More About Music

At the close of my last blog post (“Apology for Sabbatical Leave—and Resumption of Bill’s Blog”), I wrote that “Next time: More jazz, and maybe a look (a listen) to some other ways of making music—music-making one of the better activities, I feel, a human being can pursue.” A better phrase might have been “engage in.”

At the time, and that was in early May (too much time between posts, I know, but once again I will attempt to explain why), I had resumed work on another writing project: what began (over-ambitiously) as a book, but turned into a series of individual articles on Poetry and Song. I contemplated posting a portion of a piece called “Renaissance Song,” which focused on Elizabethan era composers such as Thomas Campion (a first-rate poet who could also provide first-rate musical settings for the words: a rare, and fortunate, combination)—and also included some thoughts on W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman’s excellent, insightful introductions to their An Elizabethan Song Book.

However—as happened throughout the long delay that occasioned “An Apology for Sabbatical Leave,” I somehow found myself buried in alternate projects (and even actually work, getting hired to do some writing no less!), and that activity would occupy me for three months, building up to a performance I gave (on July 15) with two exceptional musicians at Old Capitol Books in Monterey, California: a “launch” for a book of mine just published, Going Solo: A Memoir 1953-1958.

The participants were Richard Rosen (harmonicas), Manuel Macucho Bonilla (cajon: a box-shaped percussion instrument originally from Peru—as is Macucho himself), and I: piano, vocals, and reading short passages from the book we “fleshed out” with songs from the era the book is about–songs such as “It’s Only a Paper Moon,” “The Nearness of You,” and “Nature Boy.”

I’ll present here: the front and back covers of Going Solo: A Memoir 1953-1958 (and access to the book on amazon.com, if you’d like to have a copy, at: https://www.amazon.com/Going-Solo-1953-1958-William-Minor/dp/1943887500/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1503603573&sr=1-1&keywords=going+solo+by+william+minor ; and some photos my wife Betty and a good friend (and former student) David “Catfish” Hall took on the afternoon of July 15—plus access to a video David filmed of the trio doing a song my idol Nat “King” Cole recorded with his trio: “What Can I Say After I Say I’m Sorry?”: https://www.facebook.com/william.minor.56/videos/pcb.1945171992414191/1945166269081430/?type=3&theater

The photos are: one Betty took amidst the standing room only audience; the band: Macucho, Richard Rosen, and I set for the “show,” focused, ready to go; three shots of the miraculous hands of Macucho at work and play; a close up of Richard going solo; the “author” signing a book for Michael Fields (himself a fine musician) after the reading/musical program; and signing a book and chatting with Cynthia Beach Guthrie (who was there with her husband Dick, both fine writers, and Dick known to sing a song or two himself on occasion).

Going Solo Cover  Going Solo Back Cover

July 15 Book Launch 2   Old Capitol Books Music 9 (2)

Old Capitol Books Music 6  Old Capitol Books Music 2  Old Capitol Books Music 7

Old Capitol Books Music 4 (2)  July 15 Book Launch 3 (2)

July 15 Book Launch 4 (2)

I feel a good time was had by all; entertaining (I hope) stories got told (from Going Solo: A Memoir 1953-1958); and engaging music was made (songs with which people could connect; our friend Jane Haines wrote on Facebook: “The presentation was wonderful. I was floating after the opening lines. I stayed aloft, lifted by the words, the melodies, the beat. Thank you for a marvelous afternoon.”). And I even sold some books!

The Monterey Jazz Festival will celebrate its 60th anniversary soon (September 15-17) and, since the turn of the year, I have been involved in three projects leading up to that occasion. I was rehired to provide copy for 26 more JAZZBUS shelters–with only a month to complete my portion of the project: 100-word “histories” for each year, 1991-2017; but we got the job done and the new material is now up “around town.” I am pleased to have been a part of this great project (thanks again, Phil Wellman!)—each JAZZBUS and each stop, or shelter (with histories, classic photos, and a provision to listen to the music of a particular year), providing daily reminders to folks throughout the community that such a thing as “jazz” exists as a vital part of our lives.

Next: a good friend of mine (with whom I’ve been playing music and making videos; you can find one at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xyGYDv67ToI), Bob Danziger, was asked to create videos that will introduce individual sets on the main stage throughout the weekend of this year’s Monterey Jazz Festival (The 60th anniversary celebration), and Bob asked me to assist as an “historical” consultant–which I did. Bob’s considerable talent—and his respect for the artists represented–will be displayed by way of six excellent, fully engaging videos. And THEN: Artistic Director Tim Jackson phoned and asked if I would write copy for two exhibits of 60 years of MJF posters and program covers (“Monterey at 60! A Visual Feast”), which I also did. One exhibit, at the Cherry Center for the Arts in Carmel, is on display now (Betty and I went to a reception Friday night, and that “show” looks good); the other will be up in what used to be the Coffee House Gallery, but is now the California Jazz Café.

Here are some photos from the JAZZBUS project I’ve posted before: yours truly beside one of the shelters, a shelter (1978) by itself, and one of Pablo Lobato’s brightly colored and handsomely designed buses. After those photos, a sampling of posters: from the Monterey Jazz Festival’s first year, 1958; Earl Newman’s scandalous 1964 poster (a bit of Festival folklore: in the book Monterey Jazz Festival: Forty Legendary Years, I wrote: “Newman’s official poster featuring a stylized drawing of a saxophone player drew an X-rating from the mayor of Monterey, who asked shopkeepers to withdraw it from their windows. The three hundred posters that were printed immediately became collector’s items and the mayor was deemed by many to be a prude.”); Earl’s first trumpet on a chair (which would become a Festival icon) poster, 1967 (Earl’s hand-printed posters, of which he would provide a total of ten in the 1958-1979 era, would become synonymous with the Festival itself, defining these placards as works of art); Jerry Takagawa’s poster for the 50th anniversary in 1967; Pablo Lobato’s 2009 poster; a very striking 2013 poster (Phil Wellman/Maria Corte); and this year’s poster, celebrating the 60th anniversary of the Monterey Jazz Festival.

Jazz Bus Line  Jazz Bus Line 3

Jazz Bus Line 2

MJF Poster 1958  MJF Poster 1964  MJF Posters Newman First Chair

MJF Poster 50thMJF Posters 2009  MJF Poster

MJF-17-Poster_small4

The lineup of artists who will perform at the 60th anniversary event is extraordinary. To cite all of them would take pages, so I’m just going to put together a gallery of portraits (photos) of those I hope to see and hear. On Friday night, September 17: Herbie Hancock—who will open the Festival, and close out the weekend on Sunday night in a “Two Master/Two Pianos” performance with Chick Corea—which should be sensational (I have a copy of their 1978 Columbia acoustic piano double LP, recorded in San Francisco and San Diego, An Evening with Herbie Hancock & Chick Corea in Concert) and to see and hear them–live!–together, now, should be a rare treat!

On Friday night, the great Kenny Barron (with Roy Hargrove, Sean Jones, and Perdito Martinez) will offer a “Tribute to Dizzy Gillespie at 100″ (I’ve had the blessing of hearing Kenny Barron play piano at MJF with artists such as Stan Getz and Regina Carter)—and, Regina Carter will perform in a “Simply Ella” homage (a tribute to you-know-who). (Photo Credits: NNDB, Radio Serenidad, The Mercury News, NPR)

Herbie Hancock  Chick-Corea

Kenny Barron  Regina Carter

Unfortunately, the weekend’s overall fare is so abundant, I am going to have to make some quick moves (not so easy at this age!) to take it all in—to also “catch,” on Friday evening: vocalist Roberta Gambarini and drummer Matt Wilson with his group Honey & Salt, out on the grounds. Saturday afternoon offers Monsieur Perine (“Global Fusion—South American style”) with Catalino Garcia’s “Sugar-sweet, sunshiny vocals at the center of their signature ‘swing a la Columbia’ style”; and Mr. Sipp (“The Mississippi Blues Child”). Pianist Joanne Brackeen performs out on the grounds—and my journalist buddy Dan Ouellette conducts a DownBeat Blindfold Test with saxophonist Tia Fuller. (Photo Credits: AllMusic, The Seattle Times, NBC News, Nashville Public Library, DR Jazz Festival, Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola).

Roberta Gambarini

The "7-Piece Sextet" performs on the Mainstage to wrap up the 2011 Centrum Jazz Port Townsend Festival.

Monsieur Perine

Mr. Sipp  Joanne Brackeen

Dan    Tia Fuller

Because of the amount of writing I’ve been doing for the 60th anniversary celebration coming up (just a week away now!), I did not attempt a full account (as I usually post on this blog each year) for the 2016 MJF—although I did post an account of sets by Joshua Redman and Wayne Shorter. I had hoped to write about two exceptional vocalists I heard that year: Claudia Villela and Somi, but before I could get around to that, I received another “call” (this in the form of an email letter) asking me to contact Leonard Nelson (a Video Production Manager), who was at work on a “Festival Fun Facts” project that would acknowledge people (such as Bob Danziger) who’d created the previously mentioned videos to be shown (introducing individual artists)—and include, at the suggestion of Managing Director Colleen Bailey: slides related to festival trivia or amusing incidents.

I did call Leonard and we discussed what might be included, and I agreed to provide two sentence anecdotes, or verbal vignettes (incidents that have become part of MJF folklore)—and I had no trouble coming up with twenty-two such items. Leonard Nelson has already responded with three handsome samples of what will be shown at this year’s event. I will not “unveil” his fine work here, but I can post a few of my favorite “fun facts,” as I rendered them in words. They do represent another side of this great event—“behind the scene” stories folks may not be as familiar with as they are the music itself. Here are a few:

1. The MJF had acquired a fleet of Oldsmobiles as transportation for performers. When popular Sarah Vaughan, known as “Sassy,” came out of her hotel and saw one of these cars awaiting her, she said, “We do not ride in Oldsmobiles,” and officials had to search all over town for a stretch limo to take her to the fairgrounds.

