Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Jaye Bartell: Another Flight

Poet Jaye Bartell has entered the lists of poet-bloggers, and (who would have thought) his blog is full of poems. Check that: his blog is poems. Several of the recent poems are short pieces that he terms "sketches"; their minimal language states the experience of place in a particularly resonant way. Here's one:

Sketch: Tennessee Dawn

hanging over
the Holston

still there
at dawn
tucked in
over the Holston

Navigate over to Makes a Bird and give him a read.

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Monday, June 26, 2006

A Thanks To Fred Chappell

By the time you're sixty (or thirty, for that matter) there've likely been occasions when, despite the clearest intentions pursued with focused energy, you've found yourself in a place other than one you intended to reach. There's an unanticipated turn in the path, and you have no option but to take it, regardless, and see where you wind up. One such turn for me involved North Carolina writer Fred Chappell, and because of it, there's a sense in which I owe him real debt of gratitude.

A few weeks ago City Lights Books in Sylva sent out an email about the reading from NatureS scheduled there that mentioned that I had been a student of Fred’s at UNC Greensboro. I had to smile at that, and reflect on the actual circumstance to which City Lights must have had reference. Back in 1967 I was indeed, for a semester, a student in the graduate program in creative writing at Greensboro, a program in which poet and critic Randall Jarrell, one of my favorite poets when I was in my early twenties, had taught for many years. It was still a good program after Jarrell's death, and included on its faculty poets Robert Watson and James Applewhite, novelist Fred Chappell, of course, and others. My fellow students included Robert Morgan and Kay Byer, now Poet Laureate of North Carolina. I don't now remember how many of us there were altogether in the program, but it was a small community, and therefore intense and personal. We, faculty and students, spent time together at parties, in the dining hall, in the Pickwick (a bar a few blocks away from campus), and in each other's homes.

I took Bob Watson’s course in poetry during the spring, and normally would have taken Fred’s course in the fall. But things were not to be normal. Sometime during the few months of that first semester, Fred took a notion that the wife of another faculty member, who shall remain nameless, for obvious reasons, "had a crush" on me, and that this was an intolerable situation. He let it be known that when I took his course in fiction writing in the fall, he would fail me, and so force me from the program. I was dumbstruck and miserable, of course, when I got the news from fellow students (I wanted to be a poet, dammit), but didn't confront Fred, who hadn’t confronted me. Fred had then, in some quarters, a reputation as, shall we say, an ornery, vindictive character. It seems, now, an almost farcical scenario; he would have been, after all, only 30 or 31 in 1967, a bit young to play the patriarchal ogre. But students had few rights in those days;
then it seemed that I faced an encounter that for me, a student, age 22, held no possibility of a positive resolution.

The situation was tinted, too, with an appropriate infusion of The Absurd. Whatever the woman might have felt, or not – so subdued was this that I don't think she and I had ever engaged in a conversation that wasn't in public, and she certainly never suggested an attraction – I had not understood her interest, and hadn't reciprocated; in fact, I was obliviously in the grips of a crush of my own, on a woman from New York City whom I found beautiful, exotic, and utterly charming. Ah, if only she had found me equally beguiling ... There's probably still a folder of the anguished poems I wrote her that spring mildewing in a box in the basement.

I left Greensboro for the summer, worked as a VISTA volunteer, and decided somewhere along the way, with more than Fred in mind, not to return to Greensboro. I returned, instead, to Chapel Hill the next spring to finish a course I needed for graduation (Greensboro had accepted me without the BA on the basis of the poems I'd sent them), and in the fall of 1968 headed north to Buffalo, New York.

In Buffalo, I eventually won admission to the State University of New York's wonderful, experimental Program in American Studies. I also found myself in the company of poets who opened for me new possibilities of finding and articulating imagination's forms, possibilities I most likely would not have stumbled upon on my own (and I would have had to find them on my own) had I stayed in Greensboro. In the first two years I was on the Niagara Frontier I audited classes of Robert Creeley's (see an earlier article on Creeley
here), and attended readings and parties with Creeley, Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Corso, Robert Bly, James Wright, John Logan, Bob Hass, Richard Brautigan (I loved Trout Fishing in America), and scholar Angus Fletcher, just to mention those whose names surface from memory on this summer afternoon. Some of them were regular guests in the Chenango Street neighborhood I lived in when they were in town. Poet Michael Davidson and his wife Carol lived in the same building. And then there was the music ... Janis Joplin, Buddy Guy, Eric Clapton, Led Zeppelin and hordes of others came through town to warm Buffalo's cold nights. And so much more. It was a rich and fertile field, topsoil twenty feet deep, for a guy who'd grown up in the hard red clay of the small city south, and it became a crucial location in my life.

