Friday, December 29, 2006

Holidays, Holy Days ...

Last week's show is still up on the archives, and if you like Dylan Thomas, it'd be a worthwhile listen, since Laura read the whole of his "Child's Christmas In Wales", a story that beautifully discloses the wonderment of childhood and winter, and the dear quirky world of a small Welsh community.

As we didn't manage to say during the show, it first came out in 1954 - not, in other words, until after Thomas had died, in 1953, not yet forty. I doubt that it's ever been out of print.

This Sunday we'll be reading and responding to some other poems of the holidays, of beginnings and endings, renewals and celebrations, so join us for the first ever WordPlay New Year's Eve.

Thanks to composer John Mitchell's site for the portrait of Thomas.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Tomorrow: Jaye Bartell

Poet Jaye Bartell, who's been an important part of the Asheville poetry scene for the past five years, is planning to shuffle off to Buffalo in a couple of weeks. We've invited him to join us again in the studio this Sunday to talk about his work, read new poems, and tell us what he has planned for his farewell reading, scheduled for next Friday, 8th December, at 9:30 PM at the New French Bar. Hope you'll tune in and join us.

Note: There's a selection of Jaye's poems in the December Rapid River, available now; his blog is Makes a Bird.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Surrealism Part II

... is coming up on this Sunday's WordPlay.

Last Sunday (scroll down to listen) Sebastian, Glenis and I began a discussion of Surrealism, dug into its roots in spiritualism, and read poetry by Andre Breton and Jean Follain, among others. Breton, of course, was a founder of the movement, and author of the "Surrealist Manifesto" of 1924. We'll look again at the Surrealist project this week, and read some more Surrelaist poetry, some by American poets. I'll be bringing some Philip Lamantia, and others will bring ... well, who knows?

With any luck, we'll get to Oulipo.

It's bound to be lively. Hope you'll join us.

(Cross-posted at NatureS. The portrait captures Andre Breton in 1930)

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Tomorrow: Thomas Rain Crowe

Thomas Rain Crowe joins us tomorrow on WordPlay to continue our discussion of music and poetry; this week we get to hear a little of Thomas with the BoatRockers, the musical group with which he sometimes performs. The program's at 4:00, and will be rebroadcast Tuesday at 6:00 PM and Wednesday at 7:00 AM at 103.5 FM locally, or on the web; it'll be available as a download from the Archive page beginning Monday morning. Hope you'll join us.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Boatrockers making waves

Airwaves, that is. Thomas Rain Crowe writes to say:
Yo.... Check it out. TRC & The Boatrockers will be on WNCW "Local Color" program on Friday night at 9:00pm in a live studio session.

If you miss this broadcast, you can catch it on a rebroadcast on Nov. 12, Sunday, at 7:00pm.

Mark your calendars and tell your friends and family, and pass the word.

Word passed. You can also listen live from the station's site,

Thomas will also be joining us on WordPlay this Sunday at 4:00 PM on WPVM, 103.5FM, or streaming from the station's website at; the program will be available via podcast beginning Monday November 6th. No Boatrockers (we'll hear them next week), but good poems and good conversation with Sebastian Matthews.

Cross-posted at NatureS.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Mercury retrograde, indeed!

As Sebastian noted below, Mercury is indeed retrograde, so everyone in blogland should take care travelling and communicating for the next few weeks, till it goes direct again on November the 18th. It's in the sign of Scorpio, so it's impact will be greatest for those who have Sun or Mercury in that sign, Taurus, Leo, or Aquarius.

There's a post over at NatureS that links to an archived post about astrology and the personal history that led to my interest in it. Hint: it involves Mercury. Retrograde.

Keep it in the road ...

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Well, Jeff dubbed this week's show "The Mercury in Retrograde" Show. And he's right.
Starting with my screw-up on the board, which led to three minutes of dead air, to the bizarre sound effects on guest Jim Nave's mic, which made him sounds like a fish in an aquarium,
to problems in editing and a cantakerous editing machine, Jeff and I stumbled through this week's fundraising show. The upside: we got to fundraise for this great station, and Nave was a perfect guest, using his radio know-how and good humor to help us through the bumps in the road.

