How shall I describe this book of poems? Imagination, emotion, and outrageousness thrown into a blender set on "frappe" to make a tasty technicolor cocktail of words. That seems about right! Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson said Anne Leighton's poetry has "A lovely turn of phrase and timing. Poignant, emotional and observant. I hope it gets much appreciation." High praise indeed! I asked Leighton to share her thoughts on 10 poems from The Leighton Explosion...
Poem 1: Magically Delicious
AL: True story and probably one reason I’ve been able to do whatever I’ve wanted in my career. I actually saw Lou Reed in a very vulnerable position, and turned it into a poem. I was hanging out with a friend that worked in a Greenwich Village record store when I was about 24 years old, and new to the New York City market. There were a bunch of cassettes in a box near the back of the store. This guy wearing a black T-shirt came into the store and crouched down to go through the box. My friend knew I loved Lou, and whispered, “Lou Reed.” I perked up and went to him, but he was so intent on seeing what was in the box. As I gazed, I noticed how low his pants were exposing the crack in his butt. He had great skin from the back, so I wrote a poem about it.
Poem 2: Pope Gregory The Ninth’s Nightmare
AL: I study cats in folklore, science, religion, and was moved by the respect that Saint Francis of Assisi gave to animals. I knew how much hatred religious leaders gave to women that loved cats and also to Saint Francis. Women were regarded as witches, especially if they had cats. When our religious leaders got rid of cats in Europe, the rats overtook the population and we had the Black Plague. As for Saint Francis, Pope Gregory did not want to canonize him even though he had a reputation for love, which is what Christianity and Catholicism teaches. There’s so much cattiness among religious leaders.
This poem helped me get into a class with Billy Collins, a famous poet, and former U.S. Poet Laureate. He loved that each verse in the poem had three lines. I did that, thinking of the Catholic trilogy. Also “Number 9” is a multiple of 3.
Poem 3: In Search Of Elliott Murphy
AL: When I first wrote this in the early 1980s, I was angry at the music business and what ended up being hits on the radio. Elliott Murphy, a great singer songwriter, was on major labels but never had a hit record. That’s really the story of most musicians, and some of them can make a living just by developing regional followings. They create new tours in a variety of regions, and build relationships with the fans, plus find specialty gigs be they session singing or writing articles for Rolling Stone. Elliott did in Europe plus New York City and Long Island. For a long time I disowned the poem, but bit by bit I realized that we do go through those mentalities of “why isn’t fate shining on me? Why aren’t I the biggest star?” For whatever reason I didn’t become the U.S. Poet Laureate, I think fate shined on me because I enjoy the process and what I create. I’m working and have a super rich life. I have amazing relationships with most everyone, and we get things done.
I have to tell you something cool. I sent the book to Elliott Murphy, and he wrote back that he was proud to be in the book! I love him, that’s for sure.
P.S. Elliott also has a poetry book, Forty Poems In Forty Nights
Poem 4: Genocide
AL: This one wrote itself, and was my passion poem for years. I think Genocide is about how hate gets out of hand. I used to be afraid of bugs and butterflies. I had a dream that I flushed inchworms down the toilet and as soon as I turned on the water faucet, a bunch of butterflies came out of it. Then I woke up.
Things get worse the more we fight as opposed to creating solutions. I’m a pacifist and am in therapy, and learned to take myself out of a situation and become a calming observer. It takes effort, but I can actually see how arguments would be born, and then how they would grow. The goal is you have to turn a negative around, and confront yourself to solve the problem.
Poem 5: Doing Lunch With Leading Ladies
AL: When John Wilcox asked me to choose ten poems from The Leighton Explosion, I was using the back of one of my earlier drafts of this prose piece about lunchbox envy from Elementary school. I never had a lunchbox in the First Grade, and the girls that sat next to me did.
Flash forward. I’m gigging in the music biz. I felt victorious after I saw my clients, Tower of Power, at B.B. King Blues Club in Times Square, so I went to the local HMV to buy a T.O.P. CD. or two. I, also, ended up buying a Gone With The Wind lunchbox.
Writing Doing Lunch was therapeutic.
Poem 6: On The Boss’s Time
AL: When I studied under Billy Collins, he showed us a famous poem that paid tribute to a famous painting. I can’t remember the poem and hope someone does and tells me what it was!
I like the idea, and have written a few poems in that style, and will continue to do that. My book has two. One is on the Andy Warhol soup cans and the other is the Norman Rockwell painting Rosie The Riveter.
On The Boss’s Time is about Rosie. I made it about the woman who sacrifices for her husband at war, working at the factory, staying celibate and waiting for her husband to return. She waits and waits, and soon discovers the husband was not faithful. She keeps going. Yep.
Poem 7: "The best people possess a feeling for beauty, the courage to take risks, the discipline to tell the truth, the capacity for sacrifice. Ironically, their virtues make them vulnerable. They are often wounded, sometimes destroyed.”—Ernest Hemingway
AL: I disagreed with a quote from the father of the modern novel, and realized that I actually know him and what makes what he calls “the best people” a lot stronger than his quote lets on. Oh yes, look out, you pussywhipped man!
Poem 8: Val’s Valour (written finally in 2012)
AL: I started writing this poem a bit after September 11. It was based on meeting three different people—well, one was a dog— with the name “Val.” It took a long time to write, because it needed all kinds of woodshedding. It wasn’t painful but it just took years, re-visiting it, not writing sometimes, and really writing and changing the whole structure other times. I also got advice from other writers, even asked my classmates and poor Billy Collins (it was a really long draft then).
The importance of the poem is to have values—good ones.
Poem 9: I Wanna Be A Man
AL: I wrote this in high school. I was one of the girls that loved to wear pants and T-shirts and wanted to be a man. I used to envision men as being macho in a harsh way, and nothing else. I joke about them now, but really thought all guys were of this mindless (said like Frank Zappa in Dancing Fool) “hey baby, I’m impressive” kind of vibe. I thought girls (I didn’t think of women, but girls) were always weaker and stomped on. My motivation in wanting to be a man was to not be stomped. The other idea was me claiming that if I became a man, I would be gentle.
Part two of the poem is me being a man, finally. But what kind of man would I be? Gentle or harsh?
Poem 10: Light Up Everybody (On The Highway To Elucidate)
AL: Matchmaking! My brain turns my life into stories. I choose different things that happen or actual items and combine them into careers or stories or poems! I had a major nervous breakdown March 5-7 2011, and kept going down an angry path until June. My therapist told me to STOP, and turn it around. I did, just in purpose, but my emotions and spirit took a lot of time to follow. It was a deep depression. In November 2011, I visited my friend Amy Otey (Miss Amy, an inspiring children’s performer. She leads them in workouts and sings and works out and sometimes plays guitar at the same time, while watching each of the kids — missamykids.com). She helped me find my inner child again.
On the ride home from her place, I wrote my thoughts, my feelings. I knew I was taking a giant step into freedom again that day. That night I browsed the web and noticed that Webster’s Word of the Day was “elucidate,” which is to shine light or enlighten. This poem took just about an hour to write with a few tweaks over the next few weeks.