Friday, January 30, 2009

New Flaw Review on

A retired English professor, Donald C. Wall from Washington state, has posted a very positive review of The Comic Flaw on Check it out.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Never Ending Conversation

In recent years, I've not bought much music and what I've bought hasn't excited me much. There have been exceptions, and there have been CDs that have grown on me after repeated listenings (which is, I submit, the best way to fall in love with music).

At the University of Mary-Hardin Baylor's recent Writers' Festival, I heard a folk duo from Arkansas, Still on the Hill. The husband of the team, Kelly Mulhollan, created a solo project entitled Never Ending Conversation (although the wife of the team, Donna Stjerna, is all over this album, too). It is an attempt to create art songs in a folk idiom, using the words of highly regarded poets for their texts.

It's an attempt that I can't stop listening to. It's a bit hard to describe because all the words that come to mind sound cliche and non-descriptive: Beautiful, melodic, haunting, playful, inventive . . . all those music review words that don't really tell you much. It's music that, say, Grieg might have composed, had he grown up in the Ozarks.

What I like most about it, though, is that I'm not yet able to sing along with any of the songs completely through. Pop music is created so that you can sing along on the second listen, and while there's something fun to appreciate about that, on this album only snippets of melody stay with me afterwards and I have to go back to the recording to hear what was next. It's music that has to be listened to carefully, lived with for a while.

At the same time, the instruments---banjo, mandolin, harmonica, and more---are familiar and comfortable. It lends a familiarity to the project that might not be there if it was orchestrated for the philharmonic. It's a brilliant combination, art song and folk instruments.

It also helps that Kelly's voice is a rich and expressive (without being overly so, as is so popular these days). In his lower register, he sometimes reminds me of that rich sound Gordon Lightfoot could create.

But let me say no more about the sounds. Go yourself to CD Baby and hear some samples of this album. If I were to direct you to my favorite cuts, I would have to say give these three a listen:

W.H. Auden's "In Memory of W.B. Yeats, Part III"
the Pygmies of Gabon's "The Great Cold"
Jeremiah 4:19-26, "End of the World"

But you may prefer to lend your ear to one of the Langston Hughes poems. Or Blake, Stevens or cummings.

But give it a listen. More, go ahead and buy it from CD Baby (a site I've used before and love). It'll be worth the fifteen bucks to get lost in this fascinating, layered album.

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Saturday, January 24, 2009

Exquisite Corpses for 01/17

Last weekend, a few writers gathered for the New Year's Writing Marathon, and as always, we played a few rounds of Exquisite Corpse. Here's some of the results:

The absolute child kisses the luscious hand.

The watching boy drove the religious arm.

A beautiful operation bounced the bruised crayon.

A compromised wrestler heightened the green girl. (I think this happened on Star Trek once.)

The cheesy baker prances a vivid priest. (It was remarked that this happens all the time in the Montrose neighborhood.)

A fearful king tramples his master's potsucker. (Upon reading this in the session, no one would admit to knowing what a potsucker is and I decided that whoever wrote it was just making up words to be provocative. Upon googling the work, I discovered that there is such a thing as a pot sucker. It is a sucker---as in lollipop---that tastes like pot---as in weed, grass, mary jane, marijuana. . .)

An inspiring brute pinches a brimming dinosaur. (We puzzled a bit over how a dinosaur might brim.)

The excited boy angers an exposed foot. (Beware of angry, exposed feet!)

A tasteful puppy licked the desperate grass.

An adverse chicken measured an overbearing illustration.

The hungry bathtub promotes a divine jug.

The dingy watch ate an olive tree. (That someone chose the adjective "olive" and the next person used the noun "tree" seems highly unlikely, doesn't it?)

A tough actor cut the beautiful ball.

The hopeless poem drinks an angelic spoonful of sugar. (A compound direct object!)

Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Comic Flaw Review

Steven Schroeder, Chicago poet and scholar, wrote a blurb for the back cover of Alan Berecka's The Comic Flaw and has, basically, expanded that into a full review. See it here.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Berecka Press Release / Quick Art Viewing

Alan Berecka (who, if you're not keeping track, is the author of the recently released neoNuma Arts collection of poetry, The Comic Flaw) spends his days as a librarian for Del Mar College in Corpus Christi, TX. They put together a nice press release about it all here. Give it a read. It's a nice job.

While I'm logged in here, I thought I'd jot a note about a couple of things I did a bit on the fly today. After a doctor's appointment (cholesterol is still to high!), I impulsively pulled the "stop request" wire on the bus as we passed the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston. The CAMH is always free and having spent money to find out I haven't yet done enough to regulate my cholesterol (although, I'm happy to say, everything else checked out just fine), I decided I needed some art and free worked.

The current show is called The Puppet Show and in the center of ground-level space are five pupets, about 3 feet tall (although I'm terrible at judging such things), suspended from the ceiling. I assume the gizmos in the ceiling were set on a timer, because every once in a while, they'd take to tap dancing. Lot of fun.

The rest of the display was a mix of puppet museum type stuff and video-viewing booths and rooms of short films starring puppets. The one I watched longest had a story-line I couln't quite follow (there was no dialog and I came in the middle, so this might be all my fault) but the manipulations of the puppets are fascinating to watch. At one point, a stack of sticks are pulled upward until there is the framework for a structure the puppets can enter and interact with. When I saw what was happening to those sticks, I couldn't help but smile at the ingenuity and engineering.

