Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Albert Hofmann cycles on

Albert Hofmann, who first synthesized LSD-25 in 1938, has died at the age of 102. He was a chemist for Switzerland's Sandoz Laboratories, working on derivatives of ergot, when he came across the psychedelic (or entheogenic) compound. On April 16th, 1943, when he re-synthesized it, he had the first "acid" experience when a minute amount of it accidentally came in contact with his skin, and was absorbed. A few days later, on April 19, having been amazed at the intensity of his unintentional experience, he took a larger dose and went for a sometimes terrifying bicycle ride that opened his eyes to the potential of the drug to disclose dynamics of mind. The history of the use of "acid" (and other entheogens) since Hofmann's discovery has had many a fascinating chapter.

Hofmann was a co-author of The Road to Eleusis (that's a .pdf file), an important text for many an entheonaut, including me, and many other articles and books. His publications helped open the ongoing inquiry into the activity of these compounds and their role in the history of human culture.


Update: Here's Hofmann himself on his synthesis and his bicycle ride:

The first synthesis of Lysergsaure-diethylamid [or LSD, whose acronym derives from the initials of the German name, Trans.] is described in my laboratory notebook under the date 16 November 1938.1 This substance lysergic acid diethylamide, which has become world-famous under the designation LSD, was thus the product of rational planning. Chance first came into play later.

The novel compound came under routine pharmacological investigation in the biological-medicinal laboratory. In the research report, apart from a strong activity on the uterus and the evoking of a certain restlessness in the research animals during the narcosis, no properties were mentioned which might have pointed to a Coramin-like effect on circulation. The novel substance lysergic acid diethylamide appeared to be pharmacologically uninteresting, and underwent no further tests.

Yet five years later, once again during a creative midday break, the idea came to me in a strange way, again to synthesize lysergic acid diethylamide for further pharmacological testing. It was no more than a hunch! I liked the chemical structure of the substance - which led me to take this unusual step, since compounds as a rule were never handled again, when once discarded.

During the new repetition of the synthesis of lysergic acid diethylamide, a repetition, so to speak, grounded on a hunch, chance had the opportunity to come into play. At the conclusion of the synthesis, I was overtaken by a very weird state of consciousness, which today one might call "psychedelic." Although I was accustomed to scrupulously clean work, a trace of the substance must accidentally have entered my body, probably during the purification via recrystallization. In order to test this supposition, I made the first planned self-experiment with LSD three days later, on 19 April 1943. It was a horror trip. The details have already been described so many times, that they can be foregone here.

The article is fascinating, so, as the big bloggers say, go read the whole thing. It's the text of a speech Hofmann delivered to the 1996 Worlds of Consciousness Conference in Heidelberg, Germany.

Photo of Hofmann in 1993 from the Wikipedia article at the first link above.

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Gary Snyder Wins Ruth Lilly Prize

Robert Lee Brewer posts the news release over at Poetic Asides. It's a prize that actually carries a substantial reward (one hundred thousand dollars!), so it's well won.

And it's certainly a better use of the Poetry Foundation's money than most.

Snyder joins John Ashbery as the only other New American poet to be awarded the prize. Previous winners, though, have included poets writing in a number of the other tendencies of American poetry: Adrienne Rich, Philip Levine, Anthony Hecht, Mona Van Duyn, Hayden Carruth, David Wagoner, John Ashbery, Charles Wright, Donald Hall, A.R. Ammons, Gerald Stern, William Matthews (Sebastian's dad), W.S. Merwin, Maxine Kumin, Carl Dennis, Yusef Komunyakaa, Lisel Mueller, Linda Pastan, Kay Ryan, C.K. Williams, Richard Wilbur, and Lucille Clifton. It's awarded to "a living poet whose lifetime accomplishments warrant extraordinary recognition."


Saturday, April 26, 2008

A few changes ...

The WordFest schedule has had a few changes - not unusual for an event with so many particulars - "moving parts", as the saying has it, all of them human. It remains dynamic. So:

The Sunday reading at the Flood Gallery will start at 1:00 pm, rather than noon.

