“It’s the Fourth of July” by Ken Craft

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So On and So Fourth of July

fireworks

Here we go again. My third least favorite holiday (after Valentine’s Day and Halloween, I mean). The one no one calls July 4th and everyone calls “The Fourth of July.”

Still, this year brings an unusual Fourth. First there’s the elephant in the world, Covid-19, rubbing its hands in glee at the thought of big gatherings. Especially maskless, “I have my rights (to spread disease that might kill people)!” gatherings (thank you, Typhoid Donny).

Second, there’s the dream that America might actually be thinking of circling back. You know, to the mess the Founding Fathers left for future generations (Civil War being the result). The one still festering because of words like these: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men (except women, Blacks, American Indians, and assorted other minorities) are created equal.”

What if, some people are finally asking? What if we went back to all the beautiful language and ideals in our roots and made it real for everyone, not just the few and the privileged?

So there’s that.

But this poem, a few years old and originally printed in Issue 14 of Unbroken Journal as well as in my second book, Lost Sherpa of Happiness, is more of a lark. A rant, in fact, against all the  (insert invective here) fireworks. And drinking. And general mayhem particular to colors red, white, and blue.

Hey. American or not, red or blue, too, Happy Fourth to you!

 

IT’S THE FOURTH OF JULY

by Ken Craft

and he’s listening to Oh Say Can You See in a sea of runners and an awakening 8 a.m. heat. The blue smell of Ben-Gay on the mentholated old guys & Axe on the sun-venerating young guys & armpit on the just-rolled-out-of-bed lazy guys & no one’s run a New Balance step yet. The ellipsis after the song’s last line is always a chant of USA! USA! USA! from the fun-run campers who must not read (at least footnotes) because they never feel the wet hand of irony in that disunited “U” running down their body-painted backs.

Jesus, but he bolts when the pistol goes, heat or no. On the course, though, he is passed by sausage-heavy middle-aged men & oxy-huffing retired men & stick-legged kids & women of all stars & stripes. Begrudge not, says the Bible, so he celebrates their speed or their youth, their fat or their fair sex—whatever hare-bodied thing there is to celebrate.

That night, after the picnic-table splinters & charred cheeseburgers, after the fries & bottles of we’re-out-of-ketchup, the fireworks mushroom into night clouds & umbrellas rain down hiss & heat sparkle, made-in-China reds, whites & blues. He cranes his neck, the skies soured with smoke & sulfur, holding tight the hand of his sweetheart.

Then it’s blessed be bed, after the grande finds its finale, only he is wakened by more (USA!) fireworks up the street (USA!) at 11:30 p.m. Still the holiday, after all, ignited by the undoubtedly drunk, after all, because booze is God-Bless-America’s drug of choice, after all. The outdoors explodes until midnight & he’s had about all he can stand lying down & cursed be Thomas Jefferson anyway, with his noble agrarian society & its whiskey rebellions & its pursuits of happiness & its God-given rights & its who-the-hell-are-you-to-tell-me, question comma rhetorical.

You know how this ends: It’s insomnia again. In the shallow, post-patriotic hours of the Fifth of July. Come cock-crow morning, on his walk, Fido sniffs the empty nips & plastic fifths along the sandy shoulder of sleepy roads. There’s even a patriotic Bud box, hollowed-be-its-name, white stars emblazoned on the blue of its crumpled carcass.

God bless America, he tells it.

It’s the Fifth of July

fireworks

… and I’m posting my poem “It’s the Fourth of July,” which originally appeared in Unbroken Journal, a poetry journal dedicated to prose poems.

And hey, the Fifth makes a cameo at the end of the poem, so who’s to fault me for being untimely?

 

It’s the Fourth of July
Ken Craft

and he’s listening to Oh Say Can You See in a sea of runners and an awakening 8 a.m. heat. The blue smell of Ben-Gay on the mentholated old guys & Axe on the sun-venerating young guys & armpit on the just-rolled-out-of-bed lazy guys & no one’s run a New Balance step yet. The ellipsis after the song’s last line is always a chant of USA! USA! USA! from the fun-run campers who must not read (at least footnotes) because they never feel the wet hand of irony in that disunited “U” running down their body-painted backs.

Jesus, but he bolts when the pistol goes, heat or no. On the course, though, he is passed by sausage-heavy middle-aged men & oxy-huffing retired men & stick-legged kids & women of all stars & stripes. Begrudge not, says the Bible, so he celebrates their speed or their youth, their fat or their fair sex—whatever hare-bodied thing there is to celebrate.

