Sunday, January 20, 2013

Our Mother Flew Unassisted

Please feel free to read the poetry on the link below, selected from the over 60 pages in my manuscript and give your opinion. It's taken me over five years to write this work.

There are just a few pieces there. The last poem someone just said, ' a gem.'

Take a moment to leave a comment, I really value your opinion. Thank-you.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Thus Virginia Passes

by James Browning Kepple (pretend Genius press)
ISBN 978-0-9852133-2-9 review by Raewyn Alexander

The title put me in mind of someone on a train, travelling through the state of Virginia and watching it flow by the locomotive until that particular landscape was gone. Intrigued, but mistaken, I read at first to find out why this book was titled this way and also, because I've long enjoyed the poetry of this inventive, original and startling young writer. We've discussed writing and each others work online for many years, as colleagues, and devotees of literature.

Kepple follows in the tradition of language poets, taking English or really, American and making of it what he wishes. He reclaims language as an individual, to the extent that some readers with pedantic leanings may be shocked or horrified. This upset is calculated and focussed for the most part, creating a kind of blueprint for a new, more hopeful way of life, we could say. Kepple's talent is also such that he persuades the reader to keep on, entertainment ensues amongst other pleasures as rich, engaging and varied as anyone could wish, even if sometimes this collection is overwhelming or wildly odd.

The poetry is arranged into three parts. The poems mainly flow on one from the other without the end of the page being taken up with white space, after each piece. Where white page space appears it adds to the meaning or tone of the poem, rather than standing as a long-held and rather extravagant convention of traditional formatting. 

The introduction by Kim Goransson warns the reader this collection could seem like too much at times. But I, for the most part, delighted in how Kepple discards an overly precious approach to poetry, and instead relishes the chance to allow the appearance of the written word to work in curious, revolutionary ways, while also paying respect to language. Genuine humanity is evident in this verse and a startlingly recognisable, flawed appearance, without a trace of laziness or pretense. (Although laziness and pretense do exist in fact, and these poems do make that clear, with much else besides). 

There were times however when I felt lost, disturbed and horribly alone, then the writing drew me back to a place of relative safety or at least, familiarity so I felt I could continue in good heart. Drama and particularly tragedy carries many verses well.

Word-play, once a reader realises it's there, is at times truly hilarious, or rather thought-provoking and undercuts many assumptions, with elan.

'I tell her I'm hungry
ask, or is that to caveman'

                                   - from The Lost Art of Seduction

This maintains a double meaning, a sense of what the line would mean with 'too' and continues a persuasive thrust, which is quite possibly to get some food from this girl, from her 'to caveman', also by the way cleverly admitting his bluntness, and negating simplicity. Subtly shocking syntax also destroying the idea that people who cannot spell 'correctly' or use grammar 'properly' are stupid, since he's using those 'errors' to be truly clever, subtle and amusing.

Sometimes Kepple uses the word its to show something belongs to something else more than it is, could ever possibly explain.

'but its cold behind iron, and I need you to forge
for its trivial us in such assertions'

                                      - from I just got out of jail baby

He does this with interchanging 'your' and you're' and also, 'then' and 'than' as well, along with other small, often taken-for-granted words which are sprinkled about, a garnish of diversion or a twist to cause reflection; a swerve in meaning. But occasionally it seems the mis-spellings are to show a kind of a person, a character, there is no subtle word play I can figure.

'and I pass her up wishing I wasnt so cheap
I suppose its a matter of money these encounters,'

                                    - from occidental street love

My first impression of the book, after galloping through it reading the collection entirely in three days was, it seemed sexy. Not that there is anything much erotic in the words themselves to any large degree, even if some intimacy is mentioned, but the maturity, strength and intelligence inherent in this poetry, along with its wry and also blatant humour impressed me so much. Other saphiosexual readers could find this work affects them the same way, intelligence can be so stirring. 

An exhilarating sense of a real person fully engaged with language and what it can do for them also emerges, a man revealing himself and risking hurt, then also, Kepple reveals so much while he obscures himself in some kind of camouflage too. This poetry is a statement about the need to disguise one's intelligence in these times, perhaps, but showing off to those who 'get it', and also including them? There's some camaraderie involved here. 

