Fathers & Sons: Joe Crookston & Gary Snyder
Happy Father’s Day from Hearth Music! In honor of fathers, we’re reposting a Hearth Music blog about fathers and sons.
I’ve been a fan of folk songwriter Joe Crookston since his early albums back when he lived in Seattle. His songs have always touched me to the bone, and he has an effortless way with words that reminds me of the best old folk songs. One listen to his new album, Darkling & The BlueBird Jubilee, and I practically begged him to let us run publicity on it. While working on this promotional campaign, I stumbled on the song “Hands Metal and Wood” from his previous album, Able Baker Charlie and Dog. It’s the story of passing a trade on from father to son and it immediately reminded me of my most favorite poem: “Axe Handles” by Gary Snyder. Here’s Joe’s story about the song:
“My great grandfather ‘invented’ the roofing hamer. His initials (AJC) ‘Anthony Joseph Crookston,’ are stamped on the wooden handle and metal blade of each hammer. When I travel, I collect them. As a kid, I spent many Saturday afternoons shingling houses with my dad, and I wrote this song honoring the legacy a father passes down.”
Joe Crookston: Hands Metal and Wood
I love the lyrics “These skills I am giving can earn you a living/but I’d never tell you what to do or what I think you should/but I’ll teach you how to use your hands… and metal and wood.”
Poet Gary Snyder represents the heart and soul of the beat movement. While Kerouac was the passion, and Ginsburg was the madness, Snyder was the anchored saint who guided the others. Read The Dharma Bums and you’ll see how much Kerouac respected Snyder and tried (and failed) to follow his example of a calming, soulful presence. Snyder’s poems are always intimately tied to the earth and to family. Here’s “Axe Handles”, a poem about his son Kai, from the poetry book of the same name. Please buy Axe Handles and learn more about Gary Snyder. Or better yet, buy his beautiful new collection of poems, Danger On Peaks, then find an old, tattered copy of Axe Handles at your nearest used bookstore. Read it with the highlighting, notes and fingerprints of others who came before you to remind you of how closely connected we all are.
One afternoon the last week in April
Showing Kai how to throw a hatchet
One-half turn and it sticks in a stump.
He recalls the hatchet-head
Without a handle, in the shop
And go gets it, and wants it for his own.
A broken-off axe handle behind the door
Is long enough for a hatchet,
We cut it to length and take it
With the hatchet head
And working hatchet, to the wood block.
There I begin to shape the old handle
With the hatchet, and the phrase
First learned from Ezra Pound
Rings in my ears!
“When making an axe handle
the pattern is not far off.”
And I say this to Kai
“Look: We’ll shape the handle
By checking the handle
Of the axe we cut with–”
And he sees. And I hear it again:
It’s in Lu Ji’s Wên Fu, fourth century
A.D. “Essay on Literature”–in the
Preface: “In making the handle
Of an axe
By cutting the wood with an axe
The model is indeed near at hand.”
My teacher Shih-hsiang Chen
Translated that and taught it years ago
And I see: Pound was an axe,
Chen was an axe, I am an axe
And my son a handle, soon
To be shaping again, model
And tool, craft of culture,
How we go on.
This post originally appeared on the Hearth Music Blog. Check out our website and roam through our blog and Online Listening Lounge to discover your next favorite artist! We’re dedicated to promoting today’s best Roots/Americana/World musicians.