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The Listening Post has moved

August 9th, 2011 by admin

After years as a stand-alone (and pretty lonely) blog, I have decided to fold my weekly musings into the NCPR staff blog All In. It’s the same old stuff from the same old dude, every Thursday like clockwork–but now with neighbors, and other perspectives. Hope to see you there.

If you want to see all my posts, and only my posts, as you used to in my hermit-like splendor here, just click on the tag “listeningpost” at the bottom of one of my entires. Everyone else will go away.

Dale Hobson


June 16th, 2011 by Dale Hobson

Nowadays, we tend to think of mentors as elders–some steadier, wiser hand to set one upon the path. But I grew up in the ‘60s, when if you weren’t a peer, you were basically dog chow. “Never trust anyone over thirty,” was the watchword. Silly perhaps, in retrospect, but a genuine feature of the social dynamics of the time.

Allen Hoey, who died one year ago today, was a peer/mentor of mine. Lord knows he was neither steady nor wise at the time (though he grew into both those qualities eventually), but he had a unique ability to get somewhere new just ahead of everyone else–or ahead of me, at least. Over the years we lived together, worked together, wrote together, and stayed way up late together.

The infectiousness of his enthusiasms translated well into a career of teaching, writing and publishing. His maniacal energy level made him a prolific creator, an evangelist for the language he loved, and a generous mentor in the more modern sense to decades of young women and men.

Allen Hoey

Allen, with glass of Guinness

In addition to being the anniversary of Allen’s death, June 16 is Bloomsday, the date in 1904 on which the entirety of James Joyce’s novel Ulysses took place. This was a serious holiday in Allen’s world, celebrated each year with a big brawling party featuring readings from the “Master,” the imbibing of astringent fluids of Celtic origin, the smoking of stogies, and rambling discourse upon life, the universe and everything.

Happy Bloomsday. Here is a poem for Allen I wrote in April:

Moving On

I’ve been expecting you to come around.
These nights when winter wrestles spring
two falls out of three and comes up short,
I can’t get to sleep for the rushing wind.

We always rode this weather out together
talking late after the bars sent us packing.
Silly crap, vainglorious affectations, paranoid
politics, art jabber, life, love and language.

It’s clear to me now how much you lead,
and I followed, as you pioneered new poets
new music, new thinking, moving on—and I
came along, a little cautious, less whole-hearted.

Which spared me many of your deepest dents:
lost lovers, bitter partings, the mandatory
reinventions of your outlaw inner self. But
now I wonder if I spared myself too much.

This is something we would have talked over—
as we could work our way through any topic.
But you have moved on to a whole new scene
now, and I can ill afford the ferryman’s fare.

Angel invasion

June 9th, 2011 by Dale Hobson

What with new arrivals to NCPR and much rearrangement going on at the station, Bill Haenel was relating a story to me about moving to Boston with all his worldly possessions in an elderly beast of a convertible. When it stalled at a busy intersection, blocking all directions, a crew of ten instantly materialized to push him to a safe location. He never even had to leave the car. Being of a somewhat cynical mind, I said “That’s the difference between Boston and New York. There a crowd would have instantly materialized to yell at you and wave their arms around while doing nothing to help.”

Rockwell Kent engraving

A North Country angel by artist Rockwell Kent

At the same time, evidence has been piling up all around to tell me I’m wrong–maybe not about NYC–but about people in general. Jackie Sauter was slowed to a halt on her morning commute today by a guy parked in the middle of the road to escort a snapping turtle safely across on its nesting journey. What was in it for him?

Just last night I heard that a long-planned community food event had run afoul of the nannyish bureaucrats at the health department and would be forced to swap out homemade delicacies for a factory-made sheet cake. A professional baker and chef, hearing of the plight, stepped in unasked with gourmet goods prepared from scratch in a certified kitchen.

And I was pleased to discover some long-needed safety lines freshly painted at a formerly dangerous turnout I happen to use all the time. How did they get there? A guy knew a guy with the right equipment and paid out of pocket the “North Country wages” required–six tall cold ones. Two-for-one angel story.