TVP got to me. Every time I thought I could define it, the writing slipped into another gear, or changed its tone and diversionary tactics, or just enthralled me. A collection with more to it than what appears at first. The alarming last section certainly creates various brain storms and mind fevers. My eyes wide with something close to terror by the end, (which as it happens is not quite the finish at all, another surprise appears even there). 

Extreme states are going out of fashion in art, we could say, except for extreme price tags on fine art or what we could call cheek, (in American they say, sass). We are told in everyday life, in countless often banal ways to calm down and carry on, to contemplate the intellectual rather than indulge the emotional, and to divide ourselves into easily recognisable groups for familiarity and comfort. This all subtly done through the way art is presented as an elite practise, and in its contemporary content being cynically clear or ironically observed, often expensive and for only the highly educated, and therefore quite exclusionary. Some mystery permissible as long as it is so sophisticated it has to be accepted as true, without explanations dared to be asked for. Thus Virginia Passes as a collection does pay some respect to that mindset, it has wisdom and is of this time, (despite some curiously old-fashioned turns of phrase), while the writing also determines we need more than coralling or discipline, more than a society of knowing winks and nods, more than brutality dressed in the finest manner to make it seem acceptable. We need to feel deeply and explore our existence fearlessly in order to truly, best live and learn, much of Kepple's writing appears to show this, convincingly. 

The poetry is not as distancing and obtuse as some other recent verse by more traditional or less risky poets, it does not pretend it's from somewhere unattainable for most people. Although so idiosyncratic at times it does appear unfathomable on first reading in places, I later decided it was like a wild animal sporting and celebrating itself, beautifully, for its own sake, in places which suit the particular topic or tone.

I found Kepple eskewing 'the' was often annoying or unnecessary, although this telegramesque, truncated language suits the break-neck pace of some of his work. This device does eventually appear as his genuine voice too, but sometimes the omission distracts from some beautiful, unexpected line which follows.

'a troubled troubador

lashed about

on train seat

she can walk

like fallen

plastic on my


                                    - from train poem #43

Possibly however, that's one of his points, beauty exists obscured by the furious speed we seem to think we are going, time poor and distracted.

Kepple's writing sweeps along with grand gestures and surprising, momentous images too, often illustrating contemporary issues along with time-tested, vital concerns. The symbolism in some poetry could take a reader many readings and some research to understand, while on the surface there's a definite narrative thread as well, satisfying to an extent.

'We need incensed sacrifice and summonings to protect us
For the earth has grown weary of our consumptive material

It is past time that its fruits spiritual will go stolen unnoticed,'

                                     - from A Prelude to Ophiuchus

Differently sized type-faces, some tricky word placements, three sections called in order of appearance - Book I: Thus Virginia Passes, Book II: Harlem Blues, Book III: Herald, (the most experimental verse), and no page numbers, we're reminded throughout that this is not any usual book of poetry. That even if it does echo some other writers' allusions and literary times past, in some regard. 

The unexpected in a tailor-made, avant-garde suit, if I had to explain Thus Virginia Passes in an image. Daring, considered, gloriously individual and with many twists, turns and puzzles, this first major collection by James Browning Kepple is recommended. I must admire his bravery, quite apart from his obvious talent and labour. We need more writers prepared to register publicly who they really are along with a plea for privacy and respect, while at the same time saying something else entirely. Then we remember what matters and grow inspired to stretch ourselves to trust in our own experience and intelligence, our own feelings.

Words carefully chosen in the best order, indeed.

I'm happiest most when
starving unconcerned
and building fires, do not
monitor me please 


Wednesday, January 2, 2013

it starts with a colour

Prussian blue. Entirely the colour of a night sky without stars or moon. The interior of a wooden box, ruched velvet under the lid, this dark blue. Then the box closes. Polished wood, rubbed with wax; oak, golden and plainly finished, square-edged. Two, small, rather tarnished brass hinges at the back, a little curly but not much, four tiny nails in each one.

There could be something in the box.

The box sits on a shelf in a large room with enormous, picture windows along two sides. The view outside is of trees broad and deep to the horizon and they're not too close, but near. No branches encroach, they're just there, tall, lovely, dark, mainly a deep green and then in the background some lighter green, birch perhaps. 

The house is on a hill, (it's not just a room). 

