Sunday, January 31, 2010

No WordPlay today ...

I've lived in Asheville since 1974, and I can't remember another time we've had two major snowstorms in the same winter - and it's still, for a few more hours, January - so maybe this one is headed for the record books.

Be that as it may, the guests I'd lined up for WordPlay today didn't feel they could make it to the studio, so we'll reschedule for a little later in the year. If I can make it over to West Asheville myself, I'll make sure that last week's show with Cecilia Woloch uploads again to the station server.


Photo of Cecilia from this page; there are some of her poems there as well, so do click through and read them.

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Nina comes home

And speaking of the fair hamlet of Tryon, Cathy forwards a video celebrating the development of the memorial to homegirl Nina Simone the town will be unveiling next month:

And here's another video of Nina singing a rousing version of one of her most distinctive pieces, "Ain't Got No ..."

It took a long time, but welcome home.

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Ecopsychology takes hold

Today's NY Times reminds me why, in pre-digital days now long past, I'd often settled in with the Sunday print edition and a pot of coffee and read all day. And there's one article today that really caught my eye: Daniel B. Smith's "Is There An Ecological Unconscious", which delves into the work of several psychologists who are exploring, and treating pathologies in, the connection between mind and the world we know as Nature.

Smith, as any serious student of the link must, takes his review of ecopsychology all the way back to the work of Gregory Bateson, whose fundamental insights helped open the connection to study. Bateson held that, as Smith puts it, "Humankind suffered from an 'epistemological fallacy': we believed, wrongly, that mind and nature operated independently of each other. In fact, nature was a recursive, mindlike system; its unit of exchange wasn’t energy, as most ecologists argued, but information. The way we thought about the world could change that world, and the world could in turn change us."

“When you narrow down your epistemology and act on the premise ‘what interests me is me or my organization or my species,’ you chop off consideration of other loops of the loop structure,” Bateson wrote. “You decide that you want to get rid of the byproducts of human life and that Lake Erie will be a good place to put them. You forget that the ecomental system called Lake Erie is a part of your wider ecomental system — and that if Lake Erie is driven insane, its insanity is incorporated in the larger system of your thought and experience.” Our inability to see this truth, Bateson maintained, was becoming monstrously apparent. Human consciousness evolved to privilege “purposiveness” — to get us what we want, whether what we want is a steak dinner or sex. Expand that tendency on a mass scale, and it is inevitable that you’re going to see some disturbing effects: red tides, vanishing forests, smog, global warming. “There is an ecology of bad ideas, just as there is an ecology of weeds,” Bateson wrote, “and it is characteristic of the system that basic error propagates itself.”
As someone who lived, when I first read him, at the northern end of Lake Erie, where the annual fish catch had dropped in a few decades from thousands of tons to a few hundred pounds, and those too poisoned to eat; where summer algal blooms engulfed the lakefront and whole islands; in a city where rivers flowing into Lake Erie would actually catch fire ... well, as you might imagine, I found that Bateson's words had real resonance.

"Critics would likely point out," Smith notes, "that ecopsychologists smuggle a worldview into what should be the value-neutral realm of therapy. Supporters would likely reply that, like Bateson, ecopsychologists are not sneaking in values but correcting a fundamental error in how we conceive of the mind: to understand what it is to be whole, we must first explain what is broken."

Go get a cup of coffee, dear reader, a cup of tea, or whatever you might prefer to drink on such an occasion, and settle in for a good read.


When you've finished Smith's article, here's a link to two chapters of Bateson's Mind and Nature, so pour yourself another cup.

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Saturday, January 30, 2010

In search of Jack Clarke

Mike Bough is looking for responses to the work of poet John (Jack) Clarke:

... John Clarke (1933-1992) was an important poet and scholar who was one of the most significant students of Charles Olson. Although relatively unknown outside a small circle of attentive writers, Clarke’s influence was remarkably significant. His two last books — From Feathers to Iron, a book on poetics, and In the Analogy, an incomplete epic consisting of some 200 sonnets — were the most important — and successful — attempts to further the work initiated by Olson.

I’m proposing to collect a variety of responses to Jack and his work and publish them as a book. It won’t be, strictly speaking, either a festschrift or homage. I’m hoping it will be something like a living record of Jack’s legacy. It could include everything from personal reminiscences to poetic or personal responses to critical or personal assessments of his work to art. I leave it to the contributors to decide how they best want to respond to their relation to Jack and his work.
Boughn can be reached at mboughn at gmail dot com.

Cass Clarke, Jack's widow, is also preparing a photo album, and Boughn is editing a volume of his work that will include previously unpublished material.

