Thank Your Teachers: A Tribute to Dave Fish

It was my freshman year of college when I met Dave. He was in the graduate program at hippy haven SUNY New Paltz teaching Freshman Comp 101.  I landed in his class by mere fate or maybe some sort of secret lottery system I’m not sure of, but either way I was there.

Dave was going to show us what the Beat Generation meant to the world of literature and I was eager and ready having known for years who Allen Ginsberg was, his sad bearded face adorned a Rolling Stone that showed up some years before after his death on my parent’s coffee table. I read the article and was amazed that one man could do so much with poetry.

The novel that was assigned to us that class was Jack Kerouac’s masterpiece On the Road. I had no idea what was about to happen to me. I knew that I had been assigned many books to read in English classes, most of which were either good enough to finish or important enough to get through. My favorites up until that point were Of Mice and Men and Grapes of Wrath. I thought I was just a huge Steinbeck fan, little did I know how little I knew.

I read On the Road in one day. My eyes couldn’t stop darting around the pages and I needed more. I couldn’t wait to get to class every day to see what everyone else thought, to see what Dave had to say, to see what the narratives that were extracted smelled and felt like. I was, in part, obsessed, because I learned, Kerouac was more than just a writer, he was a rule breaker, a punk rocker, the beginning of the “hippy” movement and possibly the end and beginning of something bigger generationally in America.

Being immersed in the heart of the dragon every day, surrounded by neo hippy socialites and pot smoking sandal wearing patchouli addicts made me see why Jack drank himself to stupidity and eventually death. By the time the class had ended I not only had read other books by Jack, but a biography as well. I knew Jack like I knew myself, in and out, and was seriously pained to see how misconstrued his messages had become, the consumerism of it all, the lost art of jazz, true prose exploding like roman candles across the sky.

But Dave, he understood. He knew what Jack meant! He was explaining it daily and in terms I had never thought of. “Mississippi Gene is Buddha!” Dave yelled and my pen hit the paper to make a note. My brain was melting. “You don’t need to write this down”, I thought. “Jesus! This is life shit!”

Standing in the Shawangunk Mountains late one afternoon, the sun starting to disappear behind the peaks, the chilly air starting to casually stroll in, my stomach reminding me to go back to campus and hit the dining hall, and I realized what it was I wanted to do. Of course, I always knew it, but I needed this moment for it to become concrete.

I wrote my first book when I was in first grade. I was on the news. It was a Christmas book, but more Stephen King and Tim Burton than your typical Christmas story. Although I had no idea what macabre was I was certainly already dabbling in it.

In the book, Santa had been impersonated by the Devil, who went around killing children, then made toys from their bones and gave the toys as presents to other children.

It’s fucked, I know.

And the worst part is, they don’t catch the devil in the end. The lead detective, a woman named Kristy, is unable to solve the crime. The ending was either intentionally left open for a sequel or more importantly, was a precursor to the way I saw all literature, further backed and corroborated by the Beat Generation more than a decade later.

Even at an early age I always wondered why there had to be a well-defined good guy and bad guy in every story. Real life never works this way. Sometimes you’re the good guy and sometimes you’re the bad guy.

Sometimes you learn a bunch of stuff and change your ways and sometimes you learn a bunch of stuff and don’t change a damn thing. If life is never so cut and dry why should literature be?

Art imitates life. I have always considered writing an art before it is entertainment. Good art makes for good entertainment, but good entertainment isn’t necessarily art.

In New Paltz, under the distinct tutelage of Dave fish, I was shown that other people thought this way and I wasn’t alone. My thoughts were suddenly vindicated, it was a relief and a burden all at once. I couldn’t give up and I wouldn’t.

In order to break the rules I had to first learn them and I did, imitating Kerouac, Ginsberg, Brautigan, Baraka, Corso, Snyder, and others. I spent so much time writing that I forgot to go to math class, business class, science class, and pretty much every other class. I helped start a poetry group and an on campus magazine that centered on poetry as art. I eventually dropped out of school completely and moved to the city of Syracuse to become the next Jack Kerouac.

