Joseph E Bird

Let's talk about reading, writing and the arts.


January 2017

jazzing up a classic

Editor’s Note:  I’ve been on a jazz kick lately and I remembered this post from a couple of years ago. In case you missed it the first time.

Dig it.

There’s a club in London called the Troubadour. It was founded in the 1950s and has hosted legendary musicians through the years. It’s also famous as a hangout for writers and artists and coffee-house poetry.

Finger snap.

Picture this: Stanley Kubrick had a favorite table at the Troubadour back in the early 60s. He comes in, sips espresso, takes in a poetry slam, and works on his screenplay for 2001: A Space Odyssey.

In 1968, his seminal film is released.

“Open the pod bay doors, HAL.”

“I’m sorry, Dave. I’m afraid I can’t do that.”

Far out.

Featured in the film was the music of Richard Strauss, specifically, Also Sprach Zarathustra, which, interestingly, is a tone poem. Look that up in your Funk and Wagnalls (Laugh-In reference).

In 1972, the jazz musician Deodato put out his take on the classic, which was later featured in the Peter Sellers film, Being There.

“As long as the roots are not severed, all is well. And all will be well in the garden.”

Heavy, man.

So for all you poets out there, put on your black turtleneck and beret, go back in time, and tap your toes to the groovy, jazzy, coffee-house version of Also Sprach Zarathustra by Deodato.

Dig it.


i hear the voice

i hear the voice
it’s yelling at me
i hear the voice
but i don’t agree
to argue is pointless
our words are in vain
i can’t understand
and you can’t explain
can we sit and be calm
and maybe break bread
i’ll listen again
perhaps i misread
and i hear the voice

i hear the voice
calling me to speak
i hear the voice
to say for the weak
is anger so righteous
that respect doesn’t matter
our cause is just
it’s yours we must shatter
walk with me now
let’s talk and be friends
to find the true answer
we must make amends
and i hear the voice

i hear the voice
telling me not to fear
i hear the voice
saying peace is still near
the strife of the world
is now and has been
and will be tomorrow
again and again
so let’s stand for the lost
and fight the good fight
but let’s do it together
for that is what’s right
and i hear the voice

i hear the voice
it’s soft like a dove
there’s no sound that i hear
does it come from above
i hear the voice
and you hear it too
let’s listen together
there is so much to do

copyright 2017, joseph e bird

Writer’s Log – Insomnia

Last night was one of those nights.  Fell awake around 3:00, finally decided to quit fighting it around 3:30.  I made a cup of tea and sat down in front of the computer. My imaginary friend, Heather, has been stuck in a waffle house for a few days now.  I’m sure she wishes I’d get her out of there.

So at 3:30, I was going to make something happen.


4:00, and she was still there.  I had managed to go back and tweak a few things, made a couple of sentences better. But I was still blocked.

Maybe this is the end.  Maybe Heather never gets out of the waffle house. Maybe nobody cares what happens to her.

I’m 10,000 words in.  Not that much, really, in word count. I’ve abandoned novels at 40,000 words. Except that I’ve taken my time with these words, tried to write them better as I go. So it would be disheartening to pull the plug.

There’s a mother and a kid – a screaming kid – in the waffle house, too. At first, the mother was sitting with her back to Heather. I rearranged the furniture. Now they’re sitting beside Heather, facing each other, so that when Heather hears the kid scream and turns to look, she makes eye contact with the mother. It was an uncomfortable moment.

And then.  And then.  And then.

At 5:00, Heather was still in the waffle house. But things had changed dramatically. I was unstuck.  I went to bed.  I still couldn’t sleep, but it was a more restful insomnia.

Lesson 1: Maybe insomnia has a reason.

Lesson 2: Sometimes you just need to rearrange the furniture.

Lesson 3: Sometimes being uncomfortable is good.


Finding Ricky.

This won’t mean much to anyone except my family. My apologies.

Today I read that the Kennedy Space Center is going to start displaying the Apollo 1 capsule as a tribute to the three astronauts – Gus Grissom, Edward White, and Roger Chaffee –  who lost their lives in the launchpad fire fifty years ago. Around that time my family was living in Houston and my dad took me to the Johnson Space Center there to look at the rockets.

Today I went to Mapquest to see how long it would take to drive to the Kennedy Space Center.  13 hours, more or less. Then I checked Houston. 18 hours. While I was on Mapquest, I zeroed in on the old neighborhood. The apartments we lived in are long gone, but I recognized the streets. Japonica. Ilex. Redwood. Rustic Lane.

I thought about my Houston friends, and like I have done in the past, I searched the internet for clues of their whereabouts. Mostly I struck out. Then I found one. In an obituary in Louisiana.



He’s the one with the maracas.

I wasn’t sure it was him until I watched a memorial video on the funeral home website. The pictures of him as a kid were unmistakable.  The obituary said he lived in Louisiana for almost fifty years. That left little time for living in Houston, probably the few years that my West Virginia family lived there. We were all transients, apparently.

So many of our friends disappear and we never hear from them again. We wonder whatever happened to them.

Looks like Ricky lived a good life and had a loving family. Which is exactly what I hoped I would find.


The New Mastersounds

jazz fusion from the UK, The New Mastersounds

Painting with a different palette.

Stone Bridge in a park setting
Cherokee Park, Louisville, Kentucky – Designed by Frederick Law Olmsted

He paints with lakes and wooded slopes;
with lawns and banks and forest-covered hills;
with mountain sides and ocean views.

Daniel Burnham, speaking of Frederick Law Olmsted

In 1893, Chicago architect Daniel Burnham was working hard to finish the design of the Chicago World’s Fair, also known as the Columbian Exposition. It spread over 600 acres with more than 200 buildings and attracted some 26 million visitors in its first six months. Working with Burnham was Frederick Law Olmsted, the father of modern landscape architecture.