Thanks to Dale Smith's Possum Ego for some of the details of Boughn's call.

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Friday, January 29, 2010

A few links for the new laureate ...

Kathryn Stripling Byer, now the former Poet Laureate of the Old North State, has a nice appreciation of new Laureate Cathy Smith Bowers up on her Laureate's blog, written on the occasion of her selection of Cathy as one of her "Poets of the Week" in October, 2009. As she puts it,
[Cathy Smith Bowers] is one of the finest poets writing today ... her work fuses narrative with exquisite lyricism, as well as wit and vulnerability.
She also helpfully provides the texts of two of Cathy's poems from The Candle I Hold Up to See You, "Cool Radio" and "Solace", which give evidence of the complex interplay of passion, compassion, and humor that defines the tonal center of her work.

Kay also has a note up today on the announcement of Cathy's selection to succeed her (though Cathy won't, as it turns out, be taking over the "Laureate's Lasso" blog that Kay has done so much good work on, but will be starting her own blog in the new few weeks).

Wendi Loomis, who's also from Cathy's hometown of Tryon, has an interview from 2008 at her Jazz and Poetry site that explores, among other things, the life transition that brought Cathy to Tryon.

More to come.

Photo: Kay and Cathy get together at Kay's studio in Sylva to discuss the laureateship.

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Now it can be told: NC has a new Poet Laureate

Today the Governor's office put out a press release announcing the appointment of Cathy Smith Bowers as North Carolina's new Poet Laureate:

Beverly Eaves Perdue


State of North Carolina

Office of the Governor

20301 Mail Service Center • Raleigh, NC 27699-0301

January 29, 2010

Contact: Chrissy Pearson

(919) 733-5612

Gov. Perdue Appoints Cathy Smith Bowers as the New State Poet Laureate

RALEIGH - Gov. Bev Perdue announced today the appointment of Cathy Smith Bowers of Tryon as North Carolina’s Poet Laureate. Smith Bowers will be installed at a ceremony scheduled Wednesday, Feb. 10, at 4:30 p.m. at the State Capitol. The ceremony is open to the public.

“Cathy’s powerful poems open new avenues of thought, and are a reflection of the love of words and learning. She believes poetry inspires and instructs North Carolinians of all ages,” Gov. Perdue said.

Smith Bowers teaches in the UNC Asheville’s Great Smokies Writing Program and in the M.F.A. program at Queens University of Charlotte where she received the 2002 J.B. Fuqua Distinguished Educator Award. She also received the Gilbert-Chappell Distinguished Poet Award given by the North Carolina Poetry Society in 2006 and 2007. Smith Bowers received a bachelor’s and master’s degree in English from Winthrop University in Rock Hill, S.C.

She is the author of four poetry collections: The Love That Ended Yesterday in Texas, Texas Tech University Press, 1992; Traveling in Time of Danger, Iris Press, 1999; A Book of Minutes, Iris Press, 2004; The Candle I Hold Up To See You, Iris Press, 2009.


Readers of Natures will perhaps recollect previous posts on Cathy's work, and her appearances on Wordplay, here here and here. I've been a fan since my first encounter with her work, and, though I'm no doubt biased, believe the governor has made an excellent appointment.

The state's been without a Poet Laureate since June, 2009, which marked the end of former Laureate Kay Byer's fantastic - and extended - term.

Word was that the state would not appoint a new one, given the budgetary difficulties it has experienced in the on-going economic calamity. The Arts Council announced in September, though, that it was accepting nominations, and, fortunately for poetry in the Tarheel world, it has now selected its poet.

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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

New Wordplay V shows on the archive

Apologies for the long wait, but I'm finally getting new Wordplay Season V shows uploaded to the ibiblio archive:

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.

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.

More soon.


The kinks in the AshevilleFM archiving system now seem to have been worked out, and new shows upload automatically to the station stream server, and stay there for two weeks. Just go to the site's Programming page, and click on the link to the stream. This link should take you, for now, to Sunday's show with California poet Cecilia Woloch, which features music by Asheville's Janet Robbins. Enjoy!

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Curious sightings in Sylva ...

Thomas Rain Crowe wrote last Wednesday:
the Jackson Co. grapevine has been working overtime and....the word has reached Tuckasegee that you were downtown around noon today with a "beautiful tall blonde woman" and looking very happy--as in having a good time. Then someone I know ran into Kay Byer at Ingles, who proceeded to tell the tale of Jeff Davis and his new girlfriend who, oddly, has the same initials as our new poet laureate. Hmmm... I said to myself. That explains the request for the jakoosi and the upscale B&B and a good restaurant. So, are you keeping secrets from your poet-friends? You ole dog, you.

