Category Archives: artists I admire

Get Up and Do!

Theodore_Roethke

It is daunting when bad fortune comes in waves, drowning us in debt, suffering, disabling illness, financial reversals, and so many more things I have been through this last year personally, so that we want to lie down and never get up.

But, I am not dead yet…  and there is poetry to be lived.

I say that as one of the world’s fifty worst poets who ever lived.   (In my defense, I am a humorist, and I write bad poetry on purpose.)  My inspiration for the living of poetry comes from reading and living good poetry.   I live because there is poetry by Walt Whitman.  Of course, also Shakespeare… whoever he really was.  And I understand that much of what I have learned in my brief and stupidly-lived 61 years comes from the poetry of the visionary poet I pictured above.  Do you know him?  If you have never read his poetry, you haven’t truly lived the poetry you need to live.

This poet taught me that “Being, not doing, is my first love.”  Of course, if I am satisfied with just sitting on my bed and “being” through most of my day, I will starve to death and not “be” anymore.  But he has taught me that what is essential is already within me.  There is wisdom and power in Uncle Ted’s poetry.  (Yes, I know I am not really related to him, but that’s only physical and overlooks the spiritual.)  I must partake of it to live.

Lovely bliss quotes Theodore Roethke Quotes

If you are bored by poetry about plants in a greenhouse under bright lights, or you can never understand what the poet means when he says, “My father was a fish”, then you need to practice reading poetry more.  You don’t truly understand what poetry is, and what it is for… yet.

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And I am sure you have probably concluded from all of this that I am a fool and a bad poet and I have no right to try to tell you who and what a truly great poet is.  But, fool that I am, I know it when I see it.  It is there in the verse, the hideous and horrible… the beautiful and the true.  And if I know anything at all worth telling about the subject, it is this; Ted Roethke is a great American poet.  And he writes poetry that you need to read… and not only read but live.

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I’m a Kangaroo Kid

Bob Keeshan, better known as Captain Kangaroo, would not like my title.  He wanted them to be referred to as “children” not “kids”.  The reasons were obvious.  “Kid” refers to a baby goat.  It’s all about the words.  It’s all about respect and propriety.

4e087cfa232cf.image But Bob Keeshan, though a TV personality, was much more of a teacher than anything else.  His show went on air before I was born, and I don’t remember a moment in my childhood that he wasn’t a part of it.  He was like Mr. Rogers, but came into our lives even before Fred Rogers appeared on the scene.  I watched the show in the mornings before school started, at a time when I walked all the way across our little Iowa farm town to get to school.  He taught me important early lessons in life that were just as impactful as the math and language and social skills I was getting later in the day.  Of course, I had to leave home for school before the show ended at 8:00 a,m. But just like school, watching and participating in any part of it was capable of teaching you something good.

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A lot of what I was able to do successfully as a teacher is a result of how Captain Kangaroo taught me.  He taught me to deliver information in small bites that a young learner with a short attention span could fully digest.  He taught me how to capture attention.  He did it with puppets, a moose, a bunny, and a dancing bear all thanks to Cosmo Allegretti, a versatile and multi-talented performer.  He could focus attention by letting Mr. Moose drop ping pong balls on his head.  Whatever came next after the moment of mirth was something I paid attention to.

He also helped us learn science.  Mr. Greenjeans in his low-key, deadpan way would teach us about eating vegetables, how farmers cultivate plants, and how to handle various small animals like kittens, rabbits, and even ferrets.  Mr. Greenjeans got seriously bitten by a lion cub on camera.  He simply stuck his bleeding finger in his pocket and went on with the show.  Yes, the man was a veteran in more ways than one.  (He was a Marine in WWII.)

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And Captain Kangaroo taught me how to share a book.  I became very good at reading aloud to students because Bob Keeshan and the crew that worked for him showed me how to read with expression, separate dialogue from narration, and build the excitement with pace and voice modulation.  They were experts at reading aloud.

