REVIEW OF "TAPPING MY OWN PHONE"
by Paul McDonald
(an editted version of this appeared the Louisville Courier Journal, October 25, 1998)
Ron Whitehead does not sleep. Anyone who has known the Louisville, Kentucky
Poet or had any contact with him over the last seven years knows this, and
instead of beating his chest bloody and whining about it, he celebrated his
lack of sleep with over 300 INSOMNIACATHONS, or marathon poetry readings,
that lasted 24, 36, 48, even 72 hours in places as diverse as New York
University, The Eisenhower Center at the University of New Orleans, and the
Meer dan Woorden Festival in the Netherlands.
When that wasn't enough to keep him occupied he decided to try his hand at
publishing, putting out rare viable poetic copy not only of the Louisville
Community, but of cutting edge authors from all walks of life: Professors,
like Douglas Brinkley, author of "The Majic Bus." Spiritual Icons, like the
Dali Lama and Thomas Merton. Nobel Laureates like Seamus Heaney and
politicians like President Jimmy Carter.
This past winter, it looked as if Ron Whitehead would finally get a decent
nights sleep as he quit his teaching job, unplugged his phone, turned off his
computer, gathered his family around him, and began, "...to go underground."
Yet, Whitehead still refuses to acknowledge the duality of consciousness, and
so his dreams have merged with the waking state. This usually results in
madness. But Whitehead ascribes to the philosophy put forth by Salavor Dali:
"The only difference between me and a madman
is that I am not insane..."
So even in the seemingly secure environment of home and hearth, Ron Whitehead
has managed to articulate his dreams in a new spoken word CD entitled "Tapping
My Own Phone..."
Allen Ginsberg once called Ron Whitehead an energetic poetic Bodhisattva. The
title piece delves into the price one must to pay to maintiain those
"every time I hear an airplane or helicopter
or car door slam I know The Secret Service the FBI
and the IRS Swat Teams have finally arrived
cause I published a poem by the President of
The United States of America without his
fully conscious permission...
...so yes I've become a little jumpy
but I'm staying one step ahead tapping my
own phone videotaping my every move
watching myself day and night replaying
the tapes cause I got a bad bad bad case
of the deep fear paranoia anxiety despair
and suicide blues..."
It is no secret that Ron Whitehead has a love for the Beat Generation. Three
poems are homages to that movement. "San Francisco, 1993" is about his visit
to writer Lawrence Ferlinghetti; "Calling The Toads" about his association
with the late William S. Burroughs; and "Asheville" a stream of consciousness
ode originally written in 1994 and revised upon the death of Allen Ginsberg.
The Beat influence is most noticeable in "GIMME BACK MY WIG: The Hound Dog
Taylor Blues"(written after officiating at a basketball game where a spectator
who didn't like Whitehead's calls or the length of his hair attempted to rip
his head off), "Shithouse Manifesto," and "Without Blinking." But even in
those works the influence is secondary. Most of the poems are drawn directly
from the experience of living in Kentucky. The most riveting being "Jasper
Joyce" written about his grandfather, a coalminer and Pentacostal Holy Roller
Snake Handler. In this piece Whitehead probes the fear and wonder a child
feels upon seeing his grandfather speak in tongues and take up serpents.
Whitehead begins the CD with the poem "The Bone Man," a solemn shamanic
invocation, and then, with each succeeding piece, shifts into a high-powered
throttle of bardic recitative, drawing the listener deep into the poetic
The intensity and energy vary enough to keep the listener intrigued. Not only
do these works soar like an Amiri Baraka Rant, they can take on a Zen-like
subtlety most evident in the works "Netherlands,""You Grow Wild In My Heart,"
The CD comes full circle from the beginning strains of fear and paranoia to
the resolute conviction of "I Will Not Bow Down/Pledge of Allegiance":
"I will not Bow Down America
I will not Bow Down
to your Government
to your Religion...
I will not Bow Down America
to your invasion of privacy
to your moral absolutes...
to your Assassins...
to your attempt to make me the model citizen
of Your State of Your Church...
I pledge allegiance
to the woman I love
and to our children...
to my friends and allies
my guides and angels
both seen and unseen...
I pledge alligence to Resurrection of the
"Tapping My Own Phone" is an important audio document of a restless poet who
will not sleep and who will not be silenced.