Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Arts Inform/Multiply Texts: 2 Books, by Xánath Caraza & Susan Gardner

Two of my friends have recently published books that create intertextual dialogues between visual sign systems and language.

Xánath Caraza’s Noche de colibries (Hummingbird Nights) has fourteen color illustrations to interplay with the Spanish and English verse. The two languages are eerie echoes that do not quite repeat each other exactly, but instead create overtones of each other. “Nocturno” ends “Los recuerdos se borran/Con la luz cagadora” and “Memories fade/with blinding light.” The recursive, continuous motion of noches/night emerges from the Spanish, while the English is more final. The image, a saguaro cactus and other foliage profiled in pink sunset, makes both more vivid. The painting, by Thomas Weso, is entitled “Superstition Mountain,” which adds further overtones to the complete experience. The title poem refers to the cover painting by Heriberto Luna, “The Galactic Tree of Life,” and it begins, “Hummingbirds take flight to/ Curled branches/Filigree in amber as fruit is born” and “Vuelan los colibries sobre/Las ensortijadas ramas/Filigrana de ámbares como frutos nacem.” In both of these, the “filigree in amber”/”filigrana de ámbares” has more equivalence, the languages merging. In both, the hummingbirds turning into fruits is a stunning image, illuminating the visual image. Caraza’s previous chapbook Corazón Pintado (TL Press 2012) showcases her aesthetic further, as well as Conjuro (Mammoth 2012). Noche de Colibries, a 62-page book from Pandora lobo estepario Productions Press, is an important addition to her growing works. Caraza has insights into how translation from one image to another is a continuous act of creation, just like moving from one language to another. Translator Stephen Holland-Weme elevates the lyric quality of the English.

Susan Gardner’s Inhabit the Felt World reflects her arts background—she is a  professional artist. She understands the implicit images within language. Colors blare from her verse, like “skin blood burnished” (“Desiderata”), “motionless pewter sky” (“Snowy Day”), and “verdigris-bronze head on the wall” (“Garden Bench”). Another stanza from “Garden Bench” shows her ability to make time’s subtle motion visible to the reader:

Each rainy summer night it sinks another iota toward its ancestral home

     amidst the bedrock

     of the river’s underground channel

     tipping imperceptibly

     aslant in the slippery loam.

She also understands how language creates its own hues, as in the last stanza of “Garden Bench”:

found again,

foundered in the torrent

found sheltered

the reader of stone in the rain.

Here, repetition of “found” creates its own harmonies, resonating within script. One of her most astounding poems is a love poem, “That Day,” which begins:

Knock your elbow against the edge of the door,
the funny bone sends a thrill of shock

right to your brain.

On this hot morning

our eyes knock. . . .

Balance, perspective, foreground and background—all of these appear in the work. Gardner’s beautifully produced book informs the deep structures of geography. She writes about the bedrock, the “Antediluvian fossils,” and the continuous motion of the natural surroundings. The poet is aware of each passing moment, and she is able to capture the pain of its loss. This tragedy creates painful beauty. To Inhabit the Felt World is available through Small Press Distribution.

Thursday, February 20, 2014


Watch for a new book coming from Mammoth Publications in March, 2014--FATE LINES/ DESIRE LINES by Caleb Puckett. Fate Lines/ Desire Lines balances between choice and compulsion, nature and persuasion. Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg writes: “Fate Lines/ Desire Lines, by Caleb Puckett, is a superb collection from a poet with an original voice and a daring approach to language. He speaks to all kinds of lines that define our lives, especially storylines about what our lives are and are not. Puckett inhabits the landscape of possibilities, designing his own poetic forms, re-inventing traditional forms, and giving new life to prose poems and free verse. Puckett prompts us to think through those lines we carry and carve across the earth. “ Cover art by Thomas Pecore Weso.

Originally from Albuquerque, New Mexico, Caleb Puckett lives with his wife, sons, and dogs in Ottawa, Kansas, where he works as an academic librarian. He has two book-length collections from Otoliths, Tales from the Hinterland and Market Street Exit.  In addition to writing, Puckett serves as editor-in-chief for a library science journal, associate poetry editor for Nimrod International Journal, and editor for the online literary journal Futures Trading (futurestradinglit.weebly.com).
Pre-order at mammothpublications@gmail.com $12.00 (discount from $15.00 retail price)
Here is a sample poem:


 Lab-articulated Passenger Pigeons grow animate,
learn the lasting code of surrogate birds,
assimilate to survive a new world.
So much furtive futuring
with the wrong eyes
blinking belief
about history’s patent veracity.
What culture remains from this culturing?
Salvation’s negated by the damnation of seeming.
Passenger Pigeons pass clouds in body, dissolve in being. 

