Thursday, June 26, 2014

Hard Times, Good Times & Great Home Cooking

Some people read cookbooks for the fun of it. They read recipes and think about the ingredients. They may never cook an egg but they like to read about them. How they are cracked and what it means to sizzle bacon or stir lemon sauce. Let's face it, cooking is fascinating. And a book like Alice Kolb's is an invitation to muse on all aspects of process in the kitchen -- and even out of it, on camp-outs, picnics, and road trips. There is something so American about all of this, too, which Alice Long Kolb's easy, family-oriented prose brings out. You can relax into a book like this and read it cover-to-cover for, as I was saying, the fun of it. Or you can really dig into it and make food for your whole family as Alice's mom did back in the 40s, 50s, 60s and then some. This is as much a history of what America in the Southwest (think Texas) was eating as it is a story of Alice's initiation into the family style of cooking that she has become known for. A quilter and lecturer by profession, she also shares her wide knowledge of cooking secrets from paying attention to what Mom did when she didn't have the money to cook lavishly or luxuriantly -- still, as Alice points out, the Longs always had room for two more, or three more, neighbors. That is part of the style and grace of this book. It lets you in on the best secret of the best chefs -- share! For in sharing, there is love. And in love there comes the most delicious food imaginable. Remember Uncle Joe's chile? He made it with love. Love of beans, love of chile,  love of family and friends. As a professional food tester for a natural gas company in Texas, as well as a teacher of "home economics" as we used to call it, Alice cannot be beaten, but her eggs can, and you will enjoy every mouthful of her writing-recipe-goodness. Herein is poetry of phrase about the only range there is -- the one in your kitchen.

Recipes by Alice Long Kolb
Illustrations by Alice Long Kolb
Published by Irie Books
Available from, Barnes and Noble, Books-A-Million and Ingram 

Monday, June 9, 2014

Aram Saroyan's The Street: 40th Commemorative Edition

There aren't that many good books written in the sixties about what it was like to be young in the sixties. Mostly the sixties classics were written by older writers. Aram Saroyan, on the other hand, was a handsome, kind of carefree kid growing up in the golden age of self-invention and self-intention. In other words, our illusory moment of sex, drugs and rock and roll.

Well, actually, it wasn't that simple -- it never is.  Our era was rife with great big "ifs", wonderments about whether we'd see the next day. It was a tangential time. An experimental time, full of twists and turns, sudden appointments with destiny and great disappointments with the older generation that opposed us.

But I do believe, as I was coming of age at the same time Aram was, and getting into some of the same scrapes that this was an exceptional time to be alive. We were both were Poets in the Schools, courtesy in part due to Richard Nixon, believe it or not, supporting national arts programs.

Some of the schools we were sent to were very conservative and I remember some of my poems being censored. I can also remember Maurice Sendak's In The Night Kitchen being censored by librarians who put cotton diapers over Mickey's privates! By some happenstance miracle, I became an editor and got to publish Aram's novel The Street, which took off immediately, and also Maurice Sendak's winsome picture book with Ruth Krauss, Somebody Else's Nut Tree, one of the first quality paperbacks for kids to be sold in independent bookstores in America.

There was a revolution in bookselling going on too, and we were a part of it. Aram edited and published books, wrote essays and published poems in The New York Times. It was a delirious moment to be alive if you were writing, publishing, making music, weaving, throwing pots, fashioning leather clothes, celebrating ethnicity, making low budget films, or just plain being alive!

It was a weird time to be alive as well, for on the one hand there was rampant free speech, casual nudity, loud music, wild parties, inventive poetry and song -- and on the other hand there were assassinations, overdoses, violence in the street (a catchphrase at the time). Everything in the sixties was bubbling in the same great cauldron of unrest. In truth, it was a renaissance, and we haven't seen its like, or even come close to it, in 40 years. And it all happened, quite frankly, on the street!

Which is why the novel The Street is so important. This is the 40th year since it was published, it is still around being read, and that makes it a classic. This new edition is a facsimile of the original published in 1974 by The Bookstore Press. If  you want to know why this novel, more than others, rings so true  read The Street. There is a fresh permanence in the narration that is as singular as Aram's famous one-word poems. He speaks not only to us, but for us, for those of us who weathered the storm. And further, this novel is touching those Xers and Yers who today are asking us this question, "What was it really like?"


Sunday, June 1, 2014


Our parrot George got out of his cage yesterday. Normally we let him out in the morning and put him back in at night. He likes it that way.

However, yesterday two visiting dogs, Nala and Puck, decided George might be good to eat.

George was perched on the metal bar at the base of his cage. The dogs charged. George stood his ground and yelled: OH, NO! HELP! OH, MY GOD!"

The dogs stopped in their tracks. Then they looked around to be sure they'd heard the bird right. No ventriloquists in the audience, which consisted of Lorry, me, and our miniature Dachsy, Mouse, who was horrified and wouldn't stop barking. Neither would Henri, our daughter's not-so-miniature hotdog.

The dogs took a tentative step forward.

George started to cry like a baby. Really loud.

The dogs backed up.

Lorry ran up to him and put him behind bars.

George was never so happy to be in jail. He shook his feathers, puffed them out, shook them again, and said "Hel-lo," in a sultry voice.

The dogs lay down and went to sleep. 

