Monday, December 21, 2009

Winter Solstice

Singer-poet Lisa B (Lisa Bernstein) with purple.

Today is the Winter Solstice, the year's shortest day. A magic day that's the foundation of all winter holidays.


"I do not know which to prefer,
The beauty of inflections
Or the beauty of innuendoes,
The blackbird whistling
Or just after."


"When the blackbird flew out of sight,
It marked the edge
Of one of many circles."

--From Wallace Stevens, "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird"

Enjoy your many magic circles.


Sunday, December 13, 2009

Focus on "The Poetry of Groove"'s Spiritual Content in Amazon Review by blogger/journalist Michael E. Ross

animated butterflies from singer-poet Lisa B (Lisa Bernstein) blog
I was grateful to be reviewed by blogger/journalist Michael E. Ross on Amazon, and especially pleased by the fact that he focused on the CD's spiritual content:

On ‘The Poetry of Groove,’… Lisa's signature alto, by turns smoky and lapidary, awakens us to her spiritual travels with infectious rhythms and witticisms that are seductively inviting…

She brings a refreshingly maverick cadence to the spoken-word experience...

In ‘The Poetry of Groove’ and ‘Get the Signal,’ Lisa explores the record's central themes: a call to spiritualism and more reliance on our deeper, more humanistic inclinations. But this ain't no lecture: Lisa brings the musical passion behind her spiritual manifesto… with her love of jazz, Latin rhythm and hip-hop's lyric sensibilities...

The remix of ‘Virtual Kiss’ [has]… nothing missing in terms of its nervous, thoroughly modern dissonance. Hearing it today, more than 10 years after the first version, Lisa's lyrics ring eerily prophetic; this clever take on the persistence of technology and how the ways of the heart struggle to rise in a digital, cubicled world has more pertinence now than it did a dozen years ago.

Lisa's inclusion of a remastered version of ‘Night and Day’ (from ‘What's New, Pussycat?’) may be the best distillation of where she's at as a singer and, more basically, as an evolving artist. This combination of a faithful vocal reading of the Cole Porter classic with her own feline-inspired poetic interpolation remains a reminder of what makes her so fiercely original.

…the jazzy-chill edit of the title track, which closes the album…[w]ith its lush string accents and a deft balance of vocal and instrumental prowess… shapes up as the perfect closing statement… on an album that capably and joyously brings the talents of a true musical iconoclast front and center again.”

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Great New Reviews for "The Poetry of Groove"!

singer-poet Lisa B (Lisa Bernstein) leans back and relishes the momentReally happy about the new reviews that have come in! Here are excerpts:

Chris Spector, Midwest Record:

Three years ago, B established herself as our fave Catwoman since Julie Newmar and now we find her moving back to her writer self and bringing her poetry slam side to the fore. Much more Jill Scott than Rod McKuen, B continues to ride the progressive tip with a creative abandon that makes it seem easy to break convention and get away with it. As sexy as you can sound without being a ...70s diva."

I Hear Sparks column by Jordan Richardson,, December 2, 2009:

Funky, fresh and sexy as all hell, Lisa B’s The Poetry of Groove is an impressive collection of remixes and new pieces… seamless blending of jazz, hip-hop, soul, spoken word and popular music. Her approach to her craft is invigorating… an artist excited to take risks and make moves that other artists might stray’s a mischievous and blistering compilation of work that forms the perfect vibe to warm up a cold winter’s night.

"Lisa B’s command of lyricism is manifest with each piece… [She] paints pictures… to tell entire stories.

"The title track… 'Jazzy Chill Mix' starts the record off with polished beats and Lisa B’s spoken word vocals. She’s alluring, venturing through various tones and moods throughout the course of the song… while the 'House Mix' packs in a danceable beat.

" 'Be Electric (Electronica Remix)' is a sophisticated, sleek cut that makes great use out of Lisa’s hushed, breathy tones and funky witticisms. The remastered 'Trane’s Ride (Naima)' is my favourite song on the record. It uses Coltrane’s piece to underline Lisa’s deeply seductive lyrics… [On} 'Get the Signal' and 'Virtual Kiss'...she shows off her jazz pipes, gracefully dancing through various tones and moods with delight and style...

The Poetry of Groove is a sexy and exciting collection of tunes from one of the most daring and deft performers I’ve come across in a while."


Tuesday, November 24, 2009

For National Diabetes Month: Still Savoring the Peach (and Even the Peach Pie)

Self magazine cover from singer-poet Lisa B (Lisa Bernstein) blog Self magazine asked for a piece a few months back about my diabetes and how it relates to my intuitive healing work and my singing – in fewer than 500 words. The editor loved it, 100% committed to run it in the October issue, and gave me the go-ahead to announce the publication on Facebook, etc. Then the publisher cut it before the mag went to press because of reduced ads and fewer pages. But I didn't want the piece, written in Self's rather breezy style, to go to waste.

Diabetes has been a great teacher as well as a challenge and offers much more to write about. Here's a start.

