Category Archives: maine citizens engaged in resistance

Singing the lines: Interview with Leonore Hildebrandt

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Leonore Hildebrandt grew up in Germany and teaches writing at the University of Maine. Living “off the grid” in Harrington, Maine, she is a member of the Flatbay Collective and serves as an editor for the Beloit Poetry Journal. Her poetry has appeared in the Denver Quarterly, the Beloit Poetry Journal, the Poetry Salzburg Review, and the Quercus Review, and Cabildo Quarterly, among others.  

 
Rock Me
 
I have always done things the hard way––
cutting through razor wire, sitting in protest
until the cops yanked us by the hair.
 
After turning down the millionaire,
I boiled the baby’s diapers on the wood stove––
but in summer I danced into the pale light of morning.
 
There were men, there were women––
mostly I lived more fiercely than that,
my head full of road-songs, the secret of seeds,
 
Masters of War. Once I climbed an oak tree
I had planted thirty years before. The leaves,
like orange hands, pulled me high and higher.
 
When I went fasting in the woods,
the hours would open their mouths wider,
the verge of the pond carried on endlessly.
 
I know of padded cells and stifling nightmares.
But age is ageless. So rock me––like glass,
we are sharp, molten, shattered, redone.
 
It’s like the death penalty––
once you have handed it down,
then do it, already. Don’t let it drag on.
 
-Leonore Hildebrandt

 

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Here, Leonore is interviewed by Lisa Panepinto.

 

Lisa: I’m excited that you have a poetry collection coming out soon, The Next Unknown.  Can you give us a preview into the book?

 

Leonore: In 2001, I began writing poetry under the tutelage of Constance Hunting. The Next Unknown gathers poems up to 2010 when the manuscript was accepted for publication by Pecan Grove Press. Many of the poems are inspired by my experience as a traveler––between the German and English language, between city and country, between my joy over life on the earth and sorrow about its decline. My hope is that the poems are imaginative, that they speak through specific images while evoking questions about larger themes––nature and power, art and knowledge.

 

Lisa: What are some other projects you’re currently working on?

 

Leonore: I am moving toward a second book-length collection. As far as I can tell, this one will have fewer autobiographical references and more of an eco-feminist feel. I don’t really like using this term; it implies a narrow, didactic agenda, which is not what I am interested in when I write poems. But I do feel passionate as a woman about a less exploitative relationship with all life-forms, and this passion finds expression in the poetry.

 

For last summer’s Belfast Poetry Festival, I teamed up with the painter Heidi Daub. We presented The Shelter, a series of poems with corresponding landscape paintings. Heidi and I were surprised by the intimacy inherent in the work, and we are hoping to keep this collaboration alive. We will be performing The Shelter at the University of Maine at Machias (probably in the fall of 2014) and are looking into publication.

 

More recently, I have written a few new songs, and my pianist/writer/friend Brian Stewart and I are working on these and some of his new material. Also, inspired by my grandson’s arrival, I just recorded a CD of German children’s songs. As my 93 year old mother put it: “Germany has made many mistakes, but the folk songs it has produced over the past centuries are something truly beautiful.” It felt great to remember this lovely tradition.

 

Lisa: Your poems portray both the destruction of the environment and the denigration of women.  Do you see these themes as linked?

 

Leonore: Common ideas about the affinities between “Nature” and “Woman” have in the past too often resulted in disrespect for both, which is convenient for those looking to justify domination and abuse. I would be careful of a classification of man as perpetrator and woman/nature as victim, because it ends up stressing difference in our perception of man versus woman. Still, a patriarchal value system tends to take for granted a sense of entitlement to take, and take, and take. It is my hope that a more “feminine” age is in the making, one in which both men and women value caring more than controlling.

 

Many writers have spoken to that shift. Currently I am teaching a course in American Women’s Literature. Among the stories we are reading is “A White Heron” (1886) by Sarah Orne Jewett, in which a boy demonstrates his passion for birds by shooting and stuffing them. This sets in motion the conflict for the young heroine: should she be loyal to him or the great bird?

 

In “Annunciation” (1935) by Meridel Le Sueur, a woman in dire poverty becomes pregnant, and in spite of her partner’s wishes, she goes through with the pregnancy. She contemplates a pear tree growing behind the dismal boarding house: “The leaves are the lips of the tree speaking in the wind, or they move like many tongues. The fruit of the tree has been a round speech, speaking in full tongue […], hanging in ripe body…“ This sense of ripening and fullness coming out of the depression era is remarkable.

 

By asserting themselves as women, the protagonists of these stories come to notice also the integrity and beauty of other species. Our speech can be “in full tongue” even when writing poems of witness.

 

Lisa: You live off-the-grid on the coast of Maine, where you have raised a family.  It seems to me your poetry expresses a counterculture mentality of giving up capitalist concerns in exchange for an allegiance with the earth.  Does this connection seem accurate?

 

Leonore:  My choices in lifestyle have tended toward the simple, resourceful, and natural––and I am glad that you find these values in my poetry.

 

Off-the-grid requires a degree of self-sufficiency. My husband and I get electricity and part of our heat from the sun. We grow our own fruit and vegetables. We thin the forest to obtain firewood. We buy mostly used clothes. And so on. The willingness to pay attention to one’s small actions lives on in our children. While our daughters now have moved to urban areas, they are, each in her own way, connected to nature and committed to its protection. They have chosen to work in a way that does not feel alienated.

 

Striving for a gentler environmental footprint is not hard for me. The earth is generous, and I feel refreshed while working on the land. Harder than these lifestyle choices, I find, is to change my mind, to think about the value of money, power, and entitlement outside of the prevailing paradigms. For example, does less consumerism make for a shrinking economy which means more global poverty––or not necessarily? In spite of the justified rhetoric against the richest 1%, should we hope that wealthy people will help implement a more egalitarian system, also in regard to non-human life?

 

Poetry is a place where I can imagine “what if.” I can circle around things that puzzle me, try out different voices and positions. If I had a plan, if I called myself a Buddhist, or a Marxist, or a Naturalist, I may not be driven to write poems.

 

Lisa: Can you discuss the importance of place in your writing?

 

Leonore: Recently I wrote a longer poem inspired by Buckminster Fuller’s invention of geodesic domes. It’s called “Where You Happen to Be,” and it starts with a quote by Fuller: “The most important thing to teach your children is that the sun does not rise and set. It is the Earth that revolves around the sun. Then teach them the concepts of North, South, East and West, and that they relate to where they happen to be on the planet’s surface at that time. Everything else will follow.” In a few words, Fuller connects the larger space (and our orientation in it) with our individual presence. Everything else will follow––in my poem follow impressions of hiking in the Southwest, interwoven with geometric concepts and natural shapes. Place is not merely a backdrop––along with time, it makes for our experience, offers a perspective, molds our voices. The challenge for the writer of poetry is to choose significant and fresh images as a stand-in for all that space so that a reader, too, may imagine a specific place where we happen to be.

 

Lisa: Your poems feel highly lyrical, chant-like and are often referential of song.  Could you talk about music in relation to your writing?

 

Leonore: I came to poetry from songwriting, or perhaps I should say, poetry found me while I worked on lyrics. Since the early 1990s, I have been playing music with other songwriters, and we perform mostly our own songs. During practice and musical performance, one incessantly repeats the same material while trying to improve its presentation. I think this shaped my critical sensibility. If I want to keep enjoy singing the lines, they have to roll off the tongue.

 

Song lyrics may be simpler than poetry, especially if they are meant for performance. The music will add interest. But to be singable, they must be smooth. No harsh clusters of consonants. Repetition of sound, be it full rhyme or near-rhyme. Rhythm. You see, song lyrics compare well to poetry in fixed form, like the balled. One counts the meter,  the number of lines. Free-verse poetry offers more formal freedom, which I enjoy. And still, I always read poems in progress out loud, listening for an underlying pulse over which flow the words’ cadences.

 

Lisa: Who are some of your literary influences?

 

Leonore: Writers whose work I keep coming back to include: Bertolt Brecht, Rilke, Goethe. Pablo Neruda, Garcia Marquez. Elizabeth Bishop, Emily Dickinson.