The point of this is not simply to rehearse some ancient cosmic injustice. It was a situation of no particular moment, in the great scale of things, except – and it’s a big except – that but for it I might not have left the south or developed the approach to poetry that informs my work – or found “my own voice,” as Fred would likely think of it. Bob Morgan once told me that he found in Fred his "perfect reader," someone who understood his writing, as well as what he was writing
from, and could help him clarify and articulate his own vision. I found something else, but probably owe him equal thanks, after all.

Sometimes, indeed, the unexpected turn in the path truly does take you to the perfect destination, even if it wasn't the one you set out for.

So, Fred, thanks for the detour.

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Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Solstice, Summer

Today at 8:21 AM EDT the axial tilt of Earth that produces our seasons brought the Sun to its northern zenith, and so gave us Solstice, the point at which the Sun, Sol, appears to pause before it gradually retreats toward the south, bringing us once again autumn and winter, and Persephone returned once again to the depths of the Underworld. For now, though, She's here among us. It's been a moment to celebrate for millenia.

The folks at Jargon Books are celebrating this year with a Solstice page and a selection of the poems from NatureS as well as the photo of Joyce Blunk's "Weeping Garden" that I've uploaded here too. Tom Meyer's crafted elegant pages, as usual, so please do go feast your eyes.

It's a pleasure and an honor to be in such good company.

Happy Summer.

And Happy Birthday to my son Bryan, who turns twenty today somewhere in the vicinity of Barnaul, in the West Siberian Lowlands, just before he leaves for the Altai Mountains. I look forward to hearing someday before too long the stories he'll be able to tell of his travels. Take care, B.; I hope you're thriving.

Update 2:35 PM: The link to the solstice page is down at the moment, so I've linked directly to the selection from NatureS for now. I'll replace that link as soon as the Solstice Page is back online.

Update 6:55 PM: The link is now fixed.

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Friday, June 16, 2006

On to the Next Planet?

I was struck earlier this week by reported remarks of physicist Stephen Hawking that we should "spread out into space". Said Hawking:

It is important for the human race to spread out into space for the survival of the species. Life on Earth is at the ever-increasing risk of being wiped out by a disaster, such as sudden global warming, nuclear war, a genetically engineered virus or other dangers we have not yet thought of.

Some bloggers in the science community have interesting responses; Clifford at Cosmic Variance has this to say, and GrrlScientist at Living the Scientific Life is more pointed, and says his comments "are simply ridiculous". Take a look.

All the dangers Hawking is quoted as citing, by the way, are dangers that we, homo sapiens, have created or that are in our power to create. Or not.

By way of disclaimer, I must admit I'm partial to this particular planet, and believe we should do all we can to keep it alive, and our grandchildren, and their grandchildren, alive with it. And on it.

There are, of course, members of our species I'd be happy to see depart for Mars, or further, at the earliest opportunity. Paging Mr. Cheney ... Paging Mr. Rumsfeld ...


Image: NASA (Apollo 17). Click the image itself for a medium sized version, or click "Image" link and you can get a larger version of the picture. Stolen shamelessly from GrrlScientist.

Some Recent Activities ...

The reading at City Lights was great fun, and those there seemed to be interested in the poems. It's still a bit spooky for me to look up as I'm reading and see folks following the text in their copies of the book. One of the advantages of print, I suppose. But, I wanted to say, I just, you know, made these up ... Having read the poems to audiences now several times, I've found that several of them have acquired a new word or two, or lost one, most often to make the poem flow better (to my ear) as sequentially spoken sound, once or twice to shine a glimmer more light on an implicit structure in the poem. When I read those now, I feel I ought to note the emendations and additions. "By the way, for those of you reading along, in line twelve I've added ..."

Afterwards several of us, old friends and new acquaintances, had time for conversations, and I look forward to continuing those in the weeks or months ahead.

