Thursday, September 27, 2007

WordPlay this week ...

This week Sebastian and I rushed back from a fine reading at the Flood Gallery by our own sometime co-host Glenis Redmond, A. Van Jordan, and Juilian Vorus to talk with poet Steve Godwin. Fortunately, Steve had also been at the reading and could share his impressions of it, as well as some recent work. Sebastian read from Jordan's new Quantum Lyrics.

Two weeks ago I took some time off to visit my son in Chapel Hill - and, of course, book addict that I am, hit a couple of used book stores, including the great The Bookshop on Franklin Street. There I found some early books by the sage of Scaly Mountain, Jonathan Williams, including his Amen Huzzah Selah, which collected very early work - poems, in fact, from the period when he was a student of Charles Olson's at Black Mountain College. From it I read "The Anchorite", a poem that's held up well enough through the years to have been included in 2005's Jubilant Thicket, a selection of poems from his whole career to date.

We had a little time, so I also read a poem by the great Hilda Doolittle, or H.D., as she preferred to be known, her musical take on Sappho's "Fragment 113", neither honey nor bee for me ... I've been re-reading, or in some cases reading for the first time, work from her whole career as a way to participate at a distance in the H.D. Group that's developed on the Lucipo list. It's been a great pleasure, of course; how not stand in wonder before a woman who, even had she no claim of her own to make on the memory of history, was intimately involved with both Ezra Pound and D.H. Lawrence (ever read Lady Chatterley's Lover?)? And was psychoanalyzed by Freud himself?

And the lady does have a large claim to make on the basis of her own work. I wish I'd read more of it sooner. Back in the benighted epoch when I was going for my degree, though, she was barely mentioned, and seldom read extensively; she was thought a bit ... "unusual", in that era before sexuality and gender were discussed, you know, in polite company, much less the classroom. Much of her work, too, had yet to surface fully, as many volumes were first published (or re-published after obscure first publication) only after her death in 1961, just the year before I started the university in Chapel Hill.

My first encounter with her work came in my final year in Chapel Hill, I believe, when I was working in the old Bull's Head Bookstore, then in the basement of the library. There I often had time to browse, and even read, between tweedy customers. Her Helen in Egypt had appeared in the last year of her life, and the shop still had copies in its poetry section. I found that text a difficult place to jump in, but intriguing, nonetheless, and explored more of her work later, in Buffalo and after.

Here's a poem from her 1924 volume Heliodora:

Mysteries Remain

The mysteries remain,
I keep the same
cycle of seed-time
and of sun and rain;
Demeter in the grass,
I multiply,
renew and bless
Bacchus in the vine;
I hold the law,
I keep the mysteries true,
the first of these
to name the living, dead;
I am the wine and bread.

I keep the law,
I hold the mysteries true,
I am the vine,
the branches, you,
and you.

There's a great deal more over on her Modern American Poetry page, where I borrowed the photo I've used here.

Enjoy. And, hey, it won't hurt you to read a poem this week.

(The initial version of this text cross-posted at WPVM).

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Poetry and Rapid River

Several people at Sunday's Flood Gallery reading commented on the recent absence of Rapid River's poetry page, so perhaps I should give one view, at least, of what's happening. The magazine's editor-in-chief, Dennis Ray, has been ill, in and out of the hospital for much of the summer, and has necessarily turned over much of the responsibility for the design and production of each issue to others. I was dismayed to find in August that the person selected to lay the thing out thought poems belonged almost on the margins of the mag's pages, buried in the page's outside column, with little note of author, and separated from one another, rather than presented as a body of work. There was no poetry page at all. We had some discussions about this; the person laying out the magazine held the view, shared, she said, with the proprietor of RR, that:
people would be more likely to read a poem if it appeared on a page with other articles. Less likely to read a poem if I was confronted by an entire page of poems.
Notice how the subject of these statements skips from hypothetical "people" to "I", revealing the personal nature of the bias; we're not talking informed responses to reader reactions here. And I love "confronted by an entire page of poems." Poems are scary, you know, better to let them just slip up on readers, and catch them by surprise.

I contended, on the other hand, that the decent presentation of their poetry was all we had to offer the poets we published. We're not, you know, paying them. Heaven forbid! My basic feeling was that the people we'd been publishing were real poets, people for whom the use of language had become a critical part of their activity in the world. They were committed to it, whatever their day jobs, and most of them could publish a half a dozen other places; they weren't retired pediatricians who'd decided to try their hands at verse - not that there's anything wrong with that, go to it, but it's a vastly different situation of engagement. So I thought we should continue to have a poetry page as such. I believe I said something on the order of "these poets could be literally marginalized anywhere. The decent presentation of their work is the only thing special we offer them. We're not yet a prestigious publication for poets, though we might became that, so if we can't offer decent presentation, then it's difficult for me to justify to myself asking poets for their good work. "

So I didn't ask anyone for work for the October issue. And there the matter stands, so far as I know. A stand off. Dennis, last I heard, was back in the hospital, so it may be a while before he's back at the helm full time, and can resolve the issue as he wishes.

What do you think? Seriously? I probably reacted as I did partly because there'd been no prior communication about the change to the mag's layout; I discovered it when I picked up a copy and looked for the poems of Ingrid Carson I'd sent in - and could hardly find them. How do the poets feel? Do you care how your work is presented in the context of a general arts magazine?

