Haiku After Dark 

Friday night, 20 songwriters took the FitzGerald's Sidebar stage by storm, bringing their new songs into the world aided and abetted by an incredible band.  

Originally intended as a one-night event, it morphed into ‘Haiku Milieu at Twilight’ at Montrose Saloon in July and ‘Haiku Milieu After Dark’ at FitzGerald's.  

Two different shows, two bands, many different songwriters, one concept: write a sexy song. 

Getting to watch the show from my privileged position, I learned again what I have learned and forgotten so many times: the sexiest thing on earth is someone who is very good at doing something, doing what they do.  Doesn't matter who they are, what they look like or what it is they’re actually doing. There is something powerfully compelling about people being incredibly good at what they do.  

So, of course, Friday night was super sexy.  Great artists, great people, being great at what they do, writing and sharing their original music. And the audiences that sign on for these shows?  Listening like that?  Also super sexy.

Artists and audiences willing to share recently-created work in such a public sphere are a special breed. We are a clan.  A tribe.  A gang!  And to prove it, now we have the (temporary) Haiku Milieu tattoo. 

Here are the rules of our gang: 

1.  Do whatever you want. 
2.  Do it whenever you want. 
3.  Make something beautiful as often as you can: a meal. a poem. a song. a picture. a conversation.


You can get your temporary tattoo from me at a show. I'll also be sending them as gifts with purchases during the holidays. 

Meanwhile - enjoy the gallery of photos from the Friday night.  The first photo is by John Wendlund, himself a Haiku Milieu artist, visiting with his new bride Jenny, a contributor to the Haiku Your Milieu section of the Sunday email.  The rest are by me, until I got absorbed in pre-show hijinks.  Alicia Luna has great pictures from the night.

And for those who were not able to be there...after the Haiku at Twilight show, I wrote about the mysterious phenomenon of "feedback" from the from the mics and the PA (public address system.) 

At Haiku After Dark, we came to the realization that it actually IS feedback, from our creative muses!  This "feedback" is properly understood as applause from the very heart of creation.  We were blessed with just the right amount of it on Friday. 

Finally…and I can't believe it myself...the first Sunday of September is the Anniversary of the Sunday Haiku Milieu Email! Three years so far!  WHAT?!?

The second Sunday of September is the day I started writing a haiku to an image five years ago (September 10, 2017) so next Sunday is the true anniversary.  

While we’ll celebrate our anniversary throughout September with longer-form haiku poems and more.  I can only say that it continues to be life-changing to be on this journey with you, my dear friends and readers. 

If you are not already a subscriber, simply go to jennybienemann.com or haikumilieu.com and sign up.  I only share the Sunday haikus with that group. They get to read the blog first, hear any new songs first, and get special discounts on books, t-shirts, cards and more. And of course you can unsubscribe at any time.

Most importantly though, my subscribers and I, we inspire each other.  I am literally thinking of them as I compose the haiku, speaking directly to them in the blog, and it is for them that I won't let myself go to sleep on Saturday (Sunday morning sometimes) until the email feels right. 

It really is true, the more the merrier; also the deeper, the truer, and the more connected to what brings genuine joy into the world. Thank you for being part of this.

I hope you'll come see us at an upcoming show so I can thank you in person. 

FRIDAY: Haiku After Dark 

Next Friday, 9/2, 9 pm! The long-awaited Haiku After Dark concert at FitzGerald’s is almost here!  We’d love it if you can join us.  

Back in 2019, to celebrate the release of the first Haiku Milieu book, “Haiku Milieu, Photo and Haiku For You, Wherever You Are,” I invited 20 songwriters to write a song inspired by any image and haiku.  

The rules were simple: there were none.  Simply look at an image, read a haiku, and follow where it leads via your own creative process.  

Fast forward three years: there are more than 220 songs inspired by Haiku Milieu, written by artists across the country, performed at eleven concerts so far. You can find these songs at the YouTube Haiku Milieu channel.  

At these shows, we share a guitar and a microphone.  I introduce the song by reading the haiku, and with that, the artists sing the song.  It keeps the show moving, and all of our ears fresh!  

In July, we pioneered the idea of having our new songs accompanied by a rhythm section.  It was SMASHING!    

