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The 14 poems in the Living Legend of Peezis Rilly Here were written from 1973 to the mid-1980s. In 2000, I published the poems in a larger collection: The Endless Evolving Trilogy – A Poem Cycle. This year I published The Living Legend as an e-book. And now the CD.

The poems tell the story of Peezis Rilly Here and his friends, who live in a world where war is no longer possible but, still, problems remain. John Lennon said: “Give peace a chance.” So, here, in a whimsical way, is a not-quite-Utopian world. Peezis Rilly Here, Dr. Cerpeption, Dear, L. Vie & Olivence, are all original fictional characters. As such, they belong to the mythology of the Sixties. Peezis speaks in free verse with rhyme—what I call occasional or wandering rhyme–while Dr. Cerpeption speaks in rhymed couplets. A whole lot of energy was released in the 1960s. It was the release of human energy from the first generation born into the Nuclear Age, in response to the awful energies released from the atomic bomb in World War II and the threat of war between the United States and the Soviet Union.

The energy shoots through the poems, twisting syntax and the normal order of language, in the way that physical force bends and transforms objects. You will find much humor in this imaginary universe. Needless to say, we live in a very different world today, a darker world not without hope, but all too often visited by bloodshed and violence. Even in the worst of times, peace is not a luxury but a necessity we each hold in our hearts and minds. Some token of peace gives us the courage to move forward through whatever trials the age throws our way. I hope The Living Legend of Peezis Rilly Here becomes part of your bag of valued words and sounds. Hudson Owen, Brooklyn, 2013


Valentine, Valentine

I hide behind a tree
and hold a cut-out of my heart.
You trip by, blush,
and play your part.
“Be my valentine.”
(and please o please be mine)

I give the Hallmark gesture
and we both observe the act.
You slit the white
and read the scarlet fact.
“Be my valentine.”
“Of course.”
(and please o please be mine)

From Selected Poems 1967 – 2007 by Hudson Owen.

Visually, of course, Ground Zero and Lower Manhattan have changed tremendously since Sept. 11, 2001. Not only was the entire 16-acre site in ruins but adjoining buildings were damaged by flying steel beams and debris from the collapsing towers. One piece of steel sailed across the street and plunged through the roof of the Winder Garden in the World Financial Center, killing two trees.

In the days following the attack, Lower Manhattan was locked down, with police barricades on the side streets and police officers checking company IDs. Many stores south of Canal Street were closed, some, like Burlington Coat Factory, never to reopen. Lower Broadway was like a ghost town; store front windows were covered in white ash and dust. Satellite dishes were everywhere on the streets. Verizon provided free phone carts on the sidewalks as many buildings had little if any phone service. It was a mess.
Large trucks carried debris endlessly from the wrecked site along West Broadway, which required resurfacing twice, if memory serves, during this period. They worked quickly. In six months, film crews were once again filming in Lower Manhattan. And you know New York is back when they make movies here.

As the Mayor noted on the ten year anniversary of the attack, the district has grown since the attack. Twice as many people live here than a decade ago, and Lower Manhattan is much more of a 7/24 neighborhood than before. WTC 1, aka Freedom Tower is 80 stories tall and growing day-by-day. The National September 11 Memorial opened to rave reviews on the tenth anniversary, and the accompanying museum will open next year. Finally we have got to this point after years of wrangling between the stakeholders in New York and New Jersey.

We have not been attacked in ten years, thanks in part to excellent police work and some luck. You can follow the progress at the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation web site.

“Reflecting Absence,” Michael Arad’s winning design for the memorial was the best, in my view, for its simplicity and symbolism, being the footprints of the twin missing towers, a little more than 200 feet on a side, and with running water and names of the victims inscribed in bronze. Memorial Plaza is populated with 300 oak trees on eight acres of the World Trade Center site, an adequate amount of space though not what many of us wanted: the entire site dedicated to the memorial and museum. I’ll have more to say about that in another piece.

