Saturday, March 29, 2008

This week on Wordplay ...

We'll be repeating last week's show with Jonathan Williams. We've repeated shows before, usually when something's gone haywire with the station's automatic archiving system, and the show hasn't uploaded properly to the server from which it streams and downloads. This week ... well, Sebastian's in Seattle, and I've been busy with Robert Bly's performance last night and workshop today, and at show time tomorrow, I'll be recording Kay Byer, North Carolina's Poet Laureate, at a reading at the Asheville Art Museum. So.

The show features Jonathan's May, 2005, reading from Jubilant Thicket at Sylva's City Lights Books, and it probably won't hurt anyone to hear it again. In fact, listen to those meta-fours again, and see if they aren't even better the second time around. The man could be subtle and very very dry, after all.

Production notes are just one post down.

The upside: we've got what looks to be a good recording of Bly's plugged-in performance with Free Planet Radio last night, and a half- hour interview from this very afternoon as well.

Back next week with a new show, promise.


Update, 31 March: And here's the new direct link for the show featuring Jonathan's reading. You can also get it by going to the station website, hitting the link for the Archive page, and cruising down through the alphabet to "Wordplay", if you'd like to get a glimpse at what else is shakin' at the Progressive Voice of the Mountains.

Update, 19 April, 2008: Jonathan's reading at City Lights is now archived at PennSound, here.

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Monday, March 24, 2008

Jonathan Williams on the air

This week, Wordplay features a reading Jonathan gave at City Lights Books in Sylva, North Carolina, on May 27, 2005, shortly after Jubilant Thicket had come out. Almost any reading that followed the organization of the book, beginning, as it does, with the "meta-fours" that Jonathan wrote so many of in the last couple decades, would be fun, given their spirited play; it didn't disappoint.

A few production notes:

The room in which the reading was held was very warm, even in May, and there was an electric fan near the chair from which Jonathan read; one of my mics was close to the fan, and inevitably picked up its steady, annoying hum. I was able to filter out most of the noise, but at times Jonathan's voice sounds a bit as though it were echoing off cavern walls as a result.

Two of the four pieces of music I used for intro, breaks, and outro were pieces Jonathan had praised in conversation; one was by a musician he'd written a poem for, or about. I don't know how Jonathan felt about Miles Davis, but he was a favorite of Charles Olson's during the Black Mountain era, so I figured I was on pretty solid ground in selecting one of his classics.*

The tunes:
The intro was Miles Davis' "Bye Bye Blackbird" from 'Round About Midnight;
the first interlude was Charlie Mingus' band doing "Memories of You", from East Coasting;
the second interlude, Ralph Vaughan Williams' "Fantasia on Greensleeves", as performed by the Academy of St. Martins in the Fields, conducted by Neville Marriner;
and the outro was the first three minutes or so of Williams' "The Lark Ascending", also performed by the Academy.


* Update, 28 March: Not to worry, Jonathan dug Miles. I've been reading so much Jonathan over the last few weeks that I can't for now nail down the source (was it somewhere in Blackbird Dust? No Jonathan book ever had an index, of course ... Or somewhere in Jeffrey Beam's dialogue with the Colonel over at Jargon? Or in the 1973 issue of Vort - more from that soon?), but Jonathan claimed early on to own as many Miles Davis records as he did of Bach - twenty-one each. That's a fan.

Of the photo, Alex Gildzen writes:

Doug Moore took this picture of Jonathan (which appears on the back cover of The Magpie's Bagpipe) in my livingroom on Morris in Kent.

Update, 19 April, 2008: Jonathan's reading at City Lights is now archived at PennSound, here.

Update, 9 September 2008: The Wordplay show featuring Jonathan's reading is now archived at ibiblio, also, as part of Wordplay's permanent archive:

March 23, 2008, featuring Jonathan Williams reading at Sylva's City Lights Books in May of 2005.

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Saturday, March 22, 2008

Wordplay this week ...

features Chattanooga poet Chad Prevost, author of Snapshots of the Vanishing World (out from Cherry Grove Press in 2006) and Chasing the Gods, a chapbook (Pudding House, 2007). It was a fun show, and Chad read several of his hilarious new mock-autobiographical prose pieces. It'll be available as online stream and podcast from the WPVM archive page through Sunday, tomorrow.

I'm still going through recordings for tomorrow's show, but it will feature Jonathan Williams, who passed on last Sunday night at the age of 79.

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Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Jonathan's obituary

Ron Silliman today posts a link to an interview with Jonathan Williams that Jeffrey Beam published in Rain Taxi's Spring 2003 edition. It contains this wonderful exchange:
JB: This is a morbid question, but I hope a revealing one. Someday—a long time hence, since you are as mean as a cottonmouth and you're going to live a long time—what would you like your epitaph to be?

