By Ginny Masullo
When Geoff Oelsner turned 16, his father took him to hear Allen Ginsberg at a bar in Kansas City. After the reading Oelsner approached Ginsberg by placing his arm on the poet’s shoulder and asking, “What advice would you give a young poet?” Oelsner relates that without even seeing who had touched him Ginsberg turned and embraced him. Even though tape recorders must have still been unwieldy devices in 1965, Ginsberg told the budding poet to use a tape recorder to record his dreams and impressions.
Although Oelsner continued to write poetry, he did not take the elder poet’s advice until 10 years ago. Now with two CDs of music “Morning Branches” (2004), and the newly released “Ordinary Mysteries”, plus a book of poetry “Native Joy” (2004), he credits finally taking Ginsberg’s counsel as instrumental in the eventual fruition of his work.
As much a poet as a musician and vice versa, his latest CD, “Ordinary Mysteries,” breaks through the compartmentalization of poetry and song. Included in the “Ordinary Mysteries” jacket along with the song lyrics are several poems.
As the Ozark Poets & Writers Collective’s January featured reader this Tuesday, Oelsner will be performing about two-thirds music and one-third poetry. He’ll be accompanied by Kelly Mulhollan who Oelsner praises as “an artist to his fingertips and beyond.”
Oelsner and Mulhollan will be using several instruments to help make the poetry and lyrics of Oelsner fly even higher than they do on the page. Among the guitars, banjo, preachers’ organ, harmonicas and harmonium, Oelsner ranks the harmonium, which is like a reed organ but free standing, as his favorite. On that fateful night in Kansas City, Ginsberg had played one. When Ginsberg died, Geoff bought a harmonium and learned to play it as a tribute to the poet. The lyrics and poetry of Oelsner suggest a heightened sense of human beings as limited and also infinite. They also express the connections of the spirit and the flesh, the individual and the world.
“The leaf, the ground, the shadow meet
and fall into darkness together, as the three of us-you, me, and all of us-
join ourselves with the fading shadows
and enter the smoky land coming together. ”
“Come together” with Geoff Oelsner as the Ozark Poets & Writers’ feature at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Nightbird Books on Dickson Street. OPWC meets the last Tuesday of every month. Audience members are encouraged to stick around for the open mic, which will take place both before and after Oelsner’s performance. There’s also a chance to win a book from the University of Arkansas Press.