2. 1967: The Festival audience was dancing in the aisles to Big Brother and the Holding Company and Janis Joplin, who finishing her set, blew her nose on the Main Stage curtain, climbed into her blue Hillman Minx stuffed with junk food wrappers, and drove off to ultimate fame. [Thanks again, Rick Carroll, for that story.]

3. 1971: Herbie Hancock made his first solo appearance, but after 45 minutes of what he considered “noodling avant-garde,” Jimmy Lyons told stage manager Paul Vieregge to close the curtain—and when Hancock, well into his solo, opened his eyes, his audience was gone.

4. 1979: “The Night The Lights Went Out”: a major power failure on opening night left Dizzy Gillespie stranded on stage in the dark, until the audience lit matches and lighters, and Stan Getz strolled out to lend his mellow sound to “’Round Midnight.”

5. 1995: Cuban trumpeter Arturo Sandoval was scheduled to play at the MJF, but took the wrong plane, to Monterey, Mexico—not California. He would make it safely in 1997, as part of Dave Grusin’s orchestra for West Side Story.

6. 2008: Jamie Cullum joined Kurt Elling on stage in Dizzy’s Den, and after singing “Say It (Over and Over Again)” together, they engaged in some playful banter, Cullum, who is quite short, alluding to a woman offering the phrase “Tall, dark, and handsome,” Elling responding, “I don’t believe she was talking of you.” Cullum: “I have a very high opinion of myself”: Elling: “That’s not something visible to the naked eye”; Cullum: “Small things come with big packages.”

I love continuity, continuance, unbroken and consistent existence, endurance, longevity—and the Monterey Jazz Festival has certainly provided that over the years. As I wrote in the Introduction to the two exhibits of posters: “Alongside sixty years of some of the greatest jazz the world has ever known, the Monterey Jazz Festival, on its 60th anniversary, intends to honor the posters which embody the spirit of the Festival as a whole: posters which represent all the great music and the complementary ‘scene’ that exists just outside the venues hosting the music.”

Continuity can be found by surprise on occasion. I recently heard from an excellent jazz pianist I wrote about in Jazz Journeys to Japan: The Heart Within (University of Michigan Press, 2004): Kei Akagi. He contacted me, after thirteen years, to let me know about his new CD, Kei Akagi Trio: Contrast & Form, his 14th album release as a leader, recorded with a “permanent trio based in Tokyo.” Akagi himself is a Professor of Music at the University of California, Irvine.

Here are: Kei Akagi at the piano, and the cover of the book Jazz Journeys to Japan: The Heart Within (Photo Credit: UCI Music Department):

Kei Agaki           JJJ Cover

In my next blog post, I’d like to continue the theme of “More About Music,” and write about this recording, and three other CDs I have by Kei Akagi: Sound Circle: The Asian American Trio (with drummer Akira Tana and bassist Rufus Reid), Mirror Puzzle, and Playroom.

Until then: if I do not see you at the 60th anniversary Monterey Jazz Festival celebration, I’m sure I’ll want to tell you about what I heard and saw there, as best I can—and more than likely in a still-excited state of recent exposure. Long live the Monterey Jazz Festival!

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The Worlds of Poetry–Part One

I was going to take a break from “heavy” blogs. Most recently I’ve posted on science (“Imagination and Hard Science”) and literary criticism and philosophy (“Mikail Bakhtin: Another Powerful Influence”), but I was going to switch back to having some plain ole “fun” and write about what may be my favorite subject: music—a single post on some fine music I heard on a recent trip to Connecticut, and this year’s Monterey Jazz Festival, which took place in September.

However, I am going to hold off on “music” for one more post: this one on poetry, because I took a look at a draft for a personal essay I wrote some time ago, and I felt a strong urge (in light of much that I see and feel going on around me just now) to bring the piece up to date. When I originally wrote “The Worlds of Poetry,” I was quite self-conscious about the possibility of offending whomever might read it, but those days seem bygone, for at my current age (80), I find myself increasingly willing to state what’s really on my mind (and heart and soul). This inclination may only be a sign of the times in general (not my own actual age), for lots of folks (of whatever age) seem to feel that way just now—there seems to be a lot of my new stance “goin’ around.”

Whatever the current trend, here are my own thoughts and feelings—so many I amassed twenty-three pages of text, so I will have mercy on you, Good Readers, and present this material in two parts, two posts rather than one—thoughts and feelings on “The Worlds of Poetry.” I also just discovered I’ve had a very good day for Bill’s Blog (November 2): 32 views, 25 visitors in the United States, Mexico, France, Argentina, Italy, Czech Republic, New Zealand, Kuwait, Germany, and Singapore. Wow! Thanks all! You have truly “made my day.” I have waited until now to post “The Worlds of Poetry,” but as Charlie Parker “played” in one of his own tunes: “Now’s the Time.”

When I first started to write poetry seriously, I was extremely naïve and idealistic. I didn’t have a clue there were distinct or different worlds of poetry—many, each as separate, tidy, exclusive and sometimes cruel as all other social phenomenon (cliques, clubs, fraternities, institutions) I had been exposed to up until that time.

I don’t know how I escaped with my aesthetic or artistic idealism intact for so long, but I did. I was twenty-seven years of age, married, the father of two small children, and a graduate student in Language Arts (Creative Writing) at what was then called San Francisco State College. The year I received my M.A., 1963, I was also awarded S.F. State’s Poetry Prize (with its attendant $25) and poems of mine were published in the college journal, Transfer. The following is one of them:

PERSIAN MINIATURES

Pure form is like a nun who never works: /You will respect her chastity, but wish /That she would pray for you, or teach a child, /Or do some menial job among the sick. /By her work her grace is best exposed, /As in this world of rhythm and of shape /Where line is both itself and loving Persia.

Whose face and gilded horse peer over hills? /A man of valor and a thing of line. /This green umbrella titlts to make a shape /But also tilts to shade a Sultan’s head. /The light blue horse on which the monarch sits, /Surrounded by a galaxy of flowers, /Is music of the painter’s craft alone,

And more; for there the Sultan really sits. /Upon a horse whose midget feet reside / In fields of white and dark vermilion flowers. /This quiet work, in which each part is placed /To tell and yet transform the Sultan’s day, /Outshines the brightest flame, and makes one think /More secrets lie in fabric than in fire.

Pure form is like a nun without a church, /A Sultan who has lost his canopy.

Here are two examples of Persian miniatures: not, unfortunately, the one I based the poem on—but fair examples (depicting horses) of what attracted me to this visual art form (Photo credits: melcominternational.org; iranreview.com):

persian-miniature      persian-miniatures-3

My own poem strikes me now as a bit stiff and stilted (O hindsight!), but it was written, deliberately, in iambic pentameter (At the time, I was a fan of Shakespeare, Hart Crane, and Wallace Stevens). I had also been trained originally as a visual artist, and by way of Pratt Institute’s very comprehensive Bauhaus-based program, which encompassed everything from anatomy lessons and day long life drawing labs to revolutionary concepts in color and design (Philip Guston, one of our instructors, taught us how to render pump handles in charcoal by day, and directed us to his Abstract Expressionist exhibits at night). No revolutionary, I was most enamored of conscious craft and form, and I carried those preferences with me into literature at San Francisco State—preferences not exactly the rage in college poetry circles at the time.

The legacy of the Beat Generation was still strong, its heirs apparent everywhere. They preferred their poetry dished up “uncooked,” open, naked, organic, “raw.” Their approach was still regarded as pioneering, “revolutionary,” experimental, somewhat “fugitive,” “underground,” improvisational, spontaneous, forward-looking, “free.” It favored large-canvassed “instantism,” and distained anything “academic” or formalistic. With its combined tribal or communal spirit and fierce “American” individualism, this approach also came complete with theories that would grow increasingly dogmatic, and a host of idealogues with definite programs they espoused or imposed: Charles Olson with Projective Verse, Robert Creeley with “form is never more than the extension of content,” Robert Duncan’s belief that a poem (like the physical universe) “has only this immediate event in which to be realized,” and Jack Kerouac with his (mistakenly: there is very little un-mindful activity when it comes to a fine improvised solo) jazz-based automatic writing.

I had excellent, exciting advisors and teachers at San Francisco State—Walter Van Tilburg Clark, Wright Morris, Mark Linenthal, Leonard Wolf, Bill Dickey, James Schevill—and they exposed me to a range of writing styles, but I was pretty much a loner at the time, and I went my own small way, following my own bent or beat, whatever it was. Kenneth Rexroth, the paterfamilias of the Beats, had lived just up the street from our first apartment in San Francisco, on Scott and Hayes, and I was encouraged to drop in on his Sunday salons; but I was also quite shy and never attended. Jack Spicer was a poet whose work I much admired: especially Billy the Kid, which my wife Betty actually typed out for me in its entirety (from a library copy) and presented as a gift on my birthday because, finding the original (just 750 copies published in the Stinson Beach Enkidu Surrogate version) in City Lights Books, I could not at the time (it probably sold for about two dollars) afford to buy it. Spicer, awaiting the arrival of the next pretty boy poet from New York, held court at The Place when we first came to the city in 1958, but I was married, heterosexual, and totally naïve about terms of acceptance, so even though I noodled on the piano there occasionally, I didn’t profit from his tutelage, or even get to know him.

