Monday, September 28, 2009

Robin Blaser: Moving from one room ...

Richard Owens has a nice appreciation of Robin Blaser up at Damn the Caesars. I missed it when it first appeared in May, but it's still worth a visit these months later.

Owens lives in Buffalo, so he actually made it to the celebration of Robert Creeley's work held there in October, 2006, on a weekend that turned out to be a meteorological disaster. Literally: the mayor declared a city-wide state of emergency and banned all but essential driving. Buffalo usually handles snow storms as a matter of routine. A few feet of snow? Oh, we'll delay the start of school an hour. Not this time. Ice-covered limbs took transmission lines down, and left hundreds of thousands of homes without power.

Blaser was one of the major speakers for the conference, and seems to have come through the melee with his usual flair:
When Blaser stepped up to the podium in front of the altar at Trinity [the church which was the principle venue for the conference] he began to read but couldn't be heard. People in the audience (everyone seated in pews) began shouting, encouraging him to get closer to the microphone. And it snowed out. Each time he stepped closer to the mic people told him to get even closer. And no matter how much closer he got we still couldn't hear him. This went on for what felt like an absurd length of time until finally Blaser climbed up on the mic and mimed a hummer, as if he planned to take the mic into his mouth whole. He asked, "Is that loud enough for you?" And at precisely that moment a sonorous shock of thunder rattled the stained-glass windows of the church. No joke. No hyperbole. Thunder crashed. A priceless moment.
Do check it out for a fuller account, and a feeling take on Blaser and his work. It'll also clarify this post's title.

The last Wordplay of Season IV hit the air a few days after Blaser's death, and featured readings and an interview he'd given during the course of his career. The show's now up on the ibiblio archive. He's a critical figure in the poetry of the last century, and, luckily for us, he was often recorded, so I'm sure I'll be featuring him again on future shows.

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Saturday, September 26, 2009

Catalog of the Wordplay Archive

Wordplay is back on the air -- well, the ether, anyway -- for its fifth season. The program's now at AshevilleFM, and airs at 5:00 PM on Sundays. Some new shows are now up, others will be going up shortly.

I'll also be uploading some older shows that, for whatever reason, never found their way through the clouds to ibiblio. Most of 2008's and 2009's shows are now up, and many of 2007's, but there are raw recordings of many from 2006 as well, and a few from 2005, so I'll be editing those into podcasts in the coming weeks and months, as time allows.

Update, 11 October, 2009: Shows from 2005 and 2007 featuring Cathy Smith Bowers added.

Update, 21 October, 2009: Shows from the fall of 2007 added, featuring Joanna Cooper, Thomas Rain Crowe,
Steve Godwin, Rose McLarney, Glenis Redmond, and Audrey Hope Rinehart.

Update, 5 July, 2010: Season V's shows begin to appear, with editions of the Laureate's Radio Hour featuring Michael Beadle and Stephanie Biziewski.

As of now, the shows below are available in the Archive.

(Note: Before 2008, shows were thirty minutes long; shows broadcast in
2008 and after are an hour long. Clicking on the date will take you to the .mp3 file for the specified show, clicking on "(production note)", where that's an option, 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 note, though, will also contain the original link to the program on the station's server; shows stayed on that server for only two weeks, so those links have long since been broken.)

Enjoy, and thanks for listening.


November 13, 2005 Stephanie Biziewski, one of the original Wordplay team, invited Cathy Smith Bowers in for a show in the very first season of Wordplay; Gillian Coats and Lori Horvitz engineered and produced, respectively (production note).


September 3, 2006, featured Laura Hope-Gill and Sebastian Matthews


January 28, 2007 Sebastian Matthews, Laura Hope-Gill and I were co-hosting the show, and we invited Cathy Smith Bowers back a little over a year after her first appearance.

February 11,2007 featured John Crutchfield.

March 18, 2007 featured Laura Hope-Gill discussing her work with alchemy.

April 29, 2007 Laura Hope-Gill and I read and discussed the work of Robert Bly.

May 27, 2007 featured Samuel Adams.

June 10, 2007 featured Robert Bly reading at UNCA (production note).

June 17, 2007 featured Keith Flynn.

July 1, 2007 featured Allan Wolf.

