Lawrence Ferlenghetti: 24th March, 2019 – 21st February, 2021

As a tribute to the great man and poet, I am re-posting my ‘apology’ written for him regarding a tame interpretation I once gave about his Two Scavengers poem.

So this is also to the tens of thousands of students who studied his poem and understood its illustration of the inequitites of the world we live in, especially the ‘great’ democracies, and who know nothing has changed.

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Roadmaps

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It would depend on where and when, but I’d want a Rand McNally
from a gas station somewhere just outside of Omaha heading north
if I wanted to find Niobrara today;

or an OS Explorer at a small shop in Coniston to confirm
I was nowhere near the best way of getting to Ennerdale and see Crag
Farm once again nestled at the foot of its fell;

and whatever German equivalent there was for guiding us to the
Taunus mountains near Frankfort as teenagers, just to convince those
Polezie we’d planned to camp when found lost in a town,

yet never this misnomer for a figurative sketch
as if an actual route rather than wing and prayer to reach from here
to there before reminded of the indefensible loss.

The Pet Cemetary

Build [i]
at least 250 metres away from
any well, borehole or spring

supplying drinking water
or water for use at farm dairies
(out of empathy).

One genuine standard
for a pet cremation is
the burn.

Human, but
epitaphs in any language
of your choice.

The Mongrel Mausoleum
is considered a woke edifice
these days.

Dignified services
for those
anthropomorphised.

The Green ones
are marked
with a shrub.

And [ii]
more than 200 metres away from any Site of Special Scientific Interest,
like burial ground.

The Fish
Final Farewell is a
fluid finish.

That family buried
next to their pets take sentimentality
to an absurd level of belief.

‘Aeons of Upheaval’ – Trainwreck Press

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This is a lovely presentation of my prose poem collection ‘Aeons of Upheaval’ by Canadian small press Trainwreck. The editor John C. Goodman took great care with editorial decisions on overall content and close scrutiny of individual prose poems, making many wise recommendations. I am most pleased to have such a clean and neat production of this work.

John has recently encountered personal loss and a significant impact on his life, work on his press suspended while he dealt with this. Still facing further personal uncertainty, the press is once more up and running. If you felt you could support him by having a look to buy one or more of his publications, considering mine naturally [!], I am sure it would be appreciated. All money for any purchases goes to the press.

Here’s a reading of one of my poems from this collection:

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‘Aeons of Upheaval’ can be purchased here.

‘Static Gleanings’ by Tom Cowin – The Red Ceilings Press

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My pathway into and connection with the evolving exploration in this collection of EVP (electronic voice phenomenon) are the two lines

‘voice is the connective membrane
between your blood and horizons’

I take this to mean what we find in anything that prompts meaning/meaningfulness, and I further take this in the sense of found poetry (which Cowin’s writing here isn’t) where such meanings are random but suddenly connected – ‘blood and horizons’ seeming a potent way of putting it.

I may return to clarify this.

I was also liberated a bit in my engagement with the whole through the lines

‘Then the theory is / that the spirits / that manipulate them / will be so delicate’
(these four lines range across their actual page).

The concept of EVP is entirely new to me and whilst I am creatively open to any sense of finding personal meaning anywhere and anyhow, I am less inclined to acknowledge the reality of ghost voices and similar in the sounds of electronic voice phenomenon recordings. And I do think this view of mine is neither here nor there for anyone else engaging with Static Gleanings.

I like the beginning of the text where sounds are found in a ‘park’ and are a ‘general tenor’, appreciating in this latter the most expansive pun. When we move to the following

‘this device is basal
ganglia firing
in the true dark
under the ash canopy’

apart from the neat beauty of this, I hear the richest connection of the literal to the metaphoric in its concise writing, and this thread moves to the ‘white noise’ of EVP which is a ‘human voice’ that is ‘chirping’, though it may be the ‘singing of wild birds’.

However, maybe I forced a finding of that link back to a literal reality? It doesn’t matter – it is what Cowin finds/hears, or is discovering as possibility.

Reading on, I am/we are reminded it is the recording that matters, not the initial sound. This is of course interesting because we can all hear beyond any actual moment – but to hear within a recording, and to be able to play again and again and to analyse is quite different.

