Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Happy Birthday, Ezra Pound

Born 1885 in Hailey, Idaho, and one of the great Modernist poets, whatever the political delusions. So much of his writing remains of actual use. His author page at the Electronic Poetry Center contains links to other good Pound sites, including PennSound, which has a wonderful collection of Ezra reading his own work.


Photo: © http://www.lit.kobe-u.ac.jp/~hishika/pound.htm, borrowed from the EPC Pound page.

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Monday, October 29, 2007

A new Bill Knott

Bill's got a new book, Cribsheets, up at his blog.

In it he finally republishes "(Sergey) (Yesenin) Speaking (Isadora) (Duncan)", one of my favorites from The Naomi Poems, his first book, and the new work seems strong and characteristically mercurial in the best sense - "fast as greased lightning", as my folks might have said.

Bill's barely mentioned the new collection, so it'd be easy to miss, even if his place is one of your regular stops. I haven't read through the whole thing yet (it's a hefty chapbook), but what I've read tells me it's worth delving into. Go and delve.

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Wednesday, October 24, 2007

H.D. and myth, a quick note

Whenever you're immersed in H.D.'s work, you're in the thick of myth - classical myth, and personal myth that's often been assimilated to it.

I ran across a statement by director Sergio Leone a few weeks ago in which he might have been speaking for Hilda, as well as himself:

The important thing is to make a different world. To make a world that is not. Now. A real world, a genuine world, but one that allows myth to live. The myth is everything. (1)

Once the myths are understood, the occasions of her work are opened. For me, the surprise of her work, re-encountered now decades after my first reading, is that, for all the apparent indirections and mythic frames, so much of it is finally just white hot. Beginning to end, she could find the world - or create the world - that allowed myth to live.


(1) Sergio Leone in an American Film interview, quoted on the box of the VHS edition of Once Upon a Time in America.

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Photographic Project now on Flickr

I've put some of the photos from the 1977-8 Asheville Area Photographic Project up on Flickr. Enjoy. I'll try to scan some more prints over the next few weeks to fill the collection out.


Update: I'll also be adding to the photo captions; right now they're very bare-bones.

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Marvin Bell tonight

Poet Marvin Bell reads tonight at UNCA. I believe Sebastian and I might have gotten the day wrong on Wordplay last Sunday, and announced it for Thursday, tomorrow. Sorry about that.


Photo Credit: Tom Jorgensen, from the Poets.org site linked above.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

An Old Song ...

I've written a hundred versions of:

Bird On a Briar
[Camb. King's Coll. MS Muniment Roll 2 W. 32r]

Bryd one brere, brid, brid one brere,
Kynd is come of love, love to crave
Blythful biryd, on me thu rewe
Or greyth, lef, greith thu me my grave.

Hic am so blithe, so bryhit, brid on brere,
Quan I se that hende in halle:
Yhe is whit of lime, loveli, trewe
Yhe is fayr and flur of alle.

Mikte ic hire at wille haven,
Stedefast of love, loveli, trewe,
Of mi sorwe yhe may me saven
Ioye and blisse were were me newe.


Bird on a briar, bird on a briar,
(Man)kind is come of love, love thus craves.
Blissful bird, have pity on me,
Or dig, love, dig thou for me my grave.

I am so blithe, so bright, bird on briar,
When I see that handmaid in the hall:
She is white of limb, lovely, true,
She is fair and flower of all.

Might I her at my will have,
Steadfast of love, lovely, true,
From my sorrow she may me save
Joy and bliss would wear me new (i.e., me renew).

On the face of it, this is a song of a man to a bird,
begging for a sympathetic ear for a man hopelessly in love;
on another level,
bryd has the double meaning,
of "burde", as in a young woman — when this would be sung
in the hall, she might recognize herself, and take pity.
The third level is "Brid" as St. Bride, or St. Brighid,
the fair one. In any case, the song is among the first
(extant) English love lyrics.

The whole site's a real trove of medieval goodies - the page linked in the song title, for instance, also has an audio file of this lament. Check it, as they say, out.


