My Little Film Education

The other day I pulled out a leather bound journal of about forty film ticket stubs from my time out in Seattle, in another life when I was working in marketing for a tech start-up.  One of the requirements was that I “had” to live in Seattle for the first four months or so–not a bad way to usher in the millennium, I must say, since I flew from NYC around November 1999 and left around February 2000.  The company put me up in a condo for that time and gave me a car, so most of my nights were spent around the city, watching films in art houses.  From the looks of my journal, with all the movie stubs taped in it, I averaged about a film every two days.  At the time there were still a lot of small cinemas, houses almost, and I was usually by myself in them watching French movies.

I have been lucky in that I have lived in four of the bigger major cities for extended periods:

NYC–1998-2013 (lived in the tony suburb of Greenwich, CT, and worked in Manhattan)

Seattle–1999-2000 (still resided in CT but worked remotely)

Los Angeles–1994-97 (worked for E!, Back Stage West and garnered my first literary agent at ICM)

Houston–1992-94 (did my MFA in Fiction/Playwriting here)

In all of these places, film has been a big part of my life.  I was the Director of Programming of the Greenwich Film Festival from 2003-05 and directed “The Development,” which I also wrote.  But I attribute my film education to something more than running the festival or even going to movies in big cities:  libraries.  At the Greenwich Library I caught up on hundreds of French, spy and Western films, and now that I’m in Asheville, I find gems at the college library where I teach.  I’ve never been a subscriber to any DVD company.  I don’t need to have anything like this because I find so many movies without them.  Lately, I will go to Orbit in West Asheville for an occasional month-long subscription, and I love the Fine Arts Theatre in town where I just saw Miles Ahead.

At one point I think I saw 500 plus films a year, then I stopped going for about a year.  Not sure why but I remember going on a reading binge–or being fed up with the lack of quality cinema.  I had even taught screenwriting/film production at SUNY-Purchase where I was a creative writing professor for three years.  This past summer I studied Calvino and in The Road to San Giovanni, he talks about the miracle of film and how it was such a part of his life.

Film is a bit of a disappearing act for a reclusive like me.  If I catch an indie at Fine Arts for a Friday matinee before all the rude, tourist talkers populate the audience, I can sit in the very front row, not see any texting and vanish.  Sometimes when I leave, it’s raining.  I’m lucky to live in a city where I can walk home from the movies.  All these movies and cities in my mind.  I wonder how big the mental reel could ever become.


Running Up a Dream

I have been running off and on since college at Davidson where I would wake up early and run with my friend Dave around the nature trails.  Given that I’m 180 pounds and chest-heavy, I don’t really have a runner’s body, per se, and as I get older I’ve made running only a spring and summer pursuit.  I love Murakami’s book, What We Talk About When We Talk About Running, and even reviewed for my book column, “Page Turners,” in Act Two Magazine.  I am more of a trail runner and also did a piece on the Smith Mountain Lake nature trails for Laker Magazine in Moneta, VA, back in 2011.  Today, I had my first run of the pre-summer with my new Mizuno shoes, and now that I live in the downtown area of Asheville, North Carolina, I am able to circle around the city and explore the various purlieus, something I truly love.  I was out on a horse farm in Swannanoa for a couple of years and found the running there to be perfect, once seeing a turkeys cross the road followed by a peacock, and one time meeting a bear face to face on a morning run.  In summer 2014 I was back in Santa Fe where I did a triathlon at Lake Cochiti in 1993 and I ran a lot of the rail trails.  Then I put my running shoes away as the weather chills and the asphalt hardens.  But being in town I decided to try some city running for a change.  This morning, I did a loop down Biltmore Avenue, left at Orange Peel on Hilliard then left on French Broad weaving back to McDowell.  One of my favorite college students happened to drive by and gave me a shout-out.  The city is surrounded by blue mountains and I finished it well, this inaugural run.  I’ll probably go to early September, hitting the trails at Bent Creek as much as possible.  I’ll be up on the Smith Mountain Lake state park trails next week for about ten days as well.  Running is painful at times, my approaching-50 body often saying no, but once the body adapts (and the balls of the feet), suddenly the city opens an turns into a running dream.

