Sunday, July 29, 2007

Old Guy (Still) on the Road

Gary Snyder, great poet of the Pacific coast and its biotic worlds, came through North Carolina recently for the first time since the late 70s - 1978, I think, when Paul Gallimore of Long Branch organized a reading for him at UNCA. The after party back then was actually at my humble abode - which was even more humble in those post grad-school days. This past April 19, he read at Lenoir-Rhyne College in Hickory as part of the school's great reading series.

Snyder's history is well-known, thanks in some part to the efforts of his fellow writers - especially Jack Kerouac, who based his character Japhy Rider, of Dharma Bums, on the Snyder of the early fifties. As a student, Snyder had found summer work as a forest ranger, a logger, and a seaman. In 1955 he worked on a trail crew at Yosemite National Park, and there he began writing the first poems that he later published. He was integral to the Beat scene in San Francisco (attended the 1955 Six Gallery reading of Ginsberg's Howl that signaled the beginning of its major momentum), but then, the next year, went to Japan. He spent most of the following 12 years there, studying Buddhism in a monastery. He returned to the US more-or-less for good in 1968, and has since had a long, enlightening career as poet and environmental activist, one who, in both roles, brings a deeply informed (and practiced) Buddhist perspective to his work.

Snyder said, "As a poet I hold the most archaic values on earth. They go back to the Neolithic: the fertility of the soil, the magic of animals, the power-vision in solitude, the terrifying initiation and rebirth, the love and ecstasy of the dance, the common work of the tribe."

Strikes me those are still good values.

Update, July 31 : Excerpts from Snyder's reading undulated through the airwaves this past Sunday on WordPlay, and the show is now available for streaming or podcast from the WPVM website; just click on the Archive link and scroll down.

And another update, August 6: Other members of the WordPlay team were out of commission yesterday, so I ran the Snyder show again - which means it'll be available for play/download for another week.

I took the photo of Gary Snyder and Thomas Rain Crowe at the reception following Snyder's reading in Hickory. There are more here, over on Facebook (no membership required) .

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Monday, July 23, 2007

Busy ...

Son B is home for another week, so I'm taking the opportunity his presence offers to finish up some projects around the house. Posting will probably be even lighter than usual for the rest of the week.

Always a work in progress ...

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Ted Pope's rEdlipstick Goes Live (2)

... is just below, here.


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Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Hard-wired for the Alphabet?

Probably a third of the sites I visit on a given days are science-related, and one of those I return to most regularly is Dienekes Anthropology Blog. Dienekes will occasionally explore cultural issues and other aspects of anthropology, but his primary focus is on genomic analysis, and you're much more likely to find there a post on the DNA haplogroups of the eastern Mediterranean than one on, say, Paleolithic tool assemblages excavated in eastern Siberia.

Yesterday he reported on a paper by Peter Frost about a gene variant that seems to have been linked with the spread of alphabetical writing. The variations occurs in the ASPM gene, which otherwise seems to be linked to the regulation of brain growth. The mutation apparently occurred somewhere in the middle east about 6000 years ago. It's now found in 38-50% of people in Europe, 37-52% of folks in the Middle East, but only 0-25% of people from East Asia (where writing, of course, has been non-alphabetic).

Whatever the current fate of scribes (and poets), it seems that the variation was initially of some value:
This task [of alphabetic writing] was largely delegated to scribes of various sorts who enjoyed privileged status and probably superior reproductive success. Such individuals may have served as vectors for spreading the new ASPM variant.
Nature and culture at play with one another, once more.


Monday, July 09, 2007

Ted Pope's rEdlipstick Goes Live

It's like the worst horror
movie ever made ...

Mummified ancient astronaut recovered from the desert? Mysterious plague ravaging the world? Meteorites wiping out life on huge parts of Earth? Sounds like the plot to a summer disaster flick, but it's actually poet Ted Pope's concept for the setting of his remarkable book, rEdlipstick. And this month it's going to jump off the pages when Pope performs at the Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center in downtown Asheville.

And I do mean jump. When Ted reads, there's always The Show. He's one of the most remarkable performers of poetry that I've so far run across; I've seen him walk on the seats of chairs through an audience to the back of the performance space and then crawl down the aisle back to the front on all fours. Did he pop Tic Tacs as though they might be something much more, uhh, interesting as he crawled, or was that before? All part of the same evening, though, no doubt. And more.