Still Savoring the Peach (and Even the Peach Pie)

I thought constant exhaustion and hunger was just the price of being an adult. After worrying throughout high school about my weight, it was a relief to eat twice as much as my 6-foot-2, 200-pound boyfriend and get even thinner. I didn’t pay much attention to my persistent thirst and need to pee.

But after four bouts of the flu in four months, I went to the doctor. My blood sugar was 492 milligrams/deciliter, about five times normal. I had type 1, or “juvenile,” diabetes. My body had mysteriously destroyed its ability to make insulin, which I would have to inject for the rest of my life.

I wept. I talked with family and friends. Suddenly, I had to deal with monitoring blood sugar, self-injection, eating the right proportions. But I figured you could have worse diseases. Research showed that normal blood-sugar levels help avoid diabetes’ terrifying complications (blindness, kidney failure, cardiovascular problems, infections), and normal blood sugar is within reach – with a great medical team, good nutritionist, effective technology, and endless adjustments.

I felt a strange thrill at the ritual pricking of my fingers. It was a gift to glimpse my mortality daily and yet have tools to stave it off. As I wrote in a poem, I was “grateful to have seen this particular death/and to walk away. I forgive us/this defect, the first defection/to the dissolving silence/trailing me like a cloak.” I became a healthy diabetic.

Diabetes quickly taught me that I was both a self (or spirit) and a body, and the spirit part had to take charge of this delicious, important body. This proved true especially during low-blood-sugar episodes, which caused shakiness, crying, and one frightening blackout.

My new awareness about being spirit/body led me to two gifts. The first was enrolling in a well-respected northern California psychic institute, where I learned to do clairvoyant readings and healings.

The psychic work emboldened me to reach for the second gift: singing. I had already begun writing poetry, but singing was a secret desire that seemed scary and hard. Yet those basic psychic axioms gave me the bravery to start my first vocal class, and another healing, exciting journey.

To keep doing anything well, you need good technique. This means admitting that the body is variable and you are imperfect. Every day is different. Every moment throws you new challenges. But what a relief – you adjust! You stock toolboxes – whether a diabetic toolbox (glucose for lows, insulin for highs, diet, exercise), singing toolbox (relax the throat, do that “meow” exercise, really say the lyrics), or psychic toolbox (imagine a tree trunk grounding you to the planet).

On my new CD, “The Poetry of Groove,” I sing about the joys of the body, and the joy of finding your very own truth through this body, in the moment, day after day. One song is about longing for, and tasting, a peach (and so much more). Another sings, “you can move through what’s broken to what’s you” to “find the flow, the poetry of groove.” Listen, sing along, dance.

After 20-plus years, I’m sick of injecting insulin. And I’m frustrated when the day’s first notes sound scratchy. But so what? I know I can change my sound – and keep unfolding my life.

copyright © 2009 Lisa Bernstein

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Mastick’s Mysterious, Vital Collages

collages by Nick Mastick from Lisa B (Lisa Bernstein) blog
Trundled to downtown Berkeley, Calif., to the art show featuring library employees that closed in early November. What a treat to see Nick Mastick’s collages amid the stacks and computer carrels! In this brightly lit atmosphere, Mastick’s dark yet welcoming pieces shimmered as if from out of time, from the time of the unconscious and its newly mapped geographies. I had seen some of the images online, but in person they resonated with much more depth and presence.

“Anatomy and the Spider’s Web” conveys a vivid vitality and a sense of cosmological connection, with its images of anatomical cutaways, spermatozoa, outer space, spiderwebs, and masks. The smaller “Follow Your Gleam” shows a small shelf of books, knicknacks, dolls, sculpture, and a lurking cat, managing to communicate a sense of booklove with a surrealist inflection, conjuring both homeyness and modernist mystery.

Mastick has been making collages for more than 20 years, and he’s due for a show in a real gallery. Looking for an album cover? Think about commissioning one from Mastick or using one of his pieces. Contact me if you’d like to reach him.

© 2009 Lisa Bernstein


Sunday, October 4, 2009

First Charting for "The Poetry of Groove"

Radio image from singer-poet Lisa B (Lisa Bernstein) blog
Just found out that "The Poetry of Groove" has been on KVMR's Top 10 CMJ Jazz Chart for the past 3 weeks! This is a great station in Nevada City. Tomorrow we're launching a broader radio campaign, to noncommercial and college radio across the country and beyond, with the help of Twin Vision promotion, who also worked my first CD 10 years ago.

Thank you, KVMR folks!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Lisa B on Grammy Nominating Ballot in 3 Rap Categories: NARAS Members Mail Ballots by 10/2

I'm overjoyed that my new CD and title track "The Poetry of Groove," coproduced and cowriitten with James (Jim) Gardiner of Oakland's Pajama Studios, is on the 52nd Grammy Awards Nominating Ballot for Best Rap Solo Performance, Best Rap Song, and Best Rap Album. I'm honored to be joined by Queen Latifah, Mos Def, and many other exciting artists in this genre.

If you're a NARAS member (or if you're not!), please check it out at Or write me and I'll send you the mp3!