This past Tuesday Thomas Rain Crowe and I travelled over to the metropolis of Spindale to meet with Ellen Pfirrmann, WNCW's Arts Coordinator, and record interviews and readings. I'll post more information about the broadcast schedule as I get it. There's another reading for NatureS coming up on July 7th at Osondu Booksellers in Waynesville, and Ellen said she'd probably broadcast some of our interview around the time of the reading.

Met with a couple of poets downtown last Monday (look forward to another post about what they're up to), and noticed that Malaprops now has NatureS on the shelf of local authors, or local poets, so it's there, along with "Transits of Venus", the earlier chapbook, for those of you who've been waiting for it to appear in that accessible location - and vortex of literary energy.

The garden's in, we had a little rain, so it's a great moment just to relish the expected summer. And to contemplate its tasks: hopefully I'll get straw mulch down in the next week or two so everything won't be buried in weeds by the end of July.

Like the man said, Onward!


Thursday, June 08, 2006

Reading at City Lights

Tomorrow evening I'll be reading from NatureS over in Sylva, at the wonderful City Lights bookstore; I'd have had a note up earlier, but Blogger has been down more-or-less constantly for days - as you probably know, if you read Atrios or Digby or ... a host of others, as many have mentioned it. Argh.

Anyway, here's the City Lights notice of the reading:

(Fri. 6/9) Poetry Reading with Jeff Davis

Please join us on Friday, June 9 at 7:30 p.m. for a reading and booksigning with poet Jeff Davis. A long- time resident of Asheville, Davis will be celebrating the publication of his selected poems, NatureS, which is being published by Thomas Rain Crowe'’s New Native Press in Cullowhee. Area residents perhaps know Davis from his thoughtful articles as a features writer for Rapid River and for his role as one of the hosts for the WPVM radio show “'WordPlay'.” A renaissance man, he studied with Fred Chappell and Robert Creeley, and has also taught at UNC-A as assistant professor of Anthropology, worked as a baker and photographer, and founded a computer programming and trouble-shooting business. The poems in NatureS were written over the course of a career, and are love poems to and of nature, to and of flesh. The many natures of what we, as humans, are, as well as what we strive for, wish for and dream of. Davis'’s poems in this collection are place-specific to the western North Carolina mountains, their fauna and flora, their cultures and seasons. Commenting on Davis's new book, western North Carolina's own Jonathan Williams has written: "“I divide poetry into what I can read and what I cannot read. I am new to Jeff Davis'’s work but hit'll read!!! It reminds me that writers named Robert Creeley and Charles Olson once taught at Black Mountain College in Buncombe County, NC - and made a difference."

The June 9th event will include a formal reading by Davis followed by refreshments and an opportunity for those in attendance to meet and talk to the author and to buy signed copies of the new book. The evening is free and open to the public.

That's lightly edited; City Lights originally had Joyce Blunk attending also, but she has family in town and won't be able to make it. And they'd promoted me to associate professor, which I wasn't. I'm not so sure about that "renaissance man" thing, but thanks anyway. And since they mention Fred Chappell, I suppose I'll have to tell my Fred story. Fred, in an oblique way, actually made it possible for me to go to Buffalo and study with Robert Creeley, and others, though I'm sure that's not what he had in mind.

Juicy details at the reading. And if you can't make the reading, I'll post the story here sometime next week - assuming Blogger permits it. Computer (or, more often, software) weirdness has contributed to my livelihood over the years, and I'm usually grateful for the opportunity to figure out what the hell is going on, but sometimes ... Unfortunately, in the case of Blogger, all one can do is wait while the guys in California come to grips with whatever's whacked the system.

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Saturday, June 03, 2006

An Afternoon's Adventure with Minerva

It’s so easy not to see what is close at hand. Like most, I sometimes fall back into the sense that I know the world in which I live and move, and become anaesthetized to surprises it might offer.
We are estranged from that with which we’re most familiar. Sometimes it takes the eyes of someone new to the particulars of the city to open my own eyes to what has changed, to new phenomena in the landscape. I didn’t really expect an adventure when I agreed to meet a friend for lunch downtown, but got one regardless. And a fine adventure it was.

My friend had seen an ad for a gallery in Rapid River, a local arts magazine, and wanted to check it out, so we walked over to Church Street to locate Gallery Minerva. Having been under a rock for the last three years, I hadn’t even realized there even existed a gallery on Church Street. “Are you sure it’s on Church Street?” Sure enough, that’s what the ad said – and there it was, just past the parking lot at the intersection with Patton, at number 12.

