Note to Self


Well, we die whether we stay together or fall apart.

Finally the world goes on its way without us.

The most scourge-like name alive today will one day

be spoken seldom if at all.  To what purpose 

this sighing and raging?  To what purpose this pain?

The main thing is to be a part of one's time,

no matter which side seems to be winning.  It's OK

to be a noble failure, a fool in the eyes of the world,

to die in the relentless faith of a Pete Seeger

or Rachel Carson.  The big truck taking up so much

space will one day come to the end of its road.

Insults will be forgotten.  Offended decency

will be forgotten.  In a hundred years, new

people and new problems.  And we can be

sure there will be some glory in being alive

in just their moment, as there is in ours.

Even as I write and as you read, the termites

of ruin are chewing day and night at the under-

side of the hypocrite's mask that shines with

such shameless intensity in the national

spotlight.  The time to speak is always now.

Say your truth if only for those who may be

listening from the galleries of dead and unborn,

if not the childish public locked in their

death tango with destruction.  Reserve for yourself

days of uninterrupted silence in which to hear

those things that have settled in your heart most deeply

sing their faithfulness beneath time's altering sky.



(Note:  This poem originally appeared on the New Verse News web site on October 8, 2016, a month before our disastrous election.  At rare moments a poem one has written can return to comfort, as though a past self speaking to the present.  I feel this to be the case with "Note to Self" on this very dark morning of November 9, 2016.  Courage and perseverance, friends, for the difficult road ahead.  May we, as Thomas McGrath wrote in his poem "Epitaph," "journey together joyfully, / Living on catastrophe, eating the pure light.")


On This Side of the Wall

    Reading John Berger's collection of essays, Hold Everything Dear, a number of years ago, I became fascinated with the concept of "the wall" as developed by the British novelist and critic.  Berger, who has lived for many years in a small French village, is probably the pre-eminent Marxist art critic of our time.  He is also a subtle thinker and a Marxist "amongst other things," as he carefully describes himself.
    Berger, when he wrote down his thoughts in 2007, was brooding over the increasing tendency of global elites to insulate themselves from "the wretched of the earth" via literal and figurative barriers, the wall cordoning off Palestinian Gaza a prime example.  In recent times the "wall" has taken on the added negative symbolism of a fear-ridden nativism that would exclude the growing refugee populations of our world from the hoarded resources of the more well-off countries.  Need we mention Donald Trump's proposed Mexican border wall as our current most egregious literal example?
    I first became a fan of Berger's writing with his trilogy, Into Their Labours, which charts the transition from the old peasant way of life to modern global urbanism (or should I say, modern urban globalism).  In this fictionalized account of the exodus into cities of people who have traditionally lived on the land, Berger found a way of metaphorically telling one of the secret stories of our times.  His work thus provides a skeleton key to unlock our own sense of exile and unbelonging in a world increasingly friendly to money and hostile to human life and perhaps to life itself.
    In Hold Everything Dear, Berger homes in on the economic exile we experience as colonial clients of the multinational corporations which have, already to a large extent, supplanted national government entities as the ruling powers of our world.   
    In the end, Berger's subject is what is being done to us all by those corporate lords and their purchased politicians, and how we respond (or do not) to their often unrecognized control of our lives and fortunes.
    My purpose here is not to take that subject up directly, nor to give an overview of Berger's collection of essays, but rather to think a little more about one particularly striking image that looms over Hold Everything Dear like its restless spirit, which perhaps it is.
    Berger does much gnarly rumination over the world we have become in the aftermath of the attacks of September 11, 2001.  He has much illumination to shed on the fear tactics by which we have been ruled since that time, and he strongly suggests that the whole deceptively named "war on terror" is really a strategy for further consolidating the power of the rich few over the poor masses, the war of the haves against the have-nots.
    These themes crystallize and converge in Berger's image of the wall, which he elaborates in his essay "A Master of Pitilessness?" on the painter Francis Bacon.  The art criticism context of his remarks need not be summarized here in order to appreciate the profundity of the analysis.  "The present period of history," Berger writes, "is one of the Wall."

. . . Concrete, bureaucratic, surveillance, security, racist walls.  Everywhere the walls separate the desperate poor from those who hope against hope to stay relatively rich.  The walls cross every sphere, from crop cultivation to health care.  They exist too in the richest metropolises of the world.  The Wall is the front line of what, long ago, was called the Class War.  (p. 94)

    The wall divides our world into two camps or realities.  If we are at all aware of the world as it exists beyond the narrow consumer viewpoint legitimized by our media conglomerates, we will recognize the two realms as Berger defines them:

    On the one side:  every armament conceivable, the dream of no-body-bag wars, the media, plenty, hygiene, many passwords to glamour.  On the other:  stones, short supplies, feuds, the violence of revenge, rampant illness, an acceptance of death and an ongoing preoccupation with surviving one more night--or perhaps one more week -- together.  (p. 94)

    Reading Berger challenges the reader to ask of himself or herself the question, Where do I encounter the wall in my life?  Leading up to the great financial meltdown of 2008, shortly after Berger's book appeared, workers in the American auto industry found themselves on the "stones" side of the wall, as did the millions of home-owners experiencing foreclosure.  In more recent times a growing awareness of gross income inequality has served to define the 99% on the "stones" side of the wall versus the gated 1%.  Politicians endlessly attempting to repeal the Affordable Care Act stand on the protected side of the wall against the under- or uninsured who live one medical emergency away from poverty.  On the world stage, cynical right wing politicians play on the fears of their constituencies to erect more than figurative walls against the growing number of refugees generated by the Mideastern wars that have done so much to enrich the transnational 1%.  The worst wall of all is the one that has been raised to block the flow of love and compassion from the hearts of a frightened populace.
    For each of us, Berger says, has in some way internalized the wall.  Perhaps the single most arresting point Berger makes in his essay is that how we choose to align ourselves in relation to this internal wall makes a very great difference in our ability to find a meaningful and honorable place for ourselves in the quickly changing contemporary world:

. . . Whatever our circumstances, we can choose within ourselves which side of the wall we are attuned to.  It is not a wall between good and evil.  Both exist on both sides.  The choice is between self-respect and self-chaos.  (p. 94)

It's this final sentence that shocks me awake, and from which, no matter how many times I read it, I never quite recover my balance, so upsetting its truth on both visceral and intellectual levels.
    We see many Americans in a state of "self-chaos" today--in fact, we would have to say that the country as a whole has been in a state of demonstrable "self-chaos" for at least the past decade and a half, if not longer.  Self-chaos exists when one's beliefs and opinions do not serve the actual conditions of one's life, when the results of one's politics actively undermine one's best interests and the real interests of one's country.
    One can be in "self-chaos" when one is mentally on the rich side of the wall but materially on the poor side of it.  There is another, perhaps less destructive form of self-chaos when one's opinions are on the side of the poor but one's material circumstances are on the rich side of the wall.  There is at least some consistency--though with its own toxicity--for those who are, in both their mental and material circumstances, on one side of the wall or the other.
    We know that many wealthy people fight generously on behalf of the poor.  And being poor and oppressed doesn't necessarily make for virtue.  The biggest losers of all, it seems to me, are the working poor who mistake the interests of the ruling and media elites for their own.  These are the real victims of Rush Limbaugh and Donald Trump, the politically incoherent underclass (or so-called "low-information voters") who can't seem to avoid being manipulated, by way of fear and anger, into sabotaging their own well-being.
    In this still-young, desperate century, whole countries and peoples now live on the stones side of the wall, including, we must note immediately, since it is host to our longest-running war, Afghanistan, where the average life expectancy is now 24 years, thanks to decades of exploitation and siege at the hands of powers from the rich side of the wall.  The wall also figures prominently into the problem of global climate change, in which the poorest nations--those on the stones side of the wall--pay most dearly for the consumption and pollution habits of the richest nations--those on the armed or tanks side of the wall.  In 2009 Kofi Annan's Global Humanitarian Forum estimated that weather-related disasters resulting from climate change were already killing 300,000 people annually, with the numbers projected to rise to 500,000 by 2030.  Given the collapse of farming which has flooded some Mideastern cities with internal economic refugees, it's no stretch to attribute the recent refugee exodus into Europe in part to climate change.
    More and more, these ugly and disturbing facts indicate that the dominant conflict of our time is, beneath its diverse manifestations, a war of ownership waged by the world's privileged elites against the poor.  The conflict is, as Berger has pointed out, the current guise for what a more politically astute era knew as "the Class War."  But where, prior to the 20th century, that war was fought society by society, our present War of the Wall finds the global elites joined in de facto solidarity against the increasingly hungry, desperate, and therefore threatening masses.
    To seriously contemplate the depth of the trouble we face as a world is to risk the paralysis of silence.  Every day, in the most practical terms, greater numbers of economically and politically betrayed Americans are wrestling with a realization that the wall is not only, as we may have believed, a wall between America and the rest of the world, but also a wall erected in our midst, separating bankers from the foreclosed, employers from the jobless, the insured from the uninsured, "dark" money sources from grassroots donors, and politicians from their nominal constituents, to whom the former often appear maddeningly deaf.
    We must first come to the awareness of this wall and all it implies for the future of democratic society before we can hope to actively address it.  The wall itself is neither Republican nor Democratic, but has been maintained by politicians on both sides.  The Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United decision has aided many anonymous efforts to build the wall higher.  
    During the demoralizing destructiveness and lawlessness of the Bush years, many more of us began to realize the extent to which our government has become not a government beholden to "we the people" but a government beholden to shadowy money interests that have, so far, successfully enriched themselves at our expense behind the 1-percenters' wall.  Unfortunately, the election of Barack Obama as President did not substantially change this.  In our present best-case scenario, we now face the prospect of Hillary Clinton as American chief custodian of the wall.  This is not to say that Clinton is not infinitely preferable to Trump, only that the wall is bigger than any president.  No president by himself or herself possesses the political clout to decisively change the relationship of tanks side and stones side.  That power belongs, as it always has, only to the people, and then only if they can muster the will to wield it.

