This was a strange week.

Monday I was too sick with the cold I got a few days earlier to do anything except split wood and load the wood box, which had to be done.

Tuesday I was still plenty sick, but I spent the morning researching the living and eating habits of black bears. I never do any research for the poems, plays and novels I write, so this was a unique experience for me. I shouldn’t have done it. All those facts just confuse my fantasies. For a story like SAMOVAR AND ZEEMAHOOLAH the question is where does the story come down on the spectrum of reality to fantasy. I doubt I learned anything useful from my research.

Wednesday I spent most of the day sleeping trying to get up the energy to drive the hour and a half to the Flying Pig Bookstore in Shelburne, VT, for my reading from HAPPY LIFE that night. I made it, there was a good crowd and the reading went well. During the Q and A, a woman, whom I did not know, observed that even though my recent writing had taken a turn toward an almost total focus on growing old and dying, my writing about those subjects was much lighter, brighter and not nearly as dark, as my earlier writing, meaning JUDEVINE. Once again, as has happened often before, a stranger had made an observation that blew my mind. I think she’s right. And her observation had never occurred to me before.

Thursday I dropped everything and began work on proofing the galleys for PARK SONGS. I spent all day on that project, and Friday too. I emailed the instructions for corrections back Friday evening.

It’s a new world out there. The “galleys” I read were a PDF of the book on my computer. I printed it out and read a hard copy. I’m still that much an old fashioned writer. I made corrections with pencil and then typed them up into an email and returned them to the publisher and designer. One thing to think about is the amount of paper–and therefore trees and chemicals used in making paper–saved this way.

Saturday I took it easy. I split wood and loaded the wood box again. It’s been cold here this week. And I rested up for another hour plus drive to Hinesburg, VT, for another reading from HAPPY LIFE that evening. I’ve been so touched this week by the responses to HAPPY LIFE at both readings. One woman on Saturday night said, “You articulate my life.”

Sunday was Easter. When I was a child I spent this entire weekend from Good Friday to Easter Morning in church or thinking about Jesus’ death and resurrection. It’s not just a new world out there for publishing. My own life has radically changed also.

Today I hope to return to work on SAMOVAR AND ZEEMAHOOLAH.


This was another of those Best Laid Plans of Mice and Men Weeks.

I saw my friend William Parker, the bass player and multi-instrumentalist, last week and he asked me if I’d write the liner notes for a double CD of his big band music which had been recorded in Milan, Italy, in February. I couldn’t say no and I didn’t want to anyway. I spent the whole first three days of the week on those liner notes. I like doing this job. It’s incredibly difficult to say something intelligent and useful in a short amount of space and I don’t get to write liner notes very often. If you want to read what I said I’ll add it at the end of this note.

Thursday I spent catching up on the email and snailmail I’d neglected the first three days of the week so that day was shot, which means I never got back to SAMOVAR AND ZAEMAHOOLAH until Friday. Friday was an excellent day. I made a lot of progress, and these two birds–I mean this one bird and one bear–continue to surprise me with the twists and turns in the plot that they come up with so that I have to follow along behind them taking notes. This is exactly the way it ought to be.

I finished Friday working on an outline for the rest of the book. This is just a way to organize the notes I’ve been taking. I know very well the outline will go out the window every day I work on the story. But that’s what the outline is there for. It’s a place to begin again the next day. That’s why I love writing a story, you always get up the next day knowing where you’ll begin. You most certainly do not know where you’ll go after you begin–the characters and the situation will tell you that–but at least you know where to begin. That’s why I say writing a novel is like working in a bank; you know where to go every morning. Every day when I sit down to work on the story the outline tells me where to begin and once I get going the characters and the circumstances dictate where I have to go and the outline gets abandoned. Poet Theodore Roethke said it best, “I learn by going where I have to go, which is exactly right.

Friday night I started coming down with a cold–the first one in three years–and by Saturday morning I was useless. It’s Sunday now and I’m still useless. I don’t get colds but every few years but when I get’em they’re whoppers. More next week. Sincerely, David Budbill 2 April 2012 p.s.–Here’s my liner notes in case you’d like to read them.

