"Yourself a newborn bard of the Holy Ghost" Ralph Waldo Emerson
In this conversation, Grant Peeples, self-described "Sword poet, Song swallower, & Soldier in the war for the planet,” shares his unabashed perspectives on the creative life. We first met at WoodyFest in Okemah, Oklahoma; an annual festival celebrating the life and art of Woody Guthrie. There’s an authenticity in Grant’s poems and songs that would have made Woody smile. During the pandemic, Grant has produced a one of a kind show, “Clay Tablets.” His guest this month is Gurf Morlix. You won’t want to miss it! Tickets available at https://www.grantpeeples.com/claytablets.html
(The Belated Bard) Thanks so much for speaking with us Grant. This interview will be published the week after the assault on the Capital. Given the cultural convulsions and real dangers facing us these days, some folks may think the creative arts are relatively unimportant at the moment. I'm guessing you might think otherwise. So here's our first question: Why do the arts in general, and poetry and songs in particular, matter in times like these?"
Grant—"One of my mentors, the late, great, unknown poet, Jack Saunders, told me one time: “You gotta write like you’re already dead.” The axiom is based on the idea that we won’t know if what we are doing today really “matters”…until tomorrow. So, I can’t make an argument that songs, poems and paintings being created today really matter. But I know this: though there are millions of species on the planet, and we hold in common so much with so many, the one true thing that separates us from all other living beings is that we make art. Whether the art we are making matters or not, I can’t really make an argument. But if we are NOT making it, or if we are not making it in such a way that when we are gone it will reflect upon who we are and what we believe and what we value…then I’m pretty sure that nothing “matters.”
(BB) You've been bardin' for a while now. Any words of wisdom for those who are new to the creative life or are thinking about giving it up for a 'real job'?
Grant—"First, if you are trying to make a ‘decision’ about whether to quit your day job or not, then you should NOT quit your day job. As Leonard Cohen said: “being an artist isn’t a career decision, it’s a sentence.” Don’t even TRY to make yourself do this or talk yourself into doing it or try to convince yourself that you should. You only do this if your ass is on fire and there is no other way to put it out than to leap into the vortex of a creative life. That said, the secret to not drowning once you leap is to FIND YOUR PEOPLE. Be on alert 24/7 for anyone who ‘gets’ you. Or even SHOULD get you. And don’t let them get away. Cultivate them. The entirety of my little chicken shit career is based upon about five hundred people that I have collected. These are my people. They are sure to buy my records and books and other merchandise, participate in my crowd funding campaigns, come to my shows. If you want to make a living as an artist, set a goal to have the name, physical address, phone number, email address, spouse name, pets name, kids names, etc. of 500 people that ‘get you.’ They come…slowly. Some fall away, and others enter. But MAIL them birthday cards. Send them notes. Call them on the phone. Learn their names. CLAIM their acknowledgment of you. You don’t need more than 500 True adherents to your work to survive. Fuck trying to get a million Twitter followers. That’s a fool’s errand. Make your art and nail it to hearts of your people.”
(BB) "Tell us about Clay Tablets? Why did you start the project? What stands out to you about this experience so far?"
Grant—"Clay Tablets is just an idea that happened to work. Most creative ideas don’t. In March of 2019, as the reality of the pandemic set in---in the middle of a virulent political election---I was having a conversation with the artist, Matthew McCarron. I was telling Matthew about how another artist friend, Jim Roche, also a mentor of mine, had recently told me: “we gotta make everything count now,” that there was a responsibility we had, as creators, to be chronicling what all was going down before our eyes---at the speed of light. And Matthew said. “Yeah, man. Its Clay Tablets.” And as soon as he said that the whole concept of a live broadcast flashed in my head, one that was premised on the question: “Based upon artistic record that is being made right now, what will future generations know about who we are, what we believe, what we value?” So the program, which is a twelve part series that I broadcast on YouTube, is a amalgamation of art, poetry, music, readings, photography, interviews and other assorted stuff. Some of it mine, but mostly just things that I have been drawn to between episodes. Those five hundred people I was telling you about? They make it happen. They support it. I collected these people over the years. From Berlin to Seattle. Playing for 30 people here and there along the way. And making that REAL connection with one or two here, and one of two there. And then when the pandemic hit, they were there for me.”
(BB) "Grant, we here at The Belated Bard appreciate your time. Looking forward to the next time our paths may cross."
(Be sure to scroll down for Parts One-Three of our "Conversation" with Kathleen!!)
Belated Bard: Kathleen, you've already shared a little bit about what you're doing with your students, but maybe we can delve a little deeper into this. It seems like a constant theme or at least a consistent theme of your teaching, is the encouragement you give your students to be creative. And I'm just kind of wondering how receptive this generation of students is to the call to be creative? What challenges have you faced or what sort of things do you do to encourage creativity in your students?
Kathleen Hudson: I'm always up against people who say “well I can't write” and so I have ways of introducing it that immediately shows them that they can write. It's surprising to some people that I’ve been teaching 53 years with full tenure and I'm still teaching freshman. You know usually that's when you move on to upper level courses; but I love the motivation and challenge and I love being the one who can say you can do this and then show them they can write with the right kinds of assignments.
So at one point, I was in San Antonio and I heard this speaker David Eagleman. He had a book telling the secret life of the brain [Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain] that got me really intrigued with neuroscience and what the brain is and then he has a piece of fiction called Sum: Forty Tales From the Afterlives and then all of a sudden he's got a book on creativity that he did at Rice with a guy [The Runaway Species: How Human Creativity Remakes the World, David Eagleman & Anthony Brandt] and I use that book as a textbook and then all of a sudden everything that he talks about with the brain perfectly addresses my classes. So now every class I teach they get to watch Eagleman on YouTube. There's a 22-minute thing where he talks about the brain and the mind and then I have my student speculate on the difference. And then I asked them, “Does it make sense to you that we're going to be talking about your brain in this class?” And so I share Eagleman on creativity.