Teaching College and Graduate Poetry

I have had the luxury of teaching poetry at many levels from a ritzy prep school in Connecticut to community colleges to state universities to graduate school, and each time I grapple with this balance between feeling and form.  On the one hand you want your students to appreciate the sonnet, which means “little song,” or the troubadour-acme sestina, but if you focus too much on form, they never understand the feeling aspect of poetry.  “Feeling is first,” says cummings, although how do you teach this?  It’s close to impossible, but you can start by locating in the personal.  During my discussions of iambic pentameter or, for that matter, trochaic trimeter, I look out to see the glazed looks of boredom.  Meter simply means “measure” in Greek, but this has too much of a mathematical connotation, counting syllables and so on.  The other day, when teaching poetry in a couple of my college classes, I reflected on whether or not it was good to teach forms at all.  I asked my students to think of a moment in a city.  In another prompt they had to focus on one attribute of a person, some detail that connected them to the body.  Some also wrote of a private place, a sanctuary.  What emerged was a collection of poems that reflected a personal sincerity.  The word poetry has simple origins in that it just making something, building something with words.  Feeling, in other words, can’t be taught, but it can be educed.  Forcing forms on students is probably not the best way to get there.  To elicit the best feeling, the teacher simply has to be reminder that the feeling is there.  And the simplest language can often convey it better than abstruse wording.  I just finished up a master’s in poetry, my fourth graduate degree.  I had written a bit of poetry during my MFA at the University of Houston after studying with Pulitzer-winner Richard Howard and the wonderful Adam Zagajewski.  That was 1992-94 when poetry was something I had to do for my degree.  From 2011-2016, though, as I worked on this MLitt at Middlebury’s Bread Loaf, I think what I found in poetry was a final locus of poetry, set aside from the ego of form.  Everything has a form; however, using form to obfuscate feeling makes for some very dry poetry indeed.

My Jazz Education

Back in January of 2002 I started taking trumpet lessons from trombonist David Gibson.  At the time I was living in Greenwich, Connecticut, and could walk up the street to Greenwich Music.   It was shortly after the 9/11 attacks and I felt that I had always wanted to play the trumpet, the instrument for me.  Gibson would take the train up from the city and give lessons.  I had been thrown into music playing harmonicas at Sundown Saloon with Artie Tobia and Mark Barden, something I ended up doing for about fourteen years with them.  I performed often with bands in New York City and Connecticut, singing and bending notes, but it was in those thirty minute sessions with Gibson that I moved ahead musically, developing what my teacher called “the confidence in consistency.”  I went on to play second trumpet in my church, then I retreated from it for a while, only to pick it back up again on my own terms, playing privately with an occasional guest appearance at a speakeasy bar in Asheville.

Over the years I saw most of the famous jazz musicians in Manhattan and Brooklyn, as well as out in Seattle.  I even met a number of them personally, Wynton playing trumpet in a book store, Ron Carter buying me and my friend a drink at Jazz Standard, Henry Threadgill who just won the Pulitzer.  Jazz has shaped the background of my writing life, filling it with a metallic ambiance for three decades.  I play a little trumpet every day, sometimes hymns, sometimes “Stormy Weather.”  I’m obsessed with “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes” and Clifford Brown’s heartrending version of it that gives my body chills every time I hear it.

I think when you commit to anything, be it a sports team or an instrument, you find that it becomes a staircased part of you wherein you walk up a step only to stay on that step for a long time, especially with musical growth.  But you are always walking upward with music, even if you move slowly as you learn.  The trumpet really is a symbol of my love of jazz.  Rarely do I perform anymore.  I don’t need to.  Learning the instrument exactly right is the only thing that matters.

Teaching College Writing in a Zero-Attention-Span World

Over the past twenty-four years or so, I have taught at two community colleges, two state universities and one graduate school in Texas, New York and North Carolina.  When I started out, the act of researching was a simple one with MLA formatting being limited to print sources.  Nowadays, I am amazed by the multiplicity of sources, print and online, that my students have to navigate.

The classroom itself started to change, for me at least, around 2006 when the ubiquity of cell phones began to create new noises.  Along with nervous pen-clicking, I now had to contend with text beeps, ringing phones and the concomitant lack of attention and manners.  However, I wonder if my students nowadays aren’t doing a lot more work than I ever did.

Getting students to simply come to class and sit in their seats, prepared with the weekly reading, is close to impossible these days.  It is an irony that the more availability we have to literature, more than ever, the less reading is actually done.

Another issue I see when I push freshman writing on my students is that while I hammer home the avoidance of the run-on sentence, fragment and dangling modifier in essays, there are countless creative books of fiction that use the comma splice and fused sentence ad nauseum.  On the one hand, there is the college essay designed around rhetoric.  But meanwhile, on the other hand, award-winning books of fiction break grammar rules all the time, as if morphology didn’t exist for them at all.

Even in my own writing and this new novel I’m struggling with, Too Late to The City, I find myself using the very “wrong” types of writing I preach about in four courses a semester.  It makes a teacher feel fraudulent, n’est-ce pas?  I say, Rise up against grammar!  We need more battlers against the run-on sentence.  Use the fragment.  There, I just used one!  What the hell’s a dangling modifier anyway?!


The Plutonic Ice Lassoing of New Horizons


The Plutonic Ice Lassoing of New Horizons

by Mark Damon Puckett

“The pictures coming back from Pluto are a bit fuzzy.  But just wait.  As of Monday, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft was almost six million miles away—about 25 times the distance from Earth to the moon—but is closing in fast. . . . Ever since a young astronomer named Clyde W. Tombaugh discovered Pluto 85 years ago, it has been a little more than a dot in the night sky.”