Here’s a photo of Jack Spicer at work (thinking!)—and City Lights Books, home of the Beats and my new “home” away from home in 1958–a place where I was discovering a brave new world in North Beach—along with Vesuvio Café, The Place, and The Cellar (where Rexroth read, accompanied by jazz musicians—neither party really paying all that much attention to the other at this early stage of the game; unlike Bob Dorough’s fine fully “in sync” rendering of Ferlinghetti’s “The Dog Trots Freely in the Street”). (Photo credits: jacketmagazine.com; founds.org):

jack-spicer   city-lights-bookstore-1950s

I could sense the intoxication and vitality of “Beat” poetry, but that wasn’t my way (even though I seemed to be able to hold my own in the collateral cause of alcohol consumption), so I continued to write poems that contained, I felt, their own formal music (another “craft” I was enamored of, having played jazz piano since the age of fifteen, and later, professionally, as both a drummer and pianist with several combos or groups). When I received the $25 Transfer prize for “Persian Miniatures” and another poem, I was pleased, but terrified when informed that I would have to read the work that had occasioned the prize at the S.F. State Poetry Center. I did so before a sizeable crowd, and took shelter in my natural shyness by (probably) mumbling my way through the poems. I did not even bother to look up from the podium—thereby missing my own boycott! A group of “Neo-Beat” poets had assembled in the rear of the room, with banners protesting the fact that a poet (me) who still employed iambic pentameter and rhyme and other insidious “formalistic” devices (one of my poems, called “The Barmaid,” was modeled on the intricate syllabic stanza patterns of Dylan Thomas’ “Fern Hill,” to which I’d even had the audacity to add rhyme) had received the prize, rather than one of their own kind.

This boycott was my first run-in with the Politics of Art, with The World of Poetry, and, because of my—at the time—self-effacing, or timid nature, I missed witnessing it.

In 1966, after the disastrous experience of my first teaching job, at the University of Hawaii ($5,500 a year for basically remedial work that made me feel whatever “poetry” I may have once possessed was being snuffed out of me), I took a year off and just wrote, then took another job teaching English at Wisconsin State University-Whitewater. I’d had my first poem published in a national journal: “The Weekend,” work Carolyn Kizer accepted at Poetry Northwest, saying first, “It could be a major poem”; then, “Congratulations on a noble effort” when it was published. At age thirty, and still naïve and idealistic as hell when it came to the “world” of poetry, I was asked to serve as director/coordinator of the university’s segment of a Minnesota-Wisconsin poetry circuit, a tour made up of nationally renowned poets who gave readings.

The first poet to arrive was W.D. Snodgrass, who’d caused quite a stir with his 1966 book Heart’s Needle. I had practically memorized every line in a book that had an immense emotional impact on me. Snodgrass employed meter, rhyme and set stanza patterns to disclose the pain of divorce and “visitations” with his daughter (“The world moves like a diseased heart /packed with ice and snow. /Three months now we have been apart /less than a mile. I cannot fight /or let you go.”). At the time I—having never met a real poet (aside from professors who fit the art into their busy schedules as best they could)—I honestly believed that poets must be like their work, resemble it in every way; that is, in their private lives. If their poems were sensitive, sincere, responsive, strong, or sweet—well then, so were they. The Minnesota-Wisconsin poetry circuit would quickly and cruelly cure me of that illusion.

With all due respect for W.D. Snodgrass, my impression of him in the late 60s was of a somewhat neurotic, highly insular man unwilling to make eye contact, a man who spent most of his time talking to distant friends (his real “support” group?) on the telephone, a man who—after we’d arranged a reception for him well-stocked with food and booze—was not at all interested in either, or his hosts. I do recall his reading vividly, but not because of his own work. I recall him reading Randall Jarrell’s powerful short poem, “Protocols” (about Jewish children on their way to showers that “drank” them: “And that is how you die”). I’ve never forgotten that poem, nor the brutal realization (how had my idealism and naivete managed to hang in there until I was thirty?) that poets were not necessarily at all like their poetry. Later, I would realize, and accept (somewhat), the fact that they were just themselves–fully vulnerable, fully human, beings–and that their poetry was … well, just their poetry. Something they’d happened to write. However, at the time, the impact of the initial discovery was substantial.

Snodgrass was an absolute delight compared to our next visitor, John Berryman, who would commit suicide by jumping from a bridge in winter a few years later. In Wisconsin, Berryman had consumed a fifth of whiskey by noon and thrown up in Bink Noll’s car when the latter brought him over from Beloit, where he’d read the night before. That afternoon, in Whitewater, he continued to drink, could barely read that night (slurring his words, then sitting down with his back to the audience, saying he was contemplating a Zen koan)–and he preceded to stay up all night, talking, drinking, talking, drinking, talking, while devoted disciples, students, sat at his feet. Devastated by reality once more, I later wrote a poem about that evening:

CHOICES

I

After the famous poet read– /the party. I squat between /Berryman, slumped /and Jan (my friend), his new girl, Cathy

so finely rumped within /the carpet, all /our fingers laced too firmly (unopposed) /on many whiskies and words …

II

That’s over now, an evening, /remorseless braille remembered, like Cathy /–that poet’s poem–her body /bedded like rhyme, dead now

in someone’s world (unknown) /who’s not my friend, and Berryman /(I hardly knew: a poem, pick any one) /and Jan? We stay, alive. Yes, pal.

Here’s my first editor, Carolyn Kizer, of Poetry Northwest; and John Berryman, who was on the Minnesota/Wisconsin poetry circuit. (Photo credits: poetrynw.org; poets.org):

carolyn-kizer   john-berryman

Next to arrive was a poet who has since acquired a substantial reputation (and fully devoted following; so out of consideration for his disciples, I shall not name him. A friend once stopped speaking to me because I labeled this gentleman “The P. T. Barnum of Poetry”). In those days, before he wrote about and took on archetypal or mythical significance, he wore a serape, and sashayed about like Louis XIV. A gentle white-haired couple called the Millers owned a bar in Whitewater called The Brass Rail. Their gift of culture to what was, despite the university’s presence, still a farm town, was a large reproduction of Gainsborough’s “Blue Boy,” which stood proudly behind the bar. At the Brass Rail, our visiting poet climbed atop that bar and, pretending to unzip his fly, threatened to piss on the Miller’s prize painting, before he was sufficiently restrained.

Gary Snyder, who came next, was something of a relief after this episode, but the then revered guru reprimanded me with a severe lecture when I couldn’t remember the name of the Native American tribe that once inhabited our region (Was it the Win-ne-ba-go tribe, or the Pota-wa-to-mis?) and he then proceeded to order the most expensive fish dinner on the menu at the restaurant my wife Betty and I took him to before his reading, and wash it down with “fire water” (soda and rye).

Diane Wakoski’s book The Motorcycle Betrayal Poems came out the year I left Whitewater (1971), prefaced by the statement “This book is dedicated to all those men who betrayed me at one time or another, in hopes that they will fall off their motorcycles and break their necks.” I’d seen her photo in another book. She posed with a gun pointed directly at the reader, a sullen grimace beneath her glasses. At Whitewater, she wore a mini skirt (no gun) and I was invited to give a reading with her (in a gymnasium embellished with aluminum foil on which strobe lights fluttered and danced), which was enjoyable, but after, at a reception, she slunk into a heavily cushioned chair and glared–as perhaps she had a right to–at all us local yokels, Midwestern hicks, and hardly said a word to anyone.

What was going on? I would continue to read contemporary poets, but felt I did not want to meet a single one of them in person ever again, even though I was obliged to remain in charge of the cycle of university-sponsored public readings.

Salvation came in the form of X.J. Kennedy and William Stafford, two genuine gentlemen: the first of whom brought a beautiful bouquet of flowers for my wife; the second of whom was an absolutely delightful person in every way. I still cherish a photo I have of William Stafford and me standing side by side the night of his wonderful reading (only about forty people showed up, but he read as if reading for four hundred), and I recall his scarcely concealed trepidation when we took him to the airport and he first saw—it looked like one of the balsa wood models I’d assembled as a kid—the small flimsy airplane he must board to be flown to his next “stop” on the Minnesota-Wisconsin poetry circuit. Years later, I would get to know “Bill” Stafford fairly well, and he remained the jewel of a man he was when my wife Betty and I first met him. These two poets were like their poetry; but I emerged from those years—1966 to 1971—totally disillusioned by much of what was going on around me: the “Revolution,” which included having the most sacred building on campus, prized Old Main, burnt to the ground (five simultaneously fires set); the National Guard on campus; daily bomb scares and the school’s President confined to his home under armed guard; but mostly I was dismayed by the discrepancy I’d discovered between the work of poets—what they wrote—and the poets themselves, how they conducted their lives. I’m not sure I’ve ever recovered, because I would eventually also realize—slow to learn, as always!—that the same thing was more than likely true of myself.

Here are X. J. Kennedy—and William Stafford and myself in 1968. (Photo credit: poemsoutloud.net):

x-j-kennedy  stafford-and-me

I have watched, over the past forty-nine years, lots of poetry “worlds” come and go. The Beats. Black Mountain poets. New York poets. The Confessionals. Folk-Rock Troubadours. Academic or Scholar poets. Black poets. Feminist poets. Poets who “take nourishment from a variety of camps.” Poets who’ve served time at the University of Iowa at one time or another. Roethke-oriented poets of the Northwest. Neo-New York poets. A host of “Young” or “New Voices in American Poetry” poets. Sophisticated or Virtuoso poets or what I call the Neo-Edwardians (whom I won’t name—I’ve come close enough to being libelous already). Neo-surrealists. Science Fiction poets. Prison poets. Gay poets. Children poets (a la Kenneth Koch’s Wishes, Lies and Dreams). Geriatric poets. Language poets. Spoken Word and Slam poets. Asian-American and Latino poets. Poets who practiced Found Poetry.

If we continue on through the many “worlds of poetry” in vogue today, we find: Trash Poetry, Nerdy Poetry, Environmental Poetry, Health Care and Medical Relevance Poetry, Underrepresented Poetry, Tanka and Haiku (in English), Inspirational Poetry, Gay Christian Poetry, Atheist Poetry, Occult Poetry, Gothic Poetry, Politically Engaging Poetry, Adirondack Poetry, Limericks (or a Revival of), Evasive Poetry, Collaborative Poetry, Grief/Loss Poetry, Coming of Age Poetry, Transgender Poetry, LGBTQ Poetry, Queer Paganism Poetry, Minimalist Poetry, Old People Poetry, Poetry of 140 Characters or Fewer, Paranormal Poetry, Animal Rights Poetry, Fibonacci Poetry, Eating Disorders Poetry, Disability Poetry, Ekphrastic Poetry, and Erasure Poetry.