This big band album of William Parker’s is devoted to new versions of compositions of the master, Duke Ellington. Parker says, “You can’t out do Duke Ellington. We are not trying to duplicate Duke Ellington. How could anybody ever do that? We’re trying to tap into the spirit of the music in order to find our own way to play.”
This double CD is a live recording made in Milan, Italy, at Theatre Manzano on Feb 6, 2012.
William also says, ““When I was 7 years old my father would come home from work and play the Ellington recording “Live at Newport” almost every night I would dance to this glorious music until I was exhausted, hearing tenor saxophonist Paul Gonslaves blow chorus after chorus of jubilant sound on the song “Diminuendo and Crescendo In Blue.”
“It was at that time I heard the Essence of Ellington, the jump, the freedom, all layered in the blues. The essence is also the scream, the high note, the vamps, the singing voices and personalities of the instruments that make up the orchestra which are at all times individual. The melody will be there but it will grow wings and give birth to new themes and gestures sometimes going into trance as all sacred music eventually does. The essence of Ellington is to be your self. It’s the hippest song around.“
* * *
The first CD begins with “Portrait of Louisiana” (Dedicated to Clyde Kerr) William says, “Clyde Kerr Jr. was a great trumpet player, composer, educator and good brother all around. He died August 11, 2010. Clyde like many of the musicians was the personification of New Orleans and Louisiana. Clyde’s ears were open and he embraced all the music without putting one ahead of another. He was in the now, in the moment, all the time.”
“Portrait of Louisiana” features tenor saxophone great, also from New Orleans, Edward Kidd Jordan. Kidd begins with an arrhythmic intro followed by a groove over which he plays jumps, screams, high notes, vamps. The groove created by Hamid Drake’s drums and William Parker’s bass swings like crazy. Then the ensemble–trumpets, trombones, saxes–from time to time pop up and solo. They and Kidd give birth to new themes and gestures. They grow wings and fly. They play chorus after chorus of jubilant sound.
* * *
A definite tempo change and the chords of Ellington’s “Sophisticated Lady” signal the beginning of “Essence of Sophisticated Lady.” Ernie Odoom, the vocalist, makes the first of many appearances here doing the title of the tune plus Ellington’s lyrics. William Parker, by the way, wrote all the other lyrics for all the tunes on this album. Then “Essence of Sophisticated Lady” segues into the tune itself.
These players can play with absolute simplicity, and they do here on this album. Steve Swell’s trombone, Dave Sewelson’s baritone sax, Dave Burrell’s piano, Ernie Odoom’s lyrics and the whole ensemble generate a heartbreakingly beautiful and simple rendition of this tune, while, as William says, the players “find their own way of presenting and playing this music.”
* * *
The next tune is “Take the Coltrane” which is obviously somewhere between “Take the A Train” and the work of John Coltrane. What kind of avatar is Hamid Drake? His drum work throughout this album is practically inhuman. Flying out of the gate with Drake and Parker leading the way at a wickedly fast tempo the ensemble goes at it for more than 20 minutes.
I’ve always thought that one of the most interesting things to listen for in William Parker’s big band music is what is going on with the ensemble behind the soloists, the soli, which are constructed the way they used to be, i.e. on the spot, impromptu, pre-improvised. As William says, “‘Take the Coltrane’ is a blues in F. The ensemble is following the concept of self-conduction. Nothing is written down. I do not tell anybody when to come in. Self-conduction is where each section of the orchestra has the freedom to bring themselves in and out of the ensemble at will. I give no cues and there is no event sequence written down.”
After a wild ride “Take the Coltrane” ends with a bass and drum duet so full of dynamism, passion and verve, it’ll make you go into a trance, which is where William and Hamid already are.
* * *
Dave Burrell begins “In a Sentimental Mood” with a one note at a time, straight-ahead solo that is as sweet, lovely, simple and luscious as anything you will ever hear. An even more luscious, agonized and passionate alto solo by Darius Jones follows. His alto much of the time sounds like a soprano to me. At first he plays slowly, savoring every Ellington note then goes off on his own flight of fancy and sweetness.
* * *
A five note figure–which is written down, by the way–led by baritone saxist Dave Sewelson begins “Essence of Take the A Train” and “Take the A Train” and knits this entire piece together. Ras Moshe’s tenor closes things out and the ensemble segues out of “Take the A Train” and into “Ebony Interlude.”
* * *
Sabir Mateen’s achingly beautiful clarinet solo begins “Ebony Interlude” (Dedicated to Jimmy Hamilton). Again the sweetness of Mateen’s playing is almost beyond comprehension.
* * *
Next up is Juan Tizol’s “Caravan”–another tune made famous by Duke Ellington–which features the alto sax of Rob Brown. After a long solo introduction, Rob swings hard into the melody, and after one time through the head, the band enters. This is the most exciting, dynamic, refreshing, full of pulse and impulse version of this tune I’ve ever heard. Off they go. And some caravan it is too. What a ride!
* * *
At this point the concert is supposed to be over, but the audience isn’t having any of that, so the band does an encore, another Parker tune, called “Essence of Ellington.” Listen here for William’s poetry. By the time this concert was over, everybody surely knew the essence of Ellington is to be yourself, and that’s the hippest song around.


