Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Understanding the Antikythera Mechanis ... er, Computer

Work has continued on the Antikythera Mechanism, discovered off the coast of Antikythera at the beginning of the last century; an earlier post is here. It's been termed, as Wikipedia notes, the world's "first known mechanical computer."

From Science Daily:

The calculator was able to follow the movements of the moon and the sun through the Zodiac, predict eclipses and even recreate the irregular orbit of the moon. The team believe it may also have predicted the positions of the planets.

The findings suggest that Greek technology was far more advanced than previously thought. No other civilisation is known to have created anything as complicated for another thousand years.

Professor [Mike] Edmunds [of the School of Physics and Astronomy, Cardiff University] said: "This device is just extraordinary, the only thing of its kind. The design is beautiful, the astronomy is exactly right. The way the mechanics are designed just makes your jaw drop."

The Wikipedia article on the device has been updated as of yesterday, and is remarkably thorough in its account of its internal systems. Speculation about the uses of the device so far focuses on its astrological and astronomical capabilities:

  • Astrology was commonly practiced in the ancient world. In order to create an astrological chart, the configuration of the heavens at a particular point of time is needed. It can be very difficult and time-consuming to work this out by hand, and a mechanism such as this would have made an astrologer's work much easier.
  • Setting the dates of religious festivals connected with astronomical events.
  • Adjusting calendars, which were based on lunar cycles as well as the solar year.
The NY Times also covered the recent work deciphering the device, here.

So much we don't know about the ancient world.


Photo via the Times from the Antikythera Research Project.

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Monday, July 28, 2008

The Spirit of Black Mountain College

For the last year and a half folks at Hickory's Lenoir-Rhyne College, including the apparently tireless Rand Brandes, have been working with the Hickory Museum of Art, Asheville's own Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center, and other organizations to put together a festival honoring Black Mountain College. The web site's now up, so do go have a look.

Poets will have major roles in the festivities, just as they did in the life of Black Mountain College.

It'll run from September 25 thru 27, and promises to be quite the celebration. More to come in the weeks ahead ...

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Friday, July 25, 2008

Wordplay welcomes Jeffery Beam

(Click for a larger version)
Hillsborough poet Jeffery Beam was in town last weekend for Loco Logodaedalist, the celebration of Jonathan Williams' work hosted Saturday night by the Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center, so I talked him into coming into the micro-studio at WPVM to talk about his work. He read a few poems from his Visions of Dame Kind (Jargon, 1995), a book whose approach to the natural world I've long admired, but we spent much of the program reading and discussing poems from his new (as in brand new) The Beautiful Tendons, Uncollected Queer Poems 1969-2007 (White Crane Books, 2008). It's a fine, emotionally searching and honest, collection of love poems - when we're in the kingdom of love, it doesn't matter whom we see as the other, the same rules pertain, and this book limns them with a forthright grace.

Several of Jeffery's poems have found musical settings, so we discussed the relation of music and poem, and Jeffery, in honor of his lifetime love of the old songs he grew up singing in Kannapolis (he feels they still inform his work), closed the show with a remarkable rendition of the old Methodist hymn "In the Garden".

If you don't yet know his work, here are three poems from Beautiful Tendons that he read on the show, just to give you a glimpse:


This is my lesson in humility.
My lesson in grief.
My lesson in the cruelty of the human heart, my own.
Trudging through deep southern snow:
finding both of your faces frozen in the white.
Sparrows still singing in the shrubbery.

I could not say it then.
I cannot say it now.
My heart split in two.
A tree limb weighted by ice.
A white quiet and protective.
A white dangerously warm.
My hands spiritless in the drifts.

Why do birds continue to sing?


not silent,
but noisy and indiscreet,
rowdy and persistent.
He comes in leaf fall.
musty earth in his palms.

Held out to me
I can do nothing but take it,
and take it gladly,
earth being the one coolness
other than water
to be enjoyed.

The fact of the matter is this:
tomorrow he may come silent.
Tomorrow may be love quiet as mist,
but today,
his cheeks rough with new hairs,
I smell furrows of new fields.
I turn over fertile soil.
I hear burrowing insects, happy worms.

I taste the gentle, crude, excavating damp.
The stain of love upon the earth!
Stain of love!
His sleep rattling me.
His sunrise and breath awakening me.


That body tree on a misty hill
That face fawn with dark eyes
That full moon surrounded by evening skies
That hour pavement ending in dust
That grass green with summer's black-green
That night coming over us with its breath
That sound crickets singing at eye level
That body me on the ground with their song
That body another touching me with fire
That fire round as the moon burning as the sun
That face fawn with dark eyes
That you speaking in tongues unknown and green
That sound crickets singing in my ear
That body tree on a misty hill

There were many more, so give the show a listen. Ordinarily, it'd be available just through this Sunday at WPVM's web site (just scroll down to Wordplay) as on-demand stream and download - but this weekend Asheville hosts Bele Chere, its big annual street festival, and the station's in the festival zone, so I'll let Jeffery's session play again. It'll be on the station's Archive page through Sunday, August 3rd.

