as chilly as the wind outside my window at this moment. No Child Left Behind – sounds like a good idea. Of course, the folks who coined this phrase are also responsible for: The Clean Air Initiative – which actually relaxes emission restrictions for industry, The Healthy Forest Initiative – which allows more logging, Free Speech Zones – which are actually cordoned off areas far away from whatever event is being protested, and the granddaddy of them all – The Patriot Act – See a pattern?


Now while NCLB purports to bring responsibility back to the classroom and get back to basics – what it really achieves is can be summed up in this analogy that I have run across a couple times on the web:


No Child Left Behind - Football Version


The football version of what is going on in education right now. (If you're not an educator, this may not make a lot of sense to you. But send it to your friends who are in education. They will love it!)


For all educators in and out of the education system:

1. All teams must make the state playoffs and all MUST win the championship. If a team does not win the championship, they will be on probation until they are the champions, and coaches will be held accountable. If after two years they have not won the championship their footballs and equipment will be taken away UNTIL they do win the championship.


2. All kids will be expected to have the same football skills at the same time, even if they do not have the same conditions or opportunities to practice on their own. NO exceptions will be made for lack of interest in football, a desire to perform athletically, or genetic abilities or disabilities of themselves or their parents. ALL KIDS WILL PLAY FOOTBALL AT A PROFICIENT LEVEL!

3. Talented players will be asked to work out on their own, without instruction. This is because the coaches will be using all their instructional time with the athletes who aren't interested in football, have limited athletic ability or whose parents don't like football.

4. Games will be played year round, but statistics will only be kept in the 4th, 8th, and 11th game. This will create a New Age of Sports where every school is expected to have the same level of talent and all teams will reach the same minimum goals. If no child gets ahead, then no child gets left behind. If parents do not like this new law, they are encouraged to vote for vouchers and support private schools that can screen out the non-athletes and prevent their children from having to go to school with bad football players.

Now I don't want to go on forever here – 'cause I could, so I am going to cut to an ending kinda quickly. One question that I can never seem to get answered by the proponants of NCLB is: "If it is such a good idea – why aren't private schools held to the same rules?" You know, those schools where the folks behind NCLB send their kids? I mean it couldn't be that they want an end to public education. What good would an uneducated, demoralized, unquestioning labor supply be to elite robber barons and their inbred progeny?

Kinda sends a shiver down your spine – doesn't it?

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Accordian to prophecy

Rob Zombie is just about the perfect music to work out to in my opinion. Now I am not a big heavy metal fan and I'm not even sure you could classify Zombie's work as heavy metal – like Ministry and Motorhead his driving almost techno beat stuff bears little resemblance to the big haired Ratt – Poison administered during the 80s. There is very little that goes with the testosterone infused grunts of lugging barbells about than the ear drum numbing intonations of Zombie's Dragula or Ministry's Jesus Built my Hotrod. Now if I'm running on a treadmill (and aren't we all in one way or another) I will mix in a podcast or two, my favorite right now is a series called Poetry off the Shelf, produced by the Lilly cash drunk Poetry magazine folks – you can find them here

http://www.poetryfoundation.org/features/audio.html

But for bench pressing, squats and hammer curls give me Super Beast, Ace of Spades, maybe mix in some Social Distortion doing their rendition of Ring of Fire or… something with a little accordion.

I once saw a bumper sticker which read – Friends Do Not Let Friends Play Accordions – as humorous as I find this; I still believe I am genetically predisposed to music produced with a squeezebox. I myself have absolutely no innate musical talent, I can't tell a 4-4 from a 2-3 beat and my singing doesn't just scare my dogs it makes them inordinately angry so that they crawl around as if they were sneaking through high grass growling under their breath wishing that I would finally keel over from whatever spoiled food I have obviously ingested from the kitchen trash.

My paternal grandfather on the other hand – could play any instrument put into his hands. He was in a band, a Tamburitza band. Tamburitza is a gypsy inspired type of Eastern European music, a tambura being a long necked string instrument not too unlike a mandolin. There is a whole culture built up and around Tamburitza music within the Serbo-Croatian community and being a proud Croat (president of the Cleveland Croatian Fraternal Union) my grandfather was keeping it real back in the day. One of the first songs I remember is a version of Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain, sung by him in Croatian accompanied with his superfast strumming of a Tambura.

There were accordions around too, little octagon squeezeboxes and giant things that looked like a sideways version of the electric Magnus toy organ we kids played with in the "other room" (On Top of Old Smokey pecked out by following numbered keys.) Thus I was incated during my formative years – "give me a child until seven…"

Now this predilection for gypsy music lay dormant in me like a cicada chrysalis while I discovered Frank Zappa, Tom Waits, Pere Ubu and the Buzzcocks. I fed this bug literature, eastern bloc existential tropes of writers like Kafka, Dosteovsky, Chekov, Gorki and Gogol – then, that's what caught my eye. The recognition of a name, Gogol – of whom Dosteovsky said, "All Russian literature comes from beneath his overcoat" in the name of a band. Gogol Bordello, self proclaimed gypsy punks – the fusion of two types of music that were so much a part of me, the subconscious indoctrination of my grandpa knee bounced childhood and the anarchistic gyrations of pre fashionable punk I embraced as a young adult. All of a sudden – accordions were cool.

So, chances are – if you run into me at the gym with my ear buds trailing wires down to an Mp3 player, more than likely I will not be able to hear you talking to me due to the driving crash of power chords and bass kick – but, there is also a good possibility I am listening to an accordion. Friends don't admit to friends they like accordions.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

flotsum



My thoughts are not so deep


anymore


like a tide ebbing


their surfaces steadily receding


drawn away from shore


by the constituents of my life


my son at university


his excogitations swim


like Kierkegaardian sharks


dorsal fins slicing the surf


snapping the backs of schooling ideas


with a confident head shake


swallowed in chunks


by rows of replenishable teeth


shards of flesh and scale


left in his wake


while


my boats lay listing in mud


moored to piers casting shadows across their decks


an insurance bill flops about exposed rocks


gills breathing in the terrible oxygen


oystercatchers loud and obvious


stab thick orange beaks at aspirations


hunkered in their shells


gelatinous globs of amorphous phylum


slowly dehydrate in the evening sun


further down the beach


washed up


carried by current from depths that never knew light


a giant squid


milky eye the size of a full moon on the horizon


will be collected by Japanese scientists


studied and dissected


wherein they will find


the half digested body


of a great white


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