So, much has changed. Still, we live under a state of siege ten year after the attack. Nothing reminds new Yorkers more of that then the alert of possible attack on the anniversary itself. Once again, police took to the streets in full battle gear, with helmets and automatic weapons at the ready. Like they say, if you see something, say something.

By Hudson Owen. All Rights Reserved.

A Reply to Wislawa Szymborsky’s
A Little Bit About the Soul

Alas, dear Wislawa,
who has seen much, known much,
survived more than a little, you might
have said that facts, the world,
bloody history, relent on
holidays, or when the rain is gentle,
and we are free to run, dance, restore
balance in our lives, that the soul is
light as a crêpe scarf dropped at a picnic.
Yet it watches.

For, surely, you know that the soul
is always counting, weighing,
adding and subtracting even while
we dream or briefly lose our breath;
moving its abacus beads, adjusting
its subtotal toward our final sum.

Each grief leaves a mark, each tear a stain,
so that, in years, the soul shines like
a lacquered box. Works do little to
cleanse it, though a good laugh helps.

Surely, in your Polish soul, you know
these things.

Perhaps you forgot one morning
or evening when the poem came,
in an hour of joy. I too forget;
and in forgetting, release my mind
from shadowing my soul, as it swims
like a golden carp beside me.

It is forever, Wislawa, and already
knows how it will leave the body
when the bones call for earth,
scarcely restrained by muscle and skin;
and journeys beyond foursquare heaven,
to bathe in starlight before returning to Earth.

Is there more? Tell me when you know.
Or I will inform you, dear poet.

By Hudson Owen. All Rights Reserved

Somewhere in the film version of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s unfinished novel The Last Tycoon, if memory serves, the tycoon, Monroe Stahr, who can “rent your brains,” confronts a screenwriter. Stahr berates the writer, telling him that if he doesn’t like his job in Hollywood’s script factory, “you can go back to your poetry.”

Even if I have misremembered the quote—I swear I saw it somewhere—it will serve as an apt example of the movie mogul versus the puny writer. Fitzgerald, a fiction writer, belonged to the first wave of literary writers to head west from the concrete canyons of New York, or from the expat life in Paris, to the sunny shores of California in search of fatter paychecks and new adventures.

His time in Hollywood was not especially a happy one. Fitzgerald worked hard in his cubicle on the MGM lot, churning out several thousand pages of screenplays, treatments and notes, with very little to show for it other than a $1,000+ per week paycheck, great money during the Depression. He earned a credit for the 1938 movie The Three Comrades, starring Robert Taylor. Apparently, the studio deemed Fitzgerald’s dialogue “insufficiently catty.” Anita Loos was brought in to replace him on one project.

Nonetheless, Hollywood stereotypes notwithstanding, poems have shown up in a surprising number of films, in whole or in part. Three show up in Blade Runner: “The Fly,” “America: A Prophesy,” and William Blake’s “The Tyger.” W.H. Auden’s “Funeral Blues” was prominently quoted in full in “Four Weddings and a Funeral,” which prompted a new edition of Auden’s poems with the film mentioned on the cover.

More recently, “Invictus,” a stirring lyric poem by Victorian poet William Ernest Henley, supplied the title to the movie directed by Clint Eastwood and starring Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon. When Mr. Freeman was interviewed by Charlie Rose, he recited the poem perfectly from memory. Snippets of verse pop up in other Eastwood movies.

Other films have featured a poet (Jane Campion’s Bright Star; Christine Jeff’s Sylvia; Howl, starring James Franco as the young Allen Ginsberg), or made poetry the main theme of the movie (Dead Poet’s Society; Jean Cocteau’s Orpheé, in which poetry emanates from a car radio.)

So it is not the case that bullying film dances in one corner while feeble poetry cowers across the ring.