He said his definition was that the creative process is involved with breaking, bending or blending. That's all you do. You break it or you bend it or you combine. There is no page coming out of nowhere, right? So Austin Kleon in Austin, Texas has a book Steal Like an Artist and he's got some great YouTube presentations of how one form of art builds on another. And it's almost like there's nothing new and then all of that dovetails beautifully with everything Dylan says. So anything he's been charged with you know is just blending. Someone told him once, “You're just pulling together something from somebody else” and he said “Well, why don't you try doing it?” So I do meet some resistance, but I get through it very, very quickly at the beginning. In my literature class, I start every class with some mindfulness. And then I have a reflection journal. I actually buy them a spiral notebook. It's a gift. And then every day we write in it. And the first writing it may be something like imagine that you are now 50 years old and write a letter to yourself now. And then I say for the sake of this class and what the neuroscientist David Eagleman says you are using a particular part of your brain to shape that. I mean that is such a non-threatening, easy assignment. And I have lots of assignments like that we do.
So, break, bend, and blend from David Eagleman the neuroscientist is part of my very specific approach to the creative process now. The other day I said “Imagine that you have two angels with you at all times. Describe them as characters in your life. What do they offer you?” I guarantee you there will be at least one student in that class, that the rest of her life will be aware of the angels and their support. It'll be very real. And so I get to weave all that is important to me that I know makes a difference in the spirit of the liberal arts education, in the spirit of the humanities, in the spirit of bottom line knowing who you are, knowing more about yourself. Which I'm sure you figured out by now is my approach to education. Doesn't matter what I'm teaching. I can do it in a math class.
I think the Latin word for “education” is educere, which means to lead forth. So that's what we do.
Belated Bard: And we learn from them.
Kathleen Hudson: That's why I'm still doing it. I mean, I taught through chemo. I taught through the diagnosis. I went to class 10 minutes after I was diagnosed. I was like, I gotta go to class. I learned so many powerful things by continuing on and letting them nourish me.
Belated Bard: You have recently announced the creation of Pegasus Rising, a business that will house writing workshops and serve as a vehicle for you to coach writing projects and “expand the role of creativity in an individual or organization.” Tell us more about your hopes and dreams for Pegasus Rising.
Kathleen Hudson: So well before I started the music foundation, I had a friend, a poet. And I had this idea in the early, early 80s to start this business, Pegasus Enterprises and it was again in that spirit of just having a general box to put things I wanted to do. And so I ended up publishing a book for my friend. And we put the stamp Pegasus Enterprises and then I thought well if I give talks or whatever I do. And then as I created the Texas Heritage Music Foundation, Pegasus Enterprises kind of went away and I had no urge to start something else. But it wasn't too long ago that all of a sudden I woke up one morning with this phrase Pegasus Rising and of course in mythology Pegasus represents inspiration. And he's got Wings. So yet again, my life has a lot of themes in it and yet again, it's a structure. Because, as I look at my teaching career in the classroom and what's going to change I would still like to be able to have it set in the world. But I want to give talks as you can tell. I love talking. I want to do workshops, I can do private motivational creativity stuff. There's all kinds of things I can do. And maybe I want to publish another book for a friend. I was talking to a financial guy today and I told him I really want to keep it simple. And he said why don't you just name it your DBA--Doing Business As. So it'll probably be that simple.
Belated Bard: So going forward you're encouraging people to follow your author page on Facebook.
Kathleen Hudson: Yes, that way I can continue to be a networking for other people doing similar things, and then one thing leads to another!
Belated Bard: You’ve just completed teaching a course on Bob Dylan to college students. What was that experience like? Why do you think Dylan continues to draw fans and enthusiasts in this generation?
Kathleen Hudson: Schreiner is small, 1200 students, and there was not a big rush for this class. In fact I had to individually talk to people. I had to lean on creative people I knew. I advertised it as an interdisciplinary course. Come in here with your history major. You will all do projects based on what you're interested in and I still only ended up with eight. So my experiment was seminar style. Because I was at that international Dylan conference [Bob Dylan World Symposium, Tulsa, OK 2019] I got this idea to have a semester-long project that we donate to the new Dylan Center, because that Center is very committed to Dylan's work in education. So I want to be on the front line of that. There are other professors who've done things a lot longer. Richard Thomas who wrote the textbook I used has been teaching Dylan at Harvard for how many years? But it was new for me. I was thrilled to hear students say things like “Wow, I had no idea.” So they didn't come in with the knowledge. There's a few who have cool parents. I had a history major who blew me out of the water with his project and his approach. He said “This has all been a discovery for me.” And there's an academic fair at Schreiner in a couple of weeks and he's going to represent the Dylan class and share one of his projects. He did a day in the life of 1962 and all this research and even found the handwritten lyrics to “Blowing in the Wind”. And he took a song that Dylan wrote in 10 minutes and he put a picture of a clock up there and the lyrics.
Belated Bard: That's wonderful. Were they excited to have their projects donated to the Dylan Center?
Kathleen Hudson: Yes! I think that gave it a little more significance. And I had them give little presentations along the way and then of course I had other assignments. They did a big report on Richard Thomas’s book. I ended up using Scorsese’s movie “No Direction Home” and “Rolling Thunder Revue.” Then I ended up showing “Masked and Anonymous.” And one kid really glommed onto that. He did a whole project on it. He just loved it. So that was really fun. Yeah cool. I had one guy who is a poet. He's learning he's a poet. He ended up putting together a collection of original poetry as a response to Dylan songs.
Belated Bard: So I'm assuming you've never gotten to interview Dylan? If you ever do get a chance, what would you want to ask him?