(NoteThis unpublished and newly updated essay was written a few years before the current absurd wall-talk.  Our present national moment, when an alarmingly significant segment of the American public seems to take such isolationist fantasy seriously, is as good a time as any to add the above thoughts to the conversation.  God save us from the possibility of what conservative columnist David Brooks has called the "American Putinism" of Trump.)


In Praise (and Memory) of Marie Sheppard Williams

(Note:  On Monday, December 14, at 3:40 a.m., Marie Sheppard Williams, a dear friend, wonderful writer, and, truly, one of the most magnificent human beings I've ever known, passed from this earth after a long engagement -- I don't think the peace-loving Marie would have liked the dominant war imagery of "battle" -- with cancer.  In praise of her, and in her memory, I'm presenting here the introduction I wrote for her poetry collection, Everybody, which I recommend for reasons that will become obvious as you read along.  I know I'll write more about her, but this can stand for now as both celebration and eulogy.

For those who have not had the pleasure of knowing Marie's rich opus, her work is readily available at Amazon.com.  Here is a link to her wonderful poetry collection: 
http://www.amazon.com/Everybody-Marie-Sheppard-Williams/dp/0741482355/ref=sr_1_8?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1450194834&sr=1-8&keywords=Marie+Sheppard+Williams)

    Marie Sheppard Williams must love surprises, there are so many of them in her poems!
    This book itself will come as a surprise to many.  For who could have predicted that this master short story writer, praised by talents such as Bill Holm, Anne Lamott, and Howard Zinn and honored by a popular theatrical production of her best-known story "The Worldwide Church of the Handicapped," would amaze us with a collection of poems exhibiting such assured command of voice and a storytelling skill as fully realized as in any of her fiction?
    Whether in prose or poetry, Williams is a quintessential storyteller, and we are richer for it.  She knows not only that we hunger for story, but that we hunger for surprise, for revelation, even for revolution -- to have the tired old assumptions and verities overturned in favor of some glorious, unfulfilled promise or possibility hinted at by our own grievously neglected spiritual traditions, a better outcome than we had let ourselves hope for, though inherent in the situation at hand.
    Her poems about serving others in the dementia ward of a nursing home are especially beautiful.  There the surprise often comes in discovering the living core of humanity inside a person silenced by disability and discounted by others.  The title character of her poem "Howard" is "an Alzheimer's patient / whose ability to communicate / is simply gone." That's what others think anyway.  Yet through loving attention and independent-minded suspension of received opinions about Howard's communication abilities, Marie elicits from him, like some transcendent performance, speech "clear as clear."

You have to believe they're in there,
all the time, no matter the evidence to
the contrary.  You have to believe.

    Her poems are also abundant with the surprise of what the universe provides, which incidentally is what faith is all about.  In one of her moving poems of childhood, "Depression," Marie recounts the touching story of her brother Donny taking a glass button for a diamond which he believes with his innocent faith can rescue the family from poverty.  Donny grows up to become a rich man, we're told, and although the siblings carry their Depression-era habit of scrimping into adult life, Marie still reports finding "miracles lying on the sidewalk, jewels in glass."  She seems to be able to do this, in fact, every time she puts words on paper.  The surprise here is that one can actually emerge spiritually enriched from a time of want.  It is exactly that kind of surprise we need to keep having in fearful, greed-obsessed America.
    The very best surprises in these poems are those involving shifts in consciousness that allow Marie to perceive unsuspected levels of meaning in ordinary experience.  One such shift occurs in the title poem of this collection, "Everybody."  At a bus stop in South Minneapolis, Marie is asked to sign a street person's jacket.  He tells her he is "trying / to get everybody."  Gamely, Marie autographs a "little space on a pocket."  She concludes:

Sometimes I remember:
I am one of everybody.

    Taken all together, these poems reveal nothing less than a wholly developed human soul.  Marie Sheppard Williams understands that to embrace the unpredictable realities and unsought gifts of earthly existence is the golden road to self-acceptance and acknowledgment of one's own place in the family of being.  As a literary enactment of that committed embrace of others and self, Everybody is a kind of handbook for becoming a true human being in an era of fakes and unworthy substitutes.
    I am grateful for Marie's poems, which have illuminated my experience since I first had the good fortune of reading them several years ago.  As it happens, I too once met that street person (it was on the sidewalk in front of the Electric Fetus record store in Minneapolis) and signed his jacket, though I don't know whether it was the same one Marie signed.  It might take more than one jacket to "get everybody."  It seemed a small thing to do to add to that man's happiness, costing nothing but the effort of a few pen strokes and a basic decision to treat this perhaps homeless man as a real person.  Marie blesses her subjects and her readers alike with the recognition that they are real persons.  We come away from this book with a surer sense that we also are "one of everybody," and of what we can then do with that recognition to make the world a kinder, more just place.


The Coming Elections: Make or Break Time for Wisconsin


    This coming November, Wisconsinites will make one of the more momentous and far-reaching decisions in the political history of our state.  That decision is whether to re-elect Scott Walker as Governor or replace him with his Democratic challenger Mary Burke. If Walker wins, one future, already fast-tracked by the Republican-dominated state legislature, will unfold; if Burke wins, a very different future is possible.
    I believe that the fate of democracy in our state hangs in the balance in this election.  If Walker prevails, government by, of and for the people will be further eroded toward corporate oligarchy, rule by the wealthy few.  On the other hand, if Burke becomes Governor, representative democracy still has a fighting chance in Wisconsin.  (A turnover of the state senate to Democratic control could achieve the same effect, though political observers consider such an upset statistically less likely.  Let us not forget the importance of turnout in mid-term elections.)
    The present diminishment of Wisconsin's democracy has resulted from multiple factors.  The financial meltdown of 2008 and accompanying recession virtually guaranteed that state governments would be blamed for a nation-wide debacle over which they had little or no actual influence.  The exclusive hand-over of Wisconsin's state government to the GOP in the 2010 elections might not have occurred under a healthier national economy.  Voters threw a collective temper tantrum, one consequence of which was the election of Scott Walker.  Other wreckage of that election included the eviction from office of champions of the people like Senator Russ Feingold in Wisconsin and the late Representative Jim Oberstar in Minnesota. 
    Walker's rise to power, combined with Republican control of both chambers of the state government, has given the right wing carte blanche to enact a radical agenda driven by the American Legislature Exchange Council (ALEC) and the Koch Brothers.  These forces have ruled virtually unchecked by an effective Democratic counter-force.  To compound the disaster, Republicans seized the ready opportunity to gerrymander state district lines so as to favor incumbents in ways that may not be mitigated until long after the next census in 2020.  In districts redrawn to favor incumbent parties, extremists double down, trying to outdo each other to prove their credentials to the party faithful who mainly determine the outcome of primary elections.  Thus winner-take-all politics have virtually driven moderation out of our state government, especially among Republicans.
    One could fill pages with the disheartening litany of the Walker administration's actions to reverse Wisconsin's progressive tradition:  curtailing collective bargaining rights for public employees; attacks on education, health care access, women's rights and local control by municipal governments; weakening of environmental regulations, diminishment or sale of publicly-held commons; voter suppression measures designed to discourage minorities, the elderly and students (Democratic-leaning constituencies) away from the polls; policies favoring the rich and unfairly disadvantaging the poor; hostility toward clean energy and rail development -- the Walker Dishonor Roll goes on and on.
    The Walker administration's environmental policies should be especially troubling to those who care what sort of world we leave our children and grandchildren.  Private investment in renewable energy, encouraged and supported by government in some of our neighboring states, has largely left Wisconsin under the environmentally regressive Walker regime.  A friend of mine working out of Minnesota to promote alternatives to fossil fuels in the Midwest tells me that Wisconsin is widely viewed as a "dark place" in which sustainable energy efforts are discouraged by political hostility to such initiatives.  In addition, environmental advocacy groups in Wisconsin have lost national philanthropic support because the Wisconsin policy climate is seen, in the words of my friend, as "stalled and unworkable."
    Then there's the troubling matter of criminality in the Walker administration.  At least a half dozen of Walker's employees or associates have already gone to jail for illegal activities undertaken, if without direct knowledge of, at least in close proximity to their boss.  A second "John Doe" criminal investigation, said to come much nearer to Walker himself, is tied up in the courts as of this writing.  No one knows what will happen, but this is a time bomb that may still blow up in Walker's -- and Wisconsin's -- face.
    As for Walker's character, even the governor's political ally Republican State Senate President Mike Ellis was secretly recorded in April saying that "Walker's working for Walker," not the people of Wisconsin.  Many Republican lawmakers no doubt privately express similar misgivings about our Governor and his presidential ambitions; unlike the outspoken Ellis, few have the political daring to say so openly, for fear of being "primaried" by more extreme right-wing "tea partiers."  And thus proceeds the unseemly spectacle of the GOP eating itself, as more moderate Republicans are systematically purged from office.
    One might mention also the shocking ease and swiftness with which the blogger Ian Murphy, posing as David Koch, got Governor Walker to reveal his true colors in 2011.  The infamous phone conversation, which can be heard in its revelatory entirety on Youtube, finds Walker cravenly toadying up to the faux-Koch and openly discussing underhanded and illegal methods of sabotaging the enormous daily protests occurring at that time around the State Capitol.  (Walker also confided to billionaire donor Diane Hendricks that he intended to break the public sector unions through a "divide and conquer" strategy, an incriminating admission captured on videotape.)  For web addresses, see Smoking Guns below.
    Three years later, democracy remains a dim flickering on the Wisconsin landscape.  This November is make or break time for Wisconsin:  we'll either allow that flickering subside further into darkness or encourage the flame to burn brighter again.  Our state was once an exemplar of clean, transparent government.  The question, "Can we restore good government to Wisconsin?" will be answered in the 2014 elections.  Mary Burke is a decent, level-headed moderate who will work to heal the tensions between family, friends, and neighbors Walker has cultivated with his "divide-and-conquer" tactics.  As Secretary of Commerce in the Doyle administration, Burke helped create jobs and promote fairness in an economy that worked reasonably well until the 2008 financial meltdown.  If we choose her and the Democrats, the destructive agenda of ALEC and the Koch brothers will be subject to a moderating force that may allow a return to the divided government that has traditionally meant health and balance to Wisconsin's public policy-making.  If on the other hand Walker is allowed to pursue his extreme agenda for another term, absent significant Democratic victories in the state legislature, we will likely have to watch Wisconsin's continuing painful decline play out in numerous ugly ways over the next few decades.  Mary Burke may be our last firewall against forfeiting the greatness of Wisconsin as a national leader in grassroots democracy, the state we have rightfully revered and called our home.


