Sunday, December 31, 2006

Novalis' Encyclopedia finally in English

Looks like Novalis Encyclopedia (see a previous post here) will finally see print in English, in an edition prepared by David W. Wood. SUNY Press will bring out Notes for a Romantic Encyclopaedia: Das Allgemeine Brouillon next month.

Here's a link to more Novalis.

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Warren Wilson MFA program readings

Over at 1000 Black Lines, Matt's got the complete schedule of readings for the winter residency of Warren Wilson College's MFA program; they begin on the 3th and run through the 12th. No doubt I'll catch some and miss some, but I'm especially looking forward to the faculty reading next Monday, the 8th, at Malaprops, from 5:30 to 7:00.

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Friday, December 29, 2006

A little houskeeping

New posts are in the works, but the desktop computer is still down, waiting for parts (such a computer geek, I decided to take the time to dig into hardware options that have been introduced - new buses, new types of i/o, not to mention new processors - since I built the last machine in 2003, rather than doing something quick, but more limiting), and the files I need are still on the drives in the old system. Until I get it rebuilt, I'll continue to do some light posting from the notebook, which is seeing much heavier duty than it's accustomed to - and holding up well, so far.

In the meantime, check out some of the blogs in the blogroll on the right (there's a short new post on last week's show on Dylan Thomas over on the WordPlay blog, Jonathan Mayhew has a new translation of some work by Antonio Gamoneda at Bemsha Swing ... there's no shortage of things to read, in other words. You could even (shudder) read a book to pass the winter days, if it's winter where you are - or, if it's summer for you, you lucky dog, go out and tend the garden, paint the house, go for a walk, and check back in the new year; you won't miss much here till then.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

John Mason Gets Sassacus' Head

Last Friday I opened up the reading at the Center* with a poem that grew out of anger at an old war, the war that dominated the late nineteen sixties and early seventies, the one in Vietnam. I dedicated it to Donald Rumsfeld, whose last day as Secretary of Defense had just passed.

A little background: John Mason was the leader of the colonial force which in May of 1637 burned a Pequot Indian village in what is now Connecticut to the ground, killing four to seven hundred Pequot men, women, and children. This act began, in a practical sense, the genocidal war against indigenous North American people that was a principle feature of the history of these states for two hundred and fifty years. The death toll from that war reached, of course, into the millions.

More: Sassacus was a spiritual leader, or sachem, of the Pequot whom Mason ordered hunted down. A delegation of Mohawk Iroquois presented Sassacus’ head and hands to Mason in August of the same year.

Here's the poem:

John Mason Gets Sassacus’ Head

John Mason dreams
at dusk, as fat flies buzz,
thump the glass pane.
Starved among summer’s feedings
John Mason shuts his eyes …

The bombers lift off
from Connecticut west
stuffed with dark fire
to char wild India at last;
John Mason dreams
“to destroy enemy

He wakes.
The head is brought to him,
eyes quenched
lips silenced with thongs,
the head of Sassacus
and his hands, cut off
lest they reach
out of the unknown
dark waves of blood
into his shadow.
John Mason sleeps

and dreams again …
From his dull eye
empty locusts of iron
fall onto dark bodies
who plow and sow earth
(“only artisanal” …)
till their eyes are broken
by the iron teeth
and fire without light
eats their tongues.

John Mason dreams;
this is “pacification”.
He feels at
gut furnaces
of Texaco crack blood
to gasoline,
maggot ball bearings
rip and eat flesh,
wallow and grow wings;
the bombers land
again and strut to rest.
New markets opening”;
John Mason dreams

he is safe, gorged,
alone, asleep, burrowed
deep in his steel home,
beyond all flies
eyes lights hands
tides of blood,
and he dreams
what he has mastered.

It first appeared in Red Buffalo, a journal published by the American Studies Program at SUNY Buffalo, and was later included in Walter Lowenfels' anthology From the Belly of the Shark. It's not in NatureS, for various reasons; it's tone was so different from that of the other poems that would comprise the book, and its language ... well, I suppose I see it as a transitional piece, somewhere between the work of my student years and what followed. But as the war in Iraq drags on, and promises to become an even larger conflagration, this seems an appropriate moment to resurrect it.

* That would be the Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center, of course.

Update: minor stylistic revisions and a few more links on January 31,2007.


Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Friday: Reading for the Flood ...

Gallery, that is. I'll be joining three other poets there, at 109 Roberts Street, near (as you might have surmised) the river this Friday night to celebrate the season - for me, that's the Solstice and the beginning of the Sun's return. Ordinarily I probably wouldn't just post the Gallery's press release, but my desktop computer is down (and out; new mainboard required), so here it is:

On Friday, December 22, 2006, at 7:00pm The Flood Fine Art Center in the River District, will host the first in an ongoing series of poetry readings. Four local poets: Jeff Davis, Josh Flaccavento, David Hopes, and Audrey Hope Rinehart will each read in a round robin format.

