Tuesday, October 31, 2006

"Don't Give Up the Ship!"

I gave a talk on Sunday afternoon at the Burlington County (New Jersey) Historical Society on the occasion of the 225th birthday of Captain James Lawrence, he of "Don't Give Up the Ship" fame (follow the link through the title for more information on Lawrence and his career).

Captain Lawrence's birthplace, as well as the home of James Fennimore Cooper, are on the grounds of the historical society, so it was quite an occasion. The education director of the society was dressed up as Captain Lawrence, looking remarkably health for being dead a couple of hundred years, a local band played naval anthems, and a wreath was placed on the door of Lawrence's house.

Though it was sunny it was blowing a gale and the wreath, of entwined twigs, blue ribbon and gold balls, threatened to blow away. Afterward we retired to the warm inside of the society headquarters for an awards ceremony for an essay contest held by the local newspaper for schoolchildren who had written essays on the meaning of "Don't Give Up the Ship."

Then I talked on the icons of the War of 1812, including Lawrence's words, other slogans and artifacts such as "Free Trade and Sailors' Rights," Old Ironsides, and the Star-Spangled Banner. My point was that although in truth the War of 1812 itself was a stalemate, with neither the United States nor Great Britain clearly winning and battles won by both sides, major symbols came out of the war and the conflict ended with the United States being united and having a new national identity which it did not display beforehand, being more competing states before the war.

Although the Kodak carousel slide projector (yes I am still in the dark ages) jammed partway through my talk, I continued the talk without a hitch to an interested and engaged audience. My talk was followed by one by Admiral Tobin (USN, retired), head of the Naval Historical Center, who spoke about Lawrence and other US Navy commanders. He also delighted the audience by showing them the first US flag that had flown at Iwo Jima after the famous battle which he and his wife had brought with them. During a refreshments period at the end of the event, I sold copies of my book Terror on the Chesapeake: The War of 1812 on the Bay and promoted the Journal of the War of 1812 which I edit.

I had traveled up that morning by Amtrak to Philadelphia 30th Street Station and thence by New Jersey local transit rail and light rail to Burlington. A long and complicated series of changes but I made it in time to have a pleasant brunch with white zinfandel at the Gallery Café overlooking the Delaware River where reenactors of different periods were braving the wind, loosing off cannon fire and musket volleys.

The following poem was written on the rather cold journey back to Philadelphia on those local lines:

Under a Cut Penny Moon

I am stranded in Lindenwold
this freezing evening

on a deserted platform waiting
for the gambler's train.

Papa won't be coming home
to make bambino tonight.

I'm waiting for some hot tips,
my lucky number to turn up.

Instead I've got a defective
platform light flickering

above my head, my thighs cold.
On the one-line train track

I see a Wendy's styrofoam cup,
the paper's real estate section.

I bang the light pole,
make the halogen flicker

for a while inside
its fly-specked glass.

I am stranded in Lindenwold
waiting for a hot number.

Papa won't be coming home
to make bambino tonight.

Christopher T. George

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Chris George in the Spotlight at Triplopia

I am pleased to announce that there is a spotlight interview with me in the new "Fear" Issue of Triplopia magazine. Go to the link through the title above.

The interview is wide-ranging, covering, in addition to my creative writing interests, my thoughts on Jack the Ripper, the War of 1812, the Internet, and the writing art in general. I answered questions posed to me my e-mail over a number of months by Triplopia editors Gene Justice and Tara Elliott, and during part of the time Gene happened to be in South Korea so it was really an international conversation.

Included in the poetry section of the issue are my poems, "The Ghosts of Cambodia," "Morecambe Bay Cocklers Tragedy," "Apple Blossom and Roses at Auschwitz," and also two poems in the interview, "A Pack of Lies" and "My Book Is Eaten By Termites" and an excerpt from "Jack: The Musical" by Erik Sitbon and myself.

In the interview, I was able to share some of my ideas of what I believe makes for important and interesting poetry. I do think that modern poetry can speak to our world so it is a tragedy really that poetry is not better understood and appreciated by the masses. It behooves we poets to reach out and touch the people who say they do not "understand" poetry and bring them to a better or fuller appreciation of what poetry can say about modern life or life in general.

Basically, I am not the type of poet who writes only for myself and just puts my poems in a drawer, although I have heard a large number of poet say exactly that. In other words, in taking part in Internet workshops I am doing so to help become a better poet myself in order to write for publication and (perhaps) fame if that is possible, or at least to become more widely known. Thus, I do remark in the interview that poems should attempt major themes and that I don't think, in the main, poets are going to write important poems by just contemplating themselves and their own problems.

My fellow Loch Raven Review editor, Jim Doss, and I held a successful first reading for the magazine at the Load of Fun Galley on North Avenue in Baltimore on Friday, October 6. It was the first of a number of readings we are planning for the coming months. You can see some video excerpts from the October 6 reading by going to http://www.youtube.com/v/zPYUwksCBRI -- check it out! Also have a look at Jim Doss's blog where we both have poems about the reading. Go to http://jimdoss.blogspot.com/. Enjoy!

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Kenneth W. Matchett

A celebrated member of my family has died. Kenneth W. Matchett, OBE, was my mother's cousin and they were the same age. He was manager of the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra for some years for which he was awarded the OBE. Later, he managed a trout farm for Lord Shaftesbury. I have been trying to find an on-line obituary on him but have yet to be able to find one. I have been told there was an extensive obit in yesterday's Daily Telegraph. If anyone has access to it perhaps you could send it to me or direct me to the URL I would appreciate it. Thanks!

Ken helped set up the concert version of the show by Erik Sitbon and myself, "Jack--The Musical" at the UK Ripper convention held in Bournemouth in 2001. He thought that the singers would find the upstairs meeting rooms at the Suncliff Hotel to be rather dry for singing and advised that we hold the concert in the downstairs bar, which turned out to be an excellent location and enabled me to be a narrator and scene setter as barman of "The Ten Bells."

The below poem is a tribute to Ken Matchett.

Ammonite Fossil

To Kenneth W. Matchett, OBE
(Sept. 24, 1920 - Sept. 26, 2006)

I recall you as I trace with my index finger
the chambered whirl of the fossil on my desk.
I found it in Kimmeridge Bay amid the scree
of slate as we sought to fight for a foothold.

You demonstrated how to chip off cleanly
the excess rock with my miniature pickax
so I could transport my prize discovery
in my backpack. Curious seals coughed

and watched from sea-surged rocks
that diamond-bright Dorset morning.
Objective accomplished, we ascended
the cinder track to your Vauxhall.

Sun beat down upon us as we climbed.
You'd showed me how to soak a towel
in the sea to beat the sunstroke:
I wore it cool under my school cap.

Christopher T. George