The image of minstrels at work is from the site as well. Its caption: "Minstrels with a Rebec & a Lute.
13th c. Manasseh Codex. El Escorial, Madrid."


Friday, October 19, 2007

Simic's Creeley

Much growling and gnashing of teeth to be heard recently in the areas of Poetryland that include the Buffalo Poetics list. The occasion? Charles Simic's dismissive review of the Robert Creeley's work, particularly the second volume of his Collected Poems, in the New York Review of Books.

The nut of what Simic has to say seems to me this (sorry, no link, as it's not free content):
American poetry is full of daybooks, poets who report everything they see and think and who keep doing the same thing for years, but they usually pay better attention to what goes on around them than he does, filling their poems with nicely observed details and memorable stories. Not Creeley. He doesn't gossip, doesn't confess secrets, doesn't have a rich imaginative life, doesn't write about nature or cities, and has nothing to say about history. His kind of poem, he informs us in his Paris Review interview, is done in one sitting, literally in the time it takes to type it or otherwise write it, usually without any process of revision. The aesthetic theory—and there is always a theory behind such reductive views—may sound persuasive, but it was foolish on Creeley's part to believe that it could ever validate a poem. If poetics were like cooking and one could write down a recipe for all of one's future poems, that would be true. However, great cooks rarely bother to consult cookbooks.

This may sound harsh, but reading the hundreds of poems that Creeley wrote after Pieces, I could not come to any other conclusion. The second volume, The Collected Poems of Robert Creeley, 1975–2005, which has poems written just before he died in 2005, is especially hard going. The better poems are rare and come after many pages of banal musings on aging, decline of his faculties, and death, in a language that is flat and thoroughly predictable.
That follows, of course, a complete misreading of Pieces, a pivotal volume in Creeley's career, in which he took apart the conventional poem and began the exploratory ventures of his later work - and opened vast new territories for American poetry in the process.

There'll certainly be more to say about all this, but I liked Lisa Janot's quick note:
As the good cats of Lisablog say, Charles Simic has his head up his ass. Cree rhymes with mastery.

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Thursday, October 18, 2007

A look back at a beginning

Way back in 1976, when I returned to Asheville after my last stay in British Columbia, I faced the same problem I've heard many more recent arrivals complain of: it was hard to find meaningful work. So I worked as a baker in a now long-gone cafeteria (thankfully, I'd learned the trade in a small bakery in B.C.) and did various other odd jobs (some of them odd indeed) while I tried to find my first "real" job, one that would open possibilities that I might want to pursue as a "career". It finally came the next year, when UNCA hired me to replace Charles McLarty, who was leaving to return to school, as photographer for the Asheville Area Photographic Project.

Over the next eighteen months or so I took hundreds of shots of people and places of note in Asheville, and occasionally ranged out to surrounding towns, like Burnsville and Weaverville, either on my own, usually in search of a specific location someone had said I just had to photograph, or in the company of Dr. Lou Silveri, who was conducting an oral history project that summer. I had license to shoot pretty much whatever caught my eye.

It was a great way for me to ground myself in my new home, and some of the images I framed along the way, as I roamed the hills with my trusty Pentax Spotmatic II, have apparently been useful enough to others taking a look at that era that the Special Collections department of UNCA's Ramsey Library has now put them online.

The files are currently presented in the admirably compressed but not widely adopted Dejavu format; you'll need a viewer plugin for your browser to see them. Sorry. I know they've switched to the .jpg format for more recent collections.

The plugin does have a tool that exports the images into bitmats, and it's simple to convert bitmaps to compressed .jpg files with almost any decent viewer ... just sayin'.

The online presentation doesn't note which photos were taken by McLarty and which by me, but any shot in 1976 were McLarty's. He had a great eye, and was a superb printmaker. It took me months to develop darkroom techniques that yielded prints even almost as good as his. We both shot "black and white"; I loaded my own film canisters from bulk spools of Kodak Tri-X, and I think Charley did the same.

The website provides this history of the project:

In January 1976, the Center proposed a photographic survey of Asheville to be completed by a photographer hired with CETA money. Charles McLarty worked in this capacity from the Spring of 1976 to the Spring of 1977 and was then replaced by Jefferson Davis, another CETA sponsored-photographer who worked for the Center until May 1978.