That night, after the picnic-table splinters & charred cheeseburgers, after the fries & bottles of we’re-out-of-ketchup, the fireworks mushroom into night clouds & umbrellas rain down hiss & heat sparkle, made-in-China reds, whites & blues. He cranes his neck, the skies soured with smoke & sulfur, holding tight the hand of his sweetheart.

Then it’s blessed be bed, after the grande finds its finale, only he is wakened by more (USA!) fireworks up the street (USA!) at 11:30 p.m. Still the holiday, after all, ignited by the undoubtedly drunk, after all, because booze is God-Bless-America’s drug of choice, after all. The outdoors explodes until midnight & he’s had about all he can stand lying down & cursed be Thomas Jefferson anyway, with his noble agrarian society & its whiskey rebellions & its pursuits of happiness & its God-given rights & its who-the-hell-are-you-to-tell-me, question comma rhetorical.

You know how this ends: It’s insomnia again. In the shallow, post-patriotic hours of the Fifth of July. Come cock-crow morning, on his walk, Fido sniffs the empty nips & plastic fifths along the sandy shoulder of sleepy roads. There’s even a patriotic Bud box, hollowed-be-its-name, white stars emblazoned on the blue of its crumpled carcass.

God bless America, he tells it.

Random Thoughts: July Edition

beach

  • Summer vacation giveth and summer vacation taketh away. Yes, there is more time for reading, which is why you carried that extra piece of luggage to paradise, but there are also more family and friends buzzing about, sometimes visitors for a day (or two) and sometimes visitors for a week (or two).
  • Company and reading are like oil and water, taxes and savings, Trump and intelligence. Mismatches all around.
  • I am presently reading a book called Advice for Future Corpses by Sallie Tisdale. I get comments from people who see me reading it or see it lying around. “Light reading, I see,” they say sarcastically. Or, “Great beach read you have there!”
  • I guess I’m a future corpse and they’re not. Which is the book’s point entirely. Or one of them.
  • I’ve been looking at markets for poetry and reacquainting myself with the forgotten fact that many poetry markets are centered at colleges and universities. In other words, the reading periods there are closed until (surprise!) September.
  • And really, do we have to say “September” at a time like this (read: July)?
  • The Fourth of July is behind us and, as is the new trend, private fireworks (now legal in this state, for instance) continued all the way till midnight or thereabouts. I wrote a prose poem about this last year. It’s a bit sarcastic. Tongue in cheek, maybe.
  • But I love my country as much as the next guy! Especially when it’s quiet.
  • (Both the country and the next guy, I mean.)
  • Because I often get new ideas for new poems and especially specific lines for new poems, I’m trying to carry a little notebook about (and if you’re thinking “Use your cellphone, fool,” recall that I don’t own one). Trouble is, the notebook in my pocket seems to work like kryptonite against new ideas. Remember the notebook, and my mind goes blankety-blank. Forget it, and the Muses begin warming up in the orchestra pit (with smirks on their nine faces).
  • It’s 63 degrees Fahrenheit this morning with a forecast for the high 70s today. No need for air conditioning. This is why Maine was invented, thank Odin. It is the antidote to air conditioning.
  • As my poetry book (to go with my prose book), I’m reading Like a Beggar by Ellen Bass. I like her stuff. A lot. And the great thing about the poetry world is how huge it is, and how often you can discover a “new-to-you” poet who you like. A lot.
  • Thank you, Ellen.
  • Usually I pick out one classic I’ve never read to tackle over the summer. This year, though, I’m going biography (also tome-like in size). I have one on Grant (U.S.) and one on Caravaggio (Michelangelo Merisi da). How’s that for variety? But I can only pick one. We’ll see if I’m in an American or Florentine mood come August.
  • PBS is having a nationwide reading group and now asking everyone to vote from a list of 100 books. It’s a hilarious mix of genres and styles, from 100-page YA books to Moby-Dick and Don Quixote (two books, it so happens, that I have read on past “must-read-a-classic” summers). To what purpose, this vote? To show how inclusive PBS is?
  • Everyone has classics they have never read and insist they must before they become a future corpse. For me, the biggest “must finish” is James Joyce’s Ulysses. If Hemingway can do it, so can I. (So there, Ernie.)
  • And then there are classics we just don’t give a damn about reading. Ever. No matter how much other readers crow about them. For me this includes anything by Virginia Wolff, Henry James, William Faulkner, and many, many Victorian novelists (whose books, in fairness, I will consider as doorstops on windy days).
  • Oh, if only readers (and non-) would purchase my books as doorstops! (Um, screen doors only, please. Or maybe mouse-hole doors, considering how light they are — the mouse doors, not my books.)
  • Meaning: the subject matter of my poems is not “light” like this blog entry. Oh, no. Some poems even muse about death. Which implies future corpses. Again.
  • What was it Ben Franklin once said? Ah, yes. “In this world, nothing can be said to be certain except future corpses and taxes.”
  • Other sure things in life (missed by Ben)? People willing to take your picture if you ask them to while out and about in public. In my case, it’s my wife’s phone. Because my wife cares about pictures (it’s in the job description under “wife,” I think). And everyone, it seems, loves to play Good Samaritan with a camera So quick. So easy. So kind.
  • Ask any writer who submits regularly. Checking Submittable for updates is like watching grass grow.
  • I wish it were like watching weeds grow. Results would come much faster.
  • Keep summer reading, friends! And summer writing! And staying un-corpselike!