 

As a member of the editorial board of the Beloit Poetry Journal, I regularly read a selection of new submissions. I am very grateful for the opportunity to see what my peers are doing. Additionally, reading and discussing these poems with a group of seasoned editors often brings the work more fully alive for me.

 

Most immediately and constructively I am engaged with the work-in-progress of my fellow writers in the Flat Bay Collective: Robert Froese, Tony Brinkley, Dick Miles.

 

Lisa: Who are you currently reading and what are you currently listening to?

 

Leonore: A recent post to The New Yorker is titled: “Is the News Replacing Literature?” I was taken aback––indeed, for me that may be increasingly true. I browse online content from NPR, the New York Times, and Deutsche Welle. I enjoy political satire, like Jon Stewart’s Daily Show. I find that I learn things from The Atlantic, perhaps because it caters to a younger, more urban audience. I am just about addicted to the New York Review of Books which I read cover to cover.

 

Thankfully I am teaching American Women’s Literature! Presently we are reading literature from the turn of the century, an exiting time in women’s history, which produced many great writers, among them Kate Chopin, Mary Wilkins Freeman, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Mary Austin, Willa Cather, and Edith Wharton.

 

In music, I respond to syncopation, both in world music and jazz.  A few favorite artists in no particular order:  Salif Keita (Mali), Manu Dibango (Cameroon), Manu Chao (France/Spain), Cesaria Evora (Cape Verde), Gigi (Ethiopia), Ali Farka Touré (Mali), Baaba Maal (Senegal), Toumani Diabaté (Mali), Souad Massi (Algeria/France).

 

I grew up in Germany with folk music and the composers from the classical era: Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, Vivaldi, Boccherini… This heritage still nourishes me and I turn to it at certain times with much appreciation.

 

In terms of films, here are a few recommendations for documentaries I recently saw: A Place at the Table (on hunger in the USA).  The House I Live in (on the war on drugs).  Last Call at the Oasis (on the global water crisis).  Inside Job (on the financial crisis of 2008) and Food,Inc (on industrial food production.)

 

Lisa: Your poems often juxtapose the beauty of nature and fragility of life with war’s shadow.  Do you see nurturing the earth as a means to protest war and violence?

 

Leonore: Poetry as protest––this is a powerful legacy, but I’m not sure I can claim that for my own work. But like everyone, I write from my place in history. My father was an officer in WWII, he spent five years as a POW in the Soviet Union and returned physically frail. My mother’s energies were at times more focused on him than on the children. But, to stay with your metaphor, war’s shadow also may cast the light in sharp relief. In their remaining years together, my parents strove for mindfulness and peace, at least in the family. Perhaps that primed me to become a young political rebel: I wanted to make things right. I joined the anti-nuclear protests that swept through Europe in the 1970/80s. We would “occupy” the construction sites for nuclear waste and power plants. (This movement led to the foundation of Germany’s Green Party.) During the course of it, my friends and I started a commune and learned about gardening and beekeeping…

 

The earth nurtures us, not vice versa. We may try to limit the harm we do. It is my hope that when we open ourselves and pay attention to the forces of life, to the land, the clouds, all that beauty, we will be able to do less harm. Of course, there is violence in nature as one thing feeds on another, but no mean-spirited revenge, no contemplated or organized destruction. Too long during our history, we have convinced ourselves that we are above nature, entitled to use and rule over it, just as leaders convince themselves that it is okay to dominate and exploit people. This attitude is changing, thankfully.

 

Lisa: Can you talk about your involvement with the Flat Bay Collective and being part of a community of artists in rural Maine?

 

Leonore: The Flat Bay Collective is a low-key, informal gathering of artists in Washington County, Maine. We support each other’s work and maintain a common website to present it (flatbaycollective.org). Most fruitful are the collaborations, which include feedback for writing-in-progress, co-translation, music, and design of books. Last but not least, we have produced letter-press chapbooks of poetry.

 

Writer’s groups have become common––they offer wonderful opportunities for learning, motivating one another, and building community. For us, the exchange with artists of different media is an added benefit.

 

Lisa: There’s so much to mourn and feel anger and despair about in this world; how do you keep your spirits up?

 

Leonore: I just saw The Square, a film about the uprising in Egypt. The documentary follows a number of very sympathetic protesters––their bravery, their eloquence, their effort of conscience are entirely admirable! I take with me the joy that I live in a world where these young people are active. I also take with me the devastating thought that they have not reached their goal of democracy, and that many of their peers have been killed, imprisoned, or silenced. The point is that my thinking is malleable––and feelings follow suit. I don’t have to repeat over and over the inner monolog of devastation to the point that it harms me. The world is not one bit better off if I insist on feeling angry or sad, however justified that may be.

 

When I find myself going “down,” I pay attention to things I can actively shape. I limit my intake of graphic cruelty. I take care of my body: good food, exercise, sleep. I alert those who love me. In quarrels, I attempt to see things from the perspective of the other and to ask open-ended questions in a spirit of generosity. Not that this is easy. But over the years, I have come to trust in the process.

 

Lisa: Is there anything you’d like to add?

 

Leonore: Thank you for the opportunity to think about your probing questions, Lisa. Your inquisitive mind, your gentle presence, and your sensitive poetry––all of these are admirable.  May you be very well.

 

 

“Rock Me” by Leonore Hildebrandt was originally published in Gemini Magazine.

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Filed under interviews, literature review, maine citizens engaged in resistance, poems, protest song ancestors, protest songs, truth speakers

Esther Attean & Denise Altvater : Heroes for truth, justice, equality & healing

Deeply inspired by the bravery, strength, vision and dedication of these righteous Passamaquoddy women…

esther_attean

Esther Attean

Teacher, Activist, Social Worker, Co-Founder of the Maine Wabanaki-State Child Welfare Truth and Reconciliation Commission process: b. 1968

“For native people forced assimilation and acculturation distort our thoughts, feelings and actions creating a disconnect with our identity and traditions. We start to believe that there is something wrong with us. The truth is our resilience, strength, humor and intelligence have saved us from extinction, will enable us to heal from generational trauma and will restore our culture so we may thrive as the distinct, unique, beautiful people the Creator meant for us to be.”

 

denisealtvaterportraitbyrobertshetterlylowres

Denise Altvater

Activist, Community Organizer, Co-Founder of the Maine Wabanaki-State Child Welfare Truth and Reconciliation Commission process : b. 1959

“Having a place where my voice can be heard has changed my life dramatically, helping me to heal and giving me the strength to forgive. I still struggle to find a place in this world where I feel I belong. I believe I will find that place of belonging when I let people see who I really am, not only the truth of what has been done to me but what I have done to others. By acknowledging and sharing my truth, taking responsibility and seeking forgiveness, I can show my beautiful children, my family and my people that we can restore our hearts, minds and souls.”

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Esther Attean and Denise Altvater’s portraits were painted by Robert Shetterly as part of the Americans Who Tell the Truth project and unveiled at the Maine State House today.

For more information on the groundbreaking, invaluable work these women are doing with the Maine-Wabanki TRC:

http://mainewabanakireach.org

http://www.mainewabanakitrc.org/#&panel1-1

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Mi’kmaq Willi Nolan defends the earth, women, humanity & seeks to ban fracking

In these videos Willi Nolan speaks eloquently about why it’s abhorrent that oil and gas companies are trying to force their way into Wabanaki territories in New Brunswick.  Fracking poisons the water and pollutes the sky and earth in the name of shortsighted greed.  Nolan beautifully defends the earth, women and humanity and talks about injustice and oppression towards the land and first nations people that activists are working tirelessly to challenge.  The truth is the light, righteousness is victory, “the forest and the water will be protected…no more poisons.”

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James Koller: Crows Talk To Him

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James Koller, photo by Donald Guravich

James Koller lives in a simple cabin he and his friends built in the woods on the coast of Maine, the inside filled with few possessions but books, records, and photographs of his grandchildren.  He writes the way he exists, a bit of a trickster, like so many of the animals and people in his poems, oftentimes inhabiting several places at once, straddling dichotomies of chance and fate, domestic life and civilization, east and west.