The original design for the project included a photographic survey of Asheville in 1976, especially those areas destined for demolition or change. Also included was a record of Asheville's homes and street scapes which in some way would reflect the mood and feeling of the city in the mid-1970's. The photographers were also able to photograph individuals included in the Center's oral history collection and to shoot those areas mentioned in various studies housed in the Center.

As the project got under way, the photographers also suggested other themes, the most represented of which in this collection was a review of people at work, especially in occupations that were unusual or disappearing. Thus, one set of photographs depicts sorghum manufacture.

Those were shots I made of my uncles Wayne Landis and Ben Morgan at Wayne's McDowell County farm; sadly, they're not yet in the online collection.

In the Spring of 1978 the State Department of Archives dispatched a photographic team to Asheville to record the downtown area in preparation for a historical properties inventory. Because this project obviated the need for continuation of the project, all field work was stopped and emphasis was placed instead on copy work of existing collections acquired by the Center.

My job, in other words, became lab tech, instead of photographer. That's not what I'd signed on for, and I'm sure I let anyone within earshot know (politely, of course) that I wasn't exactly happy with the change. Fortunately, the CETA program needed a photographer to document its various projects, and I was able to arrange a transfer to the program staff.

But that's a story for another day.


The photo features architectural detail from the Grove Arcade building in downtown Asheville; click on it for a larger version.

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Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Coming up this week ...

Rose McLarney, May 2006

Rose McLarney joins us again this week on Wordplay, another year older (happy birthday, Rose), and wiser. She’s now in the MFA program at Warren Wilson, and seems to like it so far, despite earlier reservations about such programs for poets. She’s got lots of new work, so we’ll listen to some of it and talk with her about her developing views on poetry and poetics.

That's 4:00 this Sunday on WPVM, 103.5 FM, or streaming from the station website.


The photo of Rose dates from a reading at the Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center in May of last year.

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Monday, October 15, 2007


It must have been a touch of wanderlust. This past weekend I made a quick trip to Charlottesville. A dear friend of long standing, a woman with whom I'd seen many Grateful Dead shows in the late 80s and early 90s, had originally invited another friend to make the trip for the Phil Lesh and Friends concert there. When he couldn't make it, she persuaded me (pretty easily, I admit) to fill in. I welcomed the weekend off and out of town, and it turned out to be a great trip.

Phil and Friends, for one thing, sounded great. No matter who the Friends are, they can always play. I'd heard that the new friends, particularly guitarists Jackie Greene and Larry Campbell, were more song- than jam-oriented, but they jammed through most of both sets, nevertheless, and did really outstanding versions of "Cold Rain and Snow", "Althea" (yes, "Althea"), and "Sugaree" along the way. Some of the transitions seemed a little bumpy to me, but I'll certainly download this one when it becomes available to hear it again.

The venue where they played, the Pavilion, proved to have fine acoustics, even though it's basically a fabric canopy open at the sides, and it's beautifully situated at one end of Charlottesville's lovely downtown mall. Which isn't a mall, if that word makes you, as it does me, think of acres of concrete and asphalt surrounding an enclosed commercial garrison. No one we talked with seemed to know when it had happened, but sometime back Charlottesville simply took the traffic out of the heart of its existing downtown, built mostly in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, I'd say, and converted the street into a brick-paved pedestrian avenue. It's now lined by lots of sidewalk cafes and shops of all sorts under a (still) green canopy of large oaks.

And for another thing, Charlottesville poet Jessica Smith graciously came out after the show to meet us for a drink and some lively conversation. Being poets and fellow Scorpios, we conspired to conduct a little experiment the next day at Barnes and Noble, where Jessica works.

