Here’s a sample of Todd’s newly available audiobook edition of Under the Table Books.
Our dear friend Quinton Duval died last week at the age of sixty-one, and the world lost a most generous soul and a marvelous poet. Q, as we called him, was a quiet person and a quiet poet, thus he was little known outside of Sacramento. I regret that I could not afford to publish an elegant volume of the collected poems of Quinton Duval while Q was still alive, but it’s at the top of my list of Things I’ll Do If I Ever Strike It Rich.
There is a funny story by Mark Twain entitled Captain Stormfield’s Visit To Heaven in which a Twain-like explorer hitches a ride on Haley’s Comet to heaven and reports on what he finds there. At the height of Stormfield’s visit, excitement ensues as word spreads that the greatest writer of all time has just died and will soon be arriving at the pearly gates. Indeed, so paramount is this writer that luminaries such as Shakespeare and Homer, not seen among the common angels for hundreds of years, descend from their places on high to greet this unsurpassed genius.
Captain Stormfield, a cultured man, wonders who among the most famous writers on earth has died; but the incomparable genius turns out to be an unknown young fellow who only managed to write a poem or two before he was tarred and feathered and murdered by an ignorant mob who found him intolerably odd.
Quinton’s death reminds me of this story, not because I think Q was the greatest poet who ever lived, but because he was, in my estimation, deserving of a much larger audience than he was able to achieve through the careful crafting of his beautiful poems.
You have undoubtedly heard of Poetry Slams. They are all the rage these days among pseudo-educators and extremely extroverted wannabe poets. Slams are poetry competitions (a deeply repugnant idea) in which so-called poets try to upstage and beat their opponents by outrageous dress, comportment, choreography, and vocal pyrotechnics. The poems themselves are largely irrelevant to the proceedings, though the more shocking and nasty and shoutable the lines, the better the chances the so-called poet has of winning the contest. Yuck. If you are a lover of poetry, a lover of the words themselves, a lover of the tender truth of a good poem, do not attend a poetry slam. When teenagers slam, the experience is merely pathetic. When older folks undertake such travesties, it is repulsive.
I think of Q’s poems as diamonds in the sludge of our American-Idolized culture, everything become a contest, a special effect, a showy narcissistic puff of nothing, and I want to stop people on the street and say, “Turn off your cell phones and listen to this. A poem by the late great much missed Quinton Duval.”
The things in this dish have each been touched
by your fingers. The dough has marks in it
where you shaped it out round and white
and rising slowly. I remember all this
as I begin to eat. It is exciting
in the light given off by the oil lamp
on the table. I smell the kerosene,
your perfume, and the scent of the food you made.
I am touched by the wonder of it all. I mean
your hands are in my mouth even as I eat
what you have made, like other things you make.
After dinner your lips open quietly to the dark
passage down inside you. What is all this,
this odd food we give away? We eat each other’s
love and feel amazed and full.
Todd’s web site is UnderTheTableBooks.com
(This article originally appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser May 2010)
I first heard the expression My Bad used on a basketball court circa 1975. The expression most likely came into being among jazz musicians, for many of the most popular expressions emanating from black America were first used by musicians and then quickly adapted to the basketball court. By the time these expressions were in common usage among white people, their original meanings were frequently distorted and even reversed. The most famous example of such reversal is the expression Up Tight. Originally an expression of praise for excellent playing by an improvising musician, and used with that original meaning by Little Stevie Wonder singing, “Up tight outta sight,” white folk eventually deformed the phrase to mean tense, as in “I am so uptight.” Fascinating, no?
My immediate inspiration for writing this piece is the catastrophic oil flood ongoing in the Gulf of Mexico and the grief my friends and I are feeling about the catastrophe. I refuse to call this horror a leak or a spill, for it is a flood that will likely render the Gulf of Mexico a dead sea for the rest of our mortal lives. So what does the ruination of the Gulf of Mexico have to do with the expression My Bad? I will tell you.
Nowadays the expression My Bad is generally used to mean My Mistake. Someone spills a cup of coffee and says, “Oops. My bad.” Or someone forgets to bring the beer and apologizes with, “Sorry. My bad.” But the original meaning of the expression was more profound than a simple apology. To illustrate: I am playing a game of basketball. My teammate makes a poor pass and despite my best effort I am barely able to touch the ball before it goes out of bounds. My teammate calls, “My Bad,” thus announcing to everyone playing the game that it was his error that caused the ball to go out of bounds, not my error. By proclaiming My Bad, he is taking responsibility for something that may have appeared to be my fault. Cool, huh? I consider the original use of My Bad a form of gallantry, which is a far cry from how the expression is generally used today.
Which brings me to the massive cloud of oil suffocating the Gulf of Mexico. Though it may appear that British Petroleum and Halliburton and the myriad corrupt presidents and politicians who instituted deregulation are responsible for the ruination of the Gulf of Mexico, I must proclaim My Bad.
I say My Bad because I drive a car that runs on gasoline. I heat my water and cook my food with propane. I illuminate my house and run my computer with electricity, some of which comes from oil-fueled power plants. I say My Bad because after years of trying to start a boycott of Chevron as a component of a meaningful anti-war movement, I gave up. I say My Bad because I moved from the city, where without a car my environmental footprint was minimized, to the country where I drive a car now and depend heavily on oil to live the life I lead. I pay taxes that finance illegal and immoral wars for oil.
I am a car person in a car culture. I can certainly do more than I am currently doing to use less of everything, but especially less gasoline. So I say My Bad because without me and a billion other versions of me there would be no deep water drilling, no tides of death. I don’t say My Bad to exonerate the corporations most immediately responsible for this most horrendous oil flood, but to explain why I feel it is not entirely their fault.
And I am fairly certain the reason everyone I know is feeling depressed and defeated and hopeless about the massive oil flood in the Gulf of Mexico is because along with the loss of so much irreplaceable habitat and the massive suffering that must inevitably accompany such loss, we all know it is Our Bad.
Todd’s web site is Underthetablebooks.com