I became a waiter instead.

I did go back and eventually graduate college with a degree in writing and since have pressed forward as the struggling writer that I have always wanted to be. But you can’t live out your dreams without a lot of people standing behind you encouraging you and aiding you along the way.

You never know where your inspiration can come from as a writer or as any individual ready to move forward and progress. What I may not have understood at the time but certainly do now is that my progress had to embrace the complete weirdness that I know resides inside me. But it’s hard to let that out.

You’re growing a second head that if you let it out people are going to look at you differently. I needed someone to tell me that it was acceptable and that others had done it before, to cultivate the plant of weirdness that has already rooted in the soul was actually a good thing. Let them think you’re weird, because, well, you are. Weird is unique. Unique is art. Art is entertainment.

The reason I’m a weird writer isn’t Dave’s fault. That burden probably falls on my parents. But the enrichment of my weirdness that led me to become a writer?

That one’s on you, Dave.

Real Life Romeo and Juliet

Years ago, around the same time that Anna Nicole Smith passed away, there was an incredible finding not too far from where Romeo and Juliet takes place in the famous Shakespeare play. It didn’t receive much media attention but I thought it was the most fantastic story I had ever heard.

It should serve as a beacon for the love we have for our wife, husband, children, mother, father, brothers, sisters, and family. But instead it was buried among the rubbish of American TV.

Here’s the story according to Time Magazine.

I’m putting together a chapbook of poetry for future publication and was going through some poetry I had written and found this.

So, Happy Valentine’s Day, I guess.

 

Six Thousand Year Old Love

 Six thousand year old love, four thousand four hundred and one years previous to Romeo and Juliet, and twenty-five miles south.  Mantua has become the new Verona.  What would England’s finest and most famous writer think now?

What would he say?

Absent of literary geniuses that Monday, Menotti was the only one there, pawing daintily through rich soil.  She did her best to illuminate love doomed to death, uncovering from raw brown earth, these lovers of Mantua.

Three days later Anna died.

She passed over through orgies of demons to join Romeo and Juliet, Billy, her son, and

American Tragedy.

Six thousand year old news is surely not news. Just ask CNN and MSNBC.  The story of love buried under tabloids and tabloids of stone, dirt, and volcanic dust is not new.

It is ancient.

They are the new, ancient, star-crossed lovers, and not Lindsay Lohan.  They are not Anna.  So they are not news.  They are Shakespeare’s fleshless reincarnations of tragedy,

the world’s oldest and greatest love story.  But old lovers are old news.  Besides, what would America want with a six thousand year old love?  That is not news.  And it is not American Tragedy.

So this beatific Neolithic love will be dug, shipped, and encased.  And new star-crossed lovers of Verona, will drive down

the Autostrada del Brennero,

past Dossobuono,

through Alpo,

past Isolalta, Salette, and Ghisiolo,

and take the Legnago to Mantua.

They’ll go into a sterile museum, and marvel at the longest love in recorded history, emulating the bony proof that love is eternal.

Some will mourn Anna.  Some will buy chocolate flavored roses with white gold and diamond stems for Valentine’s Day.  And some will forget love exists, as chocolates turns to fat, roses wither and die, and diamonds turn to blood.

That is American Tragedy;

The Real American Tragedy.

 

Anthony N. White is a writer currently living in Rochester, NY.

He can be heckled on Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat @Ruthieshusband

Or on Facebook, of course.

Old Man Woods

I found some old poems a few days ago in a folder I haven’t opened in years. Admittedly some of it was pretty cruddy, mostly just the frantic scrawls of a young man enamored with Jack Kerouac. But one poem grabbed my attention in particular and I remembered that it had been published, although now I can’t remember where. It’s a poem about an old man I used to bring soup to as a boy. He had a wonderful house on Lake Ontario and a little puppy and I could fish there off his docks and catch great big perch and rock bass. My grandmother owned a restaurant about a mile away in Henderson Harbor and she and my mother would ask me to deliver some soup for him on occasion. I grew fond of him as he seemed like a lonely dote.