James Koller’s poetry is often deceptively simple and free, using language that can easily be understood by anyone when presented orally, yet at the same time his poems often cohere to some kind of form, often of his own design, and musical devices such as couplets and stanzas, metered verse, syllabics, rhyme and internal rhyme are frequently used.

Koller’s poems reflect his desire for daily authenticity and meaning, as well as a spirituality that is very much rooted in ancient wisdom traditions.  He has an extensive knowledge of folk music and cultures, several titles of his works are derived from folk songs, such as “if you don’t like me you can leave me alone” and “didn’t he ramble.”  His writing also reflects his views on human and natural history, living simply and modestly, with compassion for other beings.  This is encapsulated in the following selections from Koller’s The Bone Show; the text is based on the I-Ching and contains Italian translations alongside the English.

FREYA
 
Be strong & friendly
tell it all, as it is.
Keep everything moving.
Don’t settle in, get on with it.
Give away as much as you gather.
 
 
COYOTE
 
It’s like the sky opens
& a wall of water comes down.
Nobody expects it.
Nobody can do much with it.
No reason to kill anybody –
just get the word out.
Get it all out–don’t hold back.
Tell it just the way you see it.
 
 
 

“Tell it all, as it is,” is a mantra James Koller has included in his writing, publishing career, and life since the nineteen fifties  – his poems read like film clips and soundtracks to his living – expressing images and feelings with simplicity and honesty.

Koller sees writing as record of a poet’s life, and he has been consistently making records for most of his years.  He is author of several books of poetry: Snows Gone By, Ashes & Embers, Looking For His Horses, Crows Talk To Him, Iron Bells, After Days of Rain, In The Wolf’s Mouth, This Is What He Said, Roses Love Sunshine, Graffiti Lyriques (w/Franco Beltrametti), Fortune (w/Franco Beltrametti), Openings, Give The Dog A Bone, Great Things Are Happening, One Day At A Time, Back River, O Didn’t He Ramble, Poems For The Blue Sky, Bureau Creek, California Poems, The Dogs & Other Dark Woods, Some Cows, Poems of Civilization & Domestic Life, Two Hands; fiction: I Went To See My True Love, If You Don’t Like Me You Can Leave Me Alone, Shannon, Who Was Lost Before; prose: Close to the Ground, Road Work, The Natural Order, Working Notes, Messages; is publisher of “Coyote’s Journal,” “Coyote Books,” and, formerly, the review of books Otherwise.  Prolific as Koller is, he is also someone who refuses to force anything, believing that one shouldn’t make themselves write, everything will come in its own time.

A young man when the Beat Generation was in bloom, Koller has roots in that era’s innovative cultural scenes, the ecstasy of that time, and the longing to be on the move. He has been consistently at home in alternative cultures that defend nature and condemn war. He has lived and traveled extensively in the US and Europe and many of his poems have been translated into Italian, French, German & Swedish.

James Koller has long been part of the “bioregional” movement, which is based on the view that naturally defined geographical systems such as watersheds, are life regions, which both create and define local populations, provide a basis for cultural knowledge and are a primary source for life based solutions.

The following is a collage of conversations with James Koller, from interviews with the international journals New!, La Nuova Ecologia, Lato Selvatico, my own questions, and my readings of Koller’s writing.  –Lisa Panepinto

When did you first start writing poetry?

I started writing poetry when I was ten. The first poems were much like the folk songs I often listened to. The stories within these songs expressed lives that were of emotional interest to me and gave me some idea of what to expect from the world. Telling such stories covers it all: artistic, cultural and existential. Certainly my writings have served all these ends at one time or another.

A story: before I knew anything about poetry, I once walked with my father on a beach.  He pointed to a cabin situated to look out over Lake Michigan, and said, “This is the kind of a house a poet lives in.”  I’ve often wondered what exactly my father meant by the remark, but at the time I knew instantly I wanted to live in this particular way, wanted to be a poet, live as this man did.

The man who sometimes lived in that cabin was Carl Sandburg.  He was from the middle of America, Illinois, which is where I grew up.  He was interested in folk music and had a socialist point of view.  When I was ten or so, a substitute schoolteacher read one of his poems to the class.  It was about how fog moves into a place, on little cat feet, he said.  I liked the poem, started to read poetry, especially Sandburg, and to write poetry.

Would you talk about some of your socio-political roots?

I was born seven years into the Depression Era, hard times for many, including my extended rural family, an early “down home” introduction to economics. The Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941, which brought the US into WWII, happened when I was five, & “the war effort” ended the Depression. Several in my mother’s family found themselves in the US army, including her little brother. Initially I was little concerned with what was happening beyond worries that my favorite uncle, who was captured by the Japanese in early 1942, might be killed. In the next few years I came to more fully understand the disasters of war, learned that there were economic causes for the war, as there had been economic causes for all the earlier wars the US had gotten itself involved in. As I grew I also noted when lies were told to serve government’s ends. Ultimately I learned that very little any politician said could be taken at face value – they were worried about keeping their jobs. Reading history I find one usually encounters several threads that need to be unraveled before real understanding can be made of any of it. You can only be patriotic, or nationalistic at the expense of common sense.

My sense is that one has a single life, which might be spent in many tolerable ways. The sole reason to put that life in jeopardy would be the intolerable. I will never seek military adventures as such. Were a war foisted upon me, I would fight as an individual or one of a group of individuals, never as a “citizen” of some country. There are many through history who I’ve felt akin to when learning of their struggles. Those who come quickest to mind include most all the native tribal peoples of the Americas who were driven from their lands & to near extinction by capitalist adventurers.

Ezra Pound came to my attention as a literary/political phenomenon years before I thought I had the background to read him. My understanding then & now is that he was imprisoned because he had spoken what he thought the truth, beliefs at odds with what was then & is largely still the US point of view. I understood that Pound was declared insane to make it possible to jail him without a trial. When I read about 1920s Paris I discovered Pound’s importance in that time & place, which led to my reading all of his own writings that I could find, then to the great many others he referred to. His ideas were & are of great importance to me. Like Pound I believe that things happen for reasons, i.e. “nothing exists without effective cause.”

How do your poems usually come about?

My life is lived as much in the present as possible, mostly a physical world, a world of natural process. My poetry and what I say come from this focus on my senses.

My poems are a record of my experience on several levels.  They are often built from images or bits of dialogue that have collected in my mind – a process, these bits seem to gather themselves with other fragments to finally express some complete “message.”

Much of my poetry is concerned with the spiritual, as I experience and understand spiritual: the love that one feels for other living beings, the love given by others, the sensuality others elicit and I experience, the messages that the natural world elicits, the messages that come from dreams.

Those I’ve known who have died appear with regularity in my poems.  They continue to live in both the poems and my mind.  Even dead their lives evolve from my knowledge of them as living folk – life, like identity, as long as any vestige remains, continues to change as that life or identity is experienced by others.

I don’t differentiate between the experiences of physical reality and dream mind in my writing – they do all create my reality, which is what I’m expressing.

You started writing poems in traditional forms based on folk song; would you say your poems have maintained an allegiance to some type of form throughout your life?

Poetry has both content & form.  Because each person experiences life in his own way, the content of a poem can only represent the individual who writes it, must be unique & true to the one writing that poem. A poet’s collected poems will represent when put together the best possible record of that poet’s perception, the most honest record of that poet’s insight & his or her ability to catch the unique moments of his or her personal interactions with the world s/he moves through.

The form of a poem, as Robert Creeley said, is inherent  in its content, should evolve from that content. Some perceptions make for songs, some don’t. Certainly one’s understanding of the possibilities form might take is a big help. Another quote from Creeley: when asked if he considered form when he wrote, he answered, I’d be a damned fool if I didn’t.

Sense of place seems to be essential to your “record keeping”?

Experience happens in a place. As one records experience, which is what I do as a writer, those places are brought in as part of the perception, to become part of the record.