Kathleen Hudson: Well, I thought about that. And I think it's interesting because it kind of comes full circle to the beginning of what you asked me. The question I would want to ask Dylan is “What are you curious about now? What calls you? What voices do you hear?”
I know he's welding and he's painting. And I don't know if the whiskey [Dylan’s Heaven’s Door Whiskey brand] called him or if it was a good business plan. I don't know. We don't know those things. But I mean he took his song “Things Have Changed” to the set of “Wonder Boys.” And I think offered them the song. So he actually even read Michael Chabon or knew the story. So something called him to be a part of that. I love to show that to my students by the way, and I love that movie.
Belated Bard: So that would be the right question. I'm trying to imagine how he would answer it. He is so notoriously cantankerous with questions posed to him.
Kathleen Hudson: He's cantankerous when he’s being pushed in a corner to say something specific. But that question is so open. That I think it might elicit a response. Even if he says “you know, by now, nothing.” It's fine.
Belated Bard: Yeah, of course with his output of music, with the release of “Rough and Rowdy Ways.”
Kathleen Hudson: You know that's a line from a Jimmy Rogers song. That made me realize that I really do need to meet Bob Dylan. In fact, I've actually thought about it--not to be arrogant--I've actually hit on the thought he needs to meet me. It's the weirdest thought. He's the one who needs to meet me! Like, what the hell?! Where's that coming from?
There's also another really interesting connection. When I was diagnosed with cancer October and had the first mastectomy October 31st. I had tickets to Dylan at the Beacon Theater in New York on Thanksgiving. And I went. And I contacted his manager ahead of time and I had an appointment to meet his manager. And I hit New York and the streets were grid-locked and the manager couldn't meet me at the office and I couldn't get there. So I went to the Beacon Theater and I saw a guy walk out from backstage and he walked by. I was there a little bit early in my seat. So I'm sitting there on row 10 and the guy walks by me and I said, “Excuse me, is Jeff Rosen here. I was supposed to be here this afternoon and wasn't able to make it.” And he looked at me and he said “Well, I'll tell him you're here.” And I said, “Oh don't bother him” because I'm always big with don't bother them and he looked at me and he said “You, pretty woman, Jeff Rosen’s gonna’ want to meet you.” And that was very sweet. So then later the guy walks by me again. He said oh by the way Jeff's right back there. And so I was just like you’re meeting Bob Dylan's famous manager. So I walked back there and Jeff was sitting in a seat and he was looking down at something and I said “Hi, I'm Kathleen Hudson from Texas and sorry we didn't get to meet this afternoon, but I just want to let you know I'm here at the show.” Again with this hope of, come on, you could put me with him.
And Jeff has always been so gracious with me. I contact him about once a year. He always answers. I'm now the Jimmie Rodgers woman in Texas. He has actually sent me replies like “Good job. Keep up the good work.” So we said hi and that was it, but I think it's going to happen. It’s just that I knew Jimmie Rodgers’s daughter! I knew his grandson. One time when Bob was playing Austin, I really thought I could have taken the grandson to meet him. But Bob had moved on from Jimmie after he did a tribute to Jimmie and the Carter family [“The Songs of Jimmie Rodgers—a Tribute”] he moved on.
I would really like him to write something for this third book [on Mexican American musicians of Texas, forthcoming from A&M press] because of Flaco [Jimenez]. Yeah, And if and when I get excited about another project, I really want to be the one writing about Dylan and Texas Music.
Belated Bard: Well, I'm a book person and I know you are and this next question I’d like to ask you was inspired when I was packing to leave Oklahoma and drive down the Texas and I've got my book bag and I begin thinking about what I’m going to throw in the book bag for the trip. So your next trip, what are you likely to throw in your book bag?
Kathleen Hudson: Well, I have this book by Mark Nepo and it's called The Book of Awakening. And he had a real serious cancer diagnosis and these are like daily meditations and affirmations and stories and what he has put together. It always speaks to me. I have lots of those kinds of books and I have lots of quotations and I have lots of daily stuff but nothing like his book on awakening and it was a New York Times bestseller. So obviously a lot of people thought it was good, but that book is guaranteed to give you the message you need and be uplifting. So that's always important. I do deliberately read that sort of thing in the morning. And then whatever novel. I love being in the middle of someone else's story and I like the feeling of being in a story that calls me at night like, “Oh, I got to go get back in my book.”
I'm not engaged in a novel right now, except I'm slowly moving through one by this Japanese Nobel Laureate Kazuo Ishiguro. Klara and the Sun is the one I'm reading now. It's the eighth novel by him. Dystopian science fiction. I would never say I was even reading science fiction. I'm reading a Japanese novel. I'm really enjoying it. So, I would throw in whatever piece of fiction I'm in the middle of at the time, to carry a story with me. And then the Awakening to have that and then there's you know, there's a good chance Dylan or Leonard Cohen or both. Because Leonard speaks to me as strongly as Dylan in a different way; but he's right up there.
Belated Bard: Do you remember the story where Cohen's being asked about how long it takes to write songs. And he says for his really good ones maybe years. And then he asked Dylan how long it took for him to write one of his classics and Dylan said fifteen minutes. I laughed out loud!
Kathleen Hudson: I read that Leonard had 88 verses to his big song “Hallelujah.” And then how when spiritual groups do it they leave out a verse or two and Leonard’s fine with it. I have interviewed Leonard twice.
Belated Bard: What was his presence like?
Kathleen Hudson: Well, it was just intense. I mean, I walked in alone and a back room with a pool table at the Austin opera house and he was all in black and it was before the show. It was probably sometime in the late 80s. And we sat down on the couch and talked and all this time I'm gasping like, “This is Leonard Cohen!” So it was just intense, but comfortable. Whereas being with Willie is like being with Buddha. I mean, it's just like totally accepting and it doesn't have that level of intensity.
