Poetry and Music

This has been a week of loss for us, with the deaths of Peter Ostroushko and Lawrence Ferlinghetti.  A musician and a poet gone.

I think this is a good weekend to think about and celebrate our favorite folk musicians and poets.  I had never in my life experienced folk music until 1981 when I first attended the Winnipeg Folk Festival. It was an absolutely magical experience,  and I was immediate  hooked. I attended every Winnipeg festival  every year I lived there, and many  after we left. When we moved back to the States in 1986, I finally had radio access to PHC, and not long after that I found the Morning Show. The rest is history.

Poetry appreciation has always been a stretch for me, but I have come to understand and love it with the gentle assistance of the Baboons. Thank you, all.

What are your favorite poems? What are your favorite folk groups,  festivals, and songs? What do you think is important for us to hear and read right now?



56 thoughts on “Poetry and Music”

  1. I owe a huge debt to Garrison Keillor’s Writer’s Almanac, for it introduced me to the world of accessible poetry.

    A good example is the poem below. Written by Bill Holm, the title is Wedding Poem for Schele and Phil.

    A marriage is a risky business these days
    Says some old and prudent voice inside.
    We don’t need twenty children anymore
    To keep the family line alive,
    Or gather up the hay before the rain.
    No law demands respectability.
    Love can arrive without certificate or cash.
    History and experience both make clear
    That men and women do not hear
    The music of the world in the same key,
    Rather rolling dissonances doomed to clash.

    So what is left to justify a marriage?
    Maybe only the hunch that half the world
    Will ever be present in any room
    With just a single pair of eyes to see it.
    Whatever is invisible to one
    Is to the other an enormous golden lion
    Calm and sleeping in the easy chair.
    After many years, if things go right
    Both lion and emptiness are always there;
    The one never true without the other.

    But the dark secret of the ones long married,
    A pleasure never mentioned to the young,
    Is the sweet heat made from two bodies in a bed
    Curled together on a winter night,
    The smell of the other always in the quilt,
    The hand set quietly on the other’s flank
    That carries news from another world
    Light-years away from the one inside
    That you always thought you inhabited alone.
    The heat in that hand could melt a stone.

    Liked by 7 people

  2. I saw a bumper sticker once that said, “Poetry is necessary.” I never saw another one like it. I couldn’t agree more. It has held my hand and supported me through the rough places. It’s helped the tears fall when they wouldn’t come. Favorite poem? I can’t imagine even narrowing it down to a favorite poet.

    Folk music is often poetry. When a folk musician adds a few simple chords it becomes “three chords and the truth.” I don’t remember a time when I didn’t respond with my entire soul to folk music. Again, I couldn’t name a favorite song, much less only one folk musician. Peter Ostroushko was a master and a poet without words. His mandolin playing had the power to bring me to tears with its indescribable beauty.

    Yes, you all know I have a favorite folk festival! I hope we can all be together again in September. We had to skip our 30th year last year and that celebration, after being put on hold, will be an emotional high for me and a lot of other people. September 11-12, Minnesota Square Park! If there is half a chance of doing it safely, those friends of mine will pull it together. Won’t it feel great?

    Liked by 6 people

    1. Where is Minnesota Square Park, again? After we can gather I plan to be at everything, which, of course is not realistic. That Folk Festival has always been the weekend I can my tomato soup, so I never get there.

      Liked by 4 people

      1. Minnesota Square Park is on the west side of southbound Hwy 169 in St. Peter. On that weekend, just follow the traffic. You really can’t miss it.