As someone jaded by paying too much attention to the rancor and disaster of national media, this was news I needed, and news that I hope to be able to use–bringing out my own deeply-suppressed inner nice. If you have any recent stories of angels dancing on pinheads, please share them in a comment below.

Digital archaeology

June 2nd, 2011 by Dale Hobson

It’s hard enough to keep one’s actual life in order, without having to worry about the seemingly ineradicable digital shadow we cast upon the media landscape. Workers lose their jobs, politicians lose their seats, boyfriends lose their girlfriends, all from neglecting to practice what I think of as “safe text.”

Fish-face Dale

Even if one exercises some care–as I do–in the online world, there is nothing to stop anyone from rummaging through old photo albums to resurrect ancient faux pas and share them on Facebook, such as this 1970s photo of me: big hair, green corduroy bell-bottoms and all, hiding behind a giant red bathtub toy painted with psychedelic blacklight paint. (Before you ask, yes, I am sitting in an empty closet; that’s where we kept the blacklight.) Thanks for the memories, Bob.

There’s just too much to keep track of, especially for someone who has been active online since the mid ’90s.

This was brought home to me with the publication of my book of poetry, which prompted me to revamp my personal website,, which had not received a makeover in this millennium. A classic case of the cobbler’s children having no shoes. The prophet Mohammed says that while the law permits a man as many as four wives, it is possible to do justice only to one. The same may be said of websites.

Thanks to everyone who inquired about my new book, A Drop of Ink. There is now actual, pertinent, up-to-date info on my website–where to buy, samples and performance, upcoming readings, and–as we say in the business–much more–including all of the old site, for those who go in for digital archaeology.

The Listening Post will now return to regular programming, since my poetry habit has launched a channel of its own.

Two kinds

May 26th, 2011 by Dale Hobson

There are many possible polar pairs that can be described beginning “There are two kinds of people…” For example, there are those who enjoy Thuvan throat-singing, and those who don’t. Nora Flaherty, the new kid on the NCPR block, dropped by the new media office yesterday, and remarked on how much she likes our digs. I don’t think she meant the rat’s nest of cables or the drifts of paper and digital media storage. It’s the wall of windows, I think–something missing from her own newbie cubbyhole. So you might say there are two kinds of people–those who have windows, and those who don’t.



But while I was looking around the office with newly-appreciative eyes, they lighted on the geranium and the Christmas cactus soaking up sun on the window ledge. And there were more houseplants in the kitchen, and in every office up and down the hall. And outside the studio, in the glass breezeway that connects the two parts of the building, is a veritable jungle of wandering jew, ivy, potted trees and stuff that I only know by the scientific term “shrubbery.”

Apparently, there are two kinds of people–those who know what things are called, and those who don’t. Mostly, I don’t. Which may explain why I have such a “black thumb.” Nothing survives very long under my care. I’m the kind who can blissfully blog all day while surrounded by the dying screams of neglected growing things. The closest I have to indoor flora at home is in my vegetable crisper. I let a lot of stuff die in there, too.

The other kind from me is Barb Heller, who loves and nurtures all the greenery at NCPR. She just walked in behind me now to water the geranium, which, if I were given to notice such things, was probably looking a little wan, and which, if left to my mercy, would already be long deceased. Sometimes, the one kind has no appreciation for the other kind, but not in this case. Were it up to Barb, everything green would be robust as a sequoia, and as long-lived as a bristlecone pine. I feel exactly the same way; but it’s just not a task that can be safely entrusted to my care.

Waiting for the mail

May 19th, 2011 by Dale Hobson

In the time since I was sixteen, I have disseminated poetry in newspapers and little literary magazines and anthologies, on broadsides and in slender chapbooks. I have declaimed poetry in the back rooms of liquor resorts, from pulpits, in bookstores and coffeehouses, standing on park benches, and sitting in radio studios. I have written poems on dollar bills and slipped them into circulation, and I have scribed them onto pottery and sunk them in the river. I’ve blogged them and tweeted them and shared them via Facebook.

