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

Monday, January 16, 2006


If you're wondering why I posted the link to the Kalevala on the 13th, then the introduction I wrote for Todd below might explain it. But the short version is that I edited (drastically) and re-wrote parts of the Kalevala (Finnish epic/creation myth poem) into a little story about Todd.

Speaking of which, Todd read -- as always -- exceptionally well. More work from his on-going project, Dreams of an Intoxicated God. It was somewhat of a new direction for Todd. Whereas his previous work dealt heavily with myth making (werewolves, norse gods, creation myths -- magic and creation generally), his new work seemed to go through the subject matter of his concern to the language of his concern. The emphasis was much more on the strangeness of individual words, like each word as a myth in and of itself. Coupled with Todd's dramatic performing style, it was quite powerful.

Joe Donahue introduced Ed Roberson and did a really great job. Here is my favorite line from Joe's intro:

"If at a certain distance Roberson's work is reminiscent of an earlier poet such as Hart Crane, it is not just because both write intimately epic works that span the Atlantic, with a Bridge in the latter instance and a slave ship in the former, but because Roberson, like Crane, has built his poetics around the notion of analogy; both with a nod to the English metaphysicals, have imagined for us a heterogeneous world of hidden likenesses."

And Roberson's reading more than lived up to Joe's praise. He read from his forthcoming (already out?) book City Eclogue. In this work, Roberson is channeling the voices of many people from all over the city and with all kinds of views. Many of these voices are obsessed with death, being trapped, being lost, caught in the decay of the modern city and struggling against the inevitable end. Roberson brought all these conflicting, despairing, hopeful, odious, and desparate voices, quite simply, to life.

Again, Joe has written eloquently about Roberson's reading -- from an email Joe sent out yesterday:

Last night at Desert City I heard about the most powerful amd moving reading in my experience of attending readings. Its no secret that I am devoted to Ed Roberson's poetry. I've heard him read several times since the eighties, and I have prized those moments, but last night was something else. The work was from his forthcoming volume, City Eclogue, which, like all his books since his first, looks to be an extended suite, clearly in this instance, is a work which builds from the particulars of politics, race, art, illness and daily life a single wave of feeling that bears us deep into the furthermost reaches of our embodiment. While this is a book about life in a city, and the life of a city, its also about the question of where is there left for us to dwell when life and cities come to an end. I can think of few contemporary instances of poems which so fiercely inhabit finality, which push back against the terror of death. Ashbery's A Wave. Duncan's last book. Last night, Roberson let us feel a bit of what Dickinson called the "zero at the bone." But like Dickinson, he just won't let death rest. Its not that there's light or salvation waiting, but there is an interiority, a structure our suffering builds. The poems we heard last night were certainly written with 9/11 in mind, and with many other matters as well. This book should be out any day. I hope folks will checkk it out. Here's one of the poems we heard last night:


I jump backwards off the cliff
to show how it's done:

one two footsteps hit off the face
of the rock then I land

ninety feet below it takes seconds
the rope sings

its rappel The voice is a burn
to the touch the glove

on the hand of the flying arm
as light on the rope as smoke.

What should I teach
what should I say I've taught?

This is an emergency maneuver done
right it'll've been music once it's sung.

You can't hold a note forever
you run out of breath you run

out of rope There's a limit
to all of our maneuvers. This

one's cut off is its fall short of the height
as the rest is hung there for you to jump

as the whole thing was to jump in the first place
This is the end of the rope.
The fire
rather than no hope of rescue --
I know how to do this without a rope

without it's sound without a landing right
or wrong to

do in the silence of it this maneuver
pure I jump backwards off the burning upper floors.

And Joe's really not exaggerating -- I've seen a lot of readings as well, and Roberson's was really something else entirely. It's certainly spurred my desire to get all these readings up on the web.

We had a great crowd (as usual) and particularly my friend Lori came with me which was fun -- thanks, LR.

Below is my intro for Todd -- the only thing it's missing is the fleet of timpanis bonging away in the background:

Ed Roberson & Todd Sandvik Intro

1. Announcements
a. February 11th, Saturday, Desert City with Claudia Rankine & Christopher Davis
b. March 25th, Saturday, Desert City with Ron Silliman & Selah Saterstrom
c. April 22nd, Saturday, Desert City with Rosmarie Waldrop & Emmanuel Hocquard

2. Welcome
a. Thanks for coming
b. Introduce yourself
c. non-profit, volunteer run organization
d. buy books to support the Internationalist
e. sign-up sheet in the back for future information

3. Thank yous
a. Internationalist
b. Ed & Todd
c. all of you
d. the Mary Duke Biddle Foundation
e. the North Carolina Arts Council
f. the Orange County Arts Commission
g. my parents, Violet, & Voss.

