Poetry, Western Slope sty-lee

This world glistens like a summer lamp saying open, open
In the time it takes to speak, everything could disappear.

—from "Looking for Fossils" by Sandra Dorr (from Desert Water, The Lithic Press, 2009)

What is that spark when you meet a friend, which crackles with instant recognition? And what is that spark multiplied like a moonless night sky's field of fireworks? It might be something like what I experienced at the Western Colorado Writers' Forum's annual conference in Grand Junction this past weekend.


I was introduced to the group by Wendy Videlock, who appeared on TNB Poetry at my behest and who then suggested I lead a workshop on submissions to online journals at the conference. I gave that workshop Saturday to a sharp, attentive group who had just heard María Meléndez's advice about submitting to print journals.

Earlier that morning I had encountered what this conference was really about, at heart.

What better place to call home
than this high desert cloud mesa wrong turn
rippling of the continental plates
before they slap down
fanning towards the Coast?

—from "The Wright Stuff" by Art Goodtimes

I woke up on the crisp, autumn morning to ride with Colorado Poet Laureate David Mason and his sweet, effervescent lover Cally Conan-Davies up Monument Canyon into the sort of jaw-dropping landscape that Colorado offers up to casually. There at the visitor center of the National Monument, a group of poets learned from Park Ranger Liz of the eventful geological and human history of the place, as well as present climate, flora and fauna. Fingers bit by the chill, we nevertheless scribbled scraps of what she said and what figments the vista inspired in us.


We then gathered in a room at the center where David Mason recited selections of poetry which exhibited rootedness to land.  He finished with Bristlecone Pine, his own poem written after visiting the oldest tree of that type in the Rocky Mountains; he started with:

We have no prairies 
To slice a big sun at evening  
Everywhere the eye concedes to  
Encroaching horizon, 

Is wooed into the cyclops' eye  
Of a tarn. Our unfenced country  
Is bog that keeps crusting 
Between the sights of the sun. 

They've taken the skeleton  
Of the Great Irish Elk 
out of the peat, set it up 
An astounding crate full of air.

—from "Bogland" by Seamus Heaney

I wrote a poem, "Parachuted," that seemed to emerge, great elk skeleton, from the dew-soaked sponge of my brain.  I also remembered that beginning of "Bogland" throughout the day, and when one of the organizers urged us to write and share weathergrams to post on Grand junction trees, "Bogland" wove into my offering.

I've since worked that weathergram into a tanka.

We have no tarn to
Mottle the copperplate face
Of rough entrada.
We've no black peat, dry fossil
Colorado, we repeat.

—untitled, by Uche

There were several fossil-marked rocks at the home of Danny Rosen, professional astronomer, director of the Western Sky Planetarium, poet, and host to a group of us. The first night Danny treated us to jaw-dropping views of the moon, Jupiter and its moons, The Pleiades, The Andromeda galaxy and more through his large telescope.  Friday evening I taught a couple of Igbo and Efik songs to Art Goodtimes, San Miguel County commissioner and Western Slope Poet Laureate and Rosemerry Trommer, runner, linguist, singer and proprietress of a large fruit orchard.  Rosemerry sang me a few Yoruba songs in turn. From there we joined the chat and debate at Danny's legendary poet's bonfire with Jack Mueller, Wendy, David and Cally.


It wasn’t the moon
that swooned me, but
the edge of the moon,
cratered and rough,
the shadow line
where substance ends
and space begins.

Plenary sessions were held in a lovely converted church with high, NBC peacock stained glass windows. Highlights included a poetry reading in which I took part, and offerings of words from elders. Saturday night, before the headlining presentation of Leslie Marmon Silko we had a bit of history from Ute elder Clifford Duncan. Sunday morning the conference closed with a series of reminiscences by elderly representatives of various cultures in the local Grand Valley: Hispanic, African American, Basque, Italian, Japanese, etc., as well as from a gentleman telling the history of geology, miners and military installations in the region. I was very impressed at the amount of time, attention and respect given over to those who have known that land the longest, and to their stories.

Maybe that is why we go on talking,
always trying to show someone we're here,
and look--I have a past just like you do,
a stream of words that fills the empty night
and sweetens troubled dreams, or so we hope,
and tells us not to linger long on bridges
staring at all the water passing by.

I thought my whole ambition was to make
the past and present come together, dreamed
into a vivid shape that memory
could hold the way the land possesses rivers.
They in turn possess the land and carry it
in one clear stream of thought to drink from
or water gardens with.

I learned that I must first talk to myself,
retelling stories, muttering a few
remembered lines of verse, to make the earth
substantial and to bring the sunlight back.

