December 2013





There’s London, Paris, and Rome, if you’re into that sort of thing. And on the home front there’s New York and LA for those bi-coastally inclined. Sophisticated, glamorous cities of the world, points of destination in life’s journey— the “must-see’s.”


Then there’s Cookeville, Tennessee. Unseen. Unheard of. On no itinerary… nor bucket list. One of those fly-over places that we sometimes think are there as landfill, lest there be gaps in our super sized United States of America map.


Cookeville, seventy miles east of Nashville, has a population of 30,000 (and growing) and is home to Tennessee Tech University. And therein lies a hook that lured me there: a chance to experience small town college football in the midst of autumn, replete with its aspirational gridiron gladiators, marching bands, cheerleading high-wire acts and a tiara-ed homecoming queen for good measure. “First down in America!” to paraphrase Reagan’s once upon a time campaign theme. Do London or Paris or Rome have that?


Admittedly though, it was really a personal draw that drove me there. I came to witness and hear this color commentator guy named Dylan, broadcast his pigskin insights from the fifty yard line over 98.5 Kiss-FM—WKSW (50,000 watts… “Nothin’ But the Hits”).


And as he happens to be my son, I was afforded an opportunity to be as close to any field of dreams as I’ve ever been. So close in fact, that there was the daunting possibility of a ball carrier going full tilt and forced out of bounds and into my path. Fortunately, that didn’t happen and the extent of my health coverage plans never got tested.

Up close, the game and in the larger context, Cookeville itself, exceeded any expectations of what it must be like “out there.” While the home team Golden Eagles lost, the town won. They love and support their team no matter the score; they exude a “positive vibe,” if you will.

Any preconceptions I might have had regarding what a small southern locale might be like in this hyper-modern age, were neutralized, for want of a better word. I suppose there is now a “connectivity” of sorts between any given points “A” and “B,” given the exponential growth of the internet and social media over the years. Geography, in effect, has been transcended. Hardly a eureka insight. Though there were a few sociological surprises that could not have been experienced through mere net surfing.


The “No Firearms Allowed” sign outside one “dive-ish” bar with an apt name of Hawg Barn, being one such example. But as I was not packing heat, this proved to be of no inconvenience. And as they did offer karaoke, I took a shot at Joe Cocker’s “The Letter,” which hopefully will never surface on YouTube.


Some places not only allowed smoking on the premises, but seemed to encourage it; it being good for business I suppose— the Surgeon General be damned. And most restaurants served food with hardly a wink to good health or moderation. Ten motor-oiled chicken wings the size of giant moas from the dinosaur age, were merely the appetizers at the go-to local sports bar. (The home coming queen would show up there late into the night—tiara still atop her majesty’s head).


Make no mistake—all connectivity aside—Cookeville is not a microcosm of America. And a weekend visit, does not a native make —all intermingling aside. So observations must be kept in context. And it is after all, a college town, with the additional life style distortions one can get through that prism.


The absence of any ethnic diversity here, is apparent to the naked eye. Which is supported by data showing that 90% of the population is white. And it is decidedly “red state,” in a country currently in a “blue state” presidency. Though “never was heard a discouraging word and the skies were not cloudy all day.” Speaking of which, weather wise, Cookeville’s number of sunshine days are below average (you can look it up…if you have no life). And as for economics, as gathered from discussions with the local gentry, income is modest but the money goes far. A good apartment will run about $500 and change a month in rent. (What are you paying?). So there you have it.


Paris? Upon departing and while waiting at the airport in Nashville, the closest exit from this parallel universe, I imagined Rick in trench coat and fedora, looking deeply into Ilsa’s puddled eyes… "We’ll always have Cookeville."






