‘Poet in the City’: the Lost Gem

The following is from Mat Danks’ Excavation Tape Project, which attempts to unearth previously undiscovered musical gems:

Excavation Tapes #267: ‘Poet in the City’ by Allen Shadow

kks-album-cover Wow, this is dark. And very cool. Listen here.

It’s a creeping, haunting yomp over some brilliantly bleak, industrial clangy instrumentation. Perhaps, like a gothic take on John Cooper Clarke with some pretty obvious touchpoints of Nick Cave and Tom Waits.

It’s from a 2002 album called ‘King Kong Serende’ and a bit of digging into Allen Shadow (see his blog here) suggests he’s a bit of a renaissance man. His Twitter bio states: “Novelist Allen Shadow (aka Allen Kovler) is also a music artist, poet, journalist & PR pro (APR) who blogs on writing, music and politics.” Which is what we like here on the Excavation Tapes.

If this project is all about unearthing really interesting and brilliant material lost in the banal mainstream crossfire, then we’ve got ourselves a gem here.

–Mat Danks

Windy Hill

There was the country road
went on forever
me and Leif hurling rocks
swinging sticks
on the way to town

Weeds all sweated
gravel in our sneaks
Fords occasionally
even a Packard
long enough to make us dream
would the girls all be pretty as Renee
would we fly

Dusk back at the bungalow colony
Pete the jockey took us out on Thunder
bareback in the fields
nothing but the night birds now
Vesuvius beneath us
and the orange sun

Note: Windy Hill is part of my poetry series on summer.

Elegy for Claude

We did take the world
Didn’t we, Niño?
Took all the dim bar light
And made it sing
Didn’t we, Niño?
Made the girls call our name
At least some of time
Didn’t we, Niño?

And even dared take the city lights
And bend them into dreams
Didn’t we, Niño?
And in the end
Knew for sure
How the gleam in your eyes
Would simply go on forever
We did know that
Didn’t we, Niño?

Claude Haton

Claude Haton


R.I.P. Claude Haton
My little brother
November 1, 1955 to July 19, 2014

Note: A benefit concert in Claude’s honor will be held August 1 in Cairo, N.Y. (proceeds go to scholarship fund for local high school students).

The Red Apple Rest

Took a wrong turn and ran smack into my past: The Red Apple Rest, a way station for city travelers on their way to the Catskills, abandoned now for nearly 30 years. Had no idea she still existed.

The Red Apple Rest

The Red Apple Rest

Beautiful in her ghostly repose, she inspired this poem:

THE RED APPLE REST

Came upon her by accident
and as surprised as when
she loomed up at us
as we breached that far hill
in the Studebaker

The Red Apple Rest
that boyhood vision
ship-like
in all her sweeping glory
magic oasis for urban escapees

Snack bar windows yawning
for the idling Fords, Mercs and Greyhounds
engines hotter than Venus
dogs, malts, pastrami
loudspeakers and mothers’ calls

Free to roam and exult for a time
gape at the oddities
men with beards
girls with midriffs
until back in the oven car
stuffed with pillows and dishes
and dreams of an endless summer

 

Ode to the Lost Motels of the Jersey Shore

Exploring Seaside Heights, N.J., for the first time, and, sadly, I find no treasure-trove of midcentury motels like there are in Wildwood. Here, as testament, is an image of a Jeffrey L. Neumann painting of the Seashell Motel in Wildwood and my poem on the same subject (total coincidence, but not surprising, since Jeffrey and I cover the same beat: lost America).

 

"Sea Shell," a painting by Jeffrey Neumann

“Sea Shell,” a painting by Jeffrey Neumann

CHECKOUT AT THE SEA SHELL MOTEL

the caramel room
at the Sea Shell Motel
dollar store palm prints
and nicotine sills

cheap rum hangs in the shaft of sun dust
hula lamps hold the afternoon

dealings have come and gone —
Greek families, pimps, divorcees,
schmuck runaways, suicide watches

music plays no more
only murmurings and distant trucks
the scent of the bulldozer

‘America, I’ll Have My Way With You’ — Book Release

My latest chapbook of poetry, America I’ll Have My Way With You (Casa del Pueblo Press, 2015) was released during a book signing party and reading last week in Pueblo, Colorado, home of Casa and the Pueblo Poetry Project. It was the seventh time over the past 30 years that I’ve been the featured reader at a project event. (Copies are $6 each, postage included, and can be purchased by sending a check made out to Allen Shadow to P.O. Box 268, Catskill, N.Y. 12414.)

