Old School

The book, 1000 Recordings to Hear Before You Die has me going back into my CD catalog. It's really cool to see some of those old albums in that volume. Additionally, I've been introduced to some new work.

Back catalog-wise, I've revisited De La Soul's THREE FEET HIGH AND RISING, which was ground breaking. All those skits, those fillers, and the exquisite sampling (for which there were many lawsuits).

I'm also listening to Pink Floyd's DARK SIDE OF THE MOON. No, I've never listened to this while watching The Wizard of Oz. Have you?

Finally, there's a reissue out now of Iggy Pop and the Stooges' Raw Power. This version's actually mixed by Iggy and NOT by David Bowie. It's interesting to see hear the differences. The Bowie version sounds overproduced. This reissue sounds . . . well, raw--maybe truer to the punk movement.

So, in the spirit of 1000 Recordings, I'm remember five "old school" poems that pushed me towards writing poetry as a calling. There are a lot of recent work that sets my pulse, but I'm just thinking about the poems that stayed with me even before I got my MFA.

These five are just off the top of my head and NOT in any order, plus reasons why:

Li-Young Lee's "The Gift." I was a social worker when I first read this collection, dealing with a schizophrenic in an assisted living program. The patient would take long, medical-induced naps and I would spend hours reading while he slept. ROSE was the one book I kept rereading and "The Gift" in particular, was the poem I kept returning to. It's hard for me to articulate the relevance of my reading this poem and the hours I spent working in the assisted living program, but strangely they fit for me because both things, at the time, seemed ultimately important.

Galway Kinnell's "Little Sleep's-Head Sprouting Hair in the Moonlight." Maybe because I'm a new father and this poem is, to me, about fear and about blessing. Anyway, I bought THE BOOK OF NIGHTMARES for my very first advanced poetry workshop when I was an undergrad. There were a bunch of grad students in that class at LMU. My good friend Joseph Legaspi was in that class as well as Kristen Tracy. It was Gail Wronsky's Graduate level workshop and I was a sophomore in the class. Somehow I got into the class because I had entered the campus poetry contest and took second place (Joseph took first). Because of the award, I decided to try my hand at poetry and . . . well, Galway's book and especially the poem stuck with me.

Sylvia Plath's "Mary's Song." Because today I can still remember the opening stanza--"The Sunday lamb cracks in its fat/ the fat/ sacrifices its opacity. I read this poem as an undergrad and I can confidently say that this is the poem that awakened the notion of sound as a unifying impulse in the written word.

James Wright's "A Blessing." Gosh darnit, he knows how to end a poem and to write with such economy.

Robert Hayden's "Those Winter Sundays." Talk about economy--he's immediately rhetorical with "Sundays too . . ." and the repetition of "What did I know" towards the end of the poem. My goodness, how seemingly effortless it was for him to get to a point of hard, bare-faced ambivalence.


Just came back from a grant-writing workshop. I've been to a few of them in my past. This one was quite good. It was run by Artist Trust of Washington, and I hope they do more workshops. It was also VERY good to see some students there. Even though they're not eligible for grants, this is stuff they need to know and stuff I never got when I was an undergrad.


Poetry reading tonight for The Whatcom Poetry Series.

Nance Van Winkle and Dan Raphael will be reading at 7:30 in the Lucia Douglas Gallery. It's a great space for a reading.

Oliver de la Paz