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

Thursday, September 30, 2004

Second Season: February

February's reading came together on the fly but turned out great. Amy Sara Carroll and Becky Gibson gave readings from either end of the poetic spectrum.

Amy's poems are usually composed of dense blocks of texts with words and phrases that crash into each other and spin off into wonderful associative hedonism. On the page, they look like prose poems, but often they are just very long-lined -- great kinetic work. Her breathless readings of her poems reflect the work's momentum and zip through line after line. It was a terrific reading; Kathryn said that it made her feel like she was six years old and flying down a huge, snowy hill on one of those disk sleds that are impossible to steer. Indeed. An added bonus of her reading was that she showed some slides of the poem-prints that she also works on. Some of these works look like paintings or woodcuts with lots of text and color. Others of them are photos that feature words somehow.

In the beginning of the night it didn't look like we were going to get to see them, since I took the opportunity provided by our test-run of the slide projector to destroy aforementioned slide projector. Fortunately, our friend Eden O. was there with a friend of hers who was wearing date socks, and amongst us we had enough wiles to get the projector working.

The programming of this reading was actually fraught (in comparison with the others) with pitfalls. In addition to the crippled slide projector, snow forced us to move the reading back a week, and Amy came down sick a day or two before the new date. A few hours before the reading actually, I was on the phone with Chris Vitiello, in search for a possible stand-in. Amy had mountains of perserverence though, and I was very happy for it.

Becky Gibson's poems, on the other hand, were generally narrative, annecdotal. She had a series of persona poems in the voice of an 15th century English Abbess, a few in the voice of some mythological characters, and a funny poem about what she imagined the person who stole her computer thought of the poems that were on it. Becky's poems were in the tradition of Bishop, Lowell, Jarrell, & early Adrienne Rich, ripe with descriptive detail.

The reading presented a great little capsule of the range of contemporary poetry.


Next Desert City reading:
Saturday, October 23rd, 8pm, Internationalist Books:
Aaron McCollough & Tony Tost

Tony Tost, reading October 23rd Posted by Hello

Aaron McCollough, reading October 23rd Posted by Hello

Thursday, September 23, 2004

Just Confirmed: January's Second (and Third) Reader

Exciting news: I just confirmed the second part of January's reading. Joining Standard Schaefer on January 15 will be Marcos Canteli-Vignon and Rachel Price. Marcos has published two collections of poetry in Spain and is currently working on a Spanish translation of Robert Creeley's Pieces. Rachel has been working over the last several years to translate Marcos's work into English.

Their reading will be colaborative and the Desert City's first bi-lingual reading. Below is a poem by Marcos with Rachel's translation:


for Robert Creeley

frozen images

assume a pointed clarity on the snow
gathering all together


when they adjust even my eyes
take notice: light shadow physically

this bodily
assembles the seen


that concretion
of detail

that spine traced in years
and years
of reality
becoming a cord of


that an air arise in the exterior on par with
this lung
the fall a cross
of eyes and ears as it fades


if our nature
were not

the storm passes quickly
the birds
open a clearing


to kindle the dew then
in the

threads junctures . . .


the skin
lit up, its creases seared in


this ribcage
of fruit on the plate intensely
here, elucidating the filtered


in cutting, fixing
a vertical world


intensity of children on ice grown


I come back
to birds

[translated by Rachel Price]

para Robert Creeley

imágenes fijas

cobran un punto de claridad sobre la nieve
al reunirlo todo


cuando se ajustan incluso mis
ojos lo advierten: luz sombra físicamente

esta atención
del cuerpo
ensambla lo mirado


aquel alambre
de la concreción

la espina aquélla trazada en años
y años
de realidad
volviéndose cordón de


para que en el exterior crezca un aire que se acompase
a este pulmón
a la caída cruzada
en ojos y oídos al desaparecer


si nuestra naturaleza
no fuera

no dura mucho la tormenta
abren un claro
los pájaros


encender el relente entonces
en lo

hebras junturas?


la piel
alumbrada, al calcinar sus pliegues en


fijando al cortarlo un mundo


intensidad de niños sobre el hielo crecida
en lumbre

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Donahue & Brasfield Reading Reviews

Thanks a million to Chris Vitiello and Marcus Slease for putting up a couple of reviews of the first Desert City reading of season three.

