Monday, January 19, 2009

Two hundred birthdays for Mr. Poe

Edgar Allan Poe, whose practice as a poet and writer of fiction explored territories distinctly different from those available in the contemporary English tradition - and who, as a consequence, became the first American poet who actually matters to anyone but historians (okay, okay, and the occasional poet willing to dig into the Puritan rumblings of his predecessors; yes, I'm thinking of you, Mr. Berryman) - saw the light of day for the first time on this date two centuries ago in Boston.

One of my early favorites (probably before high-school), the still engaging "Annabelle Lee", the last poem he completed:

It was many and many a year ago,
In a kingdom by the sea,
That a maiden there lived whom you may know
By the name of Annabel Lee;
And this maiden she lived with no other thought
Than to love and be loved by me.

I was a child and she was a child,
In this kingdom by the sea:
But we loved with a love that was more than love —
I and my Annabel Lee;
With a love that the winged seraphs of heaven
Coveted her and me.

And this was the reason that, long ago,
In this kingdom by the sea,
A wind blew out of a cloud, chilling
My beautiful Annabel Lee;
So that her highborn kinsmen came
And bore her away from me,
To shut her up in a sepulchre
In this kingdom by the sea.

The angels, not half so happy in heaven,
Went envying her and me —
Yes! — that was the reason (as all men know,
In this kingdom by the sea)
That the wind came out of the cloud by night,
Chilling and killing my Annabel Lee.

But our love it was stronger by far than the love
Of those who were older than we —
Of many far wiser than we —
And neither the angels in heaven above,
Nor the demons down under the sea,
Can ever dissever my soul from the soul
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee:

For the moon never beams, without bringing me dreams
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
And the stars never rise, but I feel the bright eyes
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
And so, all the night-tide, I lie down by the side
Of my darling — my darling — my life and my bride,

In her sepulchre there by the sea,
In her tomb by the sounding sea.

Most of his work is available now over at WikiSource. Not there, though, the remarkable, still little-read (so far as I can tell) Eureka, which Poe subtitled "A Prose Poem," though its additional subtitle offers a more reliable clue as to its focus: "An Essay on the Material and Spiritual Universe." It's nothing less than a cosmology, an exploration of the nature of the universe. For it, you'll need to journey to the Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore, which posts the 1848 text.

Thanks, E.A.P.


Update: Here's Poe's astrological chart, drawn with the Sun in the first house (that is, as a Solar chart), since we don't know the time of his birth.

The thirty second reading: Sun conjunct Mercury, so born to communicate; Venus conjunct Moon, so a focus on love and feeling within relationships (as with "Annabelle Lee" and many of his other poems); and Pluto conjunct Jupiter, so a real urge to achievement and innovation.

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Saturday, January 17, 2009

Wordplay: Scott ... er, make that Tim Peeler and Ted Pope

Last Sunday I'd planned to feature Hickory poets Scott Owens and Tim Peeler. The day before, though, Scott wrote to say that a family member who had been ill had taken a turn for the worse, so he couldn't make it. Tim was still good to go, though, so I headed off to the station looking forward to talking with him, and hearing what he'd been up to. When I got to the station, whom should I find at the door but Ted Pope! Tim had stopped off in Morganton and brought him along. Ted's a special one-of-a-kind energy vortex with a mythic imagination, and he brought some new work to share. And Tim read some of his fine poems from Checking Out. So, notwithstanding the serendipity involved, the show turned out just fine.

Check it all out.

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Monday, January 12, 2009

Kicking Up a Storm: Notes on the Spirit of Black Mountain College Festival

It's such a fundamental insight that it's become a truism of post-modern thought: different eyes looking at the "same" phenomenon will see different events. Each of us, after all, has partial vision, and our perceptions are defined by our own literal and figurative perspectives, including our pre-existing bents and concerns. Any review of the Spirit of Black Mountain College festival ought to rely on multiple eyes. This ought to be a conversation. Oh, well. What follows is just my take.

Notwithstanding sideways rain and a hurricane-driven gas shortage that had me checking out every station I passed to see if it might have working pumps, the festival was a hoot, a veritable storm of imaginative energy in its own right. For me, since I'm a poet, the readings alone would have been worth the trip, from almost anywhere. Not even the Museum + Arts Center's 2002 Under the Influence festival, as wonderful as it was, brought so many Black Mountain-inspired poets together to read and share their work. Galway Kinnell (summer session, 1947) opened the festival in fine form Thursday night, and Lee Ann Brown, Lisa Jarnot, Thomas Meyer, Ted Pope, Thomas Rain Crowe, Black Mountain alumnus Michael Rumaker, and I all read in various combinations throughout Friday and Saturday. The two primary venues for our readings were the University's Belk Centrum (a large, circular performance venue, complete with stage), and the Hickory Museum of Art, perhaps a mile away, which hosted readings and performances in its spacious upstairs gallery. Michael Rumaker frequently brought his memory, insight, and plainspoken eloquence to bear on the question of what constitutes the active legacy of the college, and provided great readings of his poetry, fiction, and the fine memoir of his experiences in the shadow of the Seven Sisters, Black Mountain Days. It's no doubt appropriate that he, among the last surviving members of that crew of writers who found their various ways to the college during Charles Olson's time at its helm, should have provided many the weekend's moments of incisive awareness. The dude was on.

