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Friday, May 05, 2017


"Spirit-fall," a poem influenced by Yoruban chant and ancient Hebrew poetry. Originally published by editor Jonathan Farmer in "At Length." Part of a longer sequence. I made the recording using Audacity, and Paul Digby tinkered with the sound afterward.

Illuvia dorado
Photo courtesy of Ignacio Leonardi and


  1. "Cloth of gold" indeed. In northern France, on our way to the Christmas market in Germany, we pass by The Field of the Cloth of Gold. Listening to your poem I realised I didn't know what its significance was, imagined it might have hosted a battle. You've encouraged me to look it up and I find it marks "a summit" between two kings "to increase the bond of friendship". Am pleased I did. The opposite of a battle in fact.

    I listen to your voice and imagine (probably quite erroneously) I hear layers of geographic influence. You speak crisply and clearly to get across these very visual details, as if drawing our attention to a Holbein miniature. Yet here and there are what may be echoes of your past life. First "ray" then "ways", at the end of a line, have a vowel sound that ebbs and flows fractionally (Trying to bestride the South and the North, or is that too fanciful?). Elsewhere the n and the t in "mountains" are closely ellided into an "nt" that is uniquely American. I slip back forty years and I'm playing baseball-catch with the neighbourhood kids in Dormont, Pa; as a creature as alien as a Saturnian I'm endlessly fascinating to them and thus able to overhear their chat. But language was one of my reasons for going there.

    This poem is dense with imagery. I've listened again and could go on listening to establish the links between the images in a poem that seems to be all links. Some sort of Google wizardry invokes other poem-readings of yours I've heard; a second or two of Dressing The Doll (can't be sure of the title) has you operating at a slightly slower speed. Might you consider this speed for Spirit-Fall? I find myself wanting to spend more time by the oxbow - perhaps because of the musical swell in the second syllable: "bo - o - ow".

    1. My friend Paul did something to the recording to take away background noise, but I don't think that he sped it up. All I did was record the thing once and slap an image on, which was enough to drive me batty in the first place. I'm not very interested in technology, alas. Wish I was. But I didn't read it through beforehand, so maybe I just plain old read it rather fast.

      "The Nesting Doll," maybe? Adventures of a doll and demon...

      I hate listening to my own voice. You are probably quite right about geography, as my parents dragged me all around the South, then a bit out west, then the North, then back to the South. (I should amend that to my father dragged me and my mother, I suppose! She was happy working at the State Library of Louisiana, and I adored the Louisiana landscape, small as I was. My memories of those years in Gramercy and Baton Rouge are still the brightest place memories in my head.) And I flittered up and down the East Coast afterward. I am also a horrible mimic of Southern accents and fall into them immediately if I'm talking to someone with a strong accent. And must concentrate to keep my voice on its normal path and avoid seeming as if I'm making fun of the accent.

      You know, I experienced that same self-as-alien mode as a child. In my three years in Kansas (dreadfully plain place after Louisiana) and my three years in Delaware (awful, scalding years--I wept with joy when I found out we are moving to North Carolina), people found endless fascination with my deep-South drawl. And of course, my sixth grade teacher assumed I was some kind of foreign idiot for speaking so slowly. That was harmful. I memorialized my no-doubt-askew and somewhat-fictionalized memory of her in "A Death at the White Camellia Orphanage." I've even repressed her name and would have to root through old school class photos to figure it out. Horrible year!

      Yes, I love "The Field of the Cloth of Gold." What a beautiful name for a beautiful thought and event.

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    1. Oh, interesting--I'm so glad you felt the influence. Although "cultural appropriation" is jargon-of-the-moment, the whole history of literature is influence and love across borders.

      And thanks for the compliment. I have always been too self-critical in every way possible, alas. But somehow I bump along anyway!

  3. I do love it when you read your poems -- though, I'll admit, I like having the text of poem before me as I listen. The poems are so rich and dense in imagery, I want to follow along with the text as I don't trust just my ear to gather in all the images to my brain. So, I was very happy to find "Spirit-Falls" online and then be able to listen and read. I read a fair amount of African praise poetry in the past and I so admire the way you have captured that wonderful litany of phrases, layer upon layer of those fabulous images. Thanks so much for sharing your own reading -- even though you don't like your voice -- I think it's splendid, delivered with the intensity a praise poem needs.


Alas, I must once again remind large numbers of Chinese salesmen and other worldwide peddlers that if they fall into the Gulf of Spam, they will be eaten by roaming Balrogs. The rest of you, lovers of grace, poetry, and horses (nod to Yeats--you do not have to be fond of horses), feel free to leave fascinating missives and curious arguments.