For this Friday, we will be joined by the crackerjack trio of Steve Doyle, Steve Hashimoto, and Lance Helgeson (tip of the hat to Al Rose, as these three are Al’s regular band.)  The pictures you'll see are from our rehearsal.  You see songwriters getting to know each other and the songs, finding the notes and the chords and also the points of connection to the music and each other that make these songs come to life.  

If you have been able to experience the Haiku Milieu concerts in person or via video, you will know many of these artists and that is part of the joy - seeing what people you already adore come up with.  You will LOVE what you hear from Robin, Jodi, Ron, Naomi, and Jeanne Kuhns from Door County among many regular contributors.  

You are likely familiar with names like John Abbey, Andon Davis, Kara Kesselring and Chris Neville, some of the most in-demand live and session players in Chicago and well beyond.  It is especially fun to see these artists, who spend so much of their lives supporting other people’s music (!) be supported by this incredible band.  

And then there are artists who are new to the Haiku Milieu-niverse, like Caitlin Arquines, Aaron Kelly, and Nikki O’Neill.  These powerful new voices are bringing something really special to this endeavor.   

Here's who's all involved: Aaron Kelly, Al Rose, Andon Davis, Caitlin Arquines, Amy Lazzeretti, Cheryl Tomblin, Jeanne Kuhns, Jodi Walker, John Abbey, Jon Langford, Paul Wendall Obis, Kara Kesselring, Naomi Ashley, Ron Lazzeretti, Nikki O'Neill, Isaac Lyons, Robin Bienemann, and Chris Neville. 

I could talk about this forever!   But you really should join us on Friday and see for yourself. :) 

Meanwhile, enjoy this “sneak peek” at our rehearsal - and come by on Friday!

The Farmer's Market 

We have wonderful friends who drop off their home-grown tomatoes at our house.  WHAT SERVICE, right? We are BLESSED! 

There is literally nothing more important to me in the summer than tomatoes.  And peaches.  And corn.   

In addition to our intrepid gardening friends, one of the points of pride of the town we live is our Farmer's Market.  

It is a beautiful place where it feels like everyone is in a good mood, people stop and say hello, and the fruit and vegetables are amazing.  So good, in fact, the experience continues and deepens once you get your bounty home!  

I hope you enjoy this haiku poem inspired by our Farmer's Market. 


Here is what you do: 
go to the Farmer's Market 
and buy tomatoes 

then go find peaches 
the ones that are just about 
bursting with sweetness 

if the sweet corn line 
moves like good conversation 
pick up a few ears 

your joy? contagious. 
people want to stop and talk 
but just keep moving 

vanishing like morning mist 
becoming the air 

your precious cargo 
unloaded from the front seat  
makes itself at home  

you call your mother  
she never picks up the phone 
but at least you tried 

you turn off your phone. 
there can be no distractions 
in this holy place. 

earthy tap water 
a generous pour of salt 
boiling on the stove 

gently, gently, now 
tip the corn in the water  
leave the lid just so 

choose a tomato 
the kind with a knowing look 
a self-confidence 

it will have to be 
good with being almost nude 
barely dressed with oil 

as for the peaches 
there is always at least one 
who knows a secret 

the secret is this: 
you can treat peaches just like 
you treat tomatoes 

today: in slices 
dressed in olive oil and wine 
with salt and pepper 

the corn, ready now 
takes its rightful place, steaming 
on the waiting plate 

the tomatoes and 
peaches invite you to come 
sit at the table 

let everything go 
this is the most important 
moment of your life

Good Company is good 

by Jenny Bienemann 
not the kind for whom 
you will need to clean the house 
before they come in 
also not the kind 
that you will worry about 
worrying too much 
and especially 
not the kind that lives to help 
not right now, at least 
only those who speak 
the language of your silence 
keep you company 
those who need nothing 
who only want you to know 
you are not alone 
who’d take off their shoes 
and tiptoe over to you 
squeeze your hand, then leave 

shutting your door tight 
switching on their porch light, just
so you'll know they're there 

who then return to
the fullness of their own lives 
trusting your process 

that’s good company 
the kind that makes you better 
when you don't feel well

* _____ * _____ * _____ * _____ *

Robin and I were both home sick and working remotely this week.   