Monday, October 16, 2006

WordPlay Hosts Perform This Week

Action on the poetry scene gets off to a fast start this week in Asheville. Monday night at 7:30, there's the HeartStone reading at Warren Wilson College. A WWC theatre class is going to transform the Cannon Lounge into a set with, I'm told, "a riverine feel." There'll be music of harp, cello, and perhaps flute, and the WWC Chorale will sing mostly, according to Margo Flood, the event co-ordinator, Appalachian ballads having to do with"water" before the reading and between pieces.

Eight readers are scheduled to participate: Janisse Ray, John Lane, Thomas Rain Crowe, Ann Turkle, Gary Lilley, Catherine Reid, and WordPlay hosts Sebastian Matthews and yours truly, Jeff Davis.

Tuesday night the New Southerner crew, including Kathryn Stripling Byer, Thomas Rain Crowe, and John Lane, and several others, reads at Malaprops at 7:00, and at 9:00 WordPlay host Sebastian Matthews and Gary Lilley perform at the BoBo Gallery on Lexington Avenue.

Looking a little further ahead, I'll be reading at Malaprops next Thursday, the 26th, at 7:00.

(Cross-posted in slightly different form over at NatureS)

Friday, October 13, 2006

Coming Up, Rose McLarney

I met poet Rose McLarney at the studio last night and taped a reading and interview for this Sunday. There's more on Rose, and several poems - including some you'll hear on Sunday - over at NatureS. Tune in at 4:00 pm on Sunday to hear her reading them in her own voice, or download or stream the show any time next week after early Monday.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Ikkyu Meets Glenis Redmond

After the show last Sunday, the first in which co-host Glenis Redmond has been able to participate, I was struck by the eerie coherence of the event that unfolded. It certainly wasn't planned; insofar as there had been a plan, it involved reading poems over music. I'd chosen some poems by the fourteenth century Japanese poet Ikkyu, an unconventional Zen monk, that I planned to read over flautist Jean-Pierre Rampal's lovely Japanese Melodies. Ikkyu's work, though, includes erotic poems. Did I mention that Ikkyu was unconventional? Here's one, in John Stevens' translation:

A Woman's Sex

It has the original mouth but remains wordless;
It is surrounded by a magnificent mound of hair.
Sentient beings can get completely lost in it
But it is also the birthplace of all the Buddhas of the ten thousand worlds.

A man's erotic poetry celebrates the feminine - the Goddess in woman - so Ikkyu's poems actually resonated, I thought, with the poems Glenis read, some of her own, some by other strong women poets. Listen to the show and see what you think.

(The poem is from Ikkyu, Wild Ways, translated by John Stevens, published by White Pine Press, Buffalo, NY, 2003.)

(Cross-posted with minor edits at Natures)

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Bummer Poetry

I am reading Thomas More's Care of the Soul right now. In March I was reading Mark Epstein's Open to Desire. What an interesting inner year it has been. First, Epstein's killer treatise on Buddhism's realistic view of its own detachment tenets, which aren't what I'd thought at all, some rational decision not to feel, but rather an outrageous commitment to feel deeply. And now More's book about the soul provides a sort of roadmap or shopping list (terrible ways to say it) of what the vitals of our spirits need to feel. Basically, I'm learning, we need the negative as much as the positive. It is the negative that shapes and feeds our souls as much as the positive smoothes it. This brings up in me endless reconsiderations of suffering, and I recall Mark Mathabane's warning in a speech delivered at Christ School two years ago: be weary of the easy life for it teaches you nothing.

I learned of a terrible tragedy last week. The best friend of someone incredibly close to me shot himself, leaving my friend's name in the suicide note. My friend has been dealing with the tragedy on all levels: taking care of his friend's 5 and 7 year old daughters, all the legal matters, packing up the belongings. He is doing, as we say, all he can. It was this event, this ongoing process, that led me to think about that WCW quote, "People die alone and miserable for lack of what is found" in poetry. The quote has followed me around all my life, popping up, and I'd usually put it back, not wanting to think about it. But I'm ready to face it now: the alone and miserable part has been jarred into comprehension by my friend's friend's suicide. The alone and miserable part is hard to swallow--poetry brings us face to face with our solitude and, quite often, our misery. And in so doing, shows we are not so alone. But it's more than just a linguistic bridge over troubled waters. It serves the part of the life the soul feeds on, that place where loss brings us near death and lets us celebrate life simply by choosing to stay in it.

