Coyote Mercury

words, birds and whatever else by James Brush

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ACL Fest 2014

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Another wonderful ACL Fest. The weather couldn’t have been better. It was reminiscent of 2010, though without that year’s amazing, awesome lineup. I do miss the old days when there were more jam bands, jazz, and alt-country. The hip-hop doesn’t interest me much, but the upside was that with none of the nighttime acts being particularly compelling, it made things easier to do with with a three-year-old in tow. Still, another great weekend of music in the heart of Austin. And, finally, I got to see The Replacements.

Fri: Capital Cities, Paolo Nutini, St. Vincent, Foster the People

Sat: The Rosebuds, Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue, Zoé, Interpol, Icona Pop, The Avett Brothers

Sun: KONGOS, Jhenè Aiko, Cults, The Gaslight Anthem, Real Estate, The Replacements

Gnarled Oak: A New Start

I used to have two blogs, but a few years ago that stopped making sense. At the time, I could barely keep this one going so I closed up a gnarled oak and started publishing my micropoems here. After two years, I’ve decided to do something new with the site so I relaunched it as Gnarled Oak, an online literary journal:

The idea developed as I was putting together a new poetry collection, and while proofing the acknowledgments page, I realized that most of the journals that had published some of the poems in that collection had shut down: qarrtsiluniouroboros reviewBolts of SilkThe Houston Literary Review, and a handful of stones. Literary journals are often transient things, but some of these were true favorites, and a handful of stones was where I got my first acceptance for a poem.

Now, I don’t know if the world needs another online literary journal, but I’m pretty sure it won’t hurt anything to add a little literature, art, and beauty to the web, and anyway I had this site and URL doing nothing, so I figured it might be fun and worthwhile to see what might grow here at this old Gnarled Oak. And if I can do this even half as well as the editors of the above-mentioned journals did, I will be very happy indeed.

I hope you’ll check it out and consider submitting. I’m reading for the Fall 2014 and Winter 2015 issues. The first issue will be a micropoetry, microprose, micro-whatever issue. Go, on, now. Check it out.

My Poems in Other Places

Over the past few days, I’ve been fortunate to have had two poems published. Red Wolf Journal published my prose poem “Walking Down the Night” as part of their Fall 2014: Celebration & Ritual issue, and Austin-based journal Carcinogenic Poetry published “Ghazal for Seven Goddesses.”

I also recently learned that three of my April NaPoWriMo poems made the daily top ten lists at Poetic Asides Daily, and one, “Trigger”, even won the day (Day 29: Realist and/or Magical Poem, chosen by guest judge Adam Fitzgerald). The two that made the short lists are “Sticky Note” (Day 3: Message Poem) and “The Summer Forecast” (Day 18: Weather Poem). Each days’ winning poem will be published in the upcoming anthology/prompt book Poem Your Heart Out (Words Dance Publishing).

daddy longlegs
slips across autumn sunlight
barred windows

Most Earthlings

School bathroom,
fluorescent light, linoleum.

Two cold-blooded singers
face off in the corner, circling,

testing–lunge and feint.
I wash my hands.

Watch the black-clad
rivals unable to back down

or go around until someone
brings a broom and dustpan,

sweeps up these two, away
to feed chickens in the yard,

their twelve legs locked
in pointless combat.

For Prompt #1 at This Is Not a Literary Journal: Write about the first animal you see today. I didn’t include my dogs, opting instead for wild animals. Those turned out to be crickets and the beetles that appear to stalk them, both of which have infested our school, and are now being swept up and taken to feed the chickens.

Ascent

1.
She went deeper and the boat receded. She worked her chains. The world was locks and water, but she knew the key and smiled as she sank.

2.
The waves came and went leaving constant patterns in the surf. A message: Help me. The beach litter was a map of the seafloor.

3.
He swam for hours into the darkening sea, found her lying in the coral. You came, she said. He exhaled for the last time.

4.
The sea was air, the coral home. Their love the fish, the legs they grew as they evolved back to land to invent boats, chains and locks.

///

I posted this to my Twitter feed about a year ago and found it in my files. So, a rerun.

The Night of October 23

Hint of vanilla in the wine
glass stains on the table

two circles orbit each other
tidally locked. Paper wings

tremble. A mole of moths
flutters against my heart.

Red Wolf Poems: Wordle #26 | Magpie Tales #236

Writing Process Questions

I’m stealing a meme from Carolee.

What are you working on?

