Wednesday, April 26, 2006

NatureS: The Celebration

This Friday, the 28th, I'll be reading from NatureS, now officially published, at the Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center. I'm happy it's done, delighted with the production of the book, and hope anyone who might read this note will feel welcome to drop in. Things get underway at 8:00 o'clock.

It's a curious thing, I admit, publishing a first book past 60; I hope George Eliot was right that "it's never too late to be what you might have been." For me it's come to seem simply a way to participate in the conversation of the time in which I live. Over the past three years, as I've been working on the book, I've reconnected with poet friends from times and places past, and met younger poets working their way toward their own modes of statement, and I've enjoyed it immensely. There's a whole level of psyche that such a community of persons so actively engaged with imagination sustains.

Hiking a trail here in the Smokies you'll sometimes come across a point along a ridge, a rocky promontory, that, climbed, offers view of the terrain traversed. Making the book has been such an occasion, a chance to see where I've been and what sense I've managed to make of the journey - so far! From the outcrop, after all, you also get a look at the territory that remains to be crossed.

If you're in town, I hope you'll come help me send these songs off into the world.

The poster for the reading was created by the talented Clare Hubbard, intern at the Center and student at Warren Wilson College in Swannanoa.

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Friday, April 21, 2006

Breaking News of the Archer Opening

Word just today that Erika Zarow, Hazel Larsen Archer's daughter, will be in town tonight for the opening of the show displaying her mother's work. Erika preserved most of the prints and negatives that served as the basis of the show and the new monograph, so it's wonderfully appropriate that she shoud be present at the Center for the event. I'll be picking her up at the airport in an hour.

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Monday, April 17, 2006

Lee Ann Brown at UNCA Tonight

"Last Minute" Lee Ann Brown called this afternoon to let me know that she'll be reading tonight at the Laurel Forum at UNCA. Lori Horvitz' class furnishes the occasion, but the reading is open to all of us. She'll be starting at 7:30. If you enjoy poetry on the adventurous side, you should forget whatever else you were planning to do and catch Lee Ann.

The photo catches Lee Ann last summer on the porch of her home in Madison County.

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Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Coming Attractions: Hazel Larsen Archer

This afternoon I helped take down the show featuring the work of Joe Fiore and his students that's hung at the Center* since last fall. Over the next week, a new show will go up, one that features the photographic work of Hazel Larsen Archer. "Who?" you might ask. Indeed. Go read the post about Hazel and her work over at Eden Hall.

The show opens April 21st with a reception that will also introduce the Center's beautiful new monograph on Archer, Hazel Larsen Archer/Black Mountain College Photographer. The Center's done fascinating and attractive publications before, but for this one it definitely took its publications game up a few notches.

The evening before, the Asheville Art Museum will host a special symposium on the contemporary relevance of Black Mountain College. The speakers will be scholars Mary Emma Harris, Eva Diaz, and Gwen Robertson. Mary Emma presides over the Black Mountain College Project, which provides historical material on the college, information on some of its faculty and students, a few memoirs, and other resources. The afternoon of the Archer opening, she’ll lead a tour of the college campus, now Camp Rockmont; call the Center at 350-8484 for more information.


* The Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center, of course.

The photo by Hazel captures Hazel and her daughter Erika; date unknown. The print is by Alice Sebrell. There are additional photos by Hazel Larsen Archer, printed by Alice Sebrell, here.

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Tuesday, April 11, 2006

NatureS: Further Studies

At one point while I was writing the short preface to
NatureS I wanted to find the context of a quote from the German poet Novalis that has been a touchstone for me for the past thirty odd years: “I is the absolute communal place - the nexus.” I was surprised to discover that it had not found its way into my electronic notebooks (or should I say notefiles?) over the years I’ve been keeping them. I knew it was somewhere in one of the hardcopy, handwritten notebooks – probably in a couple of them – but I thought it’d be easier to confirm it by going back to what I remembered was its source, Karl Seigler’s translation of the “Encyclopedia IX”. It was published as the first issue of Tom Grieve’s Archai, from Vancouver, in 1973. I’ve looked for the text in other editions of Novalis’ writings (or translations of them, given my little German), but so far have managed to locate it nowhere else. In fact, other editions present a range of material from the fragments known as "Pollen" and the “Encyclopedia” that's so different I sometimes wonder if they’re actually based on the same text. To complicate cross-reference, no two editions I’ve seen in English use the same system for numbering and organizing the fragments; most often, it seems, the editors simply number selected fragments sequentially, as though they constituted a continuous excerpt. Some editions also replace Novalis’ punctuation with conventional contemporary punctuation, leaving a text that must be quite as far from Novalis’ original as early editions of Emily Dickinson’s poems were from her careful fascicles.

Here, in any case, is the full quote in context, from Seigler’s edition:

1688 In the point of freedom, in the “I”, we are all actually completely identical – only from this point does every identity divide. “I” is the absolute communal place – the nexus.