It was great to have the opportunity to immerse myself again in the zany sinuous complexities of Cilla Vee - Life Arts' John Cage-inspired "Modus Operandi." The classically-trained musical renegade Elisa Faires provides spontaneously composed music and sound textures for the company, and Claire Elizabeth Barratt provides dance and movement. With the help of The Professor (actor Greg Congleton), they interpreted random text prompts selected by chance from words provided before the performance by the audience, one word a noun, one an adjective, one a color, the last a phrase that defines a location. So: effervescent magenta paramecium in a swamp. Or: tragic gelid-blue fingernail in a chimney. Compose that! Try dancing that! And they did. Their performances can be intense, and intensely funny. At their frequent best, it's riveting to be part of the celebration, and let your mind surrender to bafflement when confronted with the sheer multi-modal complexity of it all. Their two shows at the festival displayed them in fine form. The delightful irony of their premise, of course, is that it's all presented as a "scientific" exercise. It's definitely a thorough exploration of their very own modus operandi.

Lenoir-Rhyne faculty joined in the occasion, and John Cheek's versions of the Cage works he chose for performance, were, shall we say, note-perfect - even the always contemporary 4'33" was played with enviable panache. And it was fun to see the young Lenoir-Rhyne Playmakers engage Ed Dorn's Gunslinger, Book I, in costume, forty years after it had allusively defined its lively intellectual context.

The festival combined history with its creative performances. In fact, Mary Emma Harris, certainly among the most deeply learned of the college's historians, spoke several times during the proceedings, and her Saturday afternoon talk on "Black Mountain College and the Arts" usefully dug into the college's Bauhaus roots to shed light on its complex history. I've been a student of the college now nearly a decade, and a student of the college's poets much longer than that, but I always learn from Mary Emma's thorough and lucid work. And the tour she led through the old college campus on Sunday was an extraordinary and unique presentation. It featured not only the vast lore she had at her mind's fingertips, but Michael Rumaker's wonderful color commentary (sometimes delightfully full-color, if you catch my drift), as well.

And there was much more.

Perhaps a simple accounting of all the events packed into the three days would serve to give some sense of the scope of the festival, and suggest the pace and energy of the event, but it would take pages of text or pixels. Best just refer you to the schedule, still online .

The Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center will be featuring audio (and hopefully video) recordings of many of the festival's events on its website as they become available. No doubt they'll offer some different perspectives on the phenomenon that blew through Hickory back in September.

In conjunction with the festival, the Hickory Museum of Art opened two shows featuring artists from Black Mountain College. One drew on collections of the Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center, the Weatherspoon Art Museum, the Asheville Museum of Art, and the Hickory Museum of Art's own collection, and featured two and three dimensional works of visual art by BMC faculty and students, most of them created during their tenures at the college. It included paintings, ceramics, prints, drawings, photographs, and furniture by Anni Albers, Leo Krikorian, Ben Shahn, Robert Motherwell, Elaine de Kooning, Jacob Lawrence, Buckminster Fuller, Hazel Larsen Archer, and thirty others.

A smaller show in the Museum's Entrance Gallery featured a more extensive collection of the photographs of Hazel Larsen Archer, which provide an irreplaceable record of the time, the place, and the group of people who truly changed the world they found.

Two years of planning prepared the field for the three days of the festival, and the harvest proved, I think, bountiful. For a school that's been closed now twice as long as it was open, Black Mountain, through the work of poets and artists exploring the ground its faculty and students opened up, still stirs up a lot of dust.


Tim Peeler posted the photo to FaceBook. Back, left to right: me, Thomas Meyer, Lee Ann Brown, Greg Congleton, Ted Pope; front, Mary Emma Harris, Michael Rumaker, Thomas Rain Crowe, Lisa Jarnot.

Once a year or so, the Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center publishes, or used to publish, a newsletter for its members. Sebastain Matthews, who was editing it in 2008, asked me to write something about the Spirit of Black Mountain College festival held at Lenoir-Rhyne University that fall. These, then, were my perceptions.

