Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Album Review - Best Coast - "California Nights"

Let's get this out of the way first: Bethany Cosentino isn't exactly a lyrical genius. She's not known for her ruminations on the intricate web of relationships or the hows and whys of life. It doesn't mean that you can't relate to her, though. Best Coast, if you're not familiar, is a duo: singer/songwriter/rhythm guitarist Bethany Cosentino and lead guitarist/multi-instrumentalist Bobb Bruno. They are mostly known for their debut album, "Crazy For You", which is equal parts fun and heartbreakingly sad. They've made a lot of surf pop/dream pop type of indie music over the course of two albums and an ep. They've made music that has a sameness to it, which has been one of their biggest issues with critics, but their fan base is rabid and loyal. "California Nights" is a game changer. Why? It busts out big riffs from Bruno and branches out somewhat lyrically. On a sonic level, the landscape is very different. They swung for the fences and, for the most part, they've connected. The title track, with its reverb soaked guitars and vocals and shoegaze keyboard elements will be a shock to long time fans, but it's the best song on the album. Best Coast has made plenty of odes to The Golden State (their name basically tells you where they stand on the coast wars), but this is the only one on the album...but not really. "California nights make me feel so happy, I could die. But I try to stay alive, " shows a little conflict in Cosentino's feelings towards the state she loves so much. Then she follows a little later with "I take the way I've known, but have I really grown?" It's that little glint that she's done with the more petty and wistful, teen-like past of previous songs. She's 28 now, and while she's still writing about love, jealousy and ambivalence, she's also writing about insomnia, going off her meds and conflict. Like I said, Cosentino doesn't use big words or get too clever. She's straightforward lyrically and it's doubtful that this will change any time soon, but give the woman credit for taking a big leap forward and finding a vision for her band. Best Coast could have stayed muddled in surf pop forever, pining over the same guy over and over again for album after album, but they've gotten more ambitious musically and decided to not be afraid for sounding loud and crunching some guitars. Bruno's solos have really grown and are a nice surprise here. Think 90's alt-rock like Belly, or even "Eight Arms To Hold You"-era Veruca Salt. "Heaven Sent" could have come straight out of the 90's. They aren't revolutionizing anything here, but the gloss of Wally Babel's production lends to a highly satisfying musical experience and Cosentino and Bruno still know how to make you feel good. It's a driving on the highway in a convertible with the top down with your arms pointed towards the sky wearing a pair of dark lensed sunglasses with a white frame kind of album. Don't think about it too much. Just listen and love it. 


Saturday, March 21, 2015

World Poetry Day

So I found out tonight that today was World Poetry Day. I had no idea, which is pretty strange for someone whose life basically revolves around poetry (and music and a few sports that I'm a fanatic about). Many have been sharing different poems or pointing people to relevant poets or events happening today. I've decided to highlight a poem from my favorite modern poet, Sierra DeMulder, who I had the honor of hearing live for the first time this week. Sierra is a fantastic poet and a kind and encouraging person. She can captivate a room within minutes. Trust me, I witnessed this. This poem is in her first book, The Bones Below, which is outstanding. As we witness the violence in the media that has been going on in schools across the country, imagine it from this perspective and you will see how very much kids are being let down by other kids, by adults, by their own parents. If you can, find this poem on YouTube. Sierra's performance of it is just...I'm not sure I have the words.

Static by Sierra DeMulder

Somehow, there is silence
People are running, their mute eyes panicking like deer, 
who have never seen the oncoming glare of judgment.
A single red flower blooms in the center of her shirt. 
She finally looks at you.

Rewind 1 week:
She sits in front of you in science and she smells like ice cream.
You wonder if she even knows your name -
Wonder if she would ever notice your thimble of existence. 
To them you are nothing but the skinned knees of the student body.
But they will read about you. 
(the ones who are lucky, who will see death and not meet it) 
how you walked like a god, 
unnoticed among them, 
planned a revolution for your fingers to pluck pulses like arrows from bows.

Rewind 1 week: A sharpie in the boys bathroom speaks hollow point prophesies.
It goes unnoticed. You go unnoticed in the hallways, stepped over like broken glass.
You count how many people make eye contact and don’t make it to your second hand.

Rewind 1 week: The whole world is sleeping.
You are wrapped in a straightjacket of alarm clocks and 
school bells; The only one conscious in a city built of zombies.

Rewind 1 week:
The guidance counselor asks if there is trouble at home,
"You never speak in class, you eat lunch alone" but how 
can he possibly relate to this Armageddon in your head, 
to the static collecting between your knuckles,
You stare at the picture of his perfect framed family,
imagine each of them crying. You tell him, and his photograph to go to hell.

