Thursday, July 29, 2010

Ode to Paul Carroll

The first writer I ever met was Paul Carroll. He was a poet, literary critic, and editor involved with and publishing the beats. He knew the poets and writers I loved: Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, and William Burroughs.


I was a kid, 18 or 19, a sophomore at the University of Illinois in Chicago, taking English courses and dreaming about writing. I had discovered Kerouac the year before when I bought a copy of his The Subterraneans in a second-hand store, and I couldn't get enough of his spontaneous bop prosody. When a friend told me that the university offered courses in poetry writing, I couldn't believe it. I had never heard of such a thing. Courses in creative writing!

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I signed up immediately and ran into Paul Carroll. He was a knock out. A writer who loved poetry in the way that I imagined Shakespeare and Keats and Whitman and Yeats and Eliot and Ginsberg and Kerouac loved poetry.

I ended up taking three courses from him, and they probably shaped my writing more than anything else I learned as an undergrad or grad student.

I never saw Paul Carroll after I graduated from the U of I in Chicago, but the lessons he taught me about writing and what it means to be a writer stayed with me.

A couple of years ago, I read an article by Paul Hoover about Paul Carroll's death. It was a sad piece about his last days, his problems with drinking, his personal problems, and his writing problems. It made me want to write something that would recapture what Carroll meant to me and to a generation of young writers in Chicago in the late 60s. The poem I wrote is called "Ode to Paul Carroll."

Ode to Paul Carroll

(dead these many years but still singing in Heaven
with the Irish angels and the Chinese saints
who drowned in their love of poetry)

Remember me, Paul?

I wrote those weird poems that bad summer of '69

about Jesus burning
the prostitutes up
with His exploding eyes

and about being a mind
blistered astronaut
with nothing to say
to the sun except,
Honey, I'm yours


You were the first poet
I knew

the one who told me
to believe all poets
are brothers and sisters
and poetry is all the poems ever written
and that if you're lucky enough
to still be writing poems
when you're fifty
then you'd know the true grace of poetry

Do you remember that guy
in the red plush beefeater's hat?

He said in class the revolution
would send old farts like you
to the camps with the other assholes proud of their money
and their dick pink ties
and all you said to him was

"Maybe you won't be able to get it up tonight
because you're tired or drunk-but
someday there will be weeks and weeks
when your penis
will just stay a penis
and then,
there you'll be"

We were young and nobody
knew what you were talking about, running
riddles past us like some
Irish Li Po from the back of the yards

I still don't get your Ode to Nijinsky, its blank staring page

And what's behind it?

The lesson that poetry and art
Disappear/vanish before
we can see their dance?

But surely that's not the lesson
you wanted to teach us

You always had faith in poetry and poets,
called them your pals, even the dead ones
like Wordsworth and Milton
Dickinson and Yeats,
pals sharing a ragged pencil nub and sneaking smokes
between visions of angels
and teacups and Picasso
bald and 80 among the true Chinese poets

Our brothers and our sisters

You'd tell us stories about poets drowning
in their love of poetry
and you'd lick your lips
And say, Yes, Yes, and Yes
As if some great meal
Had just been served

When you died I read in the Chicago papers
that your last days
weren't so lucky
your wife gone, you
drinking too much and searching for James Wright
in the yuppie bars around Division and Clark

When I read that I thought maybe
you were wrong
about how Yeats's Chinese grace
could keep a man alive
and a drunk sober

But reading your
last poems again last night
I saw you were right

So I went to the library and stole
a copy of Odes, your first poems

and read your Nijinsky poem again


Carroll's books are apparently out of print, but they are available at Amazon. I especially recommend his book Odes and Poem in its Skin.

There's not much about Carroll on the internet. I haven't been able to find any of his poems there, but there is a good short piece about him at the University of Chicago site. Also, there's a youtube posted by Bob Boldt of Carroll talking about poetry.

By the way, I got the opening photo of Carroll at the University of Chicago site. The other guy in the picture is Allen Ginsberg.

The second photo? That's me.

Friday, July 23, 2010

How You Doing?

It's a question that I've been hearing a lot from my friends, so I thought I'd write about it here.

My health? -- it's good.

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I'm coming along as I'm supposed to according to all the current tests. My post-op stress test showed that there were no loose wires in my chest and nothing was bleeding, and my recent cholesterol test was excellent. My numbers, generally very good, were even better, due in part, I'm sure, to the medicine I'm taking and the fact that I'm eating two handfuls of almonds a day (you be sure to eat yours too!). My twice daily blood glucose tests also are generally good, coming in at about 110. (They should be a little better of course--around 90. I think the docs are telling me I have type 2 diabetes.)

