Friday, September 22, 2006

Thomas Rain Crowe Reads Tomorrow Night

... at Malaprops, in downtown Asheville. His Zoro's Field has gone into paperback, and Thomas will be reading from it to celebrate. The reading will begin at 7:00 pm.

In July, Thomas was interviewed by Floriano Martins, of Brazil, ostensibly about his views on "Surrealism in the Americas," something Thomas knows a bit about, but the interview ranged into other territories, and found Thomas talking about many of the sources and inspirations for his own work. The interview has now been published, in Portugese, in the online magazine Agulha. Here, with thanks to Thomas for the transcription, is the complete interview in English:


FM: So you made the connection between your fascination for Beats and Surrealism? Breton defended the existence of a “free integral thought.” Did the Beats also? Which were the points in common?

TRC: Yes, it was the "free integral thought", as you call it, that was the most important thing for me in terms of both Beat literature and French surrealism. On the Beat side, it was essentially the dictum of "first thought, best thought," which was espoused by Kerouac that was critical. On the French side, Breton took it a little further, and dogmatically, into the subconscious, with restrictions regarding content that was "of the world". I think he was more interested in the other world(s) than in the one in which he was living. And his Manifesto was an attempt to impose that perspective on his fellow surrealist colleagues, if not the world in general. My take was that while Kerouac was living in the world, and was of the world, Breton was living mostly in his head.

FM: You speak in a relationship to the Celtic tradition, a theme that would have given to you a larger intensity between voice and text. A poet as Robert Graves woke up some interest for your poetry? Besides the approach to Beats, which were the poets that you read most?

TRC: Let me begin by answering the second part of your question first, as it relates to your previous question. My discovery of the Beats was the "wake up call" for me when I was still in my teens. Soon thereafter, I discovered the poetry of Yevgeny Yevtushenko and Andrei Vosnesensky in Russia (The Soviet Union). They were, more or less, writing in a similar tradition and voice to the Beats. In researching those two poets, I also discovered many Russian poets from an earlier generation. Mayakovsky, Esenin, Khlebnikov, Krushchenek, Pasternak, Mandelstam. And among the women: Akhmatova, Tsvetayeva and Akhmadulina. The Russian "Futurists," especially, got my attention.

About this same time, I was discovering the work of the French. Rimbaud, Baudelaire, Lautremont, Bachelard, Voltaire, Fournier, Balzac, Artaud. These French writers, along with the French surrealist painters, had a bigger influence on me than Breton or the surrealist writers.

So, this "trinity" of the Russians, French and Beats was/is truly what formed my own "oeuvre" early on, and still does to some extent, even today.

As to the Celtic tradition. This is something that I have come upon rather recently. I made my first trip abroad to Wales in 1993 – to visit the hometown of Dylan Thomas, whom I consider to be the greatest poet of the 20th century writing in the English language. This trip to Laugharne, Wales was something of a pilgrimage for me. During that first visit I was exposed to the breadth and depth of the Welsh literary tradition, and was taken in by that. I had the opportunity to meet with one of the great contemporary Welsh poet/writers, Bobi Jones. Bobi Jones put me on the track of other Welsh poets, as well as books on the Welsh tradition. This was my beginning introduction to things Celtic.

From there, I went, in 1995 up into Scotland (where all of my ancestry originates). I met with contemporary poets such as Scottish Gaelic poet Aonghas MacNeacail in Edinburgh, and Tessa Ransford at the Scottish Poetry Library. From these meetings I began my study of Scottish Gaelic and the Scots traditions.

That same year, I went over to Ireland. I hooked up with people at Poetry Ireland and visited several bookstores both in Dublin and, in the west, in Galway. After a lot of reading and after a lot of Guinness, I was off and running. Two years later and two more trips to Wales, Scotland and Ireland, and I had collected, edited and published the first comprehensive contemporary bi-lingual anthology of Celtic languages poets from the Celtic communities of Wales, Ireland, Scotland, Brittany, Cornwall and the Isle of Man. This anthology has been a big hit in the Celtic countries, as it successfully unified the clans–something that not even Bonnie Prince Charlie could do! The book is also, now, used as a textbook in several Celtic Studies Programs at universities in the U.S. and Canada.