Asheville’s blessed with galleries, of course, but this one offered some types of work I hadn’t often seen locally, like the fine figurative surrealist work of Clayton Anderson, the rich tensions of form and color of Kate Worm’s landscapes, still lives, and nudes, and the large-scale mythic enigmas of Chris Sedgwick – and several striking recent limited edition prints by photographer Judith Angel, an old friend, native of Candler, who now lives and works in New York.

Perhaps as interesting as any of these, though, the gallery also offered the affable intelligence of its proprietor, art consultant Anna Parker-Barnett. And the gallery, it turns out, as good as it is, is merely the small visible facet of her activity in the arts.

Parker-Barnett opened Minerva two years ago. Born in Alabama, educated (in Interior Design) at the University of Texas and Parsons School of Design, she took a circuitous route to Asheville, one that led through New York (where she worked with fabric designer Jay Yang), Chapel Hill, Valle Crucis, and Hickory. When her cousin invited her to partner in a design business in the town of San Jose del Cabo, in Baja, Mexico, she decided to accept the challenge. Familiar with the world of well-designed, well-crafted North Carolina furniture, Anna found that she was able to provide resources otherwise unavailable in that part of the world. When a local gallery fell victim to the divorce of its owners, she made it an adjunct to her work as a consultant in art to designers and their clients in San Jose. She’d developed relationships with the artists who found themselves in her vicinity in Baja, including a contingent of those in the nearby arts-centered community of Todos Santos, and became an advocate for the work she found extraordinary, serving as its ambassador to a larger world.

One of her projects brought her to Asheville, and … well, you know the story. One thing led to another, she met her “fabulous” husband, found the Asheville designer community congenial, had a vision for a new gallery, and moved here, full time, early in 2004, and opened Gallery Minerva.

In the course of her peripatetic career, Anna has worked with hundreds of artists all over the world, and built a network that serves her, she says, well, no matter what her clients need. With her background in design, she can assist clients not just with the purchase of works of art, but also with development of interior color palettes, lighting, framing and other situational factors that will enhance their display. Given the considerable investment art can represent, she says, she always tries to help her clients find real values as they develop their collections, however modest or grand those collections might be. She feels she offers clients “unique connections,” and, given the unique creations in her gallery, I’d say she’s surely right.

But, not having been under a rock finishing a book by earthlight, you may already know Gallery Minerva. No? Well, it’s well worth the jaunt to Church Street.

Anna has promised to keep me advised as new work arrives and events develop, so I’m sure I’ll be checking back; I’ll keep you, as they say, posted.

If Gallery Minerva is an example of what I’ve lately missed, I’ll have to get out more. I look forward to the next such surprise. Even in Asheville, it seems, you never step into the same city twice.


A version of this post appeared in Rapid River. Photo of Anna Parker-Barnett by myself.

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Thursday, June 01, 2006

Silliman Takes On Olson

Updated: Ron Silliman has another post up today on Charles Olson - specifically, on Olson's Projectivist poetics. His earlier posts are here and here. While there're issues to take (see below), etc., they're worth a read.

One quibble I have, for starters, is with his attribution to Olson of an error with regard to the smallest unit of sound in language (or, as Olson has it "the smallest particle of all"), the syllable, per Olson. Silliman attributes this error to Olson wading "clumsily" through "his homegrown linguistics", and points out that for actual linguists the smallest unit of sound is the phoneme; phonemes are what characters in a written alphabet are an attempt to transcribe. Even the simple English word "be", Ron notes, contains two phonemes.

For a poet, though, the syllable really is the smallest relevant unit of sound; we don't hear phonemes, just as we don't hear the two in Ron's simple word of choice. Poets work with audible units. And the dynamics of poetry, the somatic grounding of the poem, is the context for Olson's assertion.

Olson can be the most gnarly of writers, but even his apparently offhand parentheses can sometimes crackle with lightning bolts of insight. Ron's is the first attempt I think I've seen to give "Projective Verse" a close reading, and, if I were wearing a hat, I'd give it a tip in his direction for the light he does bring to bear on the Big O! If you're interested in Olson, do check out what the man has to say.

More, surely, later.

Update: There's now a fourth part up here.

The photo of Olson at a Black Mountain College meeting in the early 50s is by Hazel Larsen Archer. Her work is the focus of Hazel Larsen Archer: Black mountain College Photographer, recently published by the Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center.

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