Hundred Highways Tour #22 – 25: Northern, Western, Hummingbird & Southern Highways to Miss Bertie’s Community Library

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A couple days after Christmas, my family and I flew into Belize and jumped into a van that took us, three hours later, to Hopkins Village, on the Caribbean coast. The drive, first on the Northern Highway, then the Western to one of my favorite names for a road, the Hummingbird Highway, finally to the Southern Highway, was an adventure of potholes, jungle-clad mountains, “sleeping policeman” (the ubiquitous, teeth-shattering speed bumps that are the only method of getting drivers to slow down) and an unending narrative of jokes, puns, history and legends from our driver.

He told us that in Belize, they’re not very creative with town names. The town with many ladies is called Ladyville. The town that sprung up from refuges of Hurricane Hattie is called Hattieville. The town with a lot of rocks is called Rockville. I asked him if there were a lot of frogs in Hopkins. … It took him a minute.

I wasn’t here for a reading, so it’s a little tricky on my part to include this on the Hundred Highways Tour. But I did visit Miss Bertie’s Community Library where Dianne had me sign a copy of Vagabond Song to add to the library’s collection (and besides, it’s my tour – I make the rules).

This beautiful little gem of books was created by “Miss Bertie,” a Peace Corps volunteer, in 2007 and has been serving both the children and adults of Hopkins ever since. It was great to visit and see the single room building full of kids after school, discovering new worlds within the pages of the mostly donated books. A library is the heart of a community. A communal gathering place where people can become stronger, more human (and humane). Where life can take on new vistas, horizons can be rendered boundless.

I hope you’ll consider helping their cause. A single book can change someone forever.

Sacred fountain in Xibalba

A highlight of the trip was floating an underground river in St. Herman’s Cave. Descending into Xibalba, the Mayan Underworld, the flickering of bats, the crystal clear water. At one point, I stopped below a shower dripping from a stalactite and allowed the holy water to wash over my face. Our guide, Vida, noticed me and said, “Getting a good Mayan blessing, huh?” He knew exactly what I was up to.

In the rainforest along the Monkey River, with Howler Monkeys filling the air with their mad whooping, I resisted the temptation to wander off from our group and become a little creature of the jungle. Maybe a jaguarundi or a paca, the “royal rat.” The immensity of green, the water-soaked air, and the glittering of sunlight through twenty-foot leaves quickly cast their spell. I was spell-bound. A month later, the charm has yet to fully wear off.

New Years Eve at the Swinging Armadillo
     Hopkins Village, Belize

Half-moon rising from the sea:
a bowl of oranges & black flowers
on a tablecloth of stars

Garifuna drummers pounding out
the final moments of the year
hearts become drums with hides stretched taut

Soon winter will feel like winter again
but for now everything is music
& waves unfold on the dock like orchids

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[Read more reports from the Hundred Highways Tour here.]

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I Don’t Want to Go Out, I Want to Stay In

Rest in peace, Mr. Bowie.

It’s a rare artist who can so completely fill up a day’s worth of social media news feed. It’s a rare artist whose death can so completely fill up my emotional landscape. Right before turning out the bedside lamp last night, my wife told me the news. Thoughts and memories tumbled into dreams and I woke this morning with “The Man Who Sold the World” running relentlessly through my head.

All day, whether through our stereo speakers or just within my own skull, his masterful, eminently original music has been playing non-stop. Sadly, until his death hit me, I had forgotten how much his art meant to me. With a handful of exceptions, it’s been years since I’ve really listened to him. I used his cover of “Cactus” as curtain call music in a play I directed. I tried to show Labyrinth to my step-kids, but the lack of CGI failed to impress. I picked up a copy of Bowie at the Beeb, a compilation of his BBC recordings, some time last year and gave it a couple of listens. But that’s about it.

Until now.

A day of listening, of mourning, of celebrating the gift of his time here on earth, and the memories come flooding.

