Monday Feature: Michaela Kahn on Patti Smith and Allen Ginsberg

Who digs Los Angeles IS Los Angeles!


I came to Patti Smith pretty late … I didn’t get “Horses” or “Easter” until after I graduated High School. As soon as I heard them, though, I was hooked. There was a rawness, energy, an edge of danger in her voice and music which appealed to me. Her songs were poetry and rock ‘n roll at the same time. They tasted like night and felt like a desert horizon.

In September 1997, Smith’s “Peace and Noise” came out – which I got sometime that fall, along with the then newly published “Allen Ginsberg Selected Poems 1947-1995”. Ginsberg had died only about 5 months before, and I was in the process of applying to the writing program he had founded in 1974 with Anne Waldman at Naropa University, in Boulder, Colorado.

I had read Ginsberg’s “Howl” before, but never owned a copy of the poem. There’s something about being able to go back again and again to a poem, especially one as long and complicated as “Howl.”  The poem, which before I had dismissed before for some reason, knocked me over. I was amazed to discover that in “Peace and Noise” Patti Smith had taken Ginsberg’s “Footnote to Howl” and used it as a spoken-word song under the title “Spell.”

I listened to it over and over. And over. Her gritty voice, the low whir of bass strings in the background, the guitar line like a ticking clock, the surprising sax squeal, and the relentless repetition of holy, holy, holy, holy …


Something about the past week has brought that song, and the poem, to mind. Sometimes I need a reminder, not only that “The world is holy. The soul is holy. The skin is holy.” But also  that “Holy the mysterious rivers of tears under the streets” and “holy the angel in Moloch.” Holy, holy, holy, holy. Everything is holy. Everybody’s holy.


Here is a link to Patti’s Smith’s “Spell”:


I Feel Like a De Medici–Having Commissioned A Painting!


I asked artist Roshan Houshmand to paint me one of her hand images.


She says “The paper is from an old ledger, probably Urdu, possibly Farsi.  I took a miniature painting class in Jaipur, India, a few years ago and this is what we painted on.  I’ll have to go back soon and get some more as it’s a lovely backdrop to paint on.”


She adds: “The border is a block print I made a few years back and the hand design is ancient Hindu and/or Buddhist.”

I can’t wait to get it framed. It’s a very special pleasure to buy the work of an artist you admire.

I Can’t Wait To Read This–Barbara Robidoux’s first book of stories


I first met Barbara Robidoux in an on-line class at We live near-by each other in Santa Fe, and I’ve always enjoyed her tales of chickens and beekeeping in the city. Miriam’s Well published her second book of poetry, and her work appears in most issues of “The Santa Fe Literary Review.” I’ve learned a lot from her about poetic prose, how ancient Japanese forms become contemporary, and ways of storytelling. Here is her new book!

Sweetgrass Burning: Stories from the Rez is a collection of linked short stories that transports readers into the lives of Indians who live at Northpoint, a fictional reservation in Northeastern Maine. The reader is invited to participate in everyday events which confront this community, as well as struggles against corporate interests to take over tribal land for profit (LNG), the opening and rapid closing of a tribal Bingo hall, and the revenge of three elder ladies (The Snoop Sisters) who cast their humor and rage against prejudiced neighbors in a non-Indian town which borders the rez. Characters open their hearts to tell us sometimes angry and often humorous stories of what it takes to stand by their culture and language in the face of state and federal government pressure to assimilate. In Northpoint, population 800, you’ll meet Dous, the Snoop Sisters, Molly, Gregory, Ricky, all irresistibly-interesting members of this tribal community and get wrapped up in these characters, but even more wrapped up in the plot. “Barbara Robidoux is a master storyteller. With ease, she weaves together the connections of Native people who have long known one another and their ancestors. The North Point Reserve is a community with open doors, the people inviting us in to feed us their stories. Inside each person’s words is their life as it was in recent years. We travel this map of reservation lives, recognizing the people. Their dwelling places become located in our own hearts. This incredible writer takes us on her journey of humanity and mystery. Along the way, the stories come together with her brilliance, her seeming ease of style. Robidoux has the unique ability to reveal all our strong and broken ways of being in this world.” -Linda Hogan author of Dark Sweet, Power, Dwellings, Solar Storms, People of the Whale, The Woman Who Watches Over the World. In SWEETGRASS BURNING Barbara Robidoux introduces you to characters so lovable and human you’ll quickly come to call them family. Navigating the fictional setting of the Northpoint reservation in northeast Maine, Robidoux’s linked stories powerfully show a community surviving through humor, compassion, cooperation and tradition. – Chip Livingston, author of Crow-Blue, Crow Black and Naming Ceremony Sweetgrass smoke and winter storms haunt Barbara Robidoux’s stories. Fierce, yet tender, her characters’ struggles with tragic legacies and invasive industries will touch your heart and bring you to the rez in all its complicated, generous glory. – Eden Robinson, author of Traplines, Monkey Beach and others.