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The Song of Love, Part 249

A nice small article by Henry Fountain, in the NY Times online for Friday, 9 January:

A mosquito may not be anyone’s idea of a hopeless romantic, but the insect does produce a love song of sorts — the whine of its beating wings, resonating in a part of the body called the thoracic box. A female’s whine, at a fundamental frequency of 300 to 600 hertz, is enough to make a male mosquito swoon.But Aedes aegypti, the mosquito species that transmits the viruses that cause dengue and yellow fevers in people, carries the love song concept to new aural heights, according to a paper published online in the journal Science. Lauren J. Cator, Ronald R. Hoy and colleagues at Cornell University report that A. aegypti males make a duet of it, by matching whines with the female.

Dr. Hoy said both male and female raise their whine to about 1200 hertz, which is a harmonic of the fundamental frequency of both the female (about 400) and male (about 600). It’s the first time that such “harmonic convergence” (as the paper dryly puts it) has been shown to occur.

He noted that the finding also disproved what scientists had long believed about mosquitoes — that they can’t hear above a certain frequency. “We all believed the ceiling to be 800 to 1000 hertz,” he said.

Dr. Hoy said that the behavior was probably a part of the sexual selection process. “Females are particularly picky,” he said. “A female is going to require of a courting male that he be able to match her flight tone.”

"Match her flight tone" - very nice. The music for the dance.

The research will be used to help efforts to eradicate the bugs, of course. It'll be interesting to see what strategies its genome will devise confronted so, within the behavior that defines the process of sexual selection, and whether it can develop them quickly.

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NatureS on Amazon

Looking for some books on Amazon tonight, just for fun I also checked for Natures. So far as I know, New Native, its publisher, has never offered it there, given the hassle involved in becoming an Amazon affiliate. To my surprise, though, it was there.

Price at a Glance
List Price: $12.50
Used:from $29.94
New:from $29.97
Have one to sell? Sell yours here

(Pssst: I can get you a copy for the list price ... and maybe you can make a profit by selling it on Amazon)


Saturday, January 10, 2009

Wordplay this week: Rare Birds

If you're a fan of jazz and contemporary classical music, you're most likely to really enjoy this show. Thomas Rain Crowe and Nan Watkins dropped in to talk about their new book Rare Birds, published late last year by the University Press of Mississippi. It's a collection of interviews with some of the great composers and players of the last three decades.

And if you’re going to talk about music, you really should play some, right? So the show features full tracks by the artists from whom Thomas and Nan elicited the insight and information gathered in their book's pages. You'll hear:

Eugene Friesen on cello with Paul Halley on piano performing Friesen's composition "Cove", from the album The Song of Rivers;

Charles Lloyd on "The Blessing", from his album The Call;

Philip Glass performing music from his soundtrack for Kundun;

Sathima Bea Benjamin singing "A Nightingale in Berkeley Square" from her album A Morning in Paris;

and the Abdullah Ibrahim Trio performaing "Barakaat" for their album Yaroma.


2/6/2009: Updated to include titles of musical numbers, and to update the link to the show.

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Saturday, January 03, 2009

Goodbye, Zonko

Sorry to see that Billy Little died this past week. There's another poem, with a micro-bio, here.

Zonko was one of his pen names in the nineteen seventies. I knew him in both Buffalo and Vancouver, spent lots of time running in the same Vancouver circles in 1975. I always enjoyed his great, zany sense of humor.

(Thanks to Ron Silliman for the heads up, and the first three links.)

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Wordplay this week: Robert B ... er, make that Glenis Redmond, Laura Hope-Gill, Sebastian Matthews, and Ryan Walsh

Ah, poets ... not the promptest people on the earth's face, are we? If you'd tuned into this week's Wordplay, you might have thought I'd just repeated last week's fine show with Robert Bly, and moved on.

True, this week's show does start off with about15 minutes of the show with Bly; I'd cued it up when none of my guests had appeared by airtime, and a few minutes later headed the half-block to Malaprops for a cup of coffee. Half way there, though, I saw Glenis Redmond heading in my direction, so I met her and we headed back to the station. A few steps on, Laura Hope-Gill shouted from her car that she'd be there as soon as she parked, and that Sebastian Matthews was on the way. By a quarter after we had gathered in the studio (and Sebastian came along a couple minutes later - and brought with him Ryan Walsh, who's now helping him edit Rivendell), and at the first break in the Bly show we went live, reading poems and talking over poetry, poets, the upcoming Wordfest, and the new plan for Rivendell for the rest of the hour. Turns out they'd all been to the same Kwanzaa party the night before, and had had a bit too much fun ...

Give it a listen.

And if you wanted to catch the Bly show, it's still available on the archive too, and it's worth catching.

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