Tristan, who usually presses his lanky frame against my husband’s leg all day while he works, had chosen instead to cast himself down upon the cool hardwood floor and stretch himself to maximum extension.  
Because Tristan is getting older, he is on a variety of medications that seem to do a reasonable job of getting him to think that he is not every inch of the fifteen years he actually is, or at least, hopefully, keeping him feeling well and in high enough spirits to jump on the table and toss back the delicious gourmet cat food that Robin orders for him.  
But in the heat, with both of us home during weekdays, it became clear that Tristan needed something.  A little extra something.  And what did that turn out to be?  Company.
Typically, I'm the first one up, and Tristan joins me in the kitchen. I'll pour a big glass of water.  One morning last week, Tristan started looking at me like, “are you going to drink that all by yourself?”   
Once I realized he was thirsty, I poured him his own glass of water, put it by his food, and walked away.  Later, I was bemused that it looked like the water hadn’t been touched.  This happened a few times.  
One day, the ritual was mid-repetition: I rose. Went downstairs. Got the water.  Felt the heat of his feline eyes upon me. But instead of getting him his own glass, I filled mine up, pretended to drink from it, crouched down beside him, and put my glass on the floor in front of him.  
And he drank from it.   
Next day, we tried it again.  This time, I set the water down on the floor and went about my business.  Guess what.  
He didn’t drink it.  
Next day, I went through the pantomime, placed the glass in front of him, and stayed down with it…and again, he drank the water.    

So "company for breakfast," as Winnie the Pooh would put it, turns out to make Tristan feel better!  "Know what?"  I said to Tristan, as I moved from a crouch to a full-scale, cross-legged sit down on the kitchen floor, "Me too."  
Sometimes, a little company is all we need.   
Especially after this week, I am grateful for all forms of company.  Though we saw no one in person, the loving check-ins of our friends and family definitely speeded the healing process.  

Be well out there.

Haiku at Twilight and One Line Just This Long 

It was EPIC! 

The July 28, Haiku Milieu at Twilight at Montrose Saloon was one for the record books.  

For the first time ever, the songwriters were supported by a rhythm section of some of the most in-demand players in Chicago, John Abbey and Dan Leali on bass and drums respectively. 

John and Dan deepened the intimacy and vulnerability that characterizes Haiku Milieu shows with their sometimes gentle, sometimes insistent, always expansive accompaniment on 14 brand new songs inspired by a Haiku Milieu photo and haiku. 

Close to the end of the night, I read from the introduction to my tiny book, RECKONING.  

Just as I finished the final haiku of the poem, one of the amps started to feedback, as if the Gods of Creativity themselves wanted to share a song with the crowd! 

It was a visceral reminder of the sheer power of creativity flowing through all of us, at all times. 

It was an incredible night of sexy Haiku Milieu songwriters bringing the songwriting HEAT to Montrose Saloon.  We can't wait to do it again at Haiku After Dark on Friday, September 2 at FitzGerald's.  If you're in town - JOIN US! 

Meanwhile, enjoy this poem. 

Introduction to the tiny book,  
by Jenny Bienemann 

One line just this long 
another no more than this 
a final one here 

one line at a time 
sometimes thick and sometimes thin 
sometimes a circle 

it is not magic 
and everyone can do it 
let life move the pen 

beware of the doubt 
it will say you are no good 
and you can’t do it 

then your poor ego 
still hurt from past endeavors 
will tell you to stop 

those who know you best 
may say that you do not know 
what is best for you 

those who you love best 
afraid of their own shadows 
may turn from your light 

just this much is true 
there is a light inside you 
that wants to come out

Photo originally shared by Nikki O'Neill.

7.28.22: Haiku Milieu at Twilight, Montrose Saloon 

This coming Thursday, July 28 at Montrose Saloon is the first-ever Haiku Milieu at Twilight! 

Two Haiku Milieu regulars, Andon Davis and Chris Neville came running up to me after a show, saying "Hear us out!  Don't say no!" and pitched the idea of Haiku Milieu After Dark, a sort of sexy haiku songs concept.  

Most things in life can be bought if you have the money. But the things that make your life worth living?  No money, no bargain, no trades will do the trick.  You literally cannot purchase things like enthusiasm with anything than your own willingness to have and hold it.  

This is what Andon and Chris were sharing with me, wrapped in what was actually a pretty good idea.  And so "Haiku Milieu After Dark" was born. 

When we had to reschedule the show, it split into two: Haiku at Twilight, happening from 7-9 pm at Montrose Saloon, and Haiku After Dark, happening 9-11 pm at FitzGerald's, to give ourselves the best shot at accommodating all the artists who'd been writing songs for May.   

