Chapel Reading and Old PUP Friends

Shikallemy lookout, view of Northumberland where the North Branch of the Susquehanna meets the West Branch
A view of Northumberland, PA. Image credit: John Helwig

No, “old PUP friends” does not refer to some sort of senior citizen’s collar-and-leash fetish society. It’s a reference to a poetry reading series I used to attend in Lewisburg, PA at Faustina’s Art Gallery. Poetry Under the Paintings is the name of the group, and it perfectly describes what they do. They still gather every second Thursday to read poems, new and old, often original pieces, but frequently favorites by other poets whose work they adore.

This week they will collectively be the “guest reader” at another central Pennsylvania poetry group in Bloomsburg. The River Poets, who usually meet at the Bloomsburg Public Library on the first Thursday of each month, will be hosting the PUPs, and that always winds up being a wonderful evening. If you’re anywhere within driving distance you should go! More info on the River Poets at their site,  And you can follow my peeps, I mean PUPs, on Facebook by clicking here.

More about the PUPs in a moment. If you missed my last post about all the poetry events that I am involved with from the end of May to the end of June, you know that Word Fountain, the Literary Magazine of the Osterhout Free Library has launched its spring/summer edition for 2018. It’s the 15th since 2009 and the 5th that I have been involved in. Since my new job takes up more of my time these days, I’ll be stepping back into more of an advisory role, but I must say that I have been deeply honored and incredibly lucky to have been at the helm these last two years and to have seen that magazine blossom into something national and global in scope, all the while maintaining its local/regional heart. Check out info about the new issue, and order your copy of Word Fountain here.

Next on the poetry-reading agenda is my visit tomorrow to the historic Joseph Priestley Memorial Chapel in Northumberland, PA. Now, I’m not a religious guy, and my divinity school days are decades behind me, but not to worry, this is not a religious service. The first Sunday of each month the chapel holds a secular service of music and the spoken word. They host a musician and a writer, usually a poet, with local/regional connections. And even though I now live two hours away, they have once again kindly asked me to be the featured poet for June. So I’ll be waking up dull and blurry (as apposed to bright and early) to be there for the reading at 9:30 am.

Front view of historic Joseph Priestly Memorial Chapel, Northumberland, PA
This little chapel is over 200 years old.

The reason I brought up the Poetry Under the Paintings group is that there is a significant overlap in the Unitarian Universalist congregation members who help maintain the separate historic chapel, and the crowd of poets who read at the Lewisburg art gallery about 15 minutes down the road. And gosh, I miss those people! In many ways I still see the Lewisburg/Northumberland area as my home. Around sixteen or seventeen years of my adult life were spent in that region, and I love going back. I’ll get to see some of the familiar faces from the videos below while I am there.

Beneath the PUP video, you’ll see a clip from my reading at the chapel in 2012, where I shared a poem that has now been published in Moons, Roads, and Rivers, my chapbook from December, published by Finishing Line Press. And I am hoping against hope to receive in the mail today my first batch of author copies of my new chapbook Angels & Adultery, just released from Seven Kitchens Press. I know I will have some kind, supporting buyers tomorrow. I’ll be reading from both chaps in any case.

I’ll also be reading a couple of selections from the book that Micah and I are working on. Micah is my youngest son and we are doing a joint project that you’ll be hearing more about in coming months. And he’ll be reading with me at the end of June in Poems at the Pub. More info on that in the previous post also.

Finally, here are some clips and good memories from my community at the chapel and the art gallery. And yes, that’s my beautiful and brilliant partner Brian at the keyboard. Bonus clip at the end of Brian playing piano at the chapel four years ago.

Saturday Song, Little Changes with Frank Turner

Honestly, I have adored my share of little dancer boys, but I’ll take Frank Turner. We’ll, if he’ll have me. I love his new album, and I just watched this new video. Now I can’t stop smiling.

Favorite moments:

“We waste our energy getting angry
instead of being kinder . . .
. . . The big things stay the same
until we make little changes.
. . . Let’s not just pray.
Let’s make a change. “

Saturday Songs with Lucy Dacus

Wyoming Valley Pennsylvania
Wyoming Valley Pennsylvania (Photo credit: Wikipedia) Hint: It doesn’t look like this anymore.

I’m going to give my friend Raul Clement a bit of a plug for his excellent work at New American Press just because they put out damn good writing. Check them out, and send them some of your best work (after thoroughly reading their guidelines, of course). I met Raul maybe two years back when I first moved up here to the Wyoming Valley, which is, oddly enough, nowhere near Wyoming (Northeast Pennsylvania. Weird, right?).