Belated Bard: Well, it’s good to hear things about Willie like that, that he's like Buddha, totally accepting. Because that's the public facing image.
Kathleen Hudson: Well he has always been that way when I’ve been with him.
Belated Bard: One of the women you've featured in your book is Terri Hendrix, and I think you guys are probably pretty good friends as well. And so - I was kind of wanting to talk about spirituality a little bit. And I know Terri has this song “The Spiritual Kind” and I actually met her in a basement concert in Shawnee, Oklahoma. She was doing a house concert back then and she came back to that house like twice and one of the memories I have I think you might appreciate. My daughter Bonnie was like 13 or 14 and had just picked up a guitar and was talking about being a songwriter. And Terri talked to my daughter and gave Bonnie her undivided attention.. I'll never be able to thank her enough for that.
Kathleen Hudson: And she does that with everyone. I’ve brought her to my school. I’ve had her in my classes. I've watched her when somebody will come up to her after a show and she's just present. She's authentic. She's everything I just have loved about the whole Texas music scene.
Belated Bard: Well I thought about her song “The Spiritual Kind.” I know when you've interviewed songwriters over the years that in various ways—and you don't always put it this way--but in various ways you're trying to seek out the source of their inspiration and some of them, you know, can't define it.
Kathleen Hudson: I love the conversations when they say “it comes through me.” That's not true for everyone. There's a craft and there's people who revise and they work at it and blah blah blah, but that part of the inspiration where they're aware of being a channel, and it goes back to Dylan and that interview he did with Ed Bradley. And he says, I don't know where my songs came from and then Ed Bradley says you think you could do it again and Dylan said, “No, I can do other things.”
These are real important attributes to me because I was raised in a western culture with the emphasis on doing and achieving. I'm really drawn to conversations of listening, surrendering, and allowing. And I'm automatically drawn to those because my culture and the white noise was do, do, achieve, achieve, you know, and I ended up with my own little type A personality. So I'm real drawn to tenets from Eastern thought, Buddhism and the whole like you said with Wendell Berry “sit, be still, listen.” So not only is that an important part of the creative process, I will actually send my students out to sit and observe and I tell them we're doing an exercise and observation for their brain--observe and allow. And I think that is a spiritual aspect of the creative process, because whatever you believe about spirit, energy, soul, we’ve got all these words that we weave together and different people have different terms. I mean it can be discussed in terms of energy. And we know from physics that we're all energetic beings and we're vibrating. And so the spiritual aspect of writing as you said is more evident with some people, they articulate it. Some people are aware of it and talk about it more but I think it's always there. Some songwriters talk about being like a transistor radio tuning into the right frequency to pick up on it. That's actually one of my favorite images I like to share with students. You know, you're not seeing or feeling everything that's happening in this room. Look at your phone. There's all kinds of energy going in and out of that thing. And somehow my friend in Mexico's voice can be right here. I love that image. We can't really alter the reality around us, but we can alter the channel!
Belated Bard: Kathleen, we can't thank you enough for spending some time with us. You are a true inspiration!!
In Part Three of our “Conversation” with Kathleen Hudson, she tells us the story of the founding of the Texas Heritage Music Foundation and her 30 years as the Foundation's director. Characters in the story include Willie Nelson, Guy Clark, Merle Haggard, and Townes Van Zandt!!
Belated Bard: Talk to us about the creation of the Texas Heritage Music Foundation and what you see as the legacy of the Foundation.
Kathleen Hudson: I looked up in 87 and realized I felt really fragmented. I was writing a column, teaching (at Schreiner University in Kerrville where Kathleen is still teaching English and creative writing). I had all these ideas about education in music. I had the radio show going. And it suddenly hit me that I could start my own nonprofit. And again, it was to give a house to what I was doing. So I wrote a mission statement that was a very broad document on the role of music and society to explore, you know, to educate. It could serve as an umbrella organization for anything I wanted to pursue. But it was to provide a place for projects already had going, too. So then it gave me a way to raise money to get support. So that if I wanted to send music into the nursing homes or send music into the schools, I had an avenue to do that. And a lot of my drive I realize now was the joy at getting artists paid. The primary drive wasn't the end product; it was also I get to raise a budget. So I never raised an operating budget. I was the volunteer executive director for 30 years. I had no paid staff. I did not have a board that raised money. Out of that frame I created the Texas Heritage Living History Day. It evolved from the Jimmie Rodgers Jubilee and then it became one thing after another, different names, and then I finally got it housed at Schreiner. It became first of all living history. And then that sounded too much like a bunch of cannons and rifles, and so Texas Heritage Music Days, and then the community was very confused, because it looked like a Schreiner project. I said no and then my nonprofit moved to Schreiner so that really became confusing. What is she doing? Right but I never had to raise the salary for me because I was teaching; but it makes it really hard to pass on the baton. So I went to my board; there were a few people on the board I didn't know at the time. They kind of slipped in as friends of friends, and I just imagined that I would close it. My money my energy. All of a sudden they decided to take a vote and they decided to tell me they weren't going to close it. So it was not a pleasant parting, because it wasn't the way I wanted. But as things do, it ultimately worked out for the best. There were a couple of projects that one of the board members kept going which were really important. They were not part of my original Vision, but the project of music in nursing homes was a real pet project for one board member and so she took it on so there is still a frame of Texas Heritage Music out there. It's not at all furthering any of the work I did right but it is still a legacy of that original mission statement. (For more on the programs and history of the Texas Heritage Music Foundation, see https://www.texasheritagemusic.org/about)
But personally I'm going to keep doing the tribute to Jimmy Rogers in September somehow. I've done that for so long and it’s not just my legacy, but it's just something that I really want to keep doing. There are so many artists that point to him. One of the most exciting moments in my personal connection with Texas Heritage Living History Day was in 1997 celebrating a hundred years of Jimmie Rodgers. I stumbled into an opportunity to ask Willie Nelson to come to town (Kathleen had first met and interviewed Willie Nelson at the Memphis Blues Awards in 1987 or 88). He just said “Yes!” I didn't have a contract. I don't even think I had a handshake. I did not realize that I needed to provide sound. I thought if somebody said they were going to come do music they’d have their own sound system. Luckily I'd gotten Little Joe y la Familia to open and he had brought a sound system. So when somebody came up to me and said “Well, where's the sound system?” I just went “What?” and so I went to Little Joe and he graciously left his system.