I will not attempt, now, to establish my own “relationship” to or within any of these “worlds” or groups (for the most part, there’s been little or none aside from what I’ve already described), but I should add to this astonishing list of “options” for aspiring poets, a phenomenon that’s not a “genre” exactly (if that’s what these various approaches to the art are), but a current practice that, when it first became prevalent, struck me as something just short of criminal activity or extortion: and that is requiring any poet who desires to enter contests (almost as numerous now as the various ”worlds of poetry” just listed) to pay anywhere from a $20 to $30 fee for submission of a manuscript (even a chapbook manuscript—at one buck per page?): contests which themselves cater to a wide range of specialized interest groups based on age restrictions (“midcareer U.S. poets, etc.”), statehood or geographical location; race, class, sexual orientation or a mandatory obsession with physical disability or social injustice.

The original justification for this practice was the (once legitimate) desire to preserve and sustain publication of high quality literary journals, but that noble end appears to have succumbed to the same avarice that characterizes our current era or age in general, and at the expense–literally–of those least fortunate or favorably (financially) endowed (writers!). The inundation of such contests may have one redeeming value: it keeps the “world” of poets who judge them occupied or “employed” with the privilege of rejecting thousands of other (fellow) poets.

On a similar note, not long ago I was contacted by a writer whose work I respect very much. I was invited to participate in an online venture that would allow me to call attention to my own work and books, in alliance with other poets whom I also admired and respected. The “house” providing this opportunity was one with a solid reputation—or so I thought until I had posted information on some of my own “stuff” and then learned that the company sponsoring this worthy enterprise had suddenly “gone under,” was bankrupt. I was “out” the $250 I’d just paid to insure a brighter future (wider recognition) for my poetry. The operation wasn’t a “scam”: just another sign of the times (financial failure seems to have taken on the status of a fad, a popular, prevalent endeavor) and I would have been better off had I kept my distance (as I’d been keeping it for some time) from anything that smacked of Po Biz. There is a relatively extensive “small business” side to the world of poetry just now—a “world” that vacillates between attempting to provide legitimate opportunities or benefits for poets alongside “going out of business” or bankruptcy.

Here are two covers from a “once upon a time” practice: anthologists would “comb” literary journals (no matter how obscure) for new writers. I got lucky. Chicago editor Curt Johnson found not a poem, but a story (“The Anniversary”) I’d written and had published in the Colorado Quarterly. Curt selected it to be included in his Best Little Magazine Fiction 1970, published by New Yok University Press:

cover-colorado-quarterly       best-little-magazine-fiction-1970

This seems a good spot to end Part One of “The Worlds of Poetry.” In Part Two, which I will post soon, I’ll take a look at the plethora of MFA programs in creative writing that abound today, literary journals, and thoughts on poetry in general provided by George Santayana, W. B. Yeats, Anthony Hecht, and Mary Ruefle—ending with what I feel might make an ideal creative writing program in poetry: one that would not require any “school” or facility other than individual initiative.

And after that final post on poetry: it’s back to jazz—the other art form I love.

 

 

Mikhail Bakhtin: Another Powerful Influence

I received positive response to my last blog post, “Imagination and Hard Science”—a piece in which I referred to a number of “hard science” books I’d read in the hope of acquiring information on how our minds and bodies work, or function (or fail to function). I tried to keep the tone of the post as light (as in a “lite” beer: fewer calories?) as I could manage, yet substantial in content. One of the nicest responses I received said the post was “a great read,” focused on “all that stuff” that person thinks about “all the time,” and he felt I’d provided “some wonderful new sources to explore”—which is exactly what I hoped the piece might be and do.

In this post, I am going to stick with fortunate discoveries by way of authors and books, but turn from “hard science” to a philosopher, literary critic, semiotician, and scholar (literary theory and history, ethics, and the philosophy of language) whose writing has truly “changed my life,” my own thinking: Mikhail Bakhtin, a Russian writer who spent his life under continually harsh conditions during the Soviet era, but produced prose (a brilliant theory) on the “dialogical nature of artistic creation,” as opposed to the “monological.”

In the Introduction to Problems of Dostoevsky’s Poetics, Wayne C. Booth summarized Bakhtin’s elaborate belief that a genuine artist achieves “a kind of objectivity quite different from that hailed by most Western critics,” focused on “the essential, irreducible, multi-centeredness, or ‘polyphony’ of human life.” In freeing us from “narrowly subjective views”, the best works of art achieve “a universally desirable quality” … a “sublimity of freed perspectives,” in Bakhtin’s own words.

Here are photos of Mikhail Bakhtin and his subject, Fyodor Dostoevsky (Photo credits: Memim.com; nndb.com):

bakhtin  dostoevsky

“From the beginning,” Booth writes, paraphrasing Bakhtin’s intricate insights, “we are ‘polyglot,’ already in process of mastering a variety of social dialects derived from parents, clan, class, religion, country. We grow in consciousness by taking in more voices as ‘authoritatively persuasive’ and then by learning which to accept as ‘internally persuasive.’” Finally we acquire, “if we are lucky, a kind of individuality,” but it is a “we,” not an “I.” Polyphony, “the miracle of our ‘dialogical’ lives together, is thus both a fact of life and, in its highest reaches, a value to be pursued endlessly.”

Booth states that commentators on Bakhtin argue over just how large, how extensive his views of dialogic life are—that is, they dispute about the degree to which his “unsystematic system is religious or metaphysical,” but Booth himself feels Bakhtin’s overall view “rests on a vision of the world that is essentially a collectivity of subjects who are themselves social [italics mine] in essence,” and that–because he does not rely on religious language–anything resembling a “God-term” in Bakhtin tends to be an abstract phrase like “sympathetic understanding” or “comprehensive vision”–always seen in terms of the “multi-voicedness” or “multi-centeredness of the world as we experience it”; our language “permeated with many voices—a social, not a private language.”

Thinking of what might be religious or metaphysical in Bakhtin’s overview: whereas Wayne C. Booth hedges on the issue, is skeptical or ambivalent about it, I’d like (and here comes another Bill’s Blog baroque diversion, folks!) to say I feel a genuine polymorphic view of life (with all the altruism that entails, our individual selves as empaths, and given its “view of the world superior to all other views”) must be religious or metaphysical. Such a totally inclusive and transcendent view renders the life and work of any genuine artist (whether literary, dramatic, visual, or musical) religious, by nature (Psalm 100: “Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all ye lands. Serve the Lord with gladness: and come before his presence with a song.”)—an act of praise and artful prayer.

At the heart of our dialogic lives an inevitable paradox, or duality, resides. Another author (Roger S. Jones, in his book Physics as Metaphor, commenting on Ernest Becker’s book The Denial of Death—so we’ve got four writers on our hands now, and I intend to get as dialogic as I can!), describes the condition this way: “Fated to exist as a paradoxical dual, a symbolic spirit imprisoned in a material body, a human strives, through countless heroic activities, to deny the raw facts of his or her existence and to create personal meaning and value.” One such heroic activity is “art,’ and, for me, personal meaning and value are the goals of art—and should be the goals of existence itself.

Ernest Becker himself writes: “Out of the ruins of the broken cultural self there remains the mystery of the private, invisible, inner self which yearned for ultimate significance, for cosmic heroism. This invisible mystery at the heart of every creature now attains cosmic significance by affirming its connection with the invisible mystery at the heart of creation. This is the meaning of faith.” Cosmic heroism is, admittedly, a massive undertaking. In the words of another of my favorite philosophers, Miquel de Unamuno: “For the present let us remain keenly suspecting that the longing not to die, the hunger for personal immortality, the effort whereby we tend to persist indefinitely in our own being, which is, according to the tragic Jew (Spinoza), our very essence, that this is the affective basis of all knowledge and the personal inward starting-point of all human philosophy.”

“To persist indefinitely in our own being.” Wow! Jones is a physicist who refuses to adopt “a dualistic framework,” although, when it comes to cosmic heroism, he acknowledges that by facing the human condition “without pretenses and illusions, the very terror it strikes in our hearts can become the source of new and ultimately sustaining metaphors and faith”—and I agree. He finds encouragement in what he considers Becker’s “stoic and ironic approach to life … defiantly optimistic in the face of inevitable tragedy. There is no escaping the human condition, but there is the possibility of the creative and heroic use of it.”

Here are: Jones’ enlightening Physics as Metaphor, and a photo of Becker, whose book, The Denial of Death, has been cited as “one of those rare masterpieces that will stimulate your thoughts, your intellectual curiosity, and last but not least, your soul.” (Photo credit: Encyclopedia of Death and Dying):

physics-as-metaphor    ernest-becker-2

Both men, sharing an uneasy ambivalence (which I, at times, in conversations or dialogues with myself, share with them too) when it comes to pure “faith,” concede that the goal of cosmic heroism may well be “a mad self-deceptive activity,” but they regard human creativity as “the homage we pay to creation beyond our capabilities, a creator more extensive than ourselves.” I am grateful for the “leap of faith” I first encountered in Meister Eckhart, Miquel de Unamuno, Kierkegaard, Carl Jung, Thomas Merton, and even William James’ “salvation through self-despair”; and Jones does acknowledge that, by way of such despair, “we destroy the vital lie of projects and transferences” in order to “make room for a new life, for death and rebirth.” He cites Paul Tilloch’s “courage to be,” and the Hindu Creation Hymn on primal cosmologies “prior to any manifestation … pure unalloyed being—timeless, spaceless, featureless, prior somehow even to existence”—such as that primordial state celebrated in Osip Mandelstam’s poem “Silentium.” The poet sees Aphrodite as foam: both the soul and original foundation of life, simultaneously. Here’s my own translation of “Silentium”:

It is the unborn, still— / She and the music and the word / Sustaining, unbroken /The living coherence. / Let my lips discover / What they cannot say: / Some crystal note / In pure birth!