Poet Laura Hope-Gill, who also cut her teeth in the performance tradition in the 1990s at Asheville's fabled Green Door, tells the story of her first (and so far only) slam on the weblog for WPVM's WordPlay:

Pat Storm beat me in the only slam I did (it was something called a skydive slam or something--the poems could only be one minute or shorter in length. I did Jas H. Duke's "Productivity:" "Wool grows just as fast on a lazy sheep." Pat ran out after I was finished and shouted something nobody understood then dove onto the ground spraying all of us with fake blood. So, he won. That's the kind of evenings we had.

Ted may not have been there that night, but he was a seasoned member of the Green Door scene. He probably wouldn't scruple to pull a similar bit of stagecraft - the difference being that he'd also be speaking spare and even elegant verse as he was doing it, rather than something no one understood.

If rEdlipstick's post-apocalyptic setting sounds rather dire,

... the bodies inside
were all headless. the deck was
soaked in blood ...

don't despair, there's plenty of fun to be had in spite of it all:

there are 220 kilos of hash on board.
the boat's solar panels gleamed in the sunlight.
the shimmering Nile air.
some of the waves waved goodbye, some
were waving hello.
the crew was laughing loudly...

Enough fun for Miles Neptune, reporter for Rolling Stone, the book's protagonist and principle voice, to kick his despair and embark on a quest to track down a previous explorer of the arcane territory in which he finds himself, one Francis Snowflake Drake. And if he never finds Drake (perhaps there's a sequel in the works?), he does find Drake's notebook, which finally does hint at tantalizing further prospects for the world, as the mythic astronaut's ship (yes) (I think) explains itself:

I am Osiris
a machine
of black metal
crystals that thinks
it is as much time travel as it is
moving through the universe.

It's quite a trip. And as with other really good trips, the journey itself is the prize. rEdlipstick is a meditation on time and passion (we're talking red lipstick here, folks) delivered at a frequency that's in a new part of the wavelength spectrum, one that's not been sold off to communication conglomerates, and remains the province of imagination.

Ted will bring his performance of rEdlipstick to life with the help of musician and audio engineer Jason Brady of SingleWide Records, who also provided the sonic environment for the new rEdlipstick CD, on July 13, at 8:00 PM. The CD is being released in conjunction with the performance at the Center. Ted will also be presenting some work he's composed since the book appeared in 2005, and the evening is in fact billed as "Antarctica The New Eden", the title of one of his new investigations.

If this were a movie, I'd bet it'd earn at least four stars.

What: Ted Pope, "Antarctica, The New Eden", including rEdlipstick in live performance.
Where: The Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center

When: Friday, July 13, 8:00 pm

Admission: $7, $5 for BMCM+AC members and students w/ID.

For more information: 828-350-8484


Alice Sebrell's photo finds Ted performing at the Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center in 2005.

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Thursday, July 05, 2007

Cathy Smith Bowers: New Poems

When I was first getting to know the work of Cathy Smith Bowers, I started, just because I happened to discover a copy in a bookstore, with Traveling in Time of Danger (Iris Press, 1999), her second collection. And, as I often do with new books, I opened it to the approximate middle, and, there, on page 29, came to "L'Art Brut," which found its occasion, as the poem gradually reveals, in a visit to her brother during an illness that would prove, as nearby poems make explicit, ultimately fatal for him. She finds him in his back yard, "making, of all things,/ Candles."

His terrace is pocked with holes
Across which the rays of the yellow pencils
Dangle from their centers makeshift wicks.

All day he has been pouring wax, reds
And blues and greens, the salvaged
Stuff of wings now hardening in each sandy
Grave. I sit on the steps and watch ...

Wait a second, I thought, that "salvaged stuff of wings ..." Where does that ... oh, of course, wings, made with wax, Icarus, Daedalus, the fall ...Wow. How beautifully deft. There are many other such lovely moments in the poems in that collection, where the elegant tapestry of her blank verse suddenly effloresces, light shining from the very fibers of her language, conjuring up by quick allusion larger dimensions, and the worlds of analogy within which the poems move.

In this selection, she explores some of the same landscape of loss that the poems in Traveling traversed - and versed - before it. Whatever the formal ground, she brings rich intelligence and real fire and grace to her work.

Some bio: her poems have appeared widely in publications such as The Atlantic Monthly, The Georgia Review, Poetry, The Southern Review, and The Kenyon Review.