I read the Agha Shahid Ali poem "Farewell" to feed this. It is the closest thing to a "good cry" on paper. The tumbling rhythm, the refrains, the imagery of loss. This is language at the soul's best, hewing from the silence a lexicon for the tragic. "If only somehow you could have been mine," Shahid calls out, "what would not have been possible in this world?" And it's this. It is the "if only's" and the "somehow's" and the "possibles" that break us down into our respective nothings, and it's there in our nothing that we find the opportunity to affirm breath.

We are supposed to feel deeply in order for our souls to eat, hums More throughout my current paper journey. Suffering leads us to the soul's mouth. Poetry tells us what to put in.

Here is the poem: the linebreaks are different from those in the book. I'll correct them soon. Now, I have to go to work.


At a certain point I lost track of you.
They make a desolation and call it peace.
when you left even the stones were buried:
the defenceless would have no weapons.

When the ibex rubs itself against the rocks,
who collects its fallen fleece from the slopes?
O Weaver whose seams perfectly vanished,
who weighs the hairs on the jeweller's balance?
They make a desolation and call it peace.
Who is the guardian tonight of the Gates of Paradise?

My memory is again in the way of your history.
Army convoys all night like desert caravans:
In the smoking oil of dimmed headlights, time dissolved- all
winter- its crushed fennel.
We can't ask them: Are you done with the world?

In the lake the arms of temples and mosques are locked in each other's

Have you soaked saffron to pour on them when they are found like this
centuries later in this country
I have stitched to your shadow?

In this country we step out with doors in our arms
Children run out with windows in their arms.
You drag it behind you in lit corridors.
if the switch is pulled you will be torn from everything.

At a certain point I lost track of you.
You needed me. You needed to perfect me.
In your absence you polished me into the Enemy.
Your history gets in the way of my memory.
I am everything you lost. You can't forgive me.
I am everything you lost. Your perfect Enemy.
Your memory gets in the way of my memory:

I am being rowed through Paradise in a river of Hell:
Exquisite ghost, it is night.

The paddle is a heart; it breaks the porcelain waves.
It is still night. The paddle is a lotus.
I am rowed- as it withers-toward the breeze which is soft as
if it had pity on me.

If only somehow you could have been mine, what wouldn't
have happened in the world?

I'm everything you lost. You won't forgive me.
My memory keeps getting in the way of your history.
There is nothing to forgive.You can't forgive me.
I hid my pain even from myself; I revealed my pain only to myself.

There is everything to forgive. You can't forgive me.

If only somehow you could have been mine,
what would not have been possible in the world?

-- Agha Shahid Ali

Technical Difficulties ...

The system scripts that manage the uploading of files to the automation system that keeps WPVM on the air have gone bonkers this week, and the only person who knows the architecture of the system well enough to fix them is, of course, on vacation. One result of this is that the WordPlay show that's available for streaming and podcast on the station website is actually last week's show with Gary Lilley. It's a good one, complete with live music performed in the studio, so just look on this as a second chance to listen to it or download it.

We'll rebroadcast the show you're missing sometime when you least expect it.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Latest Show

What can I say? We've got a nice little rhythm going. How fun to play with Jeff and Laura! We seem able to truly go with the flow, making up the format of the show a few minutes before we go on. This Sunday Laura suggested we use WCW's famous remark about people dying for lack of poetry. Then, without us trying, all the poems we read seemed to revolve around her central question: what is it about poetry do we need? Jeff read all James Wright poems, three of his most famous, including "A Blessing." Laura read Agha Shahid Ali and a couple others. I read mostly jazz poems from the upcoming Asheville Poetry Review.