You can find Marcus's review here.

And Chris's review is here.

Thanks, again, to everyone who came.

Next up: Aaron McCollough & Tony Tost ------ October 23rd, Saturday, 8pm, Internationalist Books.

Sunday, September 19, 2004

Reading Wrap Up

Thanks Joe Donahue & Jim Brasfield for a terrific reading last night and thanks to everyone who came to reading for being such a great audience. A downloadable/streamable audio file will soon be available here on the website.

Below is the introduction I wrote up for the readers -- a reading review will be coming soon. Stay tuned for information about October's reading featuring Aaron McCollough & Tony Tost.

(some of this was revised/altered in the moment as they say)

  1. Announcements and welcome
    1. October 23rd, 8pm, Tony Tost & Aaron McCollough
    2. November 13th, 8pm, Jon Thompson & C. S. Giscombe
  1. Welcome
    1. Thank you all for coming
    2. Welcome to the third season of the Desert City, we’ve had a great couple years and I’m looking forward to another one.
    3. The Desert City is a non-profit, volunteer run and funded organization. Both of the poets are appearing tonight without the promise of compensation. Please make a donation to help support the poets and the series. Thanks. Please buy books to support the internationalist.
    4. It’s exciting to be starting up the series again in a new home with such a great community
  1. Thank yous:
    1. Firstly I’d like to thank PS211 and Karen Shelton and the Sizl gallery for hosting the series over the last two years
    2. Next, our new home, Internationalist Books: Matt, Kristina, Ethan, and everyone else
    3. All the Lucipo folks for making all the work on the series so worthwhile and enjoyable
    4. my home, the Blue Heron Farm community
    5. Kathryn Salisbury for being a partner in all I do
    6. and lastly my daughter Violet – here’s hoping the future is also rife with poetry
  1. Tonight though, we’re here to see James Brasfield and Joseph Donahue.
    1. The idea for this reading came about one night as Joe, myself, and many others were celebrating the end of another day of the Carrboro Poetry Festival. Joe and I had realized several months previously that we had a mutual friend in Jim Brasfield. Jim had been my teacher while I was in grad school at Penn State, and he had been a classmate of Joe’s while they were both at Columbia in New York. Joe and I had been talking about trying to get Jim to come down and read in the series, when as a side comment, Joe mentioned to someone else that his 50th birthday would be September 22nd and that he wanted a 50 year old bottle of scotch to celebrate the day with. I couldn’t provide the 2 grand for the scotch but thought that Joe’s birthday would be the perfect opportunity to bring Jim down to read, celebrate, Joe’s birthday, and kickoff the Desert City. So here we are.
  1. Last January when I introduced Joe in the Desert City I compared his work to the of T. S. Eliot; after getting to know Joe’s better, it’s clear to me that the other great 20th century poet Donahue can be aligned with is Robert Duncan, who mapped the coincidence of the physical, spiritual, and mental landscape in his poems. Duncan writes in one of his most famous poems “Often I am permitted to return to a meadow / as if it were a scene made-up by the mind, / that is not mine, but is a made place, // that is mine, it is so near to the heart, / an eternal pasture folded in all thought / so that there is a hall therein // that is a made place, created by light / wherefrom the shadows that are forms fall.” It is in this same meadow, or field, that Joe Donahue’s poems begin their search: their exploration of creation, of all of our own individual realizations of the world which in turn manifest the greater world of which we are all a part.
  2. It’s great to have Joe Donahue here not only to read tonight, but as a member of the Triangle community. Over the last several months, Joe has become an invaluable mentor for many of us local poets here, a trusted source of information and an intelligent and wry bar companion.
  3. During the day Joe teaches literature and writing at Duke. He came here most recently from Seattle after spending many years in New York where he received his PhD from Columbia University