If you don't usually vote in the Rap field  if you usually hang in the R&B or Jazz or World or Alternative category  this is your chance to wander over to Rap and cast your vote for something creative that draws from those genres. This jazzy hip-hop CD has reminded listeners of such diverse artists as Gil Scott-Heron, Sade, Bob Dylan, Ani Difranco, Grace Slick, Jill Scott, John Coltrane (one tune is based on "Naima"), and Eric B & Rakim. I'm not kidding! I was a poet first, then a singer who released three CDs in the jazz and jazz-soul vein, but in "The Poetry of Groove" I feel I've found a unified sound that melds both poetry and the groove in a unique and memorable way. It's joyful and rich, playful and deep  or at least I hope you find it that way.

Ballots are due in L.A. (NOT postmarked) Oct. 9, so please mail early. Thanks for your support, and for helping achieve the further small miracle of making me one of the five actual nominees in one of these categories!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Isley Meets Bacharach

Isley meets Bacharach album cover

Reveling in the memory of Ronald Isley singing Burt Bacharach on a great CD I re-heard recently, "Here I Am." One of the most moving vocal records in existence. If maple syrup had a heart and sang rich and sweet. With impeccable control. Every word an authentic expression.

Who knew there was so much heartache and depth in Isley, not to mention Bacharach/David? With Bacharach's gorgeous orchestra & arrangements (& piano). Get it!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

11/6/09 Lisa B & Her Poetic Groove Trio at Anna's Jazz Island, Berkeley (and Thanks for Last Saturday at Armando's)

singer-poet Lisa B (Lisa Bernstein) laughs
Thanks to the audience and the wonderful folks at Armando's music club in Martinez, Calif., for the great gig  the best of my life! The top-quality sound man and sound system helped all of us soar. It was great to test the improved vocal chops I'd been working toward for the past year and to discover that they really were accessible on the night of the gig. That meant more tones, resonance, range, dramatic capability, musical flexibility, and joy. And Armando's is a fun, authentic, welcoming, relaxed place to play.

The band killed. Bryan Bowman on drums, Jeremy Cohen on electric bass, and keyboardist Ben Flint at the top of his form, plus chiming in on vocals! Someone in the audience also commented on our "witty banter."

I was glad to hear that performing with a couple of instrumental versions of tracks from my new CD (along with Jeremy, in one case) worked well  and was even the favorite of some folks in the house!

And we're ready to do it all again (except differently, as ever) at Anna's Jazz Island in downtown Berkeley, Calif., on Friday, November 6, 2009. Mark your calendars!

Thursday, July 30, 2009

New CD Out! Aug. 22 Gig. And More!

cover of The Poetry of Groove CD by singer-poet Lisa B (Lisa Bernstein) ONE. The CD is out! "The Poetry of Groove" is now available  an entire set of playful, poetic rap and sultry choruses over jazzy hip-hop grooves.

It's five tracks of new material in various mixes, and five tracks of remixed and/or remastered spoken-word groove tunes from my previous three CDs.

You can get a physical disk from my website (that means me) at the special sale price of $10.99  an offer good for the next 10 days:

And you can get physical CDs, MP3 albums, and MP3 tracks at iTunes, Amazon, or CDBaby. Pretty links are on my site, unadorned ones at the bottom of this email, for you impetuous ones.

TWO. Free tracks. Some of you helped me a couple of years ago by voting for me in the Downbeat Listeners Poll. I promised you a free MP3 track in return. Write me now and remind me that I should send you one, and whether you prefer a jazzy hip-hop, electronica, or world flavor, or even which one you want, if you know!

THREE: CD release gig! Mark your calendars! I'm performing

Saturday, August 22, 8 - 11 p.m.$8 each or $15 for 2
The intimate, great-sound-system, friendly place Armando's
707 Marina Vista, Martinez, CA 94553, (925) 228-6985
(over 21 only)

Drive on out, it's only about 1/2 hour from Oakland and very relaxing. With ace trio Ben Flint on keys, Bryan Bowman on drums, and Jeremy Cohen on bass. Come celebrate with us! New material and old favorites.

FOUR: Your help with reviews and gigs. Please go over to the sites below and review the new CD! It really helps. Also, I'm booking lots of events in the Bay Area and beyond. Contact me if you run a reading or performance series/venue. Thanks in advance!

FIVE: The FREE LisaB app (prototype of Band App!) for the iPhone and iPod Touch. I'm excited to be the demo and face of the new Band App! for those i-Things. Perfect for bands and other performers who want to be carried around in your fans' pockets. 

SIX: (I love tunes in 6/8!) Follow, befriend, comment. I'm digging the 140-character genre of Twitter for poetic outbursts and prosaic updates. You don't need a cell phone; just read it on the web. And, who knew?, it turns out Facebook really does feel like an electronic village. Finally, I'm blogging on topics such as teaching poetry to my third-graders, a poignant real-life Father's Day soundtrack, Billie vs. Carmen on "Good Morning, Heartache," and tuning up your own vibration. Lend your responses and link me to your own efforts.