FATE LINES /DESIRE LINES © 2014 Caleb Puckett 978-1-939301-86-4 92 pages, 5 ½ by 8 ½ perfect bound.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

NUMERO CINQ LINK to Denise Low article "Optical Structures in The Shrubberies" Ronald Johnson's Cascades"

Thanks to Douglas Glover of Numéro Cinq for posting online my essay “Optical Structures in the Shrubberies: Ronald Johnson’s  Cascades” His introduction begins:
"In the spirit of our Undersung series on the great-but-somewhat-unnoticed poets,Denise Low, former poet laureate of Kansas, pens here a passionate, erudite essay on the late Kansas poet Ronald Johnson, as she says, a second-generation Black Mountain poet, who invented a brilliant “cascade” structure for his poems. I love this essay for its close reading of the text, its technical expertise and for its consciousness of tradition and influence. "
Read the full essay about this Bay Area and Kansas poet who contributed so much to poetics, and also see the great photo of RJ contributed to the article by Robert Glenn Webb.  http://wp.me/p1WuqK-dYl

Thursday, February 6, 2014

100th Birthday of William S. Burroughs Feb. 5, 2014: Comment and Links to Articles & Photographs

Like many Lawrence residents, I met William Burroughs several times, had dinner at his house, attended after-reading receptions, and also casually saw him driving to my neighbors' house--Susan Brosseau's and David Ohle's--or walking to the grocery store known as Dirty Dillons. His books and art were in the background for me, as I was raising kids and attending college (where he was NOT on the reading lists). His writings about alternative consciousness, especially Yage Letters, were the most simpatico, for me. The censorship trial, which broke down a serious barrier to free expression, was a milestone when I was in high school. His cut-up technique influenced the poets I read and my own writing. He was a major literary figure, and I appreciate his contribution to the range of American (and international) writing. He started the public dialogue about gay, lesbian, and transgender experience.

Wayne Propst holds a WSB autographed baseball from his collection.
Most of all, I celebrate the WSB I knew--a man of power who filled a room with his canny presence. I was aware of his consciousness as he scried us all, lowly to famous and all genders. He made a point to engage each guest in conversation, as a true egalitarian Westerner (he may have been from the far eastern edge of the West, but he had the cowboy-taciturn persona). I suspect his motivation also was curiosity. We talked about the koi in his pond, how they wintered over, and the mystery of hibernation. We talked about Native perspectives on the afterlife. I wrote a poem about our conversation about Einstein's brain, a true urban legend with Kansas episodes. He experienced the tragedy of his wife's death as a result of their addiction (they were very drunk)--40 years before I knew him--and he was an Oedipus figure, marked by perpetual sorrow. (James Grauerholz, Barry Miles, and others have described his grief.) Christians who believe in redemption might forgive him. I doubt he ever forgave himself, and he certainly never forgot.
Of the beat writers I've known, Burroughs was the most Buddhist. He did not proclaim this like Allen Ginsberg, but he set aside his ego to face experience with beginner's-mind, at least when I was around him. He was no angel, nor was he a devil. Today I appreciate memory of his continuous inquiry, his daily engagement with art and/or words, his refusal to fit into "beat" or any category. I remember his heart-felt, courteous actions when I met him. Wayne Propst, one of his close friends, has shared many more stories about him, and I owe a debt to Wayne for this, and also Tom King. James Grauerholz, Jim McCrary, David Ohle, Patricia Elliott Marvin--these and many other people have shared their thoughts in some of the links below.

