Quote of the Hour

Now, my co-mates and brothers in exile,
Hath not old custom made this life more sweet
Than that of painted pomp? Are not these woods
More free from peril than the envious court?
Here feel we but the penalty of Adam,
The seasons' difference, as the icy fang
And churlish chiding of the winter's wind,
Which, when it bites and blows upon my body,
Even till I shrink with cold, I smile and say
“This is no flattery: these are counsellors
That feelingly persuade me what I am.”
Sweet are the uses of adversity,
Which, like the toad, ugly and venomous,
Wears yet a precious jewel in his head;
And this our life exempt from public haunt
Finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks,
Sermons in stones and good in every thing.
I would not change it.
–Shakespeare, Act II, Scene I of As You Like It.
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You Have Given Me the Light

Across the decades, dozens of interviewers have tried to get a grasp on the source of Bob Dylan’s far-out creativity, his lyrics, music, poetry, and his art. The guy is at once tender, topical, absurd, romantic, and profound. Everyone wants to know what his influences are, who he reads, who he talks to, listens to, and who he admires. Whether or not he’s always walking around out of his mind with inspiration.

In her 1978 Rock Express interview with Dylan, Karen Hughes, still looking for a satisfying clue to explain his breadth and depth, asks him, “Do you find that most things come from within?” and Dylan, in one of his usual wandering-shaman moods, simply replies, “Most things come from taking chances.”

Dylan’s philosophy comes up now and then at our Open Voices writing group. We admire writers who take chances with their work. We admire how they explore a difficult subject, try a new vantage point, a new style or genre.

I recently saw my old friend Bart Sutter at the Laurel Poetry Collective Reading, giving his hearty applause to every poet standing at the microphone. He would agree that Dylan takes a lot more chances than the average bloke, but Bart has flung himself into many a new territory with his own writing. He’s an essayist, poet, short-story writer, and playwright. He is the only author to win a Minnesota Book Award in three separate categories.

Wait a minute here.

Some of us mere mortals may not be ready to take the chances Bart or Dylan do. Not this red-hot minute anyway. Shoot, most of the members in my writing group won’t even take a chance and sit in a different chair when we meet. They gotta sit in the same spot month after month. I like murder mysteries and poetry, but I can’t even fathom where I chucked the car keys last night never mind suddenly conjuring up the inspiration to write Bovine Hoof Trimming for Dummies or something, and I certainly don’t hear myself saying, whoa. I feel a screenplay coming on.

As writers, however, I do think we are always taking the chance–regardless of where we are with our writing–that readers will not dismiss our words but be moved by them, and that we’ll reveal a truth or two as Bart does in his poem,

ROCHESTER

My senior year we did Jane Eyre.
Rita Johannsen was Jane,
And I was Rochester.

The way the story goes
I’ve got this crazy wife,
And I keep her locked away
In a distant wing of the house
Because I’m rich as hell.
In the end she burns the house
And burns herself, as well.
That’s how I get to be blind
And marry the governess.

Of all the lines I memorized
I only remember one.
It’s at the end, I’m blind,
And I turn to Jane and say:
“You have given me the light.”
Blackout. Pause.
Thunderous applause.

When I think about it now, I feel
Rochester was cheated, kind of
Castrated, you know? I mean
At first he’s sort of ornery
And makes these sharp remarks,
But in the end he’s whipped
And tied up with his governess.

The audience just loved it,
The way that he was tamed.
I get so mad to think of it
That I’ve thought up
This version of my own
In which, I call it Rochester,
What happens is Jane Eyre
Dies of influenza. Rochester
Is forced to learn to love his ugly wife,
And they’re unhappy ever after

Because women think we’re dumb.
They think we can’t feel anything.

They think that we can’t see
The sneaky way they run things.
But I can see, and I
Don’t hesitate to lie. Say
Some woman lights my cigarette?
I’ll use that line, I’ll tell her:
“You have given me the light.”
She laughs but half believes it,
And half is good enough.

Or say she wonders how she looks,
And I see grey and wrinkles
And feel for both of us.
You think I tell her that?
I tell her: “You
Just look terrific.”

They like to think we’re blind.
That audience believed I was
When I was Rochester,
But I was just pretending,
And they were in the dark,
Applauding and applauding.

This was years ago,
But I can close my eyes
And still see everything:
My parents, sitting separately,
The faces of my friends.
I’m Rochester,
And Rochester sees everything:
Rita’s mouth and teeth,
Delicious little ears,
And how the silver sweat runs
Trickling down her neck.

***

Bart will be reading from his new poetry collection, The Reindeer Camps Friday, June 1st, 7pm at the Loft.

Coffee House Press Biblio Bash Nothing Less Than a Literary Blast

Yeah, the title of this posting is a mouthful, but that’s what kind of evening it was. The literary carnival and benefit for CHP was held this past Saturday at the Grain Belt Bottling House where readers interacted with authors and books, interpreted poetry, danced, and played games.

People enjoyed music, food, beer, wine, “page turner” cocktails, and role-playing with the encouragement of Bedlam Theatre (long live Purple Rain!). Throughout the bash, all sorts of activities kept the night exciting:

Allan Kornblum demonstrating ye old printing press

Charismatic CHP founder, Allan Kornblum, who was recently given the Kay Sexton award for his life-long contributions to Minnesota’s book community, remarked, “from clay tablets to e-books, there has been a continual effort” regarding the creation of books. It’s all good, but the best of the well-written books, he believes, will still come out in print as will poetry. “There’s an electricity to the printed page” he said, a requirement of poetry that e-books cannot give.

aerialist from Xelias wowing the crowd

Witty author and soulful musician Dylan Hicks, whose recently released CHP novel, Boarded Windows, made a fine appearance, singing songs from his character’s repertoire. Dylan Hicks Sings Bolling Greene is the companion album to his book.

Dylan Hicks singing “Sorrow Has a Basement”

Other attending authors included Lightsey Darst, Sarah Fox, Steve Healey, Ed Bok Lee, Chris Martin, David Mura, Bao Phi, Sun Yung Shin, Yuko Taniguchi, and Wang Ping who were on hand for us compete against in Scrabble and Bananagrams.

As part of the fundraising effort, many items from vacation getaways to expert literary advice were up for auction for people to bid on:

Kassia serving up veggie pita sandwiches

And here we are, dancers and poetry lovers all, non-verbally interpreting one of Chris Martin’s poems from his book, Becoming Weather as it was read line by line:

The point of the evening wasn’t just to raise money, but to engage readers with books, songs, theater, and authors. In a time where it’s all too easy to sit alone while reading–whether from a book, laptop, cell phone, or Kindle–this event was created to allow us to actively participate with the genius of language and with each other. Meeting lovely, wonderful people along the way is one of the extraordinary benefits of supporting Coffee House Press and our literary community.