To order directly, click here.


Would You Rather Be Happy or Loved?

Would you rather be happy or loved? It’s an odd question, unsurprisingly, because the person asking it has dementia. Yet I am taking care of this person who wants an answer from me, so I think about it.
Odd because we usually equate being loved with being happy. But I find myself saying that I don’t believe either of these is a real goal. After all, who can predict if we will be loved or happy, or what choices might ensure either? And both states seem external—based on circumstances or other people, which I don’t like in terms of a goal.
I’ve always felt it was better to love than be loved. After all, I can love people, animals, places, ideas, art, things, activities, even God or myself and I don’t need to be loved back for the situation to feel good. When young, I felt safer, more empowered, as the lover than the beloved. I loved partners who certainly loved me, but my focus was on my own feeling of love—expressing it, cultivating it, deepening it. This is still true, although I’ve softened more towards being loved. The people I’m closest too tend to have rather cool demeanors and not be gushy, so their protestations and gestures mean a lot. And I’m more willing to see and appreciate these.
As to happiness, it isn’t really an attainable state. At least not for me. I’m super restless, and my feelings mercurial—I can cycle from ecstasy to boredom to irritation before an afternoon is half done. I’m with Thomas Jefferson on the right to the “Pursuit of Happiness.” I like to pursue it—actually I adore pursuing it—and if I don’t capture it I might get adventure or amusement or serendipity instead. I find serenity an acceptable goal, but it isn’t a static state. I can’t say “I am serene,” but rather that I’ve flipped out just a little and am now returning to balance.
Hidden within this strange question seems to be the sad sense that being loved doesn’t always make a person happy. Love can be controlling, critical, and downright violent. Well, you might say, that isn’t REALLY love but I’m thinking it is at least love’s shadow side—a part of love and not a part of indifference.
I don’t know if feeling loved or happy is possible with dementia. Well, that it isn’t quite true—feeling loved and actually expressing affection still seem to be there for some folk. I can tell my listener doesn’t care about the answer, while still being glad with the appearance of conversation.

My New Book of Prose and Poetry “Geographic: A Memoir of Time and Space” Is Out from Casa De Snapdragon!


You can buy it on Amazon.

Here is a preview:

Fleeing The Nazis at The Riverdale Ice Skating Rink
I spent my childhood being terrified of Nazis. Oh, I was afraid of the Cossacks my grandparents ran from, and from the Russians who had missiles aimed right at my elementary school desk, but really it was my parents’ terror that haunted me the most. So, Nazis.
Being a practical child, I did fantasize solutions. Where would I hide? How would I run? Every Sunday morning, in winter, for many years, my father took us to the ice skating rink in Riverdale. I loved it there–the ice, the music, the hot chocolate, the bells and pompoms on my toes. Thanks to a weekly lesson with a guy named Vinnie, I was a pretty good ice skater.
So what did I think about as I skated round and round? Not a figure skating competition with me in an outfit. Not Holland, where I’d glide with Hans Brinker and his silver skates. No, Nazis. I’d skate to the music, all the while fleeing from storm-troopers. Of course, on an ice skating rink, you can’t really escape. So, mind following feet, I was trapped in a loop.
Once, coming back from the rink when I was nine, we heard the report– Jack Ruby shooting Lee Harvey Oswald. There was an ad on the radio–”Who was the first to conquer space? Castro convertible!” Only years later did I realize the joke. We lived in a prim world where beds were beds and couches did not open. But Castro I knew, on an island that had missiles pointing at it or from it…It didn’t surprise me that he was now in the furniture business.