BBC-America Oral History--with Barry Miles, Ira Silverberg, Jonah Raskin, Roger Shimomura, and Denise Low http://www.bbc.com/culture/tags/literature
Radio feature script and audio, NPR--with James Grauerholz, Jim McCrary, Marty Olson, others  http://www.npr.org/2014/02/05/271558637/possessed-by-genius-a-centennial-tribute-to-william-s-burroughs
Local Lawrence Journal World includes good interviews with James Grauerholz, Wayne Propst, Jim McCrary, others plus links to art shows, etc. http://www2.ljworld.com/news/2014/jan/12/celebrating-creative-observer100-years-william-s-b/
London show of Wm. S. Burroughs' photography "Taking Shots" http://thephotographersgallery.org.uk/the-photography-of-william-s-burroughs
Paris photographs, 1959, from Life magazine http://life.time.com/culture/william-s-burroughs-naked-lunch-author-100th-birthday/?iid=lb-gal-viewagn#1
Lawrence Arts Center WSB art exhibit with links to videos, etc and catalogue purchase link. http://lawrenceartscenter.org/william-s-burroughs-the-creative-observer/
"Beats in Kansas" Burroughs page with links, curated by George Laughed  http://www.vlib.us/beats/#burroughs
David L. Ulin article and review of Barry Miles's biography http://www.latimes.com/books/jacketcopy/la-et-jc-100-years-of-william-s-burroughs-20140204,0,7917033.story#axzz2sYVxecd1

Monday, February 3, 2014

Langston Hughes poem "I Still See the Ghost of Langston Hughes" by Denise Low

I Still See the Ghost of Langston Hughes

On the steps of his grandmother’s house
when I drive down Alabama Street.
This is his heaven—he can travel at will
to Cuba, Harlem and all his hometowns.
He visits his brother’s grave in Joplin.

In Lawrence he whispers to every writer
to make music for everyday people.
Sometimes he takes the pen from my hand
and writes a line,  then changes into a boy
vamping vaudeville walks on railroad ties.

Some nights I hear blues singers
like Lee McBee shout country sorrows
and relive Jimmy Reed tunes on electric guitar
or hear the Bopaphonics resort his lines
into hip-hop rounds of words without pause.

Or I sit on the library steps where he walked
holding his mother’s hand. I read books
with dog-eared pages and the touch
of other borrowers left in plies of the paper.
Sometimes I feel his boy’s rapt breath.

I go to movies in the same opera house
where he saw silent films and traveling shows.
In autumn I hear football fans roar near his house
and feel the chill that penetrates every coat.
In summer the wind rises, awakens oak leaves,
and I hear his restless, restless feet—always ready to go.

from Ghost Stories of the New West (Topeka: Woodley, 2010)


