Poetry Reading Recording

On November 4, I had the honor of performing a few poems at the request of my alma mater, West Texas A&M University. It clocks in at an hour and six minutes, which is a lot. So here are some of the highlights.

  1. 5:40 – Introduction and Greetings
  2. 7:10 – The Local Imagination
  3. 8:40 – Hard Wood Rima (Palo Duro)
  4. 13:20 – Some Valley Cheese
  5. 21:24 – Ulysses Arrives in Amarillo
  6. 55:00 – Q&A

Ryan Culwell’s Flatlands

Ryan Culwell’s album Flatlands comes out March 3, on Lightning Rod Records (Joe Pug, Billy Joe Shaver, Amanda Shires). I’m grateful to have etched the album’s cover art, a linoleum cut print. Also, if you get the physical album, I have a poem in the liner notes. Brian Boebel at Dual Identity Design did the package design.

I include here Gustav Dore’s “The Destruction of Leviathan,” which is an illustration of Isaiah 27. Not only was Dore’s leviathan a touchstone for my rattlesnake, but Isaiah may be a hermeneutic while listening to Flatlands

Not that this is any sort of creditable review, but I keep crying while I listen to it. But then I stop cuz aint no one saying I aint tough (tough just aint enough).

P.S. Rolling Stone premiered the album. For a little while, you can listen to it here: http://www.rollingstone.com/music/premieres/hear-texas-troubadour-ryan-culwell-evoke-springsteens-nebraska-on-new-album-20150223?page=2

Words Are Stuff: Poet Scott Cairns

I don’t want to just complain about my upbringing, because I learned a lot – I learned the love of God from those people – but there was a suspicion about the physical body and stuff, the earth, a sense that the body is expendable and the earth is expendable and what matters is what you think about it or what you believe.

Which is just another way of saying that what you do and how you perform and how you engage others may be less important.

I think, as an artist, certainly as a poet, you learn that words are stuff – are things – and that it’s not like you have an idea and then you use words to express the idea.

It’s that you actually love words and you pore over words, and you put strings of words together and they lead you to ideas. It’s like the act of making leads you into what to make of it in terms of idea, and so a kind of primary attention to stuff – the stuff of language.

I suppose if I were a painter, it would be stuff of pigment; if I were a sculptor, it would be stuff of wood or metal or clay. Artists fall in love with the stuff, and that becomes a way of knowing, rather than ways of saying what you know.

I find in the liturgy of the Orthodox Church it’s very bodily present – one brings himself or herself fully to the space. The air is filled with incense; the iconography is everywhere; our bodies kneel, prostrate. We kiss things. We kiss each other.

There’s a very tactile, visual, scent-centered sensuous engagement with worship, and then it becomes worship, and not just talk of worship or ideas about worship.

You find yourself worshipping, and that teaches you who it is you’re worshipping in a way that talking about it never could. The practice of poetry prepared me for the practice, I think, of Orthodox worship.

The life of worship itself, the life of prayer itself, the life of making poems – these are endless. You can kind of get a glimpse of that or a taste of that endlessness once you realize that it’s stuff that you can endlessly work over. It’s stuff that endlessly works over you. We become shaped by the liturgy.

From an interview in “Faith & Leadership

Hammer Through Daisies

@curatormagazine posted my most recent essay. Surprise, I write about death again. And Dylan Thomas.

Irony isn’t bad, of course. It allows us to grasp the nebulae of death or time or memory and examine them as things, briefly, because irony is a posture toward existence that grants the bizarre possibility that things like flowers could stand in the place of gigantic death. We need it. But in the end, the metaphors of irony’s garden are ridiculous little signs. If we forget that and carry on tending our metaphors, or worse preserving them as though they lived beyond their moment; if we forget that there is real life and death beyond these things, or maybe even a god that makes and sustains these things, then soon enough, all of existence is rendered ridiculous. Elegant maybe, but absurd. See more: http://www.curatormagazine.com/seth-wieck/hammer-through-daisies/

Hammer Through Daisies

Little Girl Found

The kind folks @curatormagazine have posted one of my essays. Warning: it concerns child abductions. Here’s a link: Little Girl Found.

A few years ago in a neighboring town, booming as a safe alternative to my relatively safe city, a man with no criminal record or history drove into the parking lot of a gas station and tried to steal a little girl. The girl’s grandmother intervened and was shot and killed in the process. The man fled the murder into the quiet suburban town and kidnapped another girl from her front yard. As a police chase ensued, the girl leapt from the car, sustaining only minor injuries, and the police killed the man in a shootout…

Also, the brilliant Ms Odradek gave it a pre-read, for which I am deeply grateful.

Little Girl Found

In the first centuries of Christianity, the new religion proved insufficient for the educated people in many ways, and so gnosticism became widespread. Gnosticism did then what poetry does today for educated people. But poetry should not be reduced to mere aestheticism. In its most important instances, poetry is an exploration of man’s place in the cosmos. Good and evil have been attributes of man since the Fall. The big question is: What state did Adam and Eve live in before that moment? Original sin is an enormous and extremely difficult philosophical problem. Lev Shestov said, and I agree, that it is remarkable, indeed hardly conceivable, that primitive shepherds were able to come up with a myth so enigmatic that the generations who have sweated over it to this day still do not understand it.

Like most good poets, great or minor, Dante wrote better than he had meant to do.

Allen Tate. “The Symbolic Imagination.” Essays of Four Decades. p. 440. Third Edition, ISI Books.