We all look forward to Glenis' presence in the studio. I hope to take over the board next time so Jeff can join Laura and Glenis on the other side of the mic.

What I like most about the show so far is the ease with which we communicate. There's a lot of laughing. We still have a lot to learn, and my wife Ali seemed to think we had too many long pauses. But Laura's idea of naming poems after we read them, and giving book titles, etc. should help. I read one poem without mentioning the author. I'll do it here. The Chick Corea poem was by Matthew Dickman, who has a chapbook due out this fall from Q Ave Press. Keep an ear and an eye for this young poet. Tony Hoagland writes that he has some of the deepest pockets of the young poets working today. I tend to agree. Positively Whitmanesque.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Just got back from a day down on Lexington for the street fair. Slipped away for a few hours to host this Sunday's show with Jeff, intrepid in his engineer's cap, and Gary Lilley, who brought in a full band. And I mean full. We stuffed into the tiny WPFM on-air studio: drum set and drummer, bassist and amp, flute player, didg/sax man, Gary, myself & Jeff. We even had a small audience in the office. (Hey Janet!)

The whole event was spur-of-the-moment, much in the spirit of the street fair below. No time for sound check; not enough mics to go around; having to jot down key stats on post-its. A little soulful irony as we counted down the last 30 seconds--the Chambers Bros were on, busting out their 60s anthem "Time." Then 1,2,3..."I'm Sebastian Matthews, your host for this week's WordPlay. Our guest today is poet Gary Lilley..."

Gary started with his blues-rap "Asheville," conjuring Thomas Wolfe and O Henry and the unremembered Cherokee. Then the band opened with a new piece, "Alpha Zula." It was hard to tell as they were playing if what we were capturing on the mics was going to sound as good as it did in the studio. Jeff kept trying to keep Gary's mic from taking in too much bleed-through from the musicians. I couldn't tell if Gary's voice was getting drowned out by the band. At one point Jeff just raised up his hands and laughed.

After a couple more tunes and some light-hearted q-and-a, it was time to wrap it up. We'd burned through the 30 minute show so fast I felt dizzy. Maybe we just needed to open the studio door. Thank you Mr. Lilley and His Afterschool Special! Thank you Gary, Dan, Brian, Brian and Eric. And thank you, Jeff, for some serious engineering mojo. Because when we got in the back to archive the show for the podcast, we couldn't believe our ears. Despite the topped out mics and miscues and everything, it sounded good. It sounded great, in fact.

Then back out onto the street to wander through another kind of collaborative madness, with its bike jousts, mimes and face-painted children; then in my car as the first drops began to fall. And home. Now for a glass of wine, and a toast to poetry, music, collaboration, blind luck and good old Asheville!!

Saturday, September 09, 2006

This Sunday ...

Poet Gary Lilley joins Sebastian and me on the air. Here's a poem from Gary's chapbook Black Poem:

A Woman Wearing Red

So I picked up the obscene call on the white courtesy phone and asked the party for the number so I could call her back from the hotel room, and it was a 1-900 number, which I don’t mind, cause everybody got to eat, and then I remembered this escort gal in Charleston, she wore Shangri-La dresses, and had a black heart-of- thorns tattoo on her bicep, and it’s possible I may have loved her about a hundred years, from the moment she told me she poured some very heavy whiskey and then showed me that she did, and she always said I should taste her home fries which I have not yet experienced in any of her mornings, but I believe she’s righteous she looks like the whole truth, and nothing but a real good and necessary lie would ever come from mouth, yes, she had a pretty sweet purr and the right shoes to show her pretty heels, rode a pair of mules to get your attention, the kind of woman who could drive you home even when she’s drunk, the gal you look for if you’re coming down a ragged pier after being under the sea for a few months, and whatever God you have grants you some mercy, oh yes, you have to have the faith that she’s there, in all her pleasant home-spun profanities, to bring some damn grace to your sad sailor life, and you know that she will notice all of your sutures, all your contusions, and won’t ask ‘til it’s private because she’s polite and near perfect in her pathological ways, so I went down the thread-bare hall to my dingy room with the window nailed shut and sat down with yesterday’s news, reading the not-so-funnies, wondering how did she know where to find me.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

New WordPlay Oscillates The Airwaves

Sebastian, Laura and I did indeed launch our new collaboration Sunday; it's available now by podcast on WPVM's website. It was a hoot (even if I did have to engineer; sorry about that briefly dead mic, Laura), an exhilarating conversation about poetry, and I hope you'll give it a listen.