As we move, we all carry with us the sum total of who we are: where we’ve been, what we’ve become, a record (like the collected poems) of the individual people we’ve known, the families or groups we’ve been part of, & what we’ve done in these places with these people. We even organize our thoughts, perceive what & how we do what we do, because of who we’ve become. The idiosyncrasies of the language systems we’ve learned become relevant as we use a language, as we think, as we write – we have, for instance, our sense of past & future, our concerns for whether a thing is male or female, for example, from the Indo-European languages.

The natural world has a large role in your poetry?

The natural world has created me, someone with little interest in the affairs of today’s people, beyond their real news, their hungers, the babies, the deaths.

Those who refuse to limit their views, who desire to include all of the intense world surrounding them, need to understand the natural world as primary, with all else evolving from it.

The poet perceives the world, & selects images drawn from his or her perceptions, with them recreates as s/he is able, with them describes the details s/he has perceived, nature as it made itself known to him or her.

Poetry becomes the “record” of the poet’s perceptions, giving his or her readers an opportunity to recognize & acknowledge that they as humans are each & all part of the same web of evolving & interconnected life systems.

Considering what remains from the human past is also important because through examination of that past we can more clearly realize where we’ve got to, how it has happened, what does in fact remain, has been sustained – maybe we can discover a way to the future.

Can you talk about animals and your poetry?

All animals have power; it is the power that I see.  Birds are like rosaries, a link with natural power, with natural spirits. Magpie & Raven were the Ghost Dance messengers.  They are all also fellow travellers.   When I look at another animal’s eyes, I find we are the same, they have the same problems we’re having, often more of them.  Even insects.  Once, walking into a room, I saw an ant walking toward my path, but it stopped suddenly on seeing me, such a big monster, then as I waited for it to make its move, it zoomed past me.  Clearly insects can relate noises from those passing to their own staying “out of the way”.

When I use “animal lore” in my poems it is because the animal is integral to the story or line of thought, & that information as such is what is happening – it’s not in the poem if it isn’t part of the story. The poems with animals or birds in them grew from my first hand observations of those animals & birds.

Trees too are alive, have senses, react, turn and relate to heat and cold.  We often forget that the tree is part of a forest—the tree’s extended family—that the forest itself has its own relationships with other living forms and the energies that affect it.

I have a symbiotic sense of nature.  Reciprocity comes into it.   Everything is interconnected.  We allow ourselves to think that we can function in nature.  But the whole ability to be thankful for our food, to know who died to feed us, what contributes to our life, is not thoroughly understood by most western people.  On the same level, I can identify myself with the animals, the life I see when I go into the woods.  I am not different, I am part of the whole.

Themes of chance and fate come up a lot in your work?

Jacques Monod, the Nobel winner, wrote a book called Chance & Necessity in which he argued that once a chance event happened that event initiated a series of realities that would necessarily follow.

We can all begin only where we do begin, but we need to understand that what happens there happens because we allow it or make it happen.

My entire early life included, by chance, regular farm contact through my mother’s “southern” kin in central Illinois, while my urban life, by choice, included extensive boyhood exploration in most of the “forest preserves” & State Parks scattered through greater Chicago & northeastern Illinois.

That I began in Illinois, the middle of the country, with roads leading away in all directions, to other places, enabled me to become aware of differences, first a discovery, but subsequently, a mission, to pursue, understand both differences & similarities of geography & culture.

The point being that one needn’t follow anyone, or any group, that all choose to make their own lives.

Cause & effect functions on all levels, in all circumstances, providing perhaps the most inclusive lesson anyone can learn. The study of ecology develops from an understanding of cause & effect as they relate to the interactions of human & nonhuman systems in all environments. Such study is especially useful in educating those within their own home place, as the systems involved are commonly known, physical, not theoretical.

Can you talk about music in your poetry?

The sound patterns I use are generally enhanced natural speech patterns – enhanced in that they are recognized and added to, or eliminated, to effect what it is that the work seems to “want to say.”  Some of my poems evidence a determined and sustained focus, functioning much as thinking about someone intensively often does, by bringing response.  These poems are directly and consciously related to shamanic acts.  Repeated words and phrases, words that sound like the thing spoken of, sometimes find their own way into these poems, in patterns of sound and silence, creating a music which differs from my normal cadence.  When performing with a musician the poems take on still another reality, often a result of counterpoint.  I am very interested in folk music and many of my poems can be sung or at least musically spoken.

Would you briefly describe bioregionalism?

In the late 1960s and early 70s a great many people turned back to the land, back to tribal values, to religious understandings that better incorporated the reciprocal dynamics of life within nature, or were at least one’s own beliefs. Many of these people, instead of trying to take on all of the natural world, including humans, thought it far more useful to define and describe the area and inhabitants of one’s home space: one’s bioregion.

Ecology tries to make sense of the relationships within the natural world. That natural world includes mankind. “Human ecology” describes the intricacies of human behavior as it has evolved in response to the natural physical environment  including humans. Acknowledging that man is only a single part of a very complex system is essential. Understanding that everything happens in place, in context, is essential. Things and beings are what they are because of who their neighbors are, what their surroundings are. Change to any changes all.

Bioregionalists share the understanding that they live under unique natural & cultural circumstances. They share as well the desire to maintain & sustain what they share. Certainly shared sentiments have potential political force, especially within the bioregion itself, but the bioregional group is primarily directing itself by way of its own reeducation. You might argue that it functions as a learning group.

In recent years I’ve worked with the Italian Bioregional network and others in schools, national parks and elsewhere in Italy, promoting the ideals of understanding one’s life-place, of keeping what is good in that place for future generations, and of trying to educate the young as well as the misdirected.

I also wander extensively on foot around my own place trying to better understand and live with those (especially non humans) who live there with me.

How do you approach educating children about bioregionalism?

Kids are intensely interested in learning about the world they live in. Poetry, like song, provides an opportunity to express & learn with direct simplicity. The forms & devices of poetry & music are of  interest in & of themselves, making the mediums themselves, whatever the message, of potential interest. Because a simple formulation is easiest to present, the image, especially the image of the thing itself (Pound says), is easiest for all ages to grasp.

An agenda should be prepared for the schools, one which allows an awareness of the unique social realities of a bioregion, but also those physical realities that transcend the social, an agenda which allows unique one to one relationships within the natural world, & particularly within the bioregion.

In your book of poems Close to the Ground you say: “Poetry celebrates all the living beings, all that is alive and has been alive”. Do you think human beings of today have forgotten the value of life?

I don’t believe it’s a question of having forgotten anything. We have in fact more information available to us now than ever before. What is missing is the awareness that we need to focus – that we as individuals need to step out of the flow, discover where we’ve gotten to, analyze all we feel is relevant information, & then rejoin the flow, create for ourselves the lives we want.

Most of the planet’s population now tries to function with the economic model we know as capitalism. I understand capitalism consciously tries to confuse all of us about what life is, about what is actually necessary to live. Capitalism creates product, survives by spreading that product to ever-larger populations, who will necessarily have increasingly complex life styles. Whole populations are convinced to work for & buy what they imagine will allow them to “better” their lives. Advertising goes so far as to delineate groups, target & “offer” them goods & lifestyles that they are likely to accept & buy. While family life is touted in many “markets”, the ideal family unit for capitalism stays small because it duplicates needs – i.e. it creates need for multiple houses, more goods, more communication, more travel.

For me a “good life” means that true needs, food & shelter & healthcare, & family & social interactions, are adequately – not excessively met, & met in a manner that also allows for the time to observe & reflect upon one’s natural & social surroundings.

It’s been said that we become what we do. It goes further than that. Social behavior drives biology. What is the basis for choosing a mate?  What does it mean to have children?  Are we perpetrating tribal or religious relationships? Are we unthinkingly contributing  to the capitalist dream? The relationship of parents to children, children & parents to extended family & friends, all provide direction & support for the choices made, all contribute to the future & its genetic & social interplay.

You’ve said before that everything has a spirit?

I believe that everything that exists has a spirit, and that these spirits remain even as we change our shapes. I believe its possible to know these spirits.

I understand the planet to be a unified & integrated reality, a whole, with a spirit of its own.

I think it’s the business of humans to understand the spirits, to communicate & commiserate with them, for the well being of the planet.