In the valley below something sparkles. When anyone opens a window along that northern side where the most sun appears in this hemisphere, the water below which races along fast and clean, a river sends up the play of itself. The sound of rushing water carries when there's no wind.

The future looks this way to me.

We live there.

This day in time to come I sit on a long, rather retro-acid-green sofa, reclining really. The book in my lap is open at about the middle and I read at my usual pace, pages turning every few minutes. You're across the room on a recliner made of wood, lattice and some kind of black, polished stuff in the middle. It's like a sun-lounger but for inside. Curves follow and support your head, neck, back, backside, legs slightly bent and feet, relaxed. You have a flattish dark yellow pillow behind your head and a book open in your hands. 

 The room is mainly golden, figured wood and the floors are polished, the ceiling is the same but not shiny and it's flat, quite high. Shelves where the box sits are paler wood and stretch to the walls on each side of the raw white and grey stone surrounded fireplace. A pair of black, carved birds are on the other side opposite the box. They're like two swans but also perhaps they could be another kind of bird; coy and elegant, apart with a closeness about them too.

One wall in the room is entirely full of books. They're facing the longest set of windows, (which have special glass to screen out harmful UV rays). A black ladder stands in the corner, attached to a rail at the top of the bookshelves so it can be moved along; we can easily fetch books down from our library.

In the middle of the room but over to the side is a globe of the world in a wooden stand. It's so large I cannot put my hands and arms all the way around it. Sometimes I turn the globe and trace where I have been, where I want to go. Or I stand there with my palm upon it, a little sad because no one travels far any more unless they absolutely have to. New, light-weight, ecologically-sound solar cells for long-distance travel, faster than we've been permitted lately are almost ready to be used widely, but not quite yet. 

 Through a door near this globe is the kitchen. It's utilitarian, lots of stainless steel we recycled, and some dark reddish rimu panelling from an old pub. A few perky nonsense things here and there, my penchant for kitsch hasn't really ever left me. A ceramic cat with wide-eyes holds string which appears from its smiley mouth for instance, and a few tins from the 1950s display brightly coloured birds. Your collections line the windowsills, too.

A couple of cat toys lie on the floor, by the sink bench. A bright orange ball, along with a red and green and purple pretend-mouse.

The house is clean but not too orderly. It's warm but not stuffy. We've lived here a while now in the future; planted many of the trees outside and watched them grow. Our neighbours planted others. The world is covered in almost as many trees now, as it had when human beings first appeared on the planet. The future has appeared and it's better, this is in ten or 20 years from now, from 2013.

Today is the day when we do not speak. To anyone. Especially not to each other. Everyone, more or less, takes on these Silent Days now. We can choose the day not to speak, for ourselves. We chose Wednesday, by a random ballot. 

At the letterbox there is a sign. It's a stylised drawing of a person looking out, their eyes open, their ears are clearly drawn, they have a nose but no mouth. This is so people who call in will know, we will not speak to them even if they desperately need us to, on this day. A pad and paper is by the front door and a gadget given to us for Xmas by well-meaning techie friends, it's like an etch-a-sketch. We can do drawings or write words if we need to answer someone. Usually, when people see that sign on a shop or house they simply do not call in there that day.

So it goes and we with it. O yes, time still exists and does not exist, but there were are in times yet to arrive, growing older.

On Wednesdays we each read and sometimes write, one of us cooks and we both eat together in the evening. During the day on mute time we fend for ourselves for meals. The very first day ever that we didn't speak, we made a few mistakes and exclaimed, or started to mention a thought we had. Words escaped us without thought. So we paid the penalty and went an extra 'silent' day and then, another until we did get through one day entirely without talking.

Some noise criminals do exist, that's what they're called. People discuss whether there could be noise meters put into houses, but no one ever wants to take the conversation further. Maybe one day someone will manufacture a kind of talk 'watch-dog' beeper, but at the moment it's more like a voluntary exercise.

Mostly, people love the opportunity to be silent, strangely, if we are to believe the reports. They would not've thought of it themselves perhaps, but when the Silent Day law appeared and was promoted so well, a majority took it on and found they enjoyed themselves. This meant the practise received excellent word-of-mouth, and we're here now reading quietly, in a kind of blur of joy.