And Willie played. So the exciting thing about that is that's the same year that Bob Dylan came out with a tribute album to Jimmie Rodgers. So I felt like that was the best year to ask Dylan to be involved. The only thing that happened out of that is I got a collection maybe 20 of the CDs that Rounder Records put out, so I got to give them away or sell them or whatever. I figure that that's a really great connection for me with Dylan.
So 1997 was a real turning point for me and the foundation with Willie, and I brought Merle (Haggard) in 1996, Mr. Jimmie Rodgers, right (Same Train, A Different Time--subtitled Merle Haggard Sings the Great Songs of Jimmie Rodgers--is the ninth studio album by Merle Haggard. Released in 1969 on Capitol Records, it features covers of songs by legendary country music songwriter Jimmie Rodgers). And in ‘97 we had Willie and we raised money for a scholarship fund and gave away lots of scholarships. And yeah, I can say right now that I'm very, very glad I'm not running the nonprofit and doing what that takes, but those 30 years were fantastic.
Belated Bard: And to think about the legacy of something like that is an organic thing you know; there's no way probably even to quantify in an objective sense the impact of those years.
Kathleen Hudson: Yeah, and I sent all these music programs in the schools. And we brought the Texas Heritage Day which was an educational event for the schools to come to. So you'd see 30-40 buses pull up. I had all kinds of educational projects. I tell the songwriters under a tree, you know, maybe do railroad songs and talk about the history of that. I never told them what to do, but I said you're educating as well. And then I would have a stage and showcase and then I'd have a noon tribute to Jimmie. And one year I did a tribute to the Texas songwriter and that's when I got Guy Clark, Tish Hinojosa, and Townes Van Zandt here!
Belated Bard: Townes Van Zandt. Wow! Townes is one of the people you've interviewed that, it must have been just so special. He’s, I mean, he’s Townes!!
Kathleen Hudson: Yeah, Townes relates to another level of creativity for me. I'm writing poetry with my students and I play around with poetic expression. I ended up getting five poems published in a San Antonio Arts magazine and on the cover it said featured poet, Kathleen Hudson. Well, and yesterday I got a copy of their magazine and they had best poems from 2019 or something. And one of my poems is in it. And it’s a poem that talks about the value of edges, and it says that a Townes Van Zandt song is a pile of shards of glass and the sharp edges can cut you and edges can open you up. And anyway, there was a comparison with edges and a Townes song. You can jump off an edge, you can be cut by an edge. What do edges mean? Yeah. So that was just yesterday I saw that.
In coming installments of our "Conversation" w/ Kathleen, we'll hear about her work in the classroom teaching Bob Dylan and sharing her passion for creative expression with her students. Stay tuned!!
In Part Two of our “Conversation” with Kathleen Hudson, she tells about the origins of the soon to be trilogy of books she’s published on the stories and music of Texas singer-songwriters. She’ll take us all the way back to her early days in Kerrville and her interviews with the likes of Kinky Friedman and Leonard Cohen, including her very first interview and lifelong friendship with none other than Peter Yarrow!
Belated Bard: You have published two books of interviews with Texas musicians, the second of which focuses on the women of Texas music, with a third book soon to be published featuring Mexican American voices in Texas music. How did you get started on this journey of collecting and publishing the stories of Texas musicians and what has kept you on this path?
Kathleen Hudson: I am a collector. My first book was a collection of interviews that came out in 2001 with University of Texas press. I did all those interviews in the 80s and 90s creating a radio show and I just like to talk to people and I love what happens with the creative process in the opening of an interview. So then people started saying this would be a book. I did not do the interviews to write a book. I started off just doing them actually for a radio show that I created. So here I am collecting and I've got all these cassette tapes in an old dresser in my garage and somebody says come on do a book. That's the most work I've ever done transcribing them, editing them, finding out the details, getting permissions. It was horrific. I finished it and I said, that's it. Never again. But then I realized this book is kind of heavy on men. Oh no, how did a woman do a book without the women? So I said, well, I'll just focus on the women. And that led to the second book. I had input in both covers and I was thrilled. Both covers had my photos not as a photographer but as a documentation and I was so happy and then I offered the third book to University of Texas. Why not a trilogy? And they've changed editors and the new editor didn't have the vision I did. And, of course, oral histories don't sell. They sell enough to make their money back. The writer makes no money, but you've got something important. When they said no, I couldn't believe it. But Texas A&M University Press was like, well, guess what? We're going to do it. They had just done Tamara Saviano's book on Guy Clark (Without Getting Killed or Caught: The Life and Music of Guy Clark, College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2016). So I'm in a really good place.
But the impetus behind those books had to do with this sort of collecting gene I have. So I have hats. I have rocks. I have scarves. I have items representing various cultures and I do have this collector gene. But the drive behind the second book was let's get the women in Texas music covered. The drive behind the third book was really weird because by then I was like “No, no, no” to a third book. Then I thought okay, we've got digital technology. I'll do a better job of organizing. I will be able to make this easier, which it wasn't. But anyway, I thought I love Mexico. And so the third one was conceived. I love Flaco (Jimenez). I was in Montreux, Switzerland on the front row when Bob Dylan called Flaco up to play with him on a song on the Borderland. So we have the Flaco/Bob connection. But I love, love, love Mexico. I love Spanish and it was just a natural place to go. I do not foresee another oral history.
