Most people know Al Basile as a musician: a singer-songwriter and cornetist who has had a long career in blues circles and whose discography as a solo artist is extensive and internationally celebrated. His work with blues great Duke Robillard has led to his participation in two Grammy nominated projects under Duke's name, and he has been nominated twice by the Blues Music Foundation for BMAs as best horn player. As a child, however, he was fascinated by theoretical physics and balanced the beginnings of his musical training with early efforts at writing blank verse.
At Brown University he abandoned the physics program and spent his time writing fiction, poetry, and plays, including musicals for which he provided book and lyrics. He began his professional music career with the pioneering Rhode Island based jump blues band Roomful of Blues in the mid-Seventies. Later he taught English, Music, and Physics at the Providence Country Day School in East Providence, RI. His writing, particularly of poetry and songs, continued unabated throughout.
Al's third 100 poem collection. Included are “Empty Houses,” a 27 page narrative poem which retells in verse one of his unpublished novels from the early 70s, and “The Fearless,”
a 40 page rethinking of the hero myth with female heroes.
An audiobook of Al's readings of these poems will follow later in 2021.
Poems On is a look and listen to poets in conversation, reading and talking about poems on a common theme. Host Al Basile and his two guests take turns reading their poems and talking about what inspired them, how they were written, and the connections each sees to the others' work.
Each conversation is prerecorded and reshown on Zoom at 8 PM on the 3rd Thursday of the month, with a live segment at the end featuring an open mic for viewers with poems on the episode's theme.
"Al Basile has wrought poems that are almost holographic in their insistence on bringing their author into the reader's space, where he, his tone of voice, body language and facial expressions, constitute an uncanny presence. The very title of the book identifies the author as a music-maker determined to be heard, and as a poet whose first concern is achieving the tone in which he wants to be heard by the reader. This is poetry, not for the timid, but for those willing to contend with the "close-grained" nature of a highly individual artist."
--Rhina P. Espaillat
Also available on Audible Audio Book here.
A Lit House is a 35 year retrospective of Al's poetry which shows his musicality in formal verse.
This collection touches on many of the periods and most of the concerns of Al Basile's life. There are narratives of his family history, including his Sicilian grandparents' marriage by proxy on Ellis Island; poems that deal with the lives of his parents, as well as his own conception against long odds; and character studies of figures who had profound influences on him as a child. There are poems about performing and recording, baseball, mythic tales of blues history, breeding muscle-bound flies, essays on nature, and childhood lessons learned, from the value of money to the effects of home crucifixion. Throughout there is a combination of the scientist's goal of clarity in understanding and expression, and the musician's ear for the colors of words and the tension of musical phrases against the rhythmic ground of meter. Often deceptively conversational, these poems reveal themselves in all their dimensions when read aloud.
"Al Basile's poems have style, joy, and - above all - verve. Sometimes they unfold with the lyric expansiveness of great jazz solos. Sometimes they shine as beautifully jeweled miniatures. What a pleasure to read a book of poems with such unabashed energy."
" Al Basile's playful ease with the pentameter line bespeaks a sensibility trained in the subtleties of musical rhythm and voice. Turn almost anywhere in this rich collection from five decades and you'll find "an instinct for the game, and more."
"While A Lit House harbors some nicely turned sonnets, Al Basile’s characteristic form is the blank verse essay, which he manages with entertaining ease. Whether writing about music or baseball, childhood friends or the frail and aging Jorge Luis Borges, he trains a fresh and sympathetic eye on his subject. “We love it when the ring of truth is strange,” he says, and this observation could almost serve as a motto for his poems, for they repeatedly arrest us with both their stable truths and their appealing surprises."
" Al Basile articulates a love of language with his emotion, style and remembrances in this wonderful collection of poems. Clearly a scientist, linguist, musician, teacher and friend to all who observe his work. A refreshing approach to poetry and prose."
On windless sunny days I skimmed alone
to hone my skill. The still pond surface was
a promise that a perfect throw could keep.
First step, selection of the stone, the shape
fit to the finger tip and knuckle crook’s
deep curve, and flat on top and bottom, so
it sat beneath the thumb, above the rest,
nestled along the index, of a weight
to curb an overthrow - the heft enough
resistance to the snap of wrist required,
and of a pleasing smoothness all around.
The throw, a sidearm sweep from parallel,
the verge to earth beginning at release
and gentling down to contact, force opposed
provided by a sweep up from the knees
in follow-through to soften the descent.
There was no kidding with correct: you saw
in the first skid what you had done. The ones
too sharply dipped would simply disappear,
the thunk the sound of water swallowing;
less angled throws would jump up, veer, and plunge,
cutting the surface like a fighter, hit
and angry-engined, spinning in the drink.
Then some, the ordinary lovers who
could be content with small successes, stole
their kisses, three or four, and then fell quiet.
But I lived for the ones where skill and luck
conspired to click: the skips, all urgency,
arcs shading into grace which made them seem
slow-motion, marked too many points to count,
progression rushing to a stretch of touches,