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HALF-BLIND WITH CRACKED TONGUE Between the story and the telling, mythos and muthos, these poems challenge the standard framing of a culture war and presage emergence of a Greater Aztlan - the Place of Herons. The old world gods of herders and grain harvesters are irrelevant in this land dedicated to the Corn Mother. In 1963, I read A Canticle for Leibowitz, a sci-fi novel by Walter M. Miller, Jr., who envisions new nations arising after an apocalypse. One of those is the State of El Paso. That's where I live. Not the edge of a continent, nor the frontier of a nation, but the center of the universe, the bellybutton of the world, another dusty gate of heaven - El Paso. When I was looking for a home, El Paso accepted me. Though as a boy I spent summers in Parral, Chihuahua, and Ruidoso, New Mexico, El Paso took me back. Though I traveled the world, working, studying, or visiting, El Paso always welcomed me home. So I am a proud paisano, un paseño leál. In 1980 I met the artist Jim Magee, who had moved to the border from New York. Magee told me El Paso is a great vantage point from which to view America. To this day, if I must travel to cities in the interior, I call it visiting America. Aad De Gids, a poet from the Netherlands, has commented that my work comes from “standing a bit out-side or along society to see with greater clarity.” That per-spective is a beautiful quality of El Paso: on the fringe, looking in, both to the U. S. and Mexico. This brown spot on the road to nowhere, this pass between one desert and another, I declare to be a holy land, as holy as anyone needs. I am nobody from nowhere, but El Paso is my metaphor and El Paso is the song I sing. In March, 1998, I attended a workshop, as part of the Border Book Festival in Mesilla, New Mexico, led by Ben- jamin Alire Saenz, (author of Carry Me Like Water.) He challenged those in attendance to “define the border with-out sentiment.” I wrote “Border Illusion” in response, and it is from that poem the title of this collection is taken. In the movie, City Slickers, Jack Palance tells Billy Crystal that the secret to life is “One thing. Just one thing.” But each person must figure out what that one thing is. The twentieth-century sculptor, Henry Moore, told the poet, Donald Hall, that the one thing pulling and pushing an artist forward has to be a task impossible to accomplish. Therefore, how ludicrous to think I could define this beautiful chaos, the border. And if sometimes a poem dips into sentiment, there is no problem; the problem arises when sentiment is used in place of thought, to unfairly manipulate readers. I do not shy from the hard truths though the past be sepiated by the dust of time and the present be seen through blood-red lenses. I hope these poems uphold Ludwig Wittgenstein's precept: “Look. Don't think.” Admittedly, I possess the vision of a half-blind observer who speaks with a cracked tongue.
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Gene Keller was born on the last day of WWII in Compton CA, (about six blocks from Watts,) which at the time was populated by Depression-refugee Okies and Arkies. (“My peeps,” says the hip poet.) But Keller grew up in El Paso. In January, 1966, he entered Texas Western College, (“the high school on the hill,”) where he spent three years in the library. He finished his BA in January, 1969, then traveled to the Yucatán, went to the Dallas Pop Festival, came home, and got married. Since a moment in his senior year at Ysleta High School in 1964, Keller knew he wanted to teach poetry at the college level and would need a PhD. So he studied English and American Literature at UTEP. His mentor, the poet / professor Bob Burlingame, allowed him to do a creative thesis - a collection of poems. In 1971, with a Masters degree, Keller took a job at the El Paso Community College. However, he had studied poetry, not rhetoric, and admits he was an ineffective instructor. After several years of floundering, Keller quit teaching in 1974 to live the life of a poet-musician. A hard life by most reckoning. (That story has the makings of a great memoir.) Keller spent several years teaching ESL in Saudi Arabia in the late-80s and early-90s. The skills he acquired in those experiences allowed Keller to find ESL jobs, first in Mexico, and then at Ft. Bliss. (Both closer to home.) He returned to the community college in 1998, and he is back to teaching rhetoric. Occasionally he gets to talk about poetry, for which he is grateful. During those years and decades, now, Keller only wanted to write poems and songs. When that happened, he was mostly happy. Keller had a performance poetry video accepted and aired on PBS in 1995: “Hiku Bob,” (Are We On? with Buck Henry). Several books and chapbooks of poetry appeared. including Oñate and the Nightbirds (Sun Dance,1998) and 13 Full Moons (Street of Trees Projects, 2001). Recordings include Around the Bend (Eutaxia, 1983) and Every Song the Mockingbird Knows (Street of Trees Projects, 2004). Keller’s most recent book is a collection of linked short stories, Big Tent Jubilee (Create Space, 2009). And for 2012, Street of Trees Projects presents Tongue-tied to the Border - selected poems from forty-four years of writing about the border.
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Book Description Street of Trees Projects, 2012. Condition: New. book. Seller Inventory # M0615636802