  3. Favorite folk music artists includes
    Peter, Paul and Mary
    Greg Brown
    Tupac Amaru Shakur
    At first blush, 2Pac would not fit my typical idea of folk music. Maybe that comes because of the challenge in discerning the words and my inability to rap along. But after listening with the rap lyrics in front of me, I get a better sense of the message that touches other folks. I hope this doesn’t come across as a white-guilt

    Liked by 6 people

    1. Funny or sad, really, that the thought would even occur to you, Wes, but I think I know where you’re coming from. Black artists have been among the most beloved musical artists for decades, and most of us don’t think anything of it at this stage of the game. It wasn’t always so. Not too long ago, rap music was one of those concepts that I would have called an oxymoron. It didn’t sound like music to me, and before I started paying attention to the lyrics, it was simply an expression of Black culture that I’m not comfortable with. And then along came “Hamilton,” and everything changed, at least for me. I don’t think it’s bad thing to make an effort to understand something that I’m aware I bring a lot of prejudice to, how else do you fight it?

      Liked by 5 people

      1. My understanding of the Black experience in the US will always be incomplete. Former President Obama helped a lot , but way before then music and the poetry therein has sensitized my feelings about racial inequality. It’s complicated and I have no bumper sticker solutions. Listening to music from black folk rappers/singers opens the window to a world i know exists but cannot but glimpse. I am humble enjoying the experience.

        Liked by 4 people

        1. “My understanding of the Black experience in the US will always be incomplete.” This is true for every single person who isn’t Black. We just need to let go of the arrogance that some of us have that makes us believe that we do understand.


  4. Husband just made homemade vinyl record cleaner, and put on Michael Johnson.

    We heard Bruce Cockburn in Winnipeg. Scruj McDuck was always good, as were Louden Wainwright III and Connie Kaldor.

    Liked by 3 people

  5. This is Chris, Renee’s husband. I was fortunate to hear Roger McGuinn play by himself at a small coffee shop in Madison, Wisconsin, in the seventies. He was wonderful. McGuinn has a blog called the Folk Den Project. He adds a new, free downloaded recording every month. He made a 4 CD set called the Folk Den Project 1995-2005. Some of the songs feature Pete Seeger, Judy Collins, or other artists. It’s a valuable archive, if nothing else. Sometimes I think I’m an inveterate folkie at heart .

    Liked by 7 people

  6. Interesting, Renee, that you hadn’t experienced folk till 1981! You’ve certainly made up for lost time.

    I’ll write more tomorrow – glad we have two days for this post… But I’ll have to say that Rock Bend is also my favorite festival so far.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. poets
    my aunt maura had a copy of ee cummings on her bedside table that i ran across when i was about 10
    i was taken
    then ferringhetti, ginsberg john berryman and then i discovered shel silverstein who reminded me of dr suess for big people, bill holm and billy collins in the last 20 years and my dear friend mara adimintz scrupe decided to be a poet about 15 years ago she has a million dollar vocabulary and a good sense of ideas to address in a poetic voice. she entered many national and international competitions doing well and having success winning awards and gaining ground before realizing poets who do well still starve to death

    winnipeg folk festival is where my son was conceived 28 years ago
    havnt been back but i sure enjoyed it
    st. peter the last fistful of years has been great
    krista set up a great weekend tradition

    bob dylan ,arlonguthrie, pete seager. loudan wainwright john denver john hartford joni mitchel judy collins greg brown the granddaddy’s of the scene. my daughter tells me i must have influenced her because she is the only folk music fan in her group
    i can die a happy man

    Liked by 8 people

  8. Reflecting.
    What an absolute blessing it is to have experienced Prarie Home Companion and The Morning Show. The memories bring me to tears. I guess I’m just getting older. Many thanks to Trail Baboon.

    Liked by 4 people

  9. I had the good fortune of being introduced to poetry early on by teachers who were drawn to the art form for all of it’s complex possibilities. It could be serious and difficult, as well as joyful, humorous and playful. Depending on my mood and state of mind, I appreciate that range of diversity.

    To my mind, a lot of music categorized as “folk,” is poetry set to music. It helps reach a wider audience. I think of some of our contemporary songwriters as poets, and I’m not alone. After all, Bob Dylan was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature “for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.”