He was a quiet, white haired old man that could reach petulant peaks in an instant and remain unfettered for a time after, a time that I usually retired to the front yard with the puppy to play a while or walk down to the shore into the eerie old boathouse and look around, hoping to find a lost archaic treasure.

I have no clue what happened to him, how long ago he died, or if he moved long before that. But sometime in college I remembered him, remembered his loneliness, remembered his house, and remembered, for right or wrong, a tiny scene that leaked out onto paper.

Old Man Woods

Crazy

Old man

Woody-

Kept

His

Dirty

Magazines

In the same

Cabinet

As his

Whiskey

So

He never

Had to

Go far

For

Pleasure.

 

“That

Gaddam

Vietnam War

Had me

Hooked

On opium

For

Years.

Now

I

Can’t think

For

Nothing.”

 

Anthony N. White is a writer currently living in Rochester, NY.

He can be heckled on Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat @Ruthieshusband

Or on Facebook, of course.

baseball vs football

Baseball is Timeless

It’s playoff baseball season but you probably didn’t notice.  Maybe you saw a passing story line in the runner on the bottom of ESPN, a quick blurb that indicated that teams have been chosen.  But it’s difficult to notice baseball buried deep under the NFL’s teeming headlines, every injury report, every power ranking, arrest, comments, analysis, drama, and every single little side note taking precedent over all other sports.  The NFL is king of ratings and the talk around most water coolers every Monday, Tuesday, and Friday.

Each NFL fan tunes in on Sunday’s in fall and winter, a crucial time in advertising for the holiday season. If they sit for all 3 games on a Sunday, that’s about a 12 hour day.  Every NFL game contains around 100 commercials, according to The Wall Street Journal, accumulating around 75 minutes of air time per game.  The same NFL game will contain around 17 minutes of official review and only around 11 minutes of actual football game action on the field.  If you sit for 12 hours of games you will have watched over 300 commercials totaling almost 4 full hours.  You will have watched an hour of officials reviewing calls and about a half hour of actual football game action.  The other 7.5 hours leftover in those 12 will be spent watching teams huddle, referees line the ball up with chains and sticks, players milling around waiting for a call from the sidelines, and analysts discussing various players and strategies.

It’s playoff baseball season, but you probably didn’t notice.  Most NFL fans aren’t Baseball fans.  The game is too slow they say, not enough action they claim, not enough excitement, and the game is way too long.  The average NFL game is around 13 minutes longer on average than that of the average baseball game.  Baseball’s time of action rings in around 17 minutes compared to the NFL’s 13, and due to the nature of the game only stopping for inning changes, the average amount of commercials is around 50.

This doesn’t equate to baseball being more or less “exciting”.  The question is why is baseball considered boring and why isn’t the NFL?  Baseball has fewer collisions and less serious injury. Maybe the clear and present danger of a season ending injury looming over the head of an NFL athlete is enough to keep the viewer more engaged?  The NFL also has only a few games in comparison to baseball, and it could be argued that every NFL is extremely important, while in baseball not every game has the weight of the entire season.  But starting an NFL season 0-2 usually results in missing the playoffs. Why watch your team after week 2 if they probably will not make the playoffs? (NFL teams have a 10% chance of making the playoffs if they start the season 0-2)  Starting 0-3 makes it even less likely.  Could your season be over by the end of September?

The game of Football is very intense.  We are told that every play, every single down matters in a season because the season is short and tough.  Everyone plays at 100% all the time which means you have to be tough in will and endurance.  It is not a game for the weak and so its fans are just as intense, burning their eyes not to blink, not to miss a game, never to miss a play, to be there for their team; if the players must act like gladiators then so must its supporters.  The time clock in the corner of the screen forever reminding you that the game is short, like the season, and that it is imperative that you must win, you must conquer the opponent, give your body up for the glory of another “W”.  The season is ticking away.