For Mandelstam, ocean foam symbolized primal chaos, but not as a “negative value, an evil, or a threat.” Chaos, like silence, was “a collection of all possibilities, a prenatal anxiety, a formless proto-unity.” It was precisely this proto-unity that made it possible for the word to be “united with music.”

O Aphrodite, remain foam! / Let words return to music, / Heart, stay heart, ashamed /If not coupled, always / With where and how you began.

Here are: the great Russian poet Osip Mandelstam (around the time he wrote “Silentium”), and Botticelli’s painting of Aphrodite rising on her half shell from primal foam:

mandelstam  aphrodite-1

If a bit grudgingly, Jones acknowledges “transferences to the greatest of all beyonds” [and to my mind and soul: withins] to the most transcendent [and to me fully “present”] thing imaginable.” In line with a classic existentialist position, Jones asserts: “Humans are the creators, or at least the participant-creators, of their own world and … they must take full and honest responsibility for it”—what Becker calls “the living drama of [their] acceptance as a creature,” becoming “part of such a larger and higher wholeness as religion has always represented” [or attempted to–in light of our own current era, or history).

Both men reflect on “grace”; Becker stating, “The jump doesn’t depend on us after all—that’s the rub: faith is a matter of grace”—which Jones qualifies with: “An ideal is never attainable; it is faith that gives us the will to keep striving. Seeming contradiction is the nature of the beast.”  (Miguel de Unamuno: “Love is a contradiction if there is no God”; Meister Eckhart: “The Generosity of Infinite love in an act of love, creates us in the image and likeness of love for love’s sake alone, moment by moment, moment by moment.”). Jones turns his speculation back to our responsibilities (on earth) as human beings: “What matters is to be more conscious of our myths and metaphors, to recognize that they are the only reality we have, and to learn how we participate in creating them”—which brings me back (after an admittedly lengthy digression or diversion) to my man, Mikhail Bakhtin.

Bakhtin earned his insights, his philosophy, his verbal acuity the hard way–living through a sequence of “voices” (each characteristic of an era) and surviving long enough to sort them out, make sense of each, and put them “all back together again” in his concept of the dialogical self. Bakhtin was born in Oryol, Russia, to (source: Wikipedia) “an old family of the nobility. His father was the manager of a bank and worked in several cities.” For this reason Bakhtin spent his early childhood years in Oryol, in Vilnius, and then in Odessa, where in 1913 he joined the historical and philological faculty at the local university (Odessa University).

His major study of the work of Dostoevsky, Problems of Dostoevsky’s Art (at which he’d been at work since 1921), was published, and caused (in the words of translator/editor Caryl Emerson) “considerable stir in literary circles”—and political, for he was arrested (perhaps in connection with an “underground church”). Ironically, Bakhtin escaped being sent to a death camp (“on the plea of poor health,” although his leg was amputated), and was sentenced to exile in Kazakhstan, where (according to Emerson) he “lived and worked in relative obscurity” for thirty years. His book on Dostoevsky was discovered in the 1950s by a group of young literary scholars in Moscow, and he himself found alive, teaching at the University of Saransk. In 1963, “after some ominous delays in publishing houses,” a second edition of his book appeared, and Bakhtin was “back in print in the Soviet Union. The publication of other long-delayed manuscripts followed.”

Here are two of Bakhtin’s important works: The Dialogic Imagination and Rabelais and His World:

bakhtin-the-dialogic-imagination    bakhtin-rabelais

I have read Problems of Dostoevsky’s Poetics (the book’s current title in English), The Dialogic Imagination, Rabelais and His World, and Speech Genres and Other Late Essays—but would like to focus, here, on the work on Dostoevsky (from which I have quoted from Wayne C. Booth’s Introduction). I’ll include one last important observation Booth makes: “It is in Dostoevsky and Dostoevsky alone that Bakhtin finds the polyphonic ideal realized. The greatest of all contrapuntalists genuinely surrenders to his characters and allows them to speak in ways other than his own … Characters are, in short, respected as full subjects, shown as ‘consciousness’ that can never be fully defined or exhausted, rather than as objects fully known [by their authors], once and for all, in their roles—and then discarded as expendable.”

Bakhtin wrote that Dostoevsky treated a character as “ideologically authoritative and independent … perceived as the author of a fully weighted ideological conception of his own, and not the object of Dostoevsky’s finalizing artistic vision … Dostoevsky, like Goethe’s Prometheus, creates not voiceless slaves (as does Zeus), but free people, capable of standing alongside their creator. Capable of not agreeing with him and even of rebelling against him … a plurality of independent and unmerged voices and consciousnesses, a genuine polyphony of fully valid voices is in fact the chief characteristic of Dostoevsky’s novels … Dostoevsky is the creator of the polyphonic novel. He created a fundamentally new novelistic genre.”

Bakhtin found Dostoevsky’s world “profoundly personalized … He perceives and represents every thought as the position of a personality … Through this concrete consciousness, embodied in the living voice of an integral person, the logical relation becomes part of the unity of a represented event.” For Bakhtin, the epoch Dostoevsky lived in (and through) made the polyphonic novel possible. “Subjectively, Dostoevsky participated in the contradictory multi-leveledness of his own time: he changed camps, moved from one to another, and in this respect the planes existing in objective social life were for him stages along the path of his own life, stages of his own spiritual evolution. This personal experience was profound, but Dostoevsky did not give it a direct monologic expression in his work. This experience only helped him to understand more deeply the extensive and well-developed contradictions which coexisted among people—among people, not ideas in a single consciousness.”

I’m quoting a lot, but it’s Mikhail Bakhtin: and I would love to make the insights of this man of genius fully accessible, available to every writer I know, including myself! In Dostoevsky’s novels, Bakhtin states, “Every act a character commits is in the present, and in this sense is not predetermined; it is conceived of and represented by the author as free … What is important to Dostoevsky is not how his hero appears in the world but first and foremost how the world appears to his hero, and how the hero appears to himself.” And Bakhtin offers the following in a section called “Conclusion”: “We consider the creation of the polyphonic novel a huge step forward not only in the development of novelistic prose, that is, but of all genres developing within the orbit of the novel, but also the development of the artistic thinking of humankind … A newly born genre never supplants or replaces any already existing genres. Each new genre merely supplements the old ones, merely widens the circle of already existing genres.”

Reading this (and thinking of much that I am surrounded by at the moment in the year 2016), I thought of something Schopenhauer said: “There are two ways of not keeping on a level with the times. A man may be below it; or he may be above it.” Mikhail Bakhtin rose well above his time—and ours.

Here are two novels by Dostoevsky in which Bakhtin’s theory of the polyphonic novel appears very well put into practice–thoroughly:

brothers-karamazov-2               dostoevsky-crime-and-punishment

Some final thoughts on this philosopher, literary critic, semiotician, and scholar who genuinely has had a profound influence on my life (and writing): I will not attempt to resolve the issue of whether or not Bakhtin was “religious” or “metaphysical,” but he certainly–somehow–has given me a sound sense of what those qualities (when they are genuine) might entail, or be. When it came to translating Bakhtin, Caryl Emerson, who edited and translated Problems of Dostoevsky’s Poetics, states: “One of Bakhtin’s major premises, in fact, might be called the vitality of nonequivalence. Multilingual environments, he argued, liberate man by opening up a gap between things and their labels … Nonequivalence is not a matter for despair but is rather the impulse to life. In fact, the interaction of two different, discrete systems is the only way a true event ever comes to pass … In place of the comfortable patterns of synthesis and Aufhebung (to “lift up” or remove abnormal growth), Bakhtin posits a dualistic universe of permanent dialogue.”

Mikhail Bakhtin coined the Russian word raznomirnost: “the condition of containing many separate and different worlds.” According to Caryl Emerson: “A voice, Bakhtin everywhere tells us, is not just words or ideas strung together; it is a ‘semantic position,’ a point of view on the world, it is one personality orienting itself among other personalities within a limited field … How a voice sounds is a function of where it is and what it can ‘see’; its orientation is measured by the field of responses it evokes. This understanding of voice lies at the base of Bakhtin’s nonreferential—that is, responsive—theory of language. An utterance responds both to others without, and others embedded within itself.”

And, O Lord, how I wish I could hear a few more voices such as that in our world just now (rather than slogans, political proselytizing, confrontation, outright antagonism and invective)! I’ll let Caryl Emerson have the last word: “For Bakhtin ‘the whole’ is not a finished entity; it is always a relationship. An aesthetic object–or for that matter any aspect of life–acquires wholeness only when an individual assumes a concrete attitude toward it. Thus, the whole can never be finalized and set aside … That one aspect of Bakhtin’s style most inseparable from his personality is the developing idea. Its subtle shifts, redundancies, self-quotations—ultimately, its open-endedness—is the genre in which, and with which, he worked.”

Here are: Caryl Emerson, and another of Bakhtin’s works she translated (Photo credit: Princeton.edu):

caryl-emerson  bakhtin-other-books

I changed my mind. Mikhail Bakhtin himself should have the last word: “Nothing conclusive has yet taken place in the world, the ultimate word of the world and about the world has not yet been spoken, the world is open and free, everything is still in the future and will always be in the future.”

Such as my next blog!

 

 

End of the Road: Our Virginia Adventure

I closed the last blog post with an account of our Love Letters of Lynchburg performance in Lynchburg—and I’d like to attach some “news” and the availability of two new performances of other work, before I move on to the conclusion of the Virginia adventure.

Bob Danziger’s “Mandelstam and Minor” video project has been posted on YouTube: a project for which he asked me to read my translation of Osip Mandelstam’s poem “No, never was I anyone’s contemporary.” You can find the YouTube video at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HxliLhcnyAY.

