Raleigh Rambles

John Dancy-Jones at large!

Sally Buckner, A Writer’s Writer That Championed North Carolina

Sally Buckner, 1931-2018

The first time I met Sally Buckner was through Sam Ragan, and she came to seem, in my eyes, as important a North Carolina literary figure as that wonderful man. I was in tenth grade, and my mother, dying of brain cancer and desperate to do something for her lost creative son, talked Mr. Ragan into letting me into an evening writing seminar he was conducting at the Hill Library at State College. All the other students were college age or older, but everyone was very kind to me and I learned a lot. Sally was one of the students, but I put that together in retrospect after many years.

Sally taught a writing class to M.Ed students at NCSU in the 90’s and her class was one of my last in getting my degree in Special Education. Her approach to this course was perfect for me and I was re-invigorated, newly aware of the possibilities for creative non-fiction, and moved by the memoirs she had stimulated me to write. It was clear to me she was a great teacher, and as we got to know each other I discovered our only previous meeting, in spite of close brushes through the years. I also came to know and greatly respect her own writings, as well as all she had done to promote North Carolina literary culture.

Sally was a very good writer, and I believe she was a great teacher of writing. These skills culminated in my favorite work of her, Our Words, Our Ways, a teaching anthology of NC writing through history. She taught in many venues at all age levels, but her 28 year career at Peace College took her into retirement. When she retired, I printed the poem below for her retirement dinner. As shown on her Facebook page and elsewhere, she was beloved and will be greatly missed.

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Sally Buckner papers at UNC

Losing My Father, a poem by Sally Buckner

 

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January 8, 2018 Posted by | literary, Raleigh history, reflection | , | 1 Comment

Jonathan Williams The Lord of Orchards: an anthology

Jeffery Beam is an old friend and a wonderful poet whose work is often celebrated here. In 2009, a year after the passing of Jonathan Williams, he and Richard Owens published online a “festschrift” of remembrances and appreciations in honor of Williams and his accomplishments as small press publisher (especially of The Black Mountain School poets), photographer, writer and cultural bloodhound in a lifelong pursuit of a “poetics of gathering.” The print version, with many excellent additions, has now been published.

The image above is my copy of the book, from Prospecta Press,  and my copy of a postcard*, pictured on the back of the book, which I received in 1980 from a dear artist friend who purchased it at the Gotham Bookshop. I met Jonathan Williams at a small press fair in Carrboro where we each had a table. Over the years, Jargon Society titles and broadsides of JW’s poetry have come my way and kept me intrigued with the noble, eclectic, Epicurean curmudgeon of Highlands.

The title of the book comes from a JW poem:

the Lord of Orchards

selects his fruit

in the Firmament’s

breast

JW had many titles, most of his own epistolary stylings: Lord Nose, the Colonel, J Jeeter Swampwater, Big Enis. He was also called, by Hugh Kenner, Custodian of Snowflakes and Truffle-Hound of American Poetry, in honor of his indefatigable efforts to find and preserve culture, some found in the oddest places. He was a champion of Outsider artists, a curator of obscure literary references and a model for all those who shared or admired his “deep affection for the strange.” With Jargon Society Press, he presented the world with much important writing, well after his heyday of publishing cohorts at BMC, where JW enrolled in 1951 in order to study photography with Harry Callahan.

The BMC connections are strong but complicated,as described in Ross Hair’s essay in this book, entitled “Hemi-Demi-Semi Barbaric Yawps” – Jonathan Williams and Black Mountain College. He came late in the existence of this doomed educational icon, and immediately developed a strong but somewhat antagonistic relationship with Charles Olson, who JW found to be “an extremely enkindling sort of man.” As publisher, JW helped establish some BMC reputations but also applied his always broad skills as book designer and editor to create a unique body of published work that celebrates the visionary creativity to be found in the South. Mr. Hair well describes the way JW’s absolutely wide-open close attention and curiosity regarding all cultural phenomenon, in his poetry and publishing, provides a balance to the hyper-masculine and exclusionary influences of Olson’s BMC era.

The anthology, like the original online feature, contains four sections: Remembering (memorial writings), Responding (literary analysis), Reviewing (his photography), and Recollecting (appreciations of Jargon Society Press). Additions included in the print version include letters between JW and his first partner, Ronald Johnson, a recounting of the publication of White Trash Cooking, and transcripts of interview/film sessions with Neal Hutcheson. Congratulations to Jeffery and long live the memory of Jonathan Williams, a true original. My favorite JW broadside, reprinted from Pairadaeza for a reading at NC Wesleyan College, reads thus:

*Poet’s Silhouette (1951): Looking Forward to a Lifetime of meditation on a Text by R.B. Kitaj. NYC 1978, Artists Postcards.

original online feature at Jacket Magazine

Jargon Society Press is now part of the BMCM+AC

 

September 25, 2017 Posted by | art, Black Mountain, literary | , , | 1 Comment

At BMC Conference, Performances and Activities Rival Academics

my pre-conference project

my pre-conference project

Late September 2014 brought the 6th edition of Re Viewing: Black Mountain College, and my experience, as always, was to be re-invigorated with the vast lessons to be learned from attention to the process and people who inhabited that magical place between 1933 and 1957. This year’s conference had writing as its theme, but the over-all thrust of the events took us well beyond the Olson era at the end of the college’s life, which is usually the focus of BMC literary topics.

