Tag Archives: Ed Skoog

Idyllwild Poetry and Jazz – Summer, 2014

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Idyllwild Poetry Festival: “What to do with the rest of your life”

The poetry week at Idyllwild in the summer, 2014 held its first reading last night in the Parks Exhibition Center. Ed Skoog led off with a long poem about taking a shower at night that seemed somewhat akin to another of his poem that was recently published in American Poetry Review. In “Being in Plays,” Skoog invokes the “foldable theater / half-constructed on page or mind” that is plastic enough to enfold itself with “the unseen,” implicitly half-visible to him in the poem’s lyric silence. The poem about taking a shower at night, however, is much more ambitious than “Being in Plays” and towards the end began to rise to the dramaturgic challenge posed by Wallace Stevens in “Of Modern Poetry.”

Because the gallery was going to hold an opening at 8:00 p.m., the reading had an hour time limit, and Skoog very generously allotted the bulk of the time to his two featured poets, Troy Jollimore and Ellen Bass. Jollimore focused on poems he had recently written, which immediately earned my admiration. It’s all too tempting for a poet to view a reading as an opportunity to impress the audience with one’s best efforts, and sometimes such a reading is appropriate, but Jollimore seemed to trust both his work-in-progress and the occasion of a new audience in a remote, small town as fully compatible.  Of the half-dozen or so poems he read, my favorites were “On the Origins of Things” and “Marvelous Things without Number.”

Ellen Bass read about the same amount of time, though she focused on published poems from her most recent collection, Like a Beggar.  She led off with that book’s first poem, “Relax,” followed by “Padre Hotel,” “The Morning After” and the evening’s most immediately memorable poem, “What Did I Love,” an extended meditation on being held accountable for the meat you eat by being willing to execute it. Bass is an exceptionally fine reader, and her voice embodied the subtle cadences and rhythms propelling her imagistic rhetoric.


The best moment of the evening was yet to come. On her suggestion, Linda and I walked over to Bowman Auditorium for a jazz presentation. We walked in while someone was concluding a number that featured a meditation on John Lennon’s “Norwegian Wood.” Then Marshall Hawkins slowly strode across the stage and took up an enormous upright bass, upon which he began to stroke his bow for the opening moments of a composition entitled “What to Do With the Rest of Your Life.” When I opened my eyes after listening intently to the first 30 seconds or so, I kept looking for the horn. But no one was playing a horn. It was Hawkins, deftly coaxing the strings of the upright into a plangent spindrift of suspended yearning. I don’t have any idea of how he managed to transform his instrument from string to brass, but he did. I have heard Hawkins perform several times over the past 15 years when I was on the main amphitheater stage at Idyllwild for the festival, back when it was impeccably run by Cecilia Woloch. Hawkins is one of the master artists of our time, and I doubt a moment of equally fierce tenderness was offered to any audience on the West Coast last night. It was a privilege to hear him still sharing his vision at the heights of his undiminished powers.



Idyllwild Evacuation

Idyllwild Evacuation

July 18, 2013

At 6:30 p.m. yesterday, Steve Fraider told all of us who assembled at Bowman Theater at Idyllwild Arts to keep in mind John Wooden’s advice: “Be quick, but don’t hurry.” I hustled back to my cabin and managed to pack everything into my car with a nimble dexterity that I thought had forsaken me 20 years ago.

Not every civilian, however, left Idyllwild last night upon hearing the announcement that fire officials wanted the town evacuated. A couple of men, for instance, were still hammering away on a new dwelling on Marion View Drive as I headed back to campus at 7:15 p.m. to join the convoy to Hemet High School.  One of the main reasons I fell in behind a half-dozen school buses was that I wasn’t in any mood to have a kite-string of pick-up trucks tailgating me on the way down the mountain. The school busses would be under obvious restrictions of taking the curves slowly enough to ensure the students’ safety, and so any traffic behind me wouldn’t feel that I, and I alone, was somehow impeding their escape route. It almost felt like a luxury to be able to “draft” down the mountain at such a casual pace.

Although the evacuation was framed as a precautionary maneuver, it was necessary. Unfortunately, it’s all too possible in the next couple days that winds could rear up and use this conflagration to play razzle-dazzle with another 10,000 or 15,000 acres of chaparral; in that contingency, the firefighters hardly need to be worrying about recalcitrant civilians who fantasized that lingering at the circumference of an inferno earned one the dog tags of valor. I certainly didn’t see staying as a feasible option. Even if I were foolhardy enough to lurk behind and dally in my cabin with its rolodex of cable programming, the air quality was getting sour enough by yesterday afternoon that Long Beach’s diesel-oil saturated air shimmered in my thoughts like a mirage of rejuvenating oxygen.

A fire on this scale in the San Jacinto Mountains is long overdue.  As Steve pointed out at an initial faculty meeting two and a half weeks ago, the mountaintop has a cycle of burning every 75 to 125 years. He mentioned that it had been 150 years since the area Idyllwild is built on has had a comprehensive scouring. From the point of view of the fire, the 22,000 acres it has devoured (as of this moment) are the appetizers at an all-you-can-eat buffet. Despite this context, Steve reassured us yesterday that the odds favor the survival of Idyllwild Arts and that we shouldn’t give up hope that we’ll be able to return and finish this session.

After reconnoitering at Hemet High School with the staff, I decided to head on home for the evening and I arrived shortly after midnight. As I drove on Stevenson Road from Hemet towards Beaumont, David Bowie’s “Serious Moonlight” blasted out of the car’s radio. That may be the last song I ever played on a jukebox. A chain of fast-food stands called Fatburger was just getting started up when this song came out. Fatburger served a paper basket full of chile fries that was the best in Los Angeles at the time. The ricocheting percussion snapping across the rhythmic keyboards and horns backing Bowie’s invitation to dance remains indelibly associated with the taste of those chili fries. I know this sounds like a stereotypical instance of commodity addiction. However, we always have a splendid potluck dinner at Idyllwild on Wednesday evenings, and the sudden cancellation of this weekly festivity meant that I hadn’t eaten since lunch, when I started home at 9:00 p.m. Bowie’s song evoked a repast not so much out of nostalgic fixation, but just sheer yearning for a hot bite of food. Fortunately, the poet Ed Skoog had brought to Hemet High two pans of cornbread he’d made for the potluck, and he graciously let me help myself to two substantial pieces before I headed out. Many thanks, Ed. I thought of that cornbread as I looked up at the waxing moon on my way home to Linda’s welcoming embrace.