JW: It's the one I wrote for Uncle Iv Owens: "He did what he could, when he got round to it." (laughs)

Ron, as usual, has got a great compendium of links to other appreciations of Jonathan and his work, so give the link a click.


Updates: Pierre Joris also has a warm appreciation of Jonathan and his work over at Nomadics.

My previous memorial post on Jonathan is here. The memorial show for Jonathan will stream this Sunday, March 23rd, at 2:00 PM EDT from the WPVM web site. It will be available as an on-demand stream and podcast Monday, the 24th, from the station archive page. Shows are listed alphabetically, so just scroll down to find Wordplay.

Another update, April 5, 2008: Jonathan's reading at City Lights is now archived at PennSound, here.

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Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Steve Kimock: Further Adventures

Steve Kimock is back on the road with a new band - it's one, though, that includes some folks he's played with many times in the past, like Melvin Seals (keys, especially his trademark B-3), Billy Goodman (guitar and vocals), and his son, John Morgan Kimock, who's become a fine drummer. Susan J. Weiand has some nice photos, including the one above, up at Jambase. Like they say, check 'em out.

Here's his last great band playing "Tongue N' Groove", from the 2005 CD Eudemonic, which she likewise shares:

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Monday, March 17, 2008

Jonathan Williams 1929-2008

Jonathan Williams, one of this country's literary treasures, died last night in Highlands from complications of a systemic infection. He had been ill for some time, and had been receiving treatment for peripheral neuropathy for the last several years. As Ron Silliman notes today, Jonathan was the last survivor of the Black Mountain poets featured in Donald Allen's 1962 New American Poetry; fortunately, other Black Mountain writers not included in that anthology, notably Michael Rumaker, still flourish.

Jonathan was an extraordinary poet, of course, and perhaps equally remarkable as a publisher (his Jargon Press was one of the absolutely critical undertakings in American poetry of the last sixty years) and a photographer. He also was a long time collector of vernacular art, and a show from his collection, curated by Tom Patterson, is currently up at the Turchin Center for the Visual Arts in Boone, North Carolina. It runs until June, for those who'd like to get a glimpse of work that caught Colonel Williams' eye.

Jonathan was generous with his time and attention, and proved gracious and amiable host when I asked in 2005 if I might interview him about his career and work. The afternoon at Skywinding, Jonathan and Tom Meyer's home, was an illuminating feast of insight, history, and the various delights of imagination - and Tom made one of the best lasagne's I've ever had, to boot. Jonathan gave a few readings here in Western North Carolina after the publication of Jubilant Thicket, his selected poems (Silliman: "one of those absolute must-have books of poetry"), and I managed to record one of those, at City Lights Books in Sylva, as well. I'll be listening to those recordings this week, and putting together a memorial show for this coming Sunday's Wordplay.

Jonathan was probably best known for his humorous work, and he did humor well - a rare talent these days. In the course of his long career (I almost wrote "careen"; he moved right along), though, he explored many territories of poetry, from the visual (see the original edition of Blues & Roots/Rue & Bluets), through the procedural (portions of 1964's Mahler were composed by using a "Hallucinatory Deck", "a personal alchemical deck of 55 white cards on which are written 110 words, - the private and most meaningful words of my poetic vocabulary"), to the poem of found or discovered language. One of my favorites, though, is one of his more conventional poems ("conventional" at least in the context of The New American Poetry):

The Deracination

definition: root

"a growing point,
an organ of absorption, an aerating organ,
a good reservoir, or
means of support"

veronica glauca, order Compositae,
"these tall perennials with
corymbose cymes of bright-purple heads of
tubular flowers
with conspicuous stigmas"

I do not know the Ironweed's root,
but I know it rules September

and where the flowers tower
in the wind there is a burr of
sound empyrean ... the mind
glows and the wind drifts...

epiphanies pull up
from roots

epiphytic, making it up

out of the air.

Jonathan, hale and farewell.


Updates, March 19th:

There's a bit more about The Colonel a couple of posts up.

The memorial show for Jonathan will stream this Sunday, March 23rd, at 2:00 PM EDT from the WPVM web site. It will be available as an on-demand stream and podcast Monday, the 24th, from the station archive page. Shows are listed alphabetically, so just scroll down to find Wordplay.

Another update, March 24:

The reading at City Lights is now available from the Archive page at WPVM; it'll be there through next Sunday, March 30th (at least), and will eventually find a home in the online Wordplay archives, wherever they may be hosted. I'll update again as that project get closer to realization. Production notes for the show are up here. Enjoy.

And more: Poked around over at the old Eden Hall, and found some earlier notes about readings by Jonathan and Thomas Meyer at the Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center. They're here.