I'm not one of those scholars who tells you what it all means. My collections have my very subjective personal interpretations of being with these people. Like I may not know who was playing drums on the fifth track of this album. I know what it feels like to be at a Delbert McClinton show. I know what it feels like to be at Flaco's house talking to him. So I'm not the one that's carrying all the facts, but I have the experiences and as you can see in the books, I've shared them in the introductions and with my stories.
I learned that there was an academic context called oral history since I started giving presentations at oral history associations, and I didn't even know what I was doing had a name. That's how, sort of naively, I just jumped into it because I listen to you play and I’m like oh my gosh, I want to know what's behind that. I want to know who you are. And then I want to share it because I’ve got this dadgum cheerleader vein where I don't seem to ever be able to enjoy anything without wanting to share it. It's just automatic.
Belated Bard: So do you happen to remember who's very first person you spoke to, whose story you first collected?
Kathleen Hudson: Well, I moved to Kerrville after getting a PhD and my PhD was a collection of what writers say about writing mostly by reading the Paris review interviews. But because I came to the Kerrville Folk Festival, I thought it would be fun at the end of my dissertation to add a couple of interviews. So I was reading interviews and I was at the Kerrville Folk Festival, and who else but Peter Yarrow! Our interview was so long that my dissertation committee said don't you think you should like cut and edit that and I was like no! So I got excited. Peter Yarrow was playing at the Kerrville Folk Festival. Peter met Rod Kennedy, the festival’s founder, and Peter actually encouraged Rod to set up the Songwriters Foundation and the New Folk Contest. Probably based on Newport. So anyway the New Folk Contest was all Peter. He's gone every year since and he's always celebrated his birthday there and I've become really, really close to him. But at the moment I interviewed Peter backstage at the Kerrville Folk Festival, I was a newly divorced PhD teaching high school. So Rod said, “Why don't you move to Kerrville and be the development director of my Foundation.” Well, I had no idea what any of that meant I didn't do any research. I asked the kids “want to move to Kerrville?” Yes. So we did. There was no salary attached to this job. I didn't realize development director meant I had to raise my own salary. Luckily, a year later there was an opening for an English teacher at Schreiner University in Kerrville. That first year I just was overwhelmed with creative ideas, and Rod was like, “I don't want to do anything different. I don't want to change anything. Go find the money.” I didn't realize that my ideas weren’t going to be part of it. I wanted to do I do a radio show so I did it myself. And then I remember I put together a radio series of my interviews. Speaking of creativity. I just thought well I could talk to someone, play some of their music, find the sponsor and put together a 30-minute show. So I went into the studio with my own funding and recorded. So I now have archived a 15 part radio series on Texas music. Anyway, so interviews. I remember sitting at the Del Norte here in Kerrville talking to Kinky Friedman. And I am just like overwhelmed. Yeah, so I connected with a lot of these people in this area, like when I interviewed Leonard Cohen in Austin. I also was training horses and he's got a song “The Ballad of the absent Mare.” So I didn't begin my interview talking about his writing or his life. I just went in and I said, how did you come up with these horses? And I found out that he owned some and he lived in Nashville. Yeah. So anyway, my connections came out of that curiosity right back to the beginning.” (Stay tuned for Part Three of our "Conversation" with Kathleen. In the meantime, treat yourself to her books and checkout her Writer's page on Facebook.)
You'd be hard pressed to find someone who has met and talked at length with more Texas musicians than self-described "teacher, writer, and high flyer" Kathleen Ann Hudson. So when she agreed to an interview with Belated Bard, we made a beeline straight to her adopted hometown Kerrville, Texas for a sit down. Our conversation was wide-ranging—“I like to talk” she kept telling us—so we’ll share her wit and wisdom here on “Conversations” through several episodes, beginning with today’s installment “The Power of Yes!” In the meantime, you ought to check out Kathleen’s author page on Facebook and pick up her two books on Texas music: Telling Stories, Writing Songs: An Album of Texas Songwriters & Women in Texas Music: Stories and Songs, both on University of Texas Press. A third volume on Mexican American Texas music is forthcoming from Texas A&M University Press.
Belated Bard: Kathleen, you are living such a wondrously adventurous life. Where does your sense of adventure come from?
Kathleen Hudson: That's a wonderful opportunity for me to answer that question because I have never answered it before and I look back at my life and realize that I lived in a family with complete support. So I had this nest and these parents who had this little girl who said, “I want to take ballet lessons” and they said “Yes!” “I want to take piano.” “Yes!” I want to go to summer camp and they were struggling. I was born before my dad started college and then he ends up with four kids and then medical school. Well, so I mean we struggled. But when this little girl got all excited about something absolutely nobody squashed me, put a thumb on me, or said, No way. So I think the “Big Yes” early on from my family encouraged what was naturally and genetically there. I mean, I can look at my parents and their lives right and they were both curious, open. I lived in that atmosphere. I got that support and to this day even though I lost my parents when I was 69 and 70. I had them a long time. I got to talk to them. I got the watch them get excited about my life. And I realize from talking to a lot of other people that that's a huge blessing for me. It's just a gift I had in life. It's extraordinary. I hope I can pass that on and be that for my three kids. Because I have three children and five grandchildren, one great-grandson, and I'm really aware of what my past meant to me and I realize now I'm becoming somebody's past.
Belated Bard: That's quite a thing to be thinking about becoming someone's past.