The New York Times, July 7, 2015

Hmmph.  That’s rich.  “Little more than a dot in the night sky” indeed.  I was once a planet, my friend, and they first thought I was bigger than Jupiter back in the day.  And don’t get me started on quote-unquote spacecrafts.  Let’s take this New Horizons ship that is supposedly passing by me soon which has taken NINE AND A HALF YEARS to get here (if it doesn’t get whacked by my debris).  Nine and a half years is pretty slow but no slower, I guess, than it took them to figure it out that I had been faking my planetness for a long time.

I’d always had trouble with my identity, trying to be something I wasn’t.  The pretense was killing me in my icy core, so in a way, I felt glad in 2006 when more scientists who didn’t know what they were doing were, like, Oh, sorry, you’re a plutoid now.

But a plutoid?!  Really?  You’re serious.  A plutoid?

Now they call me a “minor” planet.  Or a “dwarf” planet which is not very politically correct.  I have mixed feelings about the whole thing.  On the one hand I don’t feel like I’m lying to myself all the time trying to live up to what they think I might be.

I mean, it’s a lot of pressure being a planet.  Have you ever met Saturn?  Jerk.  Saturn is on steroids; he’s been juicing for years.  When I was still a member of Planet Fitness, I used to see him in there all the time gulping down some protein shake.  Suuurre, real natural to gain nine million pounds of muscle in a month.  Subtle.  No one notices at all.

At any rate I’m amazed I got away with it for as long as I did.  We do weird things out here on me, like people have seven and a half fingers so we don’t give high fives but high sevens and a half.  Or seven and a halves.  Or however the hell you’re supposed to say it.  We also have the only factories that export onion rings because we are the only ones who can seem to fit those onions into the crispy parts.

Anyway, yeah, that’s me, once the ninth planet in the solar system now demoted to this icy pariah, caught somewhere between a god and a cartoon character.  Named after the god of the underworld, but who knows, maybe I was named after that idiotic Disney dog with the flappy ears instead.  I need to check the dates on that.

By the way you can’t trust scientists.  They are usually wrong.  Take my moons for example.  For a while I had just one, Charon, and what is UP with naming us after all the “hell” things.  Pluto!  Charon!  Ridiculous.  And I have five moons, girlfriend!  Charon, Nix, Hydra, Kerberos and, of course, more hell naming:  Styx.  I am surprised they never called me Hades.  To hell with their naming.

It all started when they found out I was just one of many in the Kuiper Belt.  Don’t get me started on the Kuiper Belt which ruined my reputation.  See, scientists like to think they know everything, which they don’t, obviously.  Then they get mad and name me and my moons hellish things.  But I like the other neighbors here in the Kuiper Belt except when they yell over at me, “Hey!  Plutoid.”

Anyway this really slow New Horizons will pass by me on July 14, 2015, to do what?  Take pictures.  Tourists.  I can’t stand them.  Nice almost-ten-year road trip.  What did you build your spaceship out of?  Gum?

So let me just get this all straight in my head.  Some farmer named Tombaugh accidentally discovered me in 1930 because he just happened to be at an observatory in Kansas.  A lot of time passes then I’m a planet, the famous ninth.  Okay, I’m good so far.  In 1992 some naysayers started to doubt this status and by 2006 I’m relegated to a plutoid.  Stop calling me plutoid!  Now a spaceship, which has taken almost a decade to fly here, is coming by to, um . . . take pictures?

I’m sort of the human equivalent of famous actors who win an Oscar in the 1940s only to end up selling denture cream on television later in life.  It is lonely being neither here nor there, having had a taste of the beauty of admiration, everyone staring at me.  Then I was nothing.  Or reduced from what I was, and it just wasn’t the same.  I didn’t fit in the planetary world, they revoked my membership at Planet Fitness (Earth, FYI, very unhealthy planet) and yet I didn’t fit in the Kuiper Belt either.

But, see, people on Earth are extremely strange.  They make up all sorts of fictions to delude themselves.  I don’t want to delude myself anymore.  I didn’t choose to be chosen as a planet and I didn’t choose be demoted as one.  I have always been myself, well, for the most part.  I’ll admit I liked the attention; it was beaming and lovely and magnetic.  I was more electric than the sun.  I was discovered then maligned and this gave me dimension.  It’s amazing, though, how so many people talk at me.  No one asks me how I feel, but I watch it all.  Ohhh, yes I see everything and my perspective is telescopic.  I don’t think it’s fair to label people anyway when identities revolve on axes all their own.  My identity is a revolution of self, a literal spinning, each spin the same but giving me a new 360 photograph, panoramic and splendid and five-dimensional.  I was a planet, yes!  A planet.  What better thing is there to be and what a worse thing to fall from.

Here’s the irony.  I hated it.  I didn’t like my planet status.  It was false.  Unreal, not real.  It lacked reality.  All it was was a renaming and how can a name be so potent?  How can a name fix you in space?

“Shut up!  I am not plutoid!”

Sorry, some annoying brats from the Kuiper Belt.  If you don’t give it right back to them, they just keep up the bullying.  Little punks.

