Sunday, November 27, 2016

Congratulations to the Winners of the Spring/Summer 2016 Contests!

Finally, I am ready to post the winners of the Spring/Summer 2016 contests at The Song Is...

First of all, I'd like to thank the judges--Catfish McDaris and Lynne S. Viti--for their hard work, diligence, and quick turnaround.  I am honored and thrilled that they were both able to help me out during this crazy semester.  (Any slowness is definitely mine.)

Now let's start with Thelma's Prize.  Lynne judged one set of poems and chose Bill Cushing's “Music isn’t about standing still and being safe," a poem celebrating Miles Davis, as the winner.  While noting her choice, Lynne added: "In a flowing word- stream , repeatedly working the dual meaning of 'Miles,' the poet blends  images of  Davis' music with the speaker's past and present. Vivid images of  the Davis memorial by the St. John's River, of the speaker's lifelong romance with the artistry of Miles Davis. Poetry informed and infused by the music, told in a strong personal voice."  I agree that this was a wonderful choice!  Tad Richards'  "fantasical and surreal, seductive and fun" "In a Dream, She Sees Lester Young Standing Naked" and John McDonald's Haiku and Haibun received honorable mentions.  Lynne commented on John's work: "The first set of McDonald's are infused with the sounds and smells of Afghanistan, conveyed vividly  through a solider's memories of the war in Helmand. The haiku pivot the reader to music-infused images of family and home, Chet Baker and Gerry Mulligan."

Catfish handled the other set of poems as well as the contests for work inspired by jazz musicians born in the 1920s and by Latin culture.  His choice for Thelma's Prize was Amber Smithers' "Thoughts On Being a Black Girl," a poem that he considered very moving.  He also singled out for praise Alex Conrad's "Observing Myself," Chani Zwibel's "Please Remember," and Sergio Ortiz' "Yellow Flowers."   Tad Richards won the 1920s Prize for his poem "With Miles"  Catfish praised Tad's and Amber's poems quite highly.  Also receiving honorable mentions were  Bryn Fortey's "Ellas McDaniel" and John McDonald's Haiku.  Sergio Ortiz won the prize for poems inspired by Latin culture for "Requiem for Mercedes Sosa."   His "Yellow Flowers" and Kerfe Roig's "jaguar/le tigre" earned honorable mentions.

Bola Ade's poetry won the prize for local writers.  As Lynne remarked to me, "so for the Local Contest, the winner is  Bola Ade, no question. Bola's poetry is passionate, political, sometimes raw, but always a compelling fusion of words, images and emotions. It certainly calls for reading aloud.  The blending of prose and everyday speech and the rarefied and poetic language make the reader sit up and take notice. I found "Hotep sh*t"  the most powerful and polished of this intriguing set of poems."  I have to admit that "Hotep sh*t" was my favorite, too.

I'll finish with the winner of Callie's Prize for visual elements.  It's a tie between Kerfe Roig for her masks and Juan Tituana for his images of Corpus Christi.

Congratulations to everyone!  I am looking forward to a wonderful fall/winter contest as well.

Given Bill's poem, I am going to start off with some Miles.  Let's listen to "Green Dolphin Street":

Here is an alternative take of "Black Comedy" from Miles in the Sky:

I have to include Lester Young.  Here is a link to a longish video of various jam sessions with Young and other artists such as Count Basie, Jo Jones, and others.  Not sure who is singing "On the Sunny Side of the Street," though.

If you'd rather have something short, here is Young with the Oscar Peterson Trio on "Almost Like Being in Love":

I'll finish with Mercedes Sosa.
Here is her "Solo le Pido a Dios":

This is "Thanks to Life":

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Bryn Fortey Enters Both Contests

Recently jazz poet Bryn Fortey sent me poems for both of my winter/spring contests: poems about not driving and poems inspired by jazz musicians born in the 1930s.  I'm always pleased to meet another non-driver, and I hope to meet a few more by January.


DRIVE by James Sallis
Is permanently in my top ten novels
Sparse, pared back, no padding
I admire the writing
Even though the title is not  
Part of my personal vocabulary 


When other teens were
Working on worn out old bangers
Head stuck under a rusting hood
Happily covered in oil and muck
I was
Having a smoke
A glass of beer
Trying to chat up
The new girl on the block

I have never had any interest in cars
Or any wish to drive one

I took lessons once
At an employer’s insistence
But they just showed me firsthand
How many idiots drove cars
And confirmed what I knew
That it wasn’t for me

There have been times in my life when
A license might have been handy
But I’ve made it
Got by
All the way to old age
Without one

With one
My level of incompetence
Might have seen me dead years ago

Swings and roundabouts my friend
Any chance of a lift?