It seemed the easiest way to reduce consumption world-wide. When people do not have an easy way to communicate, we are less likely to make plans to buy things, do things, go places, travel, so this new day of rest assisted in the changes we had to make, (or die). We are not permitted any access to the internet or telephones on our silent day either, our online profiles and the answer-phone have messages regarding this on them.

It was during one of these silent days that someone devised a way for hemp to be grown widely and used for so much, nowadays. They planned this beautifully. Governments everywhere could not resist their rhetoric. Many changes have appeared due to this one day, world-wide set aside for intropection, mutual respect and rest.

Now and then here in the future I look across at you reading and occasionally, you look up and catch me regarding you. Sometimes we smile. Today, we just look at each other as if we are wild animals who do not know how to laugh or smile, we just look into each other, deeply. If we were buildings ourselves, constructions, you could say we look into the rooms of our skulls, right to the back where our darknesses dwell, and we just take it all in and accept each other's mystery, even not knowing what's there. 

Silent days produce moments like this. Rewards are infinite after the initial emotional shock and awe. Sometimes we ignore each other too of course, but this level of intimacy only occurs with certain peculiar circumstances. Or at least, they were strange situations once, these days of no talking, but now this way of life is common. That even if every day is still quite different to the next and the world holds so much beauty we each could pass out from its monumental and delicate aspects, if we were hero and heroine in a 19th century novel. Instead, we're two artists in the early 21st century, getting old together and carefully tending our love as if it too was a tree.

Perhaps love is a tree.

So much of what we've grown together is hidden and nutures us from places we know little about, as if we have root systems hidden beneath the earth. Much else is showy and beautiful, we flourish and bloom. Natural aspects are admired and accepted, human beings are widely spoken of as part of the natural world now, not apart from it. People living as a part of nature was a common belief in many indigenous cultures, the rest of us just caught up with them, to a large degree.

Long silences and many days apart often occur. Trees too appear to be alone. Some now think they were communicating with us all along, to encourage more careful, apt planting and respect.

We're each, in our case, as idiosyncratic and stubborn as an explorer or adventurer may appear. Those highly motivated and imaginative people who may've written their own life story and boosted myth-making; certain they're doing something that deserves attention, perhaps also magnifying their feats to make it difficult for others to follow in their footsteps. We're akin to them. Not that we mind admiration or emulation, we're just protective of our branches and leaves, our fruits and flowers, the shape and size of this living yet abstract thing we've created in a nowhere place, where nothing rules, and imaginary numbers count our years together. Anniversaries are like embroidered mathematical equations.

My day of silence has produced this piece of writing. It appeared to me in a half-waking dream this morning. After exercise and a good breakfast, I've written this down and it's for you like everything I ever create is for you. Hemmingway said we write our best work when we're in love so I decided to stay in love for all the rest of my days, all my work springs from love and labour and talent. It's not enough to simply please myself although I must always do that first. Then, I think, daring to put this out there into the world and hoping it is the best possible, editing and polishing so it is worthy of you makes me a better writer, perhaps a better person even if we are all always flawed and imperfectly divine, no matter what we may pretend otherwise. 

We're as good as we make each other, and our love fills in the cracks, mended with light again, fighting the good fight forever, on into the nowhere with something green.

Inside the box? The hinged wooden box with Prussian blue lining, what was in there? What do you think? What would be something you'd keep in the safest, most beautiful place you could? What is the most treasured and valuable anything anywhere any time? 

Our box is empty except for the deep blue lining. Nothing does not exist but we treasure it. Perhaps too amongst this is the understanding that deep blue sadness is valuable, doubts have a place, nothing is perfect but we need to keep sorrow and worry  as small and enclosed as possible, or we'd entropy. We prefer movement, love staying alive, well, making the world green again. Mystery and not knowing deserve acknowledgement, nevertheless, imagination and invention we love as much as we love anything or anyone else.

But what will you place inside your treasure chest?

Time travel exists. You've seen the future. Now make it so. 


This is a picture of Bjork the singer, song-writer and performer, as a tree or many trees. Visionary.

 This is a picture of hemp, (below) and a list of its possible uses. While I do not condone the use of anything illegal, this plant has the capability of producing enormous benefits to human beings and that is why it is posted here. It needs to be made legal and used as described.