September 2, 2007 featured Thomas Rain Crowe, and includes recordings of Crowe with his band, The Boatrockers.

September 9, 2007 featured poet Joanna Cooper.

September 16, 2007 featured a reading by Glenis Redmond at the Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center.

September 23, 2007 brought Steve Godwin into the studio, and Steve, Sebastian and I talked over poems we enjoyed, from recent work by Van Jordan (Sebastian) to an HD piece from 1921 (me). Music included tracks from Neil Young and Steve Kimock.

September 30, 2007 highlighted the work of poet Audrey Hope Rinehart.

October 14, 2007 featured Gary Hawkins.

October 21, 2007 found then-Marshall poet Rose McLarney in the studio for her annual near-birthday reading of new work. (Update, October 21, 2009: and she'll soon be back)

October 28, 2007 featured archival recordings of Walt Whitman, Alfred Tennyson, and other old masters.

November 4, 2008 featured Buffalo poet Jessica Smith (production note).

November 11, 2007 featured recordings of William Matthews.

November 18, 2007 featured Robert Morgan (production note).

December 2, 2007 featured Laura Hope-Gill.

December 9, 2007 featured Nan Watkins presenting her translations of Yvan Goll (production note).

December 16, 2007 featured Mara Simmons.

December 23, 2007 featured Laura Hope-Gill reading "A Child's Christmas in Wales".


January 13, 2008 featured Ed Dorn (production note).

January 20, 2008 featured Katherine Min.

January 27, 2008 featured Gary Hawkins and Landon Godfrey.

February 3, 2008 featured Sebastian Matthews and Dick Barnes.

February 17, 2008, featured my April, 2006 reading for the publication of Natures.

February 24, 2008 featured the very literate singer-songwriter Angela Faye Martin.

March 2, 2008 featured Thomas Rain Crowe reading from Radiogenesis, and young poet Blaise Ellery.

March 9, 2008 featured Chattanooga poet Chad Prevost (production note).

March 23, 2008 featured Jonathan Williams reading at Sylva's City Lights Books in May of 2005 (production note).

April 7, 2008 featured Galway Kinnell reading at Breadloaf in 2002.

April 13, 2008 featured Laura Hope-Gill reading new work and pitching on the pledge drive show.

May 25, 2008 featured Ross Gay in an interview with Joanna Cooper, and reading at Asheville's Malaprops Books (production note).

June 1, 2008 featured Coleman Barks performing at the Fine Arts Theater in April, 2008 (production note).

June 8, 2008 featured Wayne Caldwell, author of Cataloochee.

June 15, 2008 featured archival recordings of Robert Creeley, including some recorded at Black Mountain College.

June 29, 2008 featured Nan Watkins presenting her translations of Yvan Goll - the extended edition (production note).

July 6, 2008 featured Landon Godfrey (production note).

July 13, 2008 featured Chall Gray.

July 20, 2008 featured Jeffery Beam (production note).

August 3, 2008 featured Ken Rumble (production note).

August 10, 2008 Columbia, S.C., novelist Jenna 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 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.

August 24, 2008, featured Laura Hope-Gill (production note).

August 31, 2008, featured Glenis Redmond (production note).

September 7, 2008, featured Thomas Meyer (production note).

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 McLarney 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).


January 11, 2009 Tim Peeler surprised me by bringing the one-of-a-kind mythogeographer Ted Pope along, and we had a hoot talking about ancient Egypt, Antarctica, and baseball (production note).

February 15, 2009 featured Jargonaut Thomas Meyer reading his elegy for Jonathan Williams, part of which has now been published as Kintsugi (production note).

March 1, 2009 Asheville novelist Wayne Caldwell returned to share parts of Cataloochee and his unpublished new novel, Requiem By Fire, which is scheduled to appear in early 2010.

March 8, 2009 Hendersonville storyteller Karen Eve Bayne graced the show with her stories and stories about her stories, and made a pitch, too, for the Do Tell Festival of poetry and stories coming up on July 11th in Hendersonville.

March 22, 2009 featured Hickory poet Scott Owens.

March 29, 2009 New Hampshire poet Mimi White, down south to fly-fish in the Davidson River, dropped by the studio to share her work, and to talk about poets, dogs, and other complex life forms.

