Information about the Desert City Poetry Series, contemporary poetry & poetics, and poetry readings & events in central North Carolina.

Friday, August 27, 2004

DCPS Second Season & More New Books at the Internationalist

So with the help of a little encouragement and enthusiasm from the folks I'd met, I decided I'd run the series. The question was, of course, where? I really liked having the readings at PS211 -- such a great space and and unusual place for the kind of poetry the DC presents. I didn't know what would be comparable in the Chapel Hill/Carrboro area -- actually, there unfortunately isn't anything like it in that area. A bookstore seemed too predictable; a coffee shop was also predictable, plus I don't like having to listen to poetry over that noise -- how to describe it? like someone's vacumming a fat cat's lips? -- that cappacino machines make. A bar would've been okay, but too noisy?

The first place I tried was the Carrboro Arts Center. Good space, good location, nice woman who organizes use of the space: they wanted to charge me $600 per reading.

[Side note: part of the difficulty of pitching the series was getting folks to understand what I was doing. Most folks outside of the poetry world seem to think readings are high school kids with poems about how much their parents suck or naked and bearded men playing drums and talking about driving nails or the true rock stars of contemporary poetry: the slam poets.

The readings I wanted to program were adult, published poets reading poems about how their parents still suck, how they used to beat on drums naked but now have mortgages, and how they really wish they could be more like slam poets. (I'm kidding of course.)]

So the Arts center was out. An art/art associated space was very appealing to me though. Then one day, my friend Norma suggested I try the Sizl Gallery in Carrboro. The space was terrific. A few weeks later, Karen Shelton agreed to host the readings, and we set a date.

Joe and Patrick were set as readers; the location and date were reserved; I started to do some publicity. I'd worked as the publicist for about a year at John F. Blair, Publisher, in Winston and learned a lot about working with the media to get coverage of literary events. For that first reading in Carrboro, I followed the same procedure I had in Winston. Carrboro, as many say, is different.

A couple days after sending out press releases, several reporters called; the reading ended up on the front page of the arts section. Then I started hearing rumors that the mayor of Carrboro was going to attend the reading. He didn't it turned out, but clearly, Carrboro was different.

There were about 30 - 35 people at the first reading; many of whom came in specifically because they'd "heard that their poet laureate was going to be reading." I was floored. It was, of course, a terrific reading. I'd never heard Joe read before: he's one of the best readers I've heard. His poems tend to be quite long, long sentences, big trains of thought -- his reading of them unleashes/reveals the inherent and inevitable momentum that he builds into them. Listening to Joe read is like standing on a very high cliff in early fall while the wind whips up from the valley, and you think that you're as close as you'll ever be to flying right off the ground.

Or, at least, that's usually the way I feel.

Patrick I'd heard and enjoyed once again. Patrick's readings, on the other hand, are like hanging out and laughing with the smartest, most disrespectful yet sensitive kid in your class. His readings aren't so much readings as they are assaults on convention that he invites the audience to be a part of in a nudge-nudge, wink-wink way.

While their reading styles are quite different, I was struck by how similar some of the content was.

Okay, more to come soon, but we got in some more goodies at the Internationalist -- come down and check them out:

Eleni Sikelianos -- The California Poem

Ben Lerner -- The Lichtenberg Figures

Joseph Donahue -- Monitions of the Approach

Ed Roberson -- Atmosphere Conditions

Doubled Flowering: From the Notebooks of Araki Yasusada

Joseph Donahue -- Incidental Eclipse

Trevor Joyce -- With the First Dream of Fire They Hunt the Cold

Thursday, August 26, 2004

New Poetry Books at Internationalist Books

Skipping around in the history here a little bit: last year I hooked up with Internationalist Books and Community Center right around the time of the first reading in January. They agreed to table books for all of last year's readings. This year the readings are moving into the bookstore itself, and part of that change also includes putting me on the volunteer staff to order/maintain their poetry section. It's a really great gig -- they let me order lots and lots of books (thanks, Matt, Ethan, & Kristina!) At any rate, we just got in a bunch of new books -- details below:

Lyn Hejinian -- My Life

Michael Palmer -- Notes for Echo Lake

Tomas Borge Martinez -- Have You Seen a Red Curtain in My Weary Chamber? trans. by Russel Bartley, Kent Johnson, & Sylvia Yoneda

Brenda Coultas -- Handmade Museum

Clarence Major -- Surfaces and Masks

Nathaniel Mackey -- Whatsaid Serif

Gloria Anzaldua -- Borderlands/La Frontera

Paul Verlaine -- Women/Men

Cole Swenson -- Goest

Liz Waldner -- Self and Simulacra

If you're nearby, come check them out -- if you're far, email me, and I'll send what you like along.

