Saturday, May 31, 2008

Coleman Barks comes (back) to Wordplay

Sebastian and I are both out of town this Sunday, so I've set up a show from a couple weeks back to play again, via the wonders of computer automation.

That show was a real treat, and well worth hearing once more: Coleman Barks reading live at Asheville's Fine Arts Theater on April 26th (as part of WordFest2008) with bassist Eliot Wadopian and percussionist Byron Hedgepeth. It assuredly wasn't your standard poetry reading.

Barks is well-known, of course, as the premiere translator of the works of the 13th Century Persian mystic poet Jalal al-Din Rumi into English, but he's a master poet in his own right, and in this performance gave us both some of his own insightful, genial work, and a selection of his translations from Rumi and Hafez.

On an earlier visit to Asheville, Coleman came by the studio to talk with me about (among many other things) his long relationship with Rumi's poetry; part of that interview is featured in the show, too.

The reading audio is a little boomy, but listenable. I'd set my mics up too close, as it turned out, to the PA that afternoon; I edited out the resulting signal clipping.

Incidental music for the show included tracks from Ali Akbar Khan's 1993 Garden of Dreams.

It'll air at 2:00 PM on Sunday from the station website. As always, the show will be available all next week from the Archive page as an on-demand stream and free podcast.

Enjoy, and I'll be back live in the studio (if the creek don't rise and the sky don't fall) next week.


Coleman provided the photo, taken by his son Benjamin.

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Monday, May 26, 2008

On Wordplay: Ross Gay

This week Wordplay features Philadelphia-based poet Ross Gay. Ross visited Asheville in February, read at Malaprops (with Patrick Rosal) and Warren Wilson College, and also sat down with Wordplay veteran Joanna Cooper, an old friend from their days at Temple, for a nice long interview. This week we feature a couple of poems from the Malaprops reading, and much of Joanna's interview. Joanna herself joined me in the studio to provide some background and context.

For our music, Joanna chose Stevie Wonder's "Love's in Need of Love Today" from his Songs in the Key of Life, Vol.1, and Cat Stevens' "Tea for the Tillerman," from the album of the same name.


Photo of Ross by Joanna Cooper, Asheville, February 15, 2008

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Wednesday, May 14, 2008

And speaking of JW ...

... Marsupial Inquirer Dale Smith has a consideration of Jonathan Williams and Jargon Press up over at BookSlut. It includes a few poems I haven't seen posted elsewhere, so it's well worth a visit.

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Happy 100

If my mother, born Blanche Elizabeth Landis, were still alive today, she'd be a hundred years old.

She was born in Dysartsville, in McDowell County, NC, and grew up there on her parents' farm. Like her brothers and sisters (plenty of each), she helped with the farm chores; when she was still a girl, one of her fingernails (was it the left index?) got cracked to its root in the sorghum mill, and grew out split for the rest of her life.

She went to school in Dysartsville and then Spindale, and left after high school graduation for the growing city of Charlotte. She went to business school there, and then, with Betty (whom I knew by her later married name) Waldron, a woman who would be a life-long friend, started a letter-writing company to provide secretarial services to small businesses. As the Great Depression set back the country's economy in the 30s, she took a job at the Post Office in downtown Charlotte, sorting mail for delivery.

Along the way, she met my father, J. Bryan Davis, nickname "Sunshine"; they courted for a decade, and married in 1938.

After her children were born, she went to work part-time for Southern Flooring, a flooring and acoustical tile installation business that had been founded by the husband of her old friend Betty. That was Uncle Les, who smoked cigars, had a hearty, glad-handed manner and a ruddy face.

When she and my father had bought the land on which they built their house on Chesterfield Avenue, they'd managed to get lots on either side of the house site as well. She was a great gardener, and used part of one of the lots as a large rose garden. She grew twenty or thirty varieties there, most of which I couldn't now name. I remember the Queen Bess, though, a simple single-flower pink rose, perhaps because its very simplicity struck me as elegant and distinctive among its redder and more lavish cousins.

She lived in the same house until her death in 1992, at the age of eighty-four.


Photo of the Dainty Bess from Mark Charneski's Flower Picture site.

My mother (standing, third from right) with her parents, brothers and sisters in 1946.

Blanche and Bryan Davis, 1938.

Here's Blanche holding my sister Martha while I stand in the snow at her feet for the photograph, 1948; the lot behind her later became her rose garden.

Click on any of the photos for larger versions.

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In case there's another round ...

I've had occasion to read the book known in the west as the Tibetan Book of the Dead several times over the last few years as family, friends and mentors have died and gone back around the wheel (or, perhaps, off it). I've come to appreciate deeply its insights into the process of death - as it occurs for the dead, perhaps, but certainly as it transpires for the living, those who remain behind to say its prayers. It's about hearing in the worlds of both, the Bardo and the world of unfolding illusions we call home while our hearts beat.

If Padma Sambhava, said to be its ancient author, has indeed limned out the phases of the transition between incarnations, then poet Jonathan Williams will have by now either begun celebrating liberation from of his cycle of lives, or been reborn in some form, somewhere.