In high school, I was never popular. I never quite fit in, and mostly, that’s how I preferred it. While most of my class was listening to Boston, Def Leppard and Motley Crue (umlauts somewhere, whatever), I was in my room blasting cassettes of Ziggy Stardust and Let’s Dance. These recordings opened up a new world to me. A strange, beautiful, dangerous, forbidden and sexy world. Somehow I knew that if not liking the crap on the “rock” radio station that dominated the student parking lot made me an outsider, a weirdo, a freak, then being an outsider/weirdo/freak was a damn good thing to be.

Eventually, there were a handful of us. We wore strange clothes. We grew our hair long (and got beat up for it more than once). We listened to music that wasn’t on the radio. We pushed boundaries and found a world of relevance and authenticity beyond. It was this group of friends, gathered together by artists like Bowie, that led me into art, poetry, political and social activism, and other music beyond the mainstream – blues, folk, and eventually jazz.

Bowie never settled for safe, mainstream, normal, ordinary. In pushing beyond boundaries, he taught us all how to be artists. For that, I honor him, will miss him greatly, and will keep listening. He told us we could be heroes, we believed him, and he was right.

 

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Hundred Highways Tour #20, #21: MT S-205 & M-13 to Bradley’s Bistro

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On the wall of my motel room. Apparently the Lark knows the nature of my tour.

Back to the old homeland for a quick reading at Bradley’s Bistro, a beautiful downtown restaurant owned by my friends Lisa and Scott Kelly. It was really fantastic to catch up with some great old friends and meet some new ones.

I read some of the Saginaw-based excerpts from Vagabond Song and was struck by the changes since my early days there. Although there are still far too many “burned-out houses and boarded-up liquor stores … vacant lots of broken glass and the rusted skeletons of industry” — in fact some areas are now worse — but it occurred to me that the space where I was reading had probably been one of those boarded up buildings and now was filled with great food and beautiful people, artwork by several friends covering the walls. All because Lisa and Scott love this town, they believe in it and risked much to improve it. It felt good to be home.

In another section of the book, I write about the Saginaw River and the several rivers that merge south of town to form it:

Today the rivers are clogged arteries killing this land. The Shiawassee brings run-off from crops poisoned by Monsanto and Cargill, the Flint River adds toxins from General Motors and the Cass River brings more pesticides, herbicides and chemical fertilizers. The Tittabawassee has been attacked by Dioxins from Dow Chemical and, via the Pine River, by a host of pollutants from Michigan Chemical Corp. (now Velsicol …). Once a paradise teeming with fish, the Saginaw River now has signs posted at every dock and pier warning people and stating advisable limits of consumption. …

I grew up along these banks and have this death-water in my blood. We all do.

And now, the Flint River is making national headlines. Governor Snyder, in his undemocratic system of replacing elected officials with one of his crony “emergency managers” knowingly and willingly poisoned the people of Flint by allowing the switch to the river for the city’s drinking water supply. The children of Flint will suffer irreversible damage from lead poisoning. There are calls for Snyder’s resignation, which I support, though that’s just the beginning. He and other responsible parties must be tried and brought to justice for their criminal acts. The people of Michigan should rise up to demand this, and then never again allow these kind of vermin who would put profits over people to hold office again. Sending my love to the people of Flint and to all those beautiful people living in this beautiful state which is currently under siege from the right-wing thugs.

Here’s more details and a petition to sign:
http://michaelmoore.com/ArrestGovSnyder
http://www.msnbc.com/rachel-maddow-show/watch/toxic-water-tragedy-points-directly-to-snyder-597037635687

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[Read more reports from the Hundred Highways Tour here.]

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Hundred Highways Tour #11 – 19: MT 2, US 287, MT 87, US 20, I-15, US 30, ID 34, US 91 & I-84 to Ken Sanders Rare Books

DSCN1297_2Back to the legendary Ken Sanders Rare Books in Salt Lake City for the second time. I read here years ago with my cousin Doug and have been anxious to have a new book and therefore, a reason to come back.