    One songwriter, who recently passed away, that I’ve always thought of as a poet is Michael Smith. Here’s an example of his work:

    Ballad of Elizabeth Dark

    Let me sing you the ballad of Elizabeth Dark
    I been workin on it since the time
    We hung out at this coffeehouse
    In Rogers Park
    Like two kids at a five & dime
    She would read Dostoevsky
    By the yellow moon
    That hung like an orange in the tree
    While I worked on the words
    To the mystery tune
    Of Elizabeth Dark & me

    This was back in the days
    Of the folk music craze
    Lenny & poetry & jazz
    Cats & chicks snappin their fingers
    To Lord Buckley doing The Nazz
    Kierkegaard Ginsberg
    Sartre & free love
    Parties to cover the rent
    We all wanted to be existentialists
    None of us knew what the hell it meant

    Now I take the El to Loyola
    And I walk along the Sheridan sand
    Where the waves are breakin over the jetty
    Where the wind is like an icy hand
    Fyodor says that the criminal
    Always returns to the scene of the crime
    Maybe I’ll see Elizabeth D one more time.

    Her hair was long and flowin
    A river of zen down her back
    We had spaghetti with Ferlinghetti
    And wine with Jack Kerouac
    Things were real cool
    One day I came home from school
    And Elizabeth Dark wasn’t there
    No river of raven zen hair
    No Dark at the top of the stairs

    Now I take the El to Loyola…

    Sometimes I get out my old bongos
    Reminisce about makin the scene
    Read my tarot
    Tell my fortune from grounds
    In a beat up espresso machine
    I’m a beatnik lost in the future
    Like a Model T Ford out in space
    Still as in love with Elizabeth Dark
    As the first time I saw her face

    Now I take the El to Loyola…

    Liked by 4 people

  10. OT Sunday YouTube channels. Today I have two suggestions that might interest someone.

    Mystery Scoop is a sort of one-trick-pony site that has an unusual gimmick. This site finds old statues, photos or paintings and processes them to show us what that person would look like today. If you want to see the wives of Henry the Eighth, this site has them for you in living color. Here are some historical figures. My favorites are Cleopatra (who was said to be more interesting for her mind than as a beauty) and George Washington without a wig.

    What I enjoy here is the idea that people long ago were more like us than we often think.

    Ocean Conservation Namibia shows us a bunch of guys (French, I think, although they speak English) who save seals that are trapped in garbage, usually old fishing debris. They spot a seal in trouble, run and catch it, then remove the garbage that usually would doom that seal.

    The sad truth that comes through these videos is we have a lot of wildlife swimming and living in garbage. There is no end to the number of seals who are tangled in old fishing line, nets and other plastic crap. That’s sad. But when I’m feeling down , it is good to watch some kind souls saving the lives of wildlife. When the video is over the ocean is still filled with garbage, but one more seal has a good chance to live.

    Liked by 3 people

  11. I thought about this most of yesterday. I have loved poetry from an early age, probably because there were poetry books given to me when I was very young. I’m not sure I could name just one favorite poet but here is a poem that I have always loved..

    Fan Piece for Her Imperial Lord

    O fan of white silk,
    Clear as frost on the grass-blade,
    You are also laid aside.

    Ezra Pound

    Liked by 6 people

  12. Dorothy Parker is mostly known for her light verse, but she wrote darker stuff as well.

    Fair Weather

    This level reach of blue is not my sea;
    Here are sweet waters, pretty in the sun,
    Whose quiet ripples meet obediently
    A marked and measured line, one after one.
    This is no sea of mine that humbly laves
    Untroubled sands, spread glittering and warm.
    I have a need of wilder, crueler waves;
    They sicken of the calm, who knew the storm.
    So let a love beat over me again,
    Loosing its million desperate breakers wide;
    Sudden and terrible to rise and wane;
    Roaring the heavens apart; a reckless tide
    That casts upon the heart, as it recedes,
    Splinters and spars and dripping, salty weeds.

    Liked by 4 people

  13. I have trouble parsing who is and who isn’t a folk singer—where the boundaries lie, if anywhere. Not that it matters except in answering this post.

