On November 26, 2016, I attended an author’s talk hosted by the Washington County Museum. Although the talk was sparsely attended—I was one of only four audience members—this was not, by any measure, a reflection of the quality of its content. Flamur Vehapi, a poet from Kosovo who fled his home due to a regime that relentlessly persecuted ethnic Albanians, was a talented speaker. I pieced together that he was only thirty-two years old, and yet he had a self-possession beyond his years, a quiet confidence void of egoism. He was understated and yet commanding in his presence, and I was really struck by this quality more than by almost anything he said; it was as if his presence embodied a content that exceeded his words, something so true that it resisted speech. And though much of his talk touched on horrors that were in fact unspeakable, that is not quite what I mean. He seemed, to use a word that has become trite in our self-help era, enlightened.
Generally, when I read poetry, I will read a few of an author’s poems within a literary magazine or a small collection like a chapbook, but I ingested this enormous body of work almost all at once, and while I doubt I comprehended or appreciated any of the poems fully due to this manner of reading, I’m not sure that my failure to fully absorb the content means that this approach to reading poetry should be written off, particularly not for those readers who also write (as I try to do). Continue reading
I was really pleased to find a selection of Sharon Olds’s work in the most recent Winter issue of Tin House. I am always struck by how she addresses the topic of female sexuality in a way that manages frankness without sacrificing lyricism; I am always equally impressed by how fearless she is in the face of taboos, of how she takes the confessional approach to poetry to its furthest extremes, at times seeming to almost turn her body inside out for the sake of a poem: she not only talks about sex in general but is courageous enough to present her particular experience of it, and that experience is important because it challenges the idea that raw sexual power is available only to those of a certain biological sex, gender, body type, or age. Continue reading
Last night I turned on NPR while I was in the car, and I heard this amazingly dark and crystalline song called “Hunter.” It was the perfect soundtrack for driving at night on a twisting, poorly-lit road whose utter blackness barely seemed to be affected by the headlights.
I must have been twelve or thirteen when I first started listening to Fiona Apple. I responded to her work for a number of reasons. I’d begun writing songs myself around that time, and they were of course in no way comparable in quality to her work, but I could actually sing the songs on Tidal when most female vocalists I admired sang in a much higher register than I could match. While I felt that my voice was inferior because of its “unfeminine” deepness, she showed me that, in fact, a non-standard range could be an asset.
Bianca Stone’s Someone Else’s Wedding Vows is a collection in three parts, each loosely documenting a stage in the poet’s recovery from grief–one assumes this grief stems from the loss of Stone’s grandmother, poet Ruth Stone, whom the younger poet loved “severely” (“Ruth Stone” par 1). The severity of this love shows: these grieving stages aren’t of the hackneyed variety so prevalent in self-help quarters–there is neither bargaining nor final acceptance–but are rather a kind of progressive displacement, with feelings of anguish being dislodged, bit by visceral bit, by feelings of love for another.
At 45, poet Anne Sexton committed suicide. There is no question that Sexton’s work would not be what it is without her depression, since longing for death was a major theme, but does that mean that she wouldn’t have been a poet without her illness? Or would she have been just as creative without it, choosing a different thematic infrastructure?
Poets like Denise Levertov certainly thought so: “We who are alive must make clear, as she could not, the distinction between creativity and self-destruction” (“Light up the Cave”). I didn’t know, until recently, that Levertov had responded this way, but I like her point. There is an entire mythology surrounding “the artist,” and a large part of that mythology is that artists suffer–that it is through that crucible of intense psychological pain that they engender their masterpieces. Continue reading
Both from the Val Gardena in Northern Italy, a convergence of several small villages in which wood-carving is a long-standing tradition, Demetz and Walpoth are two of my favorite contemporary sculptors. Their work is saliently austere, quiet but intense, commanding the spaces in which it is situated with a kind of solemnity. I have never had the opportunity to see either artist’s work in person, but I hope to visit this valley one day, not just for the art but also for the landscape, which is, like the work of these two artists, a combination of warmth and severity: the valley itself is draped in soft, rolling green during the summer, and the surrounding mountains (the Dolomites) stand in jarring contrast, looking like bleached dragon’s teeth. Continue reading
A couple of weeks ago, I was lucky enough to attend a lecture Eric Adjetey Anang was giving at AC+D. I’ve been mulling it over in the time since. Mr. Anang was a friendly, articulate man, and I was inspired by the story of how he took his grandfather’s design coffin-building business and slowly began making it into a kind of art empire. He told us that his grandfather, Kane Kwei, began the business rather by accident.
The absurdity of human endeavor, especially the absurdity of making art, has been at the forefront of my mind recently. How could it not be? Ever since the economic meltdown that greeted many of us soon after college graduation, those who sneer at an education in the arts have half-converted many in the ranks of the formerly art avid–none of us are really sneering but we concede the point that maybe it’s not the best idea. For me, the conversion happened while I was still completing my undergraduate degree, but I’ve never felt like I actually dodged a bullet. In fact, quite the opposite. Continue reading