Are you optimistic, in the long run, about the fate of the world?  Do you see potential to reverse global capitalism?

I see the return of control over their own places to indigenous peoples, and generally, a return of socially responsible folks to public office, as good signs that the capitalist experiment will eventually run its course. But whatever follows will for a long time suffer the ever more disastrous affects of “late capitalism.”

A “better world” will come from individuals rather than organizations or governments. Individuals can adapt, ad hoc and as necessary, while organizations are cumbersome, self-interested, need “funding” and generally arrive too late.

Appropriate early education regarding nature and bioregionalism seems to help kids avoid the traps of social milieu (race, class, economics), gives them an awareness of those realities that transcend the social, allow unique one to one relationships, and enables them to set priorities in line with their own futures as well as the future of the planet.

What are your plans for the future?

My plans are to continue, to keep doing what I can, where and when, in terms of writing, publishing, working with kids, reading my poems. I’d like to keep my life in order, new and old, home and away, simple, and in order.

*

SONG
(w/Stefano Panzarasa)
 
A river I couldn’t find
flows through my head.
A river I couldn’t find
leads me from my bed.
 
A river I couldn’t find
flows through my head.
A river I couldn’t find
leads me from my bed.
 
You’re standing on the river’s bank
below the cottonwood tree.
 
I listen to the wind
move the tree’s leaves.
I listen to the wind
the stories that it weaves.
 
I listen to the wind
move the tree’s leaves.
I listen to the wind
the stories that it weaves.
 
You’re standing on the river’s bank,
I can’t see your face.
 
Your long dark hair’s wrapt round you,
I can’t see your face.
 
Your long dark hair’s wrapt round you,
I can’t see your face.
 
Nov 08
 
 
 
LAST WILL & TESTAMENT
 
 
I want only blue sky over me.
I want the clouds, so many
of them, variations, passing,
changing as they pass.
 
I want the blackest nights
filled with turning stars.
I want birds to find me,
want the hot breath of animals.
 
The wind too will pass,
on its way to places
I have been.
 
                                                30 Nov 95                
                                                BATTLE MOUNTAIN
 
 
 
*
 
They keep moving the streets
picking up the paving stones
& moving them somewhere else.
We followed them around, watched the men work.
 
Things happen like that –
change quickly & many times.
 
We met then on steep steps, a narrow hallway,
hadn’t seen one another for years,
at first didn’t know one another.
 
Where would those streets be
if we went there now?
 
There is sand under it all.
 
                                                APR 1988
 
 
 
POEM FOR YELLOW HAIR
 
who did you come with, you asked
caw caw caw
 
                           high into the trees
I think I was too drunk to answer
 
yellow light & all the greens
yellow
 
               after the rain
grass & willows
out my window
& the apple trees in blossom
 
maybe time to know each other
 
I don’t know why I came
(not answering your question)
 
I followed the crows
(not answering your question)
 
on the beach
or in the mountains
maybe time
a few good moments
 
if you get to where you’re going
                                                         (follow
the crows)
I’ll be there
 
the horses fat from apples
 

–James Koller

*

Bibliography

Koller, James.  Looking for His Horses.  Brunswick: Coyote Books, 2003.  Print.

—.  Crows Talk To Him.  Brunswick: Coyote Books, 2003.  Print.

—.  The Bone Show.  Trans.  Giuseppe Moretti, et al.  Brunswick: Coyote Books,
            2004. Print. 

—.  Snows Gone By.  Albuquerque: La Alameda.  2004.  Print.

—.  Reciprocity comes into it: an interview with James Koller.  By Claire Millerioux.  New!  2 (2006): 88-93. Print.

—.  James Koller interview for La Nuova Ecologia.  2006.  Web.  8 June 2006.

—.  James Koller interview for Lato Selvatico.  2006.  Web.  May 2006.

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Filed under interviews, literature review, maine citizens engaged in resistance, manifestos, poems, protest song ancestors, truth speakers

Blues to overcome the blues: Eric Green Interview

Interviewed by Lisa Panepinto

 

This interview was originally published by Cabildo Quarterly Online, here.  cabildoquarterly.tumblr.com.

 

Eric Green is a blues swamp funk rock musician & Maliseet and Penobscot tribal member who grew up around Indian Island, Maine and spent several years living as a musician in New Orleans.  He’s recorded numerous records and is active playing shows around Maine.  Check out his music at: http://www.myspace.com/ericgreenband  

 

[Eric playing The Girl from Ipanema on the piano]

 

Interviewer: You sometimes play straight up jazz when you’re solo don’t you, on the piano?

 

Green: Not typically what you’d call jazz, it’s more improvisational with whatever the form it is.  I do play some of what you would consider jazz structures.  A couple songs I wrote but most of them are standards and I improvise within the forms.  I never studied jazz in terms of approaching it like jazz; it’s more just songs.  I don’t have a big arch top guitar, the whole trying to sound like a certain type of jazz.  What I do best is the rootsy stuff I think.  It’s something to keep me occupied [laughs] so I don’t go crazy.

 

Interviewer: Yeah, like a blending.

 

Green: Yeah, it’s an American art form, a changing art form, basically.

 

Interviewer: What are some projects you’re currently working on?

 

Green: I have a bunch of loose ends going and songs.  I started getting into advanced harmonies, and I’ve kind of been putting all my energy into that for the last couple years.  I’ve got to get my little studio area here piped up, that’s one of the things.  I have an album that’s ten songs and I need to go back and finish it up.  I’m kind of watching what happens with everything before I write the last song or two to tie it all together.  I’m not in a rush at all.  I don’t care about the music business or anything [laughs].  You know what I mean?  I’m just doing it because I’m just doing it.  But I really have been enjoying learning about advanced harmonization, and learning standards and stuff.

 

Interviewer: When did you first start writing songs?

 

Green: I first started writing songs in the early eighties.  I was living up at Carrabasset Valley in a little A-frame on the water.  I had gone up there to work and I kind of discovered music.  I got a guitar and it seemed really natural to make up stuff.  I didn’t have enough technique to learn anything else so I made up my own stuff.  I did get a little recorder and I started recording it.  My first rhythm track was like with two river rocks, it was really primitive [laughs].

 

I started writing stuff and some of the songs people liked, and then I just kept doing it.  It was also a really good way of communicating.  I was like a suicidal, fucking raging kid and definitely music kept me alive, and writing songs as well, being able to put something down, because when you sing it just kind of releases.  It’s a release or something it seems like.  I take all this for granted now but that’s where it all comes from I think.  I never really wanted to be a rock n roll star or anything like that.  It was a survival thing, and then it was just like, I can make a hundred bucks doing this at a club and get free drinks [laughs], that makes sense to me.  So I started playing in bars really quick [laughs] and writing songs.  Some of them were uncomfortable when I played them, because you know, you’re just putting your shit out there for any redneck to squash [laughs].

 

Interviewer: You started out on guitar?

 

Green:  Yeah, guitar was the first thing.  I did acoustic for a long time and then eventually it had an American roots finger style element, but it was like contemporary folk.  I would make albums all the time and just distribute them among friends.  I have so many collections of songs, but of course, I don’t really want to play those songs anymore – except for one or two of them, they’re so dated you know, when you’re just starting out.

 

I scored a gig within a year of starting, for John Hammond Jr. at Raoul’s Roadside Attraction in Portland, which was rated number one nightspot in Maine.  So I got a chance to open for a national act my first year of playing, and that just fueled me.  I met John Hammond, it was electrifying, and I got sucked into playing clubs my whole life.  Everywhere I lived I played clubs and opened for a bunch of different national acts.  I would play the music that I liked but mix my songs in with it, and that’s what I’ve been doing all this time [laughs].

 

Interview: How does being Maliseet Penobscot inform your music?

 

Green: One of the big things is I have some kind of environmentalist lean by default I think; but sometimes when you’re playing in a mill town you’re the enemy then, and so it becomes really uncomfortable.  The cool thing is, some of the songs that explain that kind of thing I’ve managed to slip in in between other songs that other people like.