SEVEN: (OK, we're going odd-meter): Finally, my go-getter publicist has pushed me way out of the closet as a clairvoyant reader and healer  not that I hid it, I just didn't blast it to the world. Too late now, thanks to a forthcoming story in a national women's mag! If you're interested in a phone reading/healing, or have questions about it, please get in touch. Happy references available.

Thank you, my darlings! All my best, Lisa B (Lisa Bernstein)

Get "The Poetry of Groove" at:





Saturday, July 25, 2009

I Rhyme in the Shower

Singer-poet Lisa B (Lisa Bernstein) in black and white shot
Just told someone I'm a singer-poet. He replied, Does that mean you rhyme in the shower? ;-)

(Appeals to my Groucho Marxian sensibility.)

(I love how "rhyme" is a verb here rather than a characteristic  something I do rather than some aspect of me. Now that I think about it, it's fun to wonder what I rhyme with. Actually, my record label name comes out of a nickname someone had for me that rhymes with my first name: Lisa / Piece of.

On a more poetic level, I rhyme with  orange, ocean, flower, cinnamon, purring, old-style metronome...)

On another note, I'm fighting off a cold and just exhausted myself by taking some online personality tests. How silly! Back to more online prep for CD launch (website, BMI registration, etc.)  being a performing artist means spending more time online than singing or writing!?

Someone on Facebook just suggested I post some of the online test outcomes. OK: I'm an ENFJ in the Myers-Briggs personality spectrum.

And the kind of guy I like: Tough Guy. (All roads lead back to Dad.)

Tuesday, June 30, 2009


"Welcome to a site of sound" from singer-poet Lisa B (Lisa Bernstein) blogI hear Latin percussion in the knocking washing machine, altered chords in the Amtrak whistle, a silent operatic soprano when I say hello to God… in an earlier era, I’d be institutionalized. Luckily, in this one, I'm just a musician and writer.

And I have a mockingbird. I mean, she lives nearby, but I feel possessive about her. She's busy all day long transiting loudly through different bird soundbytes. She invented the soundbyte. She's a Puritan bird, she doesn't take a break. No need for a PA either!

"Bird flying high, You know how I feel." That's the first line of "Feeling Good," the song I'm learning, by Newley/Bricusse. Nice to sing a happy song that's deep. With the refrain, "feeling good." Yes!

Monday, June 22, 2009

Solstice Father's Day: "Tempus Fugit"

After leaving my jazz fan Dad, listened to brilliant bebop beauty of pianist Bud Powell's “Tempus Fugit” (time flees) on this longest day of the year. Nothing like hearing time in a new way, filled with more notes than we knew it had. But bittersweet to feel its fullness stretch out on the road ahead when waving goodbye one more time to my aging folks.


Saturday, June 20, 2009

25 Years of Successful Diabetic Care! Deserves a Poem!

cover the poetry book "The Transparent Body" by Lisa Bernstein from Wesleyan University PressIn January was the 25th anniversary of my diagnosis of what used to be called juvenile diabetes, now called Type 1. I'm still healthy!

Diabetes has been a great teacher for me. Here's a poem I wrote a couple of years after the diagnosis. It's published in my book from Wesleyan University Press called The Transparent Body, which you can order from my website .

For the Wordless Body

the muscle constricts with thirst.
The scent of citrus in the urine,
sugar leaking
into a film across the eyes.
Morning fills the windowpane,
a lit rectangle to be hungry in. I hurry
past buildings, counting out streets,
a self with words
and a hollowing silence of cells.

Language punctures
the skin.
Slimmer than a pen
the syringe shoots the insulin.
The sweetness of tangerines
lingers in the bloodstream. The injection
combusts it into strength and heat.

Body, christened again
you burn too well, flushed
as an infant and shaking for food.
A frantic mother, I bend to you.
At night I fake the bravado
of a teenage boy pinching
a girl's bare leg,
the needle poised above my thigh.
For years you absorbed what I fed you,
then denied.
Now you try to refuse
the sweet essence that keeps us alive.

So I am vigilant
for the sake of eyesight and limbs,
grateful to have seen this particular death
and to walk away. I forgive us
this defect, the first defection
to the dissolving silence
trailing me like a cloak.
It falls from my shoulders
when my arms rise, awkward
and bare, a child's A
against the light.

copyright 1989 Lisa Bernstein

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

“Good Morning, Heartache” with Carmen McRae on Memorial Day

Singer and poet Lisa B (Lisa Bernstein) in a reminiscing moodMemorial Day, and the masculine smell of barbeque wafts through the air. A cool sunny Oakland afternoon on which, as usual, I’m a contrarian  here with only my cat, working.

But I’m satisfied. I had some fun and healing yesterday in Sacramento with a friend who’s known me since our first year of college. The kind of friend who’s seen me up, down, and in between, who knows my parents and who’s seen a husband and boyfriends come and go. Who loves me no matter what. We talked, laughed, almost cried, walked, threw the ball for the dog, hot-tubbed, and then ate barbecued steak, salad, artichokes, and a few cherries with her sweet husband.

Yesterday started out differently. Driving up Highway 80 to Sacramento as a night person barely awake, it took all I had in the bright 11 a.m. sunlight to forge ahead through the green-brown-billboard-filled landscape, holding my own amid the jostling aggressive SUVs.

