Our paths first met at open mic night at Beanstreet café during a time of national crisis and local transition. The aftermath of 9/11 brought a lot of poets and singer songwriters to open mics for reasons of catharsis and later to protest.
But Barbie Angell brought something different to the Beanstreet musicians and poets. Part Dorothy Parker, part Shel Silverstein, Barbie Angell became a regular favorite of scene and a poetic force.
We first met around the time my book Late Night Writing was published. I was working hard on new material and trying it out on the open mic crowd. We exchanged a few conversations and notes at that time and then we lost track of each other for a couple years.
Beanstreet dramatically closed. The poetry scene was adrift for awhile. Eventually the Courtyard Gallery off Walnut Street filled the space. And that is where Barbie and I reconnected. From those late nights at the Courtyard Gallery open mics until my departure from Asheville, we spent a lot of time sharing poetry, discussing literary world domination, challenging and encouraging each other about all things regarding a poets life.
Roasting Questions, her collection of poems and illustrations, was released a few years ago. We talked much about that publication and the supporting book tour.
Though our poetic styles were different we still sought to encourage one another toward success.
There was one night I remember in particular. Two different events were going on in Asheville and she was to read poetry at one while I read at another. She picked me up at my house, drove downtown, and after the separate events we met up at Sazerac for refreshments. We talked about the night’s events, avoided how jealous we were of the others’ success and then she drove me back home. That is what friends do.
That is a glimpse into the story behind this short poem. With friends like Barbie, you have the strength to walk further, to try harder, and to be better.
 Originally published May 4, 2017 https://coffeehousejunkie.net/2017/05/04/poetry-reading-list-for-national-poetry-month-part-three/
NOTE: Originally published April 11, 2011, https://coffeehousejunkie.net/2011/04/11/poem-foggy-sunday-morning/
Some of you know this, others may not, but there is a lot of labor involved if you put your hand to the practice and turn of poetry. There was a lot of hard work and late nights at cafés, open mics and taverns and copious amounts of coffee and hours of mic time that provided me the opportunity to read poems at an art gallery — the Flood Gallery Fine Art Center.
The Flood Gallery Fine Art Center organized a poetry reading series that featured local poets. That evening marked a milestone — in my mind. Before that night at the Flood Gallery, the poets — Britt Kaufmann, Brian Sneeden, Barbara Gravelle and myself — were barely familiar with each other. But something alchemical happened during the reading.
Britt Kaufmann’s Belonging was published sometime after that reading. I remember Britt emailing me drafts of the poems prior to publication as well as discussing the nuances of navigating publishing challenges. Barbara Gravelle has published several books of poetry. Her collection of Greek island poems came together before my eyes. One afternoon we looked at illustrations and poems side by side to consider the flow of art and poetry. Brian Sneeden has several forthcoming books of translations and poetry. The first time I heard him read his work was at Malaprop’s Bookstore/Cafe for a Traveling Bonfires event.
Barbara, Brian and myself went on to form a poetic collective called the Rooftop Poets. We collaborated on an invitation-only event of music and poetry at the private ballroom of the Historic Battery Park Apartments. Attendees were given a commemorative, limited edition anthology of our poems. There were a few more public gatherings of the Rooftop Poets, but for me the treasure was sharing our compositions privately. Discussing everything from modern Greek poetry to religion to archeology to feminism to poetry to local gossip as well other aspects of life. I greatly miss that face-to-face time with these friends.
Shortly before my departure from Asheville, I sat in a side room of a wine bar on a Sunday afternoon. The room was filled with aspiring and novice poets. We went around the room reading poems. At the conclusion of the readings I overheard a few people commenting about the Rooftop Poets. They discussed — even mythologized — who the Rooftop Poets were, what they did, how many people attended a private reading, what happened at that reading and so on and so forth. The eavesdropping made me smiled. I did not correct factual errors. I walked to the main bar. Someone bought me a beer. We talked about employment and jazz and all things Asheville. And I left.
These poets and friends made in impact in my life — as well as the local and regional community.
 Read more about Britt Kaufmann and her work as a poet and playwright. http://www.brittkaufmann.com/poetry
 Some of Barbara’s books are out of print, but worth the read if you can find them. Here’s a link to one of her published poems: http://www.salomemagazine.com/search.php?search=1
 Originally published May 1, 2017 https://coffeehousejunkie.net/2017/05/01/poetry-reading-list-for-national-poetry-month-part-two/
Poetry continues the Great Conversation. What is truth? How do we know it? Who are we and how should we live? Often reserved for philosophers, these surface questions are the result of the friction from winds of poetry.
What came first? Philosophy? Or Poetry? Since Theogony pre-dates many philosophical writings, I submit that poetry came first. Poetry is the wind that troubles the water.
But I am no scholar. Only a modern-day peasant who watched as twelve- to eighteen-foot waves battered the rocky Lake Michigan shoreline this weekend.
On a gray, stormy afternoon, I retreated to the public library in Racine. A book of translations of Han Shan needed to be renewed for the fourth or fifth time. And the children needed to get out of the apartment. Besides, the more you check out books of poetry the more funding the library gets based on your activity and/or interest in certain subjects. Or so I am led to believe by local librarians.
I was introduced to the Cold Mountain poems during one of the library’s writers groups. Since then I have read and studied several books of translations from Wang Wei, Ryokan, Han Shan, Basho and others.
During the last few years, I find my writings turning toward dialogues with these poets. Here is a sample Cold Mountain poem from Han Shan, a Taoist/Buddhist hermit, as translated by Red Pine:
Since I came to Cold Mountain
how many thousand years have passed
accepting my fate I fled to the woods
to dwell and gaze in freedom
no one visits the cliffs
forever hidden by clouds
soft grass serves as a mattress
my quilt is the dark blue sky
a boulder makes a fine pillow
Heaven and Earth can crumble and change
A quick read reveals a surface feast of images and imagination. After reading and thinking about this poem for a few months there are things inferred and/or referenced. Is the An Lu-shan Rebellion referred to in the third line? Is there a reference to the bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara? Heaven means the emperor. Earth means the empire. Is the last line political? Or philosophical?
While Han Shan wrote this poem on rocks or trees, elsewhere in the world Beowulf was composed. Charles Martel expanded the Frankish Empire. What do I say to Han Shan? Why did you flee? What and/or who did you leave behind?
Earlier this year I shared poems with a high school group on invitation of the tutor. Han Shan was one of the poets I recited (among other poets like Ghalib and Akhmatova). After the class, one of the tutors thanked me for visiting the class. She was grateful that the young men in the class saw a man engaged and enthusiastic about poetry and literature. The tutor asked how I became interested in poetry. My answer was that poetry is part of the Great Conversation.