But the one thing I have never done is had them published in a full-length volume, much less by someone who isn’t my cousin or heavily in debt to me. In my life plan–as constructed in the early ’70s–my first book would have been a Yale Younger Poets selection, but I passed their age cutoff decades ago.

This has been in the works quite a while. Here’s an excerpt from the New Year’s resolution poem I wrote for the December 2007 broadcast of Open Studio:

And if my book-in-progress remains
unprinted, still, it grinds on toward
publication at a steady glacial pace.
One can see how, given inexorable pressure
from new work behind, it must calve off
eventually from the vast shelf
of unsolicited manuscripts to join
the other bergs of words that obstruct
the sea lanes of contemporary literature.

I mention all this because–aside from shameless self-promotion–the Listening Post and its readers have had a lot to do with the publication. Absent the discipline imposed by this weekly writing task over nine years, and without the kind tolerance and kinder support of my weekly readers, I have little doubt my intermittent literary efforts would have sputtered out far short of goal. Thank you all.

And now I’m just waiting for the mail. The first copies of A Drop of Ink will be shipped from Foothills Publishing in Kenona on Monday. I considered driving down Sunday night to pick them up, but I didn’t want to seem too crassly eager.

Everything, all the time

May 12th, 2011 by Dale Hobson

It used to be much less stressful to be a media consumer (the person formerly known as audience). Is one of my shows on? I think I’ll take a break from flint-knapping or butter-churning and tune in. On the road the choices were “radio on” or have another round of the license-plate game. Like most people, I probably spend more time now listening and viewing–as well as clicking and surfing and peering into tiny screens with my bifocals slid up on top of my head–than I did in the bygone days of Father Knows Best. But I can’t say that I’m enjoying it more.

For example, cereal might make a sensible and convenient breakfast choice. But what if every time you decided to have some, you had to search through and select from every brand and flavor of cereal marketed since 1929? This is the purported freedom offered by the digital media age, as well as its central dilemma. When everything is always available, every audience moment requires a choice. Our attention is being constantly demanded not by the content of the media, but by the catalog of potential media available.

I have a 25-minute work commute. I can tune in the radio and hear four or five songs as I drive. One might be an old favorite, two might be new to me, one is OK, and one is lame. An acceptable result from pushing a button once, and turning my mind back to avoiding puppies and schoolchildren. Or I can tune in my iPod, loaded with every cd I ever bought. Since I never invest the time in curating playlists (a new part-time job for many music aficianados) I play random shuffle. Three seconds in I realize I don’t feel like hearing Celia Cruz sing Santeria music, next–nope, wrong cut from that album of Hot Tuna, next–not in a Beatles mood. By the time I get to my destination, I’ve played two complete tunes that were exactly right, and the opening bars of 16 rejects. And I’ve driven the whole way with one hand on the steering wheel, and one hand on the iPod’s click wheel.

In terms of road safety, I might as well have been popping jello shots and playing chicken. In terms of relaxation, I might as well have been listening to a car alarm in the parking lot. I wouldn’t go backward to the way things were, but I can’t exactly say that we’ve gone forward to the way things are, either.

After the flood

May 5th, 2011 by Dale Hobson

This week’s flooding is not only the big news of the region again this week, it seems it’s the only news, looking at our top-five stories traffic. And like many of you, I treated this disaster for many as a bit of a spectacle, dropping in to Potsdam’s Evans & White parking lot–what little of it was still dry–to watch water pouring over the retaining sidewall of the dam to sink most of Island Park for the bass.

But it was a deja vu moment for me, to look across at the sandbags losing the battle to keep the river out of the basements downtown. One of them used to be mine. I operated a printshop then, where the kitchen of Maxfields is now, and desparately counted the inches throughout an earlier flood season. I had had the sense to note the high water mark of earlier years, and built all the wiring in above it, but I also had about 15 tons of presses and equipment, with motors down below.

My printshop was underneath the left deck, and below the sandbags.