We sat there, Lorry and I, thinking about the power of parrotspeak

.George attacking his favorite hand puppet

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Recapture Pocket

In 1983 running coach, Fred Maas, his son Dan and I ran the canyon country of Southeastern Utah. Sometimes we ran barefoot, camping under starlit skies. Once we outran a flash flood and often we swam across canyons where when there was no other crossing. I found the collar-bone of a ground squirrel beside a turquoise pebble. Cows bawled in the sage when we passed and everywhere there were ancient signs of the Old Ones. The oil and gas pumps seemed so incongruous, humping and pumping night and day. After a while we did not look at them, and it was as if they were not there. I wrote some of Meditations with the Navajo at Recapture Pocket and the canyonlands around it. Even back then there was a haunted sense of old enmities at Recapture Pocket, a feeling that some bad things had happened there long ago -- battles not found in history books. Yes, we were running on sacred ground yet three barefoot runners might be excused. But not vehicles, and certainly not oil rigs. You could sense something more was coming. Thirty years later it is here. But back then ...

You see eye to eye
under water:
          men of the maize
            in their
maze of stone:
men of the wolf
           in their
ruff of fur.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Earth Day: Down with Phlamco and GMOs

In celebration of Earth Day, please buy a copy of The Adventures of Marcos The Wise by Marvin Niebuhr.
A large portion of royalties goes towards defeating "fake food." This is Marvin's mission.

Marvin's friend, Marcos Caliente, is a chile pepper, and also a shaman. So far the score is Phlamco Industries 0 and Marcos Caliente 3. But we're only in the early innings, there's much more to come.

Marcos doesn't use conventional weaponry against the industry that proliferates fake food and ignores the health of plants, animals and people. Marcos uses his friends -- the Chipotle Clan, a mystical group of peppers; the Wolf Clan and the Coyote Clan (highly mystical and musical); and let's not forget the Spokes-Pepper, Ignacio, the worldly, well-spoken Chipotle storyteller. This is the team that will defeat Phlamco, the dangerous GMO Corp. and PhatKat, a selfish, single-minded politician (do you know any of those?)

We celebrate Earth Day with Marvin Niebuhr's inventive and funny -- but deadly serious -- children's book for all ages.

Don't blush, Marvin, but this is one of the best children's books on the real veggie market today!

So, here's to Marcos The Wise and his team of rough and ready vegetable outlaws!

(Buying more than one book on is greatly encouraged.)

Thank you for your cooperation,

Wolf Clan
Chipotle Clan
Villagers (Tomatoes, Garlics, Corns, Onions, Potatoes and all manner of Peppers!)

P.S. Be the first person to find the spaceship in Marvin's book and you'll get a FREE subscription to the series of Marcos Adventures. More to come...
All art handmade by sculptor Marvin Niebuhr

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Holy Thursday Anniversary


That's Lorry, age 7, on Destin Beach in Florida in 1954. She used to tell me -- as early as our first date in 1966, Holy Thursday, in Montezuma, New Mexico -- that she thought of herself as a "Florida girl" and that growing up near the beach was about as good as it gets.

The second pic shows Lorry, age 25, in the Berkshires of Massachusetts, 1972. We lived there for seven years. Mariah and Hannah were born there. She never thought of herself as a "Berkshire girl" -- the winters were too cold for that and there was no beach.

Number three: this was taken at our home for the past 20 years, Bokeelia, Florida. I finally got the girl back to the beach -- only, this island where we live has no beach, it's mangrove-fringed and heavily palmed, but no beach except the little one around our pond that the leopard frogs use.

So this is my tribute to Lorry because today is the day we met 48 years ago and I penned a poem for her ...


Loved her then 
before I met her.
Loved her when
I barely knew her.
Love's not blind,
time proves truer.
Love's this poem
I've written to her.  

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Carl Sandburg: Discovering Yourself at Age 50

Carl Sandburg, the great American poet of the past century said that at age 50 there was "... some puzzlement as to whether I was a poet, a biographer, a wandering troubador with a guitar, a Midwest Hans Christian Andersen or an historian of current events ..."

At age 61 the confusion was over -- Sandburg published his four volume biography of Abraham Lincoln which became an instant classic and yielded awards and honors including some ten or eleven doctoral degrees. Not bad for a folksinger who rode the rails in the 30s and was considered an "imagist" poet of the 20s, a figure of the American imagination whom America had the utmost trouble pegging and putting into a convenient library category.

I found a mint copy of The American Songbag, Sandburg's tribute to our national folklore in song, in a small library in Indianapolis. The librarian had no idea what it was and what it was worth. I told her, "Its worth is incalculable." She replied, "Maybe I shouldn't have it out on the regular shelves then."

Sandburg said as he got older, "I am more suspicious of adjectives than at any other time in all my born days." His writing became bare bones but the rhythm of it was uniquely Sandburg and I think he got that spoken music from the people he grew up with, the Swedish American storytellers whose pauses were full of meaning and whose phrases came from the ancient bards who recited the sagas and never missed a beat.

As he looked back on his life, Sandburg commented that he'd forgotten the meaning of "... twenty or thirty of my poems written thirty or forty years ago." He claimed that all his life he'd "... been trying to learn to read, to see and hear, and to write."

At sixty-five, he wrote his first novel. It took him five years to finish it.

Growing older still Sandburg became the sort of official poet laureate of the plains and along with Robert Frost, the greatest oral reader of poetry alive. Without Sandburg there wouldn't have been a Ginsberg or, for that matter, a raging pile of nonstop verses called Howl.

Carl Sandburg hoped to live to be 89, the same age of Hokusai. Sandburg's paraphrase of Hokusai's farewell to earth and sky ends like this: "If God had let me live five years longer I should have been a writer." Sandburg made it to 89 just as he wished.

I think some of our younger writers, God bless 'em, could learn something from old Hokusai and Old Sandbuggy, as I heard someone say. It gets better. It just gets better -- if you have the patience for it.