Well, anyway.  The sluggish New Horizons spaceship will be crawling by here soon in its flying gum machine.  It’s July 11 so I guess that’s three days.  I need to check in with my moons; we never talk anymore.  Except for Charon which was discovered earlier, the rest of them are sore at me for getting all the attention.  Now, their star is rising (I’m mixing metaphors—kind of hard not to in space) and they have some real attitude, let me tell you.  They are like the Kardashian sisters inheriting latent stardom, and now their step-father, Bruce Jenner, is also changing his identity to Caitlyn.  Of all the people on Earth I like this Caitlyn nee Bruce Jenner person who seems like the only honest person down there.  Or maybe it’s just that I identify with what it is like to hide who you really are from the world then suddenly to reveal to them that you are not what you seem.  The difference between me and Caitlyn Jenner is that my identity was changed without anyone asking me, and she got to choose hers.  However, it took her a long time since Earth is so filled with odd things, like milk.  Milk scares me.  I still don’t understand it.  Also:  the 1980s.  What the heck happened then?  Bus bathrooms are also an enigma.  A bathroom on a bus!

Sorry, when I talk about Earth I feel guilty.  It’s sort of like indulging in pint of ice cream at midnight.  Where was I?  Oh, EXACTLY WHERE I’VE ALWAYS BEEN.  Only, my name was changed for me.  I didn’t change my name or my identity.  I have been here all along, constant as I ever was, but the universe has shifted its perspective of me.  Some would say I have been judged unfairly.  That I rose too fast, too early.  I was young then, sure, but I wouldn’t change it.  I guess I’m actually more like those child stars who become famous on shows then die young of a drug overdose.

I will say that I kind of felt like that when the scientists changed who I was to a plutoid.  I was a disgrace to the big planets (egomaniacs, especially Neptune, I never liked Neptune).  I was right back to where I started in a home I had always hated.  Stuck in the middle I decided to ignore my Kardashian moons and just be by myself for a while.  I had a good break.  New Horizons will come by and take some photos, and who knows, maybe in thirty more years they will re-decide I am the center of the universe.  Actually, Uranus and I are pretty close.  I like Uranus.  Uranus is pretty cool.  You should take a closer look at Uranus sometime.  You might be surprised.  Uranus, by the way, is the only worse name in the universe than plutoid.

Hang on, I’m getting a text message from Venus.  What!  I mixed up the dates and it’s actually July 13 so this New Horizons gum machine will be here tomorrow?  Time blurs out here in the Kuiper Belt sometimes, and maybe I don’t know who I am anymore.  Plus, I need to upgrade my iPhone.  On occasion I still feel like I’m a planet who longs to have that mythomaniac status once again, but after letting this melancholy pass I realize it’s just ego.

What’s this?  Saturn calling?  IGnore.  I can’t stand Steroid Saturn.  He’s probably jealous that New Horizons is visiting me and not him.  Go eat a protein something.

July 14—New Horizons Visit

Well, here it comes.  I’m giving this dawdling gum machine a very icy stare, but there is some paparazzo taking photos of me, bulbs flashing like supernovae.  Venus keeps texting and Saturn won’t stop stalker calling.  I should really text Uranus about this spaceship because Uranus would like to be in the know.  Uranus and I are closer than I am to Saturn.  No, like we’re really closer.  Since we are in different orbits, we don’t get to hang out.  However, I would like to hang out more often with Uranus.

I’m not sure what NASA wants me to do here besides sit here and revolve and look pretty.  Apparently they have been taking long-range photos of my moons on their journey toward me.  While I’m waiting I guess I could text my friend VNLC in the Kuiper Belt, but let’s face it:  the Kuiper Belt is boooooooring.  They think I’m stuck up, that my head is in the clouds.  Look at how jealous they are, except for VNLC who co-writes crossword puzzles with me that we send to The New York Times.  Will Shortz, the crossword editor, never accepts them, but he will mention Pluto every once in a crossword.

The truth is that I’m in love with Venus, but she’s too close to the sun.  And how can you compete with the sun?  She loved me when I was a planet, but now we’re “just friends” since my plutoid demotion.  “I can’t be seen with a plutoid,” she once texted.  And who can blame her?  Venus basically is a round beach since she tans all the time being so close to the rays of the sun.  The sun is also on steroids though.  He and Saturn, just because they’re big, think they can bully the rest of the solar system around.  And I suppose it is the “solar” system eponymously named for old sunny boy there.  Whatever.  I’m lucky because I get to keep my distance and stay far away from the chicanery, machinations and inane palaver that exists the closer you get to the sun.  The sun makes people act all craaaazy.

Hey!  New Horizons!  Don’t get so close, man!

VNLC and I have our BB guns and we’ve been shooting dings in the side of New Horizons.  Maybe they’re perturbed.  Ahh haa, look at the photographer trying to figure out why his window is slightly cracked.  I need to text VNLC not to use the pump-action so much on his BB gun.  “We just want to scare them, buddy,” I text.  I love texting.  It is a very efficient way to send messages these days.  Soon, New Horizons will pass and I’ll feel bad for shooting BBs at it.