The show opened with McCoy Tyner playing "Walk Spirit, Talk Spirit" from the 2007 release McCoy Tyner Quartet. We also heard three of Billy Holiday's classic performances, "Easy to Love," "Life Begins When You're in Love," and "Summertime," all from Lady Day: The Master Takes and Singles. Keith Jarrett's "Paint My heart Red," from the 2006 The Carnegie Hall Concert: Selections for Radio, took the show out.

25 July, 2008: Updated to note that the show with Jeffery will air until August 3rd, thanks to Bele Chere.

The photo of Jeffery is by M. J. Sharp.

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Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Natures .... just $106.60

An idle BookFinder search, and I knew prices were going up, but ...

Natures prices certainly show quite a range:

Used books: 1 - 4 of 4

#BooksellerNotesTotal Price
1 Small Press Distribution
via AbeBooks
[United States]
Publisher: New Native Press
New condition; Poetry. This collection of poems written over the course of a career, like poems from Rappachini's garden, remind us of what we have longed for, as well as what we might have lost. [blah, blah]
[United States]
Softcover, ISBN 1883197228
Publisher: New Native Pr, 2006
3 Barnes &
[United States]
Softcover, ISBN 1883197228
Publisher: New Native Pr, 2006
[United States]
Softcover, ISBN 1883197228
Publisher: New Native Pr, 2006
Used, very good, Ships from USA. Delivered in 10-12 business days. Money back guarantee!, Usually dispatched within 1-2 business days
( All matching used books shown )

Or you could just buy one by dropping me an email for a bit less. I am starting to rethink that $12.50 price, but for now ...

And for $16.00 (plus postage of course, at these prices), you can get both Natures and Transits of Venus, the chapbook that preceded it in the fall of 2005.

(Brought to you by the Shameless Commerce Division here at Wildwood Press)

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Monday, July 21, 2008

WordFest 2008: The Photos

Former WordPlay sidekick Laura Hope-Gill has now joined FaceBook, and she's put up an album of photos (sorry, I don't have the public link) from April's WordFest 2008. It features lots of shots from the readings - and some from our trip to the old Black Mountain College campus with Galway, as well.

I've added a few more from the trip to Camp Rockmont here.

The photo has Galway Kinnell standing on the porch of the Studies Building during our visit to the site of Black Mountain College, now Camp Rockmont. Lake Eden and the Black Mountains shine in the background.

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Friday, July 18, 2008

Loco with the Logodaedalists

(Click for a legible version)

Saturday evening I'll be joining a host of other poets and friends of Jonathan Williams to read from his work and celebrate his life at the Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center.

The readers have been corresponding for several weeks now to declare their preferences for poems or prose selections that define Jonathan in his particularity for them. I find that I'm reminded of the old Buddhist teaching story about the blind men and the elephant; for some of us Jonathan was a winnowing basket, for others a plowshare, for others a column. It'll be interesting to hear these takes on Jonathan converge; I'm hoping we get close to providing a glimpse of the whole elephant before we're done.

Loco Loodaedalist
Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center
56 Broadway, Downtown Asheville
Saturday 19 July, 2008
Doors at 7:30, reading at 8:00

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A good sounding room ....

National Geographic had an article a couple weeks ago on the acoustic properties of the cave sanctuaries so richly decorated by early modern ancestors of the peoples we think of as Europeans:

"In the cave of Niaux in Ariège, most of the remarkable paintings are situated in the resonant Salon Noir, which sounds like a Romanesque chapel," said Iegor Reznikoff, an acoustics expert at the University of Paris who conducted the research.

The sites would therefore have served as places of natural power, supporting the theory that decorated caves were backdrops for religious and magical rituals.


[Paul] Pettitt, [a] University of Sheffield archaeologist [who was not involved in the study], said Reznikoff's research is consistent with other work that suggests music and dance played an integral role in the lives of ancient people.

Instruments such as bone flutes and "roarers"—bone and ivory instruments that whir rhythmically when spun—have been found in decorated caves.

In rare instances, cave images include highly stylized females who appear to be dancing or enigmatic, part-animal "sorcerer" figures engaging in what seem to be transformational dances.

"This is therefore an artistic connection between dance and art. Perhaps in this case the art is recording specific ritual events," Pettitt said. "It is inconceivable that such rituals would have taken place in silence."

MSNBC also had a version of the story that has a little more from Reznikoff.