Stories were how my long weekend began, as well as how it ended. I arrived at Wendy's household, met and had supper with her charming family, after which Wendy and I discussed lives and poetics, our own, and of others, into the night.  Then it was time to sleep, because in the morning Wendy was leading a workshop, "Totem Poems and the Subconscious Muse," which was my first writing workshop, an experience I approached warily because my remote impression of workshops had been rather dire.  On the day I enjoyed Wendy's approach, and was very impressed at the quality of poems written by participants. I wrote a couple of poems which seem worthy of further attention, including a leopard poem, which I'm always grateful to receive.


Only bone, like the shadow, knows
that lasting metaphors are born
of architects and alchemists,

of those who love the arch
and beam, and of the fleshy need
to leave and have something remain.

—from "In Praise of Form" by Wendy Videlock, from Nevertheless, Able Muse Press, 2011

Sandra Dorr was too busy running the show for me to have much opportunity to hear her poetry, so Desert Water was my first read this week of the many volumes I'd bought at the conference. In the way she switches from the telescope of landscape to the microscope of intimate personal detail, Sandra is like so many of the remarkable poets I met that weekend. Something very special is welling from the ground in Colorado, and I'm excited to be a part of it. I spent about a half hour with Sandra walking to lunch one of the days, and she told me of how she had gotten involved in local literary initiatives, pointing out the many points of artistic interest in the small town of Grand Junction. I have no doubt that her tireless efforts, and that of her collaborators at the WCWF, will continue to bear fruit, and that I'll always be of a mind to witness the resulting magic in person.

See also:

So much going on I keep forgetting to write

It has been a crazy past few months. Not only has the day job been running at a gallop, but it's been full-on on the family front and back-to-school and all that. No shortage of activity in my corner of the poetry department, either. I've been posting a lot of interesting work at TNB Poetry, and other have been publishing a gratifying run of my own poems.

My poem "Villonaud of the Barflea Bard" was selected to be part of the 2nd anniversary issue of The Flea.  An excerpt:


Maenads are snarling their decree:
‘So who d'you think you are,’ they howl
‘To seal your bonnet from the bee?’
Those bouncers at the Muses’ hill
Take down attendance in their hall—
You’re conscript to the gathering
To rouse the skaldic clan again
With clinking roar of brannigan.
Yield bruckle skin to miching flea.

I've mentioned The Flea several times in Copia since I discovered it this year. I'm in the first place delighted to find a journal featuring the sort of witty and expressive poetry I love, and in the second place excited to have my own work in such brilliant poetry. In the same broadsheet are too many superb poets to list here, but I must give special mention to the contemporary Australian master Alan Gould. As for my own poem, I had a good deal of fun writing it specifically in response to the call for carouse-house poems to celebrate the anniversary. "Marry, this is miching mallecho; it means mischief"--Hamlet, III. ii. 146

Next my poem "Fortune of Chi" was published in Soundzine, with my recitation. The poem is fairly typical of the manuscript on which I've been working for a few months, with its dash of Biafra and undercurrent of Igbo cosmology, so it was great to place it in such a great journal.  An excerpt:

Some randomized permutation of genes
Spelled these very left and right brain cortices–
Spotlight nerves on sheer possibility;
Some Mendel melody conjured these eyes,
These muscles, grafted these veins under this skin;
I am too many pin-point faults to be
By design yet I crown my own life's fitness:
I am perfected fortune of my chi.


Close on the heels of "Fortune of Chi" came the appearance of "What Belief" in Lucid Rhythms. An excerpt:

I've stroked it while it gently weeps,
Caressed each trembling string,
Cranked up to weapons grade at times
I undertake to sing.

And yet I disappoint, I rip,
I charm a wicked scar;
Hot venom as the scorpion bows
To cantor de Ronsard.

If poetry and song provide
The island with a reef,
What heroes championing what gods
Are left to my belief?


And shortly afterwards my poem "Rhapsody On Q A" appeared in Red Fez., where it was classified as a villanelle but is actually a variant of the villanelle created by Lewis Turco and named the terzanelle. Lewis Turco then added "Rhapsody On Q A" to his exemplar list of terzanelles. An excerpt:

Light on temples, Nepal to Sri Lanka,
You glide, traveling soul, earth-bound fixed foot,
Each step mounting from base camp Casablanca,

From past-life luxury of Hatshepsut
To present serene, composed asana;

Last month I was selected to read at The Poetry in Motion Project at the Boulder Fringe Festival on the basis of my submitted poem "Cabeceo de Niwot." I recited that poem and another, "Run It!" to great response by the audience.