And yet more, 5 April, 2008: The reading by Jonathan has now found a permanent home in the wonderful PennSound audio archive, here.


Photograph by Roger Manley, who collaborated with JW on St. Eom in the Land of Pasaquan: The Life & Times and Art of Eddie Owens Martin. It was originally posted at the Jargon site, though I can't locate it there now.

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Friday, March 07, 2008

Moses high on Mt. Sinai ...

... perhaps very high. Via Lisa Jarnot's ever entertaining lisablog, a story from the UK Guardian in which a researcher claims that Moses might just have been, shall we say, under the influence of something besides the Holy Spirit:

We all know that Moses was high on Mount Sinai when God spoke to him, but were the Ten Commandments a result of divine inspiration alone?

An Israeli researcher is claiming in a study published this week the prophet may have been stoned when he set the Ten Commandments in stone.

According to Benny Shanon, a professor of cognitive psychology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, psychedelic drugs formed an integral part of the religious rites of Israelites in biblical times.

Writing in the Time and Mind journal of philosophy, he says concoctions based on the bark of the acacia tree, frequently mentioned in the Old Testament, contain the same molecules as those found in plants from which the powerful Amazonian hallucinogenic brew ayahuasca [my link - Jeff] is prepared.

"The thunder, lightning and blaring of a trumpet which the Book of Exodus says emanated from Mount Sinai could just have been the imaginings of a people in an altered state of awareness," writes Shanon. "In advanced forms of ayahuasca inebriation, the seeing of light is accompanied by profound religious and spiritual feelings."

References in the Bible where people "see" sounds, is another "classic phenomenon", he said, citing the example of religious ceremonies in the Amazon in which drugs are used that induce people to "see" music.

Speaking about his article on Israeli public radio, he added: "As far Moses on Mount Sinai is concerned, it was either a supernatural cosmic event, which I don't believe, or a legend, which I don't believe either. Or finally, and this is very probable, an event that joined Moses and the people of Israel under the effect of narcotics."

Moses was probably also on mind-altering drugs when he saw the "burning bush", suggested Shanon, who admitted to dabbling with such substances.

Speaking of his own experience of ayahuasca during a religious ceremony in Brazil's Amazon forest in 1991, he said: "I experienced visions that had spiritual-religious connotations."

This article was first published on on Wednesday March 05 2008, and last updated at 15:59 GMT on that date.

There's a good article by the same researcher, Benny Shanon, here (it's a .pdf); it's a consideration of Psychoactive Sacramentals, an anthology of articles on the role of entheogens in religions, including Judaism and Christianity.

Gordon Wasson, Carl A. P. Ruck and their co-authors have previously explored some of the same terrain in their Persephone's Quest and the classic Road to Eleusis (see here for a .pdf that includes much of the book). Fascinating, if you're at all curious about how we came to be the strange creatures we are.

(The Road to Eleusis
, including the great Homeric Hymn to Demeter, helped me delve into the Eleusinian materials that I approached/appropriated/attempted to locate myself within in some of the poems in NatureS.)


Rembrandt's Moses from Olga's Gallery.

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Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Wordplay ... all the hits

Some Sundays Wordplay is the high point of my week - we'll have a guest whose work provides unexpected pleasures, or who's really on and leads us into great conversations or a happenstance collaboration. There are many ways it can exhilarate and delight.

So it was great to learn tonight at the monthly WPVM staff meeting that in the latest reporting period, Wordplay's podcasts got over 5000 hits, which makes it one of the station's most popular downloads.

It seems that some folks out there in cyber-radioland enjoy the show, too. Thanks.

We've got some fine programs coming up, including readings and interviews with Coleman Barks, Ross Gay, and Jonathan Williams. Sebastian and I are both working with our former co-host Laura Hope-Gill to produce the upcoming Asheville Wordfest 2008 poetry festival, and we'll be recording many of the readings and performances it'll bring to town for future shows.

So, keep coming back, whoever you are; we'll certainly try to make it worth your time.


Up this week: Thomas Rain Crowe, reading from his recent collection Radiogenesis, and Blaise Ellery, a young poet from Black Mountain whom Thomas said "stole the show". See what you think; it's available as a stream or, of course, podcast, from the station archive page (just scroll down).

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Sunday, March 02, 2008

Robert Bly: Journey to a Vision of Love

Poetry has many enticements for those susceptible to its charms. Among them, it offers intelligent ordering of the world, the music of language, which, given music's connection to emotion, provides an architecture of feeling, and image.