These are my comments for the 18th Langston Hughes Contest Awards Ceremony, Feb. 1, 2014, sponsored by the Raven Bookstore and the Lawrence Arts Center, © by Denise Low. Contest winners are Crystal Boson and Justin Runge
The Langston family members are a link to the abolitionist past of Lawrence. They resided in the area from 1870 to 1915—45 years. They embodied the struggles of the the war against slavery. Langston Hughes’s grandmother Mary Sampson Patterson, who attended Oberlin College, first married Lewis Sheridan. He was killed with John Brown at Harper’s Ferry. She kept Sheridan’s blood-stained shawl and later wrapped grandson Langston Hughes in it, as he describes in The Big Sea. In 1869 Mary married Charles Langston, a hero of the Oberlin-Wellington Rescue. They lived at Lakeview from 1870 to 1886 , ten miles northwest of Lawrence on an oxbow of the Kansas River, where his 120-acre farm was described as one of the best apple orchards of the state and “all inclosed and all under construction except 30 acres of timber land. He has a comfortable residence and good farm buildings” (A.T. Andreas Vol. 1, 350). Langston Hughes’s great-grandmother Johanna Sampson lived in Lakeview with the family also (1880 census). Charles Langston had a foster son, Desalines Langston, who lived with the couple until adulthood.
In 1886 the household moved to a city block at 7th and Alabama Street (Lawrence City Directory 1886). By then Charles and Mary had two children, Nathaniel and Caroline (born in 1873), who would become Langston’s mother. On Alabama, Hughes owned several houses and a large lot.  Grown son Desalines resided at 726 Alabama, (City Directory), and the current building may be original. Langston Hughes grew up at 732 Alabama, in a house torn down in the 1960s. A house identical to the one at 732 Alabama remains next door at 736 Alabama, restored by Ian Hurst. Charles continued to farm or lease his Lakeview holdings, and he was a partner in the Burns Grocery at 820 Massachusetts Street until his death in 1892. He is buried in the Lawrence cemetery, along with his wife, Desalines, and other family members. He was active in the nearby Baptist Church and the local newspapers. He also was a member of an African American fraternal organization in the 8th and New Hampshire building. Charles and Mary were active, respected members of the Lawrence community.
Caroline, or Carrie, Langston married James Hughes in about 1900, lost a child, then had Langston in 1902 in Joplin, Missouri, about a hundred miles from Lawrence. Grandmother Mary was residing with them. Almost immediately the couple separated—the Lawrence City Directory shows Carrie Hughes at 732 Alabama in 1902, in the city directory copyrighted that year. Through the years, Langston Hughes spent most of the time with his grandmother, but sometimes lived with his mother wherever she found work. Nonetheless, Rampersad affirms, “Here, in almost the exact center of the continental United States, Hughes would pass most of the first 13 years of his life” (Rampersad 5). He refers to Lawrence, 1902 to 1915. After the death of his grandmother in 1915, Hughes went to live with family friends, James and Mary Reed, 731 New York Street. He attended Pinckney School, New York School, and the city junior high that was at 9th and Tennessee—now an office building. He and his mother read books from the Lawrence Public Library, the Carnegie building. He saw vaudeville and silent movies at Liberty Hall Opera House, although restricted to the balcony. He found piece work with the Barteldes Seed Company, on New Hampshire Street. He attended St. Luke’s AME Church, which he writes about in his autobiography. He attended events at the Ninth Street Baptist Church. Much of the Lawrence that Hughes knew still exists. His grandparents, Desalines, and other family members are buried in the Lawrence cemetery.
Lawrence was at a crossroads, on the train lines that brought traveling musicians and actors, so he had a rich cultural background—from school, church, downtown entertainment, and the African American business community on Vermont Street. He was prepared to excel by the time he followed his mother to Illinois, Cleveland, Washington, D.C. and beyond. In the 1920s he became well known as a central figure in the Harlem Renaissance.
Hughes was a prolific genius. He first published in The Crisis in 1921, "The Negro Speaks of Rivers", which became Hughes's signature poem, was collected in his first book of poetry. Vachel Lindsay recognized his talent and facilitated his first book The Weary Blues (1926), the first African American book of poetry from a mainstream publisher, Knopf. Hughes's life and work were enormously influential during the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s, alongside those of his contemporaries, Zora Neale Hurston, Wallace Thurman, Claude McKay, Countee Cullen, Richard Bruce Nugent, and
Aaron Douglas.
In all, Hughes published eleven books of fiction—in 1930, his first novel, Not Without Laughter, won the Harmon Gold Medal for literature. He wrote twelve major plays; sixteen books of poetry; eight books for children, and six nonfiction books, including autobiographies The Big Sea and I Wonder as I Wander. He translated works of literature into English. His journalism includes writing for the Baltimore Afro-American and other various African-American newspapers during the Spanish Civil War. In the 1940s, he wrote a column for the Chicago Defenderthe Jesse B. Semple stories. Hughes was the first black American to earn his living from writing and lectures.
Hughes was not always a popular writer with the critics. He wrote about social realities and racism, not prettified. His audience was the African American public. In "The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain" he asserts “If white people are pleased we are glad. If they are not, / it doesn't matter. We know we are beautiful. And ugly, too. “ The poem continues, “If colored people / are pleased we are glad. If they are not, their displeasure / doesn't matter either. . . .” The poem concludes with the idea of being “free within ourselves.” Hughes traveled widely and had a global influence, including the “Negritude” movement in France and influence on African poets Léopold Sédar Senghor and Aimé Césaire.
During the 100th anniversary of Hughes’s birth celebration in Lawrence, Alice Walker spoke about a less known accomplishment of Hughes—he mentored her and many others. Others who attended and spoke about his influence were Amira Baraka, Ruby Dee, Ossie Davis, Billy Joe Harris, Danny Glover, Sonia Sanchez, and many others who came to Hughes’s hometown to honor him. At that time one of the organizers, Maryemma Graham, a Kansas University professor, said this about Hughes:
“He wrote jazz poems and he created gospel plays. These are forms that we now recognize but we dont really think of them in relationship to the originator, the innovator that Hughes was. What we call vernacular poetry or spoken word art or hip hop – that’s Langston Hughes”   (Radio Interview KANU, 10 July 2001)”
Langston Hughes and his family lived in Lawrence for generations and their legacy continues to influence on Lawrence. Our celebration of him continues the abolitionist tradition of this town, which was founded to oppose legal slavery. Literature is a strong force in the continuing struggle for equity.