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Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Wordplay: Miss Landon Godfrey celebrates her birthday

... on the radio. She was in high spirits, given the special occasion, quick and eloquent in discussing her poetry, as she sees it -- in speaking of her attention to the materiality of language, for instance, as well as its referential sense.

Landon has studied both poetry and painting, and received her MFA in writing from the University of Houston. If you don't yet know her work as poet and painter, now's a good time to begin. Her website's over here, and here are a couple of the poems she read for Wordplay:


Calculus, lapillus,
rounded, shapely—one—
alone but friended,
kept in pockets, skipped

across smooth platters
of silver, blue, green, black
water, an arrow
with blunt tip

and wide-gyre wake,
the idea of circle
pursuing, like pack
chasing rabbit, greyhound

sleek, panting, flying, greyhound
mob, more than field
doubled, the violent math
of loose cohesion, spun

and spinning, like oranges flung,
but encased in a burlap sack,
off a cliff, separate
trajectories hitting one

target. Oy!
Praise chaste thumb-twinner,
ruminator, counter, score
keeper, even-keeled

balancer, jiggler & sounder
of seven-eight:
silent aspect a ruse

and the Buddha-thing
a clever form of begging—
love me (We do). No,
cherish me (We do). No,

wait, adore me (Oh, baby,
we do. You’re everything
we’re not). Praise
monk mime with its monkey

joie de vivre, all
curve, heft & lightness,
dense little soul marker
escaped from garden duty

having renounced
the civilizing footprint—
so many grouped around a grass
tuft and voilà

a Stonehenge-Versailles-Central-Park
argument lauding something
called nature, a form of now
filled with a whole

lot of then—escaped.
Praise and write a postcard
to wandering worn-away,
visiting ancestors all over the world,

accretions, striae, cairns & mountains,
boulders on pedestals, buildings,
ruins, roads fine and almost
frictionless and those cobbled

bicycle rumblers where bloody
knee knows to count
its blessings and be grateful
for wounds that heal

because hungry dogs
can mistake lump-shadow
for crumb and that’s-not-a-potato
boiled in a pot

is not soup for the starving
and throwing, tossing, pelting,
lobbing, flinging, heaving,
hurling, casting, slinging,

nailing, launching, firing
can be graving, battle & war
manglers of the horizon,
a straight line only

in as much as it stands in for one
side of a coffin.
Bless tiny earth-double,
countless angels dancing

on its ellipse, or one
big angel crushing it
under heel, but, no,
arch bends up, foot

surrounds humblest orb,
now hiding in makeshift
shelter, spared, not believing in angels.
Whence the blind eye-ball?

Whence the hopscotch bob?
Whence the mirrored fig,
without leaf to cover luminous energies?
Whence the memento,

lying next to palm, the word
caress not undermined
by saccharinization, for once
all care and s, tongue

taking flight, tracing the arc
of sibilance, a one-
letter lovesong to a symbol
of simple.

Embrace this heat-
thief in hand
and it gives
warmth back in kind,

the illusion of symbiosis
like perfume, seductive, fleeting.
But the thing itself
a permanence.


You flash bright
green bright shine so even
lying on the sidewalk
next to a marble pillar
you seem alive
before I can pick you
up a little boy lifts your body
his mother hums
hummingbird he hums
hummingbird back into the mirror
of her voice the sad
sound reflecting
off their tongues
and off your jewel-belly
which nudges the sun
like a hill in
a miniature landscape
painting echoing diminishing
song and off the tearless
joy of eyes hearing
your green fire

Check out the rest here (that's the .mp3 stream), or head over to the Archive page at WPVM.

Carla Bruni's No Promises furnished the music for the show. It features Bruni's sung versions of English poems by William Butler Yeats, Christina Rossetti, Emily Dickinson, Auden, and others. We listened to two by Yeats ("Those Dancing Days Are Gone" and "Before the World Was Made"), Rossetti's "Promises Like Pie Crust", and closed with another I didn't note as we cleared out of the studio and made way for Siren's Muse.

The show will be available as a stream or podcast through next Sunday, 13 July.

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No flutes at Shanidar

...but the cave there did provide the first evidence that Neanderthals conducted funeral rites; the large concentration of pollens from medicinal plants in one of the burial sites in the cave led paleontologists to conclude that the body had been buried with flowers.