So, Colonel, in case we weren't able to dissuade you from the temptations of rebirth, let me welcome you back once more to this earthly vale.


Thursday, May 08, 2008

Gary Snyder turns another page

It's his birthday, and Edward Byrne has a nice appreciation, complete with video, up over at One Poet's Notes.

He concludes by urging us to read (gads!) Gary Snyder's work (that second link includes the "Smokey the Bear Sutra," one of my favorite middle-period Snyder poems):
I extend the recommendation of his poetry—which I received as an undergraduate thirty-five years ago and that I now repeat to my students each semester—to all readers who wish to discover poems celebrating our regard for nature’s great beauty, or its correspondingly immense power, even while conscientiously confronting us with a complementary sense of personal and social responsibility

And reading some of his poems would be a fit way to celebrate this spring/fall day (depending on where you live on the orb), and to insure that Gary indeed enjoys a happy birthday.


Update: I couldn't resist. Here's "Smokey the Bear Sutra," with thanks to Terebess Asia Online:

Smokey the Bear Sutra

Once in the Jurassic about 150 million years ago,
the Great Sun Buddha in this corner of the Infinite
Void gave a Discourse to all the assembled elements
and energies: to the standing beings, the walking beings,
the flying beings, and the sitting beings -- even grasses,
to the number of thirteen billion, each one born from a
seed, assembled there: a Discourse concerning
Enlightenment on the planet Earth.

"In some future time, there will be a continent called
America. It will have great centers of power called
such as Pyramid Lake, Walden Pond, Mt. Rainier, Big Sur,
Everglades, and so forth; and powerful nerves and channels
such as Columbia River, Mississippi River, and Grand Canyon
The human race in that era will get into troubles all over
its head, and practically wreck everything in spite of
its own strong intelligent Buddha-nature."

"The twisting strata of the great mountains and the pulsings
of volcanoes are my love burning deep in the earth.
My obstinate compassion is schist and basalt and
granite, to be mountains, to bring down the rain. In that
future American Era I shall enter a new form; to cure
the world of loveless knowledge that seeks with blind hunger:
and mindless rage eating food that will not fill it."

And he showed himself in his true form of


A handsome smokey-colored brown bear standing on his hind legs, showing that he is aroused and watchful.

Bearing in his right paw the Shovel that digs to the truth beneath appearances; cuts the roots of useless attachments, and flings damp sand on the fires of greed and war;

His left paw in the Mudra of Comradely Display -- indicating that all creatures have the full right to live to their limits and that deer, rabbits, chipmunks, snakes, dandelions, and lizards all grow in the realm of the Dharma;

Wearing the blue work overalls symbolic of slaves and laborers, the countless men oppressed by a civilization that claims to save but often destroys;

Wearing the broad-brimmed hat of the West, symbolic of the forces that guard the Wilderness, which is the Natural State of the Dharma and the True Path of man on earth: all true paths lead through mountains --

With a halo of smoke and flame behind, the forest fires of the kali-yuga, fires caused by the stupidity of those who think things can be gained and lost whereas in truth all is contained vast and free in the Blue Sky and Green Earth of One Mind;

Round-bellied to show his kind nature and that the great earth has food enough for everyone who loves her and trusts her;

Trampling underfoot wasteful freeways and needless suburbs; smashing the worms of capitalism and totalitarianism;

Indicating the Task: his followers, becoming free of cars, houses, canned foods, universities, and shoes; master the Three Mysteries of their own Body, Speech, and Mind; and fearlessly chop down the rotten trees and prune out the sick limbs of this country America and then burn the leftover trash.

Wrathful but Calm. Austere but Comic. Smokey the Bear will
Illuminate those who would help him; but for those who would hinder or
slander him,


Thus his great Mantra:

Namah samanta vajranam chanda maharoshana
Sphataya hum traka ham nam


And he will protect those who love woods and rivers,
Gods and animals, hobos and madmen, prisoners and sick
people, musicians, playful women, and hopeful children:

And if anyone is threatened by advertising, air pollution, television,
or the police, they should chant SMOKEY THE BEAR'S WAR SPELL:


And SMOKEY THE BEAR will surely appear to put the enemy out
with his vajra-shovel.

Now those who recite this Sutra and then try to put it in practice will accumulate merit as countless as the sands of Arizona and Nevada.

Will help save the planet Earth from total oil slick.

Will enter the age of harmony of man and nature.

Will win the tender love and caresses of men, women, and beasts.

Will always have ripe blackberries to eat and a sunny spot under a pine tree to sit at.


thus have we heard.

(may be reproduced free forever)


Thursday, May 01, 2008

"Lives along the line,,,"

A curiosity: several times in the past few years I've found myself almost writing that someone's poetry "lives along the line," knowing that I was certainly stealing that phrase from someone, somewhere, though for the life of me I couldn't remember where. Today I finally resorted to Google to resolve the mystery; it's from Pope's "Essay on Man," a text I haven't read in decades. And in "Essay on Man," the spider, not verse, "lives along the line." But it's such a fine statement of the contingent possibilities of the poem that I'm sure someone's used it as such long since. Anyone know who?