So much of life runs on a clock.  There are always deadlines to meet, business hours, commute times, call times, wait times, conference calls, meetings and everything running on a time clock.  We count down the days to the weekend, to vacation, to our next big project and so on.  It makes the day nerve wracking, the weeks fly by, and the years seem like hours.  Baseball is a beautiful and graceful game played with no clock.  There is no time ticking down and away, no deadline to get the next point or score.  It’s just a game.  To watch its best men and women play is like watching ballet or an artist at work; you can see the years of practice, the time that it took to build their skill, their repertoire and you can lose yourself in it.  These things are priceless and timeless and it’s meant to be relaxing, not boring, it’s meant to be graceful, beautiful, artful.  Its nuances aren’t pointless, they’re poetry.  Baseball is meant to be enjoyed, at a summer’s pace, with your friends and family, at ease.

The argument that football is more exciting than baseball could just come down to aesthetics.  Maybe football is just inherently more exciting because of all the things previously stated and not just one being more important than the other.  Maybe the time of year, plus the inherent danger, plus the weight of the season, plus the overall showmanship of the camera angles and slow motion replay make the NFL seem more exciting.  Mathematically by the numbers it’s not.  Or maybe that’s too complex.  Maybe it’s just the time clock in the corner of the screen, pushing the viewer to stay tuned, keeping them on schedule, forcing suspense onto the viewer as the game, the season, and the day ticks away.

There shouldn’t be a comparison.  They are two different sports meant to be enjoyed differently.  Take away time and there is no comparison.

 

Playoff Baseball: A Poem

Everyone says,

“Baseball is boring”

“There’s not enough action”

“Too many people standing around

Looking awkwardly at each other and

Talking at the bases with the other team”.

“Where’s the blood and chronic traumatic encephalopathy”?

“Where’s the comparison to gladiators and war”?

“Baseball is too boring!”

But they’re wrong.

It’s not boring.

It’s timeless.

They should be asking themselves

“Why does a time clock add so much suspense?”

To hell with time!

Let’s go watch some playoff baseball, dude.

And just for once, forget time exists.

 

Anthony N. White is a writer currently living in Rochester, NY.

He can be heckled on Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat @Ruthieshusband

Or on Facebook, of course.

 

 

A Poem About Basil For My Wife

Poetry shouldn’t have to be so serious all the time.  Poems are a quick glimpse into a part of life that we have all lived, a moment in time that could be described to just about anyone from any culture or any language and they would understand.  Too often poetry is very serious tackling dire topics like death and love.  Sometimes poetry can be funny, goofy, lovable, or even slightly amusing.  It’s a pass at elevator conversation, a thirty second impression that can be pleasant and charming.

I wrote this one for my wife.   For ten years I’ve been writing little poems for her, then I leave them up on the computer or leave them on a piece of paper, or they get published somewhere and she happens on them.  And she knows they’re for her and she knows more about the poem than anyone else and it’s supposed to be amusing, fun, and charming.

 

About An Herb

Fresh basil after a rain tastes better.

Sure it does.

Have you ever been staring at your basil plant all day?

And it’s drooping and tired

And it looks sweaty

And you think,

‘Christ if we had some damn water and a breeze this thing’d be all right’

And then thick clouds roll up and the breeze kicks in and the trees start complaining all over the place

So you go inside, bemused.

But then you notice the damn basil kicked up.  And now it’s time for fucking pizza?

And there you are up against the wind, trimming away with kitchen shears at something you grew!

And it tastes so good.

Oh.

You just buy your basil at the grocery store?

Like, in that little plastic sheath?

Huh.  That’s cool, bro.

Never mind then.

 

(The photo was borrowed from: http://wahagarden.com/)

Anthony N. White is a writer currently living in Rochester, NY.

He can be heckled on Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat @Ruthieshusband

Or on Facebook, of course.

Ruminating On a Mountain

Bekka Burton takes great pictures.  But it’s not just her eye for a great shot, or the color contrast, or the rule of thirds that makes it so special.  It’s that the spot in which she stands to take the picture is the same spot that nestles her into deep thought.  It’s the same reason she goes out on these hikes in the first place; to get away, to hear the silence, to get lost in the beauty that is the world.  Some of us prefer to get lost in binge watching Netflix or in the heat of your favorite team competing.  But not Bekka and sometimes, not me either.