 

It’s just something you have to let out if you write a song, especially if it works, it’s good if it has that thing that makes someone else tell you, wow, that song’s good, you should play that more, so you play it.  What’s been weird for me is that my art has been tied to the business end of it from the very beginning, which is different.  I’ve had to be practical on one level.  In other words, I can’t just blatantly start calling out corporations and be expected to get jobs making money from the same corporations.  I have to survive too.  I think all artists have this fine balance of how truthful are you going to be, because it’s like, people tell the truth all week and when they go out to the bar they don’t want to be reminded of what they’re going through already.

 

As far as my writing, I just sit and something will pop into my head and everything will line up right.  I’ll be sitting there and hopefully have a recorder going and I’ll just go play it and maybe do something with it.

 

Basically just the way I think gets me into trouble.  It shouldn’t, but in some markets it does, more in the rural markets.  I hate to say it in terms of market, but I’ve had to make money off of my music.  I don’t bend to the market too much, I do what I like, but if you do that one song that one night you win all these people over for life, versus just being self-indulgent, being pissed off and singing about it.

 

One thing I love about James McMurtry is, especially with the help of Stephen King, he’s somehow been able to slip the truth to the people who wouldn’t necessarily share his views; it’s almost like fooling.  You watch the Colbert Report, there’s a lot of people that that shit goes right over their head and they think Steve Colbert’s a Republican and his satire his real.  That’s part of the consuming public in our country; it’s really sad that it’s like that but I see it all the time.  Go up to Lincoln around seven in the morning and go to the gas station where they’ve got chairs where you can eat an egg sandwich.  There’s a whole bunch of guys and they’ll all be sitting there talking some shit.  The rednecks are my worst enemies.  I do pretty well on the coast [laughs].

 

Interviewer: You were living in New Orleans as a musician and then you came back to Maine, how important have those places been to your music?

 

Green: New Orleans was incredible.  It’s a reality check for musicians.  Here, there will be a band that went to high school together and everybody knows them and they play gigs and everybody shows up.  You can’t do that down there, because there’s real musicians down there, generations of musicians, families that have been making their life off of real fucking music for years.  So it’s a real test if you can play in New Orleans for a while.  If you can keep getting gigs in New Orleans, you’re doing well, because it’s a tough market.  The reason why it’s so hard is it’s such a rich musical culture.  The Louis Armstrong stuff has blown up and evolved, because it is all about the gumbo and all the different flavors, they’ll reach into these other genres, it’s just a great thing.  It opens your eyes musically, but it’s also a reality check because the best players are playing around town with different people.  Sure it’s a soap opera, but if you’re playing and you’re hot, you’re playing with everybody.  You’re going to play.  There is no, you can only play with my band, you get a lot of that up here, the drama that’s like, is this is a marriage or are we doing something here.  It cuts through the drama.  You’ve got to have a thick skin because it’s the real deal down there, there’s no [whining sound], it’s the real fucking deal.  You’ll get put down hard if you mess around, so that’s kind of a reality check as an artist, but also, it’s so incredible, the sound of a brass band wailing that sloppy sound.

 

New Orleans totally influenced me in terms of being serious, even though it’s a really lazy atmosphere down there.  I had to leave there because there is so much going on that I couldn’t concentrate.

 

I’ve noticed since Katrina, the song writing down there has gotten a lot better.  It was just about [sings] “Mardi Gras party!  Party, Mardi Gras party!”  Now there’s a little bit of a social justice vibe mixed in with the music, so it isn’t all just Blaine Kern’s Mardi Gras world or whatever, there’s something more than King Cakes, there’s real people attached to it.

 

Interviewer: You’ve stayed independent and original to your own blend of blues-funk-swamp; how has that freed you up as an artist?

 

Green: I get the joy of being able to play what I want.  Now in the last five or so years, I’ve taught myself to read music, so I’m having a complete rebirth, it’s unbelievable.  I spent so much time on it, but I love it and it just gets bigger and bigger everyday.  It’s very rewarding, and it’s funny because I couldn’t do it when I was younger, I was too distracted, but now I’m at a point where I crave it.  I’m obsessed, literally.  That’s where New Orleans helped too because you hear Kermit Ruffins and the Barbeque Swingers play Besame Mucho, and it’s like the nerdiest song ever, but when those guys do it it brings new life into it.  Then all of a sudden you’re looking at all these other classics and you’re realizing, oh this is where that chord change I play all the time came from, all this derivative stuff.  To learn that stuff you have to go the extra step I think and learn theory, but I had to school myself on it.

 

I think, what if I would have started earlier, but I didn’t want it like I want it now, I would have been spinning my wheels, so it kind of ended up being more efficient in the end.  Plus they didn’t have the Internet when I was younger.  You can YouTube anything; if you want to learn, you don’t have to wait until the next class and maybe remember it or maybe forget it, you can enter it in on YouTube and hear six different people explaining it differently until you can find what’s really going on yourself by listening to it all on demand.  I couldn’t have learned as quickly when I was a kid as I learn now because it was a slower process.  You’ve got to want it.  You have to want to learn.

 

Interviewer: Who are some of your biggest influences?

 

Green: Man, that’s a good one.  Muddy Waters, Chris Whitley, anything that’s rootsy and kind of raw, and it doesn’t matter how many notes, it just sounds good.  There are so many people I could talk about, but those are two big ones of mine, just a certain part of their aesthetic.

 

I enjoy so many styles of music.  Lately I’ve been getting into organ trios, really digging that.  I’m studying this stuff, so even though I’m enjoying it I’m still applying it to something I’m doing.

 

Muddy and Chris Whitley are two really big ones.  Bob Dylan of course, all the biggies are in there.

 

Interviewer: Your songs are sympathetic to the oppressed, like the river and the workingman; has social and environmental consciousness always been with you?

 

Green: It seems to have been [laughs].  I’ve been poverty stricken my whole life, and I’ve seen how the whole Native American thing illustrates the worst of the United States [laughs] and what this country has gone through.  You’re constantly reminded of it, the lack of respect.  Go into Johnny’s Pizza and look a little Native, even if there’s a Native working there, you’re still going to get this fucking attitude.  Old Town is like the worst place ever, so I try to stay away from there.  It’s just horrible, it reminds me of everything bad, especially when I smell that fucking mill and know about all the people that have fucking cancer from the river because of all the shit that they’ve poured into it so a select few can rich, et cetera.  And now the landfills they’re putting right up river from Indian Island, it’s beyond not in my backyard [laughs].  It’s blatant fucking asshole move shit.

 

So sometimes I can write a song that gets that out there a little bit more, so maybe somebody listens to it and goes oh really, I didn’t know that.  The cool part about it is that the actual story tells itself too.  You can state fact, because it’s just the way it is.  There’s some environmental shit going on right in Old Town.  I seem to gravitate towards going after the people who are really fucking with the environment and everybody else has to deal with it.

 

Interviewer: What’s the story with your raining poison song?

 

Green: The “Poison Down” song?  That’s about the mill in Old Town.  It just so happens that a lot of the better songs have the double entendre thing going.  The poison down is also how the whole mill life promotes alcoholism and pill addiction.  There’s another poison going down as well, which is a byproduct of the other poison going down.  So that’s got a triple meaning at least, and also, I don’t know if anybody gets it, but there’s a lottery ticket comment in it too, and I think there’s an anti-big-tobacco line in it too [laughs].  My mother chain-smoked, so all that stuff is crazy – to see her helpless.  I see some of my friends who are addicted to nicotine and big tobacco and they’re outside just fucking hooked, and it’s going to kill them [laughs], but they don’t care.

 

Interviewer: Can you talk about what it’s been like working pretty much fulltime as a musician in Maine?

 

Green: You stay busy all the time, I do.  The traveling sucks, the load-ins suck, but getting paid is awesome.  It’s a lot of work, especially doing three sets at some of these places.  I’ve had to carve my own little niche and I’ve done it before in different areas I’ve lived.  I think that’s the best thing to do is find the places where you go over and there’s a future for you there and get on the roster and keep playing.  You always try to bring in new stuff and do old stuff and do whatever’s on your mind.  It’s this ever-changing thing that’s going on.  I’ve tried to stop a couple times and it just wouldn’t stop [laughs].  More people call me and it’s like, I might as well.  People call me now.  I only book when people book me, and so it’s rolling along on its own basically.  Every once in a while I’ll try to get into a new place and try out something different and see if it works.