Kathleen Hudson: That's the truth of it. I got to cruise through life having a wonderful time with everything I did and I had the normal amount of usual tragedies. Nothing to stop me. Then in 2019, I was diagnosed with breast cancer, and that was a big halt and then very quickly as I finish the chemo for that on February 28th, 2020, we know what happened in March. So I really had a chance to think through some things.
Belated Bard: That's really wonderful that you could look back and see that you have parents with this little girl by disposition adventurous and they did nothing but encouraged that.
Kathleen Hudson: And I’m the first of five. So as we got older in life my parents even apologized to me! They were 21 and 22 and they said, “We had no idea. We learned to boil water together. And then here we have this child.” And one of my favorite stories and it's going to make me cry. But anyway, one of my favorite stories as mother was bedridden the last year of her life. And so I'd be up on the bed beside her because she couldn't really move but her mind was great, so we would talk. And she said, “You taught us so much. We had the crib in the bedroom and we would wake up in the morning and see this little girl, hanging on the edge of the crib looking at us, and we were like ‘oh what are we supposed to do with her?’” And I do have a reputation to my family that sometimes my parents were like what do we do with her?! But I had a really sweet time visiting my dad the year he was bedridden two years before he died and I got to drive up there [Fort Worth] and visit two or three times a month. And then when he died mother petted the bed beside her and she said now this is for you. And so when I would go up there I would lie down on that bed, and we'd watch black-and-white Turner Classic Movies because all those movie stars look like my parents. I mean my dad was John Wayne. He was that guy. And mother was tall and long dark hair, you know, so watching the movies was kind of like watching them. So I got that gift in life and there's a verse in the Bible. I need to remember which verse it is, but it says to him whom much is given much is required and that has just resonated with me.
(In upcoming installments of "Conversations" we'll share our discussions w/ Kathleen about how she began collecting the stories of Texas songwriters. So stay tuned!)
Benjamin Myers is a poet’s poet. Named Poet Laureate of the state of Oklahoma in 2015, he has written three books of poetry, most recently “Black Sunday.” In his most recent publication, A Poetics of Orthodoxy: Christian Truth as Aesthetic Foundation, Myers answers the question he and his creative writing students have wrestled with over the years—what aesthetic practices make for good poems and why. When not writing great poetry, he's likely to be making music with his band Flying Armadillo.
(Belated Bard) Thank you Ben, for joining us in Conversations here at The Belated Bard. And may I first just say, congratulations on "Black Sunday." What a gloriously realized work of art! Now that it's out there in the world, do you ever just step back and say to yourself, "Look at
that! Look at what I created!"?
Thanks. It’s really good to be here.
Just enjoying it would probably be the healthy response, and I do enjoy having created something. But the old cliché about writing a book being something like having children is probably true: you feel a great amount of pride but also spend a lot of time hoping they don’t embarrass you in public.
(BB) One of the Dramatis Personae in "Black Sunday" is Will Burns, a farmer in the Oklahoma Panhandle before, during, and after the Dust Bowl. In the poem "Will Lists His Assets on Another Loan Application,” Will concludes, "I guess I've got my word, and next to that my other assets are dirt sore eyes, overalls with one knee hole, a body dressed in rags, a ragged soul." I wonder what you might consider your assets that make you the poet you are?
I think a poet’s biggest asset is attention. A poet needs to notice things, to pay attention to the world. My introversion, the ability to be quite and just observe, has served me well, I think. I also have a great asset in coming from a family with a long history of storytelling and a love of language. A poet needs both a love for the world (for concrete things, for creation) and a love for words. When those two meet, it results in poetry.
(BB) You were born and raised in Chandler, Oklahoma and are now raising your family there. This rootedness in a particular place seems to ground your poetic voice. So what might you tell us about Will's declaration "the land's not ours" in the poem "Will Thinks About Land Ownership"? Later, Lily, Will's wife, describes the penny auction, the upshot of which allows her to say, "the land is ours now, free and clear" though she adds it is "a gift of men". What, finally, does Will think about land ownership? What do you think? Is the land, in a fundamental way, not ours?
That’s a great question. In writing about an Oklahoma farm family’s attachment to the land, I felt like it was important to acknowledge the complex history of that land. Will is entertaining the idea that the dust is some kind of retribution for pushing out the original occupants and vastly changing the ecology of the panhandle. What was land best suited for wide-range grazing was pretty rapidly settled and converted to large-scale wheat farming. Will is wondering if there is a reckoning coming due for that.
In “The Gift Outright” Robert Frost famously said of Americans that “The land was ours before we were the land’s.” That is very true of the original European settlers in America, but I think the opposite might be true of the descendants of Western settlers today. As a life-long and fourth-generation Oklahoman, I feel I definitely belong to the land, but I’m also aware that the land doesn’t so plain and simply belong to me.
(BB) I read "Black Sunday" aloud and believe it really enriched my experience with the book. What are your thoughts on "reading" poetry? Is "aurality" a sine qua non of poetry?
I’m so glad you did that! Yes, I think poetry is best experienced aloud. Of course, the roots of the art are oral, and it is only fairly recently that anyone thought of reading poems silently. I compose all my poems aloud, and encourage my students to do the same. This goes back to what I was saying before about poetry being a place where the world and words meet: poetry is best created and best experienced when it is embodied, both through concrete imagery and through the physical act of speaking.
(BB) I found the poems of the Reverend to be stunning. The poem "The Reverend on Natural Theology" just floored me. ("I will make you fissures of men." I mean, come on!!) Is it possible you were working out some theological issues through the Reverend?
Thanks so much for that. You are probably among the ideal audience for those poems. I wanted to write a book about hope, and the Reverend is my way of thinking through it theologically. With his beloved wife dead and his congregation eroding away, he is learning to separate true hope from mere optimism. He is bringing his seminary education to bear on his experiences and finding that, while that theological knowledge is certainly not useless, he ultimately has to rely on the peace that passes understanding. He does not do so easily or glibly. He is frequently deeply discouraged, because he is meant to be a real human being rather than a walking, breathing ten-minute devotional. He is certainly wrestling with God at times.