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So, I say this with no disrespect, only veneration.  “I am a Kangaroo kid.”  I watched the show and internalized it.  I developed deep pockets like the ones in Bob Keeshan’s jacket that gave him the name Captain Kangaroo, and I stored many treasures from the Treasure House there that I would later share with my students.

 

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In Praise of Louis L’Amour

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This man was my Grandpa Aldrich’s favorite author.  Grandpa had ridden the range in the Dakotas in the 1920’s and early 30’s.  He was basically an Iowa farmer for his whole life, but he rode horseback on the plains just long enough to become addicted vicariously to the life L’Amour so vividly describes in his many western novels.

Grandpa read every Louis L’Amour book the Rowan library had.  He read a few more besides.  And I have no idea how many he read twice, three times, or more.  For the last decade of his life, he did very little sleeping, being used to two hours of actual sleep a night, and spending the rest of the time reading westerns while he rested.

This reading addiction is not only one that I understand, but share.  I, too, love the westerns, the heroes, the manly and poetic prose, and the sheer story-telling ability of Louis L’Amour.  I have not yet read every single book he wrote while he was alive.  But I am working on it.

Recently I reread the book The Daybreakers, a critical cog in the story-cycle of the Sackett family.  Here is my review from Goodreads of the third time I read this book.

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The Daybreakers 
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Michael Beyer‘s review

Jul 01, 2018  ·  edit
it was amazing


This book is as much a hero’s journey as Star Wars. In some ways it is more complex. And in many ways it is a better story.
Louis L’Amour is a master storyteller. He created the narrator hero, Tyrel Sackett, as a young Luke Skywalker. His natural Force abilities are those qualities which make him a competent Westerner and a powerful gunfighter. His brother Orrin Sackett takes the Han Solo role from rogue pilot to New Mexico Sheriff and eventual congressman. Jonathan Pritts is the evil Emperor. He wants to take over the Mexican land grant belonging to the Alvarado family (Princess Leiah’s family on Alderaan). (Drusilla Alvarado is the Princess Leiah character). Ironically, Tom Sunday is a reverse Darth Vader. He befriends Tye, teaches him to read and how to be a good cattleman. And then he later turns on the Sackett family because of a wrong he feels from Orrin. The confrontation between Tye and his dark-side father figure is inevitable.
The writer abilities I see in the author deserve a much more detailed analysis than I can write here, but I loved this great American novel and strongly recommend it.

We have lost Louis L’Amour.  He will never write another book.  Which gives me a chance to read everything he wrote.  But he writes so well, and is such an important part of American literature, that is only the smallest of consolations.

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Is Mickey Icky?


This post is about writer doubt. And Stephen King. Do those two things go together? If they don’t then Mickey is an awful writer and does not know how to do what he does. It would mean Mickey is icky.
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I used to think Stephen King was a totally over-rated writer. Back in the early eighties I read Carrie, King’s first novel, and got halfway through Firestarter, and had to give up. Partly because the book was overdue at the library, and also because I found the books mechanical and somewhat joyless in the writing. I thought he suffered greatly in comparison to writers I was in love with at the time like Ray Bradbury and Thomas Mann. I began to tell others that King was somewhat icky.
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But King was obviously also somewhat successful. He began to get his books made into movies and people who don’t read discovered the evil genius of a man who tells stories to scare them and laces them with a bit of real humanity, real human feeling, and love.
I saw it first in Stand by Me. That movie, starring young Wil Wheaton as the Steven King autobiographical character, really touched my heart and really made for me a deep psyche-to-psyche connection to somebody who wasn’t just a filmmaker, but somebody who was, at heart, a real human being, a real story-teller.