We did, though, give incorrect information about one event coming up this week: the reading by Jaye Bartell, Hope Rinehart and others at the Bo Bo Gallery will be happening this Thursday night at 9:00, rather than Wednesday night, as we remembered it. It's on the theme of ... Velcro. Yeah. Okay, I'm curious - curious enough, given the poets involved, to check it out.

Other than that, we did good.

As Mr. Creeley used to say, Onward!

Sunday, September 03, 2006

In Walks Sebastian

This is Sebastian, one of the new Worldplay hosts. Just sat down with Laura and Jeff
to put together our first on-air collaboration. Glenis out of town for the weekend.
As soon as we wrapped up the show, when she thought we were off the air, Laura
stage whispered, "We're good!" I agreed, then we both cringed when Jeff singalled
us to be quiet. But it didn't get caught on tape. "Not bad, not bad," my old basketball
coach used to say, in between draws on the whistle in his mouth as he ran backward
down the court.

I am not sure I am doing this right. So I will stop here. Welcome! Hello! Is anyone
out there? It's me!

Thursday, August 10, 2006

"Ghost Walk" by Laura

for B.

The feet must move beneath the earth
and slow, this trust of space will widen soon.
Fold your hands inward to the heart, this bird,
this rock, inhabiting an edge for longing
and this is how you move, this earth below
you moving up, inside you as you go, now,
toward, this earth below shall hold you,
all your weight, your heart’s core its core,
the beat of grief, the hard, dark beat of hope.

You must walk as though you are not moving,
for only things discover themselves, illumine.
No call, no breath, these cannot lift you from your
step. Only what you know moves you, these words
close at hand, these words on your tongue, sweet
and lost once spoken. You are in your home most
when you are here, this honest. So, trust the dark.
Trust the cuts the trees make across the stars.

No one can hold you here. Your body only moves.
Here the closing opens with your breathing, allow
loss to hold you still. Bring nothing. Want nothing.
Hope for nothing. What this is is what’s beginning,
slow breath turns the air into singing only the soul
can hear and listens back to you, pawing you into the
still, the dark, the wild in you. The soul leans back
on its haunches, licks the wounds the body caused.

Here, let there be cicatrix. Here, allow for carapace.
Here, what’s wrought are the bones of the hollow
body waiting to be counted and remade into a man.
Wait here as the bones begin their singing, as they
remember the first assembling, a map of home.
What they know of love is the taking, ossuary
wisdom of the bones, so generous, so knowing what
thieves we may take of them. So knowing what we leave
behind us as we move to love, this walk away from
loss that always calls us back, teacher, to this life.

Literary Radio

One of the most intriguing qualities of WordPlay is its embrace of the borderland between literary and oral literature. In a literate society, the beauty of being read to leaves us as soon as we outgrow our toddler beds. But programs such as this bring the voice back into reading, enriching our relationship with the books we read. I recall reading that Afghanistan has a remarkably high "illiteracy" rate, something like 80 or 90%, but I also know that the people of Afghanistan know their nation's poetry by heart, its stories by heart, and celebrate them in long tellings and festivals.

Not to romanticize illiteracy as it certainly has economic benefits in the technological world. However, as a writer, does it matter to me whether my words are read by mind or recited by heart? No. Literacy of the heart, that achieved by listening and carrying the words in one's body as opposed to one's bag, has a beautiful warmth for me. Perhaps when we share writing on the air, perhaps it goes directly to the heart.

Warmly, Laura

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Welcome to WordPlay's Blog.

We'll be posting here to provide listeners of WordPlay, WPVM's program by and about poets and writers, with additional materials to expand and enhance their listening experience.