What I took from all of this, was mainly a love of lyric verse, and have incorporated this element into my own work.

FM: How was your coexistence with the music? What music type? And how did your poetry benefit with this coexistence?

TRC: As my work got more and more lyrical following my trips to the British Isles, I found that the idea of the Bardic tradition became of interest to me. In the olden times in those Celtic traditions, poetry was very often recited with musical accompaniment. I wanted to explore this and to give my poetry a bigger and more complete sound. In 1991 I formed a band of musicians and began performing spoken poetry with music. In the process, I created a record label (Fern Hill Records) devoted exclusively to the collaboration of poetry and music. I have produced, now, several recordings in this genre – using my own work and work of other poets, as well. Most recently my band The Boatrockers and I have been performing a kind of Middle Eastern music to accompany my translations of the 14th century Sufi poet Hafiz. But we also, on occasion, venture off into other musical areas, as well as into political poetry – which seems necessary to me, given the political climate in the U.S. at the present time.

FM: You speak about your writing as a spontaneous process. Is it here possible to speak in a systematic and passionate exploration of the unconscious, as it defended the surrealism? Was your idea of an automatic writing given firstly by Kerouac?

TRC: As I mentioned before, Kerouac's "first thought, best thought" was, and is a dictum that I have followed. Poetry, for me, has always been about "the magic." The process, as well as the product, is a mystery. Where it comes from and even what it (the poem) is about, is part of this magic, this mystery. In essence, I just open the windows and the doors and let it (the poem) in. I don't know whether my poems come from the unconscious or from the outside world. All I know is that they come into and through me from an "other" place. Breton and the surrealists talk a lot about the "other." It's not clear what the "other" is, but it is definitely not the rational mind. The rational mind is the creator of prose. Poetry is not prose. The Beat generation poet, and one of my mentors from my years in San Francisco during the 1970s, Jack Hirschman wrote an essay many years ago titled "No Such Thing As Prose." In this essay he attempted to delineate the differences between prose and poetry. In the end, he sided with poetry as the purer vehicle for the transmission of ideas through language. I would agree with him in this assessment. Although I write a good deal of prose these days in order to make my living, when I write poetry it is an entirely different process than when I am (consciously) writing prose.

FM: Do the readings in public precede, in your case, the publication of poems in magazines or books? Did the direct contact with the public somehow wake up in you a fascination for the theater?

TRC: Sometimes my poems appear in publications before I actually perform them in public. And sometimes not. I have no set formulae for all that. A lot of it is out of my control – the timing of such things. I can tell you that in performing my poems in public that there is an organic editing process that goes on much of the time. I learned this from Lawrence Ferlinghetti, who often reads a new poem in public and edits it right on the spot. He's concerned about how his ear perceives things as they are spoken. I've come to do the same thing. If something in a new poem sounds strange in the reading, I will often change or edit it out of the piece, later.

During the 1970s in San Francisco, which is where I really cut my teeth as a public poet, I got my indoctrination and initiation into the theatrical side of the poet's work. I was shy and unskilled at public performance, at first, but the more I read in public, the easier it got. And the easier it got, the more experimental was my approach to all of this. Jack Hirschman had translated a collection of Artaud's work, and was more or less acting out Artaud's notions of absurd and political theatre in his day-to-day life. His appearance and his poetry performances were riveting, electric. I learned a lot from just being around and watching Jack. I learned a lot about projecting one's voice from watching and listening to him. This has served me well, as in later years I've become more and more of a public performer with bigger and bigger bands. Of, when possible, we combine art forms and our performances are multi-media. In the spirit of Wagner's notion of "Gesamtkunstwerk" (total art work), often The Boatrockers performances will include not only music and spoken language, but visual lighting, projections, and live dancers, as well. In this sense, poetry has become theatre, as you imply.