And mixed into all that I found time to write and record a spoken word piece flowing into an old school rap to celebrate TNB's 5th anniversary, and I also wrote a great deal of verse in the 2011 session of Heather Fowler's poetry marathon. I'll also be co-leading (with María Meléndez) a workshop on submissions at the Western Colorado Writers' Forum October 7th-9th in Grand Junction, Colorado, which should be a great time to meet many of my fellow Rocky Mountain poets, including Wendy Videlock, whom I've mentioned on Copia, and David Mason, Poet Laureate of Colorado.  Busy, busy times. Fun, fun times. And I'll have more to report soon, with poems forthcoming in The Flea (again), IthacaLit and The Raintown review.

"Gog" by Ted Hughes

I woke to a shout: 'I am Alpha and Omega!'
Rocks and a few trees trembled
Deep in their own country.
I ran and an absence bounded beside me.

The dog's god is a scrap dropped from the table,
The mouse's savior is a ripe wheat grain—
Hearing the messiah cry
My mouth widens in adoration.

How far are the mosses!
They cushion themselves on the silence.
The dust, too, is replete.
The air wants for nothing.

What was my error? My skull has sealed it out.
My great bones are massed in me.
They beat on the earth, my song excites them.
I do not look at the rocks and trees, I am frightened of what they see.

I listen to the song jarring my mouth
Where the skull-rooted teeth are in possession.
I am massive on earth. My feetbones beat on the earth
Over the sound of motherly weeping....

Afterwards, I drink at a pool quietly,
The horizons bear the rocks and trees away into twilight.
I lie down, I become darkness—
Darkness that all night sings and circles stamping.

—"Gog" by Ted Hughes, from Wodwo

I was looking at my old essay "Slender Mitochondrial Strand," written on the occasion of the death of Nicholas Hughes, son of Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath.  I saw that I'd promised to find and post "Gog," one of my favorite poems, which I'd memorized as a teenager.  Of course I found it in my favorite volume of poetry, John Wain's Anthology of Modern Poetry (Hutchinson, 1963).  I used to have copies of Wodwo and Lupercal, my favorite Hughes volumes, but I can't find them now, so I just added them to my Amazon shopping cart.  Just for completeness I'll post Wain's comment on the poem:

"Gog" refers to the biblical prophecy (Ezekiel, chapter xxviii) of a hostile power that will arise in the world immediately before the Last Judgment, and inflict untold destruction.

Now that I've mentioned a Bible verse on Sunday my relatives might be quietly satisfied that I might still be "saved," though they'll probably reconsider if they read "Fire Next Time," a poem I just wrote today for NaPoWriMo.  

Then again the Bible is the last thing I really think of when I read "Gog."  To me it's all about Hughes's aggressive Paganism.  And it really brings me home to my chosen home of Colorado, where I still feel the rule of the "rocks and trees" (though sadly the bark beetle is making a large dent in the latter).  I think of Lewis and Clark mounting the continental divide and seeing an infinite expense of wooded and icy mountains.  "I am Alpha and Omega!" And weren't they forced to believe it!  And then, closer about them, below the tree-line, the fauna and flora on the verge of losing its indifference to people, replicated in that infinite expanse that pushed their field of vision and imagination.  Man and his power that derives from Nature, and yet holds it within to destroy so much of Nature's creation.  That is the paradox that I see written into "Gog."

By the way, if you're as interested in Hughes's poetry as I am, don't miss my discussion of his recently uncovered poem "Last Letter."  I focus on the poetry, because everyone else seems so much more interested in the drama.

Hear it in the deep heart's core

Glory be to hooch for painted things—
For bleach-blonde strippers, collagen-plumped lips;
For pink acrylic nails and spike-heeled shoes;
Bright thong bikinis; belly-button rings;
Wet T-shirts; tan lines; liposuctioned hips;
Mascara; lip gloss; butterfly tattoos

—from "Dyed Beauty" by James Wilk in Shoulders, Fibs, and Lies (Pudding House Press, 2007) 

So I finally made the trip to Innisfree on the Hill, a new Boulder bookstore stocking only poetry.  I pretty much just went the first night their community events coincided with my spare time, but it turned out to be good timing, as they were featuring the work of Dr. James Wilk.  I arrived just before the reading and the small (but well appointed) space was rather full.  I enjoyed the reading and the craft and humor of the poet's work, including the poem from which I quote above.  It's another "Pied Beauty' parody, of course; earlier on Copia I mentioned "Carnal Beauty," Kate Bernadette Benedict's own play on the poem that came out in The Flea in January.  That was back when I first discovered that great journal, and since then I'm proud to say they've accepted a couple of my poems for publication later this year.


