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:

Lullaby: The Tease

My dear friend Kimberly M. Wetherell, whom I delighted in meeting earlier this year, is a bright, upcoming filmmaker.  I enjoyed Ménage à Trois, and if you haven't seen the hilarious Why we Wax (link possibly NSFW) you are definitely missing out.  For the past year or so, Kimberly has been grinding hard to gain the necessary support for a far more ambitious work, Lullaby.  Based on a teaser for this feature film she put together and posted over the weekend, it could just be her masterpiece.  With the sights, sounds and emotional balance so compelling in this teensy peek upon her vision, I am eagerly looking forward to the completed work.

First Board 2006/7

Got out to Keystone with Osita (playing hooky) Charles, Dawn and Melette. Keystone was just opening and conditions were hardly as sweet as last year's first trip, but then again that was three weeks into November, rather than the 3rd day. My knee is in better shape this year, but still not at full strength.

It was mad crowded, with only Montezuma lift open (no trails open below that mid-mountain point and we had to down-load at the end), but there were a few modest powder stashes to be found. Early season snowfall this year has been promising, and it might well be as lovely a season as the last. Looking out to Keystone's second peak, it was looking pretty close to fit. Copper claims they have top-to-bottom open, so that might be my second trip.

After the debacle of the crap digicam from last year I think I'm going to spring for a good helmet-cam (seems they run about $350 or so). If anyone has any suggestions for a good model, I'd be grateful. If it is going to be another epic season, I gotta get into some vid-blogging.

[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

First board

So yesterday I took my weak right knee up with my friends, all on skis (punks) to Keystone for my first day on the slopes this season. I'm usually reluctant to admit going to Keystone. Keystone and A-Basin both got dumped on, but it was a mixed crowd, so Keystone was the better bet for terrain diversity. It was a sweet day on the slopes. For pre-Thanksgiving the snow was quite good, especially on the steep tree runs in the Outback. Susan, Kenny and I did a few such challenging runs, and as usual Susan kicked our asses with her effortless form (A couple of my friends were kind enough to say they didn't want to board if they couldn't do so as elegantly as I do. Well for sure, if I ski I want to be as elegant as Susan). After lunch we were forced on the crowded front face where the snow was more what you'd expect in early season and I wasn't sure whether we were skating or sliding. Hats off again to Donek, who made my board. As usual, the float in deep snow was very stable as was the edge grip on ice. I hadn't had time to wax my board or sharpen the edges, but you wouldn't know that for a moment.

This first trip beat me half to death, though. By the time I got to the bottom my knee (despite the brace) was begging for mercy and I was feeling weak, with chills. Kept my spirits up by chatting with Guy, Susan and Dawn on the road back, but I crashed before 6, as soon as I got home, and I'm just starting to feel better. I wonder whether it's a touch of altitude sickness. Alexandra said she'd suffered the same thing after her first trip last week, but I haven't had altitude sickness since before I lived in Colorado.

[Uche Ogbuji]

via Copia

Rafting the crazy Clear Creek

This weekend's adventure was white water rafting Clear Creek, between Idaho Springs, CO and Golden. I drive by that creek all the time on I-70 and Route 6 on the way to and from snowboarding, and I've never thought of it as a big deal, but we've had an great year for snow and rain and this is high season, so it turns out that there are class 3 through class 5 rapids to ride. I've been rafting before, but class 3 tops, so I figured it should be a blast, especially since I'm rather scared of water.

I got in a group with 12 of my friends, and we went for a full day trip Saturday. In the morning, we started off on the class 3s, and had a couple of incidents in class 4 areas. Melisse fell out of the boat entirely at one point and Noah and Philippe had to haul her out of the water. And then we wrapped our raft around a high rock, and had to do some very frantic "high-side" maneouvers to avoid flipping the entire rig. I lost my paddle a couple of times, usually catching it on a rock in a middle of a stroke, but once I ditched it when Dawn lunged to prevent me from pitching off the boat as it lurched to port, and then I had to lunge to hold her in when the boat lurched back to starboard.

It was wild fun, though. Our guide Sean started by making us yell "Yee- haw" after we survived each class 4 section (he's from West Virginia but he's rafted a lot on the Zambezi). We, being the group we are, decided that wasn't multi-culti enough and added a French "Hourah" and an Igbo "Chineke" (literally "GOD ALMIGHTY!") Zelda said "I think 'Chineke' is the most satisfying yell", and indeed, we all practiced it a good deal.

So what, after lunch, do we do after all that? Up it to class 4/5, of course. Melisse, Maggie and Noah had had enough and bailed, but the rest of us tackled the bottom, harder part of the course. Amazingly, though we went through ridiculously huge drops, spins and slides with names like "tornado turn", "guide ejector", "double knife", etc., we didn't eject anyone or flip the raft. A bloody good thing because looking at that churning mess, it would have been a pretty dire situation if someone ended up in the water. The guide company had a spotter/rescue dude with a mean hand at his kayak, but even he would have had difficulty getting to someone through all that.

I had a serious case of omni-pain (a term, all too familiar to first- time snowboarders) all that night and the next day from all the hard paddling and lurching about, but man was that a rush. I'll have to give it a go again, soon. Especially if we see epic white water like that again.

Big up to our guide Sean who kept us undrowned, and to High side adventures, the guide company.

More pictures on Flickr

[Uche Ogbuji]

via Copia

That snow escape move

So you're floating in the fresh fluff in Beaver Creek, and you decide to duck into the trees for even deeper pow, then POW, you biff and find yourself ass down in a tree well. Do you get out your pen knife and carve your last will and testament on the tree? Or do you...

Sara and Pascal stretch it out

Bust out that there yoga move Sara (snowboarder) and Pascal (skiier) are demonstrating? No brainer, eh? Good thing, because just a few weeks after S&P's demo I found myself needing that very technique. Wasn't a tree well, but it was a pretty deep basin of snow. What S&P don't quite get across is how much flipping work it is.

[Uche Ogbuji]

via Copia