January 25, 2020
Introducing: Charles Cote
One of the pleasures of moving to a new state has been the opportunity to hear and meet poets I had not been aware of in my old Northern California stomping grounds. One of these poets is Charles Cote. A few months ago, I had the pleasure of sitting with him in a Rochester café where we shared stories and work. It gives me great satisfaction now to introduce him to you. I’ll begin with a statement from Cote himself about his remarkable collection, I Play His Red Guitar, followed by a few poems from the book.
Gregory Orr writes that “poetry is the thread that leads us out of the labyrinth of despair and into the light.” Poems that emerge from crisis have the power to heal and re-stabilize us. That’s what I set out to do with this collection, to fashion a container for the chaos and grief of losing a son to cancer. Kim Addonizio in Ordinary Genius writes about Eckhart Tolle’s concept of the pain body, how our despair can be seductive, a perverse drama, and that art is a creative response, a way to transcend pain and come into the light. Rumi said, Become the light. So hopefully, the poems in I Play His Red Guitar sing toward the light. Not surprisingly, I’m teaching myself to play George Harrison’s Here Comes the Sun on my son’s red guitar, and I’d say it’s all right. My intention is to help others who are grieving a terrible loss to find some solace and light in the art of poetry and any form of creative writing, to share my book with bereavement groups across the country. David Whyte talks about how poetry initiates us into a conversation with profound silence which is a kind of liberation, the place we reconnect with our most authentic self so we don’t get lost in the chaos of everyday confusion. For me, that’s essential and why I write these kind of poems.
— Charles Cote
I Curse You, Melanoma, Curse
your humidity and bitter taste,
your fattened spiders spoiling
in metastatic corners, curse
your rotting cinders and peeling paint,
walls that bear no weight,
curse your pumps and wasted gates,
the scourge of putrid shapes,
forsaken stink in Gehenna, blackened
moles and pock-marked face.
May you drown in the bile
of your clogging drains,
choke in coagulate bags,
die with tumors that gorge
and fester, wracked
by relentless spasms
and unbearable break-through
pain, over-medicated, rotting
in a vat of tasteless radon.
Tin Man Villanelle
Fear’s the tail that wags the beast,
the scarecrow skitters in the straw.
Oz never did give nothing? Please.
As famine trumps the wedding feast,
a wife will find a husband’s flaws.
Fear the tail that wags the beast,
the bit of leaven that bloats the yeast.
A swollen tongue. A rusty jaw.
Oz never gives nothing, see?
He’s the one who would be last but never least,
who wouldn’t know his license from the law.
Fear’s the tail that wags that beast
as far as west is west and east is east,
as cooked is good and bad is raw:
Oz never did give nothing. Please,
your gold is lead, your wallet fleeced.
Your house is cold. The pipes won’t thaw.
Fear’s the tail that wags the beast.
Oz never did give nothing? Please.
takes the shape of graves in church yards, of blossoms
falling off the tree, the roots of rhododendron
on backdoor paths. I press its hunger
into the osprey’s nest, a branch curled
toward heaven, rapt beaks and claws, an ache
in every soft belly. My body hangs
between a sycamore and black walnut,
between shale defining the shore, wind chimes
bright in the rafters. It spills
out to the marsh, to the heron’s grace
in the current’s meditation, lazing open
to the sea. My body, a diamond lair, a gaslit
labyrinth, a timbered kingdom that takes
the shape of flame before match strikes flint,
that listens to catbirds mewling for space
in flits and calls, brother to cardinals and crows,
gathering what it can of this spoken world.
All poems shared with the permission of the author.
You can order I Play My Red Guitar by going to www.tigerpress.com.
Please send your reactions, comments or questions about this work to me at kfhastings (at sign) mac (dot) com.
“Yet you shall sometimes find the lotus flowering
In the mortal mind’s so narrow room..”
— Babette Deutsch, “The Lotus”
January 18, 2020
OUT OF THE ASHES
As you know from reading the introductory page, this website has, as just one of its purposes, a desire to bring together the work of poets from New York and California. When you walk to the poetry section of your local bookstore you are certain to see works by Emily Dickinson, Pablo Neruda, Mary Oliver, Walt Whitman and a few others. But unless you are in a store like City Lights in San Francisco, you may not have a clue as to the hundreds of other poets who have books out that might also call to you.
Because we left Northern California for Upstate New York, in part, as a result of the October 2017 wildfires in Sonoma County, I’m going to start this blog off with a poem by Santa Rosa poet, Jodi Hottel. It appears in her chapbook Out of the Ashes, a collection she dedicates to the 42 people killed in the fires and to the first responders who put their lives on the line.
First, came orange incandescence
from beyond the hills.
Then wind and embers, clearing the way
for a roaring flame-river.
When it passed — ash-fall,
sigh of silence.
Second came the uncertain waiting
for the gut punch or the guilt of relief,
the ghostly images sent by satellite
where red means green
and white means gone.
The visits to a changed-same landscape
of black spires and brick monuments,
parked skeletons, sad sifters, searchers for felines.
then the flood of insurers and law firms
clamoring to be first.
Third came a deluge of videos, each a blow
to the brain, vision of hellfire
that blew through our neighborhood.
And the telling of tales —
each devastating or heartening but singular.
Soon came the saws, falling redwoods
and ancient oaks, the stumps.
Shiny guardrails replacing
charred, twisted ones.
Then a held breath.
Later, hazmat suits of white,
blue tents, floodlights, trucks
roaming a moonscape. Close behind,
the front-loaders, breaking earth
and silence. Coyote howls.
Then came sprouts of promise,
earth resilience, responding to
the lure of rain, beacon of velvet hills
trimmed with singed-oak lace,
Backhoe-clangs, tractor-trailer deluge,
night and day, weeks and weeks,
leaving cleared lots, for-sale signs.
Vacancy awaits the inevitable —
contractors, architects, surveyors.
I hunger for a poured foundation,
fresh lumber, barrage of hammers.
My eyes search for leaf-sprout, yellow
peeping from deeply buried bulbs,
spot Canada geese on their return journey.
Jodi Hottel’s previous chapbooks are Voyeur from WordTech Press (2017); Heart Mountain, winner of the 2012 Blue Light Press Poetry Prize, and Through a New Lens, 2015. She lives in the Larkfield neighborhood of Santa Rosa, CA.