Fast-forward four weeks:
This is hell.
3 bodies down,
6, 7.

Rewind 8 days: You wonder if heaven exists,
Or if it’s just a Santa Claus lie to make you sleep at night and be nice to others.

Fast-forward 7 days: She catches you staring.
Calls you a freak. You forget what it’s like to feel anything but fire.
The hallways laugh. The lockers punch back.

Fast-forward 1 day: You drag the weapon from your belt.
The hallways stop laughing. Their wax smiles start melting.
The sound of gunshots does not scare you, the satisfaction does.
You count shells in your head, fallen bodies out loud. 
This is their alarm clock. 
This is natural selection.
This is survival.

You rewind. The trigger pushes your finger forward.
The bullet comes spiraling back into the mouth of its barrel.
A single red flower wilts in the center of her shirt.

She finally looks at you.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Virtual Blog Tour

This is a day later than it should have been, but unforeseen circumstances kept that from happening. Anyway, I was invited to join a "virtual blog tour" by my poet friend Bruce Niedt. Here's how it works: a fellow poet or artist invites you to participate, then you acknowledge them on your blog, answer four questions about your creative process, and refer your readers to three other poets or creative artists and their blogs. Those artists, in turn, do the same and each one refers their readers to three others, etc. It's a great way to get traffic to your blog and also introduce others to creative folks you think are worthy of attention. I've known Bruce for many years and currently, he is a member of the Quick and Dirty Poets, the Burlington County, NJ poetry group that I co-founded with Rachel Bunting, Andrea Jazwiecki and Anna Evans back in 2003 in Rachel's kitchen. Bruce is an extremely diverse poet who challenges himself all the time. In fact, every crazy, ambitious mashup of styles he tries is quite often a keeper. So here's a little more about Bruce:

Bruce W. Niedt is a "beneficent bureaucrat" from southern NJ whose poetry has appeared in numerous print and online journals, including Writers Digest, Writers Journal, The Lyric, Lucid Rhythms, US 1 Worksheets, Spitball, Chantarelle's Notebook, and Edison Literary Review. His awards include the ByLine Short Fiction and Poetry Prize, first prize for poetry at the Philadelphia Writers Conference, and two nominations each for the Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net. He has workshopped with Jane Hirshfield, Marge Piercy, Molly Peacock, and Stephen Dunn, and is looking forward to working with Billy Collins in January 2015. His latest chapbook is Twenty-four by Fourteen, a collection of sonnets and other short poems, published by Maverick Duck Press. His blog is http://bniedt.blogspot.com/

Ok then, now here are the questions I'm supposed to answer:

1. What am I currently working on?

I am slowly putting together a full length manuscript that I hope to send around either this year or next year. I am also contemplating a 16th chapbook of poems. More than likely, it will be another themed effort. I've also decided to slowly work my way back into writing fiction, which is something I haven't done in roughly twenty years. 

2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I don't think my work is particularly unique, and I'm notoriously critical of my own work, and myself, for that matter. I think what makes me a bit different is that I like to be pushed outside of my comfort zone. I like being challenged. (However, formal metrical poetry is not my bag...baby.) As for content, it's not terrible unique, either. I write about dark things, dark places, strained relationships, lost people...and then sometimes, I soften up a bit. I generally stick with free verse, but I have written some non-rhyming, formal poetry. I don't think my work fits in with the MFA crowd or any particular traditional style. I write to connect and most of the time, I think I manage to do that.

3. Why do I write/create what I do?

The short answer is that I write because I must. I write because if I don't, I'd probably lose my mind. There's a sense of catharsis in doing what I do. I've known for a very long time that I'm a writer, that I'm a creative person. I was writing at 9. I acted in school plays in grade school. I had vocal training. The writing, however, is what I've always come back to...the one thing that express what I could never say. I don't think I could ever stop writing. There isn't a job I've had in the past that has defined me more than my writing. The other reason is the hope that anything I write makes a personal connection with someone who reads it. 

4. How does my writing/creating process work?

I guess you can say that my muse shows up when she feels like showing up. I never like to force myself to write. It's just a recipe for disaster. I've gone through some wicked dry spells, but I always manage to claw my way out...and the catalyst is almost always a challenge of some sort, like National Poetry Month's Poem-A-Day Challenge. This year, I wrote 67 poems. I try not to limit where the ideas come from. They could come from a tv show or a movie. They could be inspired by a song, a news headline, someone I know or want to know...anywhere, really. I don't have a special mug or anything like that. However, I definitely prefer to write in silence and usually alone. I don't like letting anyone see anything I'm in the middle of writing. 