SMOKING GUNS:
Youtube Sources

Scott Walker's February 23, 2011 conversation with David Koch impersonator Ian Murphy at www.youtube.com/watch?v=WBnSv3a6Nh4

Walker's incriminating "divide and conquer" remarks of January 18, 2011 to billionaire donor Diane Hendricks can be found at www.youtube.com/watch?v=TEG7yGeUQUo

When the Rainbow Starts to Pay: The Triumph of Marques Bovre


    Strictly Discs on Monroe Street in Madison, Wisconsin, occupies a deceptively small corner location in a residential business district.  Inside, and especially on its basement level, aisles filled with bins of audio treasures, both vinyl and CD, stretch out in almost dream-like plenitude.  From a mounted wall rack I'd pulled a CD intriguingly titled Ghost Stories from Lonesome County, by a once popular Madison rock band by the name of Marques Bovre and the Evil Twins. 
    Gripped by complex emotions, I studied the black and white cover photo:  double-exposed against the severely plain doorway of what was evidently a weathered wooden country building, a church perhaps, four young men faced the camera with a manifest seriousness utterly lacking in rock-star attitude.  Second from the right, possibly the most unglamorous of the lot, and certainly the shortest, stood the author of the songs on the CD, Marques Bovre.  A subdued smile gave him a slight though definite proprietary look, as was only appropriate:  Singer, songwriter, guitarist, Marques Bovre, with his band, had regularly topped annual readers' polls in the local alternative weekly The Isthmus in the mid-90s when Ghost Stories from Lonesome County was released.  He was clearly the center of this little constellation.
    I knew that Marques Bovre had died just a half year ago, on February 11, birthday of both my wife and one of my brothers.  I had in fact attended one of Marques's gigs around the turn of the Millennium and briefly spoken with the artist.  While that exchange remained vivid in my memory all these years later, I had yet to hear any of his recordings.
    Feeling the weight of unfinished business, as well as a certain karmic fatedness, I took the CD to the checkout counter.

    *     *     *

    Flash back to Monday, April 3rd, 2000 at the Club Tavern in Middleton, Wisconsin.
    My wife Krista and I had driven from across the state that weekend with the express purpose of catching a rare small-venue appearance by the alternate country duo Buddy and Julie Miller.  Buddy Miller, at that time Emmylou Harris's regular touring guitarist, wasn't hard to find on the circuit, but this was an opportunity to hear Buddy with his more retiring, fibromyalgia-suffering wife Julie perform their own superb repertoire, a chance not to be passed up.
    The flier I carefully peeled off a kiosk on State Street near the University of Wisconsin in Madison noted that Buddy and Julie Miller would be accompanied by a "full band."  Smaller type at the bottom further announced "with Marques Bovre (solo acoustic)." 
    Many of the couple hundred lucky souls crowded into the Club Tavern that early spring night no doubt already knew of Marques Bovre.  I, however, had never heard of him.  As is often the case on such occasions, I prepared to receive whatever this opening act had to offer while curbing my anticipation for the headliners.
    The man who strode onto the stage was compact, neatly dressed, and, I thought, a tad nervous.  Earlier I'd seen him pass through the crowd, wearing a sort of coverall, now exchanged for vaguely rockabilly-looking stage clothes.  But his severely close-cropped hair made him look as much punk as country.  His shiny, somewhat round face reminded me a little of Phil Alvin of the Blasters.  Accordingly, my expectations was set for some sort of rockabilly-punk hybrid.
    I wish I could remember more about his songs, but at this distance in time I'm left with impressions, not specifics.  Ignorant of Marques Bovre's then already considerable body of recorded work with the Evil Twins, I enjoyed the set sans retention.  The singer's crisp, often twangy vocal tone I thought invited comparison with Steve Earle.  I could tell at once that the songs were extremely well-crafted, the execution confident and professional.  Marques Bovre marshaled a compelling intensity and focus, embodying the archetype of the lone, perhaps lonely troubadour, successfully capturing and holding the attention of those scores of Millers fans packing the Club Tavern.
    Marques Bovre's music sufficiently moved me to thank him when he came offstage from his set.  Thus my one and only interaction with Marques Bovre took place.  It went something like this:
    Me:  I really enjoyed your songs.
    Marques:  Thanks.  Did you want to buy a CD?
    Me:  Uh, maybe later . . . Can I find them in Madison?
    Marques:  But I'm here now.
    Truth to tell, I was playing it close to the vest financially.  The travel to Madison had already taken a bite out of a limited budget.  I thought Marques Bovre looked generally disappointed at the non-buying crowd that evening, and his plaintive rejoinder registered to my ear as a minor-key protest.  Feeling embarrassed, I edged away then and put it out of my mind -- not hard to do when the Millers came on a few minutes later to great gusts of welcoming applause.
    Meanwhile, I noticed Marques Bovre, in his coveralls again, making his exit.  Apparently he had to leave before the main set.  Fleetingly, I felt a little sad to think that he was missing the Millers' performance, a melancholy that merged with mild, though complicated regret over our brief conversation, which I've remembered with surprising frequency over the years.  I'd seen enough satisfied listeners leave after my poetry readings without buying my books to know how it felt when an audience member declined to take a chance on an artist they had professed to appreciate.
   
*     *    *

    Back home from Madison in July 2013, I was eager to finally sample Marques Bovre's recorded output.  Everything about the package of Ghost Stories from Lonesome County suggested substance, from its sturdy jewel case to liner notes with lyrics printed on heavy, glossy stock.
    As did the music.  The first song, the eponymous "Lonesome County," kicked in with its ominous, sinuous opening guitar riff and throbbing bass line, signaling an immediate seriousness.  In a muscular R&B mood reminiscent of Eric Burdon's 60s work with the Animals, the singer swiftly located the action of this album in the physically and spiritually decimated rural landscape of the American heartland:

     You got your dead train tracks
     This used to be a railroad town.
     You got your river runnin' muddy
     It eats away at solid ground.

From there on to its conclusion a full hour later, Ghost Stories mapped that hard-hit terrain as skillfully and knowingly as more famous heartland rockers like John Mellencamp and Steve Earle have done, both of whom came to my mind on first listening.  Rich with incident involving often tragicomic small-town characters, Ghost Stories told its frequently grim tale with the honesty and humor of which only a reflective, self-aware artist is capable.
    Clear to me upon that revelatory first listening was a second theme embedded in the 13 songs of Ghost Stories, the peculiarly American struggle to reconcile the carnal excitement of the rock medium with a cultural religious tradition at best suspicious of the body and its sensual ecstasies.  Nowhere is this struggle more evident than on a seven-minute epic called "Ballad of the Evil Twins," the dramatic peak of Ghost Stories from Lonesome County.
    "Ballad of the Evil Twins" must be heard to be believed.  The "evil twins" of this piece of over-the-top musical theater are cousins Jimmy Swaggart and Jerry Lee Lewis, who actually were, as Marques notes, "raised as brothers."  The first half of this long track (reminiscent of the Hendrix "All Along the Watchtower") dramatizes in conventional if impressionistic fashion the tension between the preacher inveighing against sin versus the rock 'n roller incorrigibly wedded to what has often been denounced in the South as "the devil's music."  The formal verses then give way to a barrage of "speaking in tongues" gibberish, which I've since learned is Marques's own uncannily convincing approximation.  Like a rain squall temporarily clearing, this incoherence then segues into what one could be forgiven for assuming is a verbatim clip from a Swaggart sermon but is in fact another remarkable piece of audio impersonation by the vocally agile Bovre.  Railing against rock and roll in particular and electricity in general, this faux-Swaggart lapses briefly back into "tongues" and is then overwhelmed and finally drowned out altogether by staggeringly chaotic guitar feedback, seeming to establish that in the song at least, and maybe in the singer's ambivalent allegiances as well, the "devil's music" is hands-down winner.  Given the mad flavor of the recitation (sample:  "Above all these, most egregious in the eyes of the Lord is the electricity that powers electrified guitars in the hands of young people"), which cousin is more possessed and which of the two possessions is finally the more demonic?  "The Ballad of the Evil Twins" is ultimately a devilishly clever defense of rock and roll against those body-haters who would defame it as satanic.
    From that bacchanalian abandon, the singer regroups for a home stretch of three more measured meditations on faith, each sublime in its way.  Yet even after the final gorgeous lead guitar figure of the serene closer, "Judgement Day," dies away, the listener is left to conjecture that the matter is by no means settled.  As a "concept" album, Ghost Stories from Lonesome County brilliantly states an internal conversation or struggle between the "evil twins" who are active parts of Bovre's own psyche.
    Most apparent from this initial venture into the Marques Bovre catalog was the wit and intelligence of the singer-songwriter.  In his literate and slyly humorous lyrics he betrayed a sardonic self-knowledge and a full readiness to turn his biting satiric sensibility on himself when warranted.  Also abundantly evident was the excellence of his band, the Evil Twins--actually three in number:  Eric Dummer on drums, Doug Meihsner on bass, and Linus (Brian Bauhs) on lead guitar.  In the creative variety of their arrangements, this highly capable and versatile unit afforded their leader a wonderfully broad musical palette with which to render his vision.
    I felt as though I had stumbled on a lost classic of American roots rock.  After many listenings, I still feel that way about Ghost Stories from Lonesome County.  Now that I'd started, I knew I'd have to dig deeper.  Something had gotten under my skin with my first unsettling encounter with the artist in 2000, and had never quite left me.  Questions now began to proliferate.  At the Club Tavern, Marques Bovre had told me, "But I'm here now."  Since that was sadly no longer true on this earthly plane, I would have to try to get my questions answered some other way.

