Sunday, May 30, 2010

What To Do Now That the Masonic Lodge Is Open For Arts Events

It's a bit too much of a dream come true. I've had dreams about this place. I mean, really. However it is possible to geo-locate where dreams take place, I have woken knowing I dreamed about the darned Masonic Lodge at the corner of Woodfin and Broadway. Of course, in my dreams it has all these secret rooms and magical walls that disappear when you say certain words, and walls within walls, thin spaces revealing entire secret universes. So, when the mountain xpress published photographs of the interior hall--now available for rent for public events--naturally I was a little dismayed. Granted, the room with columns painted with scenes of King Solomon's activities is mighty cool, but in my dreams, well, they would have been holograms.

But, here it is. The post-Masonic age. All the inside secrets have been let out in one way or another. Some books are weirder than others and some references stranger than others--from writings about Oumros, the strange black powder sought after for centuries to Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut (with hints of the final scenes of Requiem for Dream just beneath the surface (shudder) and Dan Brown's Lost Symbol which did go into some interesting places architecturally, though didn't quite finish its sentence regarding "the Word" and how it relates to Masonry.

I've been afraid that the Lodge would just fall away, given that it seems to have fallen into disuse, and its location is a bit odd. . . it could easily have become prey to developers. But, thankfully, no.

The Masonic Lodge is going to renovate and restore this beautiful building, and groups are invited to hold events as a way of helping to pay for the project. A wonderful way for the arts to help architecture. I'm in. (I think they're also hosting dinners on the first Thursdays of each month but not sure.)

The Masonic Lodge Scottish Rite Temple was built in 1913. That's 13 years before the Jackson Building went up. It was sort of a harbinger of what Asheville would become in the next decade. In 1912, "three initiates" had published The Kybalion, a releasing of Hermetic Alchemical principles. This was in time with the whole Theosophical Society rise in the states following World War I and subscribed to by such lovelies as Harry Houdini (who performed at the Kennilworth Inn. . .) and, later, Elvis. Also, at around the same time, Sharp Smith built the Masonic Temple on Market Street, which housed the nation's largest African American Masonic Lodge. So, anyone thinking the Masons have always been just the powerful white guys can dig a little deeper into history.

It is wild to think of Richard Sharp Smith pulling out all the stops, as he did, for this building. He's got a full-blown Beaux-Art vocabulary--columns, arches, balustrades, bas-relief, ornamental stonework. . . not to mention tilework, including the square and compass mosaic on the ground as you walk in. Richard Sharp Smith was an all-over-the-place architect, true to his time, a moment in architecture (1900-1919, as Witold Rybszynski writes in Looking Around) when really all everyone was doing was toying with old forms with new materials. Sharp Smith is the wild man of his age--his work in Asheville ranges from:

--the tudor style/pebbledash signature buildings of Biltmore Village and Estate and YMI
--the Arts and Crafts style of the Annie Wright House in Montford (He is credited with bringing the Arts and Crafts to Asheville)
--All Souls Cathedral (big Gothic)
--the Chicago Style of the Loughran Building (Mobilia on the first floor), which was, by some accounts, his final work in Asheville.
--Hopkins Chapel AME Zion (little Gothic)
--the Spanish Romanesque with Guastavino of the Basilica

It's not easily possible to point to a building by the Asheville architects, with the exception of Ellington, and say "that's such a ________ building." This is because the architects, like architecture itself, were more interested in exploring than in defining anything. Even in Ellington's work, his style is defined by exploration. He had merely found a language for exploring, while his contemporaries were using the language of their forebears--a little Gothic, a little Romanesque, a little Neoclassical. Richard Sharp Smith's architectural fingerprints are all over Asheville, fingerpainting the city with all the styles available to him.

I think it's great that the Masonic Lodge is getting restored and that artists can help.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Writing About Architecture

It's Tuesday afternoon. The two labradors, Chloe (black and small) and Sir Isaac Newton (white and enormous) are napping next to the rabbit's cage (Brownie) while a storm brews outside. Wordfest is over as of 2 weeks ago and last night I read my writings about architecture for the first time in public, while Mike Oppenheim's amazing photographs of Asheville's architecture shone on the screen behind me. I shouldn't have read, I realized. I know it well enough to talk extemporaneously and there's some other kind of energy that comes from me when I do. It's because I've fallen in love with architecture. Hearing someone talk about what/whom they love is always better than hearing some read something from a page.

I started writing about the architecture of Asheville in February. At first I was all clumsy, not knowing how to talk about buildings. There's something mysterious about learning the language of things, particularly the language of buildings. This is such ancient stuff, and learning the language of it seems to tap me into the ancient stuff architecture is a part of. What that is, I guess I'm free to say it here, is all that original, primal stuff I first started this blog to explore. Alchemy and architecture are basically inseparable. On my great-grand-father Masonic certificate, awarded him in Belfast more than a century ago, the Latin translation on the right hand side of the page translates "freemason" to "free architect." That says it all right there.

So, I think about it all the time. Shelter. The limited number of shapes and structures available to humans and animals--domes and blocks, doors and windows. And all the variations which can evolve from those. . . innumerable.

Somehow, poetry and architecture have come together. And I can see how they're the same thing. With one, the words symbolize the world. In the other, you actually use the world. But it's all about building, about structure, about delineating a space where something can happen.

I'm aware of the wind surrounding my house.
And how peaceful and still it is inside here, just the sleeping dogs, the watchful rabbit. . . .

Saturday, May 01, 2010

ELEVATE, a poem and what I think is the process behind it


Elevate me, O God, into what is highest within me.

Bring me to the sky where loose clouds loosen more

and show me what I cannot touch with my skin.

Loosen me so I break open like the sky above a thirsty earth.

Elevate me. O God, loosely, like clouds in their skin.

Touch what I cannot thirst after on this earth. Loosen me

until I cannot break and show me what is highest in me,

bringing within what is more, what breaks ceaselessly open.

Elevate me, O God, to the loosened earth where sky is a show

of what I cannot touch and clouds break open against my skin.

Break me open with thirst. Like the sky above the earth,

bring me what is highest, loose and within.

Elevate me, O God, within, where loose clouds show me

how I break open like a thirsty earth. Into what is highest

in me, bring your touch. Loosen me more, your cloud, this

skin. What is highest, open within this earth.


This is the poem that will appear in the paper tomorrow as the first of the Asheville Citizen-Times series on poetry/civic journalism. I've been writing about architecture for the past few months and this poem, and the ones that will appear on the paper's website, is a result of many of the ideas I've been exploring.

I think it's cool that from my drafts in approaching this image, I started to write one of these permutation poems--shifting words around within stanzas without adding new key words. It created something of a dome in words. The creative process always amazes me.

On Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday the paper will present other poet/photojournalist collaborations in honor and preparation for Wordfest. I'm so happy to be seeing poetry in the newspaper! Poetry used to be in the newspaper. . . and when we lost that we lost something more than column inches I believe.