Driving through the lonesome beauty of southwestern Montana and eastern Idaho, I watch a dozen antelope lope single file toward the shadow of snow-shrouded mountains, then a cloud of pelicans rising from a riverbank. The road snakes between rock walls and echoes glittering streams before spilling out into Pocatello where we stop for a dubious Italian dinner. In retrospect, I should have ordered the spaghetti taco instead of the cheese-bomb attempt at lasagna. Soon after, we’re in our private, naturally-fed spa at our hotel in Lava Hot Springs (which wasn’t as elegant and ritzy as it sounds, but still the perfect way to end a long day of driving.DSCN1295

We arrive in SLC the next afternoon and meet up with an old friend, the insanely talented photographer Kim Raff, for drinks and a bite before the reading. Kim was part of the 303 scene eons ago back in Saginaw, Michigan. In the middle of the plays and renegade bed races and full-contact paint parties, Kim and her camera were there, snapping the perfect shot. Hopefully some of those photos survived. Dog knows everything was moving too fast for me to take a single pic in those years. At least not that I remember.

The Doc Sarvis Gate: entrance to Forest House

The Doc Sarvis Gate: entrance to Forest House

After the reading, Ken, Lisa and I polish off the last of the wine and head to a little taco/beer joint. We stand by the bathrooms while Ken makes a phone call. A few moments later, a steel door opens and we are escorted down to a fantastic (and fantastical) underground bar filled with art, bizarre taxidermy and an awe-inspiring vinyl collection. The drinks and food are outstanding.

We finish the night back at Forest House, another fantastical location hidden in a wrinkle on the map. Passing through the Doc Sarvis Gate into the enchanted garden is one of my favorite experiences in this city. Far more spiritual than that big damn temple downtown.

The next day we head north, entering West Yellowstone in such a thick fog that the town is invisible until the last moment. Someone threw a switch, and a town appears. It’s time for a road drink. In this case, a Good Medicine red ale at the Slippery Otter. And then we are off, climbing 191 as it flirts with the border of Yellowstone Park then chases the Gallatin River back to the interstate.

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Hundred Highways Tour #9, 10: U.S. 87 & MT 208 to Cassiopeia Books

Dizzy after the stunningly beautiful drive through the Little Belt Mountains

Dizzy after the stunningly beautiful drive through the Little Belt Mountains

This is the kind of drive roads were invented for: Highway 89 running through Clyde Park, Wilsall, Ringling (of circus fame) and White Sulphur Springs before plunging into the Little Belt Mountains and the Lewis & Clark National Forest. An unrolling canvas of fall colors and streams reflecting a riot of sunlight is accented by golems of limestone rising from road’s edge into the sapphire blue sky. I have to constantly remind myself to keep my eyes on the road. I keep forgetting.

We stop off in Niehart (pop. 51) for a cold road drink at Bob’s Bar (the marquee read “NEXT BEER STOP 57 MILES” – how could one not stop?). Friendly folks and classic small-town-bar atmosphere. Unfortunately, we didn’t have time for a game of pool, I had a reading to get to.

So onward to U.S. 87 and State Hwy 208 taking us from Belt to Great Falls. We checked into a fantastic room at the Hotel Arvon (a suite for the price of a broom-closet), and headed over to the bookstore.

Cassiopeia Books is a gem of a place in a city suffering from the bad karma of the proximity to Malmstrom Air Force Base. Rich book selection, funky location, friendly owner and the crowd was fantastic – one of the best Q&A sessions I’ve had.

12122465_10206491240032646_1644221855682336412_nOf course, we had to end the night at Great Falls’ other gem: The Sip n Dip Tiki Lounge. Wine and mermaids. What more could one ask for? Except Piano Pat, who was unfortunately off that night. But for our next visit, we’ll make sure she’s playing (and make time for a game of 8-ball at Bob’s).

See you around the next bend.

