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
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
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
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."
Observe the halo about its
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
If a Poet Falls in the
…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
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”
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
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.
my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests; snug as a gun.
my window, a clean rasping sound
When the spade sinks into gravelly ground:
My father, digging. I look down
his straining rump among the flowerbeds
Bends low, comes up twenty years away
Stooping in rhythm through potato drills
Where he was digging.
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.
the old man could handle a spade.
Just like his old man.
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.
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.
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,
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.”
Child’s Christmas in Wales
Old Words of Love Sung Through New
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.
Well, SHE SENT ME AN EMAIL
SAID SHE COULDN’T LIVE WITHOUT ME NO MORE…
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
Oh, yeah, web searchin'
I'm web searchin'
Web searchin' every which a-way
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?
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
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
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
Match.com, Match.com, 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.
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
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?)