Dinner time.

ps: many of the above authors are on the wishlist for DC 2005/2006.....

Monday, August 23, 2004

After the First Season

Soon after Cecil's reading in November of 2002, I met Kathryn thanks to our good friends Sunny & Marc. We dated that winter, spring, and at the end of the summer of 2003, I moved into her place just north of Pittsboro. It's a wonderful 19th century farmhouse -- part of the Blue Heron Farm intentional community.

I wasn't entirely sure that I would continue to run the series. The Triangle area (Chapel Hill, Durham, Raleigh) seemed like a daunting place to independently program poetry readings. I didn't have many local contacts, didn't know the venues, and thought that all the activity of other arts events here would make attracting media attention difficult. One of Winston's benefits was the lack of competition.

I did have a few contacts in the area: Evie graduated from Duke University with a doctorate in English. Then in the summer of 2003 in Raleigh I met Tessa Joseph, a fellow Area II teacher at Governor's School East. A doctorate candidate in English at UNC and an MFA alum from Cornell, Tessa shared her recent poetry reading list with me -- I knew I'd found a friend when Juliana Spahr's book Fuck You-Aloha-I Love You topped her list also.

My other local contact was the then newly appointed, always unstoppable Patrick Herron, Poet Laureate of Carrboro. Mike Magee's note had informed me that he lived in NC, but I was already aware of him from his frequent, passionate, & lucid posts to the University of Buffalo's Poetics Listserve. We'd been briefly in touch before, so when I moved in August to the area, I invited him out for a beer & chat. We met at the Orange County Social Club; Patrick said I'd recognize him by his red "Jesus Loves Me" t-shirt. Sure enough. We had a good talk about poetry, poetics, the Desert City, an anti-Bush reading he was organizing for that fall, and the Carrboro Poetry Festival. We had many similar goals, tastes, ideas -- talking with him, I realized I wanted to continue the series.

In October, I went to his Poets Against the Shrub reading. It was a great reading; the first time I heard Patrick read, met and heard shirlette ammons, and met Joseph (Joe) Donahue. Patrick introduced me to Joe after the reading, and we got talking. Joe was enthusiastic about the series, gave me some ideas for it based on Seattle's Subtext model, and generally helped me think the series could be a success in the Triangle.

I decided on my way home that night that the first reading of the second season would feature Patrick and Joe.

Soon: Season two, season three schedule, & more.......

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Season One: After the New Year

Thanks to the commentor below for thinking so highly of me -- it's probably easiest if you email me your questions directly. My email's now posted to the right, by the way.

Also, a couple new blogs: Goat's Head Soup, this is a group blog comprised of members, like me, of the Lucifer Poetics Group (a lot more on this soon.) On it we'll be reviewing various books, movies, performances, ideas, fashions, etc. that don't necessarily fall into the category of "poetry" or any of our more usual disciplines, though it may also be about poetry.

And, The Delay, Chris Vitiello's -- also a Lucipo member and Goat's Head correspondent -- previously dormant blog.

season one continued:
So the DCPS 2003 New Year began with a delay. Jane Mead was our scheduled reader, but the snow came to Winston, and fearing for the safety of the poetry community, we pushed it back a few days. I'd reviewed Mead's second book the previous spring on the prompting of D. A. Powell, who is among other things the editor of the Electronic Poetry Review.

I liked the book quite a bit. There's a development from her first to her second book that seems to reflect the sort of "breakthrough narrative" that Tony Tost started a discussion about, and Marcus Slease, Aaron McCollough, and Joshua Corey (others?) continued awhile ago. Her first is more narrative, more linear, more "mainstream"/"school of quietude"/whatever you want to call that style. Her second consistently uses the kind of stylistic differences associated more with "post-avant" writers.

Anyway, so I'd met Jane before. She, like Evie, was very supportive and enthusiastic about the series. Again, hers was the kind of support that got me and the series through the first year. When the reading did finally happen -- what can I say?, terrific all around. Knowing my aesthetic interests, she read a handful of sonnet experiments she was then working on.

February's reader was Pamela Uschuk, who had then recently been appointed the director of Salem College's Center for Women Writers. There was a mix-up with some books for the reading, but other than that, a good near-Valentine's event.