Bryn Fortey

Bryn has also found Joanne Brackeen, a jazz pianist born in the 1930s.  He has promised a few other discoveries...or rediscoveries for us.

(Born Ventura, California, July 26, 1938)

Largely self-taught
Though with some formal training
Her involvement with popular piano styles was shattered
The moment she first heard Charlie Parker and bebop became
Her musical language of choice

New York soon beckoned
And her eloquent yet dynamic playing
Saw her mix in good company
A spell with Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers
Was followed by employment with saxophonists
Joe Henderson and Stan Getz

Leading a series of trios and performing solo
To great critical acclaim
She combined the bringing up of her four children
With the precarious career of a jazz musician

Influenced by such piano luminaries as
Bill Evans and Chick Corea
She nevertheless developed a personal style
Recognized and admired
For both her playing and composition
Also known as an educator
Being a professor at two colleges

In spite of passing years
Brackeen has remained an important innovator
A force to be reckoned with
In the history of the piano in jazz

Bryn Fortey

Here is Joanne Brackeen, playing her original composition "Haiti B":

She and Joe Henderson are performing "Relaxing at Camarillo":  This video is from 1986.

This is her "Manha de Carnaval," which sounds quite familiar:

I'll finish with a video of her playing in the Cologne subway as part of the Tony Iakatos Quartet:

If you would like to know more about the winter/spring contests, see this link:

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Return to Haibun

In The Infield Was Patty Peccavi by Edward and Nancy Kienholz; metal, resin, cloth, wood, glass, paper, photomechanical reproduction, electric lights, stuffed bird and paint (1981, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden)

This evening I would like to return to haibun with India's Pranav Kodial and, of course, Angelee Deodhar.  The images with Pranav's haibun are by Angelee.

Has it been a while?  It seems like a while!


I stumble across my semi dark room, fumbling frantically for the light switch. I notice a rectangular shape on the wall and having switched it on, relax. They say events may trigger but don't actually cause depression. They say chemical imbalances in the brain may cause depression, maybe it's genetic, it’s because of lack of sunlight.
They say maybe—

closed door...
is there light
on the other side?


Ten. Hundred. Thousand. He moves through the sea of people, laughing, shaking hands, exchanging hugs and pleasantries. Finally he reaches the door. I watch him. And smile. Then I watch him. And cry. Once him. Once him…

from a mound of rice  the black grain tumbles  away

Bio : Dr. Pranav Kodial is an Indian ophthalmologist with a love for the Arts. In addition to haiku and other forms of poetry, he writes short stories and has recently completed a novel. He has also written and acted in plays, and sung in light classical music programs. He lives with his anesthesiologist wife and two children in Dahanu, Maharashtra.

For those of us in the US, Thanksgiving is coming.  Angelee Deodhar just sent me a haibun for that holiday.

Haibun: Reprieve

November 26th is a special day for two lucky turkeys who get to meet POTUS at a special ceremony held at the Rose Garden of the White House where they are “officially pardoned” and do not end up on the Thanksgiving table.

The turkeys live a spoiled life style and are kept in a special pen. The radio is played for them all day long. They listen to Vivaldi and John Mayer intermittently. Once they arrive in Washington they are put up in the Willard Hotel, and meet the press before being taken to the White House.

Afterwards they live the rest of their short lives at the historic Virginia residence, Morven Park .

The official "pardoning" of presidential turkeys probably started with President Lincoln's 1863 clemency to a turkey ,when “a live turkey had been brought home for the Christmas dinner, but Lincoln’s son ,Tad interceded in behalf of its life … and the turkey’s life was spared.”

the birds have left
the chopped down pines-
evening’s red leaves

                          - Issa 

Painting Still Life with Suspended Turkey (Jean-Baptiste-Simeon Chardin, French painter b. 1699, Paris, d. 1779, Paris oil on canvas))

Angelee sent me some music for this haibun to give you an idea of what the reprieved turkeys were listening to.

John Mayer Greatest Hits Collection HD HQ
Vivaldi: Mandolin and Lute Concertos [L'Arte dell'Arco - F.Guglielmo]

My husband and I were listening to some Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah this evening, so I'll post a version of his "Twin."  As it turns out, CSaA is an identical twin.

I'll finish off with one of CSaA's political pieces:

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Welcome to A.S. Coomer!

It's always good to welcome poets to The Song Is..., and tonight I'm welcoming A.S. Coomer, a poet/ novelist/musician from Kentucky by way of Ohio.