I was listening to a 1995 Decca reissue of some of Carmen McRae’s songs. She has influenced me tremendously. Dan Morgenstern writes in the liner notes, “No jazz singer has paid more attention to words than Carmen McRae, and she bluntly stated that ‘lyrics are more important than melody to me.’… in a very real sense, she was a singing actress.”

Compounding the morning’s incongruity was Carmen’s 1955 take on “Good Morning, Heartache,” which seemed to resonate the darkness of evening. But as I listened, I realized how fitting it was – it’s about the strangeness of finding the night’s sorrow still there in the morning.

Of course, Billie owns the tune. I haven’t heard her sing it in awhile, but in my mind’s ear Billie’s voice on it is searing, plaintive, her tone as raw as a fresh wound. Carmen is more nuanced. She expresses pain, but she has some distance from it. She takes stock of her situation, she bargains. Even when she pleads, “Stop haunting me now,” her voice, with more bottom than Billie’s, radiates self-possession. Then she gives the slightest of laughs  ironic and intimate  when finally inviting heartache to sit down. Billie is tragic, whereas, as Dan Morgenstern writes, “Unlike Billie, Carmen is not resigned to fate.”

Carmen descended musically from Billie, and she always paid her homage. We descend from each other in music as well as life.

And so as I drove up Highway 80 with the morning holiday road warriors, I was not only taking notes as a singer, I was also comforted as a person, a woman. I thought, so I’m not alone in my incongruous gloom. So heartache does linger for you too, day after day. It’s not a flaw or a sin. Sometimes it’s a condition of life. You too are obsessive, disappointed, unable to forget. Well, we make music out of this, don’t we  and the song is our memorial day.

Oh, and despite Carmen’s assertion about lyrics being more important than melody to her, she ends the song on a gorgeous note  a major 7 against a dominant chord (in which the 7 is flatted by the musicians), it sounds like to me. It has a haunting feel, a dissonance that doesn’t quite align with what the musicians are playing  her very own note, evoking her solitary condition, in the end.

Fittingly, I’m still plowing ahead  plowing through the many tasks related to setting up the release of “The Poetry of Groove” on August 1. In the past week, I’ve made great strides in putting together my promo team for print, radio, gigs, and more (a leading-edge Lisa B iPhone app is even on the horizon!). After months of work on the music and its package, it’s been exciting to talk with some great folks in the music business who dig what I’ve done and have creative, enthusiastic ideas about how to get it out there. (Keyed-up sigh of relief.)

Now it dawns on me that my new title track starts with a spoken lyric of heartache (“I walked down the street,/I was one into two./I split like a faultline, I split into you./My mind closed in/like a girl in the dark/and my legs sliced the sky/while you chewed on my heart”). But it moves through it (“I remembered how to swim/up through the dark water,/rise to the light/where the sun burns hotter…), and finally finds the poetry of my own groove, singing to the listener about how s/he can do the same.

So in my negotiation with heartache, I descend from Billie and Carmen, extending their legacies into modern territory. I’m deeply comforted to know it as I drive ahead. I may be steering the car alone for stretches, but I carry their wisdom beside me in the front seat.

copyright 2009 Lisa Bernstein


Saturday, May 2, 2009

A Vibration That Matches Your Desire

“Offer a vibration that matches your desire rather than offering a vibration that matches what is.”

What a great piece of advice, and how deceptively simple!

As a trained energy worker (I like that term  it sound so Marxist)  that is, an intuitive reader and healer  I have a lot of techniques and experience up my sleeve to read what’s going on energetically/spiritually in myself or others; move out unwelcome or hampering influences; and reset my or someone else’s space in a way that’s harmonious and growthful.

But like everyone, I get stuck. So I enjoy the helpful advice from the folks at Abraham-Hicks. Usually I don’t like spiritual advisors who get most of their information from a channelled being. I’m already plenty transcendental, and I want to balance that; I find that my greatest power as a reader, and as a performer, comes from channelling myself instead of some other entity alive or passed on (whether this being is my lovely Mom or some spiritual guide).

But Esther Hicks is an exception: She’s a channeller, but she still seems real and helpful.

Here are some tips from me that build on her phrase quoted above:

  • You might want to work with the idea of “vibration” as a color. Imagine that a bar at the top of your head is a color you want to be vibrating at, a color that feels good. Notice how you feel. Probably better already!
  • Experience the vibration of a note or a part of a song you like. Hum it or sing a few words.
  • Think of one thing you want. How would you feel if you got it? Feel that way now. Just pretend. Now you’re more likely to attract the thing you’re wanting.
  • What you desire feels good to you. If you feel bad while desiring it, it’s probably not something you really want (maybe someone else told you to want it).
It’s been a tough time for me personally the last few days. Some complicated communications cast a shadow of disappointment, about someone else and about myself, and this shadow in turn dredged up longer shadows from my past. Secrets and betrayal was the theme. And the usual source of these things reared its head: pre-existing (stuck) pain in someone else, and in myself.
So after a lot of crying and thinking – which have their precious place as one moves through difficult events and emotions – and using other energy tools, I’m resetting my own personal space.