Here are two paintings I did incorporating other Mandelstam poems, and a series of drawings and woodcuts of his “faces” (from age twenty-one to age forty-seven, when he died, a victim of Stalin’s Terror). This work is a part of the video.

Mandelstam Helen2 Mandelstam 1

Osip 5  Osip 6 Osip 9

Mandelstam2 Mandelstam's Quick Hearing

Working with Bob has been fascinating and I’ve gained invaluable lessons in audio, film, and digital finesse–all at the mind and hands of the amazing Bob Danziger. First he had me select a piece from his Brandenburg 300 Project, general information on which can be found at: http://www.brandenburg300.com/; a YouTube demonstration of its making at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Km7f07FlbYY; and a printed version on the Project at:  http://www.amazon.com/Brandenburg-300-Project-Printed-Brandenburg300-com/dp/1494747855.  I chose “Brandenburg 22 Rembrandt,” with its impressive improvisation by Albert Wing, Mike Miller, and Bob.

I read the poem over (and “within”) that piece–to which Bob added visual material (I gave him the names of Russian artists from Mandelstam’s era: Kandinsky, Malevich, Chagall, Nathan Altman’s “Portrait of Anna Akhmatova,” Levitan, Vrubel; and also some my own work, the series of drawings and woodcut prints of Mandelstam and other visual art pieces of mine, and some photos from my life). Bob located excellent photos of Mandelstam–his intent to make this video a genuine “Mandelstam and Minor” (the title of the piece) collaboration: to honor the poet and also, as he put it, the fact that I’ve “survived.” I’m grateful for having survived in my own small life (compared to that of Osip Mandelstam) and grateful to Bob Danziger for the time, energy, and immense talent (which extends in many directions) he gave to this project–the results of which are a thrill for me to witness, and to have been a part of. Spasibo bolshoy, Bob Danziger! Thanks!

[I’ve had to revise this post, Good Reader, because the second performance offering, originally, a video taken by a friend on his “cell” at the event, didn’t work out–no sound after I posted it!]. On July 13, I gave a poetry “reading” with lifelong friend, Santa Cruz poet Robert Sward, at Old Capitol Books in Monterey. I put “reading” in quotes because I have been writing lots of original music lately and have set most of my recent poems to music, and now regard them as “song” (where poetry started in the first place, with the Singing Neanderthals and, of course, the Greeks, whose poems were at one with music—had a musical counterpart). I was handsomely assisted on July 13 by vocalist/actor Jaqui Hope, who did a beautiful job of interpreting the poem/songs—but unfortunately the video I’d hoped you could see and hear ran into “complications,” so, while I’ll post two photos from the July 13 event, I’ll offer another video (on YouTube) of Jaqui singing the same song, “My Fingers Refuse to Sleep.” That performance can be found at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RLqjmDeiz2s&list=UUmsUUneDzClTnUJeBaOPPhQ.

Bill and Jaqui at Old Capitol Books   Bill and Jaqui4

And now to return, and complete, our Virginia adventure—a trip to Monticello. My wife Betty and I had been to Monticello in 2000, and enjoyed the place, savoring every Jeffersonian detail or “small touch”: the Great Clock in the Entrance Hall with its cannonball weights that drove the dual-faced seven-day calendar (the marks for Friday and Saturday only accessible in the basement); Jefferson’s tucked away, built-into-the-wall double-sided bed alcove; the “Sanctum Sanctorum” with its “polygraph” or copying machine that duplicated his letters as he composed them; the revolving bookstand that could hold five open volumes at a single sitting; and the spacious Parlor where Jefferson and his wife Martha played musical duets, he on violin, she on harpsichord or pianoforte.

We were assigned a tour group and had a guide who possessed a refined Virginia gentleman’s manner coupled with considerable historical knowledge and a keen wit that could combine information regarding the past with clever humorous contemporary contrasts. The man was so open, so genial, asking the group as we passed through each room in the house, “Are There any questions?”, that I took advantage of his good nature, and did ask questions, although I could sense my sister Emily making gestures in the background that suggested I should refrain from doing so. When we’d heard a full account from the guide regarding the Book Room (Jefferson’s library was once among “the largest in the country,” even though he sold 6,700 volumes to Congress for $23,950—his personal collection reduced to a mere 1,000 titles, “including poetry, philosophy, and politics”), I asked our seemingly resilient, fully accommodating guide if he had ever heard of the Hog and Hominy Club, to which he replied, “No, please tell us about it”—and I did.

First: here’s the “historical sketch” of Monticello I found in a book, Anti-bellum Albemarle, my father showed me when I was a teenager, and the same of Peter Minor’s Ridgway—with “Tom” himself (as represented in the Rembrandt Peale painting–which serves as a frontispiece in Jefferson’s Albemarle)–between the two.

Monticello Thomas Jefferson Ridgway

When I entered my teens, my father, who was quite proud of his Virginia “roots” (his father, born in Charlottesville, joined the Confederate Army at age fourteen), told me about a relative, Peter Minor, an “active and successful planter” and secretary of the County Agricultural Society. My father said this Peter Minor had been “Thomas Jefferson’s personal secretary,” but I didn’t believe him, for my dad would tend to exaggerate the worth of his “clan” and all of its connections. When I began to study American history seriously and got interested in Jefferson, I could not find any mention whatsoever of Peter Minor. My father even portioned out–to my brother, sister and me–what he called “the Jefferson Plates,” crockery given to Peter Minor by Jefferson himself—but I assumed they were fake. To my shame, I discovered, not so long ago, that, while my father was not 100 percent correct (Peter Minor was never Jefferson’s “personal secretary”), the two men were very close friends and belonged to the Hog and Hominy Club, an organization which, according to Jefferson’s Albemarle, was formed to honor two of Virginia’s staples, but was nevertheless “rather more sociable than agricultural, rather more epicurean than utilitarian.”

Some of their meetings were held at Monticello (which is in Albemarle County) and at Peter Minor’s home, Ridgway—meetings described as “riotously merry.” And just who, during the days when his friend “Tom” was building the University of Virginia, served as secretary of the Hog and Hominy Club? Why, “Tom’s” friend Peter Minor, of course.

I regaled our guide and our group with this tale, and he thanked me. As we passed from the Book Room, I foolishly said, “And I’ve got another one” [story], to which the guide nodded and, unbeknownst to me but “caught” by my sister, frowned. We entered The Sitting Room, which had lithographs of architectural plans for the University of Virginia on its walls—the University being Jefferson’s “baby,” an institution he envisioned as an “academical village,” a “campus” clustered around a tree-lined lawn that would provide an ideal setting in which to pursue higher education. When the guide had completed his account of The Sitting Room, he turned to me and said, “What was the other one you had in mind?” I point to the lithographs and told my tale about an incident at the University in Virginia in 1825 that led the school’s founder, Jefferson, to claim the proceedings against students which followed provided “the most painful day of [his] life.” In 1850, when my great-grandfather Dr. Charles Minor’s brother John B. Minor’s father-in-law, professor James Davis, attempting to quell a “drunken melee” out on the academical village’s sacred lawn, he was shot through the heart by a masked student, in cold blood. On his deathbed, Professor Davis claimed “an honorable man would come forth” and confess to the crime, but no one did. An “honor system” was then installed at the University of Virginia.

Having completed this tale, I should have realized that our guide was no longer all that much pleased by my spell-binding revelations as counterparts to his own spiel, but when we surveyed the basement floor with its cellars, where Jefferson had facilities for making and bottling wine and beer, a woman in our group brought up an interesting question of her own. The guide had mentioned “restoration” still taking place at Monticello, such as removing the bricks in the walkway leading to the front door and Entrance Hall and replacing them with the “original” gravel. This woman said that she was restoring an old family home in Iowa, but was not certain just which portion of its long history it should be restored to. Our guide claimed that in the case of restoring Monticello, the significant date was 1794, when Jefferson fully retired from a life of public service and “returned home.” I should have kept my mouth shut (and my sister Emily, again in the background, was wildly gesticulating that I do so), but  I couldn’t help but ask the guide if it were not true that Monticello had been a “work in progress” throughout Jefferson’s entire life, and didn’t that fact make it somewhat difficult to determine just what the best date for restoration might be?

It seemed a fair enough question to me, but the guide acknowledged it with a look that made me feel that, should he have a derringer pistol hidden on his person—say, in his vest—he might very well, at that moment, extract it and shoot me straight through the heart, much to the approval and delight of my sister Emily, but not necessarily me. The question I had offered was my last and seemed to mark the end of all “traffic” between our originally genial guide and myself. Even though I felt as I’d been on a pretty good “roll” at Monticello, I somehow managed to keep my mouth shut for the rest of the tour, which had little or nothing left of it anyway. I smiled at the guide and thanked him, although I don’t recall him acknowledging my gratitude, or smiling back.

You can imagine the “fun” my sister had commenting on my indiscretion, for the rest of the day (and even that night). At least I’d had sense enough not to ask any questions regarding the existence of Sally Hemings, a subject on which I’d noticed our guide was somewhat reticent. We finished our tour of Monticello on our own, checking out the Kitchen, Cook’s Room, Smokehouse, Ware Room and Ice House. Em and Betty inspected the Jefferson garden, and that completed our “tour” of Monticello—both supervised (or chaperoned) and independent.

I felt that, when we had dinner that evening, we should try to find a place that provided some live music (preferably jazz) along with food fare, and to that end, back at the Comfort Inn University, I browsed through a stash of flyers and tourist “guides” to see if I could locate such a place. Rhett’s River Grill & Raw Bar was cited as one, a comfortable drive north on Hiway 29, away from Charlottesville, situated on Seminole Lane. This was in the direction of the airport we would leave from to fly home, so I thought we could kill two birds with one stone (three? Eat well, hear some music, and check out the route to the airport so we would not get lost the morning we must arrive there).