FM: Today it is possible to speak in a literary family in relation to your poetry or is this a theme that doesn't wake up you interest?

TRC: I'm pretty much a renegade, an outlaw, as a poet. At least this is how I've spent my poetic life these past 25 years, since leaving San Francisco and my work with the Beatitude group and the Beats. However, I still consider myself to be part of that "family" as you call it, and part of the Beat tradition. While I don't really like labels, and am not prone to join groups, I maintain a loyalty to that tradition and to those poets whom I befriended during the 1970s, and whom have remained friends, if not cohorts. I believe that the Beat movement was more than a flash-in-the-pan that only happened for a short time among a small group during the 1950s. My generation was directly influenced by the Beats. Especially those of us who were living in San Francisco and hanging out with them, working with them on publication projects and performing with them in public readings. Their literary values and ideas were literally handed down to us "Baby Beats" during the 1970s, and now, we have passed on those values, that tradition to a whole new generation of "grandbaby Beats", if you will. So, it's ongoing. Or, as the saying goes: "the Beat goes on ..."

FM: Besides Lamantia, which other surrealist American poets you consider important?

TRC: The two poets whom I know the best are Ken Wainio and Jerry Estrin. Both of these poets lived in San Francisco when I was there during the 1970s. Jerry Estrin was founding editor of a surrealist magazine called Vanishing Cab, which, for my money, was the best surrealist publication in the U.S. during those years. He and Ken Wainio had a joint book of poems published by Sternum Press during the 70s called My Nakedness Creates You. Jerry, who was a cab driver during his years in San Francisco, went on to publish four more collections of poetry before dying at the age of 47 in 1993.

Ken Wainio, as a young poet in San Francisco in the 1970s, who was also making his living as a cab driver, was recognized and hailed by both Philip Lamantia and Nanos Valaoritis for his early poems. He was part of Harold Norse's workshops, where most of the Baby Beats originally met and began working together. He was pursued by the Chicago Surrealist Group, but didn't join them. Writing a surrealist poetry that was heavy with mythic content (especially Egyptian and Mycenean), his work is considered by many to be a unique mix of humor, satire and serious historical observation. His first solo book published in 1993 titled Crossroads of the Other, by Androgyne Books in San Francisco, is now considered a classic. In later years, he wrote more prose than poetry, including three novels, only one of which (Starfuck) was published before his untimely death in January of this year (2006).

Both Wainio and Estrin were involved with Beatitude magazine. Wainio edited issue #26 which came out in 1976.

The other surrealist poet that comes to mind is Franklin Rosemont, who is the founder and central figure in the Chicago Surrealist Group. He is also founder of Black Swan Press. Since the late 1960s, he has been an instrumental and outspoken voice from the surrealist position in the U.S. And still remains so after almost 40 years as a staunch surrealist poet and activist.

I'm sure that there are others that one could cite, but in my mind these three are the most important, in the sense that their work will most likely stand the test of time.

FM: Did we forget something?

TRC: No, I think we've just about covered all the bases. At least enough to give your readers a little food for thought. I thank you for your interest in my work and the work of the Baby Beats. It's very exciting to know that there will now be an audience for our work in Brazil and in the Portuguese language. I hope that we will have many opportunities in the future to have similar conversations.

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Thursday, September 21, 2006

WordPlay: Further Adventures

For the past few weeks I've been working with Laura Hope-Gill, Glenis Redmond, and Sebastian Matthews to bring the second season of WPVM's WordPlay, "the program by and about poets and writers ...", to the air each Sunday at 4:00. We've had some fun shows already, and we're just getting underway. Last week, poet Gary Lilley, who writes poems very much in the spirit of jazz, brought a band with him to the show. There were, if I remember correctly, seven folks in the studio (it's maybe 10'x10'), probably an all time record. It was a total hoot. Thanks to a malfunction of the station's automation system, you can still hear it in the station's Archive; just scroll down.

We've got a blog underway. We plan to use it to continue the discussions we have on the shows, to present some work by our guests, and ... well, who knows? There's not a whole lot there yet, but check it out.