*     *    *

    Setting out on Marques Bovre's trail, I found ample traces of the comet-like arc of his life and music.  First there was the memorial web site, a cornucopia of information about the man and his music, lovingly maintained by dedicated friends, including his long-time bandmate, bass player Doug Meihsner.  A glance at www.marquesbovre.com established the range of the artist's achievement, nearly twenty albums worth of material spanning roughly 25 years.
    I decided to continue my exploration of the Bovre oeuvre with Flyover Land, the 1995 release immediately following Ghost Stories from Lonesome County.  The title track, I had gleaned from Internet sources, was widely considered MBET's (Marques Bovre and the Evil Twins') signature song.  Though some of Marques's best albums are unfortunately out of print, including Flyover Land, I easily located a used copy online.  (For those so inclined, MP3's of almost everything Marques recorded are available from iTunes.)  Knowing nothing at the time of the song's context in the history of MBET, I heard a good-naturedly defiant declaration of Midwestern identity, through which a note of complaint, though not yet resignation, rang out:

     We built up a sound
     And nobody come,
     I said, Hey!  Listen!

I understood the hooky appeal of this high-spirited anthem voicing the universal cry of the deserving but neglected regional artist.  Flyover Land wasn't quite up to the stellar standard set by Ghost Stories from Lonesome County.  Still I was impressed that an artist and band could produce two albums of the combined quality of Ghost Stories and Flyover Land within a year or so of each other.  Undoubtedly there was a lot more musical gold to be panned in the Marques Bovre opus.
    My continuing foray into Marques's music necessarily entailed learning more about the life and the personality of which the music was an expression.  In this I was aided immeasurably by Doug Meihsner, who took pains to thoroughly answer my many questions with articulate insight, giving liberally of his time to satisfy a new fan's curiosity.  Thus I was able to piece together the biographical trajectory along which Marques's songs fall, and make some sort of sense of how it all unfolded.
    Marques Bovre was born in 1962 in Paoli, Wisconsin, a little town outside Madison.  Given his first guitar by supportive parents at age 7, Marques seems to have been blessed with an early sense of his musical calling, and began writing songs as a teenager.  In a note on his 2012 Nashville Dandelion CD, Marques cites as early influences voices as diverse as Johnny Cash, Arlo Guthrie, and Roger Miller, all of whom, I think, left discernible marks on the mature artist.
    After a few earlier attempts, Marques formed his most popular and most potent band, the Evil Twins, in the fall of 1987.  The "classic" configuration, which included Doug Meihsner on bass, Eric Dummer on drums, and the rather whimsically nicknamed Linus on lead guitar, powered many of Marques's most accomplished performances.
    Not well known during MBET's heyday was the fact that Marques suffered from a rare form of osteoarthritis, which often left him in pain, depleting energy reserves needed for the arduous life of a road musician.  Thus the reach of MBET was necessarily limited by Marques's endurance, which diminished over the years.  In the liner notes for Angels, Bones & Clocks, the last album with the Evil Twins before dissolving the band, Marques thanks his surgeon for "four new joints."  Since the album was released in 2000, that means that the sturdy-looking 38-year-old I saw on stage at the Club Tavern had already had both hips and shoulders replaced.  The growing physical stress of maintaining the band was undoubtedly a factor leading to the dissolution of MBET in 2003.  A couple of years later, with singer Maggie Weiser and bassist Ken Stevenson, Marques formed SoDangYang, a trio more suited to managing the increasing demands on his health.
    Marques continued gigging around the Madison area and recorded a few songs with SoDangYang (some featuring guitarist Jim Schwall of Siegel-Schwall Band fame), and continued to be held in high esteem locally.  Then in August 2011, at the age of 49, Marques was diagnosed with brain cancer.  He fought valiantly the tumor he personalized as "the Hob Goblin" and completed one brilliant CD in his final year, along with a respectable reunion set with his old comrades in the Evil Twins.  On February 11, 2013, with Terese, his wife of 20 years, by his side, Marques left this world.
    Of course this "flyover" thumbnail of outward events can't do justice to the richness and complexity of Marques's prodigiously creative inner life.  Luckily, abundant evidence of Marques's thought, humor, and spiritual wisdom waits to be discovered by new listeners to the couple of hundred tunes he recorded in his quarter-century career.
    Having now surveyed most of that recorded body of work, I'm of the opinion that Marques Bovre made an uncommon number of good and very good records and three flat-out great albums, those three being Ghost Stories from Lonesome County (1994) and C'est la Vie (1997), both with the Evil Twins, and Nashville Dandelion (2012), accompanied by a group of studio musicians based in Tennessee.
    I've already discussed the earliest of these, Ghost Stories from Lonesome CountyGhost Stories exposes Marques's small town Midwestern roots perhaps more thoroughly and deeply than any other single collection of his songs.  As mentioned earlier, an evident ambivalence lies at the heart of this album, brought into acid-etched focus in the monumental "Ballad of the Evil Twins."  An inner tension no doubt already present in seed form in the 7-year-old with his first guitar comes to full dramatic expression in the symbolic battle between the cousins, one the sinner, Jerry Lee Lewis, and the other the dubious would-be saint, Jimmy Swaggart.  In fact, Marques is determined to have both God and rock and roll:  His music with the Evil Twins is robust, vital, generous, sometimes rowdy, and has an appealing advantage over the more judgmental religiosity of which he was a persistent critic.  (On the whole, Marques is unusually nonjudgmental -- his catalog overflows with songs that get inside suffering "sinners" with uncommon empathy.)
    On the concluding track of Ghost Stories Marques expresses confidence that "All will be well on the Judgment Day."  Given Marques's abbreviated span of years, the last verse of the song, addressed to an unspecified lover, is especially poignant:

     And when I am old and gray,
     When time brings my body and dreams to decay,
     I pray I'll be by your side
     On the Judgment Day.

    While struggle is often manifest in one way or another in Marques's work, on 1997's C'est la Vie the singer sounds less conflicted, more steady in his spiritual grounding.  Perhaps he has become more confident in his music as a vehicle for moral expression.  The singer's emphasis has shifted away from himself somewhat toward concern for others, especially women.  Three of the best songs on C'est la Vie are in fact about women:  "Ixonia" is a paean to a sexy Cub Scout den mother, while "She's All Gone" and "Beautiful Girl" both lament, in different ways, beloved female figures from Marques's past who have disastrously, even tragically fallen on hard times.
    Though Marques is at his peak here as songwriter, what really stands out on C'est la Vie is a sheer delight in music-making.  By their fifth or sixth album together, MBET have achieved a comfort level and facility in the studio that lifts their playing--marked by that peculiar telepathy that grows between musicians who've arrived at a thorough knowledge of each others' abilities and personalities over time--to new, and subsequently unequaled heights of synchronous joy.  In addition to the mastery each musician has individually achieved with his instrument within the well-oiled collective, this elevated esprit is audible in the seamless, soaring harmonies that vocally distinguish such tracks as "Died 4 U" and "Sam's Song."  The latter in particular distills all the elements of MBET's sound, you'll pardon the alliteration, into one irresistible elixir of exhilaration for the ear.  It also features a kind of arrangement at which MBET excelled, in which verse and chorus alternate with exuberant bursts of instrumental jamming, a fine democratic balance struck between band leader and band.  On the epic "Died 4 U," the most explicitly religious song on C'est la Vie, Linus solos with an escalating sense of excitement and release that rockets the listener straight into the guitar-glory Empyrean.  Overall, C'est la Vie is a direct, coordinated hit to the musical pleasure centers of the brain.
    This is arguably MBET's best album.  If forced to choose only one of Marques's CDs for my collection, I'd be mightily torn between C'est la Vie and Nashville Dandelion, which I'll consider next.  C'est la Vie is another "lost" classic of heartland rock, able to stand up to the better efforts of John Mellencamp and Steve Earle, whom Marques sometimes resembles.  (More than these, though, I hear in Marques's voice of this period the high, sharp twang of Arlo Guthrie.  By the time of Nashville Dandelion 15 years later, this, along with much else, will have changed dramatically.)
    It's hard not to think of 2012's Nashville Dandelion as Marques's summation and even swan song.  Nashville Dandelion creates a warm, country-inflected acoustic ambiance to showcase some of Marques's wisest and most profound meditations on life and, inevitably, death.  "I've been living and so I've been dying," he sings in "Mystery."  "I'm trying to be alive while I'm still alive," he tells us in "Let It Drain."  Remarkably, these recordings were begun in 2011 before Marques's brain cancer was detected (some songs, in fact, predate the recording sessions by several years).  There's always the possibility that Marques intuited what medical science would later reveal, though in any event he was acutely aware of his mortality at an age when most of us are not.  Whatever Marques knew or didn't know subconsciously, he'd developed the ability by this time in his life to look at even death with a disarming good humor and apparent absence of debilitating fear.
    In Nashville Dandelion, spirituality, which has been a consistent thread in the artist's work, again comes to the fore as central thematic concern, unsurprising, when you think of it, for a man nearing his ultimate challenge.  Marques's approach to religion generally combines a refreshing irreverence with a genuine devotion to core Christianity, shed of the hucksterism of socially conservative corporate "big box" religion, which Marques gleefully skewers again and again.  In Nashville Dandelion's "Cloudy Day," Marques takes a swing at the fundamentalist longing for "the rapture":