[Read more reports from the Hundred Highways Tour here.]

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Hundred Highways Tour #8: MT Highway 3 to the High Plains BookFest

Billings viewed from Highway 3

Billings viewed from Highway 3

The High Plains BookFest and the High Plains Book Awards presented by the Writer’s Voice and the Billings Public Library are a great reminder of the importance of community in the literary arts. Writers spend so much of their time alone, plucking away at typewriter keys or scratching the pages of a journal, accompanied by a cold cup of coffee and a snoring cat. Not many people understand what it is we’re doing, or why. Often, neither do we. Writing is wandering a dark cave with a dim flashlight. Something fantastic is painted on the walls but we can only make out a bit at a time. We must, from time to time, head back to the surface and compare notes with other explorers with their own dim flashlights. Not only to expand the understanding of the picture, but to recharge our batteries so we can head back down with a brighter light. So an opportunity to gather writers and readers together, to celebrate the books that move us, change us and challenge us, to hear our words spoken aloud and echoing off other souls, is vital to the continuance of our craft.

I checked into my room at the Dude Rancher, with its cattle brands carpet and matching headboard, then bolted over to the Visible Vault to read a couple poems and be a judge for a really terrific poetry slam. I used to do a lot of slam poetry back in the Midwest and it’s been awhile since I attended an event with this much talent. It reminded me of the energy back at the Kraftbrau in Kalamazoo. There the wild poems flowed as freely as the beer, and I met some of the finest writers I know.

The next night, after visiting a couple classes on campus, I met up with other poets at the weekly jazz jam at the Yellowstone Valley Brewing Co. Garage and dogdamn! I had no idea such a great jazz scene existed in Montana. Really hot players, good cold beer. I was invited up to perform a piece with the band. I did a new poem, “Arundo Donax” from a work-in-progess suite that contrasts the positive beauty and power of John Coltrane with the ugly death-wish of the Coal Train.

My actual reading for the festival was a perfect example of the community of writers and its value. I was honored to share the lectern with Tami Haaland (Montana’s poet laureate), Cara Chamberlin author of the really fine book The Divine Botany), Dave Caserio (one of the best performance poets I’ve seen) and Nathan Petterson (who won the slam two nights previously). Hearing their words definitely revealed more of that cave painting and served to recharge the batteries.

So now, with those recharged batteries, I’m ready to head back down into the cave. There’s another poem down there, waiting to be brought to light.

[Read more reports from the Hundred Highways Tour here.]

 

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Hundred Highways Tour #7: MT Highway 86 to Country Bookshelf

DSCN1273Lisa and I had to get a little creative for our route to Country Bookshelf in Bozeman to avoid, yet again, traveling I-90 (there’s only so many ways to get over the pass). So we headed up to Clyde Park (originally called “Sunnyside”) and took the breathtakingly scenic Brackett Creek Road to Highway 86 which hugs the south-eastern front of the Bridger Mountains.

It was worth the extra time.

As always, “making good time” should refer to quality not quantity. And any route that results in a poem, is very high-quality indeed.

Brackett Creek

Gold coins of aspen
shimmering on the hillsides as
a golden eagle lifts
from a fence post

We slow to watch
as it follows the slope of the land
like chords waving across the lines
of a musical staff

Sunlight painting spruces,
barns & the ribboning road
unrolling before us
like our best possible future

Surrounded by the only gold
that isn’t fool’s gold,
& with you here to share it,
I’m the richest man in the world

The reading was enhanced by that drive, and also by a great dinner beforehand with one of my favorite couples, Gatz and Janie. Gatz (aka William Hjortsberg) gave me the first blurb for Vagabond Song (which, coming from the author of so many great books and screenplays, was a huge honor).

Here’s the trailer for the Caldera Theatre Co. production of “Trout Fishing in Livingston” which features Gatz reading from his Jubilee Hitchhiker: The Life and Times of Richard Brautigan:

Thanks for riding shotgun on the Hundred Highways tour. We’ll be heading to Billings next.