Image. .. Perhaps it's the most intriguing of poetry's powers, since it uses a sense other than the one it wakens, the sounds and linear graphemes of language, to wake the mind's eye into vision. Whether the image is apparently simple (William Carlos William's "a red wheel barrow glazed with rain water," on which so much depends) or complex ("an interior sea lighted by turning eagles," a figure by French poet Yves Bonnefoy, translated by Galway Kinnell, that Robert Bly loves), the image has a unique power, one that displaces us from the quotidian present of our reading.

Throughout his long career, Robert Bly, poet/author/translator and leader of the Mythopoetic Men's Movement, has had a unique mastery of image. In the mid-1950s, when he was coming into his own as a poet (he was born in 1926), he abandoned the conventions of American academic poetry and found new models for his writing. He found them first in the great early twentieth-century Spanish poets Antonio Machado, Federico Garcia Lorca, Juan Ramón Jiménez, the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, and the Peruvian poet Cesar Vallejo. He translated all of them, and brought the energy of their work into his own.

The images in his work, in particular, glowed like huge bonfires in the dark fields of American verse. By the time he published Silence in the Snowy Fields, his first major collection, in 1962, his work had already begun to provide his contemporaries with new ways to make their poems catch fire. Here's a short poem from that book, named by its first line, "Taking the Hands":
Taking the hands of someone you love,
You see they are delicate cages ...

Tiny birds are singing

In the secluded prairies

And in the deep valleys of the hand.
It's a poem whose image still surprises, and which at the same time articulates a very different sense of relationship than we'd expect to find in a poem from that era. The genders of the speaker and the loved one are not specified or implicit; "someone you love" may be male or female, as might the speaker. There's a tenderness, a sense of caring, embedded in the adjectives "delicate", "tiny", "secluded", "deep", and "secluded" also speaks of a recognition of the individuality of the other; whatever the relationship, it doesn't seem hierarchical, predatory, or even erotic, just deeply human.

By the time of his second book, Light Around the Body, in 1967, Bly was deeply engaged in articulating a vision of the world that rejected the conservative social and political paradigms of the era (imperialist foreign policies, male-dominated social and political structures built on the suppression of the feminine) and honored very different powers. The book contains some of the most enduring of the many poems that had their occasion in opposition to the Vietnam War, then still consuming millions of men, women, and children in Southeast Asia - and thousands and thousands of spirits, too, here in North America. Like the first book, it also contains poems that point toward a new tenderness, a sensitivity in relationship that certainly would have seemed alien to those running that war. Here's "Looking into a Face":
Conversation brings us so close!

The surfs of the body,

Bringing fish up near the sun,

And stiffening the backbones of the sea!

I have wandered in a face, for hours,

Passing through dark fires.

I have risen to a body

Not yet born,

Existing like a light around the body,

Through which the body moves like a sliding moon.
In the decades since those volumes, Bly has continued as a master of image to extend the emotional reach of his own work, and to translate poets from other traditions whom he believes articulate the deepest voices of the human soul, including Rumi, Kabir, Mirabai, the Swedish poet Tomas Tranströmer, and Ranier Maria Rilke. And his insight into love has deepened to include the divine love of the great mystics and ecstatics.

When he appears at the Diana Wortham Theatre in Asheville on Friday, March 28 for a one-night only performance, Bly will be providing a new perspective on his spiritual journey, one that's the culmination of his own visionary quest. The poems of love he'll read and perform with the extraordinary local world-fusion musicians of Free Planet Radio (Chris Rosser, Eliot Wadopian, and River Guerguerian) will speak not just of the personal loves which it's been the joy of poets to sing for thousands of years, but also the ecstatic love which, for poets of vision, stands at the center of the human undertaking.

I wouldn't miss it.

The next day, he'll lead a writer's workshop from 10 AM - 4 PM at the Unitarian Church, One Edwin Place, in Asheville.

Both events have been organized by the Prama Institute, a non-profit conference and retreat center located in two, large geodesic domes on 120 acres of forested hilltops and grasslands in the Appalachian mountains near Marshall in Madison County.

The Reading:
What: Robert Bly and Free Planet Radio

Where: Diana Wortham Theatre at Pack Place.

When: Friday, March 28, 2008, 7:30pm

Tickets: $35 and $30 (students and seniors)

Tickets/Info: (828) 257-4530 or
online at

The Workshop:

What: Writer's Workshop with Robert Bly

Where: Unitarian Church, One Edwin Place, in Asheville.

When: Saturday, March 29, 2008, 10:00 am - 4:00 pm

Tickets: $95 and $85 (students and seniors) if pre-registered by March 10.
Thereafter: $125 and $100 (students and seniors) Luncheon included. To register, please call: 828-649-9408


Update, 6 March, 2008: minor word changes, corrections of typos.

This post appeared in somewhat different form in the Rapid River for March, 2008.

Photo by Gus Brunsman, via Blue Flower Arts.

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