Wednesday, December 29, 2021

Strengthen The Core

 A New Year’s Wish

Rather than allowing those who choose 

the extreme fringes of our political spectrum 

to pull us further apart by highlighting our differences, 

let us use civil debate and compromise 

to identify and strengthen the core 

of our common goals and concerns.

Rather than doing battle 

from the outer edges of our conflicts 

to conquer the middle, let us begin our dialogs 

from the place where values are shared by all 

so that we may strengthen the core 

of those beliefs and devalue our differences.

Rather than dividing ourselves 

into smaller and smaller factions while demanding 

the focus be on our uniqueness, 

let us strengthen the core of the ideals 

that reach across all of humanity 

that they may bind us together. 

We laugh, we cry, 

we love, we mourn. 

Start there. 

Quiet reflection

     harvests bountiful blessings,

till the new year's field.

-New Years 2021 - 2022

Ken Owen
Van Niddy Press  

Wednesday, December 15, 2021

In Search of Inspiration

(The Quietest Room in the House)

After a protracted period 

of reading uninspiring books which 

could not seem to spark any fires 

in my smoldering imagination 

I was excited to see a new book 

from a famous author who

I had been told long ago 

had a style of writing that I seemed to mirror

though I remember having to admit 

I had never heard of the man

and would only realize much later 

the great honor in the comparison.

Rushing home with his new book, 

I went directly to the quietest room in the house

where I knew I could quickly absorb his first few chapters 

while flushing away all recently uninspiring poetry.

And so it began:

a beautiful cover, a touching dedication,

and a poem by the author as prolog; an interesting concept,

but the poem was two stanzas 

about eating his morning’s breakfast 

while staring out the kitchen window,

and it seemed undeserving 

of its special page numbering 

in lower case Roman numerals

and I thought

“Why would you start your book with something 

that will disappoint everyone

before you get to the real numbers?”

Without an answer, 

I continued.

First poem - 

on pages starting with modern numbers 

so as to stem the confusion and declare the real beginning - 

was about his old dog


and I thought

“Well now, here’s something I can relate to”,

yet all he could muster was a nice simile 

about his old dog’s snout being as white as a marshmallow


and even that felt like a cheap hit 

slapped into right field on a pitch that years ago 

would have been turned into a majestic home run 

from one of the deadliest hitters in the game.

Overwhelmed with the realization 

that the student would no longer find 

inspiration from the teacher,

I left the quietest room in the house

and tried to disarm my disappointment 

by remembering how his wonderful past works 

had taught me the possibilities of the craft,

but I could not shake the image 

that my hero had joined the rest of us 

and become just another dazed poet

staggering to the breakfast table

in search of inspiration.

-sadly inspired by a former U. S. Poet Laureate

Ken Owen    December 2021
Van Niddy Press

Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Too Much Time in Chinatown: The Video

In May 2014 my friend Katie Guthorn enlisted myself, John Seabury, and Alex Baum as actors in an independent film.  Katie, who was playing the role of a singer in a nightclub, was asked by the producers if she could recommend any local musicians that "looked like sleazy old jazz guys." We were excited to be recommended (but perhaps a little less when we gave it a bit more thought as to why we got the part).

The film crew had turned the basement of a restaurant in San Francisco's Chinatown into a speakeasy night club. We set up our equipment, only then to be told we would be playing along to a recorded track and not making any live music. Though our expectations were dwindling away - "stand there and look questionable" - it seemed we were the right men for the job. 

Over the three days of being 'on set', we quickly realized that most of our time would be spent waiting to be called for a scene. After a while, we went from waiting on the stage, to waiting outside the restaurant on the sidewalk, to me giving my cell phone number to a stage hand and telling him to text me when they needed us; I had found the band a remote office around the corner where we could spend our time: Lei Po's Lounge.

While we waited between takes, we watched the ball game, talked with actors and stage hands (they quickly took to my 'remote office' idea), we ate wonderful chinese food for lunch, and I wrote a few poems. The one that documented our experience was called "Too Much Time in Chinatown."

I recently watched the final season of the series Goliath on HBO which was set in San Francisco with many scenes shot in Chinatown. It quickly reminded me of our experience there and the poem I wrote about it, so I decided to try my hand at producing a spoken word recital of the poem with a soundtrack of drums and effects. My initial attempts came out fine for the percussion loop and sound effects, but I learned in a one take that my voice was as far away from sounding like James Earl Jones as humanly possible. Luckily, I was able to enlist a dear old friend who is a professional voice-over actor to recite the poem, and his performance sounds magnificent. The final touch was to tie all the pieces together with an attempt at some visuals. The video is called 'Too Much Time in Chinatown'. I hope you enjoy it.

Update, 12/27: I created a new version of the video by removing the drum loops and replacing them with an acoustic bass performance by Alex Baum. 

YouTube Link: Too Much Time in Chinatown; Jazz Coffee House Version

YouTube Link:  Too Much Time in Chinatown: version 1

For Katie, Alex, and John.

-Ken Owen     Van Niddy Press
Winter 2021