Bringing desire back into my space.

Setting a vibration for myself that matches my desire: Certainty, turquoise, forgiveness, a chord I hear in my head right now, joy.

copyright 2009 Lisa Bernstein (Lisa B)


Monday, April 20, 2009

“I Used to Be A Giraffe…”: My Young Poets

One of the joys of my life over the past year and a half has been teaching poetry-writing to kids in the public elementary school in nearby Emeryville, Calif. After contacting the district’s volunteer coordinators in fall 2007, I was quickly matched with a fabulous teacher eager to have me work with her then-second-graders for an hour every week. Without really knowing what I was doing, I found my way as a teacher thanks to Kenneth Koch’s brilliant book of poetry-writing exercises and advice, “Wishes, Lies, and Dreams,” and thanks to the open, respectful, creative vibe the teacher had already set in the classroom. And most of all, because of the sweet, talented kids  African-American, Hispanic, Filipino, and Indian, most from low-income families  and the rapport we found together. This proved true even with the few kids with sporadically disruptive classroom behavior.

Every week I’d come in and greet them with “Hi, poets!” I assumed they could write. And they matched my assumption by doing so. I soon learned the impact on them of certain things I said. Early on, before we started the writing part of each class, I would instruct them that they could raise their hands if they were “stuck” and I’d come around to help. Shortly I had a batch of kids every week moaning about how stuck they were. Well, they were writers. They could have writer’s block. (And I found ways to nudge them out of it.)

In one session, I read them part of one of my favorite poems, Federico Garcia Lorca’s “Romance Sonambulo” (in English and then partly in Spanish) – “Green I love you green/Green the wind, green the boughs…” The assignment was to use a color in every line. A very shy Mexican-American girl, a bit taller than the other kids, really found her voice in response. Her poem using the color white (blanca) was so poignant and lyrical that it brought tears to my eyes when I read it aloud to the class. (For most of that first year, I read all the kids’ poems to them at the end of every class, as we only had an hour in total, not enough time at this stage for them to read their own poems. They’d gather on the rug up front and listen raptly with sparkling eyes, often laughing, impressed and moved by their creations.)

The next class, I assigned one of the Koch exercises: “I used to be______/but now I am ____.” The kids were to write as many of these couplets as they could during the writing time. Lupita (not her real name), the girl inspired by Lorca, started with this:

“I used to be a giraffe
but now I am a paragraph.”

What an inventive match of elements, and what an original rhyme! Even more moving was what the lines said about Lupita. She was no longer an isolated animal, looking down from her slight height silently at the rest of the class. She had become something changed. Something rich with meaning, more than just a word or a sentence. She had become a paragraph.

These kids have kept me creating. As I tell them every week: “Thank you, poets. Give yourselves a hand.”
copyright 2009 Lisa Bernstein

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Photo Shoot/Root Canal

singer-poet-intuitive-educator Lisa B (Lisa Bernstein)
Could this title be an example of a poetry-writing exercise that I have given to my beloved third-grade poets  an exercise on random rhyming, perhaps? Or the name of a vintage “Monty Python” bit?

Not yet. You don’t ever desire one of them, and you sure don’t want both happening at the same time in your life. But for me in February/March, they were.

So, I’d never had a root canal. My possibly incompetent dentist realized that perhaps the persistent pain over 5 weeks of adjustments to a new crown might indicate the need for a root canal. An x-ray confirmed it. Why didn’t the x-ray that pointed to a needed crown show a needed root canal to start with? One can only speculate. So I undergo part one of the RC. Weird, painful, but bearable during and after. Part two of the RC: the dentist manages to drop not one, but two broken-off tips of the cleaning implement (the rotary file) deep IN the canal. I am alarmed; he is mildly apologetic and emphatic about all his effort to “help me.” My later research on the internet shows that this occasionally happens, mentioning one rotary file left in a tooth canal, no big deal, can be sealed in there – but two of them…? Not a mention. The dentist himself admitted he had left one rotary file (some millimeters long) in a patient’s interior jaw before, but never two. One would think that the first loss of the implement  likely to now reside forever in my very slanty tooth canal – would have inspired him to quit the effort then and there and refer me to an endodontist with superior equipment who specializes only in root canals. But no – he seems to be a very determined man, as indicated by the force of his chairside manner, one who doesn’t give up  as if while digging through my tender mouth he were practicing the martial art in which, his staff admiringly told me earlier, he was quite expert. But my rather small mouth is not an aikido mat, nor is the “canal” in this case anything like those in Venice.

So he does refer me to an endodontist, who is no longer enrolled in my rather budget-level (now I see why) dental plan. I find another in the plan who seems to be very well credentialed, and in the better-heeled town of Walnut Creek. (You can see that I’m now desperate for reassurance of any kind about this procedure.) When we meet, I stupidly mention that she’s not listed on “Yelp,” prompting a bit of ruffled ranting about the website on her part. Great start. We get past that. I love her digital x-rays in which you can see the two rotary files deep in the diagonal canal beneath my tooth, lying one upon the other casually like toothpicks at a picnic. She makes a reasonable assessment of the situation, and a few days later she seems to complete a successful root canal in which the two instruments are, I hope, sealed forever in the sterile, filled canal.