I mean, this is like a second act, right?  Who gets to be a planet then still remain on the A-List even after falling from grace?  The world is still intrigued by Pluto, but I won’t let it go to my head this time.  Last time, when I was at the acme of my planet stature, well . . . let’s just say I did a stint in rehab afterward.  It was too much pressure.  Rehab was all right, but Lindsay Lohan never wore deodorant and she kept asking me to paint her toenails.  I don’t have any hands, damnit!  She did give me a friendship bracelet, but, again, no hands Lindsay, can’t wear it.  Also, she doesn’t floss.

I guess the main purpose of New Horizons is to investigate my atmosphere.  The funny  thing about this gum ship is that NASA is sooo proud of it, but their concept of “close” is to get about 8,000 miles from me for these photos.  Yeah.  Real close, guys.  I’m ready for my 8,000-mile-away close-up.  Ridiculous.  And from what I can tell the ship is not very big, a bit smaller than a Volkswagen Beetle.  Good thing it only took you since 2006 to get here.  Funny thing is that New Horizons will fly on to the Kuiper Belt which is just this nimbus of ice fragments in the third zone.  What a bunch of suckers, NASA.  You basically just drove to North Dakota to take a picture of some asphalt.

So here I sit, liminal, always on the threshold of my quondam planetary identity and my place in the Kuiper Belt.  Who am I?  I was Pluto the Planet.  Now I am just Pluto.  Down there you will project whatever neologisms and portmanteaus you want onto me, irrespective of my own ontology, my own telos.  What is my telos, you ask?  Perhaps it is to stay put in the middle of this doorway of the universe and observe matters correctly, precisely.  Nobody in the Kuiper Belt knows what it was like for me to be a planet, just as no planet in the solar system knows what it’s like for me to now be a part of the Kuiper Belt.  I have the rare chance to revolve between two worlds and be their journalist.  I still have some growing up to do.  Who doesn’t?  I mean, I really should stop shooting BBs at New Horizons because I think I not only just cracked a window but shot the paparazzo in the side of the head (relax, it missed the eyeball).  I can always blame it on VNLC.  Not very mature, I realize.

Well, it looks like Steroid Saturn has finally stopped harassing me with his calls.  But what’s this?  Venus has just texted that I should “come over.”  Come over?  How am I going to come over when I’m in a different orbit?  I’ve explained this to her at least five times.  When I think about it, our relationship has occurred only through texting, but as I am to understand it, this is a common practice on Earth where people “communicate” all the time but never actually meet.  I’d like to go to Earth one day and meet Will Shortz and ask him why he never accepts my crossword puzzles.  By the time I get to Manhattan I imagine they will have telescopes everywhere that can see me, but if I leave my orbit they never will.  One day I will fly from this threshold and have beers with Uranus, punch out Saturn and swoop up Venus on my way to New York City and she and I will dive into the Hudson where we will reside with convenient access to New Jersey and Manhattan (she has relatives in Jersey).  Yes, I will one day secede from this sky and do what I want, leaving all the judgment behind me.  Smell my methane as I transcend here.

And now we come to the final plan I’ve been withholding this whole time, which is to lasso New Horizons after weakening it with BBs and hitch it back to Earth.  There is so much ice and nitrogen out here that I figured out a way to create rope from them and now . . . I have . . . just about flung it over the gum ship.

Who knows?

It may take me the wrong way farther out into the Kuiper Belt abyss into the fourth or fifth zone, and I might find myself lost in the frost rubbish of darkness, but there’s a slight chance I can turn New Horizons around and aim for Central Park.  I see that city before me, giant black rectangles shot from the ground filled with urban lights, the Hudson glowing behind this vertical beauty.

I am coming, Manhattan, let this icy lasso last.

T Sisters Harmonizing Muses

T Sisters Singing Heaven

by Mark Damon Puckett

If Alison Krauss were multiplied by three and if there were tenth, eleventh and twelfth Muses—and then you suddenly discovered June Carter had lived again as a triplet—well, you might have a sense of the singing splendor of the T Sisters.  I recently discovered Chloe, Erika and Rachel Tietjen quite by accident, but now with their “Seduction of Spring” I listen to it as one of my favorite repeats along with “The Cave” by Mumford and Sons, “Sloop John B” by The Beach Boys and “I’ll Fly Away” by Alison Krauss.

I had always been a fan of “American Tune” by Simon and Garfunkel and played it often on my trumpet, but it wasn’t until I happened upon the T Sisters harmonizing it on YouTube that I finally found some kindred folks who loved it as much as I did.

This, in turn, led me to find out about a trio of magical harmonizing sisters from California, and the next song I discovered was a live session in Humboldt of their crooning an actual poem into music called “Seduction of Spring.” The Pierian Spring is where the Nine Muses played, a place quite evoked by this live outside recording.

Euterpe was one of the Nine Muses, of song and elegiac poetry, and I guess what I would say is that we do maybe have Muses Ten, Eleven and Twelve now.  You merely needed to listen to them once to know it.

I ordered their two cd’s and have been trying to get them on the radio here in Asheville with one of my poetry students who is a deejay in town.  And I actually succeeded, so the T Sisters will be on Southern Sirens Tuesday evening, September 16, at 8:00 p.m. on 88.7 WNCW FM, or with deejay Laura Blackley.