    Bonnie Raitt has been mentioned, and I would consider her a blues-based performer. She’s part of my “soundtrack for living” on my phone and so are Roy Book Binder, Jorma Kaukonen, Koerner, Ray and Glover, and Eric Clapton doing Robert Johnson songs. Other blues/folk candidates would be Dave Van Ronk and Rory Block.

    The McGarrigles are part of my soundtrack, too. They perform their own songs and those of other artists and songwriters including songs by Stephen Foster. Are Stephen Foster songs folk songs? What about Carter Family songs?

    Is Ry Cooder a folk artist? What about John Prine? What about Taj Mahal? Is Laurie Lewis a folk artist or bluegrass or both?

    I saw many of my folk heroes at the Cedar Cultural Center back in the ‘90s. The McGarrigles were there and so were Roy Book Binder and Jorma Kaukonen and Doc Watson. I saw Bert Jansch and John Renbourn there individually and together as part of Pentangle down at the old Guthrie, where I also saw Nancy Griffith. When we include British folk music, that brings in that whole Celtic tradition and artists like Andy M. Stewart and Archie Fisher and Dougie McLean and Francis and Mary Black and Maura O’Connell and Maddy Prior and June Tabor, not to mention North American folksingers performing British folk music like Gordon Bok and John Roberts and Tony Barrand.

    Nobody has mentioned Joan Baez or Rosalie Sorrels or Utah Phillips, all of whom are represented on my personal soundtrack, or Priscilla Herdman, Anne Hills and Cindy Mangsen, also represented.

    I could keep going, naming artists who have meant something to me, but any list like this is highly personal and possibly not all that interesting to anyone else, so I won’t.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Many of us had the same problem. Of course, Bonnie Raitt performed blues, and some would call Emmylou Harris a country artist. I additionally had the problem of wanting to include performers whose work is categorized as Celtic. In the end, any performer whose work was aired on the Morning Show was close enough to folk for me. Although, I’m sure not ready to say Help Me Rhonda was folk! Garrison drove Bill Kling nuts playing that one.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. I did think of Joan Baez yesterday. I had an acoustic guitar when I was in high school and college and I played several Joan Baez songs back in the day.

      Liked by 1 person

  14. One of the most poetic folk song lyrics I know is Reedy River, based on a poem by Australian poet Henry Lawson (1867-1922). It’s a conventional poem by modern standards, but lovely.

    Reedy River

    Ten miles down Reedy River
    A pool of water lies,
    And all the year it mirrors
    The changes in the skies.
    Within that pool’s broad bosom
    Is room for all the stars:
    Its bed of sand has drifted
    O’er countless rocky bars.

    Around the lower edges
    There waves a bed of reeds,
    Where water-rats are hidden
    And where the wild duck breeds;
    And grassy slopes rise gently
    To ridges long and low,
    Where groves of wattle flourish
    And native bluebells grow.

    Beneath the granite ridges
    The eye may just discern
    Where Rocky Creek emerges
    From deep green banks of fern;
    And standing tall between them,
    The drooping she-oaks cool
    The hard blue tinted waters
    Before they reach the pool.

    Ten miles down Reedy River
    One Sunday afternoon
    I rode with Mary Campbell
    To that broad, bright lagoon,
    We left our horses grazing
    Till shadows climbed the peak,
    And strolled beneath the she-oaks
    On the banks of Rocky Creek.

    Then home along the river
    That night we rode a race,
    And the moonlight lent a glory
    To Mary Campbell’s face;
    I pleaded for my future
    All through the moonlight ride,
    Until our weary horses
    Drew closer side by side.

    Ten miles from Ryan’s Crossing
    And five below the peak,
    I built a little homestead
    On the banks of Rocky Creek;
    I cleared the land and fenced it
    And ploughed the rich red loam;
    And my first crop was golden
    When I brought Mary home.

    Now still down Reedy River
    The grassy she-oaks sigh;
    The water holes still mirror
    The pictures in the sky;
    The golden sand is drifting
    Across the rocky bars;
    And over all for ever
    Go sun and moon and stars.

