Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Thomas Rain Crowe: Some Poems from Radiogenesis

Regular readers here (what a concept!) will probably recognize the name Thomas Rain Crowe. He’s read at the Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center several times (was instrumental, in fact, in pulling together the series of readings there in 2004 and 2005 that celebrated the Beat poets), has been interviewed several times on WordPlay, and in general been no stranger to the pages of NatureS - the blog as well as the book, which his New Native Press published. He’s been active as poet and editor since his days in San Francisco as a member of the Baby Beats, some thirty years ago. While he was in the Bay area, he co-founded and directed the San Francisco International Poetry Festival. During the 1980s, after he’d moved to the mountains of Western North Carolina, he was a founding editor of Katuah: A Bioregional Journal of the Southern Appalachians, and founded New Native Press. For six years he was Editor-at-Large for the Asheville Poetry Review.

Having worked with him as an author, I know that he’s a real editor and has a quick eye and ear for the activity of the poem; NatureS is a better book than it might otherwise have been thanks to his close attention.

His books include The Laugharne Poems (which was written at the Dylan Thomas Boat House in Laugharne, Wales); his territory-opening anthology of contemporary Celtic language poets, Writing The Wind: A Celtic Resurgence; and his translations of Hafiz (Drunk on the Wine of the Beloved: 100 Poems of Hafiz), published by Shambhala in 2002. Zoro’s Field, a memoir of his three years living off the grid in a small cabin near North Carolina's Green River, won the Ragan Old North State Award for the best book of nonfiction in the state of North Carolina for 2005. His work was featured in Baby Beat Generation, and earlier this year he led a cadre of his old San Francisco crew to France for a reading tour.

There’s always been a Surrealist current in his work, and one of his finest translations, I think, is 10,000 Dawns, written by French-German Surrealist poet Yvan Goll and his wife Claire, which Crowe translated with Nan Watkins. These new poems, from a project he calls Radiogenesis, find him shaman-singing, image-spinning, calling up spirits with chants that glimmer with the deep colors of the surreal.

He lives in Tuckasegee, where he writes features and columns on culture, community, and the environment for the Smoky Mountain News.

“We are neighbors of fire.”
-Ann Carson

Where the warm-blooded fish is mad with
the moon in the man talking in tongues I
sit amidst dowsing darkness tired of rain.
Knee-deep in the mud of love like a man who
washes windows with the tears of a bell, near the
high-heeled trees, near commitment to the
knifeblade of a kiss, the searing heat of the word “sweetheart”
makes love to the tongue that brought an end to talk
wagging like the blasphemy of the color blue in
a lost weekend of dreams.
Voiceless, my pricked fingers bleeding ink
dance across what were once bridges
now only the white mud in the thunder of silence
playing bingo with balls, playing
preludes of a Mardi Gras ghost on the
wavelike pipeline of pain moving toward sand like
the chambered nautilus in a Chinese book.
Here where the wallow of fame flooded from the lack of light
makes moonshine make me look like a confessed criminal, like
the sun stealing the rings of Saturn from space, I
kneel to nothing not even the knees of the she-god king
stroking my sleep like brushstrokes over the flames of an
open fire and the sounds of midnight like morning
singing Hail-Marys in the rain....


From the point of no
return I reach for
the moon in the movement of
morning after the radiogenesis
of sleep sleepwalking the
somnambulist floor for hours and
all night when nothing but the
starry-eyed hoot of the owl outside sings
“won’t quit you babe” to the beelzebub light
in the street so bright not even the blind
can sleep, can snore loud enough for
summer to know it’s spring somewhere when not even
a crocus could care, could call a spade a spade
enamored of lies.
Here, the hic, haec, hoc, huius, huius, huius
of the verb to be can’t even comb its own hair,
can’t castrate a noun for the rape of hunger or the forethought
of a hundred bucks barking up the tree of greed going
out of sight into the ozone of oil and the mother of
all wars whenever there is nothing to do but be
homeless under the exegesis of stars and be free.