I, too, See a Darkness
by A.S. Coomer

I’ve got these Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy Sundays
& sometimes it really is Sunday morning coming down
wishing like hell that I was stoned;
head hollow feeling like a burnt out oil drum,
cold creeping in through windows older
and even more frail than me,
jaw creaks then pops shifting head again,
the tract skipping a peg then righting itself.
Got the cracked blinds open
beaconing what meager sunlight
--spring seems held somewhere close at hand but wholly at bay--
to come on in and sit a spell.
There’s plenty of things missing
and I tend to dwell on these
but today, shaky & in bad need of strong coffee,
I’m doing my best
to focus on the pieces that’ve fallen into place
or, at least, spots vacant enough
to give the semblance of good fit.

When I sing
by A.S. Coomer

When I sing
you can almost hear the indecision
in my voice,
the lack of confidence
quakes, trembles like shaking children
fresh out of the creek dripping, a spring swim
too early, over eager, but irresistible.
The recordings, scratchy, fuzz-filled,
highlight this, some blinking red arrow
pointing out flaws, calling
“Hey, this is trepidation. This is
what it looks like.”
And when the last note rings out,
you’re thankful for the silence
but not as much as me.

With the end of the song
comes the beginning of the loop,
wrapping itself back around,
sweeping me off my feet,
back into my head, that place I live most,
where I’m almost fully awake,
there the melodies are alive
and fluttering only to come out dead
when the pen finds the hand and the pages are spent.
Why do I do this to myself?

There’s an inherent beauty
in nearly every-damn-thing.
The sun filtering in through the cat-cracked blinds,
the first cup of coffee--or the sixth--
and the opening chords of that rainy day record,
the one you haven’t stopping spinning since
picking it up used just after high school;
they’re all shining here. Glittering in a way
that never loses luster. Calling out to me.
Begging me to share. Whispering that these
haven’t been done yet. These words haven’t been sung.
These chords haven’t been pick-struck or finger-plucked.
And here we are: middle-circle, a handful of songs,
swaying and frayed and wonderfully mistaken,
but singing. Please, stop me if you’ve heard this one before.

Skeleton Keys
by A.S. Coomer

I woke up this morning,
saw the roses dancing
in the breeze;
thought about three notes
on the piano--black & white
skeleton keys--and knew
the world was so beautiful
I could just kill myself.

I’m not sure how I feel about the sound
by A.S. Coomer

Can’t no one love you better than I did.
All these years, all those nights bright with fulfilled longing,
captured desire and twisted sheets,
to the teeth with a big fat love,
bursting at the seams, dripping with it,
slicker than any back country road post summer downpour,
juicier than any peach you’ve tasted.
Now, it’s just a picture of a picture of the thing.

The train whistle’s blowing,
blowing right by our house
--what used to be our house--
it used to make you snuggle closer,
something so lonesome in the cry, I guess.
Well, I was always just glad it was crying,
seemed like somebody somewhere had to be,
that’s what my grandmother always said.
And the result...

Now that you’re gone
even the coffee pot don’t look right,
sitting cockeyed on the counter,
beached by grains of staled, clumpy sugar and sticky spots
where I spilled the milk.

Baby, I don’t even know why I bother to pay the electric bill;
I keep all the lights off now,
now that you’re gone. Don’t see the point
in seeing the spaces were you ain’t, cos, baby, you ain’t.

And I remember sitting in that backroom down at the bar,
swaying to the slide guitar and the gentle finger picking,
putting them away with you
--baby, we could really put ‘em away, couldn’t we?--
and, with an arm draped around your shoulders,
I swore I would never write a song like that
(I swore I’d never write a song like this),
the troubadour up there tellin’ the story, his story;
one you’ve heard a hundred times if you’ve heard it once,
but hearin’ him you knew it true all the same
and you couldn’t help but move along,
just some unaware passenger picked up and carried off by the flash flood,
the rising waters of it, of it all, each of us dripping,
swimming in our own way,
because either you swim or you drown,
and we laughed. Sure, we knew I’d never write that song,
a song like that--like this--because I wouldn’t have to,
because you would always be here,
because we would always be together.

Hear that?
Train’s comin’ on down the line
and for the first time in my life,
I’m not sure how I feel about the sound.
A.S. Coomer is a native Kentuckian serving out a purgatorial existence somewhere in the Midwest. His work has appeared in over thirty publications. He’s got a handful of novels that need good homes. You can find him at He also runs a “record label” for poetry: He writes and plays sad folk songs to (mostly) empty bars. Listen to some home demos:

Of course, I have to post "Sunday Morning Coming Down":

Gene Clark's "Lonely Saturday" fits here, too.

