“He really was an enchanting person. In some way he was like the spiritual father of everybody…. It is hard to imagine Central Park without Charles Kennedy.” Marie Winn, author of Red-tails in Love, and close friend of Charles, remembering him after his death in October 2004

Sunday, January 24, 2010

All that jazz

Last week I picked up some new jazz CDs.  The most prized among the finds is "Monk Alone: The Complete Columbia Solo Studio Recordings 1962-1968."  Most prized on two counts: 1. I love Monk's music and this is a two-CD set of fascinating material. 2. It was Charles who turned me on to Monk. I still have the Monk's Greatest Hits LP Charles sent me when I was beginning to swing toward a preference for jazz. Charles had been a jazz fan since his teen years as well. Then he heard the great players at clubs in NYC, when Bop was sharing the bandstand with Cool. Charles was our long-distance chief fan and cheerleader as my brother and I began to play small jazz gigs around Cedar Rapids.  Charles, Deb and I made pilgrimage-style strolls down Manhattan's Thelonious Sphere Monk Circle. When Charles began to write in earnest, jazz and other musical references permeated his pieces.

So, here is Charles Kennedy's  "Spider Songs."  This piece appears in The Fish Jumps Out of the Moon and is part of an (as yet) unpublished photo-essay book Charles compiled about the butterfly vivarium at the American Museum of Natural History in NYC.  It has a "haibun" form, more or less, wherein a story is told by way of prose which is wrapped around integrated haiku.Charles is at his magical, musical best when he weaves many of his passions together, as he does here; bugs, dogs and cats, photography, haiku, music, and whimsy. Enjoy!

Spider Songs

     I was sitting in a bookstore one afternoon thinking about whether I believed or not that snowflakes make such a cacophony on the Hudson River that it is deafening to the eels; well, I suspect that it may at least be uncomfortable for them.  At that thought I slapped my forehead, realizing that I had answered a poetic conundrum that I had been struggling with for more than a year.

I can’t hear them
damn— I’ll never hear them
spider songs

     Here are some of the people that sing spider songs to me.  First, the spider mic would be handed to Anita O’Day, who would sing “A Nightingale Sang In Barkley Square,” and then “Georgia.”  (I know a great story about what happened to her uvula.)  Also Ella, Billie, even a punk kid named Norah Jones.  ( Do you believe--Ravi Shankar is her father?)  Chet Baker would come back and sing and blow that magic spider trumpet, but the group best prepared to sing spider songs would probably be Lambert, Hendricks, and Ross.  Pure glorious jazz.  But so many would sing great spider tunes if they were properly asked.

     Fool.  Spiders don’t sing.  I mean, maybe they do, but I have just now quit the game of listening for spider vocals, although clearly they are the jazziest of all the invertebrates.  Of the avians in North America, well , Central Park, anyway, Catbirds are the Jazz Birds, even though the evening song of the Robin is hauntingly inventive.  Of our satellite mammals, what is more musically celebratory than a good howling dog? (I did have  a cat, Rainbow, who sang riffs to “Summertime.”  She was a natural coloratura.) Anyway, sometimes Lord God Dog and I howl together.  Not as much as we used to, though.  He is a harsh judge, it seems, of my talent.  He’s terrific, though.

     Now to what it really is.  I thought it was about Duke and Thelonious and those guys, but it’s not.  It’s Chopin!  I insist that you go out in the evening and listen for yourself. They all play Chopin, at least the orb web weavers do.  Really!  (Some it’s said, hum along.  I’ve never heard that, but I have heard Lionel Hampton do heavy humming and Glenn Gould was famous for humming, but that was Bach.)
     I’ve never played Chopin for a spider, not yet.  It would be easy to carry in a small recorder to where Araneus Diadematus was building her deadly auditorium for the night. 

the spider
sips its moth
night continues

     The cute idea would be to play Chopin’s “Nocturnes,” but I’d want to play his Etudes for her.  I’ve implied that this orb weaver already knows Chopin but I don’t know for sure.  Anyway, you must sit here and watch her weave that web and you’ll see why I believe that spiders know Chopin.  It’s so, well, musical sitting here watching Diadematus sing and dance.
     And that tunnel weaver over there--Wagner!