     . . . when the rapture comes
     We'll let the righteous have their fun, when the rapture comes.
     And with the righteous gone there might be room for everyone.

Clearly Marques doesn't think "the righteous" are all that righteous.   He throws in his lot with the riff raff, the ordinary people Jesus invited to the wedding at Cana, which in "Dandelion" inspires another of Marques's warm-heartedly inclusive tropes:

     Dandelion wine at the wedding feast,
     And from many fleshes, one.
     Eat, dance and drink and I gotta think,
     There will be room for everyone.

    Despite his jabs at organized religion, Marques was no stranger to church participation.  In Madison he'd been active in campus ministry efforts and in 2007 became artist in residence at Lake Edge United Church of Christ, an involvement he would maintain until no longer physically able to do so.  Lake Edge became a testing ground for some of his more explicitly and adventurously religious songs.  I may be wrong, but I sense in the decade from 1997 to 2007 a shift in Marques's musical focus related to a scaling down of his ambitions in the music industry.  Still his spiritual and artistic aspirations clearly remained constant even after his most successful band became history.
    I should mention here that Nashville Dandelion's spiritual emphasis was foreshadowed by a 2003 solo album, Full Frontal Confession, Marques's only straight-out religious collection.  Those songs seem to have been developed for performance at Lake Edge, acknowledged in the notes.  Full Frontal Confession is very beautiful, contemporary sacred music that is neither doctrinaire nor bland.  2003 in fact represents something of a high water mark in Marques's productivity, giving us not only Full Frontal Confession but another album, Yarn:  The Great Unraveling, which revisits some of the social and political themes of Ghost Stories updated for the George W. Bush era.  The two albums couldn't be more different, with the tender and sincere devotional serenity of the one and the bemused, sometimes angry turbulence of the other.  Both sets are accompanied largely by MBET alumni, but more as studio musicians than as full band members.  Marques was known to write in inspired bursts, and in 2003 he also laid down some gorgeous solo acoustic tracks, posthumously collected as Pure Marques:  A Songwriter's Demo, which will eventually be made available via the memorial web site.  A very fertile year for Marques Bovre, after which we have two SoDangYang EP's but no full-length album until Nashville Dandelion.
    Interestingly, the Marques Bovre voice of the final recordings (which include The Soul You Save, recorded with the Evil Twins in 2012) differs significantly from the voice of a decade earlier.  Deeper, huskier, and with more gravitas, this Marques is more Johnny Cash than Arlo Guthrie.  One can't help imagining what the elder statesman of American country music, the Man in Black, might have done with "Mystery" with its incisive refrain:

     Telescopes and microscopes and Scopes v. Tennessee
     Trying to blow the lid right off of every earthly mystery
     And though we burn it down and we boil it down,
     There is still this mystery of you in me.

    In this late Nashville harvest, Marques consistently fixes his sights on the aspect of divinity that manifests in flawed human beings.  There's a grand tradition running from the Mideastern Sufis through the southern European Troubadours that blurs the distinctions between the human beloved and God, which we hear echoed in "Blaze":

     I love her as I love you
     I love you as I love her.
     Seems to be a sacred simile,
     My sweetest lover and my Lover/Creator.

    Listening to Nashville Dandelion, I am repeatedly struck by the courage and true faithfulness of an artist no more than a couple of years away from his death and who on some level probably intuits it.  Marques indeed was dying as he was living (as are we all), and indeed succeeded richly in living while he was "still alive."  What was perhaps intended to be a return to form thus became a kind of musical epitaph.  Awareness of death shadows many of Marques's earlier efforts, to be sure, yet never becomes a morbid preoccupation.  The many surgeries required by his osteoarthritis would certainly have heightened Marques's sense of the tenuousness of his physical existence.  Yet he seems never to have given in to those limitations in a spirit-shrinking way, no matter how they constricted his sphere of worldly actions.
    We find perhaps the purest distillation of his hard-won knowledge of living in "Let It Drain," in which he concludes:

    Well there's only two things that you can do with your pain,
    You can pass it along or you can sing in the rain.

"Let it drain" is his good advice.  Words to live by.  "Let it wash across the world like holy rain."
    We all know what can follow a good rainstorm -- a rainbow.  The rainbow's promise duly makes its appearance on Nashville Dandelion in the aforementioned "Cloudy Day," in which the prideful "righteous" make their rapturous exit, leaving "room for everyone."  In one of his most intriguing lines, Marques says, "I wanna be here when the rainbow starts to pay."  In living --and dying--in sustaining faith, hope, and love, Marques Bovre indeed was "here" for the rainbow's full yield.  Mystics like Kabir and Swedenborg say that what we find now in this life is what we'll find, in a different way, in the next.  In his long fidelity, through pain, disappointment, limitation, and compassionate response to the sorrows of the world, I think there must always have been a divine rainbow giving it up for Marques Bovre.

    *     *     *

    Shortly after our return from Madison in early April, 2000, my souvenir Buddy and Julie Miller flier went up to join various other memorabilia on the walls of my writing study, where I've seen it most days for the past 14 years.  Nor have I failed, during that flier's long occupancy on my wall, to take note of the line "with Marques Bovre (solo acoustic)."  So in an odd way, Marques Bovre, however removed in time and geography, became a part of my life and world all those years ago.
    This has given my recent journey into his music that strangely fated quality I mentioned at the beginning of this appreciation.  It's evident to me that our brief interaction at the Club Tavern lodged and grew in my soul into the present encounter and reckoning with what has turned out to be one of the ghosts of my own interior "lonesome county."  Put another way, I could say that something about Marques touched me in a way that thereafter caused me subtle, largely unconscious regret at not having followed that inner prompting with a more active interest in the man's music.
    I'm well aware that certain outward signs which others may dismiss as accidental, random or simply trivial sometimes instruct us to pay closer attention to our moment of passage through this mysterious world or--to borrow Keats's phrase--"vale of soul-making."  Learning that Marques Bovre had died on my wife's and brother's birthday made me at last sit up and take notice.  (And so, for that matter, did the discovery that my old friend and bandmate Mark Annett had contributed backing vocals to one of the songs on Ghost Stories from Lonesome County, "Drunk and Disgusting."  Another connection I couldn't ignore.)
    Though I traded no more than a handful of words with him, I've come to feel a personal connection with Marques Bovre.  Marques wrote in his notes to Nashville Dandelion, "Remember, just because we never met doesn't mean we aren't friends."  I believe he intended those words as much for posterity as for the present moment in which he wrote them, as much for those who would hear him after he was gone as for his faithful audience of regular listeners.  When I met Marques that one time, I didn't know we were friends, but maybe he did. 
    I now recognize Marques as one of the rare awake people who are sensitive and creatively responsive to the currents of life flowing around them, of which we are all a part.  Being "here" was what Marques was all about.  "But I'm here now," he told me, and I believe he knew a lot more about the simple value of just being here than I did at the time.  The rainbow richly pays those who make being here their discipline, joy, and burden, despite (as he put it in one of his last and best songs with the Evil Twins, "The Soul You Save") the "grit and shit and sorrow."
    In the liner notes to Flyover Land, Marques wrote, "I don't believe in a judgement day when the wicked explode in a fireball.  Maybe we'll all just have to say, 'I'm sorry.'"  This piece of particularly forgiving theology has a special ring of truth for me.  In the my past year's rewarding exploration of Marques's music, I've felt sorry that I didn't really take a chance on him back then, and thus did not carry the comfort and challenge of his music along with me for the past decade or so.  (I consider it an equal loss not to have heard him gig with the fantastic Evil Twins.)
    But late as I've come around to his music, I have not come too late.  As I enjoy and absorb the many delicious songs Marques dropped for hungry wayfarers along the path of his too-short but very fruitful life, the regret I felt at the outset increasingly gives way to gratitude for the body of heart-gladdening, spiritually probing, emotionally satisfying songs which will stand as Marques's legacy.  For this belatedly declared fan in western Wisconsin, where (as in many other places) Marques Bovre is virtually unknown, those songs have become something of a secret garden I've known I would have to share with others.