4. Tonight, though, we’re here to see Ed Roberson & Todd Sandvik

5. Rune One: “Golden friend, and dearest brother, / Brother dear of mine in childhood, / Come and sing with me the stories, / Come and chant with me the legends, / Legends of the times forgotten, / Since we now are here together, / Come together from our roamings. / Seldom do we come for singing, / Seldom to the one, the other, / O'er this cold and cruel country, / O'er the poor soil of the Northland. / Let us clasp our hands together / That we thus may best remember Todd Sandvik, / The renowned and wise enchanter, / Born from everlasting Ether / Of his mother, Ether's daughter.” Or, “To be specific, / what you are about to hear / you will recover from.”
6. Rune Two: “Todd Sandvik, old and truthful, / arranges for a journey / To the village of the Carrboro, / To the land of cruel winters, / To the land of little sunshine, / To the land of worthy women; / Plunging through Wainola's meadows, / O'er the plains of Kalevala. / Fast and far he galloped onward, / Galloped far beyond Wainola, / Till he reached the blue-sea's margin, / Wetting not the hoofs in running.” Or, “The best instincts of man are / exactly what the powers of hell feed on.”
7. Rune Three: “But the evil Youkahainen / Nursed a grudge within his bosom, / In his heart the worm of envy, / Envy of this Todd Sandvik, / Of this wonderful enchanter. / Youkahainen prepares a cruel cross-bow, / Made of steel and other metals, / Paints the bow in many colors, / Molds the top-piece out or copper, / Trims his bow with snowy silver, / Then he hunts for strongest sinews, / Finds them in the stag of Hisi, / Interweaves the flax of Lempo. / Ready is the cruel cross-bow.” Or, “The subject does not actually change shape, / but is nevertheless capable of being as dangerous as a werewolf.”
8. Rune Four: “Undaunted, Youkahainen, / Quick adjusting shoots his arrow. / Swift as light it speeds its journey, / Strikes the steed of Todd Sandvik, / Strikes the light-foot, ocean-swimmer, / Strikes him near his golden girdle, / Through the shoulder of the racer. / Thereupon wise Todd Sandvik / Headlong fell upon the waters, / Plunged beneath the rolling billows, / From his dappled steed of magic.” Or, “’The god who gave you bravery gave me cunning,’ whispers the wolf / into the disembodied ear on the pathologist’s table.”
9. Rune Five: “Youkahainen thus boasted: / "I have slain old Todd Sandvik, / Slain the son of Kalevala, / That he now may plow the ocean, / That he now may sweep the waters, / On the billows rock and slumber. / In the deep sank the magician" / And this his mother answered: / "Woe to earth for this thine action, / Gone forever, joy and singing, / Vanished is the wit of ages! / Thou hast slain good Todd Sandvik. / Slain the ancient wisdom-singer, / Slain the hero of Wainola, / Slain the joy of Kalevala."” Or, “Without fear, wade into this confusion, / dealing here a fracture, here a bite, and here a slight contusion; / crack obstinate heads together, pull the concussed foes apart.”
10. Rune Six: “Meanwhile from the cruel salt-sea where he had fell / Todd Sandvik raised his wounded brow and asked / “Must I swim the sea forever, / Must I live, or must I perish? / What will happen if I perish, / If I sink below the billows, / Perish here from cold and hunger?" / And thus the bird of Ether answered / "Be not in the least disheartened, / Place thyself between my shoulders, / On my back be firmly seated, / Well do I the day remember / Where thou didst the eagle service, / Thou didst leave the birch-tree standing. / And thus Todd Sandvik was borne to the shores of dismal Sariola.” Or, “animals looking more and more intelligent -- / the only thing going on / is a free-for-all over other dead animals.”
11. Rune Seven: “Todd Sandvik, lone and weary, / Straightway fell to bitter weeping, / He could not find a woodland foot-print, / That would point him to the highway, / To his home in Carrboro. / Meanwhile, Northland's young and slender maiden, / With complexion fair and lovely, / the maiden, Laura, rose in beauty, / the tasks this maid had ended, / when from the meadow's distant border, / Near the surges of the great-sea, / she hears our hero’s wailing from the waters, / Hears his hero-voice lamenting. / Laura thereupon made answer, / “Weep no longer, Todd Sandvik, / Grieve no more, thou friend of waters, / come to my friendly home and fireside; / Thou shalt live with me and be welcome, / Thou shalt sit at my table, / Eat the salmon from my platters, / Eat the sweetest of my bacon, / Eat the whiting from my waters." Or, “imagine words strung out across darkness, / and the silent spaces between them and the emptiness that binds a snowfall together, / or turns a hundred starlings rising from a wire into a single flock.”
12. Please welcome the great magician, Todd Sandvik.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

enjoyed your blog

1/16/06, 11:16 PM

Blogger K. Lorraine Graham said...

Ken--it's great to see that the reading series is running strong! I'm enjoing the updates. Mark and I are in California. It's weird because like, it's February, but it's sunny. Come visit.

2/6/06, 2:07 PM


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