May the love of money become a mask
for our times twiddling its thumbs in the dark
and dreary photosynthesis of sleep
snoring so loud that only a poem could
talk above the roaring silence of sex
making out with the hard-body of handguns
aimed at us all as if we were Indians
and they were a waging war. A war
so willy-nilly it turned infantries to ice
doing the right thing for the wrong reason
that went to the dogs
and the doggerel of mindless talk turning
into fistfights for peace as if the world was
the front row in church
counterfeiting the collection plate in the name of God
and calling it damn, dark, or duty-free rent
like landlords that want to be The King of May
for the price of a gizmo in a garage
that only the neighbor sees and wants
after a day of work becomes a fix beyond
the point of pain
like a bus stopped at the white in our eyes
like light was or would be if it went out and
in darkness all that nothing we learned in school suddenly
came down crashing
on our heads.


With eyes now the tongue of language,
the book is buried for all time in
a bed of grass being raised from the dead
in our dreams,
in an age of the dumb and numb of clocks
becoming the digital dogma of waking
in the arms of an electric lover or
a fallen woman without name or face.
With touch-tone tempest we
will cry computer age tears when
the sky falls and the words for help
are forgotten like memory banks buried
forever in history books now only ancient
ice-age ice cold and frozen solid from
liquid days wondering whether they are
maybe earthbound nights trying to sing in the
key of love longing for the rapture of
simple stillness in the sound of a single
stick against wood or
a splash of ink as
the forgotten longed-for promise of words.

for Joy Harjo

Never was the never in nearsighted closer to
this heart of rain seeking the storm. Dark clouds of brilliance
rubbing the back of these hills. How hallowed ground
has grown again into the almost of sacred space.
Only love could have given this tongue a song. Sheer jazz
from a jew’s-harp of trees tricked by wind. Tricked
and trapped in the riddle of my name. Hidden in
the implicate order of space. After eons. Behind the
hologram of race.
The better the story the bigger the bang.
And the loud noise of the fire asleep slides off into
the silence of unknown sound. Sacrilege to the thought of
summer lusting after the memory of sex with spring.
Lips discovering the trade-routes of thighs. Hands holding hills
of snowflesh more hallowed than the holy grail.
Given is what is gotten back. A frozen music.
A jazz in love with the isn’t of ice. The kiss of death. Of spice!
Beyond the bare-breasted moon and bimbos of the Milky Way,
Beethoven records his first hit. In the night below zero
with a wind-chill of a million to one. Rough odds
going against the snake-eyes of war. The boxcars of space.
Or the fugue of a frigid bride.
Never was the upbeat genesis of fame so close to cash. Like
trying to get a grant from God. A farm for a few farthings.
Or the world in a card game of empty bucks.
Beyond where the gray rain of birds train for miles across mountains
of smoky grace, is pigment of painted place. Landscapes frozen in
acrylic time feeding on the afterthought of nails
pounding like angry waves, like lost loves in a lifetime,
against the apocalyptic shore.


The photo finds Thomas earlier this year at Shakespeare and Company in Paris, during his French tour on behalf of the bilingual anthology Baby Beat Generation.

Major portions of this material appeared in different form in the
Rapid River for November 2006.

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Friday, November 24, 2006

Surrealism, Part II

... is coming up on this Sunday's WordPlay.

Last Sunday (scroll down to listen) Sebastian, Glenis and I began a discussion of Surrealism, dug into its roots in spiritualism, and read poetry by Andre Breton and Jean Follain, among others. Breton, of course, was a founder of the movement, and author of the "Surrealist Manifesto" of 1924. We'll look again at the Surrealist project this week, and read some more Surrealist poetry, some by American poets. I'll be bringing some Philip Lamantia, and others will bring ... well, who knows?

With any luck, we'll get to Oulipo.

It's bound to be lively. Hope you'll join us.

(Cross-posted at WordPlay. The portrait is a 1930 shot of Andre Breton.)