(Note:  All lyrics quoted in this essay are protected by copyright and used with permission.  You can buy all of the songs and albums mentioned here and more at http://marquesbovre.com/music/where-to-buy-marques-music/  Thanks to Mark Gardiner, an early reader, for encouraging this essay to say what it meant to say.  And above all, gratitude to Doug Meihsner for his invaluable input, patiently and generously dispensed over the course of a long, taxing winter.  This essay would have been much the poorer without his help.  In his energetic advocacy through the official web site, he has worked hard to keep Marques Bovre's music and memory alive.  No artist, I think, has had a more faithful friend.)

 

Do you remember the fresh shock of the Beatles'
look and sound, giddy joy in the choreographed
head-shakes, tumult of yeah-yeahs like an ecstatic
conquering army sweeping over the hill
of our doubts?  More than anything, what sticks
for me from that evening my younger brother
and I gaped at the long-haired troubadours
on our grandparents' TV, able to pull in
Cities stations our rabbit-eared set at home
couldn't, is the shared dazzlement of siblings,
one teenaged and the other wishing
he were, walking the snowy streets home,
in no hurry to subject this new wonder
that has lit up their faces to the belittling
sarcasm of a father unable to
join in the fun.  Glad for any occasion
to visit, those two old people, his parents,
plied us with potato chips and soda,
supported us in a way gently subversive
to our father's dour regime.  Though because
of our four adopted British older brothers,
we would both go on to take up guitar,
the younger quickly outstripping the elder,
the deeper drama of our lives has its roots here
in the early-set divisions of home
and heart that, magnified in the nation,
persist and intensify year by year,
while the Beatles' inclusive star beams down
like the better angel it's turned out to be
since sweetening that first bitter era
of loss and diminishment our generation knew.

(from The Night We Saved the Beatles, Lost Music Press, 2012)

Tom Hennen: Celebrating a Great Neglected Poet


     Note:  The passage below is excerpted from my longer afterword to Darkness Sticks to Everything: Collected and New Poems by Tom Hennen, available in June, 2013 from Copper Canyon Press, www.coppercanyonpress.org.  As I say elsewhere in my afterword, "A Poet with No Business Sense," Hennen is a neglected master of the image and a hidden treasure of Midwestern poetry.  The publication of his long-out-of-print poems, accompanied by a generous selection of new work, is cause for poetry-lovers to celebrate.  To quote the conclusion of my extended appreciation: 
    "Hennen is one of those poets we return to when we long to relearn what attracted us to poetry in the first place.  Again and again, his poems pull us back from pretension to honesty, away from things, as Lawrence or Whitman might say, not of the soul.  Time after time, he calls us closer to earth, though not at the cost of clipping our wings.  He has written poetry for all the right reasons, and ranks with the true and truthful ones, whom we can trust implicitly, and who, to borrow his words a last time, 'will be talked about for years to come around a fireplace on sparkling cold nights when the winter is so long and the darkness so deep that the heart of the earth feels as if it might break.'" ("Autumn Mushrooms," in Darkness Sticks to Everything)
    All poems quoted below are included in Tom Hennen's Copper Canyon collection, a springtime gift to winter-weary readers.  Reprinted by permission of the author and Copper Canyon Press.

    Like the great Chinese poets Tu Fu and Han-shan, Tom Hennen is a poet of landscape.  In staying close to the earth, both in his life and work for the Department of Natural Resources, he brings to his poems a specificity of detail beyond the reach of less knowledgeable and attentive observers.  And like the Chinese poets, along with Bly and Wright, Hennen is not averse to an occasional title competing in length with the poem itself.  My favorite is "If You Bite a Wood Tick in Two with Your Teeth It Can Give You Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever."
    In his talent for the poetic image, Hennen recalls another Midwestern master of the image, Ted Kooser.  Anyone familiar with the Nebraska poet's work will recognize in Hennen a spiritual blood brother.  Both poets share an ability to move a brief poem directly to its central image with extreme economy of expression.  "Summer Night Air" is a perfect example:
   
     Night doesn't fall
     It rises
     Out of low spots
     Tree trunks
     And the back
     Of the old cow
     I'm bringing home to milk.1

Even more condensed is the aphoristic "Cold in the Trees":

    The hoot
    Of the owl
    Is large enough
    To carry off a whole sheep.

    Hennen knows how to freight even a four-line poem with appeals to multiple senses.  Though his visual strengths are ample, I am struck particularly by his use of the sense of smell to evoke complex and delicate emotions.  In "Smelling a Stone in the Middle of Winter," the stone "Smells like the inside of your dress / On a spring afternoon."   In "Finding Horse Skulls on a Day That Smelled Like Flowers," new grass makes "the scent of the earth visible."
    In Hennen we notice what the Jungians would call intuitive and sensate qualities co-existing at high levels.  Again, we can compare Hennen with Robert Bly, though Bly balances more to the intuitive side and Hennen more to the sensate.  Hennen came of age at a time when the so-called "deep image" waxed strong on the American literary scene, a movement well-fitted to Hennen's drift toward inwardness and introversion.  To the extent that his poems value and celebrate solitude, the earth, elemental presences, and the inner life, Hennen remains one of the purest inheritors of the deep image.
    Bly's influence on Hennen also extends to the many world poets he has translated and with whom Hennen is certainly familiar.  Coming to mind are the Scandinavian modernists, who also have adored the old poets of China and Japan, including Olav H. Hauge, Rolf Jacobsen, Tomas Tranströmer, and perhaps especially Harry Martinson, whose poems share with Hennen's a ground-level view of the northern earth in its seasonal moods and displays.
    Although Hennen writes accurately and vividly of all the seasons on the Minnesota-Dakota prairie, his heart belongs more to the transitional seasons than to summer or winter.  His is a landscape of long, oppressive winters in which dreams of thaw become intermingled with a yearning for personal regeneration.  Milder weather seems to suit Hennen's moderate temperament best.  Those who have lived in the far north know that the longing for springtime can itself be a torment during the extended darkness and cold of winter.  The piercing desire that permeates Hennen's poems is at its most elemental level a desire to distance oneself from death, as in these elegant, sensorily evocative lines in "Finding Horse Skulls on a Day That Smelled Like Flowers":

     Where the sun touched the shining bone
     It was warm
     As though the horses were only dreaming
     In the spring afternoon
     With night
     Still miles away.