Another fragment brings further light to Novalis’ imagination of identity:

1694 Psychology and Encyclopedics. A thing becomes clear only through representation. One understands a matter most easily when one sees it represented. So one understands the “I” only insofar as it is represented by the “not I”. The “not I” is only a symbol of the “I”, and so serves only for the “I’s” understanding of itself. So, conversely, one understands the “not I” only insofar as it is represented by the “I” which becomes a symbol…

Some other fascinating notes on our relation to nature and on human time:

1741 We are simultaneously in and outside of nature.

1750 … Only the backward look takes us forward, since the forward look leads us back.

More fragments on cosmology:

1752 Cosmology. The outside is an inside elevated to a condition of mystery - (perhaps also vice versa.) …

1762 … Axiom: Of ourselves, we can know nothing. All true knowledge must be given us. …

And the last three powerful notes of Book IX:

1801 Psychology. Love is the ultimate purpose of the world’s history – the Amen of the universe.

1802 Theosophy. God is love. Love is the highest real – the original ground.

1803 Encyclopedics. The theory of love is the highest knowledge – the knowledge of nature – or the nature of knowledge. Philielogiae (or also philology).

It’s easy to understand, perhaps, reading these, why Novalis was among the subjects listed in Charles Olson’s “A Plan for a Curriculum of the Soul”, first published in The Magazine of Further Studies. Olson’s commission bore some considerable fruit over the years, as his friend and fellow poet Jack Clarke joined with Al Glover, another poet and student of Olson's, to found the Institute of Further Studies. They selected authors, including Robin Blaser, Robert Duncan, John Weiners, and more than a dozen others, including themselves, to complete the series. Or almost complete it; Ed Dorn and Robert Creeley never finished their contributions. After Clarke’s death, Glover continued the project by recruiting Lisa Jarnot and Michael Boughn, both of whom had been students of Creeley, to complete the final numbers, “(One’s Own) Language” and “Mind”, respectively. The series stands as a unique and remarkable undertaking.

The Robert Dalke’s “Novalis’ Subjects” fascicle, however, offers little in the way of the core of Novalis’ vision. It focuses primarily on the range of topics which Novalis proposed to address, and his attempts to articulate his vision for the “Encyclopedia.” Here, for example, are Dalke's translations of a few of Novalis’ Subjects:

Artistic Logic
Philosophic Physiology
Scientific Divination
Pathologic Logic
Mystic Geometry
Physiologic and Psychologic Time Study
Witty Physics
Vegetable Magnetism
Musical Chemistry
Poetic Geography
Plant Politics
Mystic Grammar
Obviously, Novalis was more than able to think beyond the boundaries of the intellectual disciplines of his day; he’d still be stalking frontiers. There are now few moments in life when 70s hippie slang offers just the right language for an occasion, but this is one of them; he was truly “far out.” Dalke’s translation may be true to Olson’s specific charge (“cf. Novalis/’subjects’”), but doesn’t really get deeply into what made Novalis of interest to Olson, or might make him useful to anyone else. Seigler’s work seems long out-of-print, but we currently have available Margaret Mahony Stoljar’s 1997 translation of Novalis’ Philosophical Writings; it seems altogether useful, and appears to avoid the most objectionable forms of emendation. Reading through it, I find new fragments that might give me themes for reflection for the next few decades, and directions for even further – no, make that Further - Studies.

May 5, 2006: Updated to include additional information on Al Glover's role in creating the Institute of Further Studies.

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Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Fresh April Air

Tonight at 9:00 I’ll be joining three other poets, Mara Leigh Simmons, Autumn Choi, and Kathy Godfrey, for a reading at The New French Bar in downtown Asheville. It’s part of the “Fresh Air” series organized by poet Jaye Bartell. The readings occur on the first Wednesday of every month; I caught last month’s and it was great fun. I must acknowledge that I learned of the series only last fall, when Jaye and I both read as part of the celebration of Allen Ginsberg’s
Howl at the Center* but, having helped organize a few readings myself, I’m impressed by the fact of the persistent scene, and understand what that says about the energy, intelligence, and commitment Jaye’s brought to its organization. Jaye explained what led him to develop the series in a statement earlier this year that marked the beginning of the second year of the series:
"Open mics” had long been nearly the only forum for public readings in Asheville. A reader shared the corner of a coffee shop dining room with acoustic guitarists and stand up comedians. Slams were another option, although occurring less consistently than open readings. Again, however, for one simply wishing to perform or otherwise share his or her work with friends and interested others, the competition and stylistic homogeneity of slams were endured, not enjoyed, by those unconcerned with art as sport. The evenings allowed for a focused performance on the part of the writer, a chance to arrange a program of pieces and present them to a "voluntary” audience, an audience interested in the show as billed.
Jaye seems to have had a clear sense of what the poets of various intentions whom he knew required in order to find such a situation congenial. The poets at the reading I heard last month clearly relished their presence there, and the “voluntary” audience clearly appreciated the event for what it was.
Simply, people had writings, some born of a deliberate, focused vocation, others a personal, less structured activity. Strangely, many who attended, including me, found that the evenings epitomized poetry in the classic sense of a reading, with all the butt-smoke and low lights most of us had only heard about in satires. … All could be told by saying meaningful occurrences happened by simple congregation and some words spoke.
“Some words spoke.” It’s the primordial occasion of poetry, sharing the particularizing, renewing music of this special mode of speech. If you’re out and about tonight, join us there.


