Posts Tagged ‘Kate Greenstreet’

Paterson Jarmusch

Monday, May 29th, 2017


Queen and Jack drawing by Todd


Objects have names (what our dreams

come to). “It’s what I want.”

Begin asking.

          Kate Greenstreet

We recently watched Jim Jarmusch’s new movie Paterson and I loved it from first frame to last. Marcia loved Paterson, too, and we have been talking about the film for days—a sure sign of a movie beyond the ordinary.

Adam Driver portrays the main character in Paterson, a man named Paterson, an introspective and emotionally subdued fellow; and Paterson is also the city in New Jersey where the character Paterson is a bus driver circa 2016 and lives with his sweetly zany artist wife portrayed by an angelic Golshifteh Farahani.

Paterson is also the name of an epic poem by William Carlos Williams about this same Paterson, New Jersey, founded in 1792 to harness the power of the great falls of the Passaic River. The movie is, among many things, a tribute to William Carlos Williams and his enduring influence on poetry and literature and art in America and around the world; and more specifically, his influence on Jim Jarmusch.

How would I describe William’s influence on literature and art? While running the risk of annoying those more credentialed than I regarding William Carlos Williams and his place in the evolution of poetry, I would say his lyrical non-rhyming poems explore abstract concepts—death, life, time, love, change, sorrow, joy—through the contemplation of things and happenstance composing everyday reality. His poetry was certainly not the first to do so, but he was among the early escapees from rhyming poetry, his sensibility modern and non-paternal, and his poems about birds and wheelbarrows and flowers and paintings and going to work and changing seasons and grieving and love are beautifully wrought, musical, humorous, unique, and accessible to those who don’t know Latin.

I first collided with Williams’ poetry when I was seventeen, a senior in high school, 1967. I had recently fallen under the spell of the poetry and personalities of Philip Whalen and David Meltzer, so visited Kepler’s bookstore in Menlo Park to see if they had any books by Whalen or Meltzer.

“Sorry, no,” said the all-knowing clerk, “but we’ve got several volumes of William Carlos Williams. Huge influence on the Beats.”

So I bought Williams’ Pictures from Brueghel and Selected Poems, and devoured them countless times over the next several years, feeling certain those poems were antidotes to the ills of growing up in middle-class suburbia. Fifty years older now, I rarely read William Carlos Williams, but while watching Paterson felt thousands of poetry synapses lighting up and burning brightly—much of that frisson owing to my youthful imbibing Williams and some of the poets he inspired.

In this day and age of political and economic chaos, when most American movies are painfully unoriginal sensory assaults created for the entertainment of not-very-bright children stuck in the bodies of adults, Paterson, a contemplative movie about a poet bus driver who lives and breathes poetry, is so unusual and gratifying for the likes of me, I must heap praise on Jim Jarmusch.

Things got complicated.

“It’s hidden

in the ordinary.”

(a shot that everybody


and used)

            Kate Greenstreet

For me, Paterson is a profound call to share our gifts with other humans. To not share our gifts is to go against nature, to betray the purpose of being human. We are here to share our thoughts, our feelings, our food, our wealth, our love, and our creations. Our brains and bodies evolved to interact and collaborate in complex ways with other brains and bodies; and to constantly resist such interactions and collaborations will make us unhappy and unwell.

On two occasions in the movie, Paterson bumps into other poets—people he doesn’t know—and is privileged to hear those poets recite poems they have written. As a result of hearing these poems, Paterson comes out of the shell of his emotional privacy and encourages his fellow poets to keep pursuing their art, to keep sharing their poems with others. As I experienced the movie, the universe clearly put these people in Paterson’s way to show him how to proceed with his life and poetry, a way he resists until…

Where nothing was, it had to be created.

We can’t make everything we need inside.

            Kate Greenstreet

Those two lines from Kate Greenstreet’s poem phone tap from her collection of poems case sensitive, elucidate Paterson’s challenge, the challenge for every poet: to birth a new reality, to bring forth a new world, through our words. Australian aboriginals believe they cause the physical world to manifest through their songs—they call it “singing up the country”.