Now, the psyche I was connecting to may very well have been Rob Reiner, a gifted story-teller and film-maker. But it wasn’t the only King movie that reached me. The television mini-series made from It touched a lot more than just the fear centers of my brain as well. And people whose opinions I respect began telling me that the books The Dark Tower Trilogy and Misery were also amazing pieces of literature.
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So I picked up a copy of Hearts in Atlantis at Half-Price Books and began reading a Stephen King novel for the first time since the 80’s. MY HOLY GOD! King is not a little bit icky. He is so NOT ICKY that it makes Mickey sicky to have ever thought King was even a little bit icky! Here is a writer who loves to write. He whirls through pages with the writer’s equivalent of ballet moves, pirouettes of prose, grand jetés of character building, and thematic arabesque penchées on every side of the stage. I love what I have discovered in a writer I thought was somewhat icky. Growth and power, passion and precision, a real love of both the words and the story. He may not know what he is doing. But I know. And I love it.
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And so, while I have been editing the first novel I ever wrote, Superchicken, to make it ready for self-publishing, I have begun to ask myself the self-critical question, “Is Mickey really icky when he writes?” My first novel is full of winces and blunders and head-banging wonders that make me want to throw the whole thing out. But I can’t throw it out. It is the baby in the first bathwater that I ever drew from the tap. The answer to the questions of Micky ickiness have yet to be determined, and not by me. I guess I have to leave it up to you.

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Arrivaderci, Bozo

No, I am not saying goodbye to anyone that is leaving the Trump administration.  Frank Avruch has passed away.

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Who is that, you may ask?

Well, from 1959 to 1970, he was Bozo the Clown.  The first Bozo.  The best Bozo.

And we will miss him, those of us who knew him from childhood, watching a colorful clown on black and white TV.

He did charity work for UNICEF.  We collected dimes in covered coffee cans for Bozo because Bozo needed them for UNICEF.  What the heck is UNICEF, you ask?  Don’t you know how to use Google and Wikipedia?

So, this is a clown who inspired poetry.  What?  He didn’t inspire poetry in you?  Well he did with me.  Let me show you.

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Immortality

They say a clown can never die,

And at the table has a place,

And here’s a little reason why,

It’s all about his face.

When one clown stops the life of laughter,

And stops running the human race,

Another clown can pick up after,

And keep wearing clown one’s face.

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Do Not Fear The Bozo Squad

It is really, truly, very clear,

You should not fear a clown, I hear,

Identities disguised in paint,

Malevolent of thought they ain’t.

A clown is meant to make you laugh,

And I can show you with a graph,

That silliness saturates their very sheath,

And rarely hides evil underneath.

  • Sleep Soundly, Sweet Bozo
  •          Silly songs sound in synchrony
  •                  As the symphony sounds softly
  •                            Sincerely saying in sweet song
  •                                     “Sing angel songs, sweet Bozo
  •                                                Your spin-off will last long.”

 

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Irreverence

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It is a difficult thing to be an atheist who believes in God.  Sometimes it takes an oxymoron to find the Truth.  And you often have to go heavily on the “moron” portion of the word.

The thing I find most distressing about faith is the fact that those who have it are absolutely convinced that if you don’t agree with them and whatever book of fairy tales they believe in and interpret for you, then you are not a True Believer and you do not have real Faith.

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I remember being told by a Mormon girl in one of my classes that I was her all-time favorite teacher, but she was deeply distressed that, because of my religion (I professed to be a Jehovah’s Witness at the time) I was doomed to burn in Hell forever.

Hey, I was raised in Iowa.  I have experienced minus 100 degree Fahrenheit windchill.  I am among those who think a nice warm afterlife wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing.

But I am no longer actually a Jehovah’s Witness.  So I guess that helps with the whole Hell-burning thing.  The Witnesses are a religion that claims to understand the Bible is full of metaphorical truth, and yet insist that it is literally true.  They don’t believe in Hell, which, honestly, is not actually mentioned or explained in the Bible as we have it now.  But they do believe your prospects for eternal life on a paradise Earth are totally contingent on knocking on doors and telling other people that they must believe what you believe or experience eternal destruction.  I have stopped being an active Witness and knocking on doors because I got old and sick, and all the caring brothers and sisters in the congregation stopped coming around to visit because number one son joined the Marines, and the military is somehow evil hoodoo that cancels out any good you have done in the past.  Being a Jehovah’s Witness was really hard work with all the meetings (5 per week), Bible reading (I have read the entire Bible two and a half times), door-knocking, and praying, and you apparently can lose it all for saying, thinking, or doing one wrong thing.