Bekka Burton is my friend.  She and I used to work together and my goofiness and predictability to spin a long pointless yarn always entertained her.  We used to laugh and the dumbest things; like my dad drinking Mountain Dew, sometimes for weeks at a time.  But then I stopped working there, or she did, or we both left I can’t remember; we lost touch, only once in a while running into each other at a random farmers market.  Somehow she turned back up on my radar, living in Spain and teaching.  She is a true outdoorsman trapped inside a farmer, trapped inside a teacher, trapped inside a philosopher, trapped inside a photographer, trapped inside a writer.  Most of her future plans include wearing straw hats and owning bees.  But she truly has an Ansel Adams side and I mostly thought it was just for fun.

Turns out she uses the outdoors as her meditation and to reconnect herself to nature.  To Bekka, it’s like an art form to find a good hike and take a great picture.  I thought her photography spoke to me like art and I wanted to copy a project that Lawrence Ferlinghetti accomplished in 1990. “When I Look at Pictures” takes famous paintings and combines them with original poems about each one, all written by Ferlinghetti.  I love that book and I was mesmerized at the simplicity of the concept and the complexity of each individual poem.  It forever made me look at a few famous paintings differently.  I wanted to do that with Bekka’s photos.  I wanted to tell a little story about each one.

IMG_0463
Photo by Bekka Burton

I tried and tried.  But I just kept falling short of anything that I would want to publish and I didn’t want to use these photos for something that I didn’t truly believe in.  So I wrote Bekka and asked for her help.  I wanted to at least come up with a title so that maybe I could be spurred into action.  She used the word ‘ruminate’ and said “That’s what I do when I’m in nature. I could sit and watch a babbling brook for hours and never get bored”.  And suddenly I remembered something that I had completely forgotten about.  And it has to do with Milk.

My freshman year I made a friend named Mike Sood.  He was a naïve and goofy guy with a big heart and a lovable disposition.  He was a big, body building type, with square shoulders and a tiny round waist and he spoke like the stereotypical jock from a John Hughes movie.  But once you got past the outer shell, he was incredibly deep and intelligent and really liked to talk at length about humanity, religion, and emotion.  I liked Mike a great deal, even though the first couple of time we met we didn’t really care for each other.  One time we even got into a fight.  I lost.  His nickname was Milk and that’s what everyone called him.  At times I forgot his real name.

But one time we were out drinking and were talking about the nearby Shawangunk Mountains. We decided that in the morning we were going to drive up there and hike around.  It was still winter, but there wasn’t much snow on the ground.  Of course we failed to realize there would be waist deep snow on the mountain. The next morning we went up there, froze half to death, thought about coming back, decided to stay, and continued on our hike.  There wasn’t anybody else up on the mountain that day.  It felt like ours.  It felt natural to be up there, walking along in silence, the crunch of the snow underneath our boots the only music, the wind whispering through the trees the only traffic, the noises of nature became the silence of our minds.  We sat on a ledge and had a snack, barely talking, taking it all in, and ruminating on a mountain, completely at ease.

IMG_0577
Photo by Bekka Burton

For this post, I thought for sure I had my poems ready, one for each of the three pictures used in this post.  But I couldn’t write them.  I didn’t know where to start or where to end with each piece.  I was growing frustrated again.  That is not how these pictures made me feel the first time I saw them.  And then I realized I was missing the point.  I wasn’t staring at the babbling brook, I was trying to imitate it.  And you can’t.  You can’t imitate nature.  That’s why these pictures are so great; they are real.  And the thoughts that come out are real and shouldn’t be imitated.   And I sat right down and scrawled this out.

If anybody out there reads this and knows how to contact Mike Sood, send him this piece.  And thanks Bek for the inspiration.

Moun tan DEWWW.

 

Anthony N. White is a writer currently living in Rochester, NY.

He can be heckled on Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat @Ruthieshusband

Or on Facebook, of course.