Which reminds me of T.S. Eliot’s lines from his poem Ash Wednesday, lines I used to preface my novel Louie & Women.

Because I know that time is always time

And place is always and only place

And what is actual is actual only for one time

And only for one place

I rejoice that things are as they are and

I renounce the blessed face

And renounce the voice

Because I cannot hope to turn again

Consequently I rejoice, having to construct something

Upon which to rejoice

And that reminds me of another thing I loved about seeing Paterson: the movie inspired me to re-engage with favorite poems written by favorite poets, one poet and poem leading to another poet and poem—a delightful way to spend time. So if you love poetry, or if poetry was a formative force in your life, I think you will enjoy Jarmusch’s movie Paterson. And if you love poetry and movies, you may also enjoy the poetry and videopoems of Kate Greenstreet, who graciously allowed me to punctuate this essay with lines from her poems.

The Magician

Tuesday, October 20th, 2015


A still from The Magician, a video by Kate Greenstreet

(This article appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser October 2015)

“Magicians will always tell you the trick is the most important thing, but I’m more interested in telling a story.” Marco Tempest

Most artists are unknown or little known outside their neighborhood or town or small circle of friends. This is not a bad or good thing, but merely the way of the world. My favorite poets are known to only a handful of people, and many of the finest musicians and painters and actors I’ve had the good fortune to hear and see will never be known outside the little kingdoms inhabited by their personal friends and acquaintances.

All of the hundreds of artists I have known in my life, save for those rare few who for one reason or another succeeded hugely in the mainstream of our culture, either came to accept and even relish their relative anonymity in the greater scheme of things or they ceased to make art because the hope of great success was their primary motivation for making art.

A few of my books have sold thousands of copies, but none of my nine music CDs have sold more than a hundred copies. Many people unknown to me have read my books, but most of those who enjoy my music are known to me by their first names. And yet I have always been as dedicated to my music as I am to my writing, and I intend to practice and compose music for as long as I am able. Lovers of my music are few, but they are zealous lovers, and that is sufficient.

A few years ago I recorded an album of solo piano improvisations entitled Ceremonies, each piece an accompaniment to an imagined ceremony.

One of the pieces on the album is entitled “Dance of the Seahorses” and as I improvised that tune, I imagined the slow underwater dancing of those remarkable fish, a hypnotic enactment of a never-ending ceremony.

Another piece entitled “Blue Cathedral” is a churchy blues I imagined as a sacred processional in a cathedral bathed in ethereal light.

And my favorite piece on the Ceremonies album is entitled “The Magician.” As I played that mysterious tune, I saw in my mind’s eye a graceful mime performing a slow dance full of mystical and subtly humorous flourishes.

Fast forward to October 13, 2015, four days shy of my sixty-sixth birthday. An email arrived from my pal Max Greenstreet in New Hampshire informing me that he and his wife Kate Greenstreet had just released Kate’s video-poem The Magician, with my composition “The Magician” underpinning the narrative; and that short film is now viewable on Vimeo, a web site where filmmakers can share their creations with the world.

Words are inadequate to describe how thrilled and gratified I am that Kate chose my music for this video-poem she made in league with Cynthia King. I am a huge fan of Kate’s video-poems, Max her right hand man in the making of her films, and it is not hyperbole to say that having my music harmonizing with her words and imagery is a validation and encouragement that will sustain my musical pursuits for the rest of my life.

You can watch The Magician by going to

“It is the unspoken ethic of all magicians to not reveal the secrets.” David Copperfield

A large part of my joy about Kate and Max using “The Magician” in their exquisite film is that I have endeavored several dozen times over the course of my life to collaborate with other artists on a wide variety of creations, and the vast majority of those collaborations ended in creative or emotional or financial disaster, and usually some combination of the three. It would be convenient to blame my collaborators for these disasters, but since I am the only constant in these many failed equations, I suspect the fatal flaw lies with me.

Long ago in the days before digital cameras, I collaborated on the making of a short film I wrote and directed. The audio engineer on the project said he would only collaborate with me if everyone involved in making the film had his or her role in the process clearly defined, written down, and agreed upon, and that as the instigator and financier of the project, my judgment in all creative matters would be the final one, with everyone involved agreeing to that, too, with signed documents attesting to these agreements.