For the first time ever, these new songs will be brought to life with a band, John Abbey and Dan Leali in July and Steve Doyle, Steve Hashimoto, and Lance Helgeson in August! 

It seemed like it would be reasonably simple to swap one show into two.  I mean, what could go wrong?!? 

But now there were two backing bands to secure.  Swaps in and out of two artist rosters.  A new video team to secure for two concerts (the Haiku Milieu YouTube channel the songs inspired by Haiku Milieu.)  And lest we forget - we needed to honor the public outcry for a Haiku After Dark t-shirt!  You can purchase your very own at haikumilieu.com.

So it happened a few days ago that I was working on something that I was mad at myself for putting off.  I knew I would feel better if I just got it done...but I couldn't get myself to do it.  (Spoiler alert: it got done.) 

As I was trying to get myself going on it, I wrote this poem, and it made me feel better, as any bit of creative activity usually does.  I hope you enjoy it.  

Jenny Bienemann 

God says 
"What are you doing, making yourself feel bad... 
Look at this day!" 

"Tell you what I'll do," says God. 
"How about I throw in a nice breeze. 
A little sunshine through the leaves - look at that!  
See the shadows the leaves make 
when I blow through them?  
Here, I'll do it again."  

"Now how about this," announces God, 
"Because you're you and I'm Me, 
I'm gonna have the sound of the expressway 
land in your ears like rushing water 
careening joyfully to the sea. 
Can you hear it now? 
I can turn it up if you want," says God. 

"This next one, though," says God, 
shaking His head, 
"you have to give me your permission for this but 
if you do, I can tune your heart 
so the gentle rumble of airplanes overhead 
makes you feel connected to all those who 
have found a way to go from where they were 
to where they want to be. 
Kinda helps with that lonely feeling. 
Totally up to you," says God. 
"I'd love to... 
but it's totally up to you." 

I let the cardinal 
perched in the nearby tree 
sing the answer on my behalf 
and just at that moment 
I saw my work through his eyes 
and what do you know 
just before he flew off 
I got started

Annie Capps: How Can I Say This? 

I am so proud of Annie Capps. 

She is an incredible friend, gifted artist (multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, producer) and an inveterate supporter of other artists.  She's about to say some very nice things about me (and to be honest it goes on a bit...(blush)) but the truth is we do have a a love affair of a kind. 

Annie, in addition to being brilliant, has a special gift of bringing people together in a way that makes everybody feel like they've always been together, even if they have only been in each others company for a few moments before she walks in. 

As Director of the Folk Alliance Midwest Region conference, as a solo performer, and with her husband Rod, she has a gift for bringing people together that I admire, emulate, and am thrilled to share with you.  If after reading, you are so moved to support this collection of songs that are especially relevant in this world we find ourselves in, please join me and Robin in doing so. 

You can hear the title song of this wonderful upcoming album here:  https://youtu.be/qmQaXuDF1rM and support the project here:  https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/anniecapps/how-can-i-say-this-by-annie-capps!  

With no further ado, Annie Capps.

Let me start by saying, Jenny Bienemann is one of those other-worldly spirits who lights up a room and has the power to make you feel as if you’re the most special person on the planet to her and that means a lot. She’s a beautiful human, inside and out AND an outstandingly creative multi-talented artist. I am a fan. So when she asked Rod and I to be part of her Haiku Milieu songwriting showcase, I naturally could not say no. That’s not to say I wasn’t worried about how I was going to write a song that was worthy of the standard she set. 

Fortunately for me, this was during a pandemic and despite every awful thing that transpired because of it, I found myself welcoming the quiet and the opportunity for reflection. I belong to a couple of songwriting groups that keep me on my toes and combined with a few virtual songwriting workshops, I was flexing those deliberate writing muscles a bit more than I had been of late. It felt good. Jenny’s ‘assignment’ was to write a song inspired by one of her beautiful Haiku and it came along when I had just started writing a completely different song. I love that about songwriting. If you get out of the way, it can take you places you never expected to go. 

Jenny shared her 3 Haiku books. 2 were big and beautifully artistic and colorfully presented. Coffee table worthy! And 1 was a tiny black and white book called “reckoning”. Anyone who knows me won’t be surprised when I say that’s the one I was drawn to. 

From the beginning .. 