The Only Way to Build a Road is to Pour Asphalt

I’ve been thinking lately about how difficult it is to make progress on a poem or a story, in my case right now my new novel, SAMOVAR AND ZEEMAHOOLAH. In other words, this is another blog about getting my or your work done. And this week I’ve been remembering something my old, now dead, pal, Hayden Carruth said again and again: The only way to build a road is to pour asphalt. In other words, in order to get the job done you have to work at it. And if you don’t work at it, it don’t get done.
I’ve been pouring some asphalt this week. This has been a good week of work on SAMOVAR AND ZEEMAHOOLAH. They both, I mean Samovar and Zeemahoolah, have become real people for me, er, I mean characters. It is so much fun to watch pigments in my colorful imagination become real and have personalities of their own and do things I don’t expect them to do.
I’ve been surprised, for example, at how much Samovar and Zeemahoolah argue with each other. I had no idea they would do that.
It’s also little things that lead to big things, like for example, at the end of Chapter 2, Samovar and Zeemahoolah are in the FixIt Shop where they are about to take over Zeemahoolah’s mother’s business of fixing lamps now that she has been murdered. Zeemahoolah gets severely depressed by being where his mother worked, and at one point Samovar flits over and sits on his shoulder and rubs up against his neck to comfort him. This leads Samovar to discover how soft and warm Zeemahoolah’s fur is, which leads Samovar later that day, after supper when it’s time to go to bed, to suggest: I hope you won’t think I’m being forward or anything, Zeemahoolah, but today in the FixIt Shop when I landed on your shoulder and rubbed up against your neck, it felt so good, that I was wondering, I was wondering, I was wondering, if I could roost there on your shoulder tonight. It’s warm there. Of course Zeemahoolah agrees. And from that night onward the two of them always sleep together in Zeemahoolah’s bed, Samovar tucked up against Zeemahoolah’s neck and burrowed down in Zeemahoolah’s warm, soft fur.

I had no idea that would happen. It’s little things like that that are such surprises and grow out of the characters themselves, acting on their own, with no help from me and completely outside any outline I might have for them, that makes telling stories so wonderful.

I sure hope next week goes as well as this past week has.

More next week.

Sincerely, David Budbill


You can’t write and run around too.

Some of my longtime friends cannot understand why I don’t travel. Isn’t that what people in their late 60s and early 70s are supposed to do–run around the world leaving as big a carbon footprint as possible? I don’t want to be holier-than-thou, because my desire not to travel isn’t out of some great and altruistic desire to save the planet from the likes of my friends and me. It’s because I’m a writer, and you just can’t write and run around too.
In fact, I sincerely believe, you can’t write at all, at least at all well, if you don’t provide for yourself the space, the emptiness, the quiet and peace, in which you can hear the voices speaking to you, those voices that bring to you from the other side the stories you have to tell. I’m talking here about, obviously, imaginative stories, not non-fiction stories which require research. For those kinds of stories, maybe you can write and run around too. But I know that for stories that come out of the imagination, stories that come “from the other side”, you just can’t write and run around too. Or at least I can’t.

