Tales from the “Open Mike”

Every couple of months, Wendy at our local library organizes an “open mike” for any writers interested in sharing their work in a, gulp, public forum.

I’ve kind of lost my zest for performing my stuff live but I started going, hoping it would encourage my two sons, both talented writers, and their friends to contribute.  I love it when a visibly nervous teen author stands in front of us and, voice quaking, reads a poem or short story.  Takes me back to the days when I—

Well, never mind.

I always try to have new material for the “open mike” and this time premiered three pieces that even my wife hadn’t heard before.  Here are the four offerings I read last night, including “Accident”, which appeared on this blog a couple of years ago but, what the heck, thought I’d reprint it anyway (it read beautifully):

 

Accident


This is a car crash.  It’s happening right now.  A collision in progress.  Metal folding and bending, glass slow-motion bursting, bodies swaying in their seats.  And the thing is you see it with perfect clarity, high-def to the max.  You watch in fascination as the air bag blooms in front of you, a time-lapse explosion expanding toward your face as you lean forward to meet it.  Something else.  A heaviness.  In the region of your chest.  A tug in your neck that isn’t quite pain but soon will be.  A sound, a soft exhalation but really a scream in the midst of being born.  From the backseat.  Ten A.U.’s behind you.  Any moment now it will all come rushing in, a cacophony of distress, a wall of noise and sensations.  Someone, maybe even you, might be in the midst of dying.  On the threshold of an instant.  The law-defying lip of an event horizon. Falling…and forever suspended mere petaseconds away from nothing at all.

 

Reaper


November is bleeding,

leached of color, vitality,

the land losing its life’s blood

in dark, spreading gouts.

Anemic, cancerous, brittle,

tiny bones crackling underfoot:

this is the graveyard of summer.

Brightening it with festive lights,

disguising it with tinsel, false cheer

but unable to defeat the oppression,

looming like a storm front.

Hibernation is a state between life and death,

a sleep from which some animals never wake–

another hard winter descends from the mountains,

the sun creeping back to make way.

 

Bird

“When that love was done with, I was left like a bird on a branch.  I was no longer any use for anything.” Paul Eluard & Andre Breton, The Immaculate Conception (Translation by Jon Graham)

 

I am that bird/a useless, futile thing/purposeless and unblinking/stiffly clutched on my shivering perch

Denied foresight, stratagems/creature of instinct, heedless/as scattered petals or blown seed/no decisions, save alarm and flight

like the lilies of the field

like the trees and stones,

or a worm, turning in thick, black dirt

Free from striving and strife/charged only with existence/descended from dinosaurs/ small-brained and tuned to the stars

Waking you with piercing melodies/disdainful of the tardy dawn/spying with small, beady eyes/as you depart for work in a funk

Nestled against the weather/high up where the cats can’t reach/alert, yet lightly dozing/untroubled by what you call “dreams”

 

First Words

“My health was endangered.  Terror assailed me.”

Arthur Rimbaud, on the writing of Illuminations


Franz Kafka insisted we should only read books that “bite and sting us”.  Volumes, one presumes, capable of savaging unwary readers, leaving them spotted with blood.  Kafka, a gentle man, left strict instructions in his will that his writings be burned.  His executor, Max Brod, ignored his friend’s wishes and preserved his distinctive novels and stories; as a result, each year I risk serious injury plucking them from my shelves.

Words created us and words sustain us:

“The technical language of religion is

symbolism, with storytelling one of its

most important varieties.”

(so sayeth Huston Smith)

Ideas become words become action.  The correct conjunction of vowels and consonants will, according to some mythologies, lead to an unbinding.

A return to nullity.  From whence we came.

Be mindful and compassionate.  Practice right thought, right speech.  Do not call the worst into being.  Offer prayers to a Creator beyond faith.  Use the ancient words of praise.  The ones handed down through the ages.  Hallowed be thy name, o, God, thy will be done

 

*****************************************************************************

 

When I finished reading, Sherron was beaming.

Snuck in under the eight-minute time limit too.

Thanks to all the participants and audience members.  See you at my book launch on Wednesday!

 

(Photo by Zach Den Adel)

6 comments

  1. The Necromancer

    When you say “automatic writing” do you mean stuff that just comes out, stream of consciousness style? Or is there a more elaborate process involved — i.e. being put or putting oneself in an altered state or using particular substances to alter your state of consciousness? Just curious…

  2. Cliff Burns

    Yes, stream of consciousness. Often, what emerges is just a soup of words, but every once in awhile there’s a nugget that appears and it’s apparent from the first line, the first syllable, that I’ve hooked on to something of weight and substance, a mini-epiphany in the process of being born. And, as I say, little or no pre-planning: open an old notebook, one it’s easy to scribble in, mess up…then put pen to paper and wait for it to move of its own volition. Sometimes I play some ambient/instrumental music and drones to provide some atmosphere but, other than that, no special preparation or mindset required.

  3. driftlessareareview

    “Accident” — I’m sure the Ghost of JG Ballard is smiling.

    “Reaper” — Should see if you can get a spot on your local TV news affiliate and read it when they crow about the colors changing and whatnot. I liked how you made the inoffensive and aesthetic experience of Fall into a tableau of biohorror and despair. Cronenbergian deliciousness.

    Wonderful pair of poems. Still processing … Kafka, Insurance Bureaucrat as Prophet against Modernism. Reading Kafka, Beckett, and Celan is enough to make any writer cry.

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