“beware of the doubt 

it will say you are no good 

and you can’t do it” 

to the last … 

“Don’t let them get you 

to step out of your own light 

when they can’t find theirs” 

And in between … 

“Double negative 

There’s no time your voice is not 

Inside my head” 

“I can’t find myself 

in anything that’s more real 

than this ache for you” 

Every single 5-7-5 line spoke to me. ME. How do you pick just one? 

“How Can I Say This”, on the surface, may come across as a break up song and I generally resist telling people what a song is about, preferring to let them find their own meaning. 

But Jenny asked me to write about this song. I guess it IS a breakup song. I’m breaking up with all the voices in my head that are not necessarily my own. Those of my parents, a co-dependent relationship, society, and yes, my much younger self. All of the ones that creep in and tell me I’m not good enough. So when people ask me who this is “about”, it’s me. It’s always me. =) 

Allow me a little sidebar quote from RuPaul “If you can’t love yourself, how the hell you gonna love somebody else?” 

I try to love myself. I really do. Every flawed and ferocious edge, but there remain pieces of me that I’d give anything to destroy. The pieces that let what others think of me dictate how I feel about myself. Ultimately, the “you” in the song are those parts of me I wish I could shed. 

And yes, it is also about the many “You”s in my life who have, purposefully or not, given me reason to doubt myself, stifle my dreams and convince me I couldn’t be who or what I wanted to be. 

At 61, I’m able to look back on my life with some perspective and realize that I actually did a lot of those things I didn’t think I’d have the guts to do despite those voices. And though I made a LOT of foolish and painful choices along the way, I am who I am because of (or despite) those choices and what’s to be done but embrace it all. 

I couldn’t be more grateful to Jenny for inspiring me to write this song. Just in the writing, I have grown and learned more about myself. Even more than that, it became the catalyst for this whole project that ultimately had no choice but to be named for the song “How Can I Say This?” 


Kira Small: You Don't Have To Read Music To Nail It To the Wall 

Continuing our Texas theme for the final blog of June 2022, I wanted to share a piece of writing by our dear friend Kira Small.  

We met years ago at a music conference, see each other rarely, and keep in touch via the Social Medias.  When she announced, "Kerrville, I'm home!" I "loved" it on FB and hoped our paths would cross - and they did!  Our time together was hilarious, heartfelt, and altogether too short.  It reminded me that I have been wanting to share her writing with you for some time. 

Kira has the chops to sing jazz and soul and has lived enough life to sing the blues. She is an in-demand session singer with such icons as Willie Nelson, Garth Brooks, and Wynonna Judd, and a featured singer with Martina McBride, Radney Foster and Lynda Carter (Wonder Woman). She has been welcomed onto the sacred stage of the Grand Ole Opry, and as a self-proclaimed "Singer Nerd," knows whereof she speaks when it comes to singing.  

On top of that, she and her husband own and operate Sid Gold's Request Room, the only bar in Nashville that does *not* center the guitar!  Oh, and did I mention she does all this WHILE fostering kittens in her home?  SHE DOES. 

Reading a blog from Kira is just like having a conversation with her.  The tangents!  The vernacular!  And most of all, the ideas!  

While this article is a rebuttal to the idea that singers aren't "real" musicians, my favorite part of this blog when she says "...whether or not someone reads music doesn’t determine their “real musician” status."  

In a world with so many boxes to check and so many hoops of legitimacy to clear EVEN JUST IN MY OWN MIND as an artist, I hope you will find this, as I do, a refreshing reminder to let all that go, and just focus on "nailing it to the wall." 

With no further ado, Kira Small: 

"Have you ever heard someone refer to singers as “not real musicians”? ” 

Yeah me too. Grrr. While it’s possible that particular someone was a an a*s, it’s also possible they were simply ill-informed. 

So in the interest of diplomacy, let me ‘splain a little bit about the aspects of music mastery that make a professional singer. It ain’t just shaking a tambourine and oo-ing. 

Tangent right out of the gate: tambourine is much easier to play badly than it is to play well, which is why “NO YOU CAN’T” is the answer to your drunk a*s in the audience when you ask if you can play mine. But let’s get back to oo-ing. 