Cover of poetry chapbook  "America, I'll Have My Way With You"

Cover of poetry chapbook “America, I’ll Have My Way With You”

I began the America series after returning from a trip to Mexico in the summer of 2001. I’ve come to love some of my subjects, some of which are places — like New York, America. Love them so much they become personages to me, even paramours of a kind. Let’s face it, writers can get very personal with their subjects. Returning to a beloved place can reinvigorate your feelings, like returning to your longtime lover after a journey. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, but it also opens the eyes wider.

The poems in the series are written in a style called “direct address.” Think of it as writing a heartfelt letter to a loved one. In this case, it’s this whole wide, mysterious country I’ve wanted so bad to know. To me, she is like a temptress who has hold of you, keeps you hungry, keeps you wanting more.

I offer one of the poems from the chapbook as a sample:

America, I’ll Have My Way With You #136
August 17, 2001

Thank you for waiting, America
for my return from Mexico
your Lucite furniture store letters
your neglected window displays
your sandstone and faux brick face
your stairways to nowhere
at ajar doorways
your Dutch pediments
your ants and cigarette butts
your warehouse alarm housings
your dense August afternoons
lunchroom turbines whirring
dishes clanking in the alleyways

Your semis abandoned in vacant lots
your hashed roofs
your bricked up factories
your sun cut warehouse walls
your sea birds one hundred miles
from the ocean on the Hudson

Oh America, I love you
I’ve always loved you
even with your one eye
your misshapen hips
your iron nipples

‘Finding Robert Frank Online’ and Beyond

The other day The New York Times covered the announcement of a treasure trove of images from the work of Robert Frank, one of the most influential photographers of the 20th century. The National Gallery of Art has released a comprehensive archive of Frank’s work, including contact sheets and work prints, much of it never before seen by the public. It all comes in advance of Frank’s 90th birthday, in November.

As The Times says in it’s Lens Blog:

The cover image for the U.S. edition of The Americans, Robert Frank’s epochal book, spoke volumes about the state of the nation in the mid-1950s. The tightly-cropped photo shows passengers in the windows of a New Orleans trolley assuming their place in the social order of the Jim Crow South — progressing from a black woman in the rear to white children and adults up front (slide 4).

The contact sheet that contained the image showed that Mr. Frank had photographed the city from multiple perspectives, but he ultimately selected the frame that most dramatically and symbolically captured New Orleans’ racial hierarchy. Learning this photo’s backstory would be impossible without the ability to view Mr. Frank’s contact sheet. Now, such important archival material, typically reserved for scholars and curators, is just a click away.

Born in 1924 in Zurich, Switzerland, Frank took pictures in Europe and South America during his early career, but it wasn’t until he crisscrossed the seductive roads of America that Frank felt he was finally making art with his lens. With his U.S. travels in the mid-1950s, his work reached a new level, and 83 of his road images were arranged into the book The Americans.

It’s no surprised that Jack Kerouac wrote the introduction to the first U.S. edition of The Americans. The 1959 edition raised eyebrows in the media for its brute black and white candor. But The Americans, like Kerouac’s own masterwork, On the Road, opened the door to the loneness of the country’s heart and spirit and, together, they inspired a generation of artists, musicians and thinkers.

It’s interesting how foreign image makers like Frank, Mechelangelo Antonioni (Zabriskie Point, 1970), Louis Malle (Atlantic City, 1980) are able to capture the essence of the land better than most native auteurs. In fact, with the stir made by The Americans, Frank was compared to America’s original outsider observer, Alexis de Tocqueville, whose 1835 book Democracy in America helped to define the young nation’s unique character (Is it what America brings to you or what you bring to her?).

I believe a great artist is a conduit for “place.” His subject somehow finds him, speaks through him. The artist ultimately “sees” through time as the French photographer Eugène Atget once described it. I believe such artists also see through other dimensions, some of which elude us, some of which speak through intersections of light and shadow, artifact and art, quietude and cacophony, moment and mystery.

It’s hard to describe The Americans. Language could illuminate it, could degrade it. Perhaps it’s like the stuff of dreams, the magic of which begins to disappear upon transfer to the conscious mind. So much spills from the bucket on its ascent from that deep, dark well.

I was surprised and pleased when I discovered Frank himself had linked the worlds of photography and poetry in his description of his work:

When people look at my pictures I want them to feel the way they do when they want to read a line of a poem twice.