Thursday, May 31, 2007

100 Words

For now, just a link to a list of 100 words that the editors of the American Heritage Dictionary say every high school graduate should know - mostly Latinate, but including "belie", "churlish", and "yeoman". Hmmm ...

A hat-tip to dailykos, where a few more folks, no doubt, will also see it.


Wednesday, May 30, 2007

NatureS: Joyce Blunk's Constructions

One of the great pleasures of putting NatureS together was getting to know Joyce Blunk and her work. While photographs of five of her constructions do grace the text, four of them are monochrome and therefore don't really convey particularly well the impact of the pieces featured. To celebrate the book's anniversary, here they are in color. Click on the images for (much) larger versions.

To the left, "Crown Conch," a detail of which became the basis for the cover of the book. It includes among its materials wood, paint, metal, plastic, and shells. It measures 17x27x6 inches.

The construction that appears on page 1, titled "Locust Pavillion," consists of wood, paint, metal, shells, paper, and seed pods, and measures 15x31x5 inches.

The piece on page 23, titled "Weeping Garden," is made of wood, paint, shells, glass, cloth, pods, and metal, and measures 15x26x5 inches.

The piece on page 47, titled "Deep Autumn, Asheville," is built of wood, paint, metal, shells, seed pods, and string.

The piece on page 73, titled "Nothing Left," constructed of wood, paint, wire, bones, and a teabag, measures 12x20x4.5 inches.

And here's a detail of "Nothing Left", just to give a closer looks at its intricacies:

Thanks again to Joyce for sharing them.

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Monday, May 21, 2007

Some Propositions for Orpheus

Some recent work, a take on the story of one Orpheus, AKA Sir Orfeo ...

Some Propositions for Orpheus

And sometimes
she won't return
no matter ...
on her own -
not one descent
then, but many -
and the step by step
walk back up
path out of
the deep world with
each foot
fall recedes
further into
mist closing
in on memories
back back
up into the air
and clear day
strive -
turn, to
see, once
more, the vanishing -
not one
descent, and
after each
the journey
lightward follows.


Orpheus Blues

Just as well,
he'd say
she was carried
away - there
are losses
that offer
an end.
Completion -

... but, hell, he'd say,

in the silence of your absence
the world I believed I knew
as you becomes cipher and paradox
imagined, remembered -

In diaphanous reality of dream
flesh of white knee taste
of mouth sweet and wet kiss
of lips and labia linger on tongue -
entranced transport
into engendered space
(not one journey down ...)
but wake, alone and one,
all lost except to song.

Brought her up
looked back lost
her just the old
way It goes...

I lose
her over every time
I go down that way.


Another Proposition of Analogy

Or like Perceval
pilgrim of the
absolute -
The Grail glimpsed
once as always
in white
samite carried
in careful hands
of a damosel
and lost lost
for lack of
the unknown
the proper word.

The next day cast out
and castle vanished
lost in mist of moor.


"And therewith on his knees
he went so nigh that he touched
the holy vessel and kissed it,
and anon he was whole,
and then he said, 'Lord God,
I thank thee, for
I am healed ...'"


Another to Orpheus
For Joe Safdie

The song can't end
unless, returned,
she stays.

And like
Persephone her twin
she won't - the deal made
you and I,
alas, were not
part of:

If she did not descend
again into her other
realm -

there would be no dance
and, less dance,
what are we?
less spring?
less summer's ripening?

What can we do, friend,
but celebrate
each death,
each departure
step by step.


Re: Orpheo, A Speculation

Perhaps he sang
at frequencies
she could not quite hear

perhaps that
difference in phase
in fact
the attraction -

she heard
just the ghost
of the song's
to the ascent

and inexplicably
was drawn to it

and he, gratified
that one so other, lovely

she did not hear
what stunned all
still in consonance
with the song he made ...

Then looked back
still in unbelief
to bask once more
in her green gaze

and saw
only her descend
toward her dark
lost once more.

Not one descent ...

So he began again
The cycle his lament

"Oh Eurydice, my love ..."

And felt his heart
once more opening into it:
"Not one," he sang
"descent" ...

even if she only heard
a simulacrum,
a ghostly whisper
of his anthem.


Orpheo Hypostasis

Not the Tracian women
angry that he turned them down -
no, Dionysis' own maenads

(could not be wounded
in frenzy
carried fire
on their heads
weren't burned)

oiled tits glistening
in moonlight

he abandoned orgies

to follow Apollo's lead ...

They broke his flesh
and scattered it like bread.

The head
sang lifted with the lyre
song still sweet adrift
beyond all carnage
bobbing in the river's flow lost
in memory
what it still heard,

"Not one journey down ..."


That's it for now, though it still seems to be on the air when I tune in to the proper frequency. More, in other words, later.


The painting of Orpheus leading Eurydice from the Underworld is by Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot (1861). Found at Larry A. Brown's website.


Friday, May 18, 2007

NatureS, a Year Along

So far as I'm aware*, NatureS got about as many reviews as most poetry books do - in this case, one. That one appeared in the Asheville Citizen-Times last October, and was written by Rob Neufeld, who specializes in books exploring local history and folklore. In fact, the review of NatureS followed reviews of a couple other books, one a collection of mountain tales, the other a novel set at Fontana Dam, a resort an hour or so west of Asheville.

