Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Laissez les Bons Temps Rouler!

It's Mardi Gras (or Carnival, or Carneval, depending on where you are), but it's in the low 40s outside here in the Smokies, so I'll probably hunker down tonight and build a fire, rather than go out partying.

Down in Rio, on the other hand ... they're conjuring fires of a different sort.

Party on - and whatever they say in Brazil!

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Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Wordplay: A Visit with Thomas Meyer

Last fall's Spirit of Black Mountain College festival at Lenoir-Rhyne University had many pleasures; one of the greatest, for me, was hearing new work by the very fine poets assembled there, some of whom I hadn't seen in years. When imaginations so inventive gather, one expects surprises. And there were surprises galore, indeed.

No one's work surprised me more, though, than that of Thomas Meyer. One of the events drew him, Lisa Jarnot, and me together for a performance at the Belk Centrum, and when Lisa followed Thomas to the stage after his reading, she said simply "That was a great poem." It had been stunning; some momentary voice in my consciousness was certainly glad I didn't have to follow it.

The audio of that memorable occasion will someday be available, I am promised, and when it is I'll play it for your amusement, Gentle Reader, and your delight.

Not willing to wait for that day to hear the work again, though, last week I headed over the ridges and visited Tom in Scaly Mountain, at Skywinding Farm, the home he shared for many years with Jonathan Williams, to record a conversation and a reading of the poems he'd brought to Hickory. Tom's a consummate host, of course, so it was after lunch and coffee that we pushed the dishes aside, I booted the trusty laptop, set up the mics, and we recorded what became Sunday's show.

And it's quite a show - not because of any contribution on my part to the conversation, but because Tom read much more than the work that had caught our ears last fall. That piece, now titled "Kintsugi", after the Japanese technique of repairing broken ceramics with gold, proved to be the first movement of a suite of three poems, and he read all three, including the companion pieces "Endings" and "Open Window". Tune in, and you'll find yourself embarked on a remarkable journey.

The music for the show suggested itself during our conversation. The show opens with the polyrhythmic "Abimenijoe", a Balinese Gender Wayang recorded in September, 1941, by the Fahnestock South Sea Expedition, just before the Pacific world was roiled into a different epoch by World War II; the first break features "Come Into Leaf, Thou Forest", a choral work by Le Mystere Des Voix Bulgares from their 1988 release, A Cathedral Concert; the second break features an excerpt from Debussy's "Prelude to the Afternoon of a Fawn", performed by Leonard Slatkin and the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra; and the show ends with the Swedish-Norwegian chanteuse from North Dakota, Peggy Lee, singing with the Benny Goodman Orchestra on their 1941 single "Where or When" - which fades, after my goodbye-for-this-week routine, into a solo piano version of the song by Dave Brubeck.

Oh, and not that it matters in the great scale of things, but my contributions to the conversation sometimes sound as though they are emerging from the bottom of a well. It seems that one of the mics I was using had gain problems that I didn't notice during the recording; fortunately, it was mine, and not Tom's. It's one of the hazards of field recording that there are no do-overs, no second takes after the fact. The event has ended, it's location a hundred miles back down the road. I fixed the imbalance between the two channels as best I could, but, as is often the case, the repair has left its own artifacts. Sometimes you'll just have to imagine that I'm actually there, in the same room, five or six feet from Thomas Meyer, talking with him about poetry on a sunny February afternoon, whatever your ears seem to tell you.


Update: Previous posts on Tom are here and here; both deal with his translation of the daodejing; another post deals with his previous appearance on Wordplay (you'll find a link to that show in the Wordplay catalog). Or click on the label to get the full trove of posts that refer to Tom and his work.

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Saturday, February 07, 2009

George Masa: Mapping the Mountains

Last night was the official opening of Mapping the Mountains: The Photographs of George Masa, (site requires registration) at the Asheville Art Museum, but the reception is actually tomorrow, from 2:00-4:00 PM. I'll be in the studio for Wordplay for its first hour, but will certainly head over for the last. Masa, born Masahara Iizuka in Japan in 1881, became one of the great early photographers of the Appalachians. An earlier post mentions Masa and the company he kept.

Photo: George Masa, Chimney Top at Sunset,The Great Smoky Mountains National Park, 1920, photograph, black and white silver gelatin print, 7.25 x 9.38 inches. Museum Purchase with funds provided by the Nat C. Myers Photography Fund. Asheville Art Museum Collection.

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Wednesday, February 04, 2009

More shows in the Wordplay archive

Over last weekend I finally got the rest of 2008's shows uploaded to the Wordplay archive at ibiblio. Clicking on the date will take you to the .mp3 file of the specified show, clicking on "(production note)", where it's available, will take you to the original Natures note about the show, where you'll often find information about the music used and other bits of incidental intelligence. The notes also contain links to the original locations of the programs on the station's server; shows stay on that server for only two weeks, though, so those links have long since been broken.

August 10, 2008 Columbia, S.C., novelist Janna McMahan visited Wordplay to discuss and read from her fun, insightful coming-of-age novel Calling Home . The show featured tunes by Van Halen and even Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Free Bird" - probably the only time that song has been played at WPVM. What can I say? Are there any American coming-of-age stories set after 1960 in which sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll don't play a major part? They certainly do in this one.