  4. Donahue is the editor of several anthologies regarding contemporary poetry as well as the author of five collections of his own work. Among his collections are World Well Broken, Terra Lucida, and in spring of 2003 Incidental Eclipse. Among other things, tonight we are celebrating the publication just last week of his sixth collection of poems In this Paradise, published by Carolina Wren Press.
  5. Incidental Eclipse is singular in it’s ability to pull together such loosely connected images as a woman, Christ-like, that “steps onto the lava flow,” a fighter pilot explaining the magic of “ducting” : “suddenly beyond our range a continent would flash then disappear”, and the transcendent moment “At dawn all distance comes to a burning point our bodies no more than invisible currents where the light turns gold as ice on a mountain.” Donahue asks for reconciliation of these contradictory images through science and prayer: “Let autopsies open the chambers of our hearts. Let men of science find in our nerves the likeness of pillar and scourge”; “Come to me, truth of the sun, through some opening in my head.”
  6. Continuing the ambiguity explored in Incidental Eclipse, the clear and shining geography of Joe's latest collection, In This Paradise, is continually being created or destroyed. In each case, visions of Eden shine between the cracks in perception. From their origin in a wasteland, these poems hold out simultaneously the paradise we live in as it is being destroyed, and the paradise we are moving towards, that we are becoming. Donahue's roving eye finds that every fragment of divinity, of truth, "continues the Creation. // Every scrap & tatter of a true image / proves the world has never yet been complete."
  7. <>Donahue’s poems read like passages that have been lost from holy scripture; they intimate an architecture of a shadowy paradise. Donahue does not provide a map for this paradise -- but where he looks, hidden continents appear.
    Please welcome Joseph Donahue.
  8. At the root of Jim Brasfield’s poems is the belief that nothing is more strange, magical, and delightful than the sticks and stones of daily human life, that through the most careful observation of experience we can receive revelations. In his poem “Only to Listen” for example, a seemingly random assortment of night sounds is revealed to be a traveler from another life. He writes “I woke with a story from the dark. / I met a household of disbelief.”
    1. Originally from Savannah, Georgia, James Brasfield has spent the last seventeen years in State College, Pennsylvania, teaching at Penn State University.
    2. He has received an artist’s fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts and has twice been a Fullbright Scholar in the Ukraine.
    3. During his time in the Ukraine, Jim met and began to work as a translator with the Ukrainian poet Oleh Lysheha.
    4. Their collaborations were eventually published in 2000 by Harvard University Press as The Selected Poems of Oleh Lysheha, for which manuscript they won both the Pushcart and the PEN Awards in Translation.
    5. His own poems have appeared in the Agni, Black Warrior Review, Chicago Review, Colorado Review, Crazyhorse, Poetry Wales, among others.
  9. Whether it’s in his translations or his own poems, Jim’s aim is for the sublime and, like Emerson, the ecstatic. In “The Chair and the Pipe” a poem that imagines a conversation between Van Gogh and his brother Theo, Brasfield writes “Snow falls, each flake a crystal petal. // Each branch gathers up its layer. / Seeds from the sunflower / lay eclipsed in the frostburnt herbs.” From within this vision of ice and fire and ash Van Gogh sees “the still deeper shades of black unending” waiting to be created with sacks of ash into “garden, field, and sky.”
  10. What hinders access to the ecstatic state is our disbelief that it exists. Though it is always there, we seldom return to it. In Brasfield’s “The Blue Cottage” he represents the state of transcendence as an empty house found in the woods “Past the peonies / about to blossom, the roses in bloom, you pressed / your open hands to the clean glass, / resting your forehead on your spread fingers. / Each point of touch was an island of flesh on the pane. / You felt no fear, no anxiety of return.”
  11. It is, ultimately in Brasfield’s poems, a “return of the recognizable” – what the world around us provides, gives us access to, is the real world, the eternal world of sublime and ecstatic experience.
  12. Please welcome Jim Brasfield.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Donahue & Brasfield Reading Saturday, September 18th, 8pm, 2004

Please spread far and wide.....