The WPVM broadcast signal, for several reasons, including the fact that it was chartered as a "low power" station, is too weak to hear much of anywhere, but the station also streams on the web. I've heard some good radio there, regardless of the station's size. Check out the program schedule, if you want, or just dive in. It'll perk up your ears.

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Monday, September 18, 2006


Folks finding their way here from the farflung crannies of the internet might find these archived articles of interest: a farewell tribute to Robert Creeley; articles on Tom Meyer's new translation of the daode jing here, here, and here; a Note on Jack Clarke, Charles Olson's friend and fellow poet; a post on visual artist Joyce Blunk's "Crown Conch"; an interview with Joyce; a post on poetry and computers; one on guitarist Steve Kimock; another farewell, this one to surrealist poet Ken Wainio; and a look at some of Novalis' fragments. There's more, posts on Fred Chappell and Jim Applewhite, Baby Beats, Thomas Rain Crowe, and Flarf. Over on Eden Hall, there are older posts about happenings at the Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center, including one on Hazel Larsen Archer and the book about her work the Center published this spring. There are several of her photos here.

Poke around. Enjoy yourself, and come back if you find things that interest you. Posting is at a slower pace than on blogs tied to the events of the day, but I hope the posts that do appear provide thoughtful reflection on their materials - and provide, sometimes at least, insights and intellectual surprises you'd be unlikely to find elsewhere.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Thinking Ahead, & Experimenting to Get There

It'’s everywhere. In the world of the arts, there'’s just no escaping Black Mountain College. That's especially true this month in Asheville. Both the Asheville Art Museum and the Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center, one of the best small museums in America (yes, I know, I am on the board, but I'’m just quoting the Wall Street Journal there), host shows highlighting the important contributions of the small, obscure, persistently impoverished local college to the larger world. Long after it closed in 1957*, the work begun there rippled through American culture and, indeed, the cultures of the other advanced industrial nations, right on up to our own time.

The impact of the painters and visual artists has often been acknowledged; they helped change the face of American art. The importance of the poets and writers has likewise been celebrated, and likely will be for decades to come; they stood at the defining edge of the New American Poetry that emerged in the nineteen-fifties and -sixties. Not so well known, though, is the impact some of the artists at the college had on the texture of everyday life through their work in design, from furniture, to textiles, to ceramics, and to the graphic arts, and in architecture. It'’s the goal of "“Thinking Ahead"”, hosted at Asheville's Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center, to explore these areas of influence for the first time in a comprehensive way.

What made Black Mountain College important in the world of design "began at the Bauhaus, with its merging of the fine and applied arts,"” says Kelly Gold, who curated the show with her husband Bobby, referring to the famous school of art and architecture founded in Weimar, Germany, in 1919.
When the Bauhaus was ousted from Hitler's Germany in the 20s & 30s, a few prominent Bauhaus figures came to Black Mountain, while some headed to Chicago. The German architect Walter Gropius, widely considered to be the Father of Modernism, had been Director of the Bauhaus, and was held in great respect at Black Mountain; he was even invited to design a Studies Complex there. It wasn'’t built, since the beginning of World War II made fund raising impossible. But the tenets of the Bauhaus were at the core of the curriculum at Black Mountain. And one of the primary tenets of the Bauhaus was to bring good design to the masses. You can still see Bauhaus influence every time you drive down the street -– just look at traffic signs! Could you imagine a fussy, Victorian-inspired, probably illegible, stop sign?
The Golds' ’ interest in Black Mountain College came, Kelly recalls, "“from our love of Modernism."
We used to own Orbit, a modern shop in downtown Asheville; Bobby still deals in vintage modern design, but in larger markets like Chicago and New York. While we were doing research on fine art items by Black Mountain alumni and instructors, we started finding that quite a few of them also produced commercial designs. Josef Albers, for example, one of the most prominent figures at Black Mountain, and in the art world at large, is best known as a painter, printmaker, and teacher. At Black Mountain, though, when they needed desks for students, he also became a furniture designer. Necessity being the mother of invention, he developed a design for a desk and had them fabricated by a local carpenter. One of these rare desks, made from local chestnut, is included in this exhibition. Later, after the college closed, Albers also designed a series of LP album covers around 1960 -– early stereophonic stuff, with titles like "Persuasive Percussion". So, if you ever wanted to own something done by Josef Albers, but couldn't afford it, here's your chance!