Speaking of my own poems, I should mention my own poem, "Dream Residue", which appeared in The Nervous Breakdown today (I am an editor and regular contributor there, so that's less of a feat).

Can't believe I stayed asleep to give 
Honey slope après ski GPS, 
Real life need-to-piss bringing the cock-block; 
Her black greek letter accent fading fast 
With harem eyes under bright bluebird skies 
To duller daybreak wink of bluing chalk… 
Damn! I planned to smash that like Thor's hammer. 
The ferry over cream slides cruel to dock.

But back to the Wilk reading.  I made a few neat discoveries on the night as well.  Wilk mentioned Eaven Boland's poem Anorexic, which apparently is rather a phenomenon in the circles, though it was new to me, the rather elliptical.

Flesh is heretic.
My body is a witch.
I am burning it.

Yes I am torching
her curves and paps and wiles.
They scorch in my self denials.

How she meshed my head
in the half-truths
of her fevers

till I renounced
milk and honey
and the taste of lunch.

I vomited
her hungers.
Now the bitch is burning.
—from Anorexic by Eaven Boland

Rather packs a punch, doesn't it?  Wilk also mentioned Turner Cassity, and in particular "Meaner than a Junkyard Dog." Both are poems to which he had responded with his own.

I'll surely be back to Innisfree for more poetry and company.  Who can resist that quiet cabin on the lake, especially when the lake is constantly whispering what is best received in the heart's core.


Mother's burning breast

This is the bark which used to be
A functioning face. You see the stream?
A nymphet breathing. Things who seem
Alive are, mostly, differently.
What if your hand were once a rock,
Your friends narcissi, your heart a clock?

Thus Epstein launches what starts off seeming like a neat philosophical exercise, the personal and impersonal randomly intertransformed, and then winds through a sudden volta to a contemplation of the death of a loved one, as I hint in the title of this note.  It's a good specimen of what I look for most keenly in poetry.  Skill in the service of emotion.  Epstein's craft drew forth my interest, taking me to the acrid yet ambiguous conclusion.


What pleases me almost as much as the technique is that Richard Epstein appears to be a near-neighbor of mine.  I discovered another fellow Coloradan poet with rare craft just this week as well, Wendy Videlock.  Here is a fragment from a poem of hers.

Big Jack and his walking stick
live on the ridge. Navajo
orphan kids dance for him,
bobcat urine’s in the weeds,
the shotgun barrel's up his sleeve,   
a Persian coin is on the wind.

Trochaic tetrameter, mostly, tending towards anacrusis with the last couple of lines.  Not far off from Epstein's iambic tetrameter (mostly).  Wendy's poem is of a very different tone, and features a different sort of volta, but what a pleasure to discover two neighbor poets with such gifts on offer.

By the way, I've dropped the "Quotīdiē" tag from the title of this piece, and will probably do so for future posts, but I'll keep it in the metadata.

Colorado are MLS East champs. I know, 'cause I was THERE!

I tried very hard to be a Colorado Rapids fan for a long time.  My family used to be season's ticket holders, we definitely had some good times, and I was ecstatic when the Rapids partnered with my beloved Arsenal (Kroenke is owner of The Rapids, and now owns a big chunk of the London club).  I had dreams of coaching and academy exchanges, raising the quality of the Rapids' game.

It's nice to have a local team to support, and many of my good friends with whom I play amateur football follow them; Marcelo Balboa, Rapids and US National team legend (to the extent that you can say "legend" in such modest context) is a stalwart of little Superior, where I live, and my oldest son has been a regular at his skills camps.  But the tickets became more and more expensive as the family grew and as they raised rates, and frankly the football on the pitch was just getting worse and worse, so we gave up a few years ago.  I've barely followed them since, though I do still go to games when one of my friends has a good deal on tickets, largely for the tailgating.

Well last night, for the first time in ages I was actually eager to go (I started out looking forward to the arrival of Thierry Henry's New York, but then I saw how Henry was looking a shadow of himself in MLS).  Rapids have had a rare good run in the playoffs, and last night was the Eastern conference championship against the San Jose Earthquake.  The fact that Colorado and San Jose can play an Eastern conference anything is just another marker of the MLS's penchant for silliness, but hey, they play the games they're assigned and I figured it was an experience not to be missed.