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According to the Baptist preachers, Jehovah’s Witness elders, religious zealots, and other opinionated religious people I have known and dealt with in my life, if I do not believe what they believe and agree with them in every detail, then I do not know God and am therefore an atheist.  So, okay, I guess I am.   If I have to be an atheist to believe whole-heartedly that everyone is entitled to sincerely believe whatever the hell they want to believe, then I’ll wear that label.

On a personal note, my favorite verse of the Bible has always been 1 John 4:8,  “He that does not love has not come to know God, because God is love.”  That is why I claim to be an atheist who believes in God.  I know love.  I love all men, women, children, animals, sunrises, artwork, paintings of angels by Bouguereau… everything that is.  And I even love you if you exercise your freedom to tell me, “Your ideas are totally wrong, and you are going to burn in Hell, Mickey, you bad guy, you!”  Mark Twain always said, “I would choose Heaven for climate, but I would prefer Hell for company.”  I am not going to worry about it.  I will be in good company.  Some things are just bigger than me.  And trying to control things like that is nonsense. Sorta like this post.

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For the Love of Korngold

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When I was in Cow College at Iowa State University I spent most of my study time listening to KLYF Radio in Des Moines.  They would eventually transform into an easy-listening music station, but the time I truly lived a K-LYFe was when they played classical music.  And it was there that I first fell deeply in love with the Saturday Matinee stylings of  Erich Wolfgang Korngold, the first incarnation of John Williams of Star Wars fame.  Yes, movie music.  Classical movie music.  And it seemed, mostly movie music for Errol Flynn movies.

 

 

 

My sister was always a lover of Errol Flynn movies, and when KGLO TV Channel 3 would play one on the Saturday Movie Matinee in the early afternoon, we would have to watch it, the whole thing, no matter how many times we were repeating the same four movies.  Nancy would memorize the lines from the Olivia deHavilland love scenes.  I would memorize the sword fight scenes with Errol and Evil Basil Rathbone (Good Basil was Sherlock Holmes, and we had to watch those too.)  Early evenings on those Saturdays were all about playing pirate and Captain Blood adventures.  Or better yet, Robin Hood.

 

 

 

But the music of adventure was by the composer Erich Wolfgang Korngold.  He did the sound tracks for Captain Blood, Robin Hood, and the Sea Hawk.

I sincerely love the corny old movie matinee music because it was not only genius-level mood music and story-telling in a classical music instrumental masterpiece, but because even now it takes me back to the boy I was at twelve years old, playing pirate on Grandpa Aldrich’s farm.   Making Robin Hood bows out of thin tree branches and arrows out of dried ragweed stalks.  Sword fighting to the death with sticks with my cousin Bob, who was always Basil Rathbone in my mind. while I’m sure I was Basil Rathbone in his mind.

To be honest, there is much more to Korngold than I have relentlessly gushed about here like a hopeless nerdling fan-boy in the throws of a geeky movie passion.  He was a musical child prodigy like Mozart.  He wrote a ballet called Der Schneemann (the Snow Man) when he was only eleven, and became the talk of the town in Vienna, Austria in 1908.  He became the conductor of the Hamburg Opera by 1921.  He wrote some very fine classical music in the 20’s that still rings through orchestra halls to this day before coming to America in the early 30’s with film director Max Reinhardt.  He scored his first film in 1935, adding music to Reinhardt’s Midsummer Night’s Dream.  He was fortunate to escape Europe just as the Nazis were coming to power in Germany, and also at the right time to team up with new movie star sensation, Errol Flynn.  He won his first Oscar for the musical score of the movie Anthony Adverse in 1936 and he won his second for The Adventures of Robin Hood in 1938.  He died in 1957, a year after I was born.  But I promise, I didn’t kill him.  I was in college in the 1970’s when his music underwent a revival, complete with renewed popularity.

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His music was pure gold to listen to in the fields of corn in Iowa in the 1970’s.  It was just as good as that last pun was terrible.  So, in other words, really, really, spectacularly good.  It was the music that scored my childhood fantasy adventures.

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