As we worked toward the exhibit we realized we wanted to show the college in a totally different, fresh light. Instead of focusing on fine art pieces, the show focuses on things that are a bit more utilitarian or production-oriented. Instead of showing a one-off piece of pottery by Karen Karnes, for example, we're showing one of her iconic casseroles, designed to be used, and not just shelved for viewing -– a model of functionality, as well as beauty.

There are two categories of "designer" represented in this exhibition, those who are known as designers, and those who are known for other work, who did some design work along the way. Some of the most influential architects and graphic designers of the 20th century were involved at Black Mountain. The designer Alvin Lustig is a good example; his work, though executed decades ago, manages to look very current. I've seen graphic design on book covers published in the 21st century that resemble Lustig's work. I don't mean that these new works by young designers are derivative, necessarily, but rather that Lustig's work is timeless. It'’s obviously continuing to influence designers today.
While the exhibit includes work by some of the best known of the Black Mountain faculty, like the Albers, it also presents the work of a number of less well-known faculty and students who made important and interesting contributions to 20th century design. In the graphic arts, in addition to Josef Albers and Alvin Lustig, the show includes work by Ben Shahn, Robert Rauschenberg, Leo Lionni, Ati Gropius Johansen, Vera Williams, Cy Twombly, Jonathan Williams, Xanti Schawinsky, and Ray Johnson.

In furniture design, in addition to Josef Albers, the show features work (or representations of work, when original pieces are no longer extant or weren'’t available) by Marcel Breuer, Lawrence Kocher, Mary Gregory, and Robert Bliss.

In the field of textile design, the show includes work of Anni Albers, and Lore Kadden Lindenfeld.

In ceramic arts, work by Walter Gropius is included, in addition to the work of Karen Karnes that Kelly mentions.

In the field of lighting design, the show features the work of Nicholas Cernovitch.

Last but not least, in architecture, the show highlights work of Walter Gropius, Marcel Breuer, Lawrence Kocher, Buckminster Fuller, Claude Stoller, and Herbert Oppenheimer. All of the works shown are accompanied by text explaining their designers'’ connection with the college and their careers beyond Black Mountain.

It's a fascinating collection. Viewing it, I couldn't help but feel that it could be expanded into an even richer experience in each of the directions it opens, given resources, space, and time. What a good beginning, though.

In conjunction with the exhibit, the Center will be presenting a public lecture series that will include presentations by Frank Harmon, award-winning Principal of Frank Harmon Architect of Raleigh, NC, on modernist architecture, and Brenda Danilowitz, Chief Curator at the Josef and Anni Albers Foundation, on the couple'’s work at Black Mountain, and on their design legacy. The latter is scheduled for September 21st. Harmon'’s lecture is scheduled for October 26th, and I'’ll post more information about it here between now and then.

Just two blocks up Broadway, the Asheville Art Museum is hosting "“Black Mountain College: Experiments in Materials and Form"”, the second of the exhibits in its three-part Black Mountain College: An Exhibition Series. The show explores the emphasis on experimentation at the College, and the ways in which the experimental spirit led artists to discover new directions for their work through explorations in new materials and forms.

Eva Diaz, one of a new generation of Black Mountain scholars, curated the show. Despite its emphasis on works in black, white, and grayscale, which lends a certain visual austerity to its presentation, it includes some striking and seldom-seen work by the artists she includes -– like Robert Rauschenberg'’s experimental photographs, and Josef Albers'’ woodcuts. Clemens Kalischer'’s photographs port us back to the historical moments they preserve in gelatin and silver, John Cage at the piano, for instance, and Albers teaching in his Black Mountain class. I'’d read about, but never seen, Rauschenberg'’s White Painting (simply, as they say, a stretched, gessoed canvas), which John Cage beautifully termed an "“airport for dust"”, and the richly textured Black Painting. Cage'’s scores of his own work move far beyond conventional musical notation, and have circles and diagonal lines converging in an angular dance across the staves. Two of his motico panels represent Ray Johnson here, exploring graphic abstraction in commonplace materials, such as corrugated cardboard.

