Howie emailed me on June 20, 2020, to tell me that as the pandemic had stalled his work as a blues musician, he had turned to poetry. He had written 10 poems which he hoped to publish as a chapbook.
I was very excited to collaborate with him on this project as I have found that I love learning from Howie. In 2013, I learned so much about the civil rights era from reading the stories from his memoir which he shared at Studio Pause, or listening to him talk about becoming a writer—discussing who has the right to be heard and what keeps us from being heard. Now, I wanted to read his poetry!
If you have been a friend of the Studio for a while you may have read Howie’s first poem since 3rd grade, Who Am I?(2017) which he wrote for Thou Art: The Beauty of Identity, a community poetry book by Sushmita Mazumdar with art by Sughra Hussainy. That project had happened during the last election which had a profound influence on the everyday people who wrote and shared their poems with the world then.
As I read his 10 new poems, I learned so much more! I’m sure you will too. Here is the story of Decathlon, as told through some excerpts from Howie’s essay which appears in the book:
Poetry is perhaps the most solitary of the creative arts –yet Decathlon is truly a collaborative effort. In our Time of the Pandemic, it became apparent early on that live music – heretofore my major creative pursuit – was effectively dead, with no reprieve in sight. I had written a couple of books, on civil rights and social justice themes, along with various essays and articles, but nothing of an artistic nature. Poetry is a leap of faith. Playing cover tunes and a few originals for beer-soaked crowds is one thing, but putting my naked, inner thoughts to paper is quite another. It is not a risk-free proposition, and I lacked the confidence to move forward.
That impetus was supplied by my partner-in-crime, Sushmita Mazumdar. I had worked and taught with Sush on a variety of projects at Empowered Women International, and we have remained in contact. A brief conversation with Sush convinced me to publish these poems, damn the torpedoes:
“Really, Howie, are you going to let a little thing like a pandemic stop you from going ahead with something you’ve never done before?”
What could I say to that perfectly logical query?
The artistic and demographic boundaries of the poetry world have exploded in recent years, much of that due to the efforts of youthful and minority poets. The traditional forms and voices no longer rule supreme. My influences are broad, with a special shout-out to the Beat poets of my native San Francisco Bay Area. Lawrence Ferlinghetti is still active on that scene at the age of 101; perhaps there is room for me.
Why “Decathlon?” Having complete a marathon years ago, I have long contemplated undertaking a decathlon, the ultimate, ten-event endurance test of track & field. My horrified family and friends warned me of the definite possibility of coronary, stroke, or similar consequences. Indeed, I could not easily dismiss the dangers of 1) killing myself during the pole vault, and 2) killing an innocent bystander with a javelin.
So, instead, I offer these ten poems. ~ Howard Lee Feinstein 2020
Howard Lee Feinstein is the author of Fire On the Bayou: True Tales From The Civil Rights Battlefront (Foxhead Books: 2013), nominated for the Dayton Literary Peace Prize; and Developing Issues In The Legal Status of Women (Pearson: 1999 & 2000 Supplement). He is Professor of Political Science at Montgomery College, and a former prosecutor and litigator with the U.S Department of Justice Civil Rights Division. He served as board member with Empowered Women International; the Crosby Domestic Violence Scholarship Fund, and Congregation Beth Chai. He is a performing and recording rhythm & blues musician.
FUNDRAISER: “For all orders for Decathlon received by November 3, I will match the purchase price with contributions to the Biden-Harris and Democratic Senate campaigns. Our number one priority now is to take back this country for the American people, and restore our democratic principles. Thank you for doing your part!” ~ Howard Lee Feinstein
BUY the book for $20.00, all included.
You can use any credit card to pay for it via the PayPal link, even if you don’t use PayPal.. The books are all printed and handmade by me, Sush, in my studio in Arlington, VA, so will take longer to ship out than what we might have gotten used to from Amazon in the days of the Pandemic. Please allow a week or so to ship it out.