March's reading by Carl Martin easily made all of the effort it took to track him down worth it. About a year or two before the reading, I'd subscribed to Mike Magee's great little journal, Combo. With the first issue, he included a thank-you note that mentioned a couple other North Carolina poets: Carl and Patrick Herron (more about him soon.) I got a copy of Carl's second book at the local Borders and decided to track him down. After emailing an address somebody gave me, contacting his publisher, checking the phone book (he lives in Winston), googling him countless times, I'd given up hope: how hard is it to find a postavant poet praised by John Ashbery in a town of 150,000? Hard. Then one day I decided to ask Evie.

For me, Carl is one of those poets -- like Rod Smith, Standard Schaeffer, Cecil Giscombe, Ashbery -- whose work on the page is quite dense, but then when I hear them read, the poems clarify in a way that makes them as comprehensible as any. Once I have the poet's voice/intonation in my head, reading their work is a whole different experience. Anyone know if anybody has written at length about this experience/phenomenon by the way?

Carl's reading was another highlight of the first season.

April's duties I gratefully passed on to Ms. Shockley. She invited Camille Dungy down from Randolf Macon Women's College to close the season for us. Being an audience member was a gratifying experience in and of itself; Camille's reading made it particularly good.

And so it ended. I did my best to mix local and out of town talent. I invited Lee Ann and Cecil in particular because both were a big part of my own "breakthrough narrative." I'd never met Lee Ann, but Polyverse had a big impact on my writing. I wanted to meet and thank her. Cecil, as I've said, is a good friend, poet, person, companion, etc. Any time spent with Mr. Giscombe is good time, plus he fit in with the aesthetic I was trying to present: chiefly, innovative work that was different from most easily accessible (physically & mentally) poetry.

I paid Cecil and Lee Ann -- they had to travel -- with money from my parents (thanks, Mom & Dad), some friends (thanks, friends), and myself (thanks, me.) Otherwise, the poets -- as unfortunately usual -- donated their time.

So thanks to Evie, Jane, Pamela, Carl, and Camille for making it a great year.

Soon: season two, 04/05 schedule.....

Thursday, August 12, 2004

DCPS First Season Continued

So after Lee Ann's reading, Evie Shockley read in October. I met Evie through a mutual friend: another Wake Forest professor the wonderful Lisa Eck whom I met at a party I didn't know I was going to attend. I was wearing, among other things, a balloon when I met Lisa, so we hit it off quickly. Evie, it turned out, has since become one of the Desert City's most enthusiastic supporters. That support in the first year was truly vital. A nice moment of kismet about Evie's reading that October was that Lisa gave birth to her lovely twins, Fiona & Isaac, the day of the reading. The reading itself was terrific -- Evie reads her poems well, writes in a range of styles, and thus her readings are broadly engaging.

C. S. (Cecil) Giscombe read in November. I was fortunate to be in Penn State's MFA program when he joined the faculty. Since then he's remained a good friend and mentor. An added bonus about Cecil's reading was that he arrived three or four days early. Since he has a fascination with trains, we spent much of that time wandering around Winston's railroad tracks, talking about poetry and fatherhood. The reading was again a knockout as he dipped in and out of Into & Out of Dislocation, Giscome Road, and Here.

Okay, time to go again -- the storm is returning; I fear for my power.

Thanks Marcus Slease & The Anguish of No Auto-Save

First off: thanks, Marcus at Never Mind the Beasts, for another warm welcome to blogland. Marcus is a fellow member of Lucifer Poetics, a talented poet, a thougthful blogger (one of my favorite daily reads), and friend. He's hosted two of our poetics meetings and both times provided a spread the like of which Julia Child would be proud. He's also helping me out with some publicity for the Desert City. So, thanks, Marcus, our man in G'bro.

Secondly: a few moments ago I was putting the finishing touches on a fairly lengthy summary of the DC's first season complete with links, witty annecdotes, full-color photos. The power then blinked.

I'm going to take this opportunity to go back to bed. G'night all.....

To come: 1st and 2nd season and 3rd season schedule........

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Thanks Chris Murrary & More DCPS History: PS211

Big thanks and hugs to Chris Murray over at Tex Files for such a warm welcome to blogland. I met Chris at the Carrboro Poetry Festival -- more on this soon -- last June. Turned out that we had just a single degree of separation represented by Cedrick May who I knew while at Penn State. Meeting Chris at the festival was a highlight in a weekend full of highlights. As many of you probably can already pick up from her blog if you haven't met her, she's generous, accessible, and extremely intelligent. We spent a pleasurable night drinking, talking poetry, and enjoying the post-festival buzz. So, thanks again, Chris.

The first year in Winston, the readings were held at a space then called PS211. The space and organization still exist, but they've separated for some reason. Now the space is The Werehouse and the organization isn't officially connected. To be honest, it's fairly confusing, but what I know of the story is interesting and a good example of what a few motivated, talented people can do to create a artistic community out of seemingly thin air.