At the time, I thought such punctilious preliminaries unnecessary, but he was a superb sound engineer and I very much wanted to work with him, so I agreed to his conditions. My cameraman bridled a bit at the strict clarification of his role, but he signed his agreement as did the few other people involved, and we got to work.

No collaborative endeavor I have been involved with before or since ever went so smoothly. The potential clash of egos was dispensed with at the outset, and clashing egos, as I’m sure you know, make collaboration difficult if not impossible.

And though today my creative endeavors are solo flights—no one to argue with but little old me—I often fantasize about how grand it would be to team up with a drummer or filmmaker or singer or dancers who find my music and words exactly what they’ve been looking for to meld with their artistry.

This is why I am so thrilled that Kate and Max used my music in their movie The Magician. My music, in the words of Goldilocks, was just right—our collaboration arising from friendship and mutual admiration.

As I resume collaborating with myself, I imagine my novel-in-progress calling out to prescient publishers and daring movie makers, my latest piano explorations ringing through the global etheric in quest of people who will hear my music as soundtracks to bold new explorations of the light fantastic.

Homeless Forum

Thursday, February 28th, 2013

Photo by Kate Greenstreet

(This article appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser February 2013)

Unable to attend the forum on the homeless that was held in Mendocino near the end of January, I did read the three articles in the Mendocino Beacon that reported in some detail and with a certain us-against-them slant on the gathering attended by Sheriff Allman and Supervisor Hamburg and members of the community, including innkeepers, restaurateurs, business people, residents of Mendocino, and even a few homeless people.

The upshot of these three articles as I read them (and I admit to reading things differently than other people read things) is that one: the Mendocino Headlands need to be cleared of blackberry bushes so the homeless will have no place to hide or camp or ambush each other and hapless tourists, two: some people are afraid to walk alone at night in Mendocino for fear of being attacked by homeless people, and three: we need more posters telling people not to give money to homeless people because homeless people just use the money for drugs and then defecate in inappropriate places.

Now why would someone, even a drug-crazed homeless person, defecate in a planter box or in the grass adjacent to the sidewalk or even right on the sidewalk instead of, say, in a toilet in a public restroom? Oh. There are no public restrooms open at night in Mendocino. Could that be the reason the crazed homeless person chose to poop in a planter and thereby deeply offend the discoverer of the homeless poop? For the record, I am a tax-paying resident of Mendocino, a year-round resident, mind you, and I’d like to know why we don’t have a decent public bathroom in our village? Is there one mentioned in the new general plan? No? Why not? And why is the one hideous bathroom we do have now locked at night? To keep the crazed homeless people from taking shelter there, of course.

Speaking of defecating, how about the hundreds of dogs that our upstanding non-homeless residents and out-of-town visitors illegally let off their leashes to shit all over the headlands and Big River Beach? Where do innkeepers and law enforcement stand on the dog shit issue? As one who steps in shit all too frequently in our lovely coastal hamlet, I can tell you that the Mendocino shit I step in is always dog shit, not human feces. And don’t tell me the bad canines belong to homeless people and the good canines belong to the homeowners, because I know that’s not true. I have been much more intimidated by big aggressive dogs owned by people driving cars that would make very nice homes than by the few scruffy trios and quartets of homeless people, mostly guys, who are now resident in and around Mendocino.

And why are these guys homeless? How many of them are mentally ill? How many of them are not welcome at Hospitality House in Fort Bragg? Why don’t we have a homeless shelter in Mendocino? Has anyone noticed the economy, the actual one, not the fantasy one, is falling apart and the number of homeless people in our society is increasing by leaps and bounds? Did we expect the homeless people to all stay in Oakland or Oklahoma or Peoria? If you were homeless, would you rather be in Mendocino or Oakland? Oh, but of course you would never be homeless. Why is that? Luck or skill?