She is a winner of The General Electric Award for Younger Writers, recipient of a South Carolina Poetry Fellowship, and winner of The South Carolina Arts Commission Fiction Project. She served for many years as poet-in-residence at Queens University of Charlotte where she received the 2002 JB Fuqua Distinguished Educator Award. She now teaches in the Queens low-residency MFA In Creative Writing Program.

She's the author of three collections of poetry: The Love That Ended Yesterday in Texas, (Texas Tech University Press, 1992); the aforementioned Traveling in Time of Danger; and A Book of Minutes (Iris Press, 2004). Her craft essay "A Moment of Intensity" is featured in the 2007 edition of Poet's Market.

It's a pleasure to present her poems to any eyes that might here find them.


All Adverbs, Adjectives Too

Odd thing, I thought, 

for a teenager to say she

despised. The hair-do

of the girl at the table

next to us I might have

understood. Or the jock

who yesterday between

biology class and history

took back his ring. But why

this sudden announcement

at the height of our weekly

outing over burgers and shakes?

I was not her blood,

but that oddest of creatures,

soft surrogate body designated

step, the woman loyalty to her

mother required that she

hate. How else, in her logic,

to remind me of that? I who

worshiped at The Church of God

of Rhetoric, lone walker through

the valley of the shadow of

words. I watched her face drain

pale, the laughter fade, fat heart

of a strawberry stopped midair

between her fingertips and tongue.

And then that cruel pronouncement,

adamant declaration spewed my way

in the midst of our frivolity, sending

me once again to my proper place.

No sooner had she spoken than the light

returned, the strawberry resuming its

journey through her penitent lips.

I held a second longer

the feigned hurt across my face,

vowed never to let her know

I despise them too.

Where’s My Frog?

We worshiped her, Mrs. King,

who was ours for only half the day

that year. Sixth grade, our sights

on junior high and all those kids

from the good side of the tracks

she gave her mornings to

before driving to our dingy

neighborhood for history

and language arts. We

would have done anything

for her, as if having only half

rendered her more valuable,

the way we cherished our always

absent fathers, our mothers dull

in their faded aprons and always

tired, the most wretched

of commodities, being wholly

ours. One day she motioned me

to her desk, Lavon Deese, too,

a girl from up the street who’d

failed two grades, anathema

to all the other teachers whose

lessons she’d slumbered through.

The class was reading to themselves,

heads bent quiet above the hard

and colored history of our state.

We trembled on our way, the wood

beneath our soles creaking with every

step that delivered us to the vase

she’d lifted from her desk, huge globe

filled fresh each Monday with peonies

and mums, blossoms of magnolia

that rotted through the week

as the tests and essays grew,

an ominous Mt. Sinai next to them.

We couldn’t believe she’d chosen us,

to deliver safely down the hall into

the girls’ rest room that vase like

the holy-grail we’d learned about

at Saturday matinée, the sole purpose

of our common life now realized. In

the restroom the sun poured through

like the light in the painting my mother

had got with green stamps, Jesus offering

up his thorn-encrusted heart, the eyes

you could not escape no matter where

you sat. Into the rusty can we flung

the browning petals, their stems now limp,

leaves curled and brittling like the husks

of cicadas that signaled summer’s end, then

into the nearest stall to flush beyond oblivion

the swampy dregs. When we eased into her

hands the empty vase, scrubbed and polished

to an astral sheen, our one breath stopped,

hungry for the smallest wafer of her

gratitude, stunned at what we got instead--

the slitted eye, stuck frown of her face

peering deep inside, those three bleak

words: Where’s my frog? Our knees went

soft, the folds of our single brain calling back

the mysterious ker-plunk we’d heard

at the bottom of the commode

just as I pressed the lever.

The rest of that whole year we suffered

her disdain, we who had killed

her beloved pet, the one she brought

with her each Monday to bask

in the still primordial waters

of that week’s blooms. Dark Lethe

my dreams would conjure, childhood’s

defining act I would bear into the purgatory

of junior high Lavon decided to forgo,

then high-school and on to college,

to the man I would finally marry,

who years later beneath the whirring

fan of an antique shop, would lift from its shelf

a small glass orb, the likes of which I’d never seen,

its surface a conglomeration of tiny holes,

and Look, he would say, as he handed it to

me…a frog. I haven’t seen one in years.

I don’t know what happened to Lavon.


Each morning in my mailbox

or tucked into a quiet cove

of my front porch, another

burden of solace

reminding me again

my husband is dead.

Last week, an oval cardboard box

decoupaged in stars, inside, its nested

offering—a cache of still-warm eggs

gleaned from my neighbor’s henhouse.