In 1995 a group of local Winston musicians, artists, filmmakers, etc. ended up living in an old meat packing building downtown. It was in pretty rough shape, but they managed to clear out some living and rehearsal space and began playing shows there. The audience grew though, and before long the residents were regularly programming bands like Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Cat Power, Need New Body, Devendra Banhart, movies, dance performances, and art exhibitions. As most underground clubs do, they attracted "official attention" eventually and closed down for awhile. The organization PS211 was formed in an effort to make programming easier and more intentional. Around this same time I think, the residents -- who already comprised in various combinations a number of different bands -- formed the Psychic Revolution as an umbrella for their artistic ventures. And now, apparently, PS211 has split from the space, and the residents are continuing to program.

As a big, volunteer, arts organization the incarnations associated with the space have had the usual ups, downs, plateaus, internal political arguments, external harassments, etc. They hit, though, more often than they missed. They provided a good home for the Desert City and continually do the work that makes a community exciting and vibrant. In particular I'd like to thank Jolie Tingen who encouragingly responded to the first email I sent to PS211 asking to program some poetry events there. The space was great for readings because it was really a space for music, punk and variations in particular, and always had that energy about it. At the same time, it was a space that could be made cozy; with the combination, the poets could feel a little more rock starish than is usually possible at poetry readings.

So thanks, PS211 & The Wherehouse, for helping get the Desert City off the ground.

ps: I finished and submitted the grant -- yee-haw!!! To come: more DCPS history, facts, trivia, cocktail party game, and schedule for the 2004 - 2005 season........

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

First Desert City Reading

So September 18th, 2002, (I believe) Lee Ann Brown opened the Desert City. She showed up with her sister Beth and Beth's husband, Raed, both accomplished bluegrass musicians. I knew in advance that Lee Ann and Beth would perform together, but having Raed there was a pleasant surprise. He showed up with an instrument he'd just bought called an oud. For the next hour, various combinations of the three sang, read, and recited poems; performed string tricks, including one that created a bunch of bananas that when one was picked became "Tarzan's underpants" (just the string in a loop); and danced (I think?) Needless to say, it was a great performance. The crowd of twenty or so was pleasantly surprised to find all of this at a "poetry reading", but that, of course, was the point of starting with Lee Ann. I was -- as silently as possible -- cackling with glee listening to the buzz of surprise and pleasure afterwards. Winston-Salem, where the DC started, is sort of a conservative town with a lot of money held in the hands of not too many. There's also, though, a vibrant, energetic arts scene there -- it's small and can feel closed to the new in town at times, but they work hard to make that town a good place to be. So the DC fit in pretty well.

There's a funny (but not exactly haha funny) story about Winston that may not be true. Back in the eighties, SECCA, a good little contemporary art museum in Winston, hosted an exhibition of Robert Mapplethorp's photographs. The story goes that one of the gallery's big money donors -- apparently some variation of the archetypical/stereotypical old woman -- went to see the new show. She promptly returned home and called her favorite US senator, Jesse Helms. The rest, as they say, is history.

The name of the reading series, the Desert City, is a play on one of Winston-Salem's nicknames: Camel City. The home of the RJ Reynolds Company, you can still smell the acrid raisin scent of fresh tobacco in some places in town. Part of the point of the series is to present these poets in a local, community oriented space that is unconnected with the usual venues that support this sort of poetry: universities. I picked the name because I liked the explicit (for folks in Winston at least) connection it connoted to the town. I kept the name when I moved from Winston to Pittsboro because, attempting modesty, I think it's a great name.

Okay, time to go -- still working on that grant. Thanks to all of you that have helped me with it by the way: KS, VV, ES, AS, DM, and anyone I'm inadvertently forgetting.

To come: first and second years of the series; upcoming 2004 - 2005 season......

Monday, August 09, 2004

About the Desert City Poetry Series

Hello and welcome to the web log of the Desert City Poetry Series.

For the past two years, the Desert City has brought exciting contemporary poets to read in the central North Carolina area. Some of our past readers are C. S. Giscombe, Jane Mead, Rod Smith, Lee Ann Brown, Evie Shockley, Carl Martin, Joseph Donahue, Patrick Herron, Mark Wallace, Amy Sara Carroll, Mark Salerno, and K. Lorraine Graham.

The series started in Winston-Salem, NC, in September 2002 in what was then a space called PS211 with Lee Ann Brown as the first reader.

This year we've lined up our best season yet.

Unfortunately, I'm out of time (there's a grant I really should be writing.) So, welcome, come again, more soon...

Ken Rumble,