August 17, 2008 Long-time co-host Sebastian Matthews returned to host a show that featured recent work and recent reading.

September 14, 2008 Asheville poet Pat Riviere-Seel dropped by to share recent work and read from her upcoming book, The Serial Killer's Daughter. A Little-Known Fact: Pat was on the original enormous Wordplay production team.

September 28, 2008 Sebastian Matthews again hosted.

October 5, 2008 Wordplay regular Rose McClarney returned to share recent work and discuss her adventures in and out of creative writing programs.

October 12, 2008 Lee Ann Brown returned to Wordplay to give us a look at her recent work. Another Little-Known Fact: Lee Ann was the "guest" on the demo of Wordplay submitted to WPVM's Programming Committee way back when (production note)

November 2, 2008 Lee Ann returned with British Columbia poet Peter Culley, who was completing a residency at Marshall's French Broad Institute of Time and the River.

November 9, 2008 This show featured a reading Peter Culley gave in Marshall a few days before, and some archival recordings of the modernist great, Ezra Pound (production note)

November 16, 2008 Sebastian Matthews, Landon Godfrey, Laura Hope-Gill, Glenis Redmond and I celebrated the women of Black Mountain College, including poet Denise Levertov.

November 23, 2008 Bob and Arlene Winkler dropped by to discuss their RiverSculpture project, and to introduce the Asheville reading by poet Mark Strand that they'd sponsored (production note)

December 14, 2008 North Carolina Poet-Laureate Kay Byer, featured in a reading from early 2008 at the Asheville Art Museum (production note)

December 21, 2008 The extraordinary Robert Bly reading -... er, performing would be more accurate - at the Diana Wortham Theater with the Asheville world-music trio Free Planet Radio, and discussing his translations of Hafez, his trip to Iran with Coleman Barks, and other wonders. (production note)

December 28, 2008 Laura Hope-Gill, Sebastian Matthews, and Glenis Redmond dropped in for a lively show featuring their own work, the upcoming WordFest, and Sebastian's new plan for his magazine Rivendell (production note)

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Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Wordplay welcomes the poets of the Pisgah Review

It's not unusual, even in Asheville, to be confronted with the necessity of choosing between two or more events that you know would really feed that particular hunger for the beauty of art, for the work of our fellow creatures that we call culture, in very satisfying ways. A few weeks ago, I was faced with such a night, one that featured both the premiere at the Dianna Wortham Theater of the PBS series on Appalachia (it'll be coming to television sets near you in April, and, since it was the event I chose that night, I can say it's very good, well worth taking the time to watch) and the reading at Malaprops of poets from the Pisgah Review, published over a ridge or two from Asheville in Brevard, at Brevard College.

Of course, I actually knew a couple of the poets, and figured I'd be able to track them and their fellows in the Review down; I hoped I could wrangle them into doing another reading for another audience, the listeners of Wordplay. And, sure enough, a few emails later, I was able to persuade three of them, and the journal's editor, Jubal Tiner, to make the trek to Asheville once again.

The show yesterday, then, featured Kenneth Chamlee, Terri Kirby Erickson, and Susan Lefler, all of whom were actually new to me, but all of whom are working in interesting directions. The journal isn't concerned to articulate a regional stance, and certainly doesn't limit itself to one aesthetic, though the work it featured in the most recent issue from these three was more-or-less lyrical in some more-or-less traditional sense (Chamlee, though, threw in a satirical rant about the media's shallow reification of our lives these days, for good measure). And Chamblee's working now on a series of poems steeped in the history of the American west - or West, to cover the mythological dimension it assumed as well - as seen through the prism of the life of the painter Albert Bierstadt. Bierstadt created early iconic images of wild western landscapes, like California's magnificent Yosemite, and lived long enough to see those same territories utterly changed as the railroad builders, the miners, the buffalo hunters, and other agents of the industrial world, advanced into them. Chamlee read some of that work, and gave us a few glimpses of the terrain along his current trail.

Erickson and Lefler likewise explored well beyond the work published in the Review, and ... well, you'll have to listen to the show to hear what these ladies are up to. But it's good, and sometimes hilarious - in a very proper way, of course. There were no heathens in the studio! (Believe me, that will make sense.)

Music for the show came from Geoffrey Keezer's Falling Up, which provided the title tune (sometimes Wordplay's opening theme), "The Palm Reader," and "The Horsewoman."


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50 years ago today, in an Iowa cornfield ...

... the Beechcraft Bonanza carrying Buddy Holly (as well as Ritchie Valens and "The Big Bopper", J.P. Richardson) crashed in a snowstorm, killing all aboard. The story of the crash, and of his death, is one of the first newspaper stories I remember reading; there's still an eidetic complex that merges the image of the story with the disbelief and loss I felt when I read it still rolling around my brain. I'm amazed now to realize that he was only 22 when he died, and had already written songs that would become rock standards - "Not Fade Away", "Peggy Sue", "That'll Be the Day", "Rave On" among them - and pioneered an approach to the guitar that would make him one of the most influential popular musicians of his era.

He'd just be 72 now, were he alive, and had had a much longer career. Not so old.

Rave on, Buddy, on the other side.

Image from the Buddy Holly Photo Gallery.

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