While all this is going on, I’m conceiving of and organizing a photo shoot for my upcoming CD, “The Poetry of Groove.” But it’s challenging to imagine how I might want to look on the cover while handling a throbbing tooth and worrying about questionable dental expertise. Still, I call the wonderful photographer I’ve used on my last three CDs, Sibylla Herbrich. We brainstorm together. We talk about the right image, possible “looks,” what it should communicate. We send each other examples of CD covers we like. We decide to do the shoot at her new studio in Santa Rosa, Calif. I contact Artist Untied, an S.F.-based agency of talented hair and makeup artists and more, led by the capable Rene, who has kindly set me up with just the right person, at a generous rate, on each of the last shoots. I’m concerned about finding someone willing to travel to Santa Rosa among his tidy roster of six stylists. Amazingly, one of them, Veronica, has family in Santa Rosa and wants to do it. We settle on a date.

The day after RC #1, I spend 5 hours (on ibuprofen) trudging through the rain in downtown San Francisco looking for something to wear on the shoot. I’m sadly lacking in nice clothes. I have about four different outfits I can wear on gigs or photo shoots, and mostly these have been exhausted by the covers of the last three CDs. We’re talking about a 10-year span here; this should tell you about my interest in clothes shopping. Now I’m looking for something colorful, form-fitting, that reads creativity, poetry, groove. Much of what I try on is too tight – in the large sizes. And I’m under 5’4” and 123 lbs, in great shape. What do the truly large women wear (and may we all love the sizes we are, whatever they may be)? A lot of the clothes are cheap retreads from the 70s. And the rest of it is just wrong. This continues for the next two weeks – root canal procedures 1, 2, and 3, each one more painful than the last as my canal gets more excavated, followed by my determined and increasingly hopeless foraging through stores in various neighborhoods of Berkeley and Oakland, as if the more someone hacks through my mouth, the more frantic I am to cover up with good-looking apparel.

I finally find a couple of things to wear  in black. One piece is way, way, way above my budget. It looks gorgeous. I buy it.

Not having expected the RC experience to drag on, it turns out that I’ve scheduled RC #3 for a Tuesday and the shoot three days later on a Friday. I look a bit worse for wear on Thursday. Should I cancel? I decide that the interior pain doesn’t show much on my face, place my faith in makeup, lighting, and Sibylla, and forge ahead rather than reschedule.

The rain stops. It’s a fresh, lovely drive into the Santa Rosa hills from Oakland. Sibylla is welcoming and efficient as ever, and her new studio quite gorgeous. Sibylla’s husband, the talented photographer and photo-illustrator William Duke, provides brilliant lighting. Veronica is an unassuming though expert delight and does a beautiful job of makeup and hair, and is open to my tweaks. The new clothes look beautiful. Sibylla is masterful and fun to work with. I love the blue background she’s using behind me. In breaks, we check the shots, which these days are digital, and which we can see instantly on the computer – not like the first two CD shoots, when I had to wait days for a real film contact sheet and it was harder to assess what worked and what didn’t, and easier to see on her computer than during the 2006 shoot in my living room for “What’s New, Pussycat?.” Because of this past experience, I’m not alarmed by the poses and angles in which I look ugly – my heart doesn’t sink anymore with desperate confirmation of my worst fears about my looks. Now I just accept that in some angles, and without the redemption of the perfectly falling light, I look pretty bad, but that in some, I’ll look pretty good. I dance a lot throughout the shoot as we planned, and Sibylla captures moments which work great. It’s poetic, and it grooves. I hope you agree when you see it.

A few Vicodin, many ibuprofen, and a couple of weeks behind me, the root canals seem to have worked. I was merely the passive recipient of that private series of procedures. But the photo shoot was something else: art I could organize and participate in, creatively collaborating with other highly competent artists. It was the act of making a hyper-real, more beautiful, especially expressive me, whom I get to share with you publicly, in the hope that it helps transport you to the realm of Poetry and Groove along with the music. Now I can envision the public face of this new CD.

Glamour and image are things we construct together. They are false as art is false  and true as art is true, when we’re lucky: showing both body and soul.