Contact me at if you’d like a review copy.

Monday Poem by Michaela Kahn

Monday Poem …
I took a lovely walk out at the petroglyphs that are just south-west of Santa Fe yesterday. It is an amazing collection (I believe one of the most dense in New Mexico if not the Southwest). Birds stacked on top of each other, spirals, hand prints, snakes, strange masked faces that look a little bit like modern day emoticons, and many, many humped-back flute players.
It put me in mind of a poem I wrote several years ago, when the Convention Center in downtown Santa Fe was being  re-constructed. As they dug down to create an underground parking structure, they ended up discovering old ruins and (I believe) some possible burial sites. At the time I thought about how strange it is that a City can be built upon its own ruins, and each generation we just forget what came before – that there are bones and ruins beneath our sidewalks. (Previously published at 2 River).
The city forgets

How does a city forget itself:
a stone that paved the Spanish conquest,
latrine near the well, bent nail.

Which teeth punctured apple, what
stash of seeds. Whose ruin
beneath the parking lot:
squirrel, human, a sound
that makes itself from

Each stone is itself
a story of blue and the ripping
winds, each stone knows
the weight of stone and stone—
the dizzy heights of smoke
above a dry land.

Braided fiber, drilled bone,
plastic lighter, silver coin:
tool and echo.

Every time you leave it
the city cries out,
circles back on itself
scenting out the piece left.

Jamais Vu

I love the concept of Jamais Vu–sort of the opposite of Deja Vu. It means seeing something familiar as if you’d never seen it before. This often happens to me, particularly in my funky westside neighborhood when it is infused with the magical changing New Mexico light.

Photographer Matt Morrow is a neighbor of mine on a parallel street.


He wrote about this: There have been days, lately, in which I have felt like I was somewhere else.

I’ll add:


spring dusk

as if I’d never seen

my own neighborhood

What Am I Reading?

My wonderful son-in-law Tim Brown has heard me complain about what I’m reading…notably the turgid never ending never resolving WHEEL OF TIME series by Robert Jordan.

To wean me off this thankless round, he sent me:

Storm Front by Jim Butcher

Lord of All Things by Andreas Eschbach

Sacre Bleu by Christopher Moore


The Mistborn Trilogy by Brandon Sanderson

Mysteriously, A LITTLE LIFE by Hanya Yanagihara also arrived in the mail–I must have ordered it but completely forgotten. This looks like a huge literary novel, for…later.


Teaching—I’m SO In It For The Money–Miriam Sagan

Teaching—I’m SO In It For The Money
Recently I’ve noticed a discourse—across the state, across the nation—on public educators saying “we’re not in it for the money.” Or, conversely, other folks saying it to us.

I understand that this is meant to communicate:

Teachers are underpaid.
Teachers are idealists.
Teachers are not motivated by salary.

Well, two out of three isn’t bad. (Still a failing grade, though). But it isn’t good either. I’ve taught community college as an adjunct, half-timer, full time faculty, and 3/4 time faculty. I’ve been grateful for every cent I’ve earned. More than that, let’s be blunt, these earnings have been the difference between stability and economic disaster for me and my family.

No longer are teachers single school marms waiting for a cowboy to sweep us into domesticity. We support ourselves, our children, and our parents. Our salaries are economic development—we buy houses, and cups of coffee.

And here is something else—I never want my students to think I am indifferent to money. I’m not marginal, or Henry David Thoreau, or living on air. I share their concerns. I’d never tell THEM that they aren’t in it for the money.

I started wondering, who IS in it for the money? Obviously workers in terrible poor paying jobs—that’s survival. And investment bankers—maybe ”survival” of a less sympathetic kind. But folks the world over take pride in what they do—whether decorating a wedding cake or brain surgery—and yet no one tells bakers or surgeons “Well, you’re not in it for the, gasp, money!”

I would not do my job for free. Does that mean I am any less caring or committed a teacher? No, it does not.

So let’s stop saying we’re not in it for the money. A glance at our cars and clothes will tell you instantly how un-avaricious we are. But we need to care about our own basic needs. And I think this should come first before we can “afford” to care for others.