I could write a whole blog about that vowel alone and just about make my point. Is your oo a pure, rounded shape or more closed and country styled? Does your vowel sound match the lead vocalist’s or other background singers’? Are we talking breathy atmospheric oo’s or Millie Kirkham’s signature soprano on Blue Christmas oo’s? Straight tone or vibrato? THAT’S ONLY ONE VOWEL. Let’s continue, shall we? *puts down tambourine.  

In addition to making my own records, I’ve been working in Nashville as a pro singer for 15 years – from live and studio work with major label artists to demos for songwriters to choral sessions with 16 of us tracking (and reading) all in one room where if one person screws up everyone has to punch in. (That’s kind of my favorite sport. I’m also kind of a dork.) This town is full of some seriously bad ass mofosingers you’ve most likely heard, but never heard of. 

Some of those mofos read notes, some do stuff by ear with numbers, some just do stuff by ear with their own system or no system at all. They may not know if they’re singing a 4, a G or an M&M, but if they consistently nail it to the wall they’re gonna get the gig. Whether or not someone reads music doesn’t determine their “real musician” status. 

I happen to be a reading nerd so I love when things are arranged and scored, which they still are sometimes. But most singers use numbers here, and I can nerd out on that just as easily. In this context, numbers represent scale degrees, just like (moveable do) solfege. (In key of C: C-D-E = do-re-mi = 1-2-3, etc.) 

When I have to demo a song for a writer or learn a bunch of back-up parts for a live gig, a lot of times I’m working from a rough version that’s not in the same key I’m going to sing it in. Making a chart using notes would be a pain in the a*s. But if I know I start on the 3 it doesn’t matter what key the song ends up in – my chart will be right. Same thing for the players, which is why The Nashville Number System is what’s used on 95% of sessions here. It has nothing to do with whether or not players or singers can read music. (See end of previous paragraph.) 

When you show up on a session and all you get is a lyric sheet with no parts written, you’ve gotta come up with them, sometimes as a group. (Yup – we have to be arrangers too.) Those are called “head chart” sessions here. (I guess cuzwe’re doing stuff off the top of our heads? I don’t know – I wasn’t around when they named sh*t.) On these we use numbers to help us navigate parts. If you want to see that happen in real time go to the Opry and watch the background singers. Carol Lee used to throw so many hand signals - numbers, oo vs. ah, which direction to resolve a chord – she looked like a baseball manager or a gang member. She’s retired now but someone else is probably doing it. It’ll bend your brain. 

Ponder this for a sec: whether we’re reading notes or numbers, singers actually HAVE to hear stuff first – cuz we don’t have frets or keys we can place fingers on. (When I taught sight reading at Berklee I called it reverse ear training.) Some of us have to do all of that in heels, false eyelashes and spanx. While doing choreography. And smiling while your drunk a*s in the audience tries to grab the fricking tambourine. (OK I might have an issue there. Sorry. But seriously. Stop that.) 

Then there’s the lyrical component too. We might get hired to sing something we have zero emotional connection to (or that flat out SUCKS – often referred to as “putting lipstick on a pig”, “polishing a turd”…), but if whoever hired us gets even a whiff of that we sure won’t get hired again. Flip side is singing something we have a little TOO much of an emotional connection to.  

“Fun experiment: next time you find yourself trying not to cry, start singing something that will absolutely make you cry. Now stay in tune. Now put on some false eyelashes….” 

Finally: yes, it’s true, we don’t have amps or drum kits we have to haul around and set up. Instead, we schlep our stash of tea, honey, ginger, lemons, throat spray, six kinds of lozenges, and enough water to drown a rhino. We don’t have to carry heavy gear. But we also don’t have the luxury of putting our instrument in a case to protect it, because we inhabit it. Context: singing with a cold is like trying to play guitar after someone poured syrup all over the fretboard. It’s gross and it sounds weird. 

I could probably go on, but I’m borderline ranting already. Plus I just drank a drowned rhino’s share of water and really have to pee. I’ll leave you with this request: next time you see a singer at work, give them a nod of respect. And don’t you dare reach for that tambourine." - Kira Small    

You can pick up Kira's guide to the Nashville Number System here.

Plus ones and The Teakettle Whistles 

This photo is me getting a taste of my own medicine from wonderful singer and songwriter Kirsten Maxwell.  

I had just taken entirely-too-close-up shots of the Kerrville finalists who were still around on Saturday night, and she insisted that it was my turn.  Turns out, either she's great at capturing the moment, or my medicine is delicious!  My money is on the former.  