James Gordon, who's apparently working as a photographer with the Army Corps of Engineers in Iraq, where Shanidar is located, has this nice shot of the cave up on his Flikr stream (via John Hawks). Gordon notes that:

Neanderthal habitation going back 60,000-80,000 years have been unearthed is this very large cave in Iraqi Kurdistan. ...
Of all the skeletons found at the cave, it is Shanidar IV which provides the best evidence for Neanderthal burial ritual. The skeleton of an adult male aged between 30-45 years was discovered in 1960 by Ralph Solecki and was positioned so that he was lying on his left side in a partial fetal position. Routine soil samples which were gathered for pollen analysis in an attempt to reconstruct the palaeoclimate and vegetational history of the site from around the body were analysed eight years after its discovery. In two of the soil samples in particular, whole clumps of pollen were discovered in addition to the usual pollen found throughout the site and suggested that entire flowering plants (or at least heads of plants) had entered the grave deposit. Furthermore, a study of the particular flower types suggested that the flowers may have been chosen for their specific medicinal properties. Yarrow, Cornflower, Bachelor’s Button, St. Barnaby’s Thistle, Ragwort or Groundsel, Grape Hyacinth, Joint Pine or Woody Horsetail and Hollyhock were represented in the pollen samples, all of which have long-known curative powers as diuretics, stimulants, astringents as well as anti-inflammatory properties. This led to the idea that the man could possibly have had shamanic powers, perhaps acting as medicine man to the Shanidar Neandertals. However, recent work into the flower burial has suggested that perhaps the pollen was introduced to the burial by animal action as several burrows of a gerbil-like rodent known as a Persian jird were found nearby. The jird is known to store large numbers of seeds and flowers at certain points in their burrows and this argument was used in conjunction with the lack of ritual treatment of the rest of the skeletons in the cave to suggest that the Shanidar IV burial had natural, not cultural origins.
Then again, a region like the Zagros foothills would have several thousand flowering plant species, of which only about 5 or 10% would be medicinal. It is unlikely that Neanderthals collected medicinal plants. But it is even less likely that jirds do.

He has some more shots up, so go take a look.


Much of Gordon's note is actually taken verbatim from the Wikipedia article on Shanidar, which gives a provides a good account of the site and discusses its significance.

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Monday, July 07, 2008

"Launching" the Marshall AMP

(click for a legible version)

...seems like a mixed metaphor to me ("charging up", or "plugging in", or ... oh, whatever).

Tony suggested I should wear green scales for the parade, but my scales are at the cleaners, so I'll have to find something else. I'll be joining undisclosed others for the reading. Perhaps needless to say, given the company, but the event promises to be great fun. It's been a long-time dream for Lee Ann and Tony to have a performance space for all their friends in their hometown, and now they do. I believe congratulations are in order.

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Warren Wilson Summer Readings

The summer residency for the Warren Wilson MFA program is underway, and readings continue through the 12th. Here's what remains of the schedule:

READINGS (8:15 p.m. in the Fellowship Hall behind the Warren Wilson College Chapel unless otherwise indicated)

July 7 - Rick Barot, Grace Dane Mazur, Gabrielle Calvocoressi, Peter Turchi, Stephen Dobyns.
July 8 - (6 p.m., Malaprop's, 55 Haywood St., Asheville) Poets Joan Aleshire, Rick Barot, Gabrielle Calvocoressi, Stephen Dobyns, Reginald Gibbons, Heather McHugh, Steve Orlen, Alan Shapiro and Daniel Tobin.
July 9 - Heather McHugh, Charles Baxter, Steve Orlen, David Haynes, Ellen Bryant Voigt.
July 10 - Graduating student readings: Laurie Capps, Bryan Furuness, Layla Carroll, Sarah Grano, Abby Wender, Frederick Weihe.
July 11 - Graduating student readings: Lauren Alwan, Timothy Cook, Ann Knol, Victoria Bosch Murray, Lili Flanders, Ross White.
July 12 - (4:30 p.m., followed by Graduation Ceremony) Graduating student readings: Maudelle Driskell, Christopher Causey, Marie Pavlicek-Wehrli, Janet Crossen, Judith Westley, Krystn Lee.

LECTURES (Fellowship Hall)

July 9 - (9:15 a.m.) Stephen Dobyns, "Linebreaks."
July 10 - (9:15 a.m.) Stacey D'Erasmo, "Love Among the Ruins."
July 11 - (9:15 a.m.) Heather McHugh, "Rhetoric Rocks, Grammar Matters."
July 12 - (9:30 a.m.) Reginald Gibbons, "The Apophatic in Poetry."
July 12 - (10:45 a.m.) Peter Turchi, "If it makes you happy, why the hell are you so sad?"

The readings and lectures, each lasting about an hour, are free and open to the public. For more details call the MFA office at (828) 771-3715.


I'll be busy this week finishing some work for a reading this coming Friday in Marshall (more about that very soon), but I do plan to venture out for a few of these, including, in all likelihood, the reading at Malaprops on Tuesday, July 8. Perhaps I'll see you there.

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