Monday, October 30, 2006

Yes, Folks, Mercury is retrograde ...

... and as Sebastian noted, it scrambled up yesterday's WordPlay a bit. Oh, well. We got it straightened out afterwards, for the most part, so if you're tuning in or downloading, you shouldn't notice anything too bizarre.

Hope everyone out there in blogland will take care travelling, keep your firewalls working, double check facts and figures, review sources, proofread anything you write not once but twice, and otherwise be watchful when in Mercury's realm for the next few weeks. The planet is in the sign of Scorpio, so it's impact will be greatest for those who have Sun or Mercury in that sign, Taurus, Leo, or Aquarius. Travel and communication should be easier after November 18th, when Mercury once again goes direct.

Now you know.

(For an account of previous encounters I've had with Lord Mercury, and a look at astrology in general, see this earlier post.)

(Image of Mercury from the Jet Propulsion Lab site, where it has this caption: "This photomosaic of the planet Mercury was assembled from individual high-resolution images taken by Mariner 10 shortly before closest approach in 1974. The sun is shining from the right, and the terminator is at about 100 degrees west longitude. Crater Kuiper, named after astronomer Gerard P. Kuiper, can be seen just below the center of the planet's illuminated side. The landscape is dominated by large craters and basins with extensive plains between craters.")

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Friday, October 27, 2006

Poetry to the rescue

Scott Adams, the creator of the Dilbert strip, lost his speaking voice, but was able to remap the connections between his brain and vocal chords, and speak again. How, you might ask? Well, by using one of poetry's old tricks.

(Thanks to Ezra Klein)

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Monday, October 16, 2006

Readings Coming Up This Week

Action on the poetry scene gets off to a fast start this week in Asheville. Monday night at 7:30, there's the HeartStone reading at Warren Wilson College. A WWC theatre class is going to transform the Cannon Lounge into a set with, I'm told, "a riverine feel." There'll be music of harp, cello, and perhaps flute, and the WWC Chorale will sing mostly, according to Margo Flood, the event co-ordinator, Appalachian ballads having to do with"water" before the reading and between pieces.

Eight readers are scheduled to participate: Janisse Ray, John Lane, Thomas Rain Crowe, Ann Turkle, Sebastian Matthews, Gary Lilley, Catherine Reid, and yours truly.

Tuesday night the New Southerner crew, including Kathryn Stripling Byer, Thomas Rain Crowe, and John Lane, and several others, reads at Malaprops at 7:00, and at 9:00 Sebastian Matthews and Gary Lilley perform at the BoBo Gallery on Lexington Avenue.

Looking a little further ahead, I'll be reading at Malaprops next Thursday, the 26th, at 7:00.


Friday, October 13, 2006

A Creeley Appreciation

Ron Silliman has a nice appreciation of Robert Creeley's work up over at his blog today. Its ostensible occasion seems to be the publication of the second volume of Creeley's Collected Poems, but I notice it also coincides with the On Words conference in Buffalo devoted to Creeley and his work. I hope the snow storm that's hammered the Buffalo area doesn't slow things up too much. The news it had hit, though, made me remember those rough Buffalo winters - and smile as I look out my window at the still green leaves on the maple and hickory.

There is one small error in Ron's post, though: he says that On Earth, Bob's last book, was already "in production" at the University of California Press when he died. His wife, Penelope, actually found the poems in a folder on his desk in Marfa, Texas, after he'd passed on, and prepared them for publication. Just for the record.

The photo of Creeley is by Gloria Graham.

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Flarf's Fractures

Oh, oh. Sounds as though Flarf, like so many revolutionary movements before it, has dissolved into feuding rival factions. Oh, well. K. Silem Mohammad has the complete rundown.

(Previous notes on Flarf here, and posts on related issues here and here.)

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Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Columbus the Cannibal

Columbus spread far and wide the self-justifying lie that the Taino people whom he encountered on landfall in the New World were cannibals. Turns out he was the real cannibal, a devourer of whole peoples. An article by Thom Hartmann over at Common Dreams reminds us that Columbus was not such a nice guy. He also mentions the later history of colonization in North American, including the first of the "Indian Wars" in what's now the US:

In the United States, the first "Indian war" in New England was the "Pequot War of 1636," in which colonists surrounded the largest of the Pequot villages, set it afire as the sun began to rise, and then performed their duty: they shot everybody-men, women, children, and the elderly-who tried to escape. As Puritan colonist William Bradford described the scene: "It was a fearful sight to see them thus frying in the fire and the streams of blood quenching the same, and horrible was the stink and scent thereof; but the victory seemed a sweet sacrifice, and they [the colonists] gave praise therof to God, who had wrought so wonderfully..."

The Narragansetts, up to that point "friends" of the colonists, were so shocked by this example of European-style warfare that they refused further alliances with the whites. Captain John Underhill ridiculed the Narragansetts for their unwillingness to engage in genocide, saying Narragansett wars with other tribes were "more for pastime, than to conquer and subdue enemies."