Dewey at Rice show

The conference is sponsored by the Black Mountain College Museum and Art Center, whose reception for an art show of Dan Rice’s work is seen above. The BMCMAC is growing fast, with a growing permanent collection of BMC art and a newly announced expansion in downtown Asheville. Their conference has been held past two years at UNC-A’s Reuter Center, a lifelong learning institute which serves as a slightly cramped but otherwise excellent venue. It was well attended by presenters from across the country, with a small international contingent as well. A special feature of the conference is the appearance of individuals directly connected to the college, and this year’s prize was Ted Dreier, Jr, who spent his childhood there as his father Ted Sr. played a major role in college life and the business/finances of BMC. Ted Jr. shared many stories during the Sunday campus tour. It was also a great pleasure to meet the grandson of John Dewey, whose educational philosophy was a foundation of BMC.

IMG_6596

Jeff Davis prepares to distribute playing card decks

The simultaneous events always means selection and rejection (or sneaking out and listening a bit). I started with electing for a writing workshop with Jeff Davis, who helped inspire the cut-up project pictured at the top of this post. Jeff had us participants write two words on a deck of 52 cards he provided. Then we dealt ten out and built poems with the selection using a couple of different procedures. We were emulating the “procedural writing” process used by BMC alumnus Jonathan Williams in writing his poem “Mahler: for Symphony No. 7 in B Minor.” It was fun and Jeff offered enthusiastic appreciation for the ironies and amusing juxtapositions in the poems as we shared them. Jonathan’s press, Jargon Society, is now under the auspices of the BMCMAC.

Ted whips

The next session also drew me to a decidedly non-academic presentation, where Ted Pope offered his unique brand of performance poetry. After a mesmerizing rendition of intricate classical guitar by his son, Ted set the tone for his own work by whipping his arrangement of antlers on a tree stump. This was followed by several energetic rants, including one that gave BMCMAC vice-chairman J. Richard Gruber “a whole new perspective on my home state of Kentucky.” Ted’s anarchic approach brings to life some of the spirit of the college, but also evokes a rich sense of the mountain man, wily and cultured in his own way, and helps define the sense of place that was a thread throughout the conference.

Brian Butler, Mary Emma Harris and Richard Gruber

Brian Butler, Mary Emma Harris and Richard Gruber visit the Lake Eden campus

Mary Emma Harris, preeminent BMC researcher, and Vincent Katz,  keynote speaker, focused on the growing international recognition of the importance and value of Black Mountain College studies and the profound model of experiential and self-directed education its history represents. The editors of the upcoming Anthology of Black Mountain College Poetry discussed their criteria, reflecting the strong literary importance of Olson and the Black Mountain poets as well as the diverse examples of good writing that permeated the entire span of the college’s existence. Ray Johnson, my default interest at all conferences, is included in the anthology, and his writing is also featured in two newly published books: a new printing of Paper Snake and Not Nothing: Selected Writings, 1954-1994, both from Siglio Press. I honestly did not attend enough hard core lectures to report on the literary ideas at the conference, but instead continued my trend of taking in the active and participatory opportunities. They continued to be very rewarding.

Mercedes listens and draws

Mercedes Teixido listens to BMC readings and draws

When I walked into “Notes for Time and Place, an Improvisational Drawing Performance,” I not only did not know what to expect, I did not recognize the mechanism sitting on the presenter’s table. I might have, because I had seen a much earlier version. Mercedes Teixido has arranged the construction of a Jeffersonian copy machine, built in consultation with the curators of Monticello, and she uses this marvelous machine in her art endeavors. We were given written instructions (in duplicate copies), to peruse the Black Mountain College titles spread out on the table, and to read a passage aloud when the impulse struck us. The written “rules” stated that if we read a passage, she would make a drawing, and we could have one. As a group, we took a little warming up but eventually all of the audience read something aloud, and just as with Jeff Davis’s “Chance of Magic” workshop, there were fun juxtapositions with and reactions to the readings.