Both shows remind us what an amazing, sustained, confluence of energies took place just up the road, in the pastoral acres beside the lake named for the mythical home of paradise, however beleaguered the college might have been.

Both shows run through the end of the year. Resistance is futile, so catch them both.

The Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center is located at 56 Broadway, in downtown Asheville. It'’s open Wednesday through Saturday, 1:00 - 4:00 PM More Information at the website, or call the Center at 350-8484.

The Asheville Art Museum, at 2 South Pack Square, in downtown Asheville, is open Tuesday through Saturday, 10:00 AM -– 5:00 PM, and on Sundays from 1:00-5:00 PM. More Information at the Museum's website.

* Some accounts give 1956 as the closing date, and that date has certainly been the most commonly cited - even by materials produced at the Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center. The eminent Mary Emma Harris prompted me and the Center board, though, to re-examine the facts and conclude that the college actually closed in 1957. But more about that in another post.


Portions his post appeared in different form in the September 2006 issue of Rapid River. Thanks to Kelly for taking a moment to pose the evening of her show's opening; I'll have to get Bobby later.

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Luna in Her Glory ...

As I was on the National Geographic site tracking down something else, I came across this article from 2002; it concerns research conducted on eruption cycles at Stromboli, on Italy's Aeolian Islands, one of the most active volcanoes on the planet.

The researchers wondered whether there was a relationship between the volcano's eruption patterns and lunar cycles; sure enough, there was. The researchers
predicted that during the volcano's ongoing eruptions, there would be peaks in volcanic activity at perigee and at full moon. In this case, events bore out that hypothesis and in fact the greatest spike in volcanic activity occurred at a point in time just between full moon and perigee [the point when its orbit is nearest the Earth].
Worth reading.

It's always been of interest to me (at least since I began contructing and interpreting astrological charts) that the cycle of lunar phases, new to full and back, the month, seems to function independently of the actual proximity of Moon to Earth. Actual physical distance, you'd think, would be decisive in terms of gravitational effects; the cycle of phases, after all, is, to all earthly appearances, largely a matter of reflected light. That cycle, though, is just as significant; it determines, for example, the height of ocean tides.

Of course, as is often the case with apparent anomalies, there's actually another fact involved: the Sun, in this case. The cycle of lunation is created by the relationship of Moon to Earth to Sun, the source of the Moon's light; that's the physical explanation of the cycle's earthly effects.

Still, it's a dynamic that's worthy of, if you will, reflection - another facet of the Mystery.

And what is gravity, again?

The image is Galileo Galilei's "The Phases of the Moon"
preserved in the Biblioteca Nazionale - Florence, Italy

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Thursday, September 07, 2006

Ancient Music Indeed

Kevin Drum is a Political Animal, but every now and then posts in areas that are peripheral to the political brouhaha of the day. Yesterday he posted a short article citing a study of the pitch of women's voices in different cultures; turns out that that pitch is more a matter of culture than biology. Here's what he quoted, from Tyler Cowen's original post about the book:
Women in almost every culture speak in deeper voices than Japanese women. American women's voices are lower than Japanese women's, Swedish women's are lower than American's, and Dutch women's are lower than Swedish women's. Vocal difference is one way of expressing social difference, so that in Dutch society, which doesn't differentiate much between its image of the ideal male and the ideal female, there are few differences between male and female voice. The Dutch also find medium and low pitch more attractive than high pitch.
Kevin adds this:

Which goes to show how powerfully culture worms its way into things that are widely assumed to be mostly biological. Most people believe that women have higher pitched voices as a matter of simple physiology, but it ain't so. It's mostly cultural, and anyone who watches old movies can attest to how the ideal of female voice has changed over the past 70 years.