[Read more reports from the Hundred Highways Tour here.]

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Reviews and Buzz for Vagabond Song

As the Hundred Highways Tour continues, the word about Vagabond Song is spreading review by review, blog by blog, semaphore by semaphore. Below is a running list.

Much thanks to all the editors, writers, journalists, reviewers and readers who work so hard to support independent literature!

Interview by Cherie Newman of The Write Question

Montana Public Radio ran my poem “Wool Blanket” in advance of my visit to The Write Question.

The legendary Review Magazine – review and interview by Robert Martin

Distinctly Montana with an excerpt from the “Flying Cloud to Warrior Highway” movement

Named to The Aspen Times Fall Reading List

Poet, playwright and novelist Gary Corseri’s review, “Into the Heart of the Sacred” published in the following online journals:
Pressenza International Press Agency
Uncommon Thought Journal
CounterCurrents
The Smirking Chimp
Hollywood Progressive
Transcend Media Service

A look at the book’s artwork by Edd Enders

Book review in The Big Sky Journal

Book review in Foreword Reviews

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Hundred Highways Tour #5-6: Route 12 & MT 1 to the Montana Book Festival

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At Homestake Pass. Considering that most trains are full of coal instead of people, this is how I wish all tracks looked.

From Butte onward, to the Montana Book Festival for a reading at Shakespeare & Co., named for the legendary Paris bookshop that published my favorite book of all time.

The reading was great – I felt very welcomed by Garth and the other wonderful folks at the bookstore. The best part was sharing the stage (and a fantastic Sauvignon Blanc by Régis Minet before the reading) with Gary Whited, one of those really fine, gentleman poets who remind me that I need to work harder and dig deeper with my own poetry. He read from his collection, Having Listened, and had me hooked by the second line: “Meadowlark on barbed wire, yellow breasted door opens with its song.”

DSCN1178The rest of the weekend was full of visiting with some great writers – enjoying their words and energy, eating too much good food, drinking just the right amount of good wine and sitting in the window sill in our 5th floor room listening to a street piano-player (only in Missoula) plink out a song to the night.

Piano player
taps stars in the night sky
composed by Galileo

On the way home, we took Montana Highway 1, aka the Pintler Scenic Route, a relaxing cruise through towns like Hall and Maxville and on into Philipsburg where we enjoyed the elixers offered by the Philipsburg Brewing Company and caught a bad-ass, down-home blues set by SmokeStack and the Foothill Fury.

Where copper dreams become nightmares.

Where copper dreams become nightmares.

Near its terminus at I-90, Highway 1 rolls through Anaconda and Opportunity, past the Anaconda Smelter Stack. This 585 foot tall structure, capable, when it was in use, of spewing out three to four million cubic feet per minute of toxic gas, is the tallest free standing masonry structure in the world. The Washington Monument could fit inside it. That’s about the best metaphor for American capitalism I can imagine.

I always get a graveyard chill passing these places. Brad Tyer’s fine book, Opportunity, Montana: Big Copper, Bad Water, and the Burial of an American Landscape, explains why. Here’s the trailer:

[Read more reports from the Hundred Highways Tour here.]

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Ebooks of Vagabond Song Now Available

Before you say it: I know, I know. How can the guy who wrote this anti-ebook screed now be selling them?

Three reasons:

  1. I want my book to be available to everyone, and I know that many people prefer ebooks or enjoy the convenience and portability, so who am I to judge. Plus I can offer the ebook at almost half the price of the paperback, making it more affordable for readers.
  2. I want to sell a lot of books. I want to sell so many books that I can quit my day job. … Oh, wait, my day job is selling books. Oh well. … And,
  3. As I write in Vagabond Song, “Self-contradiction is the beginning of honesty.”

Anyway, here’s the links for the ebook on Kobo, Barnes & Noble Nook and Amazon Kindle. Please let me know if you’d like it available for another device. Thanks.

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