The cast of Flood readers has had a minor change, as well: I'll now be reading at the Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center at 7:00 pm Sunday, rather than at the Flood.

Glenis had to cancel her workshop on Saturday.

Mine still starts at 11:00 am tomorrow morning, but we'll gather at the Humanities Lecture Hall at 10:45 before heading to the Botanical Gardens.

Speaking of workshops ...

I'll crash. The first two events, though, have been really involving and fascinating, and introduced me to poets whose work I didn't really know. I skipped the Green Door event at Malaprops earlier tonight just to have a little downtime; last night some fifteen of us went to the New French Bar and had too much fun until too late. We'll probably do something similar tomorrow, since Galway seems to have an interest in exploring downtown Asheville after his reading.

Today a group of us took Galway out to Camp Rockmont, home of Black Mountain College when he attended a summer session in 1947. It was the first time he'd been back since then, and the re-encounter seemed to spur recollections of friends and fellow writers among the faculty and students - and of skinny dipping with a lady friend in one of the nearby streams.

Sebastian and I will try to schedule some studio time with Galway to do a (somewhat more) formal interview between now and his departure Sunday night; I expect we'll be joined by the electric Kerouac scholar Audrey Spenger, who's in town this weekend to continue her research into the opening of American letters - and the culture at large - that began in the fifties and sixties.

And that's the news from the festival trenches for now.

(Sounds of incipient sleep.)

Labels: , , ,

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Going Outside

As part of Wordfest, I'll be holding a workshop on writing from/with/about what we call "nature". Given the focus, I thought it'd be better to hold it outside rather than in a classroom, so we'll be meeting at UNCA's Botanical Gardens, at the northwest corner of the campus. If you'd be interested, drop a note to, or drop me a note at jeffbdavis at

Here's the description from the festival website:

In jazz, when a musician wants to change the color and feel of a composition, and move it into territory beyond the known and understood, he or she will often “go outside”, move out of the conventions of tonal structure for the piece, and transform it. It’s a mark, perhaps, of our alienation from our ecology, our oikos, home, that to speak authentically of the natural world, poets also must open up and move beyond the conventional tonal structures we find enshrined in the poetic canon. In this workshop, we’ll actually go out into the natural (if not quite wild) world to find ways to address the interaction of consciousness and world that move beyond metaphor, which too often just appropriates some apparent fact of the world as a trope of human rhetoric. We’ll look at things, feel them, smell them, dwell with them for a bit, and then try to speak for them – or from them. We’ll also look at poems by Ponge, Issa, Basho, and Rilke that have gone outside to help open our human eyes.
We'll get together Saturday the 26th, at 11:00 AM.

Labels: , ,

Joyce Blunk: Collections and Scars

Like the rest of my Wordfest fellows, I'm covered up with final preparations for the festival. I wanted to take just a minute, though, to note an exhibit of some recent work by painter/sculptor Joyce Blunk. It's only up a few more days, through this Friday, but it's worth a special trip to the Ramsey Library at UNCA to see the small show (only sixteen pieces in all) that's hung there. It includes both some of her fabulous and distinctive constructions, her "boxes", and some new, very powerful paintings, including four luminous Scar paintings. Among the constructions, it even includes one of my old favorites, Deep Autumn Asheville, a photo of which served as one of the limenal images in NatureS.

In her artist's statement, Joyce discusses what she sees as the emotional resonances of the constructions, and articulates her concern that her work do what fully actualized art always does, embody and engender transformation:
Some of the boxes show my interest in introducing an element of deep space by incorporating the illusion of distant landscapes beyond a window. A contrast is created between the romantic beauty of the landscape and the starker reality of the interior. Most of these pieces show lush mountains at the changing of seasons and at a time of day when the light is moody and transitional. The predominant feeling for me is nostalgia, yearning, and great melancholy. In most of the boxes and mixed media paintings, ordinary items are transformed by being presented in a formal and ceremonious way that alters the viewer’s way of seeing.
May it be so.