April 5, 2009 Landon Godfrey, Gary Hawkins, Steve and I all weighed into a discussion of "nature" and what that term might mean for poetry, and read some "nature" poems by poets from Wordsworth to Frank O'Hara.

April 19, 2009, our Easter show, featured a reading by the late Sage of Scaly Mountain, Jonathan Williams, from 1981 (production note).

April 26, 2009 Performance poet Patricia Smith visited the studio last spring to talk about her work with Glenis Redmond, Sebastian Matthews, and me, just a few hours before her reading at Wordfest 2008 (production note).

May 17, 2009 The last show for Wordplay at its old home featured great Canadian/New American poet Robin Blaser reading in 1965 and 2004, and discussing his work in a BBC interview from 1994 (production note).

November 15, 2009 brought Tryon poet Cathy Smith Bowers, long-time Poet-in-Residence at Queens University in Charlotte, into the studio to celebrate her birthday. We listened to George Jones, Nina Simone, and Leonard Cohen, and she read from her most recent volume, The Candle I Hold Up to See You.

(A few months later, of course, she became North Carolina's Poet Laureate, and now co-hosts Wordplay once a month)


January 10, 2010 featured Lucy Tobin, who explores a middle ground between lyric and narrative in her very interesting work. Music by Allison Kraus, the Mountain Goats, and Heretic Pride.

January 3, 2010 celebrated the publication of Thomas Rain Crowe's Blue Rose of Venice. The archiving system dropped part of the show, but what survived is worth a listen. Caleb Beissert sat in, and shared his translations of Neruda. An earlier note on the show is below, here.

February 21, 2010 Cathy Smith Bowers launched the Laureate's Radio Hour series by talking about the impact the laureateship had already had on her life, and discussing her intentions and hopes for the duration of her tenure - including featuring poets once a month on Wordplay. Musical cuts by Nina Simone and her daughter, Lisa Simone.

March 21, 2010, Cathy Smith Bowers, co-hosting once again for the Laureate's Radio Hour, welcomed her former student Stephanie Biziewski to the show, and workshopped a poem Stephanie had underway.

April 18, 2010 Cathy welcomed the very versatile Michael Beadle to the show, and he read texts that ranged in voice from the personal/lyrical, through the historical, to the performative.

May 29, 2010 This time around the laureate turned the tables on the host, and wrangled me into reading some of my own work, both poems from Natures and so far unpublished pieces I plan to include in a second book. Music from Pierre Bensusan, the Grateful Dead, the Allman Brothers, and the Steve Kimock Band.

July 18, 2010 For this Laureate's Radio Hour, Cathy hosted poet Katherine Soniat, author of Alluvial, A Shared Life, Notes of Departure, and other titles, including the upcoming The Swing Girl, due next year from LSU Press.

August 22, 2010 Sebastian Matthews joined Cathy and me to share some of the work of his father, the poet William Matthews, and to treat us to some of his own new poems. Musical breaks by Charlie Mingus, Bill Evans, and McCoy Tyner. Another Laureate's Radio Hour.

And as always, much more to come ...

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Saturday Nights at Black Mountain College ...

... all manner of wild and crazy things happened. The Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center and the Media Arts Project hope to revive the tradition. As Kelly Gold, a long-time board member at the Center, writes:
Saturday night was when the work clothes were stashed away and the party garb came out. Saturday night meant music, mayhem and moonshine. Saturday night bore witness to an "alchemy of artistic experiments". Intrigued? We hope so.
... We're staging a not-so-hostile takeover of the entire Phil Mechanic Building in the River Arts District from 8pm until midnight. All you have to do is bring your best party self, grab some friends and allow us to wine you (well--beer you, thanks to Wedge Brewing!), dine you and fill your dance card. You'll also have the opportunity to purchase pre-sale tickets for the first Saturday Nights at Black Mountain College event, taking place at Camp Rockmont (the former BMC campus) in November.
Rumor has it tonight's festivities will even include poetry! I'm taking along a folder of new work, just in case. Should be a fine way to spend a rainy night.

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Thursday, September 24, 2009

Boiling frogs ...