They were doing a reading series at a local Irish pub, and one of the Wilkes University professors told me about it.  I was seriously impressed, and since they did a little combo discount, I bought four or five books from the fiction and poetry writers who were there to read their work that night.

Since then Raul and I have only gotten to know each other on Bookface, but hopefully, I’ll get to visit him in his new home in Chicago eventually. One of the many things I’ve learned is that he’s got excellent taste in music, and when he says he likes a song, I want to check it out. I’m not sure how I missed Lucy Dacus when she did her NPR Tiny Desk concert two years ago, but I’m happy to have found her now.

So here for the Saturday Songs feature is Lucy’s song that came out last year. I love a good song that, as Raul said, “actually goes somewhere.” Below that video, you can enjoy her eleven-minute mini desk concert, just in case you missed it too. You’re welcome.

Tuesday Tune, Adios with the Cactus Blossoms

Tuesday Tunes, that’s what my son calls them when he shares songs on his blog. I usually feature Saturday Songs or Monday Music, but today this song just won’t get out of my head. Probably because of yesterday’s post here.

One of the many good things that came out of the new Twin Peaks series is my discovery of The Cactus Blossoms. These brothers take me back to the music my mother listened to when I was a child, and somehow they make that sound new again. Of course, along with those gorgeous harmonies, they also happen to be pretty easy on the eyes.

Saturday Song, Zeros, Magnets, and “Home”

I know these two are no longer together, and if you know some of the story behind that, let’s just forget about it for now, shall we? I want to dance to this song at my wedding some day, and the loveliness of this is not diminished by the reality of what happened to the band.

Whatever people may say, I don’t believe that Jade’s happiness in this performance was anything other than her sheer joy of singing, her absolute love of life and song. That’s how I choose to see it.

The first video is the “official” one when Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros released the single. The second video, even after the difficulties of it all shows Jade‘s marvelous smile. God, I love her.

Saturday Song for Walter

Hello, Friends. There’s a lot I want to catch up on as I’ve been promoting the release of my first chapbook so much lately.  But I want to pause and talk about a couple of artists we’ve lost in the past week, including poet John Ashbery (more on him in the next post) and today’s Saturday Song Featured artist, Walter Becker, half of the band known as Steely Dan.

I honestly can’t say I’ve followed Becker and the band’s co-founder Donald Fagen in recent years, but they’d still been playing up until Becker’s recent illness. But then, you don’t follow the sun, right? It’s just always there. It comes up again every day, even if it’s cloudy for a while. That’s how it is with Steely Dan; their songs are just always there, like the blue in blue jeans.

What I remember is just how intricate their music has been to the soundtrack of my childhood. Seemingly easy, but smart jazz-rock in the background or on any car radio tuned to a classic rock station. The songs that are part of me most include the earnestness of “Rikki, Don’t Lose That Number,” the one-word hook of “Peg,” the fun, but arguably inappropriate “Cousin Dupree” and “Hey, 19. ” But probably my two favorites are in the videos below.

Here’s a link to Walter Becker’s obituary in the Rolling Stone, and be sure to follow on to Fagen’s tribute to his music partner of more than 45 years.

“They got a name for the winners in the world.
I wanna name when I lose.”

While listening tonight to Steely Dan’s “Deacon Blues,” I realized we were a full minute and a half in before the chorus, and more than two minutes in before the hook. Is the bulk of modern pop just not that intelligent anymore, or have our attention spans really shrunk so much that we can’t enjoy a long, poetic build up like this on our top forty charts today? Or is my nostalgia just skewing my perception? Here’s “Deacon Blues” from their album of 40 years ago, Aja (pronounced Asia),

And now, my favorite. I recently watched a clip of Donnie and Marie Osmond totally butchering this song on their old variety show, dancing a two-step, smiling ear-to-ear as if there was no twisted-mouth, sarcastic humor in the words, totally missing the mood of the music.

“You’ve been telling me you were a genius since you were 17.
In all the time I’ve known you I still don’t know what you mean.
The weekends at the college didn’t turn out like you planned.
The things that pass for knowledge, I can’t understand.”

And maybe the fact that I am coming up on a big birthday this weekend is why I am feeling so nostalgic for this song.  From their 1972 album Can’t Buy a Thrill, Steely Dan’s “Are you Reelin’ in the Years.”

Thank you, Walter, for contributing to my world with your songs and your wicked humor, You’ll be missed.