Finally, here are the three poets I chose to do the tour. Taylor Emily Copeland is a poet and editor I've known for several years and respect a lot. I really like her confessional style, as it's easily relatable and often quite powerful. I've known Amber Decker on a professional level for many years, but recently have gotten to know her personally, as well. Amber is one of my favorite poets. Her style is raw, honest and heartbreaking. Shannon McKeehen is a newer poet friend who I got to know through my friend Kayla Williams. I've published her at Chantarelle's Notebook and have featured her there, as well. Much like Amber, there's a lovely honesty in Shannon's work, but a softness, as well. I always enjoy reading her. 

Taylor Emily Copeland is a poet from Eastern Pennsylvania. Her poems have appeared in Hobo Camp Review, Thick With Conviction, Chantarelle's Notebook, Drown In My Own Fears, The Active Voice and others. In 2010, she was nominated twice for Best of the Net and also was nominated for Best of the Web. She loves the band Paramore, reads obsessively, likes pink things, drinks too much coffee, drives aimlessly and falls in love too easily. She is unashamed of all of it. Her blog is http://taylorcopeland.blogspot.com/

Shannon Ranee McKeehen is a poet, nerd, teacher, and trouble-maker from Ohio. She received her MFA from Mills College in Oakland, California in 2010, and her chapbook, Barbra in Shadow, was available the following year. Barbra is a feminist re-imagining of the femme fatale from 1940's film noir. Currently, Ms. McKeehen is working on her doctorate in Rhetoric and Composition at Kent State University. She continues to write poetry while juggling academics. You can find out more by visiting her website and blog at www.shannonmckeehen.com.

Amber Decker is a poet from West Virginia who has been published extensively in both print and online venues. She is a lover of horses, hooded sweatshirts, dark chocolate, fantasy novels, werewolf movies and red wine. She also spends a ridiculous amount of time at the gym working on her anger management issues. Her latest collection of poems, The Girl Who Left You, is forthcoming from Six Ft Swells Press. Amber's blog is http://roughverse.wordpress.com/

Monday, April 7, 2014

Against my better judgment...

I'm posting something I wrote here today. So far today, I've written three. One is a cento, and as much as it takes creativity to make a cento, I almost feel like it's sort of a cheat. So, two self portrait poems (including said cento) and this one, a love poem to an inanimate object. In this case, it's my laptop.

HP G62 is a silly name. Can I call you Noelle?

I actually really fucking hate you
and most of the time, I want to
punch you straight in the face,
but then I'd have to have you
repaired or replace you, and the
truth is, I'm very sentimental.

When you're doing what I ask of you,
you're as quick and thorough as a fox
darting through the brush at Island
Beach State Park. I've worn the "A"
off your keyboard, but you don't seem
too worried about it. I tried to feed
you more brain power, but it wasn't
the right stuff and you rejected it.
It's ok. I'm used to being rejected
by the ones I love the most.

The truth is, I want to hate you.
I want to throw you when that blue
screen of death interrupts me in the
middle of a poem, or updating my website,
or listening to music on Spotify.
I want to slam you on the desk and scream,
"Why are you doing this to me?!",
but it's only because I treat you so well.
I just want some appreciation once in a while.
A simple "thank you" or "good night" when I
put you to rest at night will suffice.

I know you see me through your webcam.
I might not be the perfect guy for you
and I suspect you'd be a blonde girl, as most
blondes thumb their noses at me, but sleep
mode tonight knowing that, in all honestly,
I cannot live without you.


Tuesday, April 1, 2014

What we've got is a "blue light special" on truth...

So much for following through on posting here more often. No worries. I will motivate myself to do so...even if I have to bash my head into a wall to remind myself. Believe me, there's much to be said, to be covered. 

I've decided not to post my daily poems here this year. I could change my mind and post a few here and there, but I'd rather keep most of them to myself. I am posting one a day at Robert Brewer's blog. He has guest judges for each day of the month and they will pick a "poem of the day" for each day. It's a different kind of structure this year, which is kind of cool, though I have no expectation of being chosen at all, especially after seeing the names of some of the people posting there. I saw work from Shaindel Beers, Aleathia Drehmer, Taylor Mali and a few other heavy hitters, as well as some lesser-knowns who are pretty killer. We'll see how this goes. The writing, at the very least, will continue. I have three for today. I want to top the 66 I wrote last year.