My friend Ariel got me a good deal on a ticket, and I bundled up for the cold night (right around 0°C all the while).  The game was dire.  If that is MLS quality with a trip to the cup final on the line, the league still has miles to go.  Everyone was static, and making half-hearted runs off the ball on both teams, and there was no dynamism of build-up.  But what matters is that Rapids scored the one goal that made the difference.  Here is the victorious home team's procession around the ground with the conference cup.

In the following video they make their way past me.  I was in a great seat: row 5 right about the half-way line in a full stadium; we we piled down to pitch-side for the victory procession.

Regardless of how lifeless the game had been, and my recent absence from the Rapids scene, I was yelling like crazy and thoroughly enjoying the moment.  I guess it's some sort of recompense for those years as a season's ticket holder when the product on the field was just as ugly (well I do remember fondly a 4-0 demolition of LA while Beckam was playing under coach Gullit) but the Rapids weren't winning anything.  Colorado went to the MLS Cup final in the inaugural MLS season, and it's about time we got back there.  I'll be sure to head to a bar with good atmosphere and a bunch of friends to watch the final broadcast from Toronto, and once again, I'll tolerate a dire game, as long as the boys bring the cup back to the Rockies.  In the words of the unimaginative fan chant, Let's go Rapids!  Let's go! CLAP! CLAP!

Right now, though, I'm turning my attention to the Gunners.  Win required from a tough fixture away at Everton.  Come on Captain Jesus!

"Bolder Barefoot" Audio

Uche's bolder bare FootI'm featured on the TNB podcast this week, reading my piece "Bolder Barefoot."  The production is by Aaron M. Snyder and Megan DiLullo, and I don't know what I did to deserve such awesomeness.  They've made me sound very nice, if I do say so myself, and they've also injected a lot of character into the proceedings.  It's also up on iTunes.  If you're not subscribed to TNB on iTunes, you should be.

Mid-Spring Winter the pico-season, sesquivernal greens sodden upon sunrise

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I'm always tickled by the near-May-Day snows we get here in the Boulder area, and in 2005 I even wrote a poem (a bagatelle, really) "May Day Flakes" when we got a good 8 inches at the end of April. This morning we got a dusting, making it the latest in the year I've seen snow in the backyard. Early last week we got a few inches.

Our winters are generally so mild (though this past one was rougher than most) that my Nigerian blood doesn't curdle over at such oddities. In fact, we always get so much sun that all the snow is usually gone by afternoon of the day. Pico-season. Peek-a-boo season.

I'd meant to post this entry here on Copia.

Here's to the snowstorm echo

We missed last week's epic snowstorm, reported breathlessly all over the world, as we put off our return flight from Wisconsin to avoid the back-up at DIA. My colleague Linda has some good pictures from last week. There was plenty of warning of a smaller echo of that storm overnight, and sure enough we woke up this morning to a good 18 inches of the best Colorado Cava snow. Not quite the Champagne powder: you have get up into the real high country of the continental divide for that. I expect a good deal for the snowboarding trip this weekend (can't wait).

Anyway we all piled out this morning to dig out, have some fun in the fresh, and enjoy that delicious, crisp air that a goodly Colorado snow storm always leaves behind. L'Chai'm!.

Osi with the piste crawl:

I knew I should have tied the cover back on the grill yestereve after the wind took it off:

The neighbors' yard:

Osi off to break tracks in the back:

The back yard:

[Uche Ogbuji]

via Copia

Funky fresh Vail day

Shot out to Jen, Kenny, Susan, Kim, Dawn, Alexandra and, Rogé. Thanks for the sweet day at Vail Sunday. The snow, weather, company and all round fun factor was exquisite, and it was surely the best day of what has been a really good season. Here are the videos I promised.

First an apology. That stupid ass camera a bien cassé mes pieds (or I suppose, as I learned Sunday, bien me merde)! Several of the video clips were partially hosed, and a couple of them completely so. As a general note, avoid the DXG-305V like the pox. Not only is it useless for taking pictures (the shot above is exhibit A; ignore the wrong time-stamp on the image, I never did set the time on the camera), but its movie mode is seriously buggy. I returned it to Target today, and earnestly pleaded with the bemused staff to take all the other such cameras off the shelf and use them for footholds on a rock climbing wall. Oh yeah, and all the videos are in Microsoft ASF format (my first thought was "you gotta be kidding me"). Your choices for playback might be a bit limited. Gi-Gi Alex, and Kim-oui, the clips with all your fly turns appear to be completely lost in memory, even using Windows media player. At least I have some footage from the others. Don't blame me. Blame the poxy appareil photo.

Anyway, I uploaded all the video clips, even the broken ones. If anyone has any luck with them, let me in on the secret.

[Uche Ogbuji]

via Copia