 

It’s awesome because you have time to do other things.  You want to put as much time into your music as possible.  I think of it as a job, so even on my days off I’m either working on repertoire or fixing shit.  There’s always something to do, because it is like a business.  You’ve always got to be working on new stuff for the future.  You have to keep it fresh.  I go through phases where I’ll write for a while and then I won’t write for two or three years, then I’ll write a bunch.

 

I have all kinds of stuff that I haven’t even looked at.  I’ll start editing this stuff and I probably have a whole other album of ideas.  Then I can make a decision and I’ll bring a drummer in.  So it’s ongoing, and I guess I’m going through different phases.  It’s perfect, I get sick of one phase after two months, now I’m going to go into editing mode or I’m going to go into recording mode, but I’m not pushing any of it, I’m just taking it as it comes, as my time lays out.  It’s kind of a natural continuum.

 

I have enough people who want me to work for them that if the money thing is a problem, I make a phone call and I can get paid.  But the more time I have where I’m not doing other jobs, the better in a lot of ways, because it’s just an endless time thing.  You put more and more time and more time and more time into it.  I never have to worry about not having something to do.  It gets really busy at certain times of the year and I’m running all over and I have no time to play, so in the winter I shed as much as I can.  This is my shedding season right now because I worked at the ski resorts this year more than usual, so I was constantly traveling.  I have to have a couple times a year where I get three or four eight hour days working on different stuff, repetitious stuff.  This just happened in the last three or four years where I started doing this, and sometimes you’re learning your own songs.  So yeah, it’s a full time job basically, and you don’t get paid much for it, for a long time, so unless you have a trust fund, it’s really hard to just do it.

 

Interviewer: You’ve collaborated with many different musicians, and some visual artists over your career; can you talk about collaboration?

 

Green: I think some people respect each other enough to be able to work together; that’s what it comes down to for me.  Nobody wants to be wasting the other one’s time.  I don’t want to waste somebody’s time.  I’ve only had a few people I’ve been able to actually write with, because everybody’s got their thing.  I think collaborating’s a lot harder when songwriting.  It has to be the right people definitely.

 

It depends on the context, where is the media, where is it going, who’s going to hear it, all that kind of stuff.  It’s complicated, and it’s not always you who’s complicating it.  There has to be mutual respect all the way down the line or else you’re going to get something that’s not the real thing.

 

Interviewer: Who are some of your heroes?

 

Green: Oh man.  I have a lot of heroes.  Some of my heroes aren’t the heroes you would think, they’re local people who nobody knows, they’re not famous.  They’re like my buddy Ready Teddy McQuiston down in New Orleans.  He’s a hero of mine, and he’s really in a bad position right now.  He goes way back in the record industry, he worked with Little Richard for years, and he did all kinds of stuff, he was a DJ, but he would do these back flips, standing back flips and stuff.  He worked with Joe Tex and Ernie Cato and all these different people, and he slipped and fell last year.  Now he’s totally paralyzed and he has to talk through a voice box, and this guy would dance, he would stand on his hands.  There are pictures online of him doing a handstand on Little Richard’s piano.  He came up here and played with my band after Katrina, and I had already known him from New Orleans.  He’s one of my heroes, just because even in his seventies, he wouldn’t stop.  He toured and worked with James Brown, all kinds of people, Solomon Burke.  He had all these archives of cassette tapes of him interviewing Champion Jack Dupree and stuff, but he couldn’t play a musical instrument.  He would dance and sing and do gymnastic maneuvers, which was like this unbelievably weird thing.  No matter what happened to him he always played.  He’s one of my heroes.  And there’s, not necessarily Dizzy Gillespie, but some of those guys who were traveling around in school busses through the south playing music and getting shit on by the whites basically.  That’s really tough.  Those are some of my heroes – people who had to endure that kind of oppression, definitely.

 

As far as musically or writers: Hunter S Thompson, the usuals.

 

Snooks Eaglin is a guy who’s a hero of mine definitely.  He’s a blind New Orleans guitar player that passed on recently; he was an incredible person.  Those are a couple of my heroes [laughs].

 

Interviewer: You’ve played pretty much everywhere, for causes sometimes, and just getting people out, do you feel like that’s kind of community service?

 

Green: I do. I am making money for live performances.  I always call it the brandy belt [laughs], like there’s the Bible belt, well up here there’s the brandy belt.

 

I always like to bring this music that I’ve learned in other places.  I lived in Oklahoma for a while, I was a member of the Oklahoma Blues Society and I opened for all kinds of national acts there.  So I had this southwest blues thing, and then I was in New Orleans where I learned all kinds of different stuff, so I try to bring this stuff rather than a lot of the cover radio kind of thing my so called competition plays, mainstream acoustic classic rock.  I always like bringing these other styles of music here, stuff I’ve learned on the road, and just giving them an option, playing a lot of New Orleans stuff.  There’s a big rockabilly scene in Oklahoma City; I guess I must have soaked some of it in because we do a lot of rockabilly stuff as well.  Just taking my influences and bringing it and having it be something different than a lot of the other acts playing around, trying to bring variety.

 

There’s a good vibe with the whole New Orleans thing, it’s just a great big open vibe, and so I do favor some of that stuff, but I also love the hillbilly stuff that’s the roots of this area.  Sometimes I’ll play that Dick Curless stuff and I’ll win over a couple people from the area who will listen to the New Orleans stuff and then will listen to my stuff and then before I lose them I go right back to the hillbilly shit [laughs].  It’s a never-ending wrestling; it’s kind of weird.  But those are all influences that I love.  I pick the stuff that I think is real to play and or good songs.  I want to play stuff that’s good you know.  It is always nice too when you get compensated, it’s nice to be making money off your work, especially after you’ve poured so much of your everything, and lost everything to it.  The investment makes no sense at all; it’s unbelievable.  I often call it a curse, because it’s like, you do this thing and you’re almost not sure why but you keep doing it because it’s just one of these weird things and so then you find out you’re making money off it and it’s kind of nice.

 

It’s a lot of having a thick skin is really what it is.  You can’t expect applause, you have to just play your songs and try to keep it good because that will kill you if you expect people to react, because the more you do, the less they will.  That has to be the last thing you care about; and you can’t wear your heart on your sleeve, you can in your song, but in between songs you can’t.  You have to not let any of it affect you, it’s weird, you have to totally have armor; sometimes a couple bourbons work really well as armor [laughs].

 

[Plays some cha cha on the piano]

 

Green: I’ve been getting into the Latino thing too.

 

Interviewer: Do you feel part of a tradition of Maine artists like Dick Curless?

 

Green: I most definitely do, yeah.  I mean, I usually do about a hundred and fifty gigs a year and like three sets a gig; I definitely do.  But the difference between them and me is that I did not go to Nashville, I went to New Orleans, and I didn’t really get involved with record companies.  I have always done what I wanted to and not cared.  I got tied up in that, but I realize from what I know from being Indian is to never trust the motherfuckers.  That’s what I know.  You want to trust them and you try to do amazing things, you overcompensate with everything you do just trying to measure up, but you can’t trust them.  I’ve had friends of mine who have gotten signed and ended up owing the record company like sixty thousand dollars, because it didn’t happen right, and not only that, you end up with all that fucking mental scarring of the whole being involved with show biz bullshit.  Everybody acts like you’re their friend when things are going good, people you don’t even know.  A couple times I’ve done well and I’ve tasted a little bit of that; I really didn’t think I could live like that.  Once you get to a certain level, the fucking vampires come out or something, the bloodsuckers that want to suck off the fame, so I just never bought it.