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Thursday, November 16, 2006

This Week: Celebrating Black Mountain Poets

Sometimes when I'm at Black Mountain's Camp Rockmont, now home to
The Lake Eden Arts Festival, and the former site of Black Mountain College, I wonder what it would have been like to hang out in the dining hall a half-century ago and listen in as the great Black Mountain poets read to one another and discussed each other's work. When Donald Allen placed the Black Mountain College poets first in The New American Poetry: 1945-1960, the great anthology that introduced a generation of experimental poets to a national audience, he might have done so based not just on the quality of their intellectual and formal adventures, but on a solid hunch about the significance their work would assume for the rest of the twentieth century. While they didn't achieve the momentary mass audiences a few of the Beat poets found, it'd be difficult to find another contemporary group of poets who did as much to shape the subsequent course of American writing. The energy of their work has rippled through the imaginations of the several generations and many schools of poets who've come down the road since, and ripples still.

This Friday, November 17th, at 6:00 PM, the Asheville Art Museum celebrates the legacy of these artists with a special evening of poetry that features local poets reading works of these groundbreaking Black Mountain College writers.

Language poet Ron Silliman recently noted on his weblog that when he met Black Mountain poet Robert Creeley in the mid-sixties, he was already the "dean" of American poetry. Ron caught some flack for that; Creeley was only in his mid-thirties, and his mentor, the visionary Charles Olson, was still living, though he had to that point little audience. I think, given that "dean" can imply the lofty heights of academic seniority, that Ron might have chosen a better word. But having met Creeley just a few years after, I can testify that the man had real mojo, genuine moxie, some serious virtu, as Horace might have said, and that by the time he was in his early forties, he had already discovered passes through language that settlers are still trooping through.

"Form is never more than the extension of content," he famously noted. Later he came to acknowledge that the statement was also true if the roles of content and form were reversed. Form embodies content, is the extension of the feeling that's the poem's initial premise. His insight into the nature of poetry, its relations to speech and mind, his consummate feel for rhythm, and his awareness of the fields of meaning within which the language of the poem must dance, make his work one of the enduring testaments of twentieth century poetry.

Charles Olson, certainly one of the most influential poets of his generation, had once befriended Ezra Pound (until he lost patience with Pound's reflexive anti-Semitism), and so provided a bridge back to the great Modernist poets who offered him, and his generation, an initial stance. When he came to Black Mountain College, he'd published a handful of poems and a short critical work on Melville; by the time he closed the College in 1957, he'd published, via Jonathan Williams' Jargon Press, the first two sections of his Maximus Poems, and completed the work that appeared as The Distances in 1960, displaying in both the gift for radical insight into history and the project of consciousness that makes his work of such value.

It was Olson, with his vision of new possibilities for poetry, and for life, who decisively shaped the minds and imaginations of the writers who gathered at the college in its final years. He brought Creeley to the college to teach, and later recruited Robert Duncan. Edward Dorn, John Wieners, and Jonathan Williams, to note just a few of the other significant poets who came through the college's refining fires, had ventured there as students. Other writers, Denise Levertov and Paul Blackburn, for instance, never visited the college, but were published by Creeley in the Black Mountain Review. The Review presented Creeley's and Olson's vision of useful modes of writing to the world, introduced the poets of Black Mountain to a larger community of like-minded writers, and became a meeting place for some of the most creative spirits of the era.

Robert Duncan went on from Black Mountain to become a leading figure in the San Francisco Poetry Renaissance of the nineteen sixties, producing a major body of work that included The Opening of the Field, Roots and Branches, and Bending the Bow, as well as the important late work published in the two collections of Ground Work, republished in one volume just last year. He also authored over a period of decades the amazing HD Book, not yet published in book form, but available at the moment on the web (it's a large .pdf file) in an unofficial electronic format that bears the imprint of the crucial, elusive Frontier Press. It began as a study of the work of Imagist poet Hilda Doolittle (who published as HD), but became a major work on poetic imagination. It's similar, in many ways, I think, to Coleridge's rambling, monumental Biographia Literaria, still one of the indispensable texts of the English Romantic period.

Speaking of that scepter'd isle ... Denise Levertov was English, born in Ilford, Essex, in 1927; she married an American, Mitch Goodman, after World War II, though, and moved to the States in 1948. Her Here and Now, published in 1956, and With Eyes at the Back of Our Heads, published three years later, established her as a major voice in the new poetry. She published more than twenty volumes of verse during her lifetime. Though she and her husband were personal friends of Creeley, her closest relationship with another Black Mountain writer was probably with Robert Duncan, with whom she had a long and illuminating, if sometimes contentious, correspondence, published in 2004.