Who: Joseph Donahue, author of Incidental Eclipse, the just published In This Paradise out from Carolina Wren Press, and Terra Lucida, Duke University English professor and collector of left-handed chainsaws.

Who: James Brasfield, winner of the PEN Award in Translation in 2000 for his work on The Selected Poems of Oleh Lysheha, NEA Fellow, Fullbright Scholar, undisputed holder of the spaghetti eating world's record for twenty years.

What: Desert City Poetry Series' 04/05 season, Oh yeah.

When: this Saturday, September 18th, 8pm, 2004.

Where: Internationalist Books, 405 W. Main Street, Chapel Hill, NC, 919-942-1740.

Why: "Children will read about the letters / that spell the world: fire & water, earth & air ... Every true image / continues the creation." "Knock your head against the ice. / Before it's too late / break through, look / you will see a miraculous world."

See you there.........

*Internationalist Books:

*James Brasfield: his book and a poem

*Joseph Donahue: a poem and a review

by James Brasfield

The gray light that is dusk, the mist
that gathers at the end of August,
the sudden drop of warmth in the coming dark,
the stillness of an arclight over the dim road,
and farther still, lamplight at a window,

the curtains drawn--there, a woman
puts a small supper at the table, pours
flavored water from a crystal carafe,
an heirloom like a root toward the river.
The stewed apple slices have darkened from days
of floating in the green jar.

And the man pours himself a vodka,
the first of many, and cuts the bread.
Tomorrow remains so far off.
Its burdens are as yesterday’s.

I know these things
from sitting at the table,
from walking the road. I know them
from a train passing through a town at night,
the wet streets, the dim station,
the streets again and another house

outside of town, the darkness everywhere
filling in the impossible space
a light is assigned, yet always a road
at dusk, the mist, the arclight
a hundred yards before the next,

and the road to a path through the forest,
a light at a window as if only
a light burned among the trees--
a candle on the chest of a corpse, at nightfall.

from In This Paradise
by Joseph Donahue


Are you the one whose
error has required you to be

a billow of moths, a sprig of gold
in the garden of a witch

a cut finger at the banquet,
the jewel forming from the blood

or the eel who says to the astonished boy
I feel myself pierced and dispersed.

Any minute, you could be
the stag leading the lost soul,

or a spatter along a rail crying
out to your sister: here I am.

Any minute you could be a lost spoon
or bones murmuring in the flowers:

Some of us are in disguise,
& some of us have been eaten.

Some of us are touched by beauty
& cannot control our thoughts . . .

Or ice glittering in the trees.
Or a gold leaf. Or a king walking

At evening through a blue orchard.
A moment ago, you were an old woman

with a fever, the ground opening at your feet,
hidden corridors aglow with torches.

Just now, you’re a child hiding
in a house of murderers . . .

And do you glory in what you may yet be,
a hungry crow, a wisp of silk,

a cloud less than breath in a chill,
a village caked in volcanic ash?

Are you the whitening sky?
Are you robins at rest in a tree?

(They could be the wounds of Christ.)
Are your consonants a ring of clouds?

Are your vowels the dark hollows
where you look for your twin?

Are you the one locked inside
the tower of an evil will?

Are you the drunk suitor with
a blank map, set adrift in a boat?

Are you the true bride,
weeping in your collar of nettles?

If you break a branch, fall asleep in a tree,
will you be a snake until a beggar

cups water to your lips?
If you burn a gossamer veil,

or stain a peach-colored shawl,
or scatter the ashes in the ravine,

will you be a seed in a wind
flying across a desert?