The Night We Saved the Beatles


    August, 1966, was a time of precipitous change in my life.  A recent high school graduate, I was enrolled in the University of Wisconsin - River Falls, for which I would depart the town of my first eighteen years in less than a month.  The ordinary melancholy of such transitions was heightened for me by a fresh breakup with the till-then love of my life, with whom I'd envisioned a future that now lay in the dumpster of defunct dreams.
    About to leave everything that, for better or worse, had composed the familiar textures of my world -- town, family, and friends -- and faced with an at times frighteningly wide-open prospect (more frightening than promising in my bereft, nostalgic mood), I clung inwardly to certain straws of consistency, among them the music of the Beatles.
    It's almost impossible in the 21st century to grasp the fresh impact and importance the Beatles' music and personal charisma exerted on my generation.  A short time before their coming we had experienced, through the assassination of John F. Kennedy, the death of that Camelot of hope and optimism the late 50s and early 60s had built on the prosperous foundation of US victory in World War II.  One grey day in November watching the televised funeral laid all of that to rest in the soil of Arlington.  Coming after such national anguish and generational despair, the Beatles were nothing less than a resurrection and rebirth.  JFK was killed on November 22nd, and "I Want to Hold Your Hand" released in the US on December 26th, a massive infusion of joy after bludgeoning grief.  No wonder we Boomers bonded with the Beatles!
    I was sitting in my sophomore-year typing class when fragmentary reports of the shooting began to crackle over the PA.  By the next year, the apparently inexhaustible supply of new Beatles hits had encouraged a small, fanatically inspired cohort of friends to acquire and learn the instruments necessary to start our own Beatlesque combo, an idea that, though we were all rock and roll fans, had never seriously occurred to us before.  We understood that none of us could be an Elvis Presley or Roy Orbison.  But because of the evident if slightly deceptive composite identity of the Beatles as a band, we were able to imagine that we too could pool our talents in similarly democratized fashion.  
    Thus were born the Gremlins, in look-alike striped T-shirts, Beatle boots and hair as long as we could individually get away with in our homes, the local outcrop of "British Invasion" rock.
    I won't recount here the adventures and misadventures of this illustrious troupe in our approximately two-year existence as a performing unit in Chippewa County, Wisconsin.  I'm sure imagination magnified them by several powers over what they were in objective reality.  We were more than a little quixotic in our spirited tilting at the windmills of adult boredom and complacency.  Our quest was really an effort to live romantically in a milieu that ridiculed such pretensions as impractical and frivolous.  And who is to say we didn't successfully keep something of value alive in our souls amidst all our preening, flailing, and grandiose fantasizing?
    In August, 1966, though, our band also was coming to an end, with its two senior members, bass player Ben Shackleton and I, rhythm guitarist, both college-bound.  I remember walking around town until all hours, aimlessly and yet semi-consciously soaking up the place's sensory impressions and memory associations in a kind of haze of mixed anticipation and regret, complex flavor of that moment poised on the edge of the unknown.
    We all carry stories that over time come to stand as emblematic of certain periods in our lives.  These are our "core" stories, the ones we keep returning to in memory, as though a refreshing spring that not only satisfies our thirst but reminds us again, on some fundamental level, who we really are.  It is from the springs of such stories that we may, as Frost wrote in his poem "Directive," "drink and be whole again beyond confusion."
    I can summon numerous scenes of emotion and discovery tagged in recollection to specific Beatles songs, no doubt partly because their brief recording career (essentially from 1963 through 1969) approximately coincided with my adolescent sexual awakening and entry into young manhood.  One of my favorite, in fact, took place on August 8, 1966, during the last month I lived in my hometown of Cornell, Wisconsin.  
    It was a swelteringly hot evening on our main street overlooking from its slight rise the sun westering low on the Chippewa River.  All was not well at my family's house.  Tensions with my father, now recovered from a brain operation the previous year, ran high; anticipation of my impending absence probably prompted me to flaunt my growing autonomy while, on my father's part, contributing to a tightening of control while he could still exert it.
    That day happened to be my younger brother Terry's 13th birthday.  Sharing an enthusiasm for the Beatles, we'd fixated on the single "Eleanor Rigby" / "Yellow Submarine," released on that very day as if a birthday gift personally intended for my Beatlemaniac brother.  Adding to the excitement was a rumored experimentalism distinguishing the new album, Revolver, from its predecessors in the Beatles' catalog.  Of drinking age for the past half-year, much to my brother's envy, I could go down that very evening to hear the new single at my preferred Main Street watering hole, Stasel's, conveniently located only a block from our upstairs apartment.
    However, this pleasure and freedom were clouded by an extenuating event.  Weeks earlier, John Lennon had candidly remarked to a British interviewer:
    "Christianity will go.  It will vanish and shrink.  I needn't argue with that; I'm right and I will be proved right.  We're more popular than Jesus now."
    This evidently failed to ruffle the Brits, but in late July the American magazine Datebook reprinted the interview on our shores, sparking a national anti-Beatle hysteria.  Church groups denounced Lennon's remarks, and public burnings of Beatle records and memorabilia were sensationally stoked by the media.  After Lennon made semi-apologetic noises at a national press conference kicking off the Beatles' new American tour, the storm subsided, but not at the Smith household.
    For reasons of which I'm unsure -- maybe largely the general antagonistic friction now heating up between Dad and me -- we got into a bruising argument over the controversy.  In Dad's eyes, I was no doubt unfavorably influencing my impressionable younger brother with my musical obsessions.  As I slammed out of the apartment that evening, Dad's parting shot struck a blow to my heart:  "You'd better enjoy your Beatles while you can, because this is the end of them.  They're finished!"
    Of course under the bravado of my rebellion, I feared that he was right.  Given the Beatles' importance as emotional and spiritual healers of the Kennedy assassination and cultural guides to the road ahead, the threat of their impending demise became a source of profound existential dread.  It seemed possible that a piece of our generational identity and energy might just be ripped away from us, blocking our path forward into the future.
    So it was in a gloom of anger and foreboding I plodded the block from our apartment to Stassel's, a cherry tint of sunset over the river below Main Street.  I knew it was sunset for more than just Cornell, though, I desperately hoped, not sunset for what Dad had disdainfully called "your Beatles."
    Strangely, I intuited the change of atmosphere before I actually sensed it.  Approaching on the summer-baked sidewalk, I could tell without looking that the place would be full.  Full of light, full of smoke, full of activity, full of voices.
    Full of music.
    As I pushed in the front door, the immediately recognizable chorus of "Yellow Submarine" greeted me.  So old Chuck Gass, the local record distributor, had come through and installed the new single on Stassel's jukebox that very day!
    In small towns like Cornell, from the time one turns 18 the tavern functions as one of the main centers for social life.  As I glanced around the crowded bar room, I noticed many friends already present.  The younger drinking crowd liberally mingled with the older drinking crowd, the latter including a few confirmed barflies who seemed to live at Stassel's.
    Someone in a transport of bonhomie placed a cold ten-cent glass of tap Leinenkugel's in my hand.  In the 60s, one could still drink beer all evening on a dollar in those northern Wisconsin taverns.  Almost below the level of consciousness, some communal force manifested in that scene of merriment slid under my dark mood like the blades of an emotional forklift and began, very quickly, to raise me up.
    I quickly realized it was the power of "Yellow Submarine" doing the lifting.  Finishing that first glass of beer, I also realized that in the ten minutes I'd been at the bar I'd heard nothing come from the jukebox but yellow submarine, yellow submarine, yellow submarine.  A steady stream of quarters poured into the cheerful, squatly Buddha-like machine to keep the whimsical, buoyant song flowing in air.  Again and again the small black platter with its yellow and orange label was laid down on the glass-encased turntable, again and again began its spin, again and again the needle lowered into the infectious groove.
    A few had already begun to sing along, and soon others chimed in.  Before long the entire tavern clientele were roaring along with Ringo:

     In the TOWN
     where I was BORN
     lived a MA-A-AN
     who sailed to SEA

In an ambiance so lacking in puritanical vengefulness as to seem a country apart from that mean landscape of my father's prophesying, a vision wonderful and strange emanated from the squat, merrily-glowing ark of the jukebox, the ale-golden radiance of a world more forgiving and free than our own, maybe one yet to come into being, hidden like the sun before dawn.  It was a vision I would later recognize in William Blake's heavenly tavern in "The Little Vagabond" where

     . . . God, like a father rejoicing to see
     His children as pleasant and happy as he,
     Would have no more quarrel with the Devil or the Barrel,
     But kiss him, & give him both drink and apparel.

    It seemed that everyone joined in, everyone under the irresistible spell of the Beatles's good-hearted singalong.  Town kids, farm kids, mill workers, everyone, even the barflies, a forty-year-old bachelor who lived with his mother and a pie-eyed, once-pretty woman of about the same vintage, contributed to the boisterous celebration.
    Celebration of what?  Well, certainly the sheer inebriated pleasure of drinking together, alive and in the bubbly light together, as if our mutual life had been at the wave of a magic wand been transformed into an immense effervescent schooner of Leinenkugel's, an image in no way contradicting the metaphor of the yellow submarine.
    But more decisively a celebration of the Beatles!  In the joyful release of that moment I understood that the Beatles -- and their music absolutely -- would weather this storm, and many others yet to come.  The yellow submarine was built to last!  My father and the killjoys would not have the final say.  That belonged to the people who loved the Beatles' music, who were legion, who were right here in this moment of fine drunkenness, "all aboard," raising our glasses, our faces filled with laughter and tolerant humor, raising our voices and, one after another, carrying ritual offerings of silver to the jukebox altar until closing time on our sacred and spontaneous mission to keep the Beatles alive.



Reckoning with "Wrecking Ball"


Regular readers of this blog will have noted my fascination with the music of Bruce Springsteen.  I confess to being a long-term convert, from at least the time of catching his Born to Run tour in the intimate venue of the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis in 1975.  Who knows exactly why we bond with certain artists the way we do?  Evidently at some point in our life we're more susceptible to being deeply influenced by a particular artist's work.  For my part, having coming of age during the social, political, and cultural firestorm of the Sixties, I've never quite gotten over the sense of a world ending, that the America I'd inherited, and its promise, was irreparably broken by the betrayal of our national dreams, a betrayal enacted in the Vietnam War and the assassinations of the Kennedys and Martin Luther King, Jr.  Bruce Springsteen explicitly addressed a kindred sense of brokenness in his speech inducting Jackson Browne into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2004.  Waxing theological, Springsteen remarked, ". . . our job here on earth, the way we regain our divinity, our sacredness, and our general good standing is by reconstructing love and creating love out of the broken pieces we've been given."

To put it in Robert Frost's terms, Bruce Springsteen's work is very much concerned with the question of "what to make of a diminished thing," a question facing my generation in the wake of the cyclonic Sixties.  It's important to note here that in his 2004 speech, Springsteen blames not only our political leaders but our "fall from Eden" for the incompleteness of our lives and our failure to truly love each other here on earth.  That Ecclesiastes-like recognition saturates Springsteen's new album, Wrecking Ball, its considerable political rage notwithstanding.

Long-term Springsteen fans have had to deal with a certain ongoing disappointment factor, chiefly because early in his career Springsteen set an impossibly high bar with a string of brilliant albums that he himself could hardly hope to match.  Just as Bob Dylan has never again approached the heights of Blonde on Blonde, so nothing of Springsteen's later opus has come close to Darkness on the Edge of Town, not even his excellent The Rising in 2002, his best work of the new millennium until Wrecking Ball.

How good is Wrecking Ball?  Good enough, I think, to satisfy many of us who have continued, incorrigibly, to dream of a return to the peaks of Springsteen's handful of classics.  Musically Wrecking Ball is all over the Americana map; most of the styles and genres Springsteen has explored, since and including the original E Street Band sound, are represented, as well as a few new ones.  Wrecking Ball can be seen as a career retrospective, and maybe an element of musical self-portraiture is intended.  Some artists' development is additive rather than linear, their art more and more inclusive and summary of their past efforts.  Wrecking Ball is also one of Springsteen's more artfully constructed albums, and in fact needs to be heard whole in order to work its full magic on the listener.  A pair of songs familiar from live performance on previous tours, "Wrecking Ball" and "Land of Hope and Dreams," serve as emotional anchors, their very familiarity punching up the overall impact of the sequence into which they're effectively fitted.