Intriguing stuff. His reference made it seem likely that the post from which he drew it might be worth a read, so I clicked through. Kevin had gotten the heart of it, but one of the commenters on the site had posted a link to another article that he considered relevant, and that article was fascinating indeed, and bears on the deep history of music that I hinted at obliquely last week in my post expressing compassion for Bill Knott, who dislikes music. While I haven't taught anthropology since the early 90s, I do continue to read books and articles on ethnology and paleontology, but I'd missed news of what's become known as the "Neanderthal flute". It's a portion of cave bear femur pierced by two in-line holes, with apparent portions of two other holes at either end of the gnawed bone, also in line with the others. It appears the holes are not evenly spaced, but spaced in the way they would have to be to produce the tones of a diatonic scale. And there's little doubt that it's between 45,000 and 80,000 years old, which would make it by far the oldest musical instrument yet found. It's age would also mean that it was made not by modern homo sapiens, but by the Neanderthal residents of the complex where it was unearthed. That's heresy for many paleontologists, and there've been rivers of ink and bits spilt to debunk the claim, to assert that the holes were made by gnawing wolves, etc., notwithstanding that the odds that accidental, "natural" causes could create such spaced, in-line holes appear to be one in several million. Wikipedia has a good review of the controversy here.

I don't have any special expertise in the area, but wouldn't be surprised if the flute were eventually proved to be genuine, perhaps by the discovery of another of similar antiquity. Notwithstanding the hulking Neanderthal stereotype (a bit of species-based prejudice at work), our Paleolithic kin actually had a fairly sophisticated, if not elegant, tool kit; their Mousterian points, hand axes, and blades are functionally made, and it's certainly within the range of possibility that they could have drilled the femur to make music. But even if it's not a flute, but a fluke of nature, we already know that music pre-dates the use of writing (and all that writing entails, including history) by thousands of years, thanks to the discovery of several flutes, some made from the leg-bones of cranes, in Jiahu, in Henan Province, China, that date to some eleven thousand years before the present.

No one knows exactly why, but the capacity, even need, to make and enjoy music seems built, for some reason, into our biology. So to reject music, it seems to me, is to risk estrangement from a core part of the psyche. Whatever the uses cultures have made of it, whatever the defects of character of those who make it (and I've known some gifted pricks, and prickettes, myself - but, then, poets are not always paragons of virtue or enlightenment either), it seems to me one of the crucial activities that binds us into the rhythms and melodies of the world. As much as I enjoy and admire Bill Knott's work, I'm tempted to deluge him with CDs and tapes until we can find some music that he enjoys. Balian Gamelan, perhaps? Work of Rafe Vaughan Williams, or perhaps the contemporary American composer Eric Ewazen? Messiaen? Or maybe the guitar work of Steve Kimock? At least he probably wouldn't have heard any of it yet in the supermarket.

Of course, my doing that would probably make him more resistant yet to the releases from the cognitive, verbal levels of consciousness that music provides, so I won't. But if Bill should decide to investigate music further, I'd be glad to do what I can to help out.

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Wednesday, September 06, 2006

WordPlay Oscillates Airwaves With New Crew

Sebastian Matthews, Laura Hope-Gill, and I launched our new collaboration on WPVM's WordPlay this past Sunday; it's available now by podcast on WPVM's website. It was a hoot (even if I did have to engineer; sorry about that briefly dead mic, Laura), an exhilarating conversation about poetry, and I hope you'll give it a listen.

It should be even more lively when the inimitable Glenis Redmond joins us in the coming weeks.

We did, though, give incorrect information about one event coming up this week: the reading by Jaye Bartell, Hope Rinehart and others at the Bo Bo Gallery will be happening this Thursday night at 9:00, rather than Wednesday night, as we remembered it. It's on the theme of ... Velcro. Yeah. Okay, I'm curious - curious enough, given the poets involved, to check it out.

Other than that, we did good.

As Mr. Creeley used to say, Onward!

(Cross-posted with edits at WordPlay's blog)

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