As the water rose inside, pallets became the new floor, then pallets on top of pallets. I could have cooked my lunch on top of the pump as it struggled through the days. And still the water rose. I was looking for cribbing and a hydraulic jack to raise up all the hardware, when the water finally crested and began to recede. Not by nature–the village dumped the impounded water to facilitate the search for a body. Like today’s residents of Cairo, Illinois, I was spared only at the expense of others downstream.

For a while anyway. Like in Genesis, it was “the fire next time”–the whole block engulfed. The shell of the building was intact, but my shop was four feet deep in lye water, pumped in by the fire department and filtered down through charcoal and mortar.

How does the saying go?  Twice flooded, once burnt, more careful? Something like that. Anyway, when I went to buy a house, I got one thirty feet up from the river level, on well-drained sandy soil.  And when I thought about going back into business, I thought again. Stay dry everyone.

iPhone therefore iDistracted

April 28th, 2011 by Dale Hobson

I was on vacation last week, and while I usually manage to get the Listening Post out during my off-time, sometimes circumstances intervene. In this case my downfall was visiting Boston, where they keep many things one would actually want to buy. Those of you familiar with my rants know that I am a reluctant cell phone user; until just recently I used mine exactly as if it had a rotary dial on the front and connected to a wire in the wall. But my family feels differently, and so we walked out of a Boston Verizon store with three brand new iPhones (along with a crushing new monthly financial burden).

Once out the door, I used it to guide me (the blue blob floating on the Google map) step by step to a good bookstore in the Downtown Crossing neighborhood while my wife and daughter shopped elsewhere. There were many like me out in the streets walking hunched over their screens, like those weird old dudes who sweep the beaches with metal detectors. If enough of us wander obliviously under city buses, within a few generations natural selection will no doubt provide the survivors with an extra eye on top of the head, or else iPhone will make an app for that.

While drinking coffee at the location selected by my search parameters “organic fair tade coffee,” I started looking for all the cool apps that everyone evangelizes about, instead of talking about their kids.  So I got the Poetry App and the Facebook App and the Public Radio Player App and the eLumination app (which has strong retro appeal by flashing text messages across dark rooms via Morse Code) and a bunch of other apps that will consume whatever time I had remaining in my life for contemplation and prayer–or writing the newsletter on my off-time.

Listening Post blog barcodeOne of my favorites is the $.99 QuickMark App, which reads and writes bar codes. A barcode in Harvard Square on an event poster delivered a video of the band to my iPhone; one in a restaurant window delivered their menu and specials of the day. Cool. If you get your iPhone out now (you know you want to anyway) and scan the code here, it will deliver you to the home page of the Listening Post blog–unless you are reading this on your iPhone, and it can’t take a picture of itself, or you are reading this on the home page of my blog, in which case it sends you back to where you already are.

But that’s OK, because most new technology is about providing the illusion of motion and industriousness, without the actual effort or result.

The other fellows

April 14th, 2011 by Dale Hobson

wildlife photosI’ve had a great time this morning, going back through photo submissions looking for the best shots of North Country wildlife. Once I got the collection done, I couldn’t move on to my next task, but kept looking through the slideshow over and over.

There’s something deeply fascinating about our fellow creatures. They have a directness and grace that comes hard to amped-up apes like us. When we encounter them, it’s hard to look away. We’re wired that way by ten thousand generations in the wild, but also–the wild ones are more beautiful and strange than the limited manmade indoor world of everyday.

I would like to say we love them for themselves alone, but not so, I think. Instead, we project ourselves into the mirror of them. In Joe Woody’s photo of a Merganser family on Lake Ozonia, I see my red-headed one-time neighbor, Mrs. Larsen, followed by her carrot-topped sons. Larry Masters photo of an ermine popping up from a drift shows the serious hyper-vigilance of any boy (me) in a snowball fight.

And while it’s harder, perhaps, to identify directly with birds, bugs, reptiles and such, we project onto them archetypal human qualities, totems still to modern day shamans. There’s the confident power of Carl Raden’s landing osprey, the sloth of Sandy Hildreth’s napping turtle, the pure freedom of Rose Turner’s snow geese, the lip-licking bloodlust of Howard Linke’s marten.

If there were only humans in all the world, we’d have no idea of who we are.