The best part of the exhibit, though, had little to do with puppets. There was a round table set up in the middle of the room and a circular projection beamed down upon it, spinning around and around. The projection was a swirl of what I thought, at first glance, to be abstract animation. In the center of the table was a shiny metal tube (I have no idea how big---big enough to put a grown man's arm into, I'd say) that reflected the projections. I'm slow, but I finally realized that the shiny tube was the point. When the projections were reflected on it, they became no-so-abstract. In fact, suddenly we saw the animation was country side passing by, an airplane floating in a sky full of clouds, or people walking, reclining, or some more fantastical elements such as a robot-like thing towering over the view. Again, quite a lot of fun.

In both cases, I don't know that I found any deeper meaning behind the artwork---although the intelligence exhibited suggested that there likely was something there---but the incredible craft and wit was plenty to recommend the exhibit. One of the more delightful exhibits I've seen at the CAMH.

On my way home, I had to transfer buses, so I decided to see what was on display in the Williams Tower, that skysraper that wandered away from downtown and settled by the Galleria. The lobby of the tower always has an art display, and quite often it's very very good.

Today's exhibit was Grounded: Contemporary Works by Australian Aboriginal Artists. This was a mixed bag for me, but there was enough eye candy to keep me there a bit. These artists from Down Under like their dots and sometimes it was tedious, other times mesmerizing. I couldn't tell what made sone piece exciting and another less so, but like so much about art, I'm sure it was just my perspective and tastes. You can see what I mean at the Booker-Lowe Gallery, which curated this show. Check it out if you find yourself near the Water Wall. It's a bit difficult to describe and should be seen in person.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

The Comic Flaw by Alan Berecka

It was a year in the making and it was a wild ride to get it together at the end, but The Comic Flaw by Alan Berecka, the latest collection of poetry from neoNuma Arts, is available. More than that, it debuted to much success last week at the University of Mary Hardin Baylor's annual Writers' Festival. A good time was had by all, but maybe especially by Alan and his publisher (yours truly).

I've known Alan probably about 5 years and to be honest, I hesitated to publish his book. Yes, I can be that dumb sometimes. My reasoning was that Alan had good publication credits, was popular at readings, and just a really, really good poet. I felt he deserved better than my micropress. Maybe I still do. But he had sent out the manuscript to a few places with nothing more than a nibble here and there.

And then it was Larry D. Thomas, who just completed his tenure as the 2008 Texas Poet Laureate, who brought me to my senses. How often was I going to get to publish someone like Alan's first full collection? What was I saying about my aspirations by not jumping on this opportunity? In a world where too few publishers even consider poetry, why shouldn't I take this gift of publishing such an accomplished poet?

So I said, okay, I want to publish Alan Berecka's first full length collection. (He's previously had two very fine chapbooks published---both quite successful for their respective presses, as I understand it.)

I've really been quite lucky with the people I've gotten to publish so far. Starting with that short story collection, Able to..., with such an eclectic mix of the best writers you've never heard of, to Christopher E. Ellis's Fatal Gift of Beauty and Other plays, a collection every theater should take a look at if they're producing short plays at all, to Necropolis by poetry rock star Jill Alexander Essbaum . . . I sometimes have a hard time believing I could be so lucky. I've thought about using "Publishing writers who deserve a much better publisher" as a slogan for neoNuma Arts! I mean, I'm very tiny, publishing these gem of books with too little time, money, and knowledge for getting the word out about them properly.

But I've come to accept that I have to take the gifts that are handed to me with this enterprise and do the best I can. Let's face it, with people like these in my "catalog" (which still fits in a tri-fold brochure!), I can't help but feel like I have more than a little "lit cred."

I hope you'll check all of them out, but since I've said so little about Alan's book let me type on a bit about it. These poems are funny. They're heartbreaking. They're profound in their simplicity. Seldom has a childhood full of rough characters resulted in so much beauty. A father who drank too much and flipped the bird at his children, an aunt who thought she was a cow, a priest who dies during the Easter Vigil, Lithuanian and Polish ancestry visiting in dreams, dirty tricks and cruel turns of fate . . . all of these are viewed through Alan's wonderfully skewed lens. Even more, we see them as Alan sees them, with an affection that saves them all from condemnation.

In other words, this book is a work of grace. Steven Schroeder called it a sacrament, and that sounds right.

Next up, and I really mean it, is Nighthawks by Evan Guilford-Blake. This has hit some snags along the way, but it will truly be worth it when it arrives. A wonder of a play, stark in its realism, moving in its humanity, another work of grace.

Perhaps the slogan: Another work of grace from neoNuma Arts.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Happy New Year! (so a few days late)

Can it really be ten years since we partied like it was 1999?

Since everyone was Chicken Little and crying "Y2K! Y2K!"?

Since, well, since 1999?

Time seems to slip away so easily . . .

Well, neoNuma Arts is off to a good start with the release of Alan Berecka's The Comic Flaw this very week at the Writer's Festival of the University of Mary Hardin Baylor in Belton, Texas. The Festival kicks off tomorrow, but the book won't be there until Friday because I was apparently 2 days late getting it to the printer. Eh, not what I had intended, but it'll be there before the festival is over (God and UPS willing).

On the Amazon page, all the blurbs got run together inton one big block of text. I don't know why. I can control so little. But click over there and take a look and I think you'll see where one blurb begins and another ends. There are some very good people saying very nice things about this book. I know I had a great time putting it together.

I'll write more soon, I hope, as I realize I'm possibly the worst blogger ever. Someone is going to revoke my blogging license. It's amazing the pithy thoughts one has when one is away from the computer. Those thoughts often appear with the thought, "that's a good idea for a blog entry." Then that's the last of it.

But this year, a minor resolution is to keep note of those ideas and blog a bit more, maybe even once a week! And maybe some of them will be about things other than what I'm trying to sell! Crazy, I know. But I do think about other things. Some may be interesting to other people, 'though I hate to presume.

I've slipped into rambling mode, so that's that for tonight. Many things percolating for the new year. Stay tuned.