Publicity Hounds from Hell

megaphone

Note: The following is written for hounds trying not to bay like the Baskervilles. It explores Aristotle’s philosophical conundrum: Can you self-promote your work without looking like you’re self-promoting your work? Heed, then, the “sound” of trees falling in the wilderness….

I’ve written before that a part-time poet (full-time poets, like unicorns, are rare beasts indeed) needs to be talented in more ways than one–chiefly as a marketer/business person in addition to the obvious as a writer/artistic person. I always considered “marketing” to be a matter of just sending out poems to journals and presses, but it’s more complicated than that. Marketing also means being a publicity hound, an aspect of writing that makes me a little queasy as a necessary evil.

An example is in order. Before my poetry manuscript was accepted by a publisher, I was just another humble reader (without an author page) on Goodreads. As a GR participant in those days, I was often annoyed by authors seeking to promote themselves and their books in hamfisted ways.

Sometimes they would barge into groups with spam-posts to promote their books. Sometimes they would try to friend every warm body in sight NOT because they shared reading tastes and/or had any interest in readers’ reviews, but to (surprise!) promote their own book. And sometimes they would point-blank message you privately or publicly to request that you (surprise!) read and review their book.

In the immortal words of Daffy, all of these come-ons led to a single recourse: “Duck!”

Like others, I learned to avoid these (mostly self-published) author requests and demands at all costs. Thus, when authors sent friend requests, I usually demurred on the assumption that another shoe would drop if I dared to say yes.

Still, I was conflicted. And in many cases I said “yes” anyway, especially if I had some interaction previously with the author as a fellow reader and book-lover.

Now the shoe is on the other foot. Now I am probably viewed in the same manner by some GR reader/posters wary of all authors due to a few overzealous ones. Now I am the one with books in need of publicity but in a classy way.

The question, though, is this: Do “classy” and “publicity” mix?

The answer depends on who you talk to, I’m guessing. I learn from other authors in situations like mine. Some are cool about it, and I seek to emulate their subtle self-promotional ways.

Many use blogs, where readers are welcome to visit, read, and follow links or not (as opposed to charging like bulls into Goodreads china shops shouting, in so many words, “Me! Me! Me!”). And, most importantly, some remain as much fellow readers as self-promoting authors, thus presenting their Goodreads biblio-social graces in the best light.

As for Facebook and Twitter, I still haven’t figured out a classy way to self-promote in those venues. All the experts say they are a must, but experiences in both places were negative for me, so I’m on the sideline contemplating, leaving that turf to the Russians, who are much better at it than me.

Meantime, the blog and the links leading to my books. If you’ve come this far, you probably have a genuine interest in my work and will read a new poem that recently hit the web (warning: self-promotion ahead!). Called “It’s the Fourth of July,” it can be found in an e-zine that deserves promotion for its support of prose poetry (or poetic prose, or however you want to call it), Unbroken Journal.

Bottom line? The best promotion–for authors and journals alike–comes in the form of promotions from others as opposed to ourselves. That much is obvious and goes without saying, but I’m going to say it anyway.

Still, “self-” comes before “from other sources.” It is a necessary part of the game. Why? Because, in poetry, where the field is so crowded and the general readership so low, you could grow old and die before promotions come in from other sources.

Better to keep writing. The more there is to publicize, the better the odds of something taking.