Four hundred to seven hundred (no one made a body count) men, women and children were in the Pequot fort; after thirty minutes of fire, only five excaped; the rest were dead, killed by the fire, the Puritans, or the Narragansett mercenaries behind them. Their bodies were on the ground "so thick, in some places, that you could hardly pass along." "Thus," John Mason wrote, "did the LORD judge among the Heathen, filling the place with dead Bodies."

The Treaty of Hartford, negotiated with the few living Pequot sachems in September of 1638, formally, ritually completed the extermination of the Pequots by making it illegal for the survivors to be Pequots - they should "no more be called Pequots but Narragansetts and Mohigans." The Narragansetts and Mohigans agreed to pay tribute to the colonists for their captives, an agreement that soon caused them much sorrow. Much of the Pequots' old land was given to veterans of the war against them; the Pequot River was re-named the Thames, and near the site of the Pequot village burned by Mason, the town of New London was founded.

The Narragansetts, the Wampanoags, and others were "barbikewed" by the Puritans, one by one, killed, the survivors sold into slavery, in "King Philip's War" of 1675-76. Native religions were made illegal, most survivors were assigned housed in towns and were closely observed, thier activities supervised. Imprisoned in their special residences, they were almost forgotten when William T. Williams noted some of their conditions to the Massachusetts Historical Society. In his letters of 1832, accompanying the manuscript of Gardiner's history of the Pequot war, he reported:

There is a remnant of the Pequots still existing. They live in the town of Groton, and amount to about forty souls, in all... They have about eleven hundred acres of poor land reserved to them in Groton, on which they live.

Among the others whose situations he knew were the Narragansetts:

The Indians formerly called Ninegrate's men, seem now to be called the Narragansetts, and live principally in Charleston, Rhode Island. There are perhaps eighty or more; though I am not so well informed concerning them, as of the Pequots.

In a generation they had been torn out of the rich geographies of forest trails and clan-based villages, out of supportive tribal economies, and isolated in box houses in Puritan towns; so complete, so wasting, was the colonial victory.

For North America's native peoples, it was only the beginning of a long, horrific encounter.

Something to remember as we approach October 12th, the traditional Columbus Day.

In 1971, while I was a graduate student at the State University of New York at Buffalo, I wrote an article published as "The Pequot War Retold" for Red Buffalo, a journal published by the Program in American Studies; I've drawn on that article in this post.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Ikkyu, Meet Glenis

After the WordPlay show last Sunday, the first this season in which co-host Glenis Redmond could participate, I was struck by the eerie coherence of the event that had unfolded. It certainly wasn't planned; insofar as there had been a plan, it involved reading poems over music. I'd chosen some poems by the fourteenth century Japanese poet Ikkyu, an unconventional Zen monk, that I planned to read over flautist Jean-Pierre Rampal's lovely Japanese Melodies. Ikkyu's work, though, includes erotic poems. Did I mention that Ikkyu was unconventional? Here's one, in John Stevens' translation:

A Woman's Sex

It has the original mouth but remains wordless;
It is surrounded by a magnificent mound of hair.
Sentient beings can get completely lost in it
But it is also the birthplace of all the Buddhas of the ten thousand worlds.

A man's erotic poetry celebrates the feminine - the Goddess in woman - so Ikkyu's poems actually resonated, I thought, with the poems Glenis read, some of her own, some by other strong women poets. Listen to it and see what you think.

(The poem is from Ikkyu, Wild Ways, translated by John Stevens, published by White Pine Press, Buffalo, NY, 2003.)

(Cross-posted with minor edits at WordPlay)

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The Poetry Bus Reaches Asheville

Tomorrow night at 7:00 Malaprops will welcome the Wave Books Poetry Bus. The Bus started out in Seattle (home of Wave) and has been making stops all across the country on the longest poetry tour ever. Asheville poet Lee Ann Brown in is on the bus for the Asheville stop. While I don't know the work of some of the poets (Joshua Beckman, Matthew Zapruder, Valzhyna Mort, Carrie St George Comer, Mark McMorris are also on the Bus for this stop), it should be a hoot. I'll be there to cheer them on as they head into the last stages of the tour.

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Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Frank Harmon: Bauhaus Meets the Farm House

Architecture is the triumph of human imagination over materials, methods, and men, to put man into possession of his own earth.

Frank Lloyd Wright, 1930.

Architecture is certainly the most unforgiving of the arts. A painting which we’ve grown tired of we can sell or put away until it pleasures our eyes again; a dance persists but for the moment of its actual movement, and there’s no way to revisit the actual event, whatever media we might have brought to bear on it. Good or ill, it’s gone, ephemeral as dawn. But the artworks of the architect are the very spaces in which we live, labor, and play. If they’re unlivable, well … As Frank Lloyd Wright said, “The physician can bury his mistakes, but the architect can only advise his clients to plant vines.” (New York Times Magazine, 4 Oct. 1953) Vines, unfortunately, won’t do much for poorly designed interior space. There, the remedies are more radical – and far more dear.

