National Poetry Month, April 12, 2014

NC Poet Laureate Joseph Bathanti

NC Poet Laureate Joseph Bathanti

I’m still in Asheville, preparing to head for Asheville-Buncombe Technical College’s Holly Library to celebrate the winners (and their families) of RiverLink’s seventh annual Voices of the River Art and Poetry Contest in which K through 12 students of the French Broad Watershed share their interpretations of the French Broad through art and poetry. It’s a fabulous, timely initiative spearheaded by Lizzy Stokes-Cawley, RiverLink’s Education Coordinator. This year I was the poetry judge, and I’m pleased and honored to announce that I’ll preside at today’s awards ceremony and read a poem or two of my own.

Lizzy Stokes-Cawley

Lizzy Stokes-Cawley

As always, it’s a tall task to pick the best among a trove of stellar entries and, more than anything, I applaud the social consciences, insight, and compassion that led these young people to enter the competition in the first place. In addition to poetry, there are also competitions in 2D and 3D art. Click on this link for more about RiverLink and to learn the names of the contest winners and finalists.

Since yesterday’s post was devoted to Black Mountain College, and because my geographical and even psychic proximity absorbs me in it – as I type I’m a mere five minutes away from either of the Black Mountain campuses – I’d like to add an interesting footnote.

McDibbsIn December of 1987 – when Joan, Jacob (a mere six months old), and I – were still living in Anson County – I read an article in Creative Loafing about plans to resuscitate Black Mountain College under the leadership of David Peele, the owner of McDibbs, in Black Mountain, a very well known, cutting-edge music venue; and Marc Herring, a dance theatre producer recently relocated to Black Mountain from Los Angeles. “’The purpose,’” according to Herring, “[was] not to exploit what BMC [sic] was, but to pick up where they left off and bring about what will continue to be.” Their docket was truly ambitious, from the wacky to the sublime. Peele and Herring had somehow managed to get Anni Albers, a virtuoso weaver and textile artist, and wife of Josef Albers – the extraordinary Black Mountain artist, teacher and college Rector often credited with revolutionizing the way Art is taught in America – to weigh in on the new college. She had wisely cautioned: “’You can’t do those things over … Tell them not to try to copy anything. To do something over to make it better is worse.’’’

By the time we moved to Old Fort in 1988, Peele and Herring, the proprietors of BMC Inc., must have had something going because I still have their Black Mountain College Autumn Bulletin 1988 spanning the months of September and October. Classes, lectures, and concerts, replete with concessions, child care, and overnight accommodations were offered – all at the Lake Eden campus which Peele and Herring had apparently leased. I don’t remember any of this coming off, but I do know that subsequently a large brochure turned up – Black Mountain College: A New Beginning – announcing Spring Session 1989. Peele seemed no longer in the picture, but there’s an introductory note from Marc Herring, President. An ambitious schedule of classes followed, including standards like Creative Writing, Sculpture, and Drawing, but also Futurology, Outsider Art, and Marginality and Culture. It all sounded pretty cool. The faculty bios were fascinating.

Black Mountain College Lake Eden Dining Hall

Black Mountain College Lake Eden Dining Hall

I scored a meeting with Herring and he invited me to propose a course to teach for the following session. I was in the throes of a modest obsession with James Agee, particularly Let Us Now Praise Famous Men. At any rate, I proposed a course called Human Divinity, that coupling of words borrowed from Agee in Let Us Now Praise Famous Men. Herring liked the idea and Joan, Jacob, and I were invited to an enormous catered kick-off bash in the Lake Eden dining hall: music, dancing, lights, lavish dishes, chefs prancing around in billowing white caps. For that evening, as the remnant molecules of the real Black Mountain College, the only Black Mountain College, swirled about us, I was able to imagine myself as part of the mystical ongoingness that truly is Black Mountain.

I don’t know what happened, but I never heard another thing about the “new beginning” or from Herring again. That grand party was the end of it. Looking back, it was a happy conclusion for me. I never had to figure out what Human Divinity is.

If you’d like to find out more about Black Mountain College, its extensive artifacts and records are no longer stored in Raleigh. Since August of 2012, those documents now reside in the western branch of the North Carolina State Archives in Oteen, not far at all from the town of Black Mountain.


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