    But of the hut I builded
    There are no traces now,
    And many rains have levelled
    The furrows of my plough
    The glad bright days have vanished;
    For sombre branches wave
    Their wattle-blossom golden
    Above my Mary’s grave.

    Liked by 6 people

  15. Good Morning-

    I’m thinking maybe once I post, WP will let me like things again. Or not. You’ll see if it works.

    I don’t think I had any experience with folk music growing up. Mom and Dad certainly didn’t have any. I knew of ‘Yankee Doodle’ if that counts… and probably heard Woody Guthrie’s “This land is my land” somewhere. But then in my 20’s, the Rochester Repertory Theater started a folk concert series. Larry Long, Claudia Schmidt, Christine Lavin, Trova, and others that I can’t come up with their names. I was the lighting and sound guy and I thought it was the coolest thing in the world to have these FAMOUS MUSICIANS right here in my theater and I could talk to them and they were all so nice!
    And then, The Morning Show… such a time in my life; what an impact it all made.

    I’m still struggling with poetry…

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Utah Phillips – I think he was at the folk series too. Maybe Box Car Willie?? It was a long time ago and I can’t remember. And this couple, Rich and Maureen DelGrosso, they were fun. Googling, I see Maureen died in 2002. Rich is still performing and is an outstanding mandolin player!


  16. Some lovely poems are stamped into sidewalks in St. Paul.

    Here’s one:

    I wanted to tell you the name of the street
    where I crashed my bicycle, got my best scar
    or how I went walking at sunrise, a treat
    to see dawn’s great evacuation of stars.
    There must be some method, when two people meet,
    to explain to each other who we really are.

    – Anna Everett Beek

    Liked by 6 people

    1. This is Krista. I can’t tell if WP will identify me or not. I’m not allowed to like any comments but I do like several. I especially like this poem. Northfield has sidewalk poetry too, and I love it.

      Liked by 5 people

      1. Krista,
        Whenever I want to post something, I write my post, then copy it, then click the WoedPress logo below the text box, then go up to the top to log in, then after I’m logged in, I select the current post, then find the spot where I meant to comment, then paste my comment. Sometimes WordPress lets me stay logged in for a little while, but most of the time that’s what I have to do to post. I almost never can like anything.

        I’m not saying this to suggest anything useful to your problems with WP, but just to let you know that you’re not alone.

        Liked by 3 people

  17. I think Mary Oliver is my favorite poet, and I’ve posted a couple of hers here before – the ones that I can’t read aloud without weeping – Peonies and Wild Geese.

    And I love Billy Collins – I am either very touched or burst out laughing.

    I love so much music it’s impossible to name favorites, but y’all have hit upon almost everything. One favorite you won’t have heard is this by my friend Barbara McAfee: https://soundcloud.com/barbara-mcafee/awake

    I swear, by the stars I am made of
    I will stay awake with you
    If it should fall apart
    I will remember the heart

    A dark age when the shadows descended
    There were those who circled round
    To keep the spark alight
    And carry it through the night

    The power of life
    Of which everything is made
    Will move within us and among us
    In the quickening…..

    I bow to the millions of people
    Whose faces I will never see
    Who work so faithfully
    To stay awake with me.

    A fierce joy and the song we are singing
    Will carry us beyond the fear
    That comes when it gets dark
    We will remember the heart

    The power of life
    Of which everything is made
    Will move within us and among us
    In the quickening…..

    (repeat First verse)

    Liked by 2 people

        1. Haha- Aren’t we all!

          A lady named Mary Jo Majerus was doing the church concerts. I remember Anne Reed and Barbara… don’t remember if there were others? Those concerts were back in 2008 or so.

          Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree. I had a large, beautiful copy of it hinging on my bathroom wall for years, and read it at least once day during that time. Then I had to move, and it disappeared, somehow. Still read it occasionally.

      Liked by 2 people

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