The Crosbie Effect

by Barry Spack

who’d believe this poem / took me five minutes / to write -Neal Crosbie

The four-line poem above appears — trust me — in its entirety. When poet/painter/singer Neal Crosbie offers this piece at a reading, an expectant pause hovers as we wait for more — but we’ve already heard everything the piece wants to offer in its jaunty tease about poetry itself.

You can catch Neal Crosbie’s word creations at the S.B. Museum of Art where he’ll perform as one of the featured poets at this year’s Book and Author Festival on September 30. His poems and provocations are seen in print, supported by his ink drawings, in every issue of Tricycle, the hip national Buddhist magazine.

Crosbie’s work functions like contemporary haiku or Zen koans: playful, teasing. A book gathering such pieces, titled Everything Be OK, comes out officially from Dry Creek Press on September 15, the date of Crosbie’s latest Santa Barbara show at Art Resources, 512 East Haley Street, which is part of the city-wide Off-Axis celebration, that marks the Contemporary Art Forum’s 20th anniversary. Here are several of my favorites “Crosbies”

I remember we were laughing about something and we were uneasy about the future Soon fall would come and then winter It was hilarious • • • • • • • • • • • • • Trudy Poem Trudy came to visit I took her back under the waterfall perhaps there’d been other Trudys but I’d never met them nor had she we took some time off from enormity enjoyed the great unknowing she said the clouds are like little songs she gave me samples of her delicacy she said your hair looks terrible she refused the title Cunning Little Minx She ate out of my hand we sang the little cloud song together it goes like this oh little cloud you’re a lot like me 98% of you is water • • • • • • • • • • • • • I asked Trudy how big’s the universe she said it’s bigger than you think that’s what I thought

Such poem/stories in songs, cartoons, and drawings amuse as they lead toward meditative ponderings. Crosbie’s Coyote-Man icon assures us we’re in the company of a trickster. Morphing among clouds, mountains, canoes, and weeds, the image suggests the poet/painter himself as a life-bemused, wild mountain man.

Such deceptively whimsical writings — they also animate Crosbie’s two CDs of songs with titles like “Zen Horse Repair” — sweep by quickly in their wonderful quirkiness and are best appreciated in sequence, with generous pauses for their unexpectedness to seep in. In this regard, the poet likes to quote the great 13th century Zen master Dogen: “There are mountains hidden in mountains.”

Crosbie, represented in galleries worldwide, has organized his fall show to feature the originals of the pieces in Everything Be OK. He often includes language in works on canvas as well. One 6× 9 black painting is structured like a four panel cartoon: “thank you for letting me come here to talk about my mountains / they were here and now they’re gone and so forth / they say we will soon be entering Nirvana / what’s the hold up?”

A special voice among poetic contemporaries, Crosbie acts as a kind of stand-up shaman. His poems — in recitation and song, on canvas, paper, and walls — have mastered the commingling of high spirits with fresh seeing and hearing, which is what poetry is all about.

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