Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Wordplay: Robert Bly

This week Wordplay features Robert Bly performing with the musicians of Free Planet Radio at Asheville's Dianna Wortham Theater last March 28th.

It was a tough show to put together, for the best of reasons: Bly read that night for over two hours, read with typically great energy, and was working with perhaps the best musicians, as he said himself the next day, he'd ever performed with. I finally decided to feature his readings of translations from Hafez, since Hafez has become so crucial to his own recent practice, and his readings of his own work, most of it from 2005's My Sentence Was a Thousand Years of Joy. If you missed the live performance, here's a chance to hear at least a significant part of it.

The day after the reading, though he'd just led an all-day workshop, he graciously sat down with me for a short interview, and I've closed the show with part of that interview. In fact, the current version of the show features a remix of the interview track; during broadcast I noticed an imbalance between the recording's channels, an imbalance aggravated by a mysterious one-channel signal attenuation that afflicts the CD player I used for the Bly tracks. Now fixed in the mix, as they say.

Music for the show was easy to choose, since Free Planet Radio has recently released their second CD, The Unraveling. The Show opened with "Radio Toure", and featured "One May Change", "Two May Change", and "Three May Change" at breaks and on the way out.

In addition to Hafez, Bly read that March night from Rumi, Antonio Machado, Mary Oliver, Mirabai, Jane Kenyon, and the great Swedish poet Tomas Transtrommer - it was a festive evening, indeed. There's more than enough material for another show; expect it sometime soon.

Oh, and today Robert Bly turns eighty-two, so happy birthday Mr. Bly.

You'll find the show here. Happy Solstice, Merry Christmas, a fine holiday to all. Enjoy.

Thanks to the fine folks at the Prama Institute for bringing Bly to town again for the March events.

A special thanks to bassist Eliot Wadopian for getting the Free Planet Radio disk to me before he took off to New York for his annual Solstice concert with Paul Winter.

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Monday, December 15, 2008

Wordplay this week: Kathryn Stripling Byer

Early last spring the Asheville Art Museum featured a reading by Kathryn Stripling Byer (whom I've known as "Kay" since our days, some forty years ago now, in Greensboro). Kay gave a fine reading, of course (she's not North Carolina's Poet Laureate for nothing), and even persuaded her audience to provide some useful questions. This week's show includes both the reading and the dialogue which followed it.

She may have been born in the flatlands of Georgia, but she's been in the mountains since 1968, and has long since delved far enough into the character of the Appalachian highlands as an ecology, and as a culture, to be almost a native - to know that land, in fact, having come to it from the outside, better, or at least more consciously, than most natives ever will.

When she's not on the road as laureate, she somehow finds time to post to not one, but two, blogs, and also works with the NC Arts Council to provide the laureate's features on its site. The state certainly did well for itself when it chose her for the laureateship; I'd wager she's been the most active advocate for poetry that we've ever had in that position. You go, girl.

She's also - or primarily - the author of The Girl in the Midst of the Harvest (1986), Wildwood Flower (1992), Black Shawl (1998), Catching Light (2002), and Coming to Rest (2006). You'll find some of her work here, here, and here. There's a useful article on her work by Sam Pestridge in the New Georgia Encyclopedia.

The context for her reading was provided by a small show featuring work by an early Asheville photographer I did not know, one Nace (or Ignatius Watsworth) Brock*, whose life spanned the years 1866 to 1950. He had been active in the city back in the early part of the last century, and had a studio downtown for many years. Kay, whose imagination has collaborated with images created by photographers before, refers to the exhibit several times during her reading.

Musically, the show opens with Asheville's own Braidstream performing the English classic "Greensleeves," from their 2000 release On the Wing. The first break features Al Petteway, another artist translated to these mountains, playing the traditional Scottish tune "The West Wind," from his 1994 release Whispering Stones. Pentangle's 1989 A Maid That's Deep in Love** provided the Child ballad "Cruel Sister" at the second break, and I closed the show with "Winds of the Past," a song by the masterful custodian of those ballads, Betty Smith.

Here's the link to the show. Enjoy.


* There aren't many images by Brock out in the wilds of the internet, so far. He seems to have specialized in landscapes of the mountains, and in the formal portraiture which was often the bread and butter of his calling. The landscapes that have survived use light well, and convey a certain balance and structure in the world.

Even in that period, as anyone who's read Look Homeward, Angel will know, Asheville had a thriving tourist industry, and it provided a considerable market for landscape studies of its surrounding terrain as "scenery." It also supported a thriving postcard business, which paid photographers for their images, and then sold their work locally and regionally.

The Japanese photographer George Masa (1881 – 1933, born Masahara Iizuka in Japan), whose work filmmaker Paul Bonesteel explored in his 2002 The Mystery of George Masa, would have been active at roughly the same time as Brock. Given the size of Asheville in those days, they likely knew one another; perhaps they compared exposure notes, or the results of their inevitable experiments with the evolving chemistry of making images with silver emulsions.

** A Maid That's Deep in Love was a US release on Shanachie; "Cruel Sister" appeared on the British album named for the song in 1970.

31 December update: Fixed a couple of typos and/or misspellings. Duh. I must have been writing after too much holiday cheer.

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Thursday, December 04, 2008

Birthdays: Rainer Maria Rilke

Rilke was born this date in 1875, in Prague, and so joins William Blake, Mark Twain, and Walt Disney in the astrological company of Sagittarians. Here's his solar chart, cast with the Sun on the cusp of the first house, as charts are traditionally cast when the birthtime is not known. Notice that red square? And the red lines connecting the corners? Those are some challenging aspects. They didn't prevent him, of course, from becoming one of the most deeply imaginative poets of the twentieth century - proving once again, I suppose, that it's not just the chart, but what one does with it, that's decisive for the outcome of all our undertakings.

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Monday, December 01, 2008

A belated Happy Birthday ...

To William Blake, born on the 28th of November, 1757.


Blake's And God Created Adam, 1795, available from the Wikimedia Commons.

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