Two Short Poems

November 29, 2009

Here are two veryshort poems that were written almost on demand using in the first case the words, axe and shovel, and in the second case, first kiss and corn.

Maxwell’s Axe

 Maxwell’s axe is not as famous as his hammer

But properly used it cuts through existential claptrap

Faster than Wittgenstein’s even less famous shovel.

First Kiss

It was about six in the evening

Six in the evening when juvenile lust is tumescent

And Anne McKilroy made her lips available

To mine,

In the back of the choir outing charabanc

She did not mind the smell of corn beef

Lingering from my lunch time sandwich

This a repost of a piece that I wrote in response to an article by art critic D.K. Row in the Oregonian in July of 2009. I expect you can find it in the newspaper archives. I framed it as a letter to which I was not expecting a reply; and indeed I did not get one.

Dear D.K. Row,

     Your very welcome and appreciated article in today’s Oregonian (July 27th 2009) sideswiped a very large issue. How America views art; of any discipline Cheaply, is the truth. As a performing artist married to another performing artist we are always being asked to “donate” our work or accept levels of payment which if you take into account the time spent preparing for the performance and any other costs, yields an hourly pay rate that makes the state minimum wage look like a Wall Street bonus.

 It is one of the awful things that creative professionals have to live with. American society values professional corporate gamblers more highly than artists of any kind. Even now despite the revelations of the past year and continued excesses in financial sector pay.

 We creative people have to endure much talk of the value of our work and how it enhances the lives of many, decorates our cities, making them more livable, attractive; how it excites the imagination of the young and provides solace for the old; and all the while be paid wages that undocumented migrant field workers would hesitate to accept.

 And I am not forgetting the enormous range in quality; whatever that word may mean; that exists in creative work. But there is an equal range of ‘quality’ in accounting, banking, medicine, the church (and how!), politics, engineering, and every profession or vocation. And yet the idea of a starving priest or doctor or pharmacist or broker seems to have disappeared with the characters in the novels and stories of Graham Greene and Somerset Maugham.

 I have  provided sales and marketing workshops for artists through RACC, the Clackamas County Arts Alliance and other groups. In every workshop I ask, “How many of you make a living from your art?” Out of the nearly one thousand individual artists I have met at these events, and events like them, less than ten said they had achieved self-sufficiency, and most added that it was precarious and uncertain.

 There will have to be a huge tectonic shift in the way Americans view art to change the way artists live. I do not have any easy answers to this, and I am not so interested in what happens in other parts of the world, although there may be examples from which we can learn. We really require an American solution. Until that miraculous time we will all remain at the anxious crossroads of which you wrote. Without belittling the noble efforts of local heroes working to find more money to sustain creative work, nothing much will change.

 It is the national consciousness, which continues to insist that artists will work for nothing or close to nothing because they love what they do. That is the erroneous assumption that must be challenged. Of course we love what we do, but like everyone else we also are human and love groceries and a roof over our head.

 Perhaps you can be a catalyst in that shift? Think globally, work locally.

 Yours sincerely,

Passion Words

November 24, 2009

This is a piece I wrote in writing workshop in 1997.  I have recited it at or around the beginning of every one of my cabaret-concert style performances in Portland, Oregon in the last two years. A show that uses the works ofJacques Brel, Tom Lehrer, Edith Piaf and Flanders & Swan to illustrate how pwerful words really are, in song. It seems to resonate with the audiences I attract. You tell me what you think..

“I love words, can’t get enough of them. I buy books just to see them arranged, possibly in a new way. I can taste words. I can use words, words are power. The right word, the right result. A bad phrase gives me agitta. The word-processor has been a gift to me. I endlessly tune my sentences, moving, exchanging, eliminating words at the touch of a key.

I will die on the day that I read a book that shows me the truth of words. Then I could have said, “words killed me”. I long for words, they are power, they live. I am addicted to words. I endlessly search for that superb conjunction of seamless phrases that asymptotes the truth. I can not stop until I find it. T he holy addictive grail of paragraphic perfection. The scribbled sacrament of sanguine sequence.

 I eat dictionaries. They litter my house. Anthologies trip me as I climb into bed. Travelogues tumble from the night-stand. Novels scare me. My hunger and thirst for words embarrasses me. I loiter in bookstores. In meetings I remain quiet and silent because I will not say what I have to say until I find the right word. I spend too much money on journals, magazines. Foreign Affairs, The Economist, Granta, The Utney Reader, The Witness, Observer, and on and on, all fuel all nourishment, all causing their own unique literary digestive consequence. As fast as I consume words, more words are produced. I must have them all. My lust knows no bounds. Seated on the toilet, lacking a book, I will read the contents of a tube of toothpaste. My fix. My love. Come to me words, lift me up, carry me away, and kill me.