Ed Dorn is perhaps one of the least well known of the Black Mountain poets, though there's hope that his Collected Poems, due out next year, will bring his work the larger attention it deserves. He was the most contrary of the contrarians who stood at the college, and ever afterwards, against the generalizing mass culture that seemed, seems, to strip individuals of their particularity, of the ability to stand grounded as creative, active participants in the polis of the world. His next-to-last collection, High West Rendezvous, contained sections from "Languedoc Variorum", a major late work that remains mostly in manuscript, which reveal it to be a poem of astonishing technical achievement that also challenges the pious orthodoxies of the history of heresy. It's an amazing, polyvocalic montage that mocks, on one level, the structures of contemporary media news presentation. He had his chops till the end. Unfortunately, it'd probably be next to impossible to perform, so Thomas Rain Crowe, charged with presenting the work of Dorn, will, I hear, read from another, earlier, masterpiece, his Gunslinger.

The reading will feature the works of these Black Mountain poets, and works, as well, by the poets gathered for the occasion: Sebastian Matthews, who organized the event, Thomas Rain Crowe, Jaye Bartell, Glenis Redmond, Keith Flynn, and myself. The reading is a part of the Museum's year-long celebration of Black Mountain College and its legacy in the arts.

Olson died in 1970, Duncan in 1988 , Levertov in 1997, Dorn in 1999, Creeley just last year, but on the 17th of November, the voices of their poems will return to Western North Carolina once again, and ring out.


I took the photo of the Dining Hall on Lake Eden in 2003.
This post was published in different form in the November, 2006, issue of Rapid River. Trying to write about the Black Mountain poets in a thousand words or so ... Ha! Well, we'll have more than that to offer on Friday.

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Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Daily Affirmations ...

Jim Behrle, now of Stone Cold Poetry Bitch, may or may not draw, but he's become a very funny cartoonist by appropriating vintage panels from other artists and replacing their balloons and captions with his own. Whatever they may originally have been about, in Behrle's hands they have, inevitably, to do with poetic careerism, Flarf, and other sundry amusements from the world of poetry.

I'm waiting for him to discover Walt Kelly's Pogo, which, if memory serves, would offer a wonderful range of characters adaptable for his purposes. But he does just fine with what he's already found.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Further History of Flarf

K. Silem Mohammad's got an unlikely-to-be-surpassed photographic history of Flarf up over at the new improved {lime tree}. If you're interested in the history of this revolutionary poetic movement, you should definitely check it out.

I've written about Flarf before (previous notes on Flarf here, and posts on related issues here and here), and do find it at least interesting. And while it's not an approach I'm likely to adopt, Google-sculpting is perhaps as good a way as any to get in touch with the Muse, the out there agent of the poem. It probably beats drinking lots of absinthe, the magical "Green Fairy", though I don't think Flarf has yet produced its Poe or Baudelaire. Time will, of course, tell.

Perhaps its method is most like the l'ecriture automatique of the Surrealists, though it shifts the presumed source of the materia or content of the poem from inside (the Unconscious) to out (the Internet via Google's search algorithns). The Internet is indeed a technology of many uses. Sing to me, oh Muse ... er, Google...

Whatever. It all, still, comes down to the poem so created.

Van Gogh's image of the glass of absinthe is from the History of Absinthe page linked above.

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Thursday, November 02, 2006

Boatrockers hit the waves

Airwaves, that is. Thomas Rain Crowe writes to say:
Yo.... Check it out. TRC & The Boatrockers will be on WNCW "Local Color" program on Friday night at 9:00pm in a live studio session.

If you miss this broadcast, you can catch it on a rebroadcast on Nov. 12, Sunday, at 7:00pm.

Mark your calendars and tell your friends and family, and pass the word.

Word passed. You can also listen live from the station's site, wncw.org.

Thomas will also be joining us on WordPlay this Sunday at 4:00 PM on WPVM, 103.5FM, or streaming from the station's website at WPVM.org; the program will be available via podcast beginning Monday November 6th. No Boatrockers (we'll hear them next week), but good poems and good conversation with Sebastian Matthews.

I'll cross-post this over at the WordPlay site.

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