Mercedes Teixido drawing machine

Mercedes herself just listened and worked quietly. She patiently placed twin sheets of paper into her marvelous machine after each drawing, and after some time she spread out the twin line drawings for display. We were invited to take one of a pair, leaving her with a documentary set. It was a truly unique experience, and we all bonded a bit through listening to each other read. It was one of the best acts of artistic community-building I have ever seen, and highly appropriate to this conference about a college where art and life, the interior mind and the artistic act, were irrevocably entertwined.

Monika and David

Monika Gross & David Novak stage a reading of selections from the correspondence of Robert Duncan and Denise Levertov

The culmination of my conference experiences came with Re Weaving, a theatrical reading of letters between Robert Duncan and Denise Levertov. Monika’s work attempts to expand our perspective on theater through unusual spaces, modes, or interactions between actors and audience. This performance drew on the powerful phrases of the original exchanges between Duncan and Levertov, but also enacted the spirit of BMC itself with its fresh approach and innovative techniques. The selection, repetition and rhythm of the words built an amazing dynamic between two very powerful and convincing characters ensconced in a stripped down, yet utterly convincing physical set.

 Monika steps out

This was another performance  offered as an alternative to the academic presentations, this one outside on a patio of the Reuter Center, with the readers/actors under a rustic wooden trellis filled with vines.  A few simple props (most magnificently exemplified by a manual typewriter) served to evoke the personal spaces of two people who send their thoughts and feelings across the continent. At times, they react in real time to each other’s missives, at times the rapid exchanges represent an argument: there were no limiting rules in the creation of this dialogue. The power of the characters seems enhanced when they take their inner thoughts outside of the defined theatrical space: when David Novak stalks the character of Robert Duncan up the landscaped slope outside the trellis, it is as if he has left the theatrical space but taken us with him, witness to his silent but fully projected thoughts. Monika, who also stepped away as seen above, did her own magic with space, joining the audience and thrusting her hand up like a precocious schoolgirl at the famous Mr. Duncan, asking him the questions that beleaguered this passionate but probably unconsummated intellectual couple. It was a strong, effective and moving performance, honoring and exploring the range of artistic modes that characterize Black Mountain College.

barn and silo

But wait! Hang in there for the BMC campus and farm tour!

Mary Emma dining hall

For me, the best was last this year. I finally took the Sunday tour, mainly because David Silver had asked me to read for his farm tour and I was thrilled to contribute, in a way however small, to this wonderful event. Mary Emma Harris started us with a tour of the original resort bought by Black Mountain College in 1941. Midway through her exposition of the dining hall and its central role in college life, Ted Dreier, Jr and his wife arrived, and Ms. Harris (as did David Silver later) graciously conceded the speaking stick to this true alumnus of BMC college life, as faculty kid and later as student. He shared wonderful memories about being allowed to sit at meals with students, about the tragedy of his brother’s accidental death and the memorial construction of the Quiet House, and the communal exchange of the bulletin board in the student-constructed Study Hall.

Mary Emma Harris and Ted Drier, Jr on the back porch of the Study Hall

Mary Emma Harris and Ted Dreier, Jr on the back porch of the Study Hall

The property purchased by the college is now divided: Camp Rockmount continues to host hundreds of boys each summer, but the upper reaches, including several original cabins and the farm area, still belong to the family who purchased the land from BMC in 1947. The son-in-law of that family, Leigh Maher, is on the BMCMAC board, and joined us for the tour of his part of property.

Silver and property owner

David Silver talks to Leigh Maher under the student-constructed Study Building

David Silver followed up his amazing multimedia event at the Hunt Library with a bang-up tour of the farm. He had several people read relevant passages as we stood in front of the barn and silo. Silver’s numerous presentations have made it clear that the the farm was central to the life and very existence of the college, and that its abandonment in the final years not only left the students hungry enough to eat frog legs, but signaled the coming doom of the end. And yet, as Mary Emma Harris said, the real point is that it lasted as long as it did on such precarious financial ground, and lasted long enough to generate waves of students and ideas that permeate American art culture to this day.

JDJ reads from Michael Rumaker at farm tour

JDJ reads from Michael Rumaker at farm tour

All RR posts on BMC

my BMC page

October 21, 2014 Posted by | art, Black Mountain, literary | , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Cutting Up for the Black Mountain College Conference

Cut UP card

Looking forward to attending the BMC conference at UNC-A’s Reuter Center Sept. 26-28. Last year I did a silkscreen of an ancient motif – this year I am responding to the writing theme of this year’s event with a give-away piece of hand-laid paper incorporating randomized sentences cut from a variety of sources.

