Search This Blog

Saturday, July 24, 2010


     Last night Joan Baez was in town, and while I was at home feeling sorry for myself for missing the show I dug out this piece I wrote the last time I saw her perform. I do hope that my writing has matured at least a little bit since then. The demographic for this publication was 55+, and that also comes across in it.

Joan Baez: Still Sassy at 67

Published by Seacoast Media Group, December 2008

     For the last few months I had been thinking about writing a piece about the large number of famous people who turned 50 this year, especially in the entertainment industry. That little boy pop stars Donny Osmond and Michael Jackson had 50 candles to blow out kind of blew my mind. And it is impossible to be unimpressed with how four hours of physical training a day looks on Madonna at 50. I’d been thinking that reaching the half-century mark was a milestone worth mentioning.
     That was until I went to see Joan Baez perform at Berklee, and I realized that those little whippersnappers don’t deserve a mention. Not yet anyway.
     Born in January 1941 Joan is deservedly known as one of the foremost folk singers and songwriters of the century, but really is a much broader talent than that. She is also well known for her social activism, and once said, “Action is the antidote to despair.” As with all true artists, her work has always been an expression of her beliefs and passions, and she has even been jailed for hers. Though for the first time in her professional life she recently endorsed a candidate for president (guess who), she is still a serious pacifist and her fire is not fading. She says her direction in life was shaped when she met Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. at a Quaker meeting in 1956.
     Joan moved to Boston at the age of 17 and spent only one year studying music, more in small clubs and coffee houses than at university, before she became a hit at the 1959 Newport Folk Festival. By the time she played Woodstock (when she was 6 months pregnant) she was already well known. It was a thrill for me to hear her sing Swing Low Sweet Chariot which was one of the songs she performed on the Woodstock stage. She has been at it ever since, and told us, “It’s crazy that I’ve been up here for 50 years, but it’s crazier that you’re still there.”
     With all due respect to Madonna, I honestly think that Joan Baez has never looked more beautiful than she does now, and that it is a natural beauty that can only come with loving your age. There is a healthy elegance about her that clearly radiates out from her center, where her remarkable voice also originates.
     She says she no longer has the full 3 octave-vocal-range she is known for, and while her voice has certainly deepened with age, she was nothing short of amazing when she performed for 90 minutes for us, on her feet the whole time, giving her band a break but never taking one herself, and graciously responding to two standing ovations.
     She has perfected her stage show, knowing exactly how to communicate with her audience; how much to give to them and ask of them, how to make them laugh (her Dylan impression is a hoot!) and cry. And even how to lead them in song, as she did on her final number, an acapella rendition of Amazing Grace that she led us in singing along with her, like the most devout choir director. As when I heard Odetta sing House of the Rising Sun acapella I was moved in a way that defies articulation.
     It felt like I had just participated in the quintessential aging hippie experience, as I filed out of the auditorium behind a white haired gentleman using a cane, and dabbing tears from my cheeks. It was the only concert I’ve ever been to, and I have been to many, where the only thing I could say after was “Amen.”
     Lest you think you have little in common with this 67 year old political and pop-culture icon, know that she is adjusting to being a grandmother, and that she is currently living with and caring for her 95 year old mother. Amen to that too.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Duotropes and Pearl Earrings

     Yesterday morning, after a leisurely workout at the dojo, I was having a brunch meeting with a couple of local poets, (yeah if I complain about my life you should e-slap me) both very accomplished writers. We were doing some of our annual planning as board members for the Portsmouth Poet Laureate Program. But, as poets will, we got off track a few times, and during one of those side discussions, I received a great tip that I think is going to make a big difference for me. Maybe you all already know about it, and were keeping it a secret from me! I have reached a point in my amateur writing career where getting organized is paramount, and it has become hard to keep track of what I am sending out, and when and where it was sent. Turns out I can do all of that at Duotrope, a website designed for writers that offers a submission tracker among other things. I am going to begin using it today and will report back in a few weeks.

     After going to hear Paul Harding speak about his Pulitzer Prize winning novel last week, I embarked on A Tracy Chevalier personal reading kick that has been sheer summer pleasure for me. (I have gotten some writing done in between reading fits.) As soon as I finished The Virgin Blue, which I actually found exciting to read, I grabbed a copy of Girl With A Pearl Earring. Though I saw the movie years ago I had never read the book. Chevalier really writes the way I want to. I would like to hear what others think of her work.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

A Matter of Style?

No Dear T. ~ just this:

"Thank you so much for sending your work to Crab Creek Review. We received over 2,000 poems for our Ekphrastic Portfolio and chose less than 1% of these poems. The number of submissions exceeded our wildest expectations. Please know that we read your work with great care. As writers ourselves, we know the considerable undertaking it is to send a submission out into the world. We are sorry that we can't take all the strong work we read and wish you great success in placing your work elsewhere."
     Actually got two of those emails as I had submitted two poems. Once you get used to them they are not so bad. I take them as confirmation that I am getting my work out there and at least some of the time, it is getting some consideration. Hopefully the rejection was more a matter of style than substance. Over the last week I did get a couple things out, including one short story that is locally based historical fiction that another author agreed to read for me as I am concerned with historical and geographical accuracy and he is a subject matter expert. I also signed on to a new mini-gig that I am very excited about and have put a few hours into this week. I'll explain in detail when I formally announce it in an upcoming post. Fell behind in most of my work really, and have a lot of catching up to do. My kids have been extra needy the last week, especially the oldest who I am preparing to send off to college. That takes a lot of parental energy when the kid is a foot-dragger. And I just don't function well during heat waves. Yesterday afternoon I took most of the day off and started a new book that I chose just for pleasure. It really did feel like guilty pleasure to do that. And it really was an indulgence since most of the books I have been reading for the last year have been assigned to me in one way or another. A few nights ago I went to a reading given by Paul Harding who just won the Pulitzer for his first novel Tinkers. I wasn't a big fan of the book, and felt like I was the only one who wasn't. It even made me question my literary legitimacy. I really liked the guy, enjoyed his reading, and recognized the originality of the work, It just didn't capture my attention. The truth is I like stories more like the one I'm into now; The Virgin Blue. I'm a big Tracy Chevalier fan. It's just a matter of style I guess, but I do wonder what it says about me as a writer. And in closing, this silly test I took yesterday on FaceBook said my style is that of Dan Brown whose work I have not studied at all.

I write like
Dan Brown
I Write Like by Mémoires, Mac journal software. Analyze your writing!