Yesterday, a Peruvian prayer shawl,

the warp and weft of its holy weave

climbing, like girders of a bridge,

its sturdy warmth.

And today this handmade flute,

turned and hollowed and carved

by Laughing Crow, enigmatic

shaman of some distant plain.

See its little row of holes

lined up like perfect planets,

as if having not yet learned

the universe had collapsed.

See my lips pressed to the tiny

breathless gape of its own mouth.

As if my lungs could conjure anything.

As if it were the one needing to be saved.


My photo of Cathy was snapped at the studios of WPVM when she appeared earlier this year on WordPlay, the station's program by, about, etc., "writers, their craft and ideas."

Several of these poems appeared in the April, 2007, issue of Rapid River. All are © Cathy Smith Bowers.

Update: Formatting improved, if not totally fixed.

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Warren Wilson Readings

Here's the schedule for Warren Wilson's summer session:

Readings (8:15 p.m. and in the Fellowship Hall behind the Warren Wilson College Chapel unless otherwise indicated)

July 5 - (8 p.m.) David Baker, Laura Hendrie, Mary Ruefle, Thomas Mallon.
July 6 - Murad Kalam, James Longenbach, Erin McGraw, Heather McHugh.
July 7 - Elizabeth Arnold, Pablo Medina, Gabrielle Calvocoressi, David Shields, C. Dale Young.
July 8 - (Canon Lounge) Stephen Dobyns, Adria Bernardi, Brooks Haxton, Grace Dane Mazur.
July 9 - C.J. Hribal, Ellen Bryant Voigt, T.M. McNally, Alan Williamson, Frederick Reiken.
July 11 - Karen Brennan, Joan Aleshire, David Haynes, Dean Young, Peter Turchi.
July 12 - Graduating student readings: Jean Hallingstad, Larissa Amir, Heather Maki, Edward Porter, Leslie Shipman.
July 13 - Graduating student readings: Natalie Baszile, Daniel Harris, Majka Burhardt, Karen Llagas, Janet Thornburg.
July 14 - (4:30 p.m., followed by Graduation Ceremony) Graduating student readings: Kathy Nguyen, Katie Bowler, Suzanne Wilsey, Ann Stanford.

Lectures (9:15 a.m. and in the Fellowship Hall unless otherwise indicated)
July 6 - (11:15 a.m.) Karen Brennan, “Beyond Accessibility.”
July 7 - (9:30 a.m.) Stephen Dobyns, “The Origin of Metaphor”; (10:45 a.m.) Frederick Reiken, “The Legacy of Anton Chekhov.”
July 8 - (Jensen Lecture Hall) Peter Turchi, “Puzzles, Mysteries, and other Problems; Or, Chekhov, Kasparov, Howard Garns, and You; Or, The Seven Bridges of Konigsberg.”
July 9 - David Baker, “Daring, Drama, and Melodrama.”
July 11 - Adria Bernardi, “Half-Day: The Nearly Unbearable Suspension.”
July 12 - Mary Ruefle, “On Secrets: Eight Beginnings, Two Ends.”
July 13 - James Longenbach, “Poem, Prose, Prose-Poem: Three Definitions.”
July 14 - (9:30 a.m.) C.J. Hribel, “Comic and Cosmic Distance.”
July 14 - (10:45 a.m.) Heather McHugh, “Ars Poetica.”

The readings and lectures, each lasting about one hour, are free and open to the public. For more details call the MFA office at (828) 771-3715.

As always, details are subject to change.

I'll try to catch Stephen Dobyns and Heather McHugh, but I must admit I don't know most of the other folks, or their work, so I'll probably pick a few at random when time permits and check them out.

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Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Inde ... er, Interdependence Day

Old friend Paul Gallimore (he's just turned 60, so he's an old friend now in more than one sense) sends out a poem of Gary Snyder's from a few years back today:

For All

Ah to be alive
on a mid-September morn
fording a stream
barefoot, pants rolled up,
holding boots, pack on,
sunshine, ice in the shallows,
northern rockies.

Rustle and shimmer of icy creek waters
stones turn underfoot, small and hard as toes
cold nose dripping
singing inside
creek music, heart music,
smell of sun on gravel.

I pledge allegiance

I pledge allegiance to the soil
of Turtle Island,
and to the beings who thereon dwell
one ecosystem
in diversity
under the sun
With joyful interpenetration for all.
Great fun. Thanks to Paul for bringing that song to mind.

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