The elaboration of this continues often quite beautifully/lyrically in the ‘could be’ and ‘maybe’ of the possibilities. Perhaps an expected wider unwillingness to do so is expressed in these lines,

‘paranoia is a general air
that we are connected’

and the two pages these lines open are a wonderful example of Cowin’s lyricism as he expands on this.

Most importantly is how Cowin’s exploration of EVP moves with but also past the ghost voices to declare it

‘in a two way conversation with the living’

As with all of The Red Ceilings Press chapbooks, this is a compact read yet it is also deeply engaging. The movement of the poetry across a page and across pages brings continuing surprises as well as spaces/pauses for reflecting – a time to take in the impact of such carefully crafted positionings: this linked (if obviously in poetry!) to word choices, but also the grammar of a playful moment

‘loud contact with the unseen
could be
soon that something was going
to maybe
to happen anyway’

For more information and to purchase, go here.

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As an additional, and on the sound theme, Tom Cowin is a fine songwriter and musician. I recommend Animals, Animals, Animals – a sweet folk album with songs written and arranged by Lucy Day and Tom Cowin, and the album has harmony vocal provided by Rachel Weymss.

Get here.

Female Character

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The first erasure I took from American Cookery, and its found narrative is of course of its time, 1796, but that’s not really an excuse for those original expressions of female roles, and is a part of the historical lineage of this gender placement. In as much as a recent UK Covid advertisement used domestic images linked predominantly to female images, we can see the need for reminders…ridiculously!

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© HM Government

Plague Erasure 7

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Though this is my last from A Journal of the Plague Year. Quite different to American Cookery – clearly – this text has become too potently painful to look for further transformations. I had hoped to find and re-present examples of treatments, good and bad, of those who suffered, and expressions of humanity and hope and other positive references.

Reading this, one does become deeply impressed with Defoe’s attention to detail and commitment to recording – from memory as a five-year old at the time, but more-so in writing it with the reflection as an adult and research, likely his uncle’s journals of the time [this too, then, a transformation] – yet also his absolute candour and the humanity he presents as felt and also witnessed in others. This speaks for itself and can’t/shouldn’t really be altered, or so it has seemed to me.

As others who read this earlier in our global Covid pandemic have commented, there are many similarities and resonances in Defoe’s account of 1665. In reading, I have been amazed at the planning and organisation and legislation implemented to try and deal with the outbreak: examples of political intervention [local and national] that have sounded both familiar and, perhaps, overlooked in our contemporary dealings. I’d have to be more detailed to fully support, and am not looking to do this here.

There are accounts of care and caring from law-makers – magistrates in many cases – and, of course, the medical profession, though Defoe frames their commitments within the impossibility of the context. As I’ve said, it is his own sense of caring and concern that pervades the created personal narrative.

Reflections on the charlatans and schiesters who sought to exploit and profit revealed the innate evil of this then and now. This is presented in the obvious context of the then total desperation of the people. When I found the word ‘trumpery’ in one paragraph, this was the kind of crossover I thought pertinent if transforming the then to now [Donald’s bleach etc.; I had that day of coming across these references seen a BBC News item on a firm touting vapourizers as preventative equipment for buying].

It was in moving into Defoe’s description of those ‘jobs’ assigned to people to monitor and prevent the spread of the plague that I was compulsively reading and not looking for earsure opportunities, the most moving that of the Watchmen who were allocated to each house where there was a known plague victim, with a morning and then a night shift, and the horror of this task as well as the impossibility of making sure those inside didn’t ‘escape’ their homes.

After this, accounts of mass burials, and the pits dug for these, became even more poignant and unsuitable for altering, for whatever reason/purpose. The details of Defoe’s presentation of personal expressions of loss are overwhelming.

Then there are the kindnesses shown to him as the recorder, but also the vitriol [as a reflective ruse from a narrator actually writing/publishing in 1722]. This is a vivid and timeless journal narrative, emotively apt and illuminating, and I have now stopped seeking to find new meanings from those which really should remain as rooted in their time as still makes them totally relevant now.