The image presents one of the new constructions, "Formal Collection".


Saturday, April 19, 2008

A Feast of Words

Hard to believe that we're now only a week away from Wordfest, the new Asheville poetry festival. It hits the stage - or one of its stages - this coming Thursday, April 24th, with a 7:00 performance by Patricia Smith and Rick Chess at UNCA's Humanities Lecture Hall. It should be an interesting event, given the distance between the writing & performance styles of the two featured poets; Patricia comes from the world of the slam, and Rick from the halls of the university.

That difference, of course, is precisely the point, a signal of the range of poets and poetries the festival means to include.

The whole thing grew out of a series of conversations over coffee at Malaprops, Asheville's great independent bookstore, following Wordplay shows early last year. Laura Hope-Gill, then a Wordplay host, and Jim Navé, of the Writing Salon, had fond memories of the first Asheville Poetry Festivals, held for a few years in the early 1990s - festivals that I had missed - had been, in fact, only vaguely aware of. Those festivals had grown out of the slam scene in Asheville, a scene in which I hadn't been involved, and had found, given the directions my own work was then taking, of little interest. Some poets of real energy and authentic voice, though, had emerged from that scene, including Laura herself, and her good friend (and also occasional Wordplay host) Glenis Redmond. The longer we talked, the more our conversation turned to creating a festival anew, one that would honor all the approaches to poetry we'd variously come to enjoy and understand, that had come to have place in our community. You won't find it anywhere in the festival materials now, but when we initially tried to define a statement of intent for the festival, the phase we came up with was "echo and reach"; we wanted to honor the history of the arts of language in these mountains, home through the centuries to Cherokee singers and to the poets of Black Mountain College, to ballad singers and to beats, slam masters and professors of writing. Over the months we talked with our friends and fellow poets, and gradually came up with a list of poets we believed covered, if not the full range of activity we might wish to honor, a pretty decent part of it.

Here's the schedule:


Thursday April 24 7:00 pm UNC-A Humanities Lecture Hall


Friday April 25 7:00 pm UNC-A Humanities Lecture Hall


Re-Opening the Green Door: a Retrospective of the 1990’s Performance Poetry Scene
Friday April 25 10:00 pm Malaprops Bookstore/café corner of Walnut and Haywood St.


Saturday April 26 2:00 pm The Fine Arts Theater 36 Biltmore Avenue


Saturday April 25 4:00 pm Malaprops Bookstore/café


Saturday April 26 7:00 pm UNC-A Humanities Lecture Hall


Saturday April 26 10:00 pm Bobo Gallery on Lexington Avenue


12:00 noon. 109 Roberts St. at corner of Clingman and Roberts by the river.


This History Isn’t Closed: A Protospective of The Black Mountain College Legacy: Sunday April 27 2:00 pm Black Mountain College Museum and Arts Center


Sunday April 27 7:00 pm Black Mountain College Museum and Arts Center, 56 Broadway in downtown Asheville.

There's more information over at the festival website.

Glenis, Rick, Navé and I will also be providing workshops in various approaches to poetry; mine will focus, as you might suspect, on writing about or from what we usually call "Nature". More on those workshops in another post.

Come out if you can to catch us all at work, doing what we love most to do, celebrating language of the mind, heart and imagination.

Thanks to Megan McKissack for creating the festival poster.


Updated April 21,2008 to reflect last-minute changes in the schedule.

Labels: , , ,

Monday, April 07, 2008

Polis Is This: Celebrating the Vision of Charles Olson

Perhaps April is the cruelest month, in T. S. Eliot's antique trope, but in our southern clime, April, with its warmer days, wakes the kingdoms and orders of life that fill our world into the full turbulent florescence of spring. We may still live in Eliot's fallen world, but locally the transformation seems more Chaucerian than Eliotic:

Whan that Aprill with his shoures soote
The droghte of March hath perced to the roote,
And bathed every veyne in swich licour

Of which vertu engendered is the flour ...

