Archive for May, 2019

Steve Madaio

May 29, 2019

There’s a video on the Internet that proports to give lessons on playing the trumpet. It features Steve Madaio. And while I’m not particularly interested in learning a musical instrument. I am interested Steve Madaio. You see, I knew Steve a long time ago. We went to high school together. He was one of my best friends.

The video does not exemplify good teaching. It starts with Steve standing next to a young student. Steve plays a short ‘exercise’ and then says to his student, with no explanation or anything, just, ‘Now you do it.’ The student plays the exercise, and then Steve says. ‘It’s that easy.’ On to the next lesson he ends, ‘It’s that easy.’ And so on. There was nothing explained, like when you would use this particulate technique, or what it was good for. Nothing.

Come this September it will be 55 years since I first met Steve Madaio. My mother had to attend a PTA meeting where she met Mrs. Madaio. The Madaio family were new in town. Mrs. Madaio had a son who was also starting 9th grade. Steve, my mother told me, was looking for someone to hang out with. No big deal. He lived only two blocks away. Why not stop over there sometime? Oh, and Jim, he plays the trumpet too. Just like you.

It soon became apparent that Steve did not play ‘just like me’ at all–not by a long shot. When Steve played the trumpet, the angles sang. I was mediocre; Steve was amazing. There had been a hotly contested pecking order in the trumpet section established over the years. Jimmy Kaufman and David Dillinger had vied with each other all year to be the top banana. I could play one song, When the Saints go Marching in. Before Steve, I had to deal with a lot of grief, but being a friend of Steve Madaio improved my status immensely. It did not improve my playing one wit.

The band leader in Lynbrook South, Mr. Pinto, was a fiery and emotional guy. Hard to please. He heard Steve play maybe one note and he broke up the pecking order. Steve was given the first chair by acclamation. No body objected. Steve could play anything. That year we performed the music from Lawrence of Arabia for the Christmas concert. It was a pretty tough piece for a junior high school band. Steve carried us through it. Even Mr. Pinto was happy.

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The Garden in Winter

May 21, 2019

All the magnolia trees have lost their elfin
charm. The garden is as rough and silent as their
bare branching arms.  They look like ragamuffin
soldiers fighting upside down, their hair
scouring the earth. Winter can be a muguffin
in a garden (see Alfred Hitchcock).  It can scare
the bejesus out of all the garden trolls—
for while they wait for flowers, it snows.


May 17, 2019


May 17, 2019


May 17, 2019


May 17, 2019



Thanks thanks

May 15, 2019

The Lord Squire among the bags
and books and book bags
beckons and bows.

The trees fill with threes—
three birds, three bees, three bones,
everything in threes—

except for the scones.
And they come once a fortnight—
so stale and dry and too hard to eat—
it is as if they were poems.

Silent Tsunami

May 6, 2019

Explain this to me. Hamlet has been here
for two months now, shuffling around in
the gloomy recesses of Elsinore—dreaming of
a giant wave in a sea of troubles—and now,
all he wants to do is get the swords out and duel
in the surf. It seems he’s been taking lessons—
The better to smite you with, my dear—
and he will practice with Satan himself
if it will make his mind congenial to ghosts.
He wants to become a force majeure , my silent friend,
the waves of which might blow the sea into an eerie calm,
the gulls of which might fly far overhead in patterns
known only to themselves—flying lonely,
in a chariot of salts, pirouetting night
and day and backwards from day to night.


The sea withdraws its breath. The sand becomes
a dry protracted grave. All the living creature
flee back into the mountains—birds and dogs,
butterflies and bees. Those that remain

are lost in a single, silent perception.



May 6, 2019

Wallace Stevens: Adorning the Rock

May 5, 2019


This is the longest piece I ever wrote. I published it on extrasimile in four parts. it also appeared (and still appears, though it difficult to find) on00 You will be forgiven if you don’t read it, but it is something of f an Ars Poetica for me.




Donald Hall goes right to the point: I see no reason to spend your life writing poems unless your goal is to write great poems. Steven Spender is equally succinct: I think continually of those who were truly great./ Who, from the womb, remembered the soul’s history.

Great Poetry is Difficult Poetry, but…

It seems an unimpeachable point. Maybe we could quibble over this ‘soul’s history’ stuff, but who wants to write a mediocre poem? Who, indeed, takes pencil and paper in hand with the intention of writing something merely passable? No one’s forcing you to do this, pal. You can be a commonplace anything. Why write poetry? You’d be better off practicing guitar chords or working on your jump shot.

I won’t get cute here. We all know the evil answer to this question lurks in Hall’s ‘your goal’. We all know there is a great gulf between trying to write a great poem and writing a great poem.

Substitute the word ‘difficult’ for ‘great’ in both Donald Hall’s and Steven Spender’s sentences and you will find an interesting shift in meaning. Let’s face it, if you go through life aspiring to be difficult, all you accomplish is that you’ll stop getting invited to parties. As a goal for your poems, being merely difficult does not seem sufficient-whereas being great does. Still, we do think a great poem is a difficult poem, do we not? Difficulty suggests complexity of vision, insightfulness, a penetration of subject matter, an attempt to wring something from our quotidian lives that makes those lives worth living. A difficult poem attempts to tell us something we don’t want to hear. A difficult poem at least has the potential to be great that an ‘easy’ poem does not. Name one poem that’s great and easy. While they are clearly not identical, if we are going to understand the great poem there is a good chance we are going to have to get there through the door of the difficult poem. Besides, anybody can write a difficult poem.

Why are you doing this to yourself?

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