One of my favorite poets, David Budbill has been dealing with rapidly declining health lately and while the conversations I’ve had with him over the years have been marked by a striking optimism, the challenges of being a writer who is losing the physical ability to write are becoming too much for even the most optimistic and zen of mountain recluse poets. Here’s a recent conversation between Budbill and longtime friend, David French. HIt the link for the full conversation, http://www.davidbudbill.com/1500/a-conversation-with-david-budbill
David French’s questions and comments are in italics. Unless otherwise indicated, all the poems are David Budbill’s.
But let’s talk about what’s happening in your life right now.
The major thing that I’m dealing with is my Parkinson’s disease, my rare form of Parkinson’s disease. It has incapacitated me and made me incapable of all the things I used to love to do: I would cut wood and garden and mow, and I can’t do any of those anymore. So I’ve had to revise my life completely. So far I haven’t revised my life; I’ve just cancelled it, dropped out.
Now that’s not entirely true, because before I dropped out, I was able to finish a novel and a short story and a collection of poems, and they’re all coming out in the next year. So I did that before I cancelled my life.
The last time I was here, you said all this happened a year ago, when you moved to Montpelier.
Up until then, you’d still been working on your novel and your stories and your poem.
I suppose, yeah.
There recently was a song cycle of your poems at the Elley-Long Music Center. One song was about doing things for the last time. It was beautiful, but with an ache to it. You must have done a lot of that leaving Wolcott, walking around, looking around, knowing that was the last time you’d cut this wood or stack it or put it in the stove.
It was. Yeah, it was heartbreaking, because that was my identity, and now it’s no longer that. Which is no doubt one of the reasons I’m in limbo now.
So you’re not writing now.
No, I’m not.
You’re not making music.
Another theme that keeps coming up in your poetry, sometimes in very funny ways, is the lament over not having been a major voice in the poetry world. You wrote about the life of “genteel poverty and meditation” you lead:
…which gives me lots of time
to gnash my teeth and worry over
how I want to be known and read
by everyone and have admirers
everywhere and lots of money!
Is that something you would still write a poem about at this point, or is that an old theme that isn’t something you think about anymore?
I certainly think about it.
You still do?
You would like to be higher on whatever the poetry best-seller list is?
And have more money from it, recognition.
Yeah. Of course, who wouldn’t?
When I came to Judevine Mountain
all my troubles would cease,
but I brought… my ambition –
so now, still,
all I know is grief.
Well, that’s true. I have this thing about ambition. I can’t live with it, and I can’t live without it.
A block up the street from my north-facing window is a freeway with a billboard promoting all the art and music support in Tulsa, Oklahoma. (Believe it or not, there are 40 art organizations in Tulsa with only a population of 200k.) In large letters the billboard reads something like “A pART town” etc. etc… After living downtown in the Brady Arts District for the past five months, where there’s art throughout and live music 6 days/ week, I truly feel a “y” ought to be added with down right acknowledgement and no shame, so it reads like this: “A pARTy town!” How does a country-girl artist like myself who does quiet, meditative art, survive living smack dab in the middle of a pARTying city!? Well, there’s the old saying that in my case is past tense: it’s way bigger than me to beat, so I joined ‘em! I am not interested in beer, or alcohol for that matter; but the music? Well, there’s nothing like really good, live, danceable music! The Hop Jam provided just that!