As Jessica tells it (sorry, her blog is open just to invited readers, so no link):
First, we plotted that he would buy my book from Barnes and Noble [Sunday] to gauge the reaction of the other employees. ... Oddly, when he asked for my book ..., no one told him that I worked there or told me that someone had bought my book. But perhaps it is not so odd. Some of my coworkers think it's really cool that I have a book and are supportive of my pseudo-career as a poet; the rest either don't know, don't care, or actively dislike me for whatever reason one dislikes people who have something else to do than the job at hand. (Thankfully there are other talented people at my workplace with whom I can commiserate.)
Her supervisor happily agreed that I could interview Jessica for Wordplay, so we drove to her place, and after I'd set up the mics and other gear, she read several poems and we talked for forty minutes or so about her work and the poetics of what she terms "plastic poetry", poetry that exists in both spatial and temporal dimensions. It was great fun, and I found her poems and what she had to say about them of extraordinary interest; I look forward to getting our talk edited and up on the air.

We've not been holding readings at the Center this fall simply because the gallery is full of vitrines for the fine ceramics show that's now up, but we'll be getting underway again after it comes down at the end of the year. I'd really like to have Jessica come down for a reading, and she's up for it; we spoke of the week of Valentines (it's on a Thursday this year, so perhaps the Saturday after), so you might want to pencil that in on your calendars. I'll post more, though, as we get the details figured out.

Her current book, available, like NatureS , from SPD, is Organic Furniture Cellar; her previous book, or chapbook, bird-book, is available as a free download (it's a .pdf file), and her Juvenalia is available here.

My friend and I left from Barnes and Noble after Jessica and I returned, and enjoyed the five plus hour drive back down the west side of the Blue Ridge through the lovely Shenandoah Valley. Occasional crazy other driver behavior reminded us several times that Mercury is retrograde, and we did get caught in slow inching traffic near what must have been an accident, though there were only a couple of state police cars at what must have been its site by the time we drove past.

The dog was happy to see me when my friend dropped me off, and when I checked my email, I discovered that another Phil and Friends show was being netcast live from Atlanta at that very moment, so I settled in to catch the last several songs of what seemed to have been another fine show - and so put the nightcap on a really fine weekend.


The photo of Jessica is borrowed from her Facebook profile.

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Monday, October 08, 2007

Fifty years later, Howl still can't be heard

Knowfish of WPVM's listserve passes along today's editorial from the N.Y. Times which reflects on the fact that 50 years after its having been declared "not obscene", Ginsberg's "Howl" still can't be broadcast on the public airwaves:

WBAI, long the radio flagship of cocky resistance to government excess, decided last week that it couldn't risk a 50th anniversary broadcast of the late poet's recording of "Howl."

If Ginsberg were still with us, he would undoubtedly pen a mocking line or two about his poem being banned from the airwaves 50 years after it was ruled not to be obscene. Congress, of course, could redress the F.C.C.'s bullying powers if it wanted to. But lately, the Capitol's most energetic broadcast agenda has been conservative members' organizing against any attempt to restore the fairness doctrine to political broadcast, which could crimp the 24/7 rants of right-wing talk radio. The poet would understand, having once noted: "Whoever controls the media, the images, controls the culture."

Indeed. We've thought several times about playing "Howl" and "America," another wonderful Ginsberg poem, on Wordplay, but have passed, since we'd have to bleep or cut them under current rules. Strange but true.

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Last week ...

on WordPlay, as noted just below, Audrey Hope Rinehart, who wrangles poets for the Flood Gallery reading series, sat down with me to talk about her own work and read some recent poems. Our conversation will be available as a download or stream on the station Archive page until next Sunday night, October 14th, because the station's automation system glitched, and didn't record yesterday's fine program with California poet Mara Leigh. If you were listening live, you heard something much more ephemeral than any of us realized at the time! Hope you were!

Not to worry, though; we'll have Mara on again in the very near future. I'll keep you posted.


A version of this note also posted at Wordplay.

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Friday, October 05, 2007

And this week ...

on WordPlay, Audrey Hope Rinehart, who wrangles poets for the Flood Gallery reading series, sat down with me to talk about her own work and read some recent poems. Our conversation will be available as a download or stream on the station Archive page until Sunday night.

... Adding, I just notice that Easy Mark, who hosts Afternoon Slacken on Tuesday afternoons, has posted a note on the WPVM homepage about the interview he recently did with me on his weekly "Crossover Segment". Do check his show out.

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