And I'm getting around pretty well. I finished up my 8 weeks of cardiac rehab without much trouble. In fact, I was doing less rehab (aerobic exercise and weight training) on the days when I had to attend cardiac rehab than on the days when I just stayed home and exercised on my own. I do aerobic nordic tracking for about 50 minutes a day, and I lift weights and stretch for 30 minutes/day. This is about where I was before my troubles started.

But being a post-open heart surgery patient is in a lot of ways a real drag.

Even though I feel good most of the time (just a few aches when I'm lying down or sleeping or stretching), there are so many things I can't do.

--I can't go out and walk around when it's over 80 degrees (and it's been in the high 90s for the last two months).
--I can't lift my granddaughter because she weighs over 25 pounds.
--I can't mow the lawn (hmm, that's really not so bad).
--I can't drink more than a glass of wine a night.
--I can't drink carbonated drinks (soda and beer).
--I can't drink anything caffeinated (trust me, it's hard to write when I'm not drinking coffee).
--I can't eat my favorite sourdough pretzels, and in general I have to watch everything I eat: the carbs, the sugars, the salts.

Some of these restrictions will probably fall away after my next stress test (August 10), but some I'm afraid are going to follow me around for a long time to come.

But there is good news too.

--My cardiologist said I can fly to Las Vegas.
--We're going tomorrow--July 24.
--There are no restrictions on my gambling.

I'll let you know how that goes.


If you want to read about my Heart Attack Cruise again, it's still here.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Shchav Soup: Recipe for a Hot Day

Back in the old days before anybody had air-conditioning, my mother, a Polish woman from the old country, felt that the surest cure for hot weather was szczawiowa zupa, shchav, swiss chard soup.

She’d get up early on a day that promised to be in the high 90s, and she’d fix schav. It wouldn’t take long and it didn’t require a lot of cooking, so it didn’t heat up our apartment. When she had it prepared, she’d stick it into the refrigerator to cool off. In the evening, she’d serve it for dinner when it was in the 90s both outside and inside.

Believe me, it always took the temperature down 10 degrees.

Here's my recipe :

1 teaspoon vegetable oil
2 onions, chopped
12 cups stock (I use veggie broth but you can use chicken)
1 pound fresh swiss chard, stems included, finely chopped
salt and freshly ground black pepper

Heat the oil in your soup pot over medium-high heat and sauté the onions for about 10 minutes. Add the stock and bring to a simmer. Add the swiss chard and season with salt and pepper. simmer until the sorrel is olive green in color, about 10 minutes. If you can’t get swiss chard, you can use the same amount of spinach, but make sure you add a ¼ of lemon juice to give the soup its signature tartness.

Smacznego—good eating.

PS--I've received several notes from readers saying that this soup should be made with sorrel rather than swiss chard. This is in fact true, but unfortunately when I was a child growing up in a refugee neighborhood in Chicago, we didn't have a grocer near who sold sorrel. My mother substituted swiss chard--after complaining how there were things that one could so easily find in Poland that she couldn't find anywhere in America.

Addendum to PS:

I received the following from poet Oriana Ivy regarding shchav:

Yes, it's made with wild sorrel picked at streamside. A rather sour soup -- I didn't like it all that much, but I'm sure it's full of fab nutrients. However, in the recipe I don't understand the omission of a hardboiled egg, cut in half. That half of an egg per large soup plate seemed like a kind of eye staring at me out of all that intense green. It's essential to the shchav experience. The egg complements the taste and the nutrients (the soup is fabulous for eye health).


If you want to read about another of my mother's Polish soups, please take a look at my blog "Simple Polish Soup."

The picture of the shchav is from the blog Fresh Approach Cooking.

Saturday, July 03, 2010

"Subterranean Homesick Blues" Covers

I was talking with my neighbor Cecil yesterday, and he said that he thought the best cover ever of Subterranean Homesick Blues was done by Alanis Morissette. I'm not sure about that. I think maybe Rickie Lee Jones's cover is better. Especially with the photos and film clips of the Village in the 60s.

What do you think?

I tried to get a video of Dylan singing the song but I could only find one of him with a Wii ad in front of it. I guess he really sold his soul to the devil like he said he did.

Here's the link to that version. Just click here.