One of the pleasures of reading Kevin Drum is that every so often he'll ponder a common metaphor or other figure of speech. Today, he ponders the frog-that-gets-poached -- the trope that holds that a frog placed in cold water that is then warmed will never notice it's boiling to death. It's not true, of course. After deploring the slow (so far) news week, he proposes this:

So let's pass some time talking instead about James Fallows' great obsession: boiling frogs. To start, here's an excerpt from a piece Paul Krugman wrote a couple of months ago:

I'm referring, of course, to the proverbial frog that, placed in a pot of cold water that is gradually heated, never realizes the danger it's in and is boiled alive. Real frogs will, in fact, jump out of the pot — but never mind. The hypothetical boiled frog is a useful metaphor for a very real problem: the difficulty of responding to disasters that creep up on you a bit at a time.

Italics mine. And Krugman is right: even though it's untrue that frogs will mindlessly poach themselves to death if you're careful to turn up the temperature on them slowly, it's a useful metaphor.
A fun excursion; it's worth checking out.

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Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Great question ...

Apologies for all the politics, but Steve Clemmons relates a late Bush-era situation, via GQ:

Finally, the president directed us to try to put elements of his proposal back into the text. He wanted to explain what he was seeking and to defend it. He especially wanted Americans to know that his plan would likely see a return on the taxpayers' investment. Under his proposal, he said, the federal government would buy troubled mortgages on the cheap and then resell them at a higher price when the market for them stabilized.

"We're buying low and selling high," he kept saying.

The problem was that his proposal didn't work like that. One of the president's staff members anxiously pulled a few of us aside. "The president is misunderstanding this proposal," he warned. "He has the wrong idea in his head." As it turned out, the plan wasn't to buy low and sell high. In some cases, in fact, Secretary Paulson wanted to pay more than the securities were likely worth in order to put more money into the markets as soon as possible. This was not how the president's proposal had been advertised to the public or the Congress. It wasn't that the president didn't understand what his administration wanted to do. It was that the treasury secretary didn't seem to know, changed his mind, had misled the president, or some combination of the three.

Yes, that's the Bush era all right. Later, Bush asked his staff:
"Why did I sign on to this proposal if I don't understand what it does?"

The answer to that one .... well, it's waiting for the ages.

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Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Controversy as marketing?

John Scalzi thinks that the producer's dismay at the lack of response from US distributors to Creation, his film based on the life of Charles Darwin, might just be a marketing ploy:
The “oh, it’s too controversial for Americans” comment is, I suspect, a bit of face-saving rationalization from a producer flummoxed that such an obvious bit of Oscar-trollery such as this film has been to date widely ignored by the people he assumed would fall over themselves to have such a thing. Or, if the producer is actually smart rather than whiny, it could also be a clever spot of positioning. A bit of controversy would actually be lovely for this film; it’ll get it talked about, which means lots of press and so on, and more awareness of the film in the movie industry.
Hmm, perhaps. I live close enough to South Carolina* to know that the producer is absolutely correct that it will be controversial in some parts, but I don't suppose the Confederate South's a major part of the market he's shooting for. And maybe stirring up a controversy is a good way to perk up the ears of distributors. I certainly hope he succeeds; there are screens in Asheville for it, no doubt, and I became a fan of 19th century costume dramas before the heyday of Merchant-Ivory, so I'll be there popcorn in hand.

On the other hand, I'm afraid I'd skip it altogether if the producer decided to remake it in the form Scalzi thinks American distributors would find more attractive:
Maybe if Charles Darwin were played by Will Smith, was a gun-toting robot sent back from the future to learn how to love, and to kill the crap out of the alien baby eaters cleverly disguised as Galapagos tortoises, and then some way were contrived for Jennifer Connelly to expose her breasts to RoboDarwin two-thirds of the way through the film, and there were explosions and lasers and stunt men flying 150 feet into the air, then we might be talking wide-release from a modern major studio.
Hmm, Jennifer Connelly ... He might have a point. Well, maybe I'd watch it when it came out on DVD, anyway, so I could skip through the scenes robotic mayhem and explosions.

(via John Hawkes)

* It's Mo Dowd, but when she's right, she's right.

And just in case her op-ed should disappear into the Times archive with a different link, here's the gist of what she had to say:

For two centuries, the South has feared a takeover by blacks or the feds. In Obama, they have both.