I, too, occasionally feel intimidated by homeless guys, though not because they do anything except look kind of scary to me, and not as often as I am intimidated by aggressive dogs and people driving while talking on their cell phones or butting in front of me at the bakery. And I can see how homeless people are problematic for businesses in Mendocino. Who wants a surly non-conformist vagabond in frayed clothing and a scraggly beard posing in front of his or her tourist trap?

However, not giving homeless people money and mowing the blackberry bushes on the headlands and tearing down the brand new bus stop won’t solve the homeless problem. There will be more and more homeless as our economy continues to collapse and as our schools continue to fail to educate our children and as we continue to spend most of our public money on war and subsidizing oil companies instead of on our communities.

The Beacon articles did not, I hope, intend to make the homeless sound and feel like the enemy, but that’s what bad reporting will do. So we’ve got this problem, these faceless, intimidating, lurking-in-the-blackberry-brambles people without homes daring to come into our community and hang around near people who have homes and so much more. Why can’t the homeless just go somewhere else? Or why don’t they stop being homeless? Would these people like to have jobs? Find decent places to live? These are good questions, none of which was answered at the forum.

So what would I do to address the so-called homeless problem in Mendocino? First, I would make it a number one priority to build a state-of-the-art public restroom and bathhouse and safe napping facility in Mendocino with on-site attendants named Pierre and Celeste, large lockers, a really great community bulletin board, and regular visits from job and housing and mental health counselors dedicated to helping the homeless become unhomeless. Oh, sure, Todd. How will you pay for that? Easy. A tax on coffee drinks.

Second, I would annex Heritage House, and with grants from various liberal foundations, turn the place into a Life Rejuvenation Center housing two hundred formerly homeless people enrolled in rigorous spiritual warrior training and comprehensive classes in solar technology, organic horticulture, gluten-free baking, and animal husbandry. We will unleash a torrent of born again housed people on the world, solarize California, and reverse carbon emissions pronto. Oh, sure, Todd. Easy to say, but you’re talking mighty big grants to pay for that many people enrolled in spiritual warrior training. I know, but we’re just talking here, right?

By the way, the notion that homeless people spend most or all of the money we give them on drugs is nothing but dog shit propaganda. As a year-round resident of Mendocino, I watch homeless guys and girls buying food with their money every day. Yep. Bananas, potato chips, pizza, sushi, beer, carrots, refried beans, coffee, scones, almonds, chocolate. Actual food. Same kind you and I eat. Hard to believe, I know, but there it is.

Telling people not to give homeless people money is pure self-righteous selfishness and mean and cruel. If we actually had good places where all the homeless could go and relax and eat well and sleep safely, then there might be something to the idea of giving money to such places and urging homeless people to go to those places, but that is not the case, and wishing it were the case doesn’t make it so.

Thus I think we need posters that say, “Hey, you just spent nine bucks on a gluten-free scone and a large latte, how about giving that totally hungry dude over there a few bucks?” Or “So you just spent more than a thousand dollars for a romantic weekend in a luxurious inn, wine tasting and eating gourmet Mendocino cuisine, why not give a homeless person fifty bucks for a night of snooze and a shower in a decent motel?” Posters like that.

Seriously, folks, we’ve got to do better than removing hiding places on the headlands and not giving people money. The homeless in Mendocino illuminate what we’re all missing: decent public facilities, free community meals and socializing, a local solar-electric power company, a gigantic community garden where the homeless and the housed can work together and help each other, a commodious community hostel, and several excellent community camping places.

Oh, sure, Todd, how are you going to pay for that? Well, we probably won’t pay for any of it. We probably won’t do anything except mow the blackberry bushes and make a bunch of useless posters that won’t do anybody any good. And the dogs will continue to shit profusely on the beach and in the town, and the tourists will continue to come here and have their fun because they don’t mind homeless people because homeless people are everywhere now because our society has been taken over by the psychotically selfish. And as long as we delude ourselves that we are superior to homeless people and therefore deserve more and better than they, we are permanently screwed.

By the way, I have often used the cover of the blackberry bushes on the headlands for the purpose of pissing when I’m in town because I cannot stand the stench and slimy slipperiness of that hideous bunker that is the pathetic best this affluent community provides for us. So what will I do in the absence of the blackberries? What would you do?