The Flood reading was great, by the way, and brought something on the order of a hundred heads out on a fine Sunday afternoon for poetry, scary as it is. Julian Vorus, Glenis Redmond, and A. Van Jordan read - Jordan, mostly from his new book Quantum Lyrics, poems which address everything from the adventures, intellectual and otherwise, of Einstein, to the music of jazz and the blues.


Update 2/26/2008: Readers of Asheville's Rapid River will notice in the upcoming issue that I've contributed an article on the upcoming Asheville performance by Robert Bly. MaryJo Moore has taken over the poetry editorship, but I'll likely become a regular contributor once again.

There were a couple of vectors in the summer impasse over the poetry page I've give my view of above that remained invisible to me - particularly, another person with a hand in editorial decisions made in Dennis Ray's absence. That person, I'm told, has since hit the trail. There were apparently some missed or undelivered emails, and new email addresses, figuring in the mix. Oh, well. Dennis is much better, and that's all to the good, not only for him and his family, of course, but for Rapid River.

On we go ...

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Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Pictures from the Great War

Somewhere in a box I still have, I believe, a large format book of photos from what we now call World War I. Though its binding was long ago broken, and some of its pages long since drifted out of the signatures in which they were once sewn, it retains a special place in my remembered experience. It was titled Pictures from the Great War, and must have been published in the early nineteen twenties. It belonged to my father, and had probably belonged to his father. Whatever its provenance, it made an indelible impression on my young eyes when I came across it in my early teens. I borrowed its title when, in 1968, I wrote a poem grounded in my perceptions of the Vietnam War, and war in general. The poem was published in Lillabulero #7, Fall 1969.

Lillabulero was a great little mag with some very talented and ambitious editors, guys of large vision for grad students, among them Bill Matthews and Russell Banks. I was on staff for part of its run as "assistant poetry editor" (or something within shouting distance of that), after having served in a like capacity at the Carolina Quarterly. Great fun, and a wonderful introduction to the world of little mags. I remember Ray Kass, who had work in the same number, pointing out that someday guys doing research on Gary Snyder, who was featured in the issue, would dig up the magazine from dusty stacks and see our poems as well; there we'd be, awaiting discovery! Woohoo!

Anyway, here's the poem:

Pictures from the Great War

What an incredible book!
Pictures and facts
about an ancient war.
The paper airplanes,
the machines
whose horses seem to be absent.
These four human-
shaped lumps with snow
blooming on their last
tunics and glass eyes.
Wilfred Owen
dead in a trench.

The people with homes
only in their sapling carts,
or on their backs,
in exodus down the road
between the cold fields,
or rice paddies filled
with the rigid holes,
the ripples, frozen,
of explosions...

The shocked, scarred stumps
hunkering back
to suck for the marrow
they have lost, as they have lost
forever the shadow of their cool leaves
under the half track and chariot.

It's another one that didn't make it into NatureS, given its different voice; it'd be "juvenalia", I suppose. But here we are in another war, one even more crazy, more bankrupt in its premises, that's created more than three five million refugees, so far, and it once again has a certain sad timeliness.


Photo of "Serbian refugees fleeing with their belongings" from this site, which has some fine albums provided by soldiers among their collection of photos from the war.

Update: should you decide to track down that old issue of
Lillabulero, you'd find that I've changed a word or two here. Author's privilege, you know.

Further update 9/21/2007: I've revised the number of refugees created by our current war from two
million to three (damn), and made a couple of other stylistic edits. Having looked up a surviving copy of the issue, I've also corrected my reference to the other writers it published; I'd originally remembered that Ray had referred to Robert Creeley, as well as to Snyder, but I see that the Creeley material appeared in the next number; given my love of Creeley's work, I must have interpolated the reference to him on my own.

And furthermore: Changed the number of refugees once again to include the "internally displaced" - those who have had to leave their homes but are still in Iraq. Five million.

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Tuesday, September 18, 2007

UC Press Sale!

Oops, I just spent all I can for the moment afford in the bookstores of Chapel Hill (and got some great stuff - but more another day), and now the University of California Press is having an online sale. Sale? Yes, really. Like, Ted Berrigan's Collected Poems for $19.95 hardcover, $12.95 paper. I've already got it, and even so I'm tempted. Olson's Selected Poems? $9.95. The O'Hara Collected at the same price.

Fortunately the sale goes through October.

(Would you guess my house is full of books?)


Update: Lolita Guevarra of the UC Press posted this note to the Buffalo Poetics list today:

The Dirt Cheap Online Book Sale begins today!

Over 3,000 of our titles are being sold at dirt cheap prices! Dig
through our vast selection of deeply discounted titles at

In order to obtain the discount price you must either sign up for the
UC Press eNews weekly newsletter or download an RSS feed. To sign up
for the eNews or RSS go to our website at and
there you can sign up for either services.


Lolita Guevarra
Electronic Marketing Coordinator
University of California Press

A tip of the hat to Jessica Smith.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

and tree frogs ...

(there's an audio file here)

Late summer ... no rain for weeks, but the heat's broken, highs just in the low 80s for the last few weeks, nightly lows are already in the low 60s; hopefully we've seen the last of the 90s for this year.

We're perhaps just six weeks from the first frost. I'll miss listening to this chorus.

This has been another Natures climate update.

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