(BB) Speaking of theology, your latest publication has just come out--A Poetics of Orthodoxy: Christian Truth as Aesthetic Foundation. What would you like to tell us about it? What drove you to write such a book?
The new book is very much based on the courses in creative writing I have taught at OBU for the last fifteen years. When I first started teaching, I knew from my own education and reading that certain aesthetic practices – concrete imagery, direct diction, evocative metaphors – made for strong poems, but I don’t think I had a clear sense of why. The very bright students I have had the pleasure of teaching would occasionally push me to explain more. I would tell them to avoid sentimentality, and they would ask me why. That pushed me to ask myself the same question. I knew that the answer would ultimately have to be theological, grounded in the Christian understanding of reality in relationship to our Creator. So the book explores how Christian orthodoxy’s emphasis on both material creation and spiritual transcendence provides a foundation for artistic principles. The book is about art as an antidote to Gnosticism on the one hand and to reductive materialism on the other.
Given the cultural convulsions and real dangers facing us these days, some folks may think the creative arts are relatively unimportant at the moment. I'm guessing you might think otherwise. So here's our question: Why do the arts in general, and poetry in particular, matter in times like these?"
A lot of people in art and education have pointed recently to C.S. Lewis’ essay “Learning in Wartime,” and I think that is a great starting place. Lewis points out several important things: that all times are unsettled in some way, that we are always facing death, and that we are always facing eternity. Given all of that, we go on doing what human beings do because we are what human beings are.
Another way of putting it might be that, just as we shouldn’t stop eating during times of unrest and anxiety, because our bodies still need nourishment, we also shouldn’t stop reading poems and listening to music and looking at paintings, because our souls continue to need nourishment. Especially when we are so emerged in the daily news cycle and the online shouting matches, we need to be reminded of what is permanent and transcendent. The True, the Good, and the Beautiful can never become less relevant.
Comedian Connie Little, aka “Carol,”puts the creative in comedy. Her daily posts on Instagram (@little59carol) and FaceBook delight her followers with wry observations abounding in wit, grace, and a little bit of sass. Her fans look forward to seeing what Carol is "up to" each day.
While Connie’s Instagram posts are a recent venture, she has been a creative person her whole life. The “class clown“ in school, Connie has always been the one in her circle of friends looking for the laugh. And for most of her adult life (you can ask her how many decades it’s been), Connie’s creative energy and sense of beauty has found expression through her business enterprise of building, remodeling, and decorating homes. Now in retirement, but never retiring, she has found a new outlet for creative expression.
We hope you enjoy our conversation with our creative friend. Follow “Carol” on Instagram @little59carol.
(Belated Bard) Thanks for joining us in “Conversations.” You’ll be our first, but hopefully not our last, comedian. Great comics are always masters of language. With just the right phrase or timing or word choice, they can paint a picture or strike a chord with us. You’ve said “humor is your language.” Can you elaborate on that for us, or maybe illustrate what you mean by that?
I say it’s my language because I can’t seem to say much of anything without interjecting some humor. It’s the way I communicate. I naturally find the funny in everything and more times than not it’s at my own expense. Whether it’s making someone feel more comfortable, or letting them know I’m approachable and not taking myself too seriously. I have a strong belief that laughter is medicine or at least a momentary load lightener.
(BB) You’ve said “who I am in my heart and at my core is a comedian.” Would you say your humor is a form of self-expression and that’s why you find joy in comedy? Or would you say it’s something else, maybe something you almost have to do because it is so deep down just who you are?
I would say it’s a form of self-expression but it’s also just my personality. Everyone likes to feel validated by what they put out there even if it’s just within a circle of friends. I feed off the laughter. The more you laugh, the more my brain is churning out the next line. Doing the videos I’ve been posting lately I don’t get that immediate feedback. It takes a little more courage to put something out there, hope someone takes the time to listen to it and hopefully get a little feedback even if it’s a simple “like”. I think there are comedians who prepare and hone their craft for a performance but you might meet them in person and they come across private and reserved. My most sought after compliment is “she’s so funny.” I’ll take “pretty” and “smart” too (LOL) but it’s not what I’m looking for.
(BB) You’ve chosen an alter ego “Carol” for your daily Instagram and Facebook posts. Why an alter ego? How does that tie in to your creative process?
I find it fun and natural to take on another persona. Give me a different name and accent and I can “get away with” if you will, saying things that may not play as well otherwise. Carol is a little wacky and doesn’t have much of a filter. Okay....maybe the accent is the only thing that’s different from my real self!!
(BB) Humor seems to be universal among humans, but exclusive to our species. What do you think that says about what it means to be human? Or, conversely, do you think the joke’s on us and all creation is having a good laugh at our expense?
I think humor is universal among humans in that it is exclusive to our species (although I swear my cat is laughing at me sometimes) but not everyone has a sense of humor. I know some people who just never get the joke. And that’s okay. We’re all wired differently and process thoughts and information in different ways.
(BB) “Carol” has a loyal following on Facebook and Instagram. What do you see next for you two?
I’ve had a lot of fun introducing Carol to my Facebook and Instagram friends. My brand of humor is not for everyone and I don’t expect some people to get it. I’m not sure what’s next if anything. I started down this path because I was missing the creative outlet I’d had for many years that my job provided. At this later stage in my life I wanted to do something that was total fun and I’m open to anything. I think the pandemic has brought an extra dose of hardship to so many. Life in general can be hard and deal us some serious burdens to bear. I truly believe laughter--a physical response in our bodies--is healing and at the very least can help lighten our loads and help us breathe a little easier. Helping generate that laugh or smile brings me a lot of joy.