Sunday, May 19, 2013

Poetry by Request from a Boulder Street Poet

While visiting with family in Colorado, a bunch of us went up to Boulder for the afternoon, and wandered up and down the delightful pedestrian-only main street, replete with bars and cafes, bookstores and interesting shops, and a street musician or performer of some kind every 100 feet or so. 

I stopped by a tall, thin young man who sat stooped over a rather old portable typewriter, with a sign declaring he would write a poem upon request. He asked me a few questions about what I had in mind; I said things like: autumn, birch trees, or aspen trees, with all those bright golden leaves falling on the bare ground, a grove quiet and eternal, as if you were the first person to walk there in a few hundred years. And this is what he wrote, and I've tried to duplicate his line breaks and spacing:

 and aspen and birch grove in autumn

       yellowed leaves
    fall like
       ashes scattered
    to the ground

       by an old preacher
    humbled and
       sweetened by his
    years of

       no longer holding
    on to his
       robes to justify

       doing an ancient
    job with
       wrinkled hands
    and ageless

       ready to fall
       regret into
    the roots 
         of next year's

--allan andre     boulder, co    5/18/13

Monday, May 13, 2013

Frances and Bernard: A 20th Century Epistolary Novel

Frances and BernardFrances and Bernard by Carlene Bauer

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I finished Frances and Bernard last night, staying up past midnight to read it. Although not fond of epistolary novels, Bauer is such a great writer that the letters just flew by and were a delight to read. I should also say, there was much to slow down for and savor. I have always loved the stories of Flannery O'Connor (the model for Frances) but have never read any Robert Lowell ("Bernard") poetry (I will now). This short book was a wonderful journey into the minds of two exquisitely intelligent people. Bauer captured great depth and nuance in the correspondence between them, and with a few select friends as well. It made me long for those halcyon days of pre-computerized communications known as written letters - I wrote many myself, and have a collection of letters from friends and family from the 1960's and early 70's. This is a stunning, memorable book, and should be read by everyone who is or intends to be a fiction writer.

The other completely fascinating element of this book is the discussion of religion, mainly being Catholic. Bernard is a recent convert from nominal Protestantism, Frances an Irish cradle-Catholic. They debate the existence and meaning of God, sin, faith, the Holy Spirit and "spirituality". Frances is adamant in her practical, unsentimental approach to the spiritual, frequently deflating Bernard's flights of religious fancy. As a Catholic myself, I found it intriguing and thought-provoking.

One amazing sentence from the book remains in my mind, written by Bernard in dire circumstances in a mental institution: "I sleep the way some people commit suicide."

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Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Woody Guthrie's Novel - Haunting and Lyrical

House of Earth

By Woody Guthrie

House of Earth by Woody Guthrie
“Life’s pretty tough—you’re lucky if you live through it.” This quote from Woody Guthrie sums up the outlook of the characters in House of Earth, Guthrie’s sole piece of major fiction in a long career of writing music and lyrics. Unlike Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath, this book is about the “stubborn dirt farmers” who stayed in the Great Plains because they loved it too much to leave.
The opening lines are hauntingly musical: “The wind of the upper flat plains sung a high lonesome song down across the blades of the dry iron grass.” It is the song and the story of Tike and Ella May Hamlin, who live in the Texas Panhandle as tenant farmers, struggling to live and living with the hope and dream of actually owning their own land someday, and with it, a house. Not just some wooden house, food for termites and easily despoiled by wind and rain, but a “house of earth”—made of adobe.

Tike and Ella May are rough, straightforward folk, and it’s easy to like them. Guthrie had an excellent ear for capturing the vernacular, rendering the phrases of a culture as well as the thoughts and feelings behind the words. Some twenty pages into the novel is one of the most sensual and astonishing descriptions of two people making love that I have ever read; it’s completely unexpected; it’s tender and crude; it’s pragmatic and yet overwhelmingly romantic. The scene is some twenty pages in length, and is worth the price of the book all by itself. But there’s more to read, more heartbreak to experience, more joy to feel, and more Woody Guthrie to listen to in the rest of the story. Very highly recommended.
This review of mine was first published at