The Pawn


Observe the halo about its global head;
the sharp lines and gray wash of shadow spun
in bell-shaped curves to its base.
A carving in utility, it cuts a noble swath:
humble, majestic, warrior fierce.
From its post sending ripples in resilience it begs
no grand plan of itself
but to hold.
To hold in belief that they who stake claim
to the central squares will see The Plan
unfold and dance like deadwood resurrecting.
That the work of the Wood-pusher depends as much

 Ron Vazzano








If a Poet Falls in the Forest...



…and there’s no one around to hear him, does he make a sound? If said poet was Seamus Heaney, recipient of the 1995 Nobel Prize for Literature, a native of Ireland who lived in Dublin at the time of his death three months ago at age 74, the answer is a resounding yes!


Seamus made a sound you could hear, even if you were nowhere near a forest. In fact it was heard crisply and clearly across the Atlantic. Which is contrary to what many might think regarding contemporary poetry and the poets who write it: that they don’t make so much as a whimper and go unheard of. I would venture, that few Americans weaned on pop culture and animated media, could name ten “name” contemporary poets.


Can you imagine 80,000 fans at an NFL game standing for a minute in silence, and then cheering for three minutes thereafter, in honor of an American poet who had died two days previously? That’s what they did for Seamus at the All Ireland Gaelic football final in Dublin this past September 2nd.


Can you imagine an American poet’s funeral being attended by 1,000 people, including the president of the United States, other politicians, actors and rockers the likes of Bono and other members of U2? That’s what they did for Seamus. In fact the president of Ireland, Michael D. Higgins, is a poet himself on the side.


Can you imagine an American poet’s life and work being celebrated to packed houses three months after his passing, and as far from his homeland as Seamus’ was in New York? That happened last month at the Irish Repertory Theater, The Great Hall at Cooper Union (with singer Paul Simon as a featured reader and with Seamus’ wife and daughter in attendance), and St. Anne’s Warehouse in Brooklyn (featuring actor Gabriel Byrne as a reader). These were sandwiched by similar events at Harvard and in Cambridge and Washington D.C. for good measure.


I was fortunate to be at both the Irish Rep and Cooper Union events, at which perhaps his best known poem “Digging” was read, among many others. It is a simple poem of father and son; of connection and yet a gap between generations, and between those who toil and those who tinker with thoughts.





Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests; snug as a gun.


Under my window, a clean rasping sound
When the spade sinks into gravelly ground:
My father, digging. I look down


Till his straining rump among the flowerbeds
Bends low, comes up twenty years away
Stooping in rhythm through potato drills
Where he was digging.


The coarse boot nestled on the lug, the shaft
Against the inside knee was levered firmly.
He rooted out tall tops, buried the bright edge deep
To scatter new potatoes that we picked,
Loving their cool hardness in our hands.


By God, the old man could handle a spade.
Just like his old man.


My grandfather cut more turf in a day
Than any other man on Toner's bog.
Once I carried him milk in a bottle
Corked sloppily with paper. He straightened up
To drink it, then fell to right away
Nicking and slicing neatly, heaving sods
Over his shoulder, going down and down
For the good turf. Digging.


The cold smell of potato mould, the squelch and slap
Of soggy peat, the curt cuts of an edge
Through living roots awaken in my head.
But I've no spade to follow men like them.


Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests.
I'll dig with it.


There is what might be called a “crossover eloquence” here— as there is in so many of his poems— in that it appeals to both high and low brow tastes. And in its tone, and literarily being grounded in the earth, it is suggestive of Robert Frost. Who come to think of it, might have been the last American poet who was such a known and revered household name, that his presence could elevate a presidential inauguration ceremony, as he did at Kennedy’s in 1961. Having seen it live via the TV set, the image of him reading in the glare of the sun while at the podium, is fifty years later, still fresh in mind.


Is Seamus Heaney a Robert Frost? In Ireland, where he is mentioned in the same breath as Yeats, they would think so. But for certain, his falling made a sound. And will continue to do so. And that is news for a literary genre, that many think died ages ago with hardly a whimper.