To play with words, to be their intimate, their familiar, as a witch’s cat. To run and chase words across a clean sheet of vellum. To catch them in their strange habits. How one word changes the reputation of another by being set close to it. To imagine the shame of a proud noun modified by a weak adjective.

 Let me be where the words are. Have them osmose through my skin, run in my blood, crash through cerebral membranes and dance wildly in my brain throwing their meaning around without a care for my sanity. Let them gather up my sleeping lonely imagination in their limitless energy and drop kick it through far distant goal posts of comprehension for three points in a rule-less game of internal literary rugby. Let them find my conscience, scared in a corner, and beat it up with unassailable logic. Let them find me in there, running from cell to cell spouting incomplete stanzas of bad poetry and complete the verse in a nanosecond. Let them tear up and down until I begin talking in sonnets. Finally have them metabolize, degraded, decomposed and excreted as slang from a secret literary aperture that only words know.

 Let me hunt words. I hunt the words that fear me and my unique grammatical shortcomings. Let me come across them shivering at the bottom of the Thesaurus page, hoping to avoid my predatory gaze and wishing me to use another synonym. Hah! I see you, unused, unloved and clumsy word. Let me gently pry you out of your narrow definition and make you glorious when I place you as the crown of my magical sentence.… don’t struggle. I see that hidden meaning in you that I desire, and so I claim you.

 Words, words, come to me, lift me up, carry me off to a lyrical grave”.

 Copyright © 2001 Robert M. Sterry

Portland’s Newest Attraction

November 19, 2009

Another editorial about the blessings of cycling in Portland appears on the pages of the Oregonian, furthering the idea that our city can become a true friend of the two wheeler and begin to reap even greater benefits from increasing ridership.

The city is considering many schemes to make riding safer and easier. Celebrating ridership in the Bridge Pedal and other festivals of velocipedic fun also adds to the support and enthusiasm the average person feels, and makes it easier for the city to promote far reaching bicycling plans. But there is another aspect of cycling that could be added to the mix in a really positive way.

Track cycle racing has thankfully long been a part of the Portland cycling scene. During the summer months when the evenings are long and clear, and often hot, the bare legs of the sprinters, pursuit riders, madison and keirin specialists flash in the bright sunlight. The Alpenrose Velodrome in the western suburbs of Portland is the scene of these heart thumping battles. Alpenrose is one a less than half a dozen tracks in the US and is often the venue of some very high level contests.

But it is a curiously limited activity since it competes strongly with so many other summertime attractions, and the weather has to cooperate. i.e The season is relatively short. In Europe and Australia, where track racing is very popular, it takes place in the winter months. All those road men who are keen to maintain some form over the winter go on the boards. Ask any Australian, or even the great Eddy Merckx himself. But of course it is indoors. Indoors in those famous velodromes where the greats have battled since the early part of the 20th century.

Portland has over the years developed a strong and determined track following that has fostered a great sporting ethic and training ground for young cyclists. If you know how to race on the track you become a much better cyclist. Crashing on the banking is a real lesson in how to control your line and reviewing your bike control skills.

It would be so wonderful and would attract so many more aspiring riders if Portland were to have its own indoor Velodrome. If Portland is a cycling city, then it should be the first American city to further celebrate an activity that is already part of its municipal ethic.

The beneficiaries of this would be not only the sporting men and women of the track racing fraternity, but also the cycling businesses of Portland, the up and coming racing young, and of course the city itself has yet another unique attraction that it can promote. . It would be the crowning achievement of a city that is so pro-cycling to host the national, the world or even Olympic track contests. A few thousand more hotel nights and meals could not hurt our city. Travel Porltand take note.

And it is the young racers who will get most out of this new venture. At so much less than the cost of a baseball team or any other professional sport with all its overpriced tickets and hyperbolic hoopla, track cycling could become a better attraction for them. Lung bursting, leg ripping, competitive racing. An indoor velodrome with racing every winter week could become a center for sporting youth and a resurgent national track movement, not to mention a great asset to the city.

November 18, 2009

Will Sarah Palin make book burning popular again?

Yesterday was November the Fifth, Guy Fawkes night for all loyal parliamentarians. I will bet up to $10 that Guy Fawkes never had a pedicure and facial, which is what I enjoyed yesterday. In those distant days male vanity was not unknown and peacockery was clearly evident in dress styles for men. Of course the gulf between those who could afford such nonsense and the vast majority who went around in rags was immense. The gap has narrowed in the twentieth century but seems once again to be widening as the rich become fearful and seek to grasp ever more of the wealth generated by poorer and poorer workers. those who have a job that is. Just in case you are wondering the pedicure and facial was a gift from my children. Were they trying to tell me something?