Neufeld didn't exactly like the book, and had a couple of condescending things to say about it, but that's all well and good. Here's his take - and this is pretty much the entirety of it (sorry, no link, as it's now behind a paywall):

New Native Press is celebrating the work of Charlotte-now-Asheville poet Jeff Davis with the publication of "Selected Poems 1972-2005." The value of the book is its presentation of a mystical poet's evolution. The early entries are preachy. They expect us to dig the ineffable because, after all, it's ineffable.

Starting with the third of four sections, Davis begins to trust his art. The messages are not substantially different; and the focus on nature remains. But you can enter a beautiful state by forming the words in your mind or mouth.

Hmmm. All publicity is good publicity, I suppose, but at least he could have gotten the actual title of the book right. Oh, well. It was just the Asheville Citizen-Times.

Readers do bring their own heads to the transaction with the text, and I have no wish to over-determine what another pair of eyes, another mind, might find in the poems NatureS carries into the world. But ... (and at the risk of sounding "preachy"), there's a small problem with Neufeld's trope about the "mystical poet's evolution," that being the fundamental one that the poems are not chronologically organized, and therefore don't reveal some sort of linear progress, in good Romantic fashion, of the poet's mind.

It would take delving into boxes of ancient papers to nail it down, but I believe that the earliest poem in NatureS is actually "To the Muse", which doesn't appear until page 34. I still remember well jotting its first lines down on the long ferry ride up the Johnson Straits to Alert Bay, the little fishing village in British Columbia where I lived on and off for most of the early nineteen-seventies. It went through several permutations before it was finished, or abandoned - from an attempt to speak to the nature of a particular love relationship, an attempt that was then reshaped by a Sikh teaching story about (as I remember it, at least) the always nameless Real, eventually to an account of the process of writing as I then understood it.

The poem was substantially finished by 1975. When I was putting the book together in 2004 and 5, a phrase or two reopened, and it changed again, but only by a few words.

It was the first of a number of poems that emerged during the same period, four of which were published in the Vancouver little mag Iron; sometimes, still, I think of them as my "Vancouver poems". That city had then, as I'm sure it must have still, a wonderful community of engaged poets, including the great Robin Blaser, who'd been an integral part of the San Francisco scene that had also included, among others, Jack Spicer and Robert Duncan. The last year I spent in BC, in fact, Blaser published his edition of Spicer's Collected Books, which has yet to be superceded as the standard collection of Spicer's work.** It was a lively scene, with readings almost weekly at The Western Front, Simon Fraser University (where Blaser taught), and various homes and studios around the city.

Blaser had been told by Olson, by Blaser's own account, "I'd trust you anywhere with image, but you've got no syntax," (see "Diary, April 11, 1981", from Blaser's, yes, Syntax), and he'd taken it upon himself, as part of his commission as a poet, to explore strategies for the structure of meaning in language that extended conventional syntax into new territories. His work often structures itself not by explicit syntactic relationship of elements, but by a dynamic parataxis. Looking back, I can see that my own approach to structure and syntax, to the use of fields of meaning opened up by Blaser's work - and that of others, like Daphne Marlatt and Sharon Thesen, working in that time and place - morphed. The poems from Iron represent an intensification of my own experiments with language and form, experiments that seem, to me at least, to have marked a crossing point, a line of demarcation, between earlier work and the poems in NatureS. But, again, this priority is not marked, in any real sense, in the book, and the poems are scattered throughout it, "The Forum in Weeds" at page 22, "The Cotyledon" (in 1975 still untitled) at page 41, "The Bridge" at page 52, and "The Traffic" at page 59.

Indeed, some of the most recent poems actually appear in the first section of the book, including "The Divers", "The Point", "Noetic Issues on the Trail", and "Another Flight", all written within the last few years. Other recent poems scattered through NatureS include "Tithe of Clouds", "Notes in the Common Key", "Toward Pisgah", and "Strata: Melissa" (though it began in the mid-nineteen-eighties as an integral part of "Strata: Rhododendron"). To give Mr. Neufeld his due, the book does close with "Envoi: Another Audition ...", which was in fact the most recent poem included in the book.

So, enough. Or too much. The book can be read in various ways, I'm sure. It's not my purpose to discourage any approaches readers might wish to take to it. They probably shouldn't, though, assume that it's a "progress", and certainly not a linear evolution.


* It helps me avoid the vanity of self-Googling that I am named "Jeff Davis"; there's even another poet of the same name, who seems to write books on yoga as well - something that I'll probably never do. Not to mention that other "Jeff Davis", Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederacy, for whom my father (and eventually I) was named.

** Update, 19 May 2009: Now see My Vocabulary Did This to Me: The Collected Poetry of Jack Spicer (Peter Gizzi and Kevin Killian, editors), published by Wesleyan University Press in November 2008.

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Thursday, May 17, 2007

Ave atque vale ...

Old friend Ron Ruehl, his sister says, will make his transition today.


Update: And had, by the time I posted. Adios, amigo.