Which I doubt anyone can see, even with digital x-rays, in a root canal.

copyright © 2009 Lisa Bernstein


Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Letter to The New Yorker on Music File Sharing

The New Yorker cover from
Here's a letter I recently sent to The New Yorker (which, incidentally, is my favorite publication for cultural criticism, all-around interesting writing both fictional and nonfictional, gorgeous clear-out-the-cobwebs copyediting for this part-time editor's brain, and vicarious hit on my favorite city in the world after Oakland, Calif.) on a rather cavalier remark made by one of the writers on sharing music files:

Dear Editors:

In her review of Elvis Costello’s television talk show, the usually reliable Nancy Franklin (“Intimate Persuasion,” December 22 & 29) writes an aside about wanting to buy digital music from Amazon instead of iTunes, because “all the music that Amazon sells is unlocked, meaning that it can be shared limitlessly with friends.” (Apple since announced that it too will unlock iTunes files.) Franklin then writes, “Music wants to be paid for, but, after that, it wants to be free.” She’s echoing a phrase batted around in discussions of the internet: Information wants to be free. I know she’s making fun of the anthropomorphizing that gives information, or music, the ability to want anything, but she’s serious about her wanting to share purchased music files. Well, while music wants nothing, I want to get paid. As a recording singer-songwriter-poet and indie label owner, my income stream is already precarious without people giving away songs of mine they’ve purchased. Does Franklin feel that when she buys a ticket to a live show, she has the right to give away a limitless number of seats, because the show wants to be free? Custom and commercial practice forbid it. In contrast, computer technology and practice have taught us to pay for the digital carrier (computers, blank CDs, email service) but not its content. How to pay content originators in a digital age is a muddle jeopardizing the survival not only of music-makers but also of newspaper and magazine owners and writers  as The New Yorker surely knows. Until the muddle is clarified, I ask Franklin and other music enthusiasts to send their friends links to Amazon, iTunes, or indie music sites, instead of sending the bootlegged music itself.

Lisa B (Lisa Bernstein)


Sunday, January 11, 2009

Lessons with Jane Sharp

Jane Sharp from
One day I had a lesson with my vocal coach Jane Sharp (yes, that really is her name). She was teaching me the song "The Very Thought of You." "Jazz is constant variation," Jane said, and we were working on the possible variations in this charming, sincere, rather straightforward tune written in 1934.

To be a jazz singer means exploring one's unique interpretation of a song, playing not only with melody, but also with the rhythms of phrases and their timing too  pushing them ahead or laying them back as the count of the song ticks on.

But meanwhile, as Jane has reminded me many times, we also have to sing the meaning of the words  say the sentences, tell the story. We emphasize certain words, we pronounce some more crisply than others, we are actors. The meaning of the lyrics influences our other musical choices. The possibilities can seem overwhelming. But if I'm guided by how I would truly speak the lyrics to someone, I find the right path: Make music, be inventive, but in the end, tell the story from my mind and heart.

Jane is an amazing teacher. Once I came into a lesson close to tears and attempted to sing a sad ballad. Jane was full of empathy, but she remained the wise and helpful coach. She said something I've never forgotten: "In life, we're destroyed. Then we sing. But not in the same instant."

Today we kept looking at a little bird outside the window. It had flown right up against the window of the lesson room, and then it hopped stunned to the roof of a shed just a couple of feet away. It was a baby. It sat silent as we worked on the new song. Finally, we were done, and my (and Jane's) singing subsided.

Then the baby bird started to sing  or call for its mother. In life, we may be destroyed. But then we sing.

copyright 2009 Lisa Bernstein


Thursday, January 1, 2009

Magic for ’09: Lisa's Lord's Prayers

Finally! So glad the page has turned. Aren’t you happy to see the new number we’re in at last? Nines are nice: triple magical, since three is a magic number and nine is thrice that.

I’m having fun looking back, looking forward, cleaning my pantry (literally!), and gathering my tools and plans. It seems an apt moment to offer a prayer/poem I wrote a few years ago, to help the new year start off right.

Lisa’s Lord’s Prayers

Our mistress
who art in star-wash
bright be thy name.
Thy queendom come,
thy will be done
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily mead
and forgive us our marks on others
as we forgive those who put a mark on us.
And lead us not into the underworld
but deliver us from the dark.

Our father
in the world’s waters,
glistening be thy net.
Thy currents calm,
thy steady arm
extend over these oceans.
Give us this day the fish’s flesh
and forgive our over-taking
as we forgive those who steal our catch.
And lead us not into the dark gulf
but deliver us from storms.

Our canopy
arced over the universe
untouched be thy sheen.
Thy net of time
billow and shine
in matter as in motion.
Give us today our honeycomb
and forgive us our history
as we forgive those who would forget.
And steer us away from the black holes
but toward life.

Letters of God
in every cell
golden be each stroke.
Your power come,
meaning be done
electrically in nerve and spirit.
Give us today our act of truth
and forgive our indecision
as we forgive the strong-voiced who stay mute.
And lead us not into judgment
but deliver us from fear.

who art alive now,
hallowed be thy name.
Thy time has come,
thy will be done
in action as in dreaming.
Give yourself this day on earth
and forgive your failings
as you forgive those who fail all around you.
And lead yourself from suffering
into joy.

Our cats,
who art in Oakland,
springy be thy paws.
Thy catfood come,
thy wishes be done
in day and night and cat-dreams.
Give us today our purr of love
and forgive our absence
as we forgive the fleas who live in your fur.
And lead us not with claw-marks
but into languorous sleep.
PS: I don’t pray to myself in the next-to-last verse out of arrogance, though it does feel a bit radical to do so. Try it, dear reader: say a prayer to yourself as well as to the Divine – because you are both.

© 2009 Lisa Bernstein