Jeff Davis is a board member of the Black Mountain College Museum + Art Center. His poems have appeared in Lillabulero, Iron, Asheville Poetry Review, and Nantahala Review. NatureS, his selected poems, appeared from New Native Press in 2006. His weblog is at[and here you are]

Josh earns a living as a free lance writer. His work has appeared in Western Carolina Business Journal, the Hendersonville Times-News , Ghetto Blaster and the DownTown . His creative work has been published in The Emerson Review and Ampersand. He recently won the 2006 Revoluticon short story contest and was co-editor of the recent anthology The Lake of the Dead Sessions.

Audrey Hope Rinehart, a WNC native, has been a featured poet at the local reading series "Fresh Air" and "Velcro." She recently co-edited the literary anthology, The Lake of the Dead Sessions. Rinehart completed her first manuscript, The Prophetess Speaks of Death, a collection of poems, earlier this year.

David Hopes's new book of poetry, A Dream of Adonis, is due from Pecan Grove Press early in 2007. He has brought out two volumes of nature essays, A Sense of the Morning and Bird Songs of the Mesozoic, and his memoir, A Childhood in the Milky Way, was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize and the national Book Award. In February he heads off to Palm Springs for the premiere of his prize-winning play, Ann Livia, Lucky in Her Bridges.

This inaugural poetry reading will serve as a fundraising event for the Flood Fine Arts Center, a not-for-profit venue in the historic Phil Mechanic Studios located on the French Broad River immediately north of the Riverlink Bridge at 109 Roberts Street. Since it opened earlier this year, the Flood Fine Arts Center has featured paintings and sculpture by both national and international artists, including artists Habib Kheradyar from Los Angeles and Hague Williams who divides his time between Chicago and Prague. Most recently exhibiting is renowned artist Lorraine Walsh who has exhibited in Cuba and in Germany. In addition, Flood Fine Arts Center is active in art education for adults and children, including special projects with at-risk kids. The Center hopes to kick off its planned Artists In Residency Program this upcoming season.

Flood Gallery Fine Arts Center is located at 109 Roberts Street in the River Arts District of Asheville North Carolina. For more information, please contact Mark Prudowsky at or call 828-776-8438.

Should be fun. I've read before with David, and have heard Hope read several times, most recently at the farewell party for Jaye Bartell. Don't know Josh's work, but am looking forward to hearing it.

All ears open, all around, now.

(A hat-tip to MAIN's calendar of upcoming events.)

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Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Bartell's Retreat

Matt Mulder has some notes up about Jaye Bartell's last (for now) Asheville reading at 1000 Black Lines. It was indeed a fine evening.

The collection of Jaye's beer coaster poems which Matt mentions is now in the hands of Sebastian Matthews, who proposes to bring them out in a format that will display the coasters as well as the poems.

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Sunday, December 10, 2006

Finding the Winter's Peace

(click on the image for a larger version)

Unlike some of our fellow mammals, we don’t hibernate. We do, though, when the winter season brings a chill peace to the outer world, move inside, into our dwellings and into the cores of our own spirits, hoping to find peace in the stillness, the dark, peace to carry us through the difficult days until Earth’s dance brings us around to spring again, and a new season of endeavor. Silent night. Holy. Or not. We huddle inside our shelters with our own kind, and hope for peace with them. The hymns ring out – “peace on earth, good will toward men”. But, far away, we know a war rages, and destroys lives not unlike our own every day. And sometimes the lives of our sons or daughters, our wives or husbands, brothers or sisters, mothers or fathers. Taken. We may wish for peace there, too.

It’s a curious word, “peace.” Lexicographers tell us it reaches back, like most of the words in our language, to a deep old root in the hypothetical common language we refer to as Indo-European, a root whose stem seems to surface in several directions, all of them bound, as it were, to the fundamental idea of binding, of fastening. So the Latin “pax,” a binding together by treaty or agreement, whence all the uses Christianity has made of the language of peace, in the context of the binding together of a community of believers. “Pax vobiscum. Et cum tu spiritu”, they said. Peace be with you. And with your spirit. But it’s also pagan – quite literally; the pagan originally was a peasant, bound to a delimited place, a piece of land, from the Latin “pagus”, a boundary staked out on the ground, from the same root. Likewise from that ancient source the Latin “palus”, the stake fixed in the ground to mark that boundary, whence we derive our “palisade”, defined by a wall of such stakes, “impale”, an unhappy use of such a stake, and even “travail” and “travel”, which passes such stakes, such milestones, as may mark the course of the journey.