True confession: way back in the 1960s, when I was a teenager trying to decide what to do with my life, I seriously considered becoming an architect. It seems like a curious consideration, looking back; there were no buildings in Charlotte that I knew of that excited me with their redefinition of structural dynamics. I had encountered, though, the work of Frank Lloyd Wright through his writings on the “natural house” and through photographs of his structures in the books I sought out about the man. I think I recognized in him, however little I knew about the field in which he worked, a great auteur, a creative original. Part of my psyche has been fascinated by architecture ever since. When I went to Buffalo, New York, in 1968, one of the city’s several attractions was that it was home to Black Mountain College poet Robert Creeley, but another was that it was also the location of several of Wright’s prairie-phase homes. The State University of New York, in fact, had just the year before acquired the Darwin D. Martin House Complex, built between 1903 and 1905; the University used it as its president’s residence. The president often opened it for receptions and parties, so several times I had the pleasure of visiting and exploring, between glasses of wine and conversations about the topics of the day, that magnificent old building, which still contained, if memory serves, some pieces of the original furniture that Wright had designed for it.

That active interest in architecture had been dormant for some years, as creative energies found other channels, but the new Thinking Ahead exhibit at the Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center has certainly roused it again. The show offers tantalizing glimpses of the work of a few of the modernist architects associated with the college, men who worked in the same era as Wright to reshape our experience of lived space, and create a new architecture, one freed from classical traditions. On the 26th of this month, Raleigh architect Frank Harmon, FAIA, whose firm was selected by Residential Architect Magazine as the 2005-2006 Residential Architect Firm of the Year, journeys to Asheville to speak on the subsequent development of Modernism in our own era, in the south of farmhouses and traditional vernacular structures. It’s a subject he should know well, since his own work clearly takes the Modernist project as its initial premise.

Given that Harmon’s firm has been selected to develop the new UNCA Crafts Campus north of town along the French Broad River, his presentation should spark significant interest in our fair mountain city.

I’ve not yet set foot in a Harmon building, but his firm’s website offers an extensive collection of photographs of his projects through the years, both small projects (there’s even a dog house, or dog box, as the site qualifies it) and large – as in the very attractive 70,000 square foot renovation and addition to the NC Farm Bureau in Raleigh. It’s an impressive body of work, a unique blend of Modernist aesthetic and vernacular values. It manifests decent respect, even affection, for the materials of structure (especially wood, often exposed to great effect). The Farm Bureau project, with its emphasis on open space and its artful use of interior columns, reminded me (given that Frank Lloyd Wright’s work is still an important point of reference for me), for all the apparent difference of scale, of Wright's office projects, such as the Johnson Wax building in Racine, Wisconsin, with its graceful columns and cantilevered ceiling. Asheville architect Jim Samsel was impressed by another Harmon project, the Iron Studio at Penland School, and says it's a good example of the way Harmon integrates

function with structure. It has great a connection to outdoors via views & daylight, as well as very appropriate and well detailed materials for the given use.

His work at Penland and elsewhere conveys a thoughtful integration of the building's purpose and clear, expressive structure. It portrays a contemporary language that's in harmony with the local architectural vernacular of the South. His buildings appear always carefully sited and respectful of the natural environment.

Samsel has high expectations for the new Crafts Campus:

I expect [it] to convey many of these same principles, and to be inspiring to all who appreciate design excellence, as well.

Harmon seems to be able to make even compact buildings feel open and expansive, and yet his work (as revealed at least in the photographs) can convey also a sense of shelter, something sometimes hard to come by in a typical Modernist structure. It’s that rare combination of qualities, the tension between the vernacular and modern, that led a juror in the AIA North Carolina competition in 1999 (when Harmon won three out of the four Honor awards for which he was entered) to remark, “I don't who this guy is, but he's either a genius or a schizophrenic.”

In an interview for a recent article in Residential Architect, Harmon attributes his approach to his mentor of many years, Harwell Harris. “What people thought was cold and threatening modernism, he made warm and approachable,” Harmon says. “Harwell was a big influence on me in this way: he taught me that every client and every situation is different and new. And it is the architect's job to understand the needs of every situation and every client. He loved to say that the house is a portrait of the client. He was a very important person to me – still is.”

Harmon seems to have mastered that art of portraiture, and to be able, as Wright had it, to put his clients in possession of their own earths. I doubt that he’s had to advise many of his clients to plant vines.

What: Frank Harmon, The Bauhaus + The Farmhouse: Reflections on the Modern Movement in the South. There will be a reception and silent auction to benefit BMCM+AC. Co-sponsored by AIA Asheville and the UNCA Office of Cultural and Special Events.

When: Thursday, October 26th, 7:30 PM

Where: Broadway Arts Building, 49 Broadway, downtown Asheville.

Admission: $12/$6 Students with ID. Free parking for the event at Home Trust Bank.

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