What I am getting at is more the routine understanding of how actors speak in movies, particularly American males. In the general view, Americans talk like cowboys or detectives: keep it short, stupid. Just the facts. Our hearts and minds are filled with the joys and sorrows of the world; by the time such thoughts and emotions come to our mouths, though, we clam up. We’re too busy shooting guns or avoiding collisions in the high speed car chase to say much. We hem and haw, stutter, can’t quite get it together. Our action heroes are little more than extensions of their weapons.

The Brits, on the other hand, don’t mind telling you in detail just how things are with them. They’re not just voluble, they seem to enjoy the sound of their voices. Shakespeare made it ok for them to run through “all the stations of the breath,” as Dylan Thomas put it. Shakespeare was bigger than any tycoon. We give poets rich cash awards or name a bridge after them, but reserve the franchise for prose: The Great American Novel. The Baltimore Ravens were so named by the City of Baltimore due to its connection to Edgar Allen Poe, which I believe is the only American sports franchise named after a poem.

Poetry is vision. We know this from the classics, from Shakespeare, Milton, Blake, the Greeks. To announce a vision requires courage and clarity. The best we can manage in most cases, is the poetry of light; the art of the cinematographer. We expect even the most vile action movie to be beautifully filmed; that is, we expect the camera to be eloquent. Thus we have the poetry of light. Dialogue is necessary to move the story along, but we often seem to take little pleasure in the words.

In film, we have the poetry of silence. Seldom the poetry of poetry, despite the valiant exceptions I have noted.

Screenplays are made up of words—no diagrams, digital photos, or graphs. The screenwriter has no control over the lighting or music, in spec scripts. That leaves only dialogue and description. I prefer the full range of the voice; all the stations of the breath, not all of the time—the laconic mode has its charms—but I want to let it all out some of the time. Anger is not poetry, in my view, not according to the school of Beauty & Truth. Ranting is not the same thing as Henry V summoning his band of brothers.

Unfortunately, most script readers today, the gatekeepers, working for agents and production companies, fail to recognize poetry when they see it on the page. They apparently don’t learn literature in film school. They all know about character arc. They all know to scold the writer for dialogue of more than three or four sentences at a time. After all, if you don’t like the heat in the film world kitchen, you can go back to your poetry, where the lights are not quite as bright and the checks are minimal, although in a crowded world, getting to the top of the heap in any art form is a challenge.

By Hudson Owen. All rights reserved. April is National Poetry Month.

There are basically two kinds of poetry in the world: traditional written poetry, and verses that are spoken first, such as def jam/hip hop/rap.

The path to success for the former begins with poems submitted to so-called distinguished lit mags. After compiling a respectable number of publications in these journals, a poet approaches a book publisher. If the book is reasonably successful, the poet advances to the reading circuit, where the real money is.

The jammer starts with open mic and participates in jam festivals, where there are prizes to be won for performance. A popular jammer on YouTube may accumulate more than a million hits. These poets sell CDs rather than books. They do not write books on how to read and write poetry.

Approximately 90% of American poets work for the university, as English or lit professors, or writers-in-residence, like the author. Some are very accomplished, many never write a single line that lives in the heart of the common reader. These prof-poets constitute what is often called the “poetry community.” They run the business of traditional poetry: sit on panels, judge competitions, run summer classes in poetry. They review each other’s books. In my experience, they seldom have any use for non-university poets unless they translate a foreign poet with important credentials or harrowing life stories.

The university is also the repository of modernist teachings. Each year, hundreds of books are published or self-published about literary theory. The distancing between the poet specialist and common poet/reader started in the 1920s, when Ezra Pound exhorted poets to “Make it new, make it modern, make it like science.” It became fashionable for poetry to become difficult to read and understand, presumably like science. That idea has carried over into the 21st Century. Even today, despite the fact that many poets write in rhyme and meter, the central view is that poetry must be dry and prose-like. An idea robustly rejected by the jammers.

By Hudson Owen, in response to The Righteous Skeptic’s Guide to Reading Poetry by Adam Roberts, 10-20-10 in The Atlantic Online.