I also have a lot of poetry from others to cover. I am starting to make good on decreasing the pile of books on my bookcase. (No, there's no more room on this bookcase, so piles are forming in front of books.) I've been reading Sierra DeMulder (my new favorite, by far), Heather McNaugher and some others. I have books to read by Kat Dixon and some coming in the mail from Kristy Bowen. I am immersed in poetry, which is never a bad thing.

I'm also quite excited by the plethora of new releases coming in music. Several bands I love are releasing new music. Some are bands that have reformed with their original lineups (Information Society (!!), Veruca Salt (!!!), Nickel Creek (!!!!)) and others, like the brilliant San Diego band ILYA, who haven't released anything in nine years. There's more I'm undoubtedly forgetting...but rest assured, I will be in aural delight this year. 

Now, if only I can find a job worthy of my time, effort and brain power...

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Promoting mediocrity...

So, when do we get tired of meeting the so-called standards of public outrage? It seems that Jerry Seinfeld is getting a little shit about a statement he made in regards to comedy. Let's review said statement:

“People think it’s the census or something,” Seinfeld said during a BuzzFeed Brews with CBS This Morning interview. “This has gotta represent the actual pie chart of America? Who cares? It's just funny. Funny is the world that I live in. You’re funny, I’m interested. You’re not funny, I’m not interested. I have no interest in gender or race or anything like that.”  

First of all, I'm not someone who would be quick to defend Jerry Seinfeld. It's not because I don't like the guy, I'm just not enamored by his brand of comedy. IE: I don't find him to be funny. Different strokes and all. Second, why do people need to twist this into, "Oh, Jerry hates women and people of other ethnicities"? It's not what he's saying at all. Then, you have your other detractors who say, "He hasn't been relevant in years." Oh...so what have you done lately? Build a house for the homeless? Volunteer at a shelter? Record a critically lauded album? Won a Pulitzer? Fuck off, people...seriously. I think that Seinfeld's mindset here IS forward thinking.

I don't believe in rewarding ANYONE due to their background. I'm of the old school thinking that the best qualified person should get the job, no matter what race or gender they are. I think that the NFL's Rooney Rule is asinine. We keep implementing things into society that politicians and lawmakers think are good for society when really, we're just dividing people even more. Political correctness is horrible and I can't stand it. We all spend so much time arguing over stupid shit that we never sit down and figure out how to get along with one another. For all the progress we've made over the decades, we always find a way to slip back. We're supposed to be more evolved. It's time to cash that check that our ass is writing...pony up, before it's too late.

Friday, January 31, 2014

The only way to evoke change...

I have resolved to make a concerned effort to get back to blogging regularly. By regularly, I mean at least five times a week. It's easy to get sucked into social media, get distracted by the glow of television...by sympathetic pleas. What am I talking about? Hmm...

Let's talk about a poet. This poet is a repeat offender of abuse towards women he's been in relationships with. Here's one account of abuse from poet Kia Groom. She's not the only one. Not all have come forward, but another, my poet friend Kat Dixon has also been vocal in her experiences with Greg Sherl and about the abuse she suffered. You don't need me to explain what happened. These two women do a good job of it. 

Now here's the kicker to this story: Greg Sherl has an online fundraiser going to help him overcome his "OCD". Granted, he might actually have OCD. He might suffer from a lot of the things that my neighbor suffers from. Here's the thing: my neighbor doesn't use his illness as a reason to beat the shit out of his wife. You don't beat someone for not being able to get the stain out of a shirt.

I don't care about his poetic celebrity. I don't care about whether or not he's any good. A piece of crap like this doesn't need to be rewarded by anyone, and his little fundraiser is the equivalent of that. I do know that Gregory Sherl has been gaining more popularity in the poetry world. It seems that popularity can excuse certain things in society, whether you're a poet, musician, actor, etc. Naturally, I call bullshit. People like this need to be held accountable for their actions, not coddled. 

On top of all of this, Sherl is involved in writing for an online project called The Good Men Project. There are, in fact, some good men writing there. One of which is Ryan Bradley, a poet, friend and the cover artist for Maverick Duck Press. I certainly wouldn't want to take away from the core of what the website is trying to promote, but allowing Sherl's articles to remain on their site is entirely detrimental to the spirit of what they're trying to promote. In that sense, I can't in good conscious, promote or support anything they advertise until they've booted Sherl from their site permanently. 

You can ultimately decide for yourself. Read Kia and Kat's statements. They won't be the only ones you'll find about Greg Sherl abusing women. The writing community, the poetry community, needs to take a stand and say, "We will not condone the actions of an abuser." Gregory Sherl needs to be held accountable for his actions.