Yesterday was Sunday. I woke up to the sounds of semi-trucks being unloaded; just after the crack of dawn at 6:30, volunteers began setting up for Tulsa’s 3rd annual Hop Jam. Three blocks down Main Street and a block over have been blocked off for this big street party. I’m glad I had one day’s notice to prepare my work day for a distracting day of beer vendors from all over the country and beyond, with live music blasting through layers of cement like only sound can do. There’s no way I can Chilkat weave on days like yesterday. So I set up my printing/shrinkwrapping area and got down on it! I have learned to adapt to the consistent noise of city living. Here’s how:
In downtown Tulsa, Sunday is one of two days that is fairly quiet; I’ll let you guess the other. This past week, the outdoor stage venue across the street hosted 3 full nights of 3 different bands per night; and they were pretty dang good in comparison to what I’ve heard the past 5 months! They play until 1:30am, sometimes 2am. How have I adapted my work/sleep schedule? I have learned that no matter how hard I try to sleep in, I am awake by 6, no later than 7am. I work from 8am to about midnight, with a cat nap in mid-afternoon, after which I am good to go for another 6 to 9 hours. With all the active pARTy-ers outside hanging to the grooving bands, the only way I can go to sleep is to work, work, work late until I can no longer think, and I drop exhausted with the blasting music finally drifting off into my subconscious dream time where I don’t care whether or not the band sounds good any more! I calculate I get 4 hours of uninterrupted sleep per night from 2 to 6am on Tuesdays through Saturdays. On Sunday and Monday nights, I get 6 hours. That’s good enough; I ain’t complainin’.
Growing up in rural Alaska, there are many things we miss out on, especially those of us born and bred in small, land-locked communities, which is most of the state except Anchorage and Fairbanks. Concerts of big name musicians/singers are one of those things we don’t experience so what we don’t experience won’t hurt us, right? We don’t know any better. Well, not until we grow up and actually go to a concert by a real famous person(s)! In less than two months, just before my 60th birthday, I have gone to two concerts, one by intention, Van Morrison, and the other I stumbled across last night, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, right here in the Brady Arts District of downtown Tulsa. I am spending a year doing things, I have NEVER done! Attending concerts of big-name musicians is one of them!
We’ve been told that during the Spring/Summer/Fall time in Tulsa’s Brady Arts District, there is live music every weekend at the Guthrie Green (just a block over) and even throughout the week in various bars or restaurants. During this past month, all of us artists-in-residents are getting an earful, and from what we’ve been told, we haven’t heard nothing yet! The “pARTy” is just getting warmed up along with the weather!
After a productive day indoors printing the last of my edition of “An Ocean Runs Through Us”, I decided it was time to go mingle amongst the beer-drinking crowd; there were a few thousand people out there by mid-afternoon! I took photos intended for this blog post, if nothing else. And then I listened to a couple of bands. I thought the bands were local boys, like most of the bands I’ve heard in this part of town. I even thought “wow, these dudes act and sound like they are professionals…” And then funny me, I discovered they ARE professionals! Hello!?!?
The two bands I totally enjoyed were the “X Ambassadors” and (especially) “Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros.” I gravitate towards bands that have great vocals and harmonies of which both bands employed. Edward’s Sharpe’s band has 12 musicians; more than half of them sing which adds to a wonderful listening experience. If you guys don’t know the sounds of Edward Sharpe and his band, then get onto YouTube, and introduce yourself to a great band — you’ll recognize their sound cuz the’ve been on the radio the past several years. I’m a new fan! They have combined the sounds of Appalachia, gospel, rock and roll, jazz with that touch of spiritual sharing of the human heart blasted with the energy of youth! Here’s a link from KEXP radio station in Seattle where they play a bit subdued cuz they’re in a radio station studio, though nevertheless with heart and soul; please listen through the last song they play on this video clip; it’s so sweet: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Qvi9gjRwKk
Last night, after Edward Sharpe’s band ended, I walked with great appreciation back through the dwindling thickness of the crowd and I noticed I was amongst people who were no where near my age; they were all younger than my youngest daughter!!! LOL. In the dark, we all look the same age, but when we are out in the light,…hahahaha! If anything, I think I have just started to enjoy my city life surroundings. With all this music everywhere, I am reminded that I totally enjoy live music no matter what genre. It is in this enjoyment that allows me to make the best of my city living conditions. I have to adapt so I can survive, so I can continue doing what I damn well love doing! It’s all good…I’m getting into the groove of city living via live music! Halleluia!