The simple answer to the posed question is, really, what makes any art form worthy, interesting: a story, song, or painting. To paraphrase, Robert Frost said that our response to a poem is immediate and lasting. We know right away upon reading whether the poem pierces our heart or satisfies our mind. Even if a poem is long and complex, we know whether or not we wish to further explore the poem. And I agree. There is no one prosodic element, such as rhyme, that makes a poem interesting, anymore than lining up the margins flush left and right ragged makes lines poetry and not prose.

The author concentrates on a segment of the poetry wars to make his point(s). This makes sense inasmuch as he only has so many line inches for his article. However, to better understand where the arguments in the 1980s came from, you need to go back to the early 20th Century, as mentioned in my previous post, to catch the origin of the art vs. science debate, which extended throughout the arts. Why did artists want to compare themselves to scientists, and did that analogy hold up—does art really work like science? Do artists ever acknowledge a failed experiment? Science is littered with failed experiments.

Response to second essay in the Series: What Makes a Poem Worth Reading? 10/27/10


There was an inventor named Klarf,
Who came up with a substance called flarf.
You could bounce it and spin it;
Ship it or bin it.
And Dexter, his dog, barked “Arf! Art!”

In response to third essay in series: Flarf: Poetry Meme-Surfs With Kanye West and the LOLCats 11-03-10

The author informs us that good poetry is like good food, and encourages us to enjoy good poetry, which is related to Slow Poetry, which is not a poetry movement, he tells us, and that we should buy poetry books from small presses, which is analogous to buying fresh carrots from the local farmer’s market. Slow Poetry is analogous to Slow Food, which is analogous to ecopoetics, which is like buying a Prius or bike (Not Nature Poetry, but Eaarth Poetry.) He encourages the reader to support your local poets (which I support) and—heck—encourages everyone to become a poet. Why not!

The author puts up a big tent. Everyone is invited.

In “The Dyer’s Hand,” W.H. Auden wrote about food and cuisine, saying that this was a subject nearly everyone could agree on. Everyone knew what a good meal was and would gladly set aside their ideological differences to enjoy a good meal. Soon, however, the food analogy with poetry breaks down.

A really good gourmet meal is often an expensive meal. Good restaurants can charge top dollar and there are waiting lines. Popular poets can also charge top dollar to their readings—but that is not what the author is saying here. He is saying that poetry works best when it follows the mood of the times and costs no more than a bowl of chili at the local diner.

Do we really need to hear that poetry is cheap, like a chapbook, and everyone should publish one and somehow hope to be that popular poet who brings in the big bucks for a reading? Scarcity creates value, so maybe we need fewer poets not more. At least we need clearer distinctions. The poet who wins the Shelley Award should be someone whose verse in some way resembles Shelley, not the opposite. Great poems come from great poets and do not necessarily reflect the mood of the times. They are not the newspaper. They are not a fad. They might rage against the newspaper. Instead of accepting everything and anyone, great poems stand for something and take risks.

In Response to the third essay in the series: Good Poetry is Like Good Food: How to Find It…and Savor It

Do not forsake, O England,
The words that spelled you to the world,
Beneath the abbey where poets lie,
Interred or honored on their stones;
Footfalls bringing names to lips,
And names the realms they bore.

More than other lands, your
Soil produced a tongue, giving birth
To hammered lines of fire and steel,
And defter accents, minstrel lays,
Lyric and ayre, ranks of iambs
Marching across the globe.

You conquered by bow and broadside,
Yes, but ruled by law and language.
You built our world, brick and mortar;
Your brook became our brook,
Your names and places stuck in our
Minds as the very signet for worth.

These are your heritage, these are
Your national treasure: lessons
Learned from nursery rhymes,
To sterner stuff, the nub of things,
In schoolroom, onstage, wherever
A book was opened and a story told.

And these you must keep, deep
Where heroes and poets abide,
Deep in the hoard of imagination.
In these testing times, in the
Things that matter, O England,
May you steer your own true course.

By Hudson Owen. All Rights Reserved.

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