On December 15th, some of Asheville’s finest poets will gather at the Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center to explore the meanings they find in this rich word “peace” and speak from their own understandings of what this season holds. Thomas Rain Crowe, John Crutchfield, Laura Hope-Gill, Gary Lilley, Rose McLarney, Sebastian Matthews, and I will be rocking the Center’s rafters and, with any luck, warming spirits till they’re proof against winter.

Years ago when I shuffled off to Buffalo it was also in a time of war, another war. Notwithstanding the war and winters colder than any I’d ever dreamed, I found Buffalo humanly the warmest city I’d ever known. Perhaps it was my youth, or the common circumstance of so many of us in and around the university there, far away from wherever we’d come from, no matter how close geographically it might have been; in that clime we quickly found ourselves several states of mind removed from anywhere before. Or perhaps it was just that the natives of that place knew how to hunker down with each other, to find a peace together no matter the blizzards raged outside, and we managed to learn enough of the land’s customs to emulate their strategy. No telling. But memories of those days have lit the way into winter for me ever since, and still offer a map through the desolate season, the dark time.

When it came time for me to do the “field work” my graduate program required, one of the things that drew me to the coast of British Columbia was that the Kwakwaka'wakw people who live there (you might know them by the name commonly used for them till the 1980s, Kwakiutl), and whose symbolic culture I’d proposed to study, had had, by all accounts, an exuberant way of getting into winter as well. For them, it was the sacred season. They worked all spring and summer to accumulate stores of food for the winter, gathering berries by the basketful, drying (and later canning) salmon by the ton, and then, as the days grew shorter, they readied themselves for winter. The assumed their sacred names; Eddie Wallace, say, became “Him Who Stands High as a Mountain.” And then it was time to celebrate, pull out the regalia, and gather to celebrate the first dance of the winter, “When the Masks Are First Brought into the House.” Until the herring and steelhead salmon began running again the next spring, they’d spend the weeks in feasting, hosting reciprocal parties (the English, using a Chinook word, referred to them as potlatches), asserting by performances their claims to dances and their winter names, contending in generosity, one clan inundating another with gifts, and being inundated in return. No one could have starved to death; it was a system of distribution, as an economist might say, that insured that sustenance and the necessities of life reached even the most humble members of the group, however bad the external weather. These celebrations, of course, these gatherings around the long houses’ central fires, rang with song and dance, with myth and story.

The British made such festivities illegal, of course, given that they weren’t exactly Christian (the missionaries shaped the British Empire’s foreign policy even as they sometimes shape ours), but the people persisted in secrecy; celebrations morphed, changed clothes, and continued. And by the mid nineteen seventies … well, the ban on the potlatch had been lifted, and the fine citizens of Alert Bay, British Columbia, certainly knew how to throw fine parties, whether the music of choice was traditional song or rock and roll.

Here in the mountains, now barren of leaves, the Solstice bears down upon us, so let’s gather together, break out the masks, and make some joyful peace together as we head into winter. With the help of our poets and musicians, we’ll get our spirits warm enough to live in concord no matter what snow, rain, wind and chills try to trouble us between now and spring.

Where: Black Mountain College Museum + Art Center
56 Broadway, Asheville
When: December 15th, 8:00 PM
Admission: $7/$5 members and students with ID.
For more information, go to the Center's website.

This post appeared in different form in the December issue of Rapid River.
The photo is by Edward Curtis, and features masked dancers from a Kwakwaka' wakh community c.1912.

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Thursday, December 07, 2006

Jaye Bartell Shuffles Off in Style

Jaye Bartell, who's been an important part of the Asheville poetry scene for the past five years, is planning to shuffle off to Buffalo in a week. Sebastian, Laura, and I invited him to join us again in the studio last Sunday for WordPlay, and had a great electric time; the show's still available on the website through the Archive page.

He's giving a farewell reading tomorrow night, Friday, 8th December, at 9:30 PM at the New French Bar. Jaye's recent poems move toward an engagement with language that seems to me new for him, and it should be a treat to hear them live.

Note: There's a selection of Jaye's poems in the December Rapid River, available now; his blog is Makes a Bird.

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Saturday, December 02, 2006

The Antikythera Mechanism

This ancient device, recovered from a shipwreck near Rhodes in 1900, has been in the news in the last week, as curators have finally figured out what it did: forecast positions of celestial bodies, an important matter in an era when astrology and astronomy were closely wed. Michael Wright, a curator at the Science Museum in London, has now reconstructed it. There's a good account of his project over at Nature.

AP Photo by Thanassis Stavrakis, via MSNBC. A tip of the hat to AUGuries, the newsletter for users of Astrolabe astrological software.

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