Poems by 5 Brass Tacks: D’Arcy Randall, W. Joe Hoppe, Judy Jensen, David Meischen, and Katherine Durham Oldmixon; video, “The Process of Flying,” edited by Katherine Durham Oldmixon with the assistance of Arturo Lomas Garza
She pushes off without the aid of wings, strokes
air to rise above the humming wires, above
the patchwork sharp-peaked roofs that block
their view below, skies breaking off the coast,
horizon lapping fenced backyards and hard-
pack, rainless grasses, bloomed-out morning
glories, the earthbound shouts that raise
their net of fear below. She does not thud
among the earthbound stares. Nothing
brings her down but a blue eye opening.
by David Meischen, with Brass Tacks
She pushes off years, stroking air
without wings, a humming body
rising above grasses and blown out morning glories,
rising over sharp peaked roofs below skies
broken off the coast of the everyday,
rising through the fluttering galaxy
because it’s evolutionary
to abandon land,
featherless among touchable stars,
tumbling hard those nights,
a blue eye opening,
a hard held expectation, wild.
by Judy Jensen, with Brass Tacks
It’s been years since I stroked air to fly
pushing off without the aid of wings
to rise above the humming wires
through gossamer and troubled flutterings
skies break from the coast of the everyday
red roofs green pastures capture living below
while I transcend, featherless,
rainless grasses, shriveled kale, bloomed out morning
glories and reach towards touchable stars
the soundest advice pipes weakly from the ground
but not once do I tumble to the sidewalk
thud hard against their reasonable concerns
even now sometimes I rise
pressing foot to pavement to catch the air again
by W. Joe Hoppe, with Brass Tacks
I once stroked air to fly—my wingless body
pushed off dirt to rise above young gnats
bloomed-out fantasies and morning glories,
to rise above the high wires humming,
the peaked roofs holding down the living.
Rising to skies that break from the coast,
past rainless grass and galaxies,
I followed evolution, leaving land,
featherless among the stars close
enough to touch. Shouts raised a net of fear,
although I never fell and even now
I still press hard to heel in expectation.
by D’Arcy Randall, with Brass Tacks
It’s been years since I stroked air to fly—
my wingless body pushed off dirt
to rise above gossamer humming wires,
blown-out morning glories, rainless grasses,
and troubling young gnats before my face,
to rise above the garden kale and cabbage,
over patchwork patches of sharp roofs
holding down the living below—
because it’s evolutionary to abandon
land, to glide among the cool, touchable
stars, above the earthbound shouts
that raise their net of fear below:
“Come down, come down before you fall to earth
where you belong!” but not once did I tumble
to the sidewalk, thud hard among their screams;
their upturned stares never reached me
those nights, nothing brought me to ground
but a hard-held expectation, a blue eye opening,
and some days still I raise my heels
from pavement and feel the familiar pull.
by Katherine Durham Oldmixon, with Brass Tacks
Reading by the authors, except for W. Joe Hoppe’s “Flying,” which is read by Dave Bonta — Download the MP3
Brass Tacks is a circle of Austin poets who meet periodically to discuss and critique one another’s work. W. Joe suggested that if one of us were to volunteer a poem, we might take the workshop model to the extreme. Katherine offered an early draft of her poem, “Flying,” and the other poets went to work, while Katherine began putting together a video of the process. The 5 Brass Tacks agreed that she would coordinate the workshop and serve as the final editor.
Each poet then submitted a draft based on the original, along with an image of the marked-up poem. All agreed not look at one another’s poems until each had written his or her own version — but some “cheated,” and D’Arcy remarked that cheating really mutated the signature. In the next round, we tried to write a final, collaborative version. Although everyone worked with all five poems, each poet produced a “final” poem that varied little from his or her individual poem in voice, style and interpretation. David and Judy’s title hint at some of those differences. Katherine’s first version of the final poem attempted to stitch together the others, but couldn’t accommodate the strategies of compression or individual stylistic or thematic choices.
We learned that if we had chosen a collaborative project in which each of us produced a line (as in an exquisite corpse), a stanza (as in a renga) or a poem (as in a crown) we would each have something to point to as our own. We also realized that if we had begun with a poem to which none of us had an interior or original relationship, it would have been easier to write. (It seemed that either Katherine had to be the final editor or couldn’t be.) Finally, we realized that we had mutated the poem to create five poems, each borrowing substantially from one another, each our own.
Note on the video
The video, “The Process of Flying,” combines photographs by Katherine Durham Oldmixon of the Austin Kite Festival with images of marked-up poems in the process of collaboration by D’Arcy Randall, David Meischen, W. Joe Hoppe and Judy Jensen. The piano music tracks are from the GarageBand library. The video was composed and edited by Katherine Durham Oldmixon with the assistance of Arturo Lomas Garza.
If you can’t see the video, you need to download Flash.
On the zócalo in Puebla, la ciudad de los ángeles,
flocks of shiny balloons rise and fall and rise
again with the coruscating spray of water
spouted from the mouths of fountain
fish misting birds who flutter
above human voices
peddlers, priests, tourists folding
maps, laughing children playing chase,
rumble of taxis, buses, cars, clink of glasses in
sidewalk cafes, scrape of chairs as the band begins
the danzón, hum of horns, scuff of cellos and violins,
lyrical silence of pigeon wings.
Robert Skiles and Arturo (“Turo”) Lomas Garza have been friends and collaborators for almost thirty-three years, together performing Robert’s musical compositions for recordings and live concerts. Poet and photographer Katherine Durham Oldmixon and Turo have also worked together and supported one another on many artistic projects. So it’s no surprise that Turo, the editor of this project, is the nexus of the collaboration.
When we launched this project, we agreed that we wanted Robert’s music to be central, but we began with Katherine’s poem “Puebla de los ángeles” as a basis for the idea. Robert had read the poem before and expressed an appreciation for its sounds and images. We didn’t want the poem to become lyrics accompanied by music, but the music to be its own interpretation and representation of the idea, and the poem and images to complement. So Robert wrote and recorded his piano solo, “Puebla de los ángeles,” and Turo selected and edited Katherine’s photographs of Puebla, Mexico to create the visual media, integrating the lines of the poem as he heard them and saw them in the song.
Look how they cluster on paper
nests built of their spit and feed
their brood on stunned bodies
of butterfly young before sucking
nectar from shallow cup figworts,
stealing honey stuff from golden
feet of lyrical bees.
See these who craft elaborate mud
knots so dense they seem fact
sing themselves shrill anxious songs.
Their discharge warp-binds weavers;
their secretions quick-seal winged kin
in pulpy tombs. Some lay histories
in their sisters’ urns, eat their eggs
to replace with their own drone
warriors, who devour one another.
Listen: the blood-red hum
of mandibles, translating truth.
Audio production by Arturo Lomas Garza
Download the MP3