His "In a Misty Morning" is also going through my head:

I'll move on to Pat Metheny and Charlie Haden's "Beyond the Missouri Sky" and "Spiritual":

Silence is a good place to end:

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Welcome to Michael Lee Johnson

This has been a long, crazy week, so I'm thrilled to be able to post Michael Lee Johnson's poetry tonight.  You may know him from his many publications or his Facebook poetry group.  Or you may be discovering him for the first time.  Enjoy!

Little Desert Flower

By Michael Lee Johnson

Out of this poem
grows a little desert flower.
it is blue sorrow
it waits for your return.
You escape so you must from me
refuge, folded, wrapped in cool spring rain leaves-
avoiding July, August heat.
South wind hellfire burns memories within you,
branded I tattoo you, leave my mark,
in rose barren fields fueled with burned and desert stubble.
Yet I wait here, a loyal believer throat raw in thirst.
I wrest thunder gods gathering ritual-prayer rain.
It is lonely here grit, tears rub my eyes without relief.
Yet I catch myself loafing away in the wind waiting fate
to whisper those tiny messages
writer of this storm welded wings,
I go unnoticed but the burned eyes of red-tailed hawk
pinch of hope, sheltered by the doves.
I tip a toast to quench your thirst,
one shot of Tequila my little, purple, desert flower.

Solo Boxing

By Michael Lee Johnson

Solo boxing, past midnight,
tugging emotions out of memories embedded,
tossing dice, reliving vices, revisiting affairs,
playing solitaire-marathon night,
hopscotch player, toss the rock,
shots of Bourbon.

Alberta Bound (V2)

By Michael Lee Johnson

I own a gate to this prairie
that ends facing the Rocky Mountains.
They call it Alberta
trail of endless blue sky
asylum of endless winters,
hermitage of indolent retracted sun.
Deep freeze drips haphazardly into spring.
Drumheller, dinosaur badlands, dried bones,
ancient hoodoos sculpt high, prairie toadstools.
Alberta highway 2 opens the gateway of endless miles.
Travel weary I stop by roadsides, ears open to whispering pines.
In harmony North to South
Gordon Lightfoot pitches out
a tone
"Alberta Bound."
With independence in my veins,
I am long way from my home.

Hazy Arizona Sky (V4)

By Michael Lee Johnson

Sonoran Desert,
sleep, baby talk, dust covering my eyelids.
No need for covers, blankets,
sunscreen, sand is my pillow.
morning fireball
hurls into Arizona sky,
survival shifts gears,
momentum becomes a racecar driver
baking down on cracked,
crusted earth-
makes Prickly Pear cactus
open to visitors just a mirage,
cactus naked spit and slice
rubbery skull, glut open
dreams, flood dry.
Western cowboy wishes, whistles, and movies
valley one cup of cool, clear, fool's desert gold
dust refreshing poison of the valley.
Bring desert sunflowers, sand dunes, bandanas,
leave your cell phone at home.

Lion in my Heart (V2)

By Michael Lee Johnson

There is a heart embedded inside this male lion, I swear.
I eat leaves and underbrush, foliage of the forest, I belch.
Then I fall in love with birds, strangers and wild women.
Tears fall into the lush forest green below,
like Chinese crystal glass beads, shatter.
Then I realize it’s not the jungle, but I that am alone.
In the morning when the bed squeaks, both alarm clocks erupt,
I realize I’m alone in my jungle.
I hear the calls of the wild-
the streetcars, and the metro trains,
wake me in my sleep in my jungle alone,
let me belch in my belly with my Tums,
let me dream in my aloneness I swell.
There is a heart embedded inside this male lion,
I swear jungle man, lion lover, and city dweller.

Michael Lee Johnson lived ten years in Canada during the Vietnam era. He is a Canadian and USA citizen. Today he is a poet, editor, publisher, freelance writer, amateur photographer, small business owner in Itasca, Illinois.  He has been published in more than 915 small press magazines in 27 countries, and he edits 10 poetry sites.  Author's website  Michael is the author of The Lost American:  From Exile to Freedom (136 page book) ISBN:  978-0-595-46091-5, several chapbooks of poetry, including From Which Place the Morning Rises and Challenge of Night and Day, and Chicago Poems.  He also has over 103 poetry videos on YouTube as of 2015:  Michael Lee Johnson, Itasca, IL. nominated for 2 Pushcart Prize awards for poetry 2015 & Best of the Net 2016.  Visit his Facebook Poetry Group and join  He is also the editor/publisher of anthology, Moonlight Dreamers of Yellow Haze:

I have to post Van Morrison's "Listen to the Lion" here:

I haven't posted much Wayne Shorter here, so here is his "Night Dreamer":

Here is his "Mahjong":

Shorter has played with Joni Mitchell:

Shorter is also known for his work in Weather Report:

More recently, he has played with Danilo Perez: