Are You Singing Lead or Backup?

I recently saw Twenty Feet from Stardom--about back-up singers. Since I love Soul music and the rock and roll that derives from it about as much as I love life itself, this was a fantastic experience. I cried from the first notes through the credits.
There are lots of themes in the film, but one outstanding one is–what does it mean to sing back-up? Does everyone want or need to be the star?
As the eldest of four children, I know I’m happy bossing a small group around. I’d make a good first violinist, personality-wise, or lead guitar. (Or hey, classroom teacher.)
But am I Mick Jagger? No. If I could sing like any of the women in the film would I be beyond happy? Yes.
As one speaker points out–when you sing along, you are singing back-up. That is, harmony. So I think after all I am singing back-up. Isn’t that the poet’s job–to sing back-up to truth and beauty?

The Angry Face of Grief by Susan Aylward

The Angry Face of Grief 

an angry sorrow wakes
with me this morning,
navel in knots, and
throat clogged, gasping,
how could it be
I am turning 55? 

when i turned 50
at a full round table in Tomasitas,
my mother, there with me,
was 69

when i turned 51, 52, 53, 54,
my mother remained 69,
that bingo food depot
hospital gift shop hostess,
who shared her smile, and spirit

I want to scream
at the number 
of wheezing fuckers
hobbling along with
hospital stays,
and giving nothing back

yea, some veterans,
but so what?
she was a veteran
of giving, sustaining life,
praying, loving,
and learning to stand
up for ourselves,

we unsung heroes
with the strength, 
if not the choice,
to usher life in,
and out
she deserved to live

if that’s what it takes
i would be proud
i would walk in her shoes
fuck the world
and leave its pale platitudes

about the way life should be
could be would be,
if you were strong enough loving enough
to overcome to heal to succeed to triumph

some seeds take root early in the day
to meld with our foundation,
just as naturally
as railing, life is unfair,
and I owe nothing
to no-one

Donna Fleischer on Creativity

Poetry from early on showed me that there are systems, sub-systems, elements, molecules, and particles more primal, more vital than ideas, rather the experience of things themselves, as in Wallace Stevens’ ‘the plain sense of things’; that this experience is one of freeing words, language itself from how thinly we use it, for merely meaning, into bursts of being, imagination-swerves in and out of muddy bells, mystery, Theodore Roethke’s Woodlawn, Lorine Niedecker’s lifepoetry waterflowing by condensing, Cid Corman’s silence(s), Adrienne Rich, john martone’s skull harmonies, Clayton Eshleman’s cavedepth being(s), John Bloomberg-Rissman’s Zeitgeist Spam, CAConrad’s necessary Frank, Jonathan Skinner’s ecopoetics, Tim Trace Peterson’s “Violet Speech”, Brenda Iijima’s economies, Scott Watson’s versionings, Amy King’s bluntforcetraumen “Opera of Peace”, Jared Stanley’s weeds, Noelle Kocot’s bigger world, Bhanu Kapil’s immanent monster, Lew Welch’s turkey buzzard, Tyrone McDonald’s haiku confluence, Charlie Mehrhoff’s elkfrost inhabitations of our human animal comminglings through oneanothersothers, Blakean, Bhaktian, poetry– compass, test tube, cup, water droplet, cancer, salts, stem, claw, fruits, volcano, song, fricative, diphthong, and so much more than lists can do; of the many younger poets urging it on. This open form of writing poems supplanted most all other forms. So I surprised my self with a need to dig into Asian-derived forms, mostly tanka, haiku, and haibun, almost exclusively, for many years. Language and poetry being core elements in this life we liveindieinliveindiein is so much more than any binary-like pass / fail. My poetry practice in the open form now depends upon the haibun, which in turn, involves the haiku, sometimes struck-thru or semicolonized by eco-, geo-, and bio-poetics spawn.
It’s a rich, exciting time to publish because there are so many excellent choices in print and online. It takes time for poets and editors to find one another, more so for those not fluidly associated with academic institutions and the invaluable sources they offer. Like Chaucer, I don’t offer advice because authority interferes with experience. I trust the inherent capacity of the poetry mammal to adapt new technologies and methodologies, being wholly alive, after all.
One book I do return to again and again is French philosopher and semiologist Roland Barthes’s “A Lover’s Discourse, Fragments” because my interrelations feel to be pilgrimages, set out for in the dark, cold rain of Spring begun, near to Barthes’s figuration: “To try to write love is to confront the muck of language: that region of hysteria where language is both too much and too little, excessive and impoverished.” 
– Donna Fleischer

A Short Bio

Hartford, CT native Donna Fleischer is author of three poetry chapbooks: Twinkle, Twinkle (Longhouse Publishers, 2010), indra’s net, (bottle rockets press, 2003, out of print and free to read at Scribd.), and Intimate Boundaries (self-produced, 1991). She writes in open and Asian-derived forms appearing or forthcoming in journals and anthologies worldwide: Bones, Contemporary Haibun Online, EOAGH, Esque, Exit Strata, Fiera Lingue, Kō, Jupiter 88, Lilliput Review, Naugatuck River Review, Otoliths, Poets for Living Waters, Solitary Plover, and South by Southeast. Donna posts primarily contemporary poems and articles on poetics, Depth Ecology, Permaculture, and Feminism, at her curatorial content blog word pond. Her author’s bio is available at Poets & Writers.    

Poem by Anna M. Warrock


His glance raised my lips
to his. I felt his reflection
on the inside of my bones.

Waves pull and are pulled under
the moon, and spill apart.
I never saw him again.

I forgot the permeable stars,
the night listening and the spin
of the Great Bear, until just now

walking the road covered in pink feldspar
split from the broken mica hills
and above, the sandhill cranes hooting.

Ah—the years lost in washouts
and old water patterns in sand.
How did I let slip the grace

that made a wing from that one glance.
I apologize to the cranes,
their determined flight

across miles of monofields.
I apologize to the swollen cataracts
sunk to a drip across granite

in the dry summer. I apologize
to the blade cutting oats,
the log cut for shelter,

the food half-eaten on the table,
the stars that follow regardless
of the engines thrown down in the dirt,

the illusions that obscured
the long-ago heat, the beat
of its pulse ringing in my hands

that touched the lips that touched
my bones that brought grief
and betrayal, time—

a measurement unlimited,
specified, repeated, destroyed,
and the migrating, the wandering.

This poem first appeared in a somewhat different form in “Poesis.”