The state that fired the first shot of the Civil War has now given us this: Senator Jim DeMint exhorted conservatives to “break” the president by upending his health care plan. Rusty DePass, a G.O.P. activist, said that a gorilla that escaped from a zoo was “just one of Michelle’s ancestors.” Lovelorn Mark Sanford tried to refuse the president’s stimulus money. And now Joe Wilson.

“A good many people in South Carolina really reject the notion that we’re part of the union,” said Don Fowler, the former Democratic Party chief who teaches politics at the University of South Carolina. He observed that when slavery was destroyed by outside forces and segregation was undone by civil rights leaders and Congress, it bred xenophobia.

“We have a lot of people who really think that the world’s against us,” Fowler said, “so when things don’t happen the way we like them to, we blame outsiders.” He said a state legislator not long ago tried to pass a bill to nullify any federal legislation with which South Carolinians didn’t agree. Shades of John C. Calhoun!
Not to pick too much on a neighbor, but South Carolina is one of those states where the teaching of evolution remains under constant attack.

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Monday, September 14, 2009

Is this a great country or what? No screens for Darwin

Wow. The Telegraph (UK) reports that the film Creation has so far been unable to find a US distributor. Because it focuses on the life of Charles Darwin during the years in which he developed the theory of evolution, the movie has been attacked on Xtianist web sites., an influential site which reviews films from a Christian perspective, described Darwin as the father of eugenics and denounced him as "a racist, a bigot and an 1800s naturalist whose legacy is mass murder". His "half-baked theory" directly influenced Adolf Hitler and led to "atrocities, crimes against humanity, cloning and genetic engineering", the site stated.

Jeremy Thomas, the Oscar-winning producer of Creation, said he was astonished that such attitudes exist 150 years after On The Origin of Species was published.
The movie stars Paul Bettany as Darwin; Jennifer Connelly as his wife Emma, who was deeply religious; and 10-year old newcomer Martha West as their daughter Annie, whose death in 1851 precipitated for Darwin a fundamental crisis of belief.

But don't look for it on a screen in the US anytime soon.

Sometimes it's easy to forget that this nation is supposed to be one of the world's "advanced" countries, isn't it?


Paul Bettany plays Charles Darwin in Creation - Photo: ALLSTAR

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Friday, September 11, 2009

(Tap) (tap) Is this thing on? Wordplay returns

Wordplay begins its fifth season this Sunday with a program featuring Black Mountain poet Charles Olson and Charles Boer, Olson's student and friend, and also his executor.

This summer, while I was in Storrs, Connecticut, delving into the Olson archives, I had the pleasure of spending an evening talking with Boer - "The Professor", as some of his neighbors know him - about Olson, and about his own work as a translator and poet. Boer was a student of Olson's in Buffalo for the whole of Olson's tenure there, and went on to become a friend and supporter until Olson's death in 1970; it was Boer who helped make the arrangements for Olson to teach at the University of Connecticut in the fall of 1969, in what proved to be his last academic appointment.

After Olson's death, he served as executor of Olson's estate -- helping rescue, in the process, some of the material which has now found its way into the Olson archives.

Aside for his connection to Olson, Boer is a poet and scholar of real accomplishment; his translations of the Homeric Hymns and the Metamorphoses of Ovid rank with the most vital and useful of our era, and his own work is distinct and lively.

Listen this Sunday as Boer reflects on his friendship with Olson, and shares memories as well of Frank O'Hara, Louis Zukofsky, and others who helped define American poetry in the second half of the twentieth century.

And, thanks to the marvels of the recording technology of that era, we'll hear from Olson himself.

As you probably know, Wordplay's now at (there should be a "stream" button on the site by tomorrow), and airs at 6:00 PM. Though the station is internet-only for now (and may remain that way, given that new digital radio receivers can play internet radio streams), it's much more internet-capable than ... that other station, where Wordplay used to be produced. Though I didn't know it at the time, the other station's site supported streaming for a maximum of thirty listeners. Thirty. The new station's site can support many times that number, so you don't have to get there early.

Hope you'll tune in!


Microphone photo by wickman2k, from Photobucket.

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Asheville FM: 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4 ....

Yes, it's that close. Tomorrow Asheville's new community internet radio station blasts off. So far, all systems are go. Come visit us Saturday from 12:00 noon to 7:00 pm (and then party on at the Gray Eagle).

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