This past week is a good example. On Monday morning I got a page or two of dialogue written for SAMOVAR AND ZEEMAHOOLAH. The rest of Monday was spent preparing for my trip to Hampshire College in Amherst, MA, to see a piece of my play THINGY WORLD! and give a talk about it. Tuesday was spent driving to Amherst, attending rehearsal for the play, then to the president’s house for supper and then to see the play and give my talk.

Wednesday my wife and I went to Northampton to that great Moroccan restaurant, Amanouz, one of the greatest breakfast places in the world. They have the best eggs–I had Mediterranean eggs that come whipped somehow so that two eggs look like six with a red sauce over them–and the best home-fries anywhere, not to mention the Moroccan muffins, and all this washed down with the classic north and west Africa sweet green tea with mint. Then we went to the Smith College Art Museum. It’s an interesting–and large for a college–collection and some of the most beautiful works of art had two legs and were moving from gallery to gallery taking notes on the paintings. Then we came home to northern Vermont.

Thursday I spent trying to settle down, get back into my head, back to that place I was Monday morning, catch up with myself. And since that is so difficult, I spent Thursday writing letters, the usual writer’s escape. By Friday I was just beginning to get back to where I was on Monday morning. Saturday and Sunday were wasted almost completely and I don’t even know why.
I’m going into such detail about this past week, to show how: you can’t run around and write too, at least I can’t.

In other news, HAPPY LIFE fell off the bestseller list again for the week of March 4. Easy come; easy go.
More next week.

Sincerely, David Budbill


Will miracles never cease? On the bestseller list for February 12th, 19th, and 26th HAPPY LIFE, was back in the top 30, just barely, at #30. Why this has happened after being off the list for a month is anybody’s guess. It surely isn’t because I’ve been running around the country reading from and flogging the book, because I haven’t been. January, February and March are my months to hunker down in the mid-winter and get some new writing done, which I’ve done by rewriting my novel, BROKEN WING and by getting started on a new/old novel, SAMOVAR AND ZEEMAHOOLAH. I’m grateful for those increased HAPPY LIFE sales nonetheless, especially since I had nothing to do with them.

On the other side of the equation–a writer’s life is often like this–my agent shot down my rewrite of my novel, BROKEN WING. She said, “Like THE OLD MAN AND THE SEA the writer guides us to look and learn from the world around us. . . . But unlike the setting and story of Hemingway, the passive musing doesn’t engage in the way I think it needs to for this manuscript to “work:”. . . .The writing is good, strong, and appropriate, but the engagement in the “bigger picture” isn’t yet successfully accomplished.” She may be right, but the thing is, I’ve spent the past few months totally engaged with this story and its rewrite and now I’m off to another story and I don’t have the energy or the inclination to go back to work on BROKEN WING again, even if I did know how to deal the this criticism, which I don’t.

I made pretty good progress on SAMOVAR AND ZEEMAHOOLAH this past week. I’ve got the first couple of chapters drafted: the introduction, the story of the murder of Zeemahoolah’s mother by Narg and Gorn Bap, and how Zeemahoolah and the chickadee–not yet named–get together.

This week I have to take a couple of days out to go down to Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts, to see a few minutes of my play, THINGY WORLD!. In 1989 Jonathan Lash commissioned me to write this play when he was Vermont Secretary of Natural Resources. Jonathan is now president of Hampshire College and this play and the other presentations on Wednesday, March 13, are part of his inauguration festivities, culminating on April 27 with the actual inauguration and a keynote address by Al Gore.

And on the PARK SONGS, A POEM/PLAY, front, the book is mostly designed. We’re going to do an unusual thing with this book and have a separate font for each character in the book, 18 characters, 18 different fonts, thinking that may help people keep the characters straight, separate from each other. PARK SONGS, A POEM/PLAY, will be published on the anniversary of The Occupy Movement in September.

More next week.

Sincerely, David Budbill