Well, arf; for now, though, I'm sworn to secrecy - the Jackson County grapevine, though, is impressive. More soon.

Update 29 January, 2010: Edited to remove a small elision required by the need for secrecy at the time of the original post.

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Monday, January 18, 2010

More flaws in Internet Explorer

The French and German governments have both now advised Internet Explorer users to switch to alternative web browsers, such as Firefox or Google Chrome. Microsoft has acknowledged that security flaws in the browser permitted the attempt last week to hack the email accounts of Chinese human rights activists.

Like many computer guys, I've been advising clients and friends to switch for years. It's amazing to me that Microsoft has left so many holes in IE, despite knowing of its flaws literally for years. I believe early on they actually saw its weaknesses as opportunities for novel types of web-based interaction; unfortunately for them, lots of folks had their own, not so benign, ideas about what those interactions might include.

(Just tangentially related to poetry, but presented as a public service.)


Saturday, January 16, 2010

News notes ...

I missed this when it first got posted, but on Thursday Ron Silliman reviewed Thomas Rain Crowe's new chapbook, The Blue Rose of Venice. What's more, he liked it, noting of it's short "Song of the Gondolier" -

Short bridges.
Narrow canals.
A single wooden paddle
from a black boat on dark water
the only sound
the gondolier begins to sing
eeoo, eeoo
into the evening
and the mouth of
a cellular phone.

that "it’s perfectly executed and I found myself reading it over & over, luxuriating in each moment."

Congratulations to Mr. Crowe!

(Other posts about Thomas and his work: here)


Thomas joined me on Wordplay on January 3rd, and as soon as I get it edited (the station internet stream, which feeds the archiving system - or used to, now - dropped several times during the show, so it's incomplete and fragmentary), but I'll post it to the Wordplay Archive.

He read much of the Blue Rose, and friend and fellow poet Caleb Beissert, who joined us in the studio, read some translations of Neruda, and some of his own work as well .


Speaking of Wordplay, thanks to the hard work of Greg Lyon, we've now gotten that archiving system actually, you know, archiving and uploading to the stream server, so each show will be available online for two weeks after its initial air date. I'll post it to the ibiblio archive after that.

Last week's show with poet Lucy Tobin is even now available from the Programming page, here, though it's in unedited form, which means you'll hear a few minutes of Diet Riot before Wordplay, and sundry other sonic artifacts that will disappear before it goes to ibiblio.

I'll be uploading this fall's and winter's shows to ibiblio anon.


And the complete text of Robert Creeley's Collected Essays is now available online, as well, complete with index. Creeley's one of the indispensable guides to poetry in the late great 20th century, so it's wonderful to have his work available for free.
(a tip of the hat to Silliman's blog for the link)

Photo: Thomas Rain Crowe and Caleb Beissert in the AshevilleFM studio for WordPlay.

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Thursday, January 14, 2010

Neanderthals, too, had a certain style

Another pair of sites in Spain confirms that our Neanderthal cousins were capable of symbolic thought:
Professor João Zilhão and colleagues examined pigment-stained and perforated marine shells, most certainly used as neck pendants, from two Neanderthal-associated sites in the Murcia province of south-east Spain (Cueva de los Aviones and Cueva Antón). The analysis of lumps of red and yellow pigments found alongside suggest they were used in cosmetics. The practice of body ornamentation is widely accepted by archaeologists as conclusive evidence for modern behaviour and symbolic thinking among early modern humans but has not been recognised in Neanderthals – until now.
Previous evidence of Neanderthal practice in the decorative arts had been dismissed as the result of "stratigraphic mixing (which can lead to confusion about the dating of particular artefacts), Neanderthal scavenging of abandoned modern human sites, or Neanderthal imitation without understanding of behaviours observed among contemporary modern human groups." Professor Zilhão believes that the current finds are clear evidence of advanced cognitive abilities among late members of the Neanderthal line.

(Thanks to Archeoblog for the find)

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Thursday, January 07, 2010

Rocking in the Stone Age

Archeologist Patrick McGovern has become a specialist in a particular form of prehistoric food use: turning it into alcohol. And he keeps finding earlier and earlier examples of humans partying down.
A secure supply of alcohol appears to have been part of the human community's basic requirements much earlier than was long believed. As early as around 9,000 years ago, long before the invention of the wheel, inhabitants of the Neolithic village Jiahu in China were brewing a type of mead with an alcohol content of 10 percent, McGovern discovered recently.

McGovern has come to believe that the desire for inebriation was one of the moving forces in the development of agriculture, and makes a good case. It's worth reading the whole article.

Photo: Beer and wine cooling in a late holocene culture. Thanks.

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