The flour buds fill, if they don't yet fully break; birds wing back, bringing their lively songs. And smale foweles maken melodye. Ah, what better season to observe, as we do, National Poetry Month? And this particular April, with the advent of Wordfest 2008, Asheville's first poetry festival in over a decade (and first festival ever of its scope), will certainly bring our fair city bards galore to celebrate the resurgence.

Before Wordfest kicks off on the 24th, though, the long shadow of another poet, a real giant in every sense, one who often foraged through the crammed shelves of the old Pack Library for books to feed his imagination, will once again return to old haunts and flicker for an evening on the silver screen. That poet, of course, would be the one and only Charles Olson.

Olson directed Black Mountain College in its final few years, taught (and taught with) some of the college's gifted poets, and went on to become himself one of the definitive poets of the last century. Next week, on April 17th, filmmaker Henry Ferrini will bring Polis Is This, his fine movie about the man, his vision, his quest, and his legacy, to the Fine Arts Theater.

It's a unique film, in many ways: a documentary, yes, but hardly academic. It feels, instead, deeply personal. Perhaps that's because Henry Ferrini grew up in Gloucester, Massachusetts, where Olson lived much of the time after he left Black Mountain, as the nephew of Vincent Ferrini. Vincent knew Olson, sometimes disagreed with him, but always remained his acknowledged brother in poetry and personal friend. The director came by his interest in Olson honestly, you might say.

Here's what Henry had to say last year about his background in the world of Olson:

All my life I've heard about Charles Olson. As a child around the holiday dinner table I'd listen to tales of a giant who walked the midnight streets of Gloucester, Massachusetts. In school, poets and writers asked if I was related to the Ferrini in The Maximus Poems.

Back home in Gloucester, I'd crack the 600 plus page Maximus Poems to learn a little something about myself and my place in this place. I wondered why Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, Stan Brakhage, Diane di Prima, and Amiri Baraka made pilgrimage to Olson's $29-a-month flat. What was it about this postman's son, a Harvard trained historian, and the power of his imagination, that made a generation of poets and artists see him as "the big fire source."

How and why America's first fishing town became the portal to Olson's world became a mystery to solve. The poet's methodology, one that he borrowed from the Greeks, became my investigative technique as well. 'Istorin means to find out for oneself. It is the root of our word history and it became the route that I followed.
"Seeing for oneself" became for Olson, as originally for Herodotus, the key to finding actual order in the world - in Olson's case, a world decimated by the Second World War, a war that had brought Europe, theretofore seat of the West's great civilizations, to ruin. It's the historical vision of Olson that makes him unique among poets of the last century or more; he didn't dabble in history, as, say (for all his virtues), his mentor Ezra Pound did. Olson was deeply grounded in it, and had studied it with some of the country's best historians. That grounding helps gives his work deeper ongoing relevance.

The firm base that Henry Ferrini's movie has in that work makes it an important contribution to the understanding of Olson and his legacy. It's also, of course, beautifully shot, has insightful commentary by those (like Robert Creeley) who knew Olson best, and makes fine use of period footage of Olson himself walking, talking, rambling in Gloucester, the town he chose as his vantage point on the world, and called home.

Ferrini brings his film to Asheville in person, and will be on hand after the showing to discuss it and answer questions - which makes the night a perfect time to leap into one of the great worlds that poetry opens.

What: Polis Is This, Charles Olson and the Persistence of Place
Where: Fine Arts Theater, 38 Biltmore Ave, Downtown Asheville
When: Thursday April 17, 2008, 7:00pm
Info Tickets: $7, members of the Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center and students with ID, $9 others.
Tickets/Info: (828) 384-5050 or
online at


This post appeared in somewhat different form in Rapid River, April, 2008.

Labels: , , , ,

Saturday, April 05, 2008

WordPlay this week ...

Tomorrow we'll feature a 2002 reading at Breadloaf by Galway Kinnell. More after the show.

Labels: ,