Still processing all that happened a week ago in Texas.  

I loved being there.  I attended as Robin's "plus one," and Kirsten (who had been a New Folk finalist previously) attended as another finalist's plus one.  Kirsten was an instigator in the best sense: the one starting to sing the show tunes and the obscure art songs that blossomed into glorious harmonies from the rest of the finalists. The one starting the laughter that rippled out only to regenerate and renew itself, over and over.  

And one of the most hilarious conversations I had the entire week was with Maggie, another plus one, a woman who has elevated the gentle art of driving from point a to point b into the highest of callings.  Driving behind a truck is not for her, she says, "unless that truck is an on-ramp to the sky."  

Throughout my years as an arts administrator, I witnessed how perplexing it can be to go from nobody knowing who you are, to having people greeting you on the street as if you're picking up in the middle of a conversation you never even participated in.  

It was a little like that at Kerrville.  If you are a New Folk Finalist, you are lavished with an uncommon variety of love and appreciation. There are 3,000 attendees, and they talk about songwriters there like other people might talk about their beloved baseball players.  

For the most part, the recognition was welcome and the conversations were delightful (at least from what I witnessed and heard about.)  But still, can anything really prepare you for being the apple of thousands of people's eye?  And even more significantly, what happens when you have a taste of that kind of recognition...and then have to return to the dailiness of daily life?  

As they say, after the ecstasy, the laundry.  This is why it's good to have that plus one, the person who knows you, who represents "ordinary" life while you're having an extraordinary experience, who can help you stay grounded during the epic highs and the lows.  

One of the little writing tricks I use myself and share in workshops is to put yourself in the place of someone having a very different experience than you. If you're a woman, write as if you're a man; if you're young, write as if you are older; or as in the case of the poem below, if you are a plus one, write from the perspective of a finalist.  

I came upon a draft of this poem this week.  I wrote it before Kerrville.  I believe I woke up out of deep sleep with the phrase, "the meager blanket of her praise has worn threadbare..."  

Having had the privilege of watching the 24 finalists rocket into outer space, then witness my own personal finalist come back into his own orbit, I edited the poem as follows.  


When through overuse  
the blanket of her praise  
has worn threadbare  
I reach for it anyway  
shivering in the icy breath  
of my own indictments  

into troubled sleep  
anxious and worried  
what if and why  
And most of  
all why not?  

The answer comes  
as the inexorable dawn  
swallows me whole  
spits me out the other side  
of darkness  
her breath on my shoulder  
mouth slack in sleep  
brow troubled  
as if through the night  
all my burdens  
had become hers  

I kiss her gently  
I wish it would make  
her brow unfurrow  
to say I am sorry and thank you  
in the words  
only a heart can hear  

but she turns,  
frowning slightly  
I pull back the covers to get out of bed  
then pull them back up  
to keep her warm  
and go make coffee  
in our kitchen  

the birds outside the kitchen window  
know nothing of the spirit of a person  
how quick to enthusiasm  
then despair, then love;  
again and again  
and all through the prism  
of a body and mind  
so rarely in accord  
so often fighting each other  
circling the jaws of the rusty metal trap  
the other laid for it  
the earth hard and compacted  
in a deep groove, yet oddly soft  
from the endless dance of wariness  

No, the birds know nothing of this  
they are at one with life  
spirit of the poet  
brush of the painter  
rush of the wings of inspiration  
And I listen to them  
Boiling water, lost in thought  

Coming back to myself  
I see her beside me  
quiet as the dawn  
she comes to me  
in her bathrobe as tattered  
as I felt last night, and  
puts her arms around me  
as the teakettle whistles

Before Anything 

Before anything  

did or did not go as planned  

you were just yourself  


And afterwards, when  

you got or did not get what   

you had hoped you would  


you were still there; but  

now with an experience   

you think defines you  



have enough of these  

and you can start to lose track  

of just who you are  


am I the result  

of the responses I get  

to the things I do;  


or, is who I am  

valuable no matter what  

the response may be? 



if you still have to 

prove yourself on steep ladders 

one rung at a time  


as if someone else   

could give you what only you    

can give to yourself  


you might have outgrown 

the tiny little spaces  

you let yourself have  



you are not alive 

to prove your right to exist  

but to be yourself 


whatever you do  

whatever you think they think  

enjoy who you are 


that's your only job

being the one and only

you that ever lived