I’m close to publishing two short books: Highway Sky, a collection of road poems; and The Corner of Ghost & Hope, a collection of five short stories. Both have been ongoing and then back-burner projects for several years (I first put Highway Sky together in 2009) but this year I decided to commit to finishing both of them. I’m alternating between them, and they are currently in the proof stage. Once published, I plan to start working on another poetry project, not sure what, but I have some ideas I’m kicking around.

How does your work differ from others in the same genre?

This is a really interesting question that I don’t know how to answer without sounding like I’m full of it. I think it’s the type of question writers and other artists probably struggle with answering about their own work. Probably why author bios are written in 3rd person. Having said that, I write about things that interest me. One of the most compelling things to me is the way we interact, live with, and understand our place in nature. I try to let my sense of awe and wonder at the mysteries of the universe come through in my writing. I don’t think any of that necessarily makes my work differ from anyone else’s; plenty do those things and do them better than me. So I have my take on things, my way of seeing the world. As does everyone else. Naturally, I’m forever grateful to those who are interested in and take time to read what I have to write.

Why do you write what you do?

It depends on what I’m writing, whether it be fiction or memoir and what form I’m working in: prose, poetry, small stones… I write to explore, entertain, meditate, pray, discover, remember, understand, honor, educate. As mentioned above, I try to write from a place of curiosity, gratitude, and wonder. I’m reminded of the Grateful Dead song “Lady with a Fan” from Terrapin Station:

The storyteller makes no choice
soon you will not hear his voice
his job is to shed light
and not to master

I’ve always liked those lines, the idea of shedding light and not trying to have all the answers. I try to keep that in mind when I’m writing, that urge to discover and ask rather than answer. I guess I write more what I want to understand than what I already know.

How does your writing process work?

Too many days, I’d say it doesn’t. Sometimes I start with a prompt or an image. I freewrite and then cut away from what I’ve written. Sometimes, a phrase or an idea just comes along and hits me. I wrote this in the comments on Carolee’s blog:

I don’t always know where it comes from, at least not at first. My students ask me these kinds of things all the time when they want to learn more about writing poetry, and I always feel kind of lame when the best I have to offer are answers like “I don’t know” and “It just kind of happens.” I think the best poetry or any writing comes when we’re not setting out to say something but rather to discover something.

Truth is, I really don’t know how I do it. Sometimes I don’t even feel like I’m the one who wrote something. Which isn’t to say it’s not a lot of work, because it is, especially at the revision stage, but those ideas, that initial surge, just happens. But it only happens when I’m open to it. I have to show up and be there ready to respond. The real work of course, comes later when I have to sit down and turn ideas, scribbles, and drafts into something worth reading.

I’ve recently written two process posts, one about reading and recording other people’s poetry and one about videomaking. So I’ll just end with a quote from the video post that also applies to writing:

[…] maybe this is the main thing I have to say about my creative process: I don’t always intend to write a poem or make a video, but then one thing leads to another: experience, image, something I read, something someone says and then the next thing I know there’s a poem or a video or something waiting to be written or made. I guess it all comes down to being open and willing. And then, as Stephen King says, showing up at the keyboard.

warm september moon
a hard glow
between elm branches

“A Ghazal On Birth Of The Buddha” Videopoem

This is a video I made based on Uma Gowrishankar’s “A Ghazal On Birth Of The Buddha: Bardo 3″ from The Poetry Storehouse.

I had recorded a reading of the poem the previous week (along with a few others) with no intention of making videos because I didn’t have any time or ideas. But then while searching for some footage on Videvo for something else entirely, I came upon that clip that imagines an approach to the Milky Way. I’m an astronomy nerd and ever since traveling with Carl on the Ship of the Imagination, I’ve always liked this sort of thing.

I watched the clip a few times and started thinking about the poem, about the soul approaching the womb and how the stars in that footage move so fast that (I would think) the clip could encompass millions of years and so the whole thing started to seem like something that was completely outside of time and space. That reminded me of a line from the finale of Lost (which I’m re-watching): “There is no now here” which made me think of souls outside the body and outside time and space which led me back to Gowrishankar’s poem.

I had the reading and the footage so I put them together, but thought I needed something less spacey and metaphorical, which is why I added the audio of the fetal heartbeat. It seemed to ground the thing and make it more earthly, which is one thing I really like about the original poem.

It’s funny to me how things like this just kind of happen, and maybe this is the main thing I have to say about my creative process: I don’t always intend to write a poem or make a video, but then one thing leads to another: experience, image, something I read, something someone says and then the next thing I know there’s a poem or a video or something waiting to be written or made. I guess it all comes down to being open and willing. And then, as Stephen King says, showing up at the keyboard.

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