Friday, September 10, 2004

2004/05 DCPS Schedule

I woke up today and realized that I should go ahead and post the schedule for the new season. By the time I finished writing the history of last season, season three could be over; think of the pickle I'd be in then.

So here it is -- I'm very excited about all these readers.

All readings will be held at Internationalist Books, 405 W. Franklin Street, Chapel Hill, NC

September 18th, Saturday, 8pm
Joseph Donahue -- author of Incidental Eclipse, World Well Broken, Monitions of the Approach and Terra Lucida. The reading will celebrate Carolina Wren Press's publication of his latest chapbook, In This Paradise. Donahue is a visiting professor of English at Duke University.

James Brasfield won the 2000 PEN Award in Translation for his work on the Ukranian poet Oleh Lysheha's Selected Poems. An NEA Fellow and Pushcart Award winner, Brasfield has twice been a senior Fullbright professor in the Ukraine. His poems have appeared in Agni, Black Warrior Review, Chicago Review, Colorado Review, Crazyhorse, Poetry Wales, Prairie Schooner, Quarterly West, and the Seattle Review.

October 23rd, Saturday, 8pm
Aaron McCollough is the author of Welkin and Double Venus, editor of Gut Cult, and mind behind the Flowers that Glide web log. His poems have been published in Denver Quarterly, Canary, Stride, Phoebe, and Drunken Boat. His third book, Little Ease, is forthcoming. He is earning his doctorate in English literature at the University of Michigan.

Tony Tost won the 2003 Walt Whitman Award from the Academy of American Poets for his manuscript Invisible Bride. His poems have appeared in Fence, Spinning Jenny, Field, and Typo. He lives in Carrboro, NC.

November 13th, Saturday, 8pm
C. S. Giscombe is the author of the poetry collections Here, Giscome Road, and Inland and a work of non-fiction Into and Out of Dislocation. He is a professor of English at Penn State University. His honors include a Fullbright Scholarship, the Carl Sandberg Award for Poetry, and inclusion in The Best American Poetry 1996.

Jon Thompson, professor at NC State University, will celebrate the publication of his first poetry collection, The Book of the Floating World with the reading. He is the editor of Free Verse: A Journal of Contemporary Poetry and Poetics.

January 15th, Saturday, 8pm
Standard Schaefer won the 1999 National Poetry Series award for his collection Nova. He will be celebrating the publication of his second poetry collection, Water & Power. He currently lives in San Francisco where he works as a freelance journalist and as the non-fiction editor of the New Review of Literature.

Second reader to be announced.

February 19th, Saturday, 8pm
Cole Swensen is the author of more than eight collections of poems including National Poetry Series winner New Math, New American Poetry Series award winner Noon, and Try which won the Iowa Poetry Prize in 1998. In addition to teaching in the Iowa Writers' Workshop, she translates French poets such as Olivier Cadiot and Jean Tortel.

Chris Vitiello is the author of Nouns Swarm a Verb and edited the highly acclaimed literary journal Proliferation. He lives in Durham where he works for a technical documentation company.

March 26th, Saturday, 8pm
Kent Johnson, with Forrest Gander, is the translator of Immanent Visitor: Selected Poems of Jaime Saenz which was a finalist for the PEN Award in Translation for 2002. He is also the translator of Doubled Flowering: From the Notebooks of Araki Yasusada, Also With My Throat I Shall Swallow Ten Thousand Swords (forthcoming from Combo Books), and The Miseries of Poetry. He teaches at Highland Community College in Illinois and was named teacher of the year in 2004.

Patrick Herron,Carrboro Poet Laureate, is the editor of the fothcoming journal Close Quarterly and creator of His first two full-length collections, The American Godwar Complex and Be Somebody, are forthcoming. His poems and essays have appeared in Exquisite Corpse, Jacket, Fulcrum, The Canary and A Chide's Alphabet.

Ok: three more readings to post, but for now, I've got to run. Spread the word, and come if you can.....