Raleigh Rambles

John Dancy-Jones at large!

BMC Conference – time for being locally articulate!*

Above is  the bookmark I will be giving away at the 9th Annual ReViewing BMC Conference. The quote from Dewey is appropriate for the work/technique/process theme detectable in this year’s offerings, and I’m really excited about going, but the printing of this quote is just as much about the new book published by Brian Butler, who is the UNC-A philosophy professor who helps run the BMCM+AC and who practically invented the wonderful annual conference. I have missed only two of the nine and been blessed with many new friendships through it, Brian not the least. Dewey, whose philosophy infused Black Mountain College, was an early pragmatist, as was Charles Pierce, someone I’ve tried to study over the years. Brian’s tangible and personable promotion of pragmatism, his willingness to interact with a layman such as myself, and reading his new book have given me a healthy dose of mental stimulation and a lot to ponder as we all face the task of finding a workable world view from which we can operate as a world community.

Democratic experimentalism as expressed by John Dewey involves lots of individual, indeed radically local, input about how things are working in the trenches of regular people – a kind of populism. Dewey is perfectly aware it only works if the populace, for the most part, has a reasonable degree of broad and liberal education, so that we can use a logical AND humanistic perspective to examine how social processes are operating. The only way to build a society is to be sociable – personally connected in governmental processes that are democratic all the way down, allowing, again, for constant LOCAL and empirical feedback on the successes and failures of social and commercial processes.

Brian takes the ideas of democratic experimentalism and applies them to jurisprudence, showing that the formalist and strictly literal interpretation of the Constitution pursued by many jurists (and the current majority of the Supreme Court) takes far too little account of the empirical, demonstrable effects of their rulings and literally and purposely exclude non-legal information from their reasonings. Constitutional law needs to be flexible enough to respond to the real workings of the world. Court decisions need to be made in an information-rich context and judges should be acting collaboratively with all parties involved to create a just and good outcome. How can we transform our proud but creaky governmental institutions to meet the challenges of the rapidly changing world? Brian Butler has a few very well reasoned ideas.

This dabbling in contemporary philosophy reflects a life-long, if little shared, thread of my reading. After attending Brian’s small UNC-A conference on neuro-pragmatism, I ordered The Essential William James, edited by a conference leader, John Shook, who offers critical praise for The Democratic Constitution. And I’m truly curious to read a philosophy book, quoted in Brian’s book, whose subtitle is “emerson, jazz and experimental writing.” Expanding those mental horizons! Important for us aging furry freak brothers. Peace.

*post title: About the concern that “localized deliberation…risks domination by the articulate”, Brian quips “at least it would be domination of the locally articulate rather than the professionalized articulate.” I like the phrase very much.  PS the image on the jacket of Brian Butler’s book is Wage Map No.1 – Polk St to Twelfth, Halstead St to Jefferson, Chicago.
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September 28, 2017 Posted by | Black Mountain, reflection | , , | Leave a 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 | , , | Leave a comment

The BMCMAC Fires All Cylinders for Ray J’s Paper Snake Show

Paper Snake promos - Edited

Something Else Entirely

Ray Johnson, Dick Higgins + the making of The Paper Snake

The summer 2015 show at the Black Mountain College Museum in Asheville presented newly re-discovered archives of publication material for Ray Johnson’s The Paper Snake, designed and published by Ray’s good friend Dick Higgins in 1965 as the second title from Higgins’ Something Else Press. Curator Michael Von Uchtrup found the production material in a large brown paper envelope among the many items in William S. Wilson’s Ray Johnson archive. The envelope lay unopened for 50 years. The exhibit displays original collages, design proofs, an autographed copy of the very rare first printing, and various related material, including hilarious “promotion flyers” produced by Ray for the book. The show came on the heels of the reprinting of The Paper Snake by Siglio Press in 2014.

“The show is full of mysteries,” stated Von Uchtrup at the opening reception on June 5, 2015. The Paper Snake is nearly as much about Dick Higgins’ “translation” of Ray Johnson’s ideas as it is a record of one stream of Ray’s voluminous sendings. Higgins selected and sometimes altered the material, often to Ray’s dismay. Many of the proof pages and original art for the book showed significant differences from the final book, and a few bits of the text seemed to be written by Higgins. Still, the book and the show are filled with lists, tiny plays, letters, quotes from reading, and all the other unique fusions of art, communication and humor found in Ray Johnson’s work.

This was a show to read more than to view. Though greatly enhanced by several early collages on loan from Bill Wilson, the bulk of the show was devoted to images directly related to The Paper Snake. Large proofs sequenced on the wall enabled one to actually stand and read the book in proof form.The display tables held much dense typescript that usually rewarded closer inspection. A special treat was the audio-visuals: three audio-cassette records of performance works by Ray Johnson, a Dick Higgins poem recitation, and 1965 8mm films of Ray. Even the book selection on the sales shelf offered a wide and valuable range of titles relevant to the show, including of course, the book itself. The reprint was issued in the same print run as the original, 1840 copies. Siglio Press calls it a “vertiginous,mind-bending artist’s book … far ahead of its time.”

postcard from Lightworks # 22, dedicated to Ray Johnson

The events surrounding the show not only illuminated the book but also presented a fine example of the wonderful work done by the BMCMAC staff and its presenters in providing context and local artistic collaboration to deepen our connection to Black Mountain College. The day after the reception, the curator was joined by Julie J. Thomson for a freely flowing discussion based on slide images of the career and artistic significance of Ray Johnson. Julie has set herself the task of discovering “how one becomes an artist like Ray Johnson,” and her close reading of resonances within the book and her honest embrace of the ambiguity and occasional frustration of dissecting Ray’s inscrutable processes made for a fascinating sharing.  Michael  Von Uchtrup is working on a biography of Ray, and he emphasized many learnable moments derived from close attention to the materials in his discovery. Julie and Michael’s reminiscences of interviews and anecdotes echoed a strong theme in the documentary film about Ray: no one really knew Ray Johnson, or everyone knew a different side of him. Julie and Michael’s perspectives on the show were offered in full length essays in the large brochure accompanying the show.

On July 3rd, a full audience enjoyed the presentation of “In the Arm of Flowers”, a performance by Megan Ransmeier and Julia Rich. The themes of correspondence, communication over space, and isolation played out in dance movements, readings and evocative vocalizations by the two artists. Their performance was based on three years of correspondence, and was dedicated to Ray’s work. In the exhibit’s final public event Alice Sebrell gave a strong introduction to the screening of “How to Draw a Bunny“, the award-winning 2002 documentary featuring 1995 interviews with Christo, Chuck Close, Roy Lichtenstein and others.

This array of features was capped by the publication of Volume 8 of Black Mountain College Studies, which was dedicated to the 50th anniversary of the publication of The Paper Snake as well as the exhibit under discussion. It includes essays, interviews, and many topics for further exploration. With Sebastian Matthew’s 2010 show on Ray’s early years, the BMCMAC has provided a Ray J fan (and past correspondent) like myself with a rich set of experiences and learning opportunities.  This exhibit provided the general and artistic community with another window into the unique and ground-breaking work that emerged from BMC. It took some fairly esoteric and technical materials and turned them into a show and event schedule that provided for a very enriching summer at the BMCMAC.

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October 27, 2015 Posted by | art, Black Mountain, Ray Johnson | , | Leave a 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

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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

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