Much has appropriately been made of the political content of Wrecking Ball; at the same time Rolling Stone's David Fricke has found Wrecking Ball "boldly apolitical."  He's right in the sense that Springsteen's criticisms of predatory capitalism don't side explicitly with Democrats; by implication, both parties come in for blame for the shambles of the American political and economic systems, of which there is plenty of evidence on Wrecking Ball, though no naming of names.  

Springsteen has stressed, at least as much as the political, the spiritual element which takes over Wrecking Ball midway through. Yes, without question this is the album where Springsteen wears his religious heart on his sleeve.  That spirituality manifests most obviously in multiple references to Jesus and in the gospel-based "Rocky Ground," but also in the weirder, more shadowy references to the dead and the afterlife that almost shamanistically underlace Springsteen's fairly conventional Catholicism.  The resurrection that Springsteen envisions in "We Are Alive" resonates less with the orthodox Christian view than with indigenous ancestral views of the soul's survival after death.  Springsteen's position, also strongly influenced by the black gospel tradition, ultimately comes out in the wash as deeply pan-American.

I would add to the political and the spiritual a third thematic thread I see throughout Wrecking Ball:  a personal reckoning with the inevitability of death.  Springsteen is 62 and, though a demonstrably fit 62, understandably conscious of what he calls in the title song "burning down the clock."  In the past few years, the E Street Band has sustained mortality's sting in the deaths of organist Danny Federici and saxophonist Clarence Clemons, and those losses also give Wrecking Ball a psychic weight, though often subliminally rather than overtly.

At least one reviewer has disparaged "Land of Hope and Dreams" as a political "stump speech," without taking into account that this song had already been a concert staple circa 1999 before the Bush presidency and the so-called War on Terror.  Far from a statement on the post-9/11 milieu, "Land of Hope and Dreams" may best be heard in its original historical context of Y2K anxiety and the heightened sense of mortality it provoked in Baby Boomers watching the century (and millennium) of their youth and glory pass into history.  "Land of Hope and Dreams" still seems to me at core an unsettled acknowledgment of Boomers' passage toward the Great Unknown, though it works on other levels as well:


Grab your ticket and your suitcase

Thunder's rolling down this track

You don't know where you're going now

But you know you won't be back

 

Springsteen's achievement on Wrecking Ball is to bind these three major themes into a whole that is, if not seamless, at least magnetically coherent.  Its arc, from reflecting economically besieged lives in the current recession to affirming historic struggles for economic justice, is finally transcendent.  While its initial spur and focus is the present cycle of hard times, the eternal finally overrides the temporal and topical, not by excluding them but by folding them into its total vision.  Springsteen's acknowledgment that "hard times come and hard times go, just to come again" is key to this perspective.  He channels the outrage of which the Occupy Wall Street movement is the latest mass manifestation, yet knows and affirms that all human events take place within a vast, enveloping, mysterious, cyclical timelessness.

The political commentary for which Wrecking Ball has drawn so much critical attention is certainly present, then, but it is not all of Wrecking Ball or even its most important part.  On Wrecking Ball, Springsteen gathers these concerns, both personal and societal, and lifts them to another level of understanding at which we recognize the struggle of our nation and times as part of the story of a larger, more gradual movement toward justice, security and dignity despite essentially flawed human governance and our limited time on earth.  

The form of the music is a message in itself.  Its variety says that the single-minded focus of youth gives way to what Yeats would call a "many-mindedness" of experience.  The past is past; Danny Federici and Clarence Clemons are gone, and the music the old E Street Band made lives on only in recordings and in heart's memory.  Wrecking Ball is the sound of the mature, seasoned Springsteen -- the realist Springsteen as opposed to the romantic Springsteen -- symbolically bringing on the "wrecking ball" to his own past, which cannot stand in the place of the present.  Be open, the new music says, to the new music.  Every moment we are passing through a place to which "we won't be coming back," and to live is to accept with hope and trust what life offers next, an act of spirit that some Springsteen fans may find challenging.  I know I do.

Over four decades, Springsteen's audience has indeed followed him to many places "we won't be coming back" to.  We have all had to say good-bye to many past selves.  On Wrecking Ball, perhaps more than any other of his albums so far, Springsteen pays tribute to those past incarnations, not only his own but his bands', with full knowledge that the "train" is moving on and we're all on board.  Best to enjoy this moment of life and its own unique music, in the case of Wrecking Ball a truly inclusive revival Springsteen has rousted together to inspire us to action and console us when the inevitable losses occur.  The music is exhilarating, capable of buoying us on its inexorable, joyful journey whether or not we pay attention to the lyrics.  And speaking of lyrics, while the traditional folk-gospel tune, "This Train," Springsteen's inspiration for "Land of Hope and Dreams," may in its original version exclude "the hopeless sinner," Springsteen's train does not.  "This train carries saints and sinners . . . All aboard."  There is room for us all on the train of his music.

No doubt Springsteen in his current incarnation as angry avatar of the 99% is riding the energy of the Occupy movement.  Certainly it is the 99% who have made Wrecking Ball a #1 hit its first week on the charts, and not the spiteful 1% Springsteen-haters whose fulminations poison some web discussions of this sweeping album.  We're poised at the edge of a genuine, wide-spread social uprising, a wave of which the Occupy movement is only the merest tip.  That wave has also helped to lift Springsteen's boat.  We can count as a small victory in that struggle that one of our great artists of conscience and consciousness appears to be sailing into another of his periods of popularity, still hard, amazingly, still hungry.  



Occupy 2012: The Year the World Doesn't End


When I started this web site a couple of years ago, I imagined myself blithely blogging away every month or two in a kind of on-line newsletter.  In practice, I've fallen far short of that intention, the present moment being a case in point.

Life, as John Lennon told us, is what happens while you're busy making other plans.  My best intentions for adding substantially to this web site (and other plans as well) were pleasurably thwarted on October 6 when the Swedish poet Tomas Tranströmer won the Nobel Prize for literature.  How, you might ask, does that affect www.thomasrsmithpoet.com?

Well, about ten years ago the Minnesota poet Robert Bly, my mentor and a great friend of Tranströmer, offered me the job of editing an American edition of a volume of his and Tranströmer's letters which had been (I'm not exaggerating) a bestseller in Sweden.  I gladly accepted that commission and produced an expanded version of the letters (titled in English, in the Swedish edition, Air Mail) for the American poetry audience.  Unfortunately, publishers showed a near-complete lack of enthusiasm for the resulting volume, which then lay dormant in my files until Tranströmer's Nobel was announced this fall.

Almost instantly, American interest in both Tranströmer and Bly flared back to life, as well as interest in the book I had edited.  I am now very happy to report that the prestigious small press publisher Graywolf plans to release (perhaps yet this year) the American Air Mail.  This fall and winter my busy-ness in tying up the many loose ends for this project has precluded my added anything of substance to the present blog posts.  

Of course I will use this space to announce developments on Air Mail, and once that book is squared away, get back to serious blog scribbling.

Until then, let me wish you all the best in 2012, which I'm fairly sure is not the year the world will end.  However, if we have anything to say about it in Wisconsin, it will be the year the Scott Walker reign of greed and folly ends in our state and we get back to some form of more balanced government that represents all of the people, not just the 1%.

As you know, throughout our country the 99% are rising up, and, with my friend the marvelous fiction writer Marie Sheppard Williams, I'm glad to be able to say I've "lived to see the revolution."  My motto for the coming year (which I'm sure I'm not the first or only to have conceived) is Occupy 2012.  Let's really make this country our country again, friends, and make it work for all of us instead of only the rich and powerful few.  In Wisconsin, as I write, we're fast approaching the January 17th deadline to turn in petitions to recall Walker, and I'm hopeful there will be many more than enough signatures to set the recall process in motion.  (Wisconsin friends:  If you haven't signed the petition yet, you still have a chance to do so in the coming week!)

Meanwhile, I'll leave you with a song for the new year and in fact any time during it.  I've long been fascinated with Robert Burns's "Auld Lang Syne," and wondered what the other verses that we don't sing on New Year's Eve are about.  The original Scots lyrics are opaque to English speakers, and the "standard" translations one finds on-line tend not to scan or rhyme.  So my mission was to re-translate "Auld Lang Syne" (which phrase the Milwaukee poet Susan Firer has nicely rendered as "Old Long Since") in a more sing-able version.  That meant veering from some literal meanings while keeping Burns's intent overall.  I believe the present lyric achieves the goals of being coherent, true to the spirit of the original, and singer-friendly.  

It was a revelation to discover that "Auld Lang Syne" is not really a "New Year" song per se; rather it is a nostalgic drinking song that memorializes "old acquaintance" whatever the time of year, whenever, presumably, two old friends meet to lift a "cup of kindness" (and other liquids) in tribute to the distances they've traveled sometimes together and sometimes apart.  Sing, enjoy, remember and recall!


AULD LANG SYNE

Adapted from the Robert Burns original by Thomas R. Smith


1.  We two have rambled in the hills

And pulled the daisies fine

But we've wandered many a weary way

Since the days of auld lang syne


CHORUS

For auld lang syne, my dear

For auld lang syne

We'll take a cup of kindness yet

For auld lang syne


2.  We two have paddled in the stream

Till morning sun rose high

But seas between us wild have raged

Since the days of auld lang syne


Chorus


3.  Give me your hand, my trusty friend

And I will give you mine

And we'll drink a toast to friendship now

And in days of auld lang syne


Chorus


4.  Should old acquaintance

Be forgot and never brought to mind

Should old acquaintance be forgot

And the days of auld lang syne


Chorus


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