John Cage’s “Atlas Eclipticalis” and Van Vleck Observatory

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Dedicated June 16, 1916, Van Vleck Observatory celebrates its centennial this year. For one-hundred years the observatory has inspired young astronomers and others in the Wesleyan community. In 1960, John Cage came to Wesleyan as a visiting professor in the Center for Advanced Studies. While exploring Wesleyan’s campus, Cage discovered the observatory’s Van Vleck Library. Bill Jefferys (Emeritus Professor of Astronomy, UT-Austin) was a junior at Wesleyan, working at the observatory, when Cage visited, searching for star charts to guide his music, a new experiment in composition. Bill presented Cage with Antonín Bečvář’s Atlas Eclipticalis, one of few astronomy books printed entirely in color at the time. The book inspired “Atlas Eclipticalis,” a composition that relies on the placement of stars within constellations, rather than the orthodox…

NaPoMo16: Philip Whalen’s “Hymnus Ad Patrem Sinensis”

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When asked about his favorite poem, Michael Rothenburg replied with “Hymnus Ad Patrem Sinensis” by Philip Whalen from The Collected Poems of Philip Whalen. Hymnus Ad Patrem Sinensis I praise those ancient Chinamen Who left me a few words, Usually a pointless joke or a silly question A line of poetry drunkenly scrawled on the margin of a quick splashed picture—bug, leaf, caricature of Teacher on paper held together now by little more than ink & their own strength brushed momentarily over it Their world & several others since Gone to hell in a handbasket, they knew it— Cheered as it whizzed by— & conked out among the busted spring rain cherryblossom winejars Happy to have saved us all. “Hymnus Ad Patrem Sinensis” is often…

NaPoMo16: Sarah Blake & Monica Ong’s “Etymology of an Untranslated Cervix”

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When asked about her favorite poem, Sarah Blake replied with “Etymology of an Untranslated Cervix” by Monica Ong from Silent Anatomies.   ETYMOLOGY of an UNTRANSLATED CERVIX In Rufumbira, the local language here in Kisoro, there is no word for cervix, and the word vagina is a shameful, dirt word, rarely uttered. -Erin Cox, MD This space between two entries I claim it. When it (she) is blotted out with black marker I say it, I name it. But under these volcano peaks, I am locked out in English. Cells rupture. Quietly. A carcinoma colony creeping in her blank space. Spreads. What if dysplasia simply meant to displease? The interpreter asks Why do they want to go down there, to that dirty, shameful place? What is the point of…

Announcing Words of Our Mouth, Meditations of Our Heart from Kenneth Bilby

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Celebrating the legendary studio musicians of Jamaican popular music through personal photographs and interviews While singers, producers, and studio owners have become international icons, but many of the musicians who were essential to shaping the sound of Jamaican music have remained anonymous. Words of Our Mouth: Pioneering Musicians of Ska, Rocksteady, Reggae, and Dancehall, complete with 98 color photographs, is the first book devoted to the studio musicians who were central to Jamaica’s popular music explosion. Bilby delves into the full spectrum of Jamaican music, from traditional and folk genres, such as Mento, Poco, and Buru, to the popular urban styles of ska, rocksteady, and reggae. Photographic portraits and interview excerpts (with such musical pioneers as Prince Buster, Robbie Shakespeare, Sly Dunbar, Lee “Scratch” Perry, and many of…

NaPoMo16: Robert Fernandez on Dickinson’s “I dwell in Possibility” (466)

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When asked about his favorite poem, Robert Fernandez replied with “I dwell in Possibility – (466)” by Emily Dickinson.   I dwell in Possibility – (466) I dwell in Possibility – A fairer House than Prose – More numerous of Windows – Superior – for Doors – Of Chambers as the Cedars – Impregnable of eye – And for an everlasting Roof The Gambrels of the Sky – Of Visitors – the fairest – For Occupation – This – The spreading wide my narrow Hands To gather Paradise – This is one of my favorite poems. I think that Dickinson here is thinking about the question of being. It’s not just the poem that dwells in possibility, it’s the person. The person has the potential…

NaPoMo16: Marianne Boruch on 2 poems & an email from Russell Edson

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When we at Wesleyan University Press asked poet Marianne Boruch to select one of her favorite poems, she replied two poems by the late poet Russell Edson.   This being spring, specifically April, and heralded for a while now—for good and ill—under the name of Poetry (capital P), here’s part of an email I got in May 2006 from the late (infamous and beloved) Russell Edson. He wrote— “Everything’s gotten kind of green. I suppose, since we didn’t create the universe, we’ll just have to go on living our lives as if everything was meant to happen.” That’s not a poem, of course, and in fact Edson did create small riveting universe after universe in his prose poems, verse paragraphs, fables extraordinaire—whatever you want to call them. Here’s…

NaPoMo16: Brenda Hillman on Jameel Din’s “The Life Is Preserved”

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When asked about her favorite poems, Brenda Hillman replied with “The Life is Preserved,” by Jameel Din, from the 1987 California Poets in the Schools statewide anthology, Thread Winding in the Loom. I let the request slide for a while through neurotic indecision, then thought about poems I’ve enjoyed for a long time. One of the poems I’ve had on my wall for several decades was written by a child, Jameel Din, who was a student at Lakeshore School in San Francisco in the 1980s. I came across the poem in a Poets-in-the-Schools publication; Jameel’s teacher at the time was Grace Grafton. I wrote asking Grace for more information about the poem and she responded in an email: “Jameel’s poem was published in the 1987 California…

NaPoMo16: Pierre Joris on Paul Celan’s “Line the wordcaves”

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When asked about his favorite poems, Pierre Joris replied with Paul Celan’s “Line the wordcaves” from Fadensonnen / Threadsuns.   LINE THE WORDCAVES with panther skins, widen them, hide-to and hide-fro, sense-hither and sense-thither, give them courtyards, chambers, drop doors and wildnesses, parietal, and listen for their second and each time second and second tone. KLEIDE DIE WÖRTHOHLEN AUS mit Pantherhäuten, erweitere sie, fellhin und fellher, sinnhin und sinnher, gib ihnen Vorhöfe, Kammern, Klappen und Wildnisse, parietal, und lausch ihrem zweiten und jeweils zweiten und zweiten Ton. I have been reading & translating Paul Celan’s work for many years—close to fifty, in fact. His work is always complex & difficult, and theerfore I often turn to the poem above—“Line the wordcaves” from the volume Fadensonnen /…