Our waitress at Rhett’s River Grill & Raw Bar was a plump, cheerful, funky and spunky specimen with a great smile who immediately informed us that the place provided no live music, and that she was surprised that it was cited as such—but the food was good. I had giant scallops (a favorite of mine) with rice au gratin, Yuengling Black & Tan Beer (great1) and a glass of Glenffidich for desert. Satisfied, back at our “digs,” we said goodbye to Doug and Em, because they would be leaving in the morning, heading back to Connecticut, but not before Betty and I got up to meet a 7:30 AM breakfast date with a former student of mine, David Maurer.

Here’s David with me outside The Nook, where we met, with Betty, and a shot of the Charlottesville Mall (not as seen in April, but the fall of 2009, when I’d been there at that time of year):

Dave Maurer and Me   Dave Maurer and Betty

Charlottesville Mall

David had taken a class from me at Monterey Peninsula College in California, after he’d served in Vietnam and elsewhere in 1969 (dropped into Laos, when we “were not there”) as part of a Special Forces unit. Discharged and back in school, he hoped to write a novel about what he’d witnessed, what he himself had been through. I’ll never forget the day when, having searched for the perfect first paragraph for some time, he came racing across campus, literally picked me up in his arms, and cried, “I found it!” And he had, the entire book in fact, which Dell published in 1986, The Dying Place, a book that Colonel Chuck Allen (former commander of the Delta Project) called “Gripping! Maurer rips away the top secret veil of MAC/SOG operations and describes the action with a style that makes you feel completely part of it … the finest account of Special Operations to come out of the Vietnam era.”

Here’s that first paragraph of The Dying Place, and just a bit more: “At twenty-five yards the front sight of the machine gun nearly covered the back of the reclining soldier’s head. It was the only part of his body visible above the green lichen-encrusted trunk of a large, partially submerged snag … Sam Walden watched through the rear peep sight as the black hair of the North Vietnamese soldier was ruffled by a gust of wind swirling down the stream bed that was between them. A moment later it swept up into the jungle tree-line where he and the seven other men lay.” From that point on the action is, as reviewers said, “Gripping!” … “will put you on the helicopters and ride you into the hidden war” … “Maurer served two combat tours as a recon team leader in this top-secret reconnaissance unit. His writing skills are such that he will make you a part of their deadly missions.” And he does.

David inscribed a copy of the book to me: “My true friend. A man who showed me his soul when mine was lost … he gave me his friendship.” On the basis of the book, and with just an A.A. degree (Associate of Arts, completion of two years of study), he was hired as a Feature Writer for the Daily Progress in Charlottesville, Virginia, where he’d been working for some time when Betty and I saw him again there in 2000, David impressed me as having become one of the best known and most popular persons in that city. He took us to a large 4th of July community picnic, where a country singer names Terri Allard was performing on a makeshift stage and, having finished an original tune called “Loose Change and Spare Parts,” spotted my former student and hollered out, “Why thar’s my old buddy Dave Maurer out thar—hello David!”—which, even though I’d only been his instructor (he’d taken a course called Rock Lyrics, and had written a terrific paper, one I’d kept, on Elvis Presley), made me feel like a proud Papa!

Walking with him down Charlottesville’s handsome Mall, or elsewhere, I was aware that everybody seemed to know and love David. He’d written about everything from Timberlake’s Drug Store and Soda fountain (advertised as “a step back in time, sporting a soda fountain with old fashioned milkshakes and stools that spin”) to the 1969 Hurricane Camille (which took the lives of 325 people, the “worst natural disaster in inland Virginia’s history”), another singer named Ashley McMillen and her series of shows (the Hitkicker Home Grown Session), to Lloyd and Ashlin Smith and their elegant brick home on hard-to-find Park Street!

When I first learned about the Virginia performance of Love Letters of Lynchburg, I phoned David and we agreed for breakfast at The Nook again—and there he was, looking as Special Forces fit and sturdy as ever (if a tad “ aged,” in the face perhaps, but not by much—whereas I felt my “longevity” was all too much in evidence). David, Betty and I shared a classic Southern breakfast (grits, eggs, bacon, the works) and we all got caught up, discussing the state of newspapers in general today—ours at home reduced to a couple of pieces of tissue paper sporting mostly ads and Chamber of Commerce reports (with photos), but not much news, but David, fortunately, is still writing feature pieces—one of which he had to get back to work on that day. He also said he was well into a new novel, but out of respect for not giving away the plot of “work in progress,” I’ll just say it may have something to do with the parallel circumstance of a Civil War and contemporary American soldier.

It was great to see David Maurer again—and we lucked out when we got back to The Comfort Inn, because Em and Doug were just then packing up their car out front and we were able to chat with them again before they headed back to Connecticut. We did learn, by way of David’s The Daily Progress, that the previous day, the day after the Love Letters of Lynchburg performance, a freight train derailment had occurred in Lynchburg, destroying three oil tanker cars, “lifting a plume of black smoke into the sky,” spilling thousands of gallons of crude oil into the James River. “No one was killed or injured when more than a dozen CSX tanker cars derailed,” but an emergency and temporary evacuation of part of the downtown area was declared—and a “possible switch to an alternative water source for the city’s drinking water supply, which depends primarily on the James.”

We wished Em and Doug a safe trip home. Betty and I had arranged to meet George Minor, another relative (like Lloyd), at 1:30, for a tour of wineries. I’d first met George, the son of namesake Bill Minor (who’d given me invaluable family and “local” material) and his wife Maureen when I attended the Virginia Festival of the Book in 2009. George and I had dinner together then, and I discovered that he had formidable knowledge of wine (which would come into play on this, the second to last day of our stay in Virginia) and that he was an accomplished violinist, having studied in Europe and performed with the Richmond Symphony Orchestra. I accidently rediscovered George Minor on LinkedIn before Betty and I set out on this recent trip, saw a photo of him holding a glass of wine, and looking hale, hearty, and happy, and learned that he was a “former harvest/winemaking assistant” at Jefferson Vineyards—which we would visit this day.

That winery led us back in the direction of Monticello, and on the way there we discussed plans to have dinner with Maureen Minor, George’s mother, that evening (Bill Minor, who was not well when I met him, no longer alive)—and we learned much (information supplemented  by a brochure I would acquire) about the wine industry in Virginia, which can boast of 250+ wineries, 27 wine trails, and 9 winemaking regions, the top grapes being Viognier, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Petit Verdot, Norton, Petit Manseng, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, and Merlot.

We started our tour at Jefferson Vineyards in the Central Piedmont area, nestled along the eastern slopes of the Blue Ridge Mountains. George was greeted by friends, one of whom initiated the wine tasting session, which was so delightful that I momentarily forgot the etiquette involved and drained a first glass of Johannisberg Riesling ’11 (I believe it may have been), but retained some measure of decorum (or restraint) from that point on. I found my favorite among the reds, a Pertit Verdot ’12, flavored with “hints of espresso, cedar, violet, and pencil shavings” (!) followed by flavors of cassis, plum and blackberry”; a strong “tannic structure” lending this “full-bodied red the ability to age well.” My memory may not serve me all that well, but I think I also much enjoyed the Meritage ’10, and among the whites, Viognier ’12. After the tasting we were given a tour of the facility, which is set on a hillside with a splendid view. We purchased a bottle of Petit Verdot, for $18.71 (George got us a 25% discount). Before we left, I learned the winery hosts a May Through August schedule of live music (Sunsets Become Eclectic” summer concert series under the stars), bands performing on the grounds—and I was sorry to have to miss out on any of that.

Here are some of the views we enjoyed from Jefferson Vineyards:

View from Jefferson Winery2   View from Jefferson Winery

View from Jefferson Winery3   View from Jefferson Winery4

Next, we drove to Grace Estate Winery, located at the head of the Appellation Trail (a unique route that connects six wineries in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains), situated on even higher ground than Jefferson Vineyards. We tasted wine there within a handsome home modeled on an Irish castle (photo below), and my favorite wine in this excellent setting was the 2012 Viognier, although they too had a Petit Verdot, aged 16 months in both French and American oak, with a “bold youthful structure, a blackberry jam and blueberry nose, and leather & cigar box finish.” Both were served to us by an attractive and knowledge female friend of George. Alongside an “official” photo of the replicated castle, here’s one of George and Betty, with the splendid view (from another angle) as background.

Grace Estate Winery  Betty and George Minor

The third, and last, winery we went to was less ambitious, much smaller in size, but not in quality: Stinson Vineyards on Sugar Hollow Road (“the winding driveway boasts some of the area’s best views”—and look at what we’d already seen!). This area of Virginia can well brag about handsome landscape—and Stinson Vineyards can well brag about a fine 2011 Meritage, aged 14 months in French Oak (“This wine will drink well now and benefit from some aging”), a blend of 35% Merlot, 25% Petit Verdot, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 20% Cabernet Franc. I took advantage of the promise of “now,” since we would be leaving Virginia on Saturday and I’d already spent my wine “allowance” on the Jefferson Vineyard Petit Verdot.

What an afternoon! Not only had we savored excellent wine, but George took us from winery to winery on back roads that offered an endless parade of rolling hills, a landscape so different from that of California that I relished the contrast, and began to imagine a second home here that I would never, ever in this life be able to afford. Next stop: the gracious home of a gracious lady, Maureen Minor.

Much has been said–songs composed (espousing familiar images and sentiments such as “Soft winds blowing through the pinewood trees/Folks down there live a life of ease” or “The corn top’s ripe and the meadow’s in bloom/While the birds make music all the day”) and many stories told–about “Southern hospitality”; too many clichés concocted in its behalf perhaps, but the thing does exist, and we were treated to another genuine taste of it from the time we arrived at Maureen’s to the time we left her home.

