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Archive for the ‘Poems and Lyrics’ Category


Thursday, December 1st, 2011


© Karen Johnson

Backstage of My Song, an evening with Harry Belafonte, a KPFA benefit held on the 30th of November at Berkeley’s First Congregational Church


Three years before “I Have a Dream” got preached,
the 1960 March on Washington

propelled us into DC. Once we reached
the Saturday when you were going on,
mean horseback cops reared up to stomp us. “Stop!”
one hollered in a trembling southern drawl.
“Let them kids live!” We thanked this rebel cop
with gut sighs, then we cut straight for the Mall.
You, Harry Belafonte, sang our songs.
You let us know you came down on our side.
Green college kids, we knew what rights, what wrongs
forced us to see you, hear you, while we died.
No caving in. No turning back. Just home.
Calypso? All we heard was: “Daylight, come!“

–Al Young

© 2011 Al Young


Sunday, July 3rd, 2011


When she explained how she was set free

but her boyfriend and best friend weren’t

(“I don’t know what it was about him and her

and I”), you loathe the fool who would collar

her and say: “About him and her and me!”

So you shine it on, the same as you’ve given up

whom and less and fewer and good and well

and was and were as in If I Were a Bell (not

If I Was a Bell) I’d go “Ding-dong-ding-dong, ding!”

Well, look at where you’re coming from:

the grammar Nazi who knows subjunctive mode

(or, better yet, mood), knows indirect object

pronouns, verb-needy nouns, lie, lay, laid, lain.

You know its and it’s and neither, nor, further

farther, “Me and Julio Down By the Schoolyard.”

Besides, she’s younger than you. Bitten, mother

tongue suffers. Language, gauged and negotiated,

sends thumbs fumbling and twirling unjustly.

She compares and contrasts sweethearts and cohorts.

You feel their pain and her shame. You lighten up.

— Al Young

© 2011 Al Young
© vozamer



Sunday, May 8th, 2011


Courtesy Tissa Eddy Stein, Roger Eddy, Glen Eddy

In memory of Edith Eddy | 23 July 1919- 3 January 2011

Light-years ago: Chapala afternoons,
a lake-like feel and smell, the way we met,
three children California-born, full moons,
the world not yet as gone as it would get.

Lifetimes ago: Kauai, Sri Lanka, France,
the U.K., Switzerland and Italy,
the island of Madeira, China. Once
upon a time you told all this to me.

You grew up in these places, went to school,
learned languages, then found the U.S.A.
Your sisters didn’t follow. You, uncool,
fell fast and hard in love, and there you’d stay.

But all too soon your voice, an earthy purr,
wore down. Still, where your love took root, you star.

— Al Young

© 2011 by Al Young



Monday, April 4th, 2011
The Billy Taylor Trio

for Nana

What’s most fantastical almost always goes

unrecorded and unsorted. Take spring.

Take today. Take dancing dreamlike; coffee

your night, creameries your dream factories.

Take walking as a dream, the dearest, sincerest

means of conveyance: a dance. Take leave

of the notion that this nation’s or any other’s earth

can still be the same earth our ancestors walked.

Chemistry strains to connect our hemispheres.

The right and left sidelines our brain forms

in the rain this new world braves—acid jazz.

The timeless taste her tongue leaves in your mouth,

stirred with unmeasured sugars, greens the day

the way sweet sunlight oxygenates, ignites

all nights, all daytimes, and you—this jumps.

Sheer voltage leaps, but nothing keeps or stays.

Sequence your afternoon as dance. Drink spring.

Holding her hard against you, picture the screenplay.

Take time to remember to get her spells together.

Up jumps the goddess gratified, and up jumped spring.

— Al Young
from Coastal Nights and Inland Afternoons: Poems 2001-2006

© 2006 by Al Young

Spring Awakening |© John Fleshman



Gini Savage’s Shape-Shifter | © Al Young

Bluebirds Bathing | © Vivian Torrence



Sunday, February 6th, 2011



— for Robert Hass

Dr. Eve Sweetser’s session in the Cross-Cultural Poetics series:
Early Welsh Metrics
~ “Metaphors and Metonyms for the Heroic Society” ~ UC Berkeley 3/19/2009

Celtic = old fash
Keltic = correct

Germans pushed Celts south
Romans pushed them onto islands

Celtic inscriptions in Italy, Spain, France

Curses dropped into wells for lower gods
Blessings burnt & sent up to higher gods

Sweetser charms w/ her love of subject

Imagined proto-bard

13th C = paleography (copied ms.)

Celts elegize defeat & even
love a poem of defeat claimed by the Scots
(odd becuz Scots = enemy)

Question of metrics
How syllabics work
Old Welsh we’re looking now at stress-metric lines

Accentual vs. quantitative verse
Accentual counts stresses,
incl phrasal stress vs. lexical stress

Celts obsessed with three-ness

“Wine-fed, mead-fed, feast-poison” ref to battle time
expected of men who received the mead or wine

(Euro obsession w/ war & dying)

Sweetser: “Hard to sep metaphor fr metonomy”
— waiter id’s diner to chef as “the BLT” —
“the BLT wants a coke” = metonymic

(Al’s POV: Washington & Paris enslave & kidnap Haiti) —
Sweetser: “But to call someone ‘honeybun’ or ‘sugar’ = metaphorical”

Cattle as wealth
Upward & downward responsibilities

Welsh verse doesn’t tell you what
metaphor refers to; Anglo-Saxon does —
The “hall” = example;
the “self” another

Cross-linguistic metaphor systems

The stack of bks went up = metonymyic frame:

Milk in glass

Metonymy is abt correlation
Metaphor is abt diff frames

Kulchur frames

© 2011 Al Young

Photo: John Ohala

Professor Eve Sweetser | 2007