All of the songs are harmonized, an effortless floating through blues, folk, gospel and even a kind of slow speakeasy jazz on “But Not For You.”  And all written by the Tietjens except for “Wind and Rain” on Bring it Back and “American Tune” on Kindred Lines.  In this sense all of the songs are really poems first, odes to song, as it were.  The word “odein” means to sing.  I think it would be rather amazing to see these ladies live, and it seems they are touring around here and there, having just opened for Amos Lee.

Okay, I need to go play “Seduction of Spring” again.  This is my poetic salute to some beautiful rising voices.


Kindred Lines

Bring Us Back

T Sisters Press Photo by Claude Shade %281%29

Lookout Brewing in Black Mountain

Take a Look In at Lookout Brewing, Black Mountain, North Carolina The most local beer in the Asheville vicinity by Mark Damon Puckett

Lookout Brewing, 103 S Ridgeway Ave #1, Black Mountain, NC 28711, (828) 357-5169

Mark Damon Puckett’s food and drink writing has appeared in Saveur, The Daily Meal, USA Today, Act Two Magazine and Greenwich Magazine with a bar column called “Happy Hours”.   He was also the Travel Editor at The Daily Meal on Fifth Ave. in Manhattan. 

When you come to Lookout Brewing in Black Mountain, North Carolina, you are in the environs of a sublime city of beer, Asheville, sure, but there is something a little more exceptional at this superb and snug brewery.

About 15 miles east from downtown Asheville, Lookout is in a stunningly mountainous small town buzzing with students from the nearby college, as well as local intellectuals and beer tourists stopping off I-40 for a sample brew.  The mix is electric.  The beer itself:  lightning.


Entering, you see kids playing chess and can end up talking to a Ph.D.  Many claim “local”.  Lookout is organically local without forcing it, and it is fun to watch it grow.  Aside from having the most imaginative beers around Asheville, proprietor John Garcia will actually come talk to you about what you’re tasting, which is all pure and unfiltered.  “We’re the most local beer you can get in this region,” he says, “75% of our ingredients coming from within 100 miles.”

Dogs sit around under your feet and eyeball you with a curious head tilt.  Maybe there is a game of Connect Four happening at a table or an articulate conversation with bar maven Katrina about your beer of choice.  It’s a small, intimate place but the high ceilings somehow never make it feel crowded.  Families are at home here.  Some stop in for one while some regulars maintain their usual seats.  The garage door opens in spring.


Oh, and the popcorn machine is always clicking and flowing; a fresh basket is dropped in front of you whenever you wish.  The 1 oz. glasses let you taste whatever is new and you can sip on a couple 4 oz. ones too.  Sometimes you don’t want a flight or a full pint, and these cool glasses allow you try the beers in different ways.

It’s also just, well, relaxed.  Owner John and I were having a drink the other day when 2 beer tourists floated through and left their half-full glasses.  “We have to drive,” they said, and headed on, leaving the glistening quaffs very lonely on the bar.  John and I looked at each other, shrugged and grabbed the unfinished drinks, pouring them in new glasses.  There is no beer wasted here, even if someone else started to drink it.


There are 8 taps with about 40 recipes going in the back at any time, some hard to describe.  “For example we have a Sweet White Ale,” Garcia notes.  “It’s really uncategorized, but that’s what we call it.”

Their hops come from Hop’n Blueberry Farm ( and the malts from Riverbend Malt (, the only maltster in the Southeast.  In addition you have homebrew supplies here with plenty of intelligent talk about how to start your own.

“We currently have over 40 recipes that we are working on with roughly 32 of them being final recipes, meaning they are in production for full time or seasonal offerings.”


Worth note:  Black Mountain IPA, Alison’s Front Porch Pale Ale, Topless Amber, Dark Town Brown Ale, Spyglass Pilsner, GFY Scotch Ale, The Dude Abides IPA, Hoptometrist Double IPA, and the Beer-B-Q.

“Our seasonal selection is constantly evolving but includes Jive Turkey (Thanksgiving), Hoppy New Beer (New Year’s), Nude Brude (Valentine’s Day), Whatever Wheat (Summer), and Mother Pucker Sour Stout (Winter).”

Owner John Garcia relaxing outside on the patio at Lookout

Owner John Garcia relaxing outside on the patio at Lookout

They expanded to a 3-barrel system in March 2014 and have increased production to get more beer distributed to local restaurants and pubs.

“We pride ourselves on our ZERO additive beer,” Garcia tells me, “meaning there are no chemicals, no clarifying agents, no filters, no enzymes, and no anything added to our beer.  We like to keep the product as natural and unaltered as possible.”


Maybe the only caveat would be that as Lookout Brewing grows and it expands, it might have to move from its current place that gives you such a good chance for connecting with people and talking about delicious beer.  I’ll be looking out for more Lookout, though, in all the local bars.

So take a moment to hit Black Mountain and come to a brewery that feels like you just made about 10 best friends every time you leave.