I cut hundreds of sentences from some old paperback books lining my letterpress shop – the criteria being variety and nothing post-dating the lifetime of the college. These were spread out and “shuffled” thoroughly, then dropped into the vat of pulp a few at the time as I formed the sheets. Minor lifting and adjusting did not interfere with the groupings and each sheet has fun juxtapositions with occasional strong ironies. I made 52 to take to the conference.

52 Cut Ups

 The use of chance and spontaneous order is characteristic of some of the best-known BMC artists. I look forward to learning more about its use by Jonathan Williams in a writing workshop conducted by Jeff Davis, where he

“will replicate in brief form the procedure Jonathan Williams developed when he wrote the section in in his long poem Mahler for Symphony No. 7 in B Minor. After steeping himself in Mahler’s work, he availed himself of an “hallucinatory deck” of cards, and wrote on those cards the 110 words that were the “private and most meaningful words of [his]poetic vocabulary,” and then, using different rules for each of the movements, he wrote the amazing poem!

The cards I made have already helped me engender a long list of favorite phrases and it will be fun to distribute them to the wonderful folks that attend these conferences. Long live the spirit of BMC!

Cut UP closeup

all posts on Black Mountain College

my BMC page

September 24, 2014 Posted by | art, Black Mountain, literary | , , | 1 Comment

Jeffery Beam’s Gospel celebrates Earth

Jeffery Beam’s rich and varied literary contributions have been recognized here before, but his recent reading at the UNC Botanical garden was a found treasure.  He was surrounded by friends and presented not only botanical poems from his latest book, Gospel Earth , but sang, remininsced, and read favorite passages from the poets who have influenced him. Jeffery’s wonderful voice, his energy, and his exuberant love for natural beauty made his reading a meditation and a spiritual sharing.

Gospel Earth is described on the Regulator Bookstore site as a “a collection of monostitches, micropoems, American sentences, small stones, small poem sequences, & minimalist poetry.”   It begins with a plentitude of short quotes, almost all gemstones of thought from many different sources.  Just as he shared his influences in the reading, his book says up front: here I stand, the earth my image, love my fuel, all the beauty I have been given is part of me.  Those are my words and show Jeffery’s effect on one: spiritual and mindful.

Gospel Earth moves from the quotes to extremely short responses to images, many one line or even two or three words.  The literary devices are almost invisible behind the strong zen and monastic distillations of pure meaning.  The natural images shine for themselves in Jeffery’s deft and delicate frames.  The Botanical Garden says Gospel Earth is

 “a big book of little poems, [it] has already received acclaim for its transcendent, lush beauty; its minimal sacrament; and its simplicity and physicality. Described by the poet as a work intended to “invigorate the startling propulsion of haiku’s accessible simplicity and minimalism, while creating a more active canvas.”

The book does contain larger pieces, including a prose meditation on birding dedicated to Jonathan Williams (more about him below). One of my favorite pieces is a poem with notes that constitute an essay called “The Green Man’s Man.”  The poem finds Jeffery immersed in Nature but always open to the philosophical notes in her song: ” I open Nature’s book/finding:/The more I know/The less I know.”  The notes were written specifically for a different Botanical Garden event, and delve into the mythological image of the Green man.   Jeffery tells us

The Green Man is not separate from us, he is our source, emphasizing & celebrating the positive creative laws of Nature, the native intelligence that shepherds and protects this world, and the ecological rightness that guides us.

Jeffery entertains the Botanical Garden crowd as Stanley smiles

Jeffery continues to enact and support the spirit of Black Mountain College in many ways and I hope to learn more of his scholarship regarding Jonathan Williams.  He has presented numerous times about him, and is working on a bibliography.  He has also shared manuscripts and links that make it clear he is a leading authority on the man’s life and significance.

Jeffery Beam’s Jonathan Williams interview 2003

A SNOWFLAKE ORCHARD and What I Found There :  essay on The Jargon Society Press by Jeffery Beam

J. Williams obit at NCWN by J. Beam

 Another BMC link: J. B.’s Indy review of Rumaker’s Black Mountain Days

Jeffery’s website

Oyster Boy Review

Jeffery’s UNC Bio

Jeffery’s UNC Library archive

Jeffery’s feature on My Laureate’s Lasso

another feature at Jeff Davis’s Natures

Indy Review of Gospel Earth 

WUNC interview re Gospel Earth

 Gospel Earth. Jeffery Beam. Skysill Press, 3 Gervase Gardens, Clifton Village, Nottingham, NG11 8LZ, United Kingdom. http://www.skysillpress.blogspot.com/ Sam.Ward@nottingham.ac.uk

Parts of this book also existed in online and pamphlet versions:

Gospel Earth. Three color fold out booklet wrapped in Tibetan handmade paper with wrap-around band. Longhouse Press. 2006

December 26, 2010 Posted by | Black Mountain, literary, music | , | 2 Comments