Quote of the Month


“One Christmas was so much like another, in
those years... that I can never remember whether
it snowed for six days and six nights when I was
twelve or whether it snowed for twelve days and
twelve nights when I was six.”


—Dylan Thomas
                              A Child’s Christmas in Wales








Old Words of Love Sung Through New Applications


Having recently sung “The Letter” in a karaoke bar (see “Cookeville” above… don’t ask), it struck me afterwards, how technology and social media have so outdated so many lyrics in so many songs. Particularly those that seek ways to communicate messages of love and romance. Silly stuff here, but even in silliness, a sense of irony can be found.


Imagine Joe Cocker rasping this out:

Gimme a ticket for an aeroplane
I ain't got time to take a fast train
Lonely days are gone, I'm a-goin' home
'Cause my baby just sent me an email.


This sort of thing applies to different musical genres and from different eras, and speaking of letters…

I'm gonna sit right down and send myself a Tweet
And make believe it came from you
I'm gonna write words, oh, so sweet
They're gonna knock me off my feet

The Coasters of today might do a different kind of “Searchin’” then they did in ’57…

Yeah, I've been web searchin'
A- web searchin'
Oh, yeah, web searchin' every which a-way
Yeah, yeah
Oh, yeah, web searchin'
I'm web searchin'
Web searchin' every which a-way
Yeah, yeah
But I'm like the Northwest Mounties
You know I'll bring her in someday

(Gonna find her)
(Gonna find her)

Also in that same year, and introduced with English lyrics by Keely Smith,” I Wish You Love”…

My breaking heart and I agree
That you and I could never be
So with my text
My very text
I set you free

Cole Porter anyone?

YouTube, something to me
Something that simply mystifies me

Brother Ray wailing away!

Unchain my heart, 'cause you don't love me no more
Every time I call on your iPhone
Some fella tells me that you're not at home so
Unchain my heart oh! Please please set me free

From Western Union by the Five Americans (who?)…

I had a fight with my baby
Ooh how sorry I am
She won't talk to me no how
I'm gonna’ send an Instagram

…to Irving Berlin…

There may be trouble ahead
But while there's music and moonlight
And love and romance
Let's Facebook the music and dance

This by Paul McCartney if he had had an argument with Jane Asher today…

When I call you up
Your Skype's engaged
I have had enough
So act your age
We have lost the time
That was so hard to find
And I will lose my mind
If you won't see me
You won't see me

As the use of the biggest search engine out there tripled in just the five years since Alanis Morissette released this song, she might have considered replacing that “giggling” with…

Oh, this state of ecstasy
Nothing but road could ever give to me
This liberty wind in my face
And I’m Googling again for no reason

Off topic but too irresistible, The Bible Tells Me So from 1955, would no doubt transform in 2013 to an alternate source of reference:

Have faith, hope and charity
That's the way to live successfully
How do I know, Wikipedia tells me so

From “Fiddler on the Roof” this too is too obvious to ignore…,
Make me a match
Find me a find, catch me a catch,, go through your browser
Make me a perfect match

You get the idea. Feel free to jump in here.


But in taking tongue out of cheek for the moment, the lyrics that follow are a timeless lament in the matter of love. They suggest all manners of communication ever tried—high tech, low tech, no tech— have been to no avail.

If there is some other way to prove that I love you
I swear I don't know how
You'll never know if you don't know now.

“You’ll Never Know,” was introduced by Alice Faye in the 1943 movie “Hello, Frisco, Hello” for which it won an Academy Award for Best Original Song. Schmaltzy? Perhaps. Yet a song so bittersweet as to tug at the toughest set of heart strings. It has been recorded over the years by many including the likes of Sinatra, Clooney, Midler, Streisand, Krall, Stewart and more recently by retro-crooner Michael Bublé. Though 70 years later, Alice’s rendition is still the signature one.




If you’ve got 2:35 to spare, check out this brief pictorial tribute accompanied by the song. Or download it onto iTunes (how did I miss that killer app in all the tomfoolery?)





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