watching the dance
a spider song

Monday, January 18, 2010

Winter Haiku

The Denver weather for the past week has been too mild, but it is about to turn a little colder and we'll have some welcome snow.  It is winter after all!  In a typical New York winter, especially when Central Park was snow-covered, Charles would lead the bird feeder filling crews in Central Park.  Marie Winn reports that Charles was a most valuable member of the feeder filler tribe because his long wingspan was perfect for reaching high-hung feeders. And, of course, he would be freeze-framing haiku snapshots as he moved through the park on winter days.

From the gentle drifts of his winter haiku here are some Charles Kennedy gems for your pleasure, which I have arranged in chilly little sets.  Each set provides an example of how Charles worked with the conventions of classical haiku and echoed the models of the masters he admired, such as Basho and Issa.  In the first set a bird or butterfly provides the poem's delightful turn or surprise element.  The second set reflects the non-objective, non-dualistic spirituality of the masters (and Charles) as the poet encounters himself as part of the natural scene illuminated by the haiku.  Snow is the dynamic featured element of nature in the third set. And, of course, a hallmark of Charles's written work (and personality!) was whimsy; seeing and sharing delight.

winter birds and butterfly...

the afternoon sun
struggling in the winter forest  
blue jay   
the winter web
the ice the wind snow
crows bearing it

folded in bark
waiting for spring warmth
the mourning cloak  

the poet in the scene...  

looking for birds
a few winter leaves
flying to the brook

alone in the park
bits of moonlight and squirrel tracks
not much snow left

crow’s feet
on fresh snow
mine too  

staring at snow
from the pony’s back
I’m eight

slapping his hat
on his knee
snow flakes  

snow is the star... 
a tuft of snow
jumps up 
with each crow step  

finally visible

gulls swirling
with the wind hurling snow
hidden white moon

a final dust
a whisper a kiss
the last snow

winter whimsy...  

a squirrel crossing
where a crow had hopped  
new snow proves it

boy writes
his dog's name
in the snow

Saturday, January 2, 2010

New Year Haiku

Our annual Christmas trip to Iowa was full of delights and sweet moments with family and friends.  The Fish Jumps Out of the Moon and Pale Male and Family popped into Christmas stockings across the state and seemed to be well-received.

One highlight of the trip was a visit to the Cedar Rapids home of long-time family friends, Jerry and Marilyn Owen.  They graciously previewed "The Legend of Pale Male" with us and generated some good thinking about how and where to do an Iowa premiere screening of the film.  Marilyn is a retired school music teacher and fine choral singer and flautist. Jerry is an emeritus professor of music composition from our alma mater, Coe College.  He is a renowned composer of, as his website states,'The New Classical Music.' 
Jerry is also an appreciator and writer of haiku poetry.  

I was interested to learn that Jerry had recently composed a commissioned choral piece, the lyrics of which are based on Jerry's original haiku.  Jerry's haiku are sublime- colorful, expertly crafted, and lyrical (of course!) The choral piece, "Canticle Chorale", has three sections: "Spring", "The Sun Seasons", and "Winter." It is a joyous and evocative aural tapestry.  Listening to this gorgeous piece (two listenings to date), I realize that I have been remiss in not seeking out more recordings of Jerry's compositions.  

Jerry and I chatted about the charged essence of a well-crafted haiku.  I came away from the encounter compelled to do even more with Charles's large body of masterful haiku and encouraged to get back to writing haiku of my own.  Thank you, Jerry!

I'm sure Charles would agree that all new years should begin with haiku.  Deb and I have been at our place in the mountains to greet the new year, so here is a light flurry of my recent haiku.

New Year Snowshoeing

on a winter hike
we march to the crunching beat
of snowshoe music

stopped knee-deep in snow
catching breath, letting hearts calm...
our reward: silence

beneath the silence
sounds like old folks murmuring...
the creek under ice

gusts throw snow from pines
into roiling, back-lit clouds-
cold veil of diamonds