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"From Bard to Verse": A Program of the Spoken Arts

Saturdays on WEFT are just getting better. One of the reasons for this is that Carl Estabrook is now co-hosting two, very different, very good shows. You really need to check this out: Set your alarm for nine AM, and wake up on Higher Ground with hosts John Lee Johnson and, alternately, Eunice Bucknerboone; a show in which local activists focus on issues relevant to the community. From ten to eleven is News From Neptune; a news program co-hosted by Carl Estabrook, Paul Mueth and Jamie Hutchinson. From eleven to twelve is the never-to-be-missed Eastern Illinois Labor Journal, co-hosted by Bill Gorrell and Peter Miller; the only place in down-state Illinois where you’ll hear about workers’ issues from a worker’s point-of-view. And from noon until one is a new show: "From Bard to Verse".

News from Neptune is an unrehearsed discussion of the news of the week and its coverage by the media. The program takes its inspiration from Noam Chomsky, and its name from an incident involving him: a producer for the ABC-TV show Nightline was asked why Chomsky was never on that show; he replied, "We need concision; some of [Chomsky's] stuff looks like it’s from Neptune: his notion about the limits of debate in this country is absolutely wacko." Well, Paul Mueth, Jamie Hutchinson, and Carl Estabrook think Chomsky's notion is not wacko — being concise means staying within those limits and saying only conventional things. Mueth and Estabrook began News from Neptune from a shared interest in Chomsky's account of U.S politics, as well as that of some other writers (e.g., Alexander Cockburn, Christopher Hitchens). The program has been on the air since 1990; it grew out of an earlier news program called "InfoSaturday." Estabrook and Mueth, for a while, had a third member in Scott Peters, who was succeeded by Jamie Hutchinson. They have occasional guests (e.g., Alan Sokal, New York Times reporter Jo Thomas) and have occasionally taken on-air phone calls, but the three of them -- remembering that a bore is someone who talks when you want to -- fight boredom by preferring the sound of their own voices. One of their discussions recently ended up verbatim in the newsletter Conspiracy Nation. In a blaze of articulacy, Estabrook, Mueth, and Hutchinson, not without humor or just plain sarcasm, but with a versatile mixture of preparation and improvisation, take on the most overwhelming political issues of the day and make sense of them.

The newest show in the Saturday line-up, "From Bard to Verse: A Program of the Spoken Arts", presents, live and pre-recorded art written for the ear as well as the eye — poetry and theater pieces — discussed and performed by a variety of voices, usually those of local actors and performers. As Jean Cocteau said, "Poetry is indispensable, if only I knew for what." Estabrook, who is good at coming up with quotes like that, is the only consistent host, but seldom the sole host (Jeff Ullom has been a frequent co-host). There are several guests each week, and finding guests is apparently not a problem. Almost all of the local actors to whom he’s mentioned the show have jumped at the chance to either perform a bit of a production they're currently in, or simply to read something they’re currently into. The program is aggressively unrehearsed. In the first month on the air, readings have run from Shakespeare's Sonnets to Prince lyrics, and even from "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" to Garcia Marquez and bits of current productions. Estabrook wants to run the range of brows (high/mid/low) in a sort of idealized English music-hall way; he thinks the sort of aural literacy that one could count on in a Victorian drawing room is rather rarer today, so he'd like to make sure that what is read (or played) is surrounded with explanation, fore and aft. He is aware that talking about poetry may be like dancing about architecture (to paraphrase Laurie Anderson), but believes that talking about poetry is nevertheless important to an appreciation of it. The reasons for and methods of writing a poem may very well be more interesting than the poem. Furthermore, sometimes a poem may help us make sense of the poet’s explanation of it.

Who is Carl Estabrook? Does he have a real job? Well, no and yes. C. G. Estabrook writes about religion and politics. And he is currently a Visiting Scholar at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He has taught courses in history and religious studies at UIUC and has presented papers and published articles on Christianity, historical theory, psychoanalysis, and contemporary politics. But is he qualified to be on WEFT? Well, you decide. He was educated at Harvard (Ph.D in history, A.M. in religion, A.B. mcl in history) and has taught there and at Brown University and the University of Notre Dame, among others. He has held a number of scholarships and fellowships, including a National Merit Scholarship and Mellon Postdoctoral Fellowship.

And hobbies? Hell, yes. Carl Estabrook is also an avocational actor, having appeared in plays for years in the Boston area, and at the Station Theater, Parkland College, and in radio plays in Champaign-Urbana. While in Champaign-Urbana, he has served on a number of university and community committees and has been a board member of the Illinois Disciples' Foundation, Prairie Air, Inc., and the Roncalli Society.

Local issues, local activists, and local artists. Saturdays on WEFT starting at nine. Community radio. Stuff that would impossible on other radio stations. Higher Ground, News From Neptune, the Eastern Illinois Labor Journal, and "From Bard to Verse": a show that is much, much better than its name.

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