Owner John Garcia
Owner John Garcia



David Gibson’s End of the Tunnel Review

David Gibson’s End of the Tunnel has that relief of musical light to it, the feeling you have when finally exiting a long tunnel.  It’s a well-chosen title, for it captures the exact second as your car whooshes outside of a tunnel’s darkness and comes into the sun again.  And by light, I mean optimistic brightness.  The album is jazz grinning, but of course with that Gibsonian cleverness that makes you know that something deeper and moody is always happening.

First track is Herbie Hancock’s “Blind Man, Blind Man”, paying honor to the past while slowing down this particular track to Gibson’s aural vision of it.  There’s no rush here because we’re seeing confidence.  We’re taking our time while standing on the shoulders of the Hancock giant.  We see further assurance by putting Hancock as the first track and then finding a new Hancock within it.  If you want to know what I mean, then YouTube Hancock’s “Blind Man, Blind Man” and juxtapose it with Gibson’s.  You will see what I mean.   My sense is that Dave Gibson respects his elders and reminds us of them.  He could have chosen any track to start, but he picked this one.  Jazz homage.  True jazz is always paying honor to its past.

Of the nine tracks on End of the Tunnel, Gibson has composed five.  Never forget that this trombonist is a composer at heart.  Boy from Oklahoma, professor at SUNY-Geneseo and Columbia, trained by his inimitable mentor Slide Hampton, Dave Gibson brings a history of jazz to his work.  Backed by Jared Gold pumping beats from his organ like Jimmy Smith’s Finest Hour, these nine tunes come into the classic.  Gold authors two of the tracks, “Splat” and “Preachin’”, so we really have the sensibility of two composers on these tracks.  Gibson composing five; Gold two.

Julius Tolentino on the alto, well, just listen to his solo on “Wasabi” and the subsequent amicable dueling with Gibson’s trombone, and you will see a fervent back-and-forth, merged back into post-solo harmonies between the two that then receive Gold’s organ(ic) riffs—all of which gives us jazz conversations that make you almost think you’re eavesdropping on the sweet jazz past.

A note on Quincy Davis and his drums.  This percussion is like background honey.  By that I mean there is a fluidity to his nearly silent beats, a true elixir that liquefies this album, never intruding, always complementing, never egoistic like so many drummers.  Listen close, though.  The drums are more intense than you think.

The ending of “Sunday Morning” is superlatively smooth.   Enough said.

Tolentino’s solo on “End of the Tunnel” makes your eyes open wider as it keeps impressing on the upbeat, followed by some drums by Quincy Davis that come to the forefront while miraculously remaining subtle.

“A Place of Our Own” takes us down a mood, slowing down the reflection, with Gold’s organ and Gibson’s trombone almost like jazz philosophy, melodic but luminous.

With “Splat” we wake up to harmonies and dissonances, something like the tunnel we need to get through but finally feel we will.  Gibson hits a solid solo after the first minute-and-a-half on Gold’s composition, and it is one of the best soli on the album.  Around 2:51 on the tune, Tolentino comes in a la Cannonball Adderly, saying to Gibson, “I got you,” with Gold always echoing in the background and Davis’ drums just saying yes, yes on top of it.

With “The In-Whim” we get a surreal organ start and harmonic trombone and sax.  It’s the longest track on End of the Tunnel, and the most intensely cerebral.  What do I mean by that?  Well, some songs get you in your heart, some down in your stomach, some even way down deeper below your stomach (what I like to call your gut).  But some songs make you think.  “The In-Whim” made me think about a lot.  Almost like an errand list I don’t want to tackle, but at the end of it I know that I’ve had a good day and that I can have good scotch with a successful friend and talk about life.  End of the tunnel.

“Preachin’”, a Gold tune, but started off by Gibson’s signature trombone, feels so casual that it could be street music.  This is one of the confident-est tracks.  It speaks to blues, to hymns—and back to that deep gut I was just talking about.  Taking us from our mind back to our stomach.  Real.

“Blue Rondo” is a flourishing final track with Quincy Davis initiating this one, his drums having been so cool and quiet through eight other tracks but finally getting his due.  All along no one has showed off on this album, everyone showing respect, and now we actually realize that we want them to show off.  But classy dudes never show off; they merely show up.  So we get Gibson and Tolentino slammin’, showing up.  Around minute 3:00, drummer Davis solos.  Listen for it.

What you realize is that all of these cats have been showing up the whole time.

Miles Davis once said, “When you’re creating your own shit, man, even the sky ain’t the limit.”  And I think about what you see when you leave the tunnel:   the sky.  But I also see that the tunnel limits us sometimes, if you stay in it too long.

If you want to see some sky, though, and if it is possible to hear the sky, once you leave the tunnel, then, man, Dave Gibson’s  End of the Tunnel is something you have to hear and see.

Like paying your toll in the Lincoln Tunnel and coming into the city, it’s all the melodious, intelligent energy waiting for you, a brightness of jazz light just welcoming you well.