 

I’m still stuck with the curse of music so I just keep doing it, and I’ll tell you what, it’ll keep you out of trouble.  That’s one thing that it did for me when I was younger, it kept me out of trouble.  Instead of going down and raging at the fucking bar I stayed home and worked on something; that was early on before I started playing out.  Then you’re getting paid to hang out at the bar, it’s such a better thing. If you’re going to go out to the bar you might as well get paid.  That was a nice thing, but I don’t think any of it was motivated by money; it was more out of dysfunction so I’d have weed money.  Weed made me able to deal with the other stuff.

 

Interviewer: Your band has been cross genre and intergenerational, you’ve had a lot of young people in your band and young audience, does that help keep you inspired?

 

Green: It does, it is inspirational to me that any body cares, whatever age.  It inspires me when some eighty-two year old woman in a wheelchair goes yeah I like that song.  There’s this timeless thing about good music.

 

Have you seen that DJ thing with DJ Premier Pretty Lights, and there’s like five of them, it’s called Re-production something?  Anyway, they take these five DJs and they each get assigned a genre of music to produce an album using what they do as a DJ.  One of the guys, that guy Shazizzil or Fizil or whatever, he grew up with his dad listening to the Doors and he’s an Los Angeles DJ.  I forget what his name is, his head’s shaved on one side and one side’s long and he always wears these big bug glasses and he’s like a dub stepper.  I don’t even know what it is, it’s just him and all these light shows and he’s like [makes thumping, techno noise].  So he gets the original members of the Doors to come in, and Robby Krieger must be eighty years old, he’s got white hair and he looks like a skeleton, but he still fucking rocks when he does his part.  He’s barely alive but he’s so ultra hip and cool.  I don’t think it matters, if you rock, you rock, there’s no age thing.

 

Whether or not younger people will come to see you play and like the music, I never know.  We play on these islands and all these weird places and you never know who’s going to like what or why.  You don’t want to give them what they want completely, but there has to be some sort of what’s on the menu.

 

Interviewer: You don’t know what their taste is.

 

Green: Totally.  I mean all those guys like the Meters said you have to just play so much stuff, if you’re really playing places you just have to play a lot of stuff.  One night they’re a country band, another night they’re playing jazz, the next night their playing funk.  We kind of do all that in one night; like the Steve Jones band the Boneheads, they’re really eclectic doing that all over in Maine.  There are a lot of people doing it in other states, but in Maine it seems like it’s all classic album oriented rock a lot of it.

 

Interviewer: What’s your vision for the future?

 

Green: I’ve got all these new tools and all this new information and what I’ll do is try to mix it with what I do, put it in the pot.

 

This next project that I do may be a little bit more sophisticated in some ways, a portion of the harmonics stuff, but it’s still got to have a primal thing underneath it.  It may be just harmonizing in a different scale; it may be like [plays piano] using McCoy Tyner stacked fourths, using something like that and then just borrowing from it a little bit.

 

As soon as I get my little studio area done I’ll work for like three months, all the tools will go away and I’ll work on that for a little while.  It’s exciting.

 

Interviewer: When you put out a record it’s always on an indie label of your own?

 

Green: I have my own label but I have never mass-produced anything; it’s all been two or three hundred pressings that I do myself and sell them at gigs or through the mail and that’s it.  It’s always been on a shoestring.  Things are pretty good right now, but it’s been really lean for long periods of time.  There are times when I had no way of recording anything for long periods of time, but I have all the stuff right now to do it.  The last nine songs that I have recorded for another album all came out really good.  My mother passed on right towards the end of it and I just kind of froze up on that project and realized I needed to compartmentalize it and put it over here and move on completely.  That may have been symbolic of what I had to do with my own life, mirrored in my production.  Basically I’m working on so much new material that it’s just crazy.  I haven’t been writing per se in the last eight or nine months, but I can at any time, I can actually write on demand [laughs].

 

I have some songs out there that have a life of their own and they’re out there doing their thing.  I have no delusions that one of my songs is going to be a big hit, it will be enjoyed among people who come to our shows and like it or not, and we’ll get some live recordings of it and it will live on in mp3 form and that’s it.  If somebody has a better idea tell me what it is.  Surviving off of my music and being able to do what I want seems like payment enough in terms of it’s awesome.

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truth & reconciliation

Today, the Wabanaki tribes and the state of Maine implement the first United States-based Truth & Reconciliation Commission around Native American rights violations ever.  It’s an exciting, historic moment for justice.  Truth and Reconciliation Commissions have been used around the world—mainly in Africa and Latin America—to help victims and perpetuators of genocide, racism, war crimes, and other violence heal from wrongdoings and reach the truth of traumatic situations through restorative justice techniques.

The Maine TRC is centered on issues of Native children being forcibly taken from their families on reservations and put into white foster care families.  Simply for being indigenous, tribal children were taken by the state and forced into foster care, where they were often physically and sexually abused.

These human rights violations perpetuated against Native Americans are not a thing of the past.  Survivors are living out the trauma of such injustices right now—having to endure mental and physical wounds from state-sanctioned abuses—causing generational trauma to be passed down to descendants of victims in various ways.

Truth telling enables reconciliation and healing of life—when stories can be talked about, shared, understood and seen as truth by others, victims can move on from trauma and forgive.

More information on the commissioner seating event is available  here; and for more on the Maine TRC, go here.

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There’s a documentary film about another Native American reconciliation effort, Dakota 38, here.

It tells the story of the 38 Dakotas who were hanged by the US government in Minnesota after a battle in 1862, the largest mass execution in US history.  The film traces the journey of present day tribal members who take a journey from South Dakota to Minnesota by horses to honor the lives of the 38 murdered tribal members.  The film is moving in how Native Americans involved seek the high road throughout, offering peace and accepting hospitality in the communities they travel through.  Dakota 38 also highlights groups who continue to be heavily marginalized–the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota is one of the most impoverished communities in the US.  The riders in the story try to act with compassion & bring forgiveness to all they meet, hoping to spread reconciliation and healing.

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unified pulse

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this is where we live, the eye-balming place where water, air and plants feed and protect us, and birds and animals have the same hearts and eyes as us.

we support indigenous peoples standing up for human and land rights thru idle no more and other actions.  we believe in protecting the earth–our precious mother, friend, and magic maker.

we feel it’s not okay to kill life for profit or fear; it’s never been okay.  the haunted should be allowed to heal.

“what happens to the land and what happens to people is the same thing” said linda hogan.  to pollute our streams puts meth in our veins.  to separate ourselves from nature makes us go insane.

fracking, tar sands, clear cutting, dam building, pipelines, genocides, war and other assaults against the earth are unjustifiable desecrations that need to end now.

we plan to work together and make art, in order to recreate the world.

“whoever degrades another degrades me, and whatever is done or said returns at last to me” – walt whitman

Global Day of Action News:
On Friday January 11th, First Nations leaders from across Canada will meet with Prime Minister Harper to discuss the dispossession of First Nations lands and the dismantling of vital environmental laws for the benefit of the oil and gas companies in Canada. We have been asked to stand in solidarity with the First Nations peoples as they stand up for their own rights and for the protection of Mother Earth. Please join us as we gather to show our support on this important day and as we send a strong message that our support will not waiver as a result of a symbolic meeting.We will continue to stand united…until the Indian Act has been dismantled; until all First Nations lands are adequately protected against exploitation; until all of the environmental protections that have been set aside are put back in place; until all Indigenous peoples are freed from Apartheid, we will continue.What will be left when all of the Indigenous lands have been forcibly taken out of Indigenous hands and given to Industry? What will we eat and drink when the waters are all poisoned and the soil is destroyed? The words of Cree ancestor, Obomsawin, are as prescient today as they were when first spoken:”When the last tree is cut down, the last fish eaten, and the last stream poisoned, you will realize you cannot eat money.”  The Indigenous people have realized this from the beginning and have been standing up for the rights of all living things. Today we ask all people to stand with us and be IDLE NO MORE.
FOR THOSE IN MAINE: 11 Jan 2013, 12PM–The location of the rally is off of Exit 305 I-95 North. The very last exit right after the 1st Houlton exit. Right before the American/Canadian border. If you’re coming from Rt. 1 get on I-95 and head to Canada. If you’re coming from Canada go past the over pass and immediately take your first right on exit 305 around the sharp turn. Drive Safely and hope to see you all here.

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