* That’s the Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center, of course.

Alice Sebrell took the photo of Jaye reading at last December's celebration of "Howl".

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Tuesday, April 04, 2006

On Earth ...

Robert Creeley's last book, is now out. I haven't yet seen it, but Ron Silliman takes a look at it over at his blog. I'll be reading it over the next week and will be back to register my own responses. In the meantime ... read Ron - or Bob (that's a link to "Caves", a series of poems included in On Earth, for those not quite curious enough just to click the link), or Bob and Ron.

Had my computer not been down over the weekend, I would have noted the anniversary of Bob's death on Friday. Best to mark it this way, though, with a notice of his work.

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Back into the Light: Hazel Larsen Archer

The Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center will be opening a show this later month of work by the photographer Hazel Larsen Archer, one of the (mostly) unseen lights of the college - until now. I'll have another post about her work and career up in a day or two, but wanted to post some instances of her way of seeing now.

The first is one of her "motion studies" of Merce Cunningham, which had Cunningham improvising dance-like movements a few feet away from her camera lens.

Here's a shot of the Black Mountain College campus, looking across the western edge of the lake toward the Studies Building:

Here's another dancer, Katherine Litz, dancing in the doorway to the Dining Hall:

And Charles Olson (center, with glasses) in a meeting. Olson was still in the early stages of his career as poet when he served as the last Rector of the college.

The show opens April 21st, simultaneously with the publication of the Center monograph on Archer's work, Hazel Larsen Archer / Black Mountain College Photographer, from which these images are drawn.

Original content © 2006.

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Sunday, April 02, 2006

NatureS: Joyce Blunk's "Crown Conch"

One of the pieces by Joyce Blunk that I found (and find) really involving, one that conjured up a world for me, she's named, for obvious reasons, "Crown Conch". It's central image and columnar frame will be featured on the cover of NatureS; the photo at left includes the whole contruction. A couple of weeks ago I asked her how she's gone about developing it.

Jeff: I am intrigued by your description of your work process, and your statement that “a particular object is usually the starting place.” Would it be reasonable to speculate that the conch is the starting place for “Crown Conch”? Clearly, a lot happened after it got started! And I could offer you a hundred questions about just that piece. But let me ask just one: What came next, after the conch?

Joyce: “Crown Conch” is a 1997 box and I was interested at that time, and still am, in constructions dealing with windowed interiors revealing an element of deep space by incorporating the illusion of distant landscapes. I was after a contrast created between the romantic beauty of the landscape and a starker reality of the interior. Most of these pieces show lush mountains at the changing of seasons and at a time of day when the light is moody and transitional. The predominant feeling, for me, is nostalgia, yearning, and a great melancholy. The shell, in this case, was added to the box when I had nearly finished. It seemed to really fit, and I liked the idea of the conch being isolated and removed from its origin. The shell is transformed by being presented in a formal and ceremonious way, altering the viewer’s way of seeing it.

After “Crown Conch” I did a box with a closed-in interior, a porch or vestibule, and an Egyptian theme. As you know from your own work, early ideas pop up in new ways again and much later. “The Egyptian Fish” revisits the subject of trophies, those display objects that symbolize personal superiority, prowess, and victory. In this instance, the “trophy” started out as a fish skeleton some German friends found in Egypt and sent to me. Collected and enshrined objects are at the forefront of all the trophy-theme pieces, but not far away there is always evidence of struggle and emotional expenditure. An important aspect is that the tallying up and showing forth always associated with trophies take place in a relentless state of deterioration and change, so that the pride in accomplishment is eroded by an ironic sense of futility.
It might have been a reasonable speculation on my part, but "Crown Conch", as Joyce says, didn't begin with the conch at all. It seems to have begun, instead, with the contrast between interior and exterior, and the sense of loss and dubious consolation implicit in the terms of that contrast for her.

Joyce will be showing "Crown Conch" and several other of her constructions on April 28th, for the publication party for NatureS at the Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center . The book, after three sets of proofs, is now in the press, and should ship literally any day. More information on the festivities in the days ahead.


The photo of "Crown Conch" is by Joyce Blunk.

Original content © 2006.

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