My Homage to Jazz and Trombonist David Gibson

Trombonist David Gibson’s website:

For a while now, I have been thinking about how I can best serve jazz, and today I woke up and realized how I could do so.

It was my trumpet teacher’s birthday the other day, which started my thoughts on the subject. Trombonist David Gibson used to come up to Greenwich, Connecticut, from Manhattan and give lessons. Greenwich Music was walking distance from my house, and I would trek a few blocks each week to learn the instrument.


Prior to these lessons, my musical knowledge was inchoate yet oddly performative. For example, I had piano lessons as a child but didn’t recall much of what I had learned, while I also sang and played harmonicas in bands for decades. I could play my harps by ear, but I couldn’t read notes. In other words, I thought I knew something about music. I didn’t know much.

So I lost a job three days after 9/11. Shortly after, around 2002, with much time on my hands, I decided that I wanted to learn to play the trumpet. For the next five years, I made an effort to learn.

I guess I should begin with the fact that I have always listened to jazz while I wrote. Jazz has been my creative soundtrack, my musical epigraph. I can’t tell you how many of my poems, stories and novels have a little bit of Kind of Blue in them. Right now, I am listening to Joshua Redman’s Beyond as I blog.

Every week with David Gibson, in a tiny room at Greenwich Music, I humbled myself. It is difficult to learn an instrument as an adult. I never saw any other grown-ups taking lessons either, only small children. I felt like John Cusack in Being John Malkovich when he’s in the small space but looks much larger, having to duck his head under the low ceiling.

But each week, something began to happen. Not only did I learn notes, I learned about rhythm. I became bold enough to break out my trumpet with my bands. I was asked to be second trumpet at First United Methodist Church. Best of all, you can put sheet music in front of me now and, boom, I can read it!

More importantly, though, I got to see a true jazz musician and master teacher in action. Thereafter, I have followed Dave’s career and tried to see him live when possible.


Over the years, as well, I have been lucky enough to see jazz live in Manhattan (and all over the country). Ron Carter once bought me a drink at Jazz Standard ( I’ve seen McCoy Tyner three times. Pat Metheny, Hank Jones, Joe Lovano, Pharoah Sanders, Terence Blanchard, John Faddis, Jimmy Heath, Jimmy Cobb, Branford Marsalis. One time, I walked into a Borders on Park Avenue to see Wynton giving an impromptu lessons to some young boys. He signed my Howlin’ Wolf cd I happened to have: “Yes, yes.”

Recently, I interviewed James Moody and Jimmy Greene personally for the Purchase Alumni Magazine. Moody died a bit later, but I was happy to be connected to him, even for a moment.

This article is about David Gibson, yes, but it is also about my relationship with jazz and how it keeps me going creatively as a writer. Dave and I have both been professors at SUNY schools. I taught creative writing at SUNY-Purchase and he taught at SUNY-Geneseo. Some of our conversations in that lesson room, man, I wish I had recorded them. To know Dave is to know that a) he knows his shit, b) he loves the jazz, c) he performs it with magic, and d) he speaks of music like a philosopher. Oh, and he is always giving back to his fans and students.

Today, October 2011, I don’t take lessons as regularly as I did, but I recently saw Dave at Fat Cat in Manhattan, just a couple of weeks ago in fact. He was playing “The Cobbler” from A Little Somethin’ right when I entered. I have listened to this album, as well as Maya and Path to Delphi for years. I was in Connecticut last year and turned on Music Choice to hear “The Cobbler” and two other songs from A Little Somethin’ playing on the television. He was also on The View with Gloria Estefan not too long ago.

My mom had bought me a silver trumpet at a yard sale for $10. A couple years ago, Dave suggested that I go to Dillon Music ( in New Jersey to have it cleaned. When I arrived there, I waited as they worked on the trumpet, and trumpeter/flugelhornist Kiku Collins ( entered. I bought one of her cds, Here With Me, which she signed. How cool was it, then, that when I saw Dave at Fat Cat on October 7 that I got to re-meet Kiku–as introduced by Dave. Even cooler is that Dave and Kiku have been dating, the merging of two jazz stars.

Over the years, I feel I have become friends with Dave, catching him at a hotel on Park Avenue or up at Smoke ( I once saw him at The Cornelia Street Cafe ( with Dr. Eddie Henderson, and this was one of my favorite shows for its long intimate space and the artists just kicking it. Dave also played with the Dizzy Gillespie Alumni Big Band at Blue Note, led by John Faddis. In walks Dave with his teacher Slide Hampton, playing the trombone section. Amazing moment. Dave’s legacy is in the making; nice to watch it happen real time.

Take a look at, Dave’s website. And take a moment with me to do a collective shout-out to the professor of the bone, the Chet Baker of the slide, the musician/teacher whose chops keep bitin’. There is a truly plaintive, real sound in his music that gets inside your head and glides down to your heart like jazz bourbon. I hope that if you read this homage, you will begin to listen to him, maybe even take the time to see him live. It might just become a good part of your creative life too.

Happy Birthday, David Gibson. Thanks for the music, the teaching, the friendship, the ongoing soul.