Maureen has a cozy back porch that reminds me of the one I was fond of as a child (and thereafter) on Pleasant Street (how perfect!) in boyhood Michigan—but hers let in far more out of doors light, and possessed a better sense of spaciousness than the porch I recall, open (aside from screens to keep the bugs out) as Maureen’s was on her garden, a host of flower beds, and bird feeders (with birds that sang at them!) at either end of the porch. And we were treated, without asking, to gin and tonic, a drink I seldom have, but this was just the right setting for it—the beverage attended by the smell of … I think it must have been honeysuckle, which also came with the back porch of my youth. It was sundown, the perfect time for such “ease,” and then we moved indoors for an excellent dinner (Maureen, whose background is British, is a first-rate cook): crab cakes, a splendid salad (so splendid I just enjoyed it, and can’t recall the exact ingredients), wine from one of the vineyards we’d visited that day, and a dessert that Betty remembers as “special.”

After dinner, we went to the basement where I encountered a huge cardboard screen embellished with the names of all the members of the Minor family to whom we are related, dating back to the “Founder,” Maindort Doodes, born in the Netherlands (Rotherdam), June 1610, married to Mary Garrett about 1640, and died sometime after December 13, 1677 (will made on that date) in Urbanna, Middlesex Co., Virginia–a Dutch sea captain who had a son who took the name Doodes Minor when naturalized in Virginia in 1673 (I would learn that Maindort Doodes himself assumed the name Minor Doodes, more than likely because a British clerk couldn’t pronounce his first name correctly and wrote it down as “Minor”). Gazing at this heavily inscribed “wall” of cardboard with all its names, we each found our own respective  lineage “units” or “kin”—and then Maureen and Betty discussed the many very handsome quilts that Maureen works on at the other end of the basement room.

Here’s a photo taken when I visited Bill, George, and Maureen Minor —and a photo of Minor Hall (dedicated to my Great-grandfather’s brother John B. Minor, a Professor of Law at the University of Virginia at the time of the Civil War). Betty and I would visit the campus next.

Bill, George and Maureen Minor  UV Minor Hall

We had arranged a visit with pianist/retired psychiatrist Tom Hagerty and his wife Kate for Friday, our last full day in Virginia—and we decided to spend the morning exploring Charlottesville by way of the Free Trolley, one stop for which would allow us to get off at the cemetery where John B. Minor resides. I also wanted to see if we could find the grave of Willy Blackford, Charles and Susan’s very young son who died during the Civil War and for whose burial John B. had been responsible.

We returned to the Charlottesville Mall where we’d had breakfast with David Maurer and caught the Free Trolley on Water Street, the route taking us through a not exactly extraordinarily exciting portion of the downtown area, then past the by now familiar Amtrax station, a left turn on Jefferson Park Avenue and past the UVA Medical Center, School of Nursing, and Student Health Center, then alongside Cabell Hall and Minor Hall (the building named for John B.), swung around by the university stadium, Aquatic and Fitness Center, and up by the cemetery, where we got off. The left hand portion of the cemetery, where you enter, is devoted to the Confederate dead, row after row of solemn anonymous white crosses standing in the sun—and I couldn’t help but think of the opening lines of Alan Tate’s poem, “Ode to the Confederate Dead”: “Row after row with strict impunity/the headstones yield their names to the element,/The wind whirls without recollection … the inexhaustible bodies that are not/Dead, but feed the grass row after row now.”

Betty and I cut through this plot, past a low stone fence, and stepped into the section where we found John B. Minor’s “monument” much as we’d first seen it in 2000. When I was a teenager, my father told me that John B. had five (or was it seven?) wives, all of whom were buried beside his tall, phallic-shaped tombstone, surrounding him but residing in graves far less imposing than his. However, on that first visit in 2000, we’d only been able to find the graves of three wives, so, typical of my father, he must have been exaggerating. Now, standing before John B.’s stele, we still could count only three wives, so the man’s marital status had not undergone any significant change in nine years. And the inscription on the base stone of his monument read the same: “For Fifty Years Professor of Law in the University of Virginia. He faithfully and lovingly performed his duties unto death. Teaching with rare clearness and success the text and spirit of the law. A devoted Husband and Father, a loyal Friend, a chivalrous Gentleman, an earnest Christian. To live was Christ, to die was gain.” These words seemed in accord with all I’d ever read about him, and we paused to let the praise sink in, and then began an earnest search for Willy.

Here are two photos of John B. Minor’s monument, and the base stone with the inscription I quoted:

UV John B Minor Gravesite  John B. Minor Stone  John B. Minor Grave

The cemetery is so large, we decided to split up and search separately. The day was fine and bright, sunny but not overly warm, hot, so I took my time and enjoyed passing through this peaceful place. Several of the graves were sumptuously adorned with flowers, and the walk from stone to stone, checking out each name (some of them nearly effaced) was pleasant. I found lots of Minors (Dave Maurer had once told me that Charlottesville was “filthy with Minors”), but there was no sign of Willy. I did find, far back in a corner of the cemetery, some Blackford headstones, but none of them were his. Finally, Betty and I called out to one another, simultaneously, and we gave up the quest. Waiting at the bus stop, surrounded by young women wearing short shorts and halters, or some in what resembled long broomstick or gingham Hippie-style skirts, and young men dressed equally casually if a bit more substantially, I realized that, whereas John B. had taken responsibility for having Willy buried in the University of Virginia cemetery, Charles and Susan, after the war and their lives restored in Lynchburg, may well have brought him “home,” and had him reburied there.

Here are some of the fine UV buildings we drove by on the rest of our Free Trolley journey: the long stretch of the Colonade, the Chapel, and the Rotunda, with its statue of Jefferson himself standing out front, as if to protect his pet project from anyone who might not fully appreciate it.

UV Collonaded Pavilions       UV Chapel

UV Rotunda with Statue of Jefferson

We swung up 2nd Street, feeling as if we now had a complete handle on solid directions to any location in Charlottesville (the Free Trolley doing all the real work for us), took a right on Market (past City Hall), and returned to the spot where we had boarded that morning.

That afternoon, finding the home of Tom and Kate Hagerty presented our last chance to get lost attempting to find a specific destination in Virginia, and we took full advantage of it. Tom and Kate live, truly, “out in the country,” on a road I couldn’t find on MapQuest—but as it turned out, it was a spot, hidden away, not far from where we’d been the previous day on our wine tour, not far from White Hill Road and both Stinson and Grace Estate Wineries, with a splendid view of Skyline Drive and Shenandoah National park in the background, their home off Lake Albemarle Road, nested among trees and flowers. The best way to illustrate its quiet splendor—one picture worth a thousand words?—is to show you these photos of Tom, me, and Kate on a back deck just off their kitchen, shrouded in dogwood; two views of the “Landscape” so near by, and a photo of Tom at work on their handsome grand piano, inside.

Tom Hagerty, Me, Kate    View from Hagerty's Deck2

View from Hagerty's Deck                Tom Hagerty at Piano

I first met Tom Hagerty when I attended the Virginia Festival of the Book in Charlottesville in 2008. I had published a comic novel about the American Bicentennial called Trek: Lips, Sunny, Pecker and Me (the penultimate name that of a teenage son, Peckerwood—which should give you some sense of the tone of the book). Dave Maurer had written an article for The Daily Progress, and listed a time I’d be signing copies at the Book Fair—and Tom showed up (David had mentioned that I was a “professional musician,” had published three books on jazz and “150 jazz-related articles”), and an immediate friendship was formed.

I’d gone to Sunday dinner at their home, and Betty and I were now enjoying their hospitality on a Friday. While Betty (an avid gardener) and Kate talked plants and flowers while “fixin’” dinner, Tom and I took turns at that handsome piano, trading tunes; this after we’d first retired to the basement where he has a fully stocked bar and extra keyboard (portable electric), and fixed me a drink, Scotch on the rocks. Upstairs, I offered one of the songs I’d been writing recently (words and music: a tune called “My Fingers Refuse to Sleep”), and my fingers seemed to serve me fairly well. I like to sing and play, a la Nat “King” Cole (an idol of my youth: “What Can I Say After I Say I’m Sorry”) and Thomas “Fats” Waller (“Honeysuckle Rose” and “Ain’t Misbehavin’”), perhaps in my case due to a lack of genuine instrumental “chops,” but Tom has got ‘em, and I loved listening to him do full justice to Bill Evans’ tunes, “Turn Out the Stars” and “Waltz for Debby.” In spite of my own musical shortcomings, I love trading tunes the way we do, our styles quite different, but complementing each other well, I like to think.

Betty and Kate took a break, as did Tom and I, and we all went outside to sit on the deck and enjoy the last of the day, fragrant with flowers, and rich in another display of Southern Hospitality with these two gracious people who seem quite knowledgeable when it comes to their physical surroundings, and the inner person as well. Then we were back inside for a splendid meal: marinated steak which Tom fixed on a grill.

The Hagerty home is, similar to several we’d been in (Lloyd and Ashlin Smith’s; Maureen Minor’s) something of a museum, with tasteful paintings and artifacts present without pretense, but there to “flesh out” domestic amenity. Tom showed us a row of such work he has never “set straight,” as a reminder of a rare Virginia earthquake that left the row slightly askew, out of alignment, but did not dislodge the work from the wall. Betty and I had settled in so comfortably ourselves with these new good friends we did not wish to leave them, but we remembered that we had another early appointment in the morning–with a flight that would take us home—and we all, somewhat reluctantly, walked out to the car together. Betty and I took in the splendid surroundings one last time, and we said farewell to our last taste of Virginia hospitality, promising to return again, for more music, and grand conversation over a fine meal!

We had no trouble finding the Charlottesville Albermarle Regional Airport in the morning, turned in our rental car (and the GPS device that had proved of so little practical use to us), and settled in our seats for the flight home—filled with first-rate memories of the wedding, the Love Letters of Lynchburg performance, and so many adventures with old and new friends (I was only sorry we’d not been able to spend more time with Lloyd and Ashlin Smith—but next time we get to Virginia!). I think I had a smile on my face all the way back to our home in Pacific Grove, California.