By the time they collaborated on the World’s Fair, Olmsted had already designed New York’s Central Park and thousands of other projects around the country.

In the mid-19th century, industrialization sparked dramatic growth and cities became crowded and generally unpleasant places to live. In 1857, Harper’s Weekly called New York “a huge semi-barbarous metropolis…with filthy and unlighted streets, no practical or efficient security for either life or property.”

With this as the backdrop, it’s no wonder that Olmsted’s designs, focusing on pastoral and picturesque scenery, became so popular. Olmsted was all about giving people a natural, restorative landscape. It’s not as easy as it looks, and it’s why his work is still relevant today and why his principles of design are so revered.

Landscape architecture has evolved as the needs of the world have changed. Even so, landscape architects today would do well to paint scenes in the landscape with lakes and lawns and wooded slopes. And though our cities are not the semi-barbarous metropolises of the past, our need for restoration is greater than ever. Good landscape architecture can give us a place where our spirits find rest.

Strike the match.

It’s a cold, rainy day. Perfect for the blues.

But wait.

Even if you’re not into the blues, check out this video from Mountain Stage a few years ago.  Mark O’Conner and friends with something special. It starts out with what you might expect (that is, if your expectations include playing the blues on a fiddle) but around the 5:30 mark, O’Conner really gets warmed up.  All three of these guys are really good, but O’Conner lights it on fire.

Don’t skip ahead. You need the first 5:30 to set the stage.

The Epic Battle

Back in the day
I played
a mean game
ping pong
I hear ya
You’re laughing
your momma
and your
at the table
lofting lazy volleys
back and forth
gnip gnop
gnip gnop
It ain’t like that
Serious stuff this was
Crazy spins
smokin slams
so fast so fast so fast
feet always movin
strategy and anticipation
flip the backspin
over the top
hit the line
play the edge
workin hard
sweat drippin
on the table
Serious stuff, it was,
so long ago.

And then this kid
talking smack
talking his game
I talk back
talking my game
how it was
so long ago
A table shows up
then the net
then paddles
then balls
I watch him play
he’s good
wicked spins
fast slams
I start eating
my words
playin on my age
slow reflexes
unorthodox style
I ain’t what
I was, I say
But I can’t dodge.

Last night
I’m playin
by myself
balls off the backplay
tryin to find a rhythm
and he shows up
with his own
personal paddle
in his own
personal case
Last time
I played
someone like that
I got smoked
Time for the truth

The game is on

I win serve
first five points
I hold serve
next five
he holds
but I’m
still ahead
I miss a slam
then I hit one
just like back then
I spin a shot
and he’s in the net
I can’t handle
his serve
and he slams
past me
on and
it goes
sweat flying

Deuce at 20

i feel good
to have done
this well
but the
kid will
his day

More volleys
then he hits
off the table
My add
More volleys
and then he hits
into the net
My game
just like it was
I got old

My game

gnip gnop?
I’ll show you some
gnip gnop

Editor’s Note:  In the grand scheme of important things in the world, a game of ping pong is waaaaaay down there, and the creative writing describing this non-event is likewise unimportant. The author realizes this. Nonetheless, it amuses him. Besides, you didn’t really think he was another Hemingway, did you?

Obla di, obla da.

copyright 2017, joseph e bird

Writer’s Log – You think you know your characters?

I’ve been writing about Heather for a couple of months now.  You remember Heather, the woman with the two boys, living alone now that they’re out of the house. She studied Avery’s photographs in the coffee shop until she learned that her father was being let out of prison.  I thought I knew her, too.

But when she leaves for Texas to get her father settled in with her brother, she takes a detour to stop and see her ex-husband three states away.  I didn’t know she was going to do that until she started driving. And on the way there, she reveals a little something about herself that I didn’t know. Something a little disturbing.

How can I not know these things?  She’s an invention of my imagination.

There are fiction writing gurus who will tell you to plan your characters meticulously, to know their history, their families, their personalities, their moral standings, even which toothpaste they prefer. I can see the advantage to writing that way. There is less likelihood that your character will do something, well, out of character. These same gurus will also advise you to allow for the possibility that your character might surprise you along the way.

In my previous work, I’ve tried to outline my characters as much as possible. With Heather, as well as the other characters in my story, I’m completely winging it. It’s kind of like I’m along for the ride. What better way to get to know Heather than to spend three days in the car with her?  So, yeah, I was surprised at what I learned.

Then there’s her ex-husband.  I had some thoughts about what he might be like.  Some thoughts about why they weren’t together anymore.  But Heather hasn’t really told me anything about all of that yet, not even in the four hours it took to get to Charlotte.

It wasn’t until they were face to face that I started to see some things.

The front door opened when she was halfway up the sidewalk.

“I’ll be damned.”

He was wearing jeans and a white t-shirt and looked like he hadn’t shaved for a few days. His once-blonde hair was mostly dark brown now with just a little gray around the temples. It was long and unruly and made her smile. He was aging very well.

“Hi, Robert.”

“And out of sky she fell, like an autumn leaf floating on a cool October breeze, my beautiful Heather Girl.”

He was off the porch and had wrapped his arms around her before she made it to the steps.

“It’s so good to see you.”

His voice was almost a whisper, but not quite. A true whisper would have been out of place, maybe a little threatening, a normal voice would have lost the sincerity. It was the perfect intonation, the kind of thing that came natural to Robert Scott. She had no choice but to believe his words.

And so on.

Robert is as much of a surprise as Heather.  I’m glad I didn’t plan these guys out. I really think it would have stifled the creativity.  All of this may be a complete train wreck before it’s through, but I sure am having fun writing it.  Which for me, is the whole point.

Blog at

Up ↑