Art exists because it is needed

The other night walking with Ru, we found a poetry tree in our neighborhood. A poetry tree!! Beautifully printed poems by Walt Whitman, Mary Oliver, Jane Kenyon, Robert Frost and many others dangle from string with a note that says: Take a poem with you. Children’s poetry and nursery rhymes are on the lowest rungs so little hands can grab them.  Next to the tree is an altar-like frame with a highlighted poem that gets changed on a regular basis – the week that Tom Petty passed away it had the lyrics to his song Wildflowers:

You belong among the wildflowers
You belong in a boat out at sea
Sail away, kill off the hours
You belong somewhere you feel free
Run away, find you a lover
Go away somewhere all bright and new
I have seen no other
Who compares with you

 

I can’t begin to tell you how happy things like this make me.

I love poetry. A few lines that remind us of our shared humanity. We are fragile little beings spinning through space on a beautiful rock all trying to get by the best we can. There is beauty and horror all around us all the time.

If you don’t know where to start and want to read more poetry, here are my 3 favorite collections of poetry:

Good Poems by Garrison Keilor. Thanks Mom – one of my favorite gifts ever!

Collected Poems by Jane Kenyon. Every poem is perfect.

Resistance Rebellion Life: 50 Poems Now by Amit Majmuder is slim little pink volume that came out a few months ago and would make a great Christmas gift for the resistors in your life. I keep re-reading the poems as I grapple with what is happening right now. Helps a little bit that others are as floored as I am. One of my faves in the collection is this one:

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A new collection by Mary Oliver called Devotions just came out – I can’t wait to get it and read the poems over and over and over again until they become an innate part of me.

Good Bones by Maggie Smith is one of the best poems I’ve read lately. It physically hurts to read it. These lines kill me: “The world is at least fifty percent terrible, and that’s a conservative estimate, though I keep this from my children. For every bird there is a stone thrown at a bird.” Here’s a little interview with her about the poem and other things.

Books I’ve recently read from best to worst…

I zipped through The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry. It’s a long Victorian novel with a Dickens-like cast of odd, misshapen characters. It’s a delightful read with independent women, scientific inquires, forbidden love affairs, eccentric settings and people, and fast-paced story-telling.

In Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie the story of Antigone is re-told from the perspective of a Pakistani immigrant family living in London. Burnt Shadows is my favorite Shamsie novel and I recommend it over this one, but this is a book that is definitely of this moment in time.

Goodbye Vitamin by Rachel Kong is a nice easy read about a 30 year old woman who moves back in with her parents as her Dad battles Alzheimers. It’s a comical book on memory, family, and trying to figure it all out.

I keep waiting for another History of Love by Nicole Krauss, but her latest novel Forest Dark is not it. It’s a good book, but it’s a tad too strange for me (and I like strange!). I didn’t feel like I got it, and that ticked me off. It’s about metamorphosis, Israel, escaping reality, and other things that I probably missed.

Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Rohinton Mistry has all of the elements of a book I would love – lots of characters, interlocking stories, exotic locale – and yet, I could not get into it. It’s long and I trudged through it…but I was underwhelmed and I’m not sure why.

More stuff…

I went to a reading and Q&A with Alice Hoffman the other day. I’ve written about my love for her many times on this blog. She exudes magic, as you would expect. Things she discussed included: male fears about female empowerment, it’s better to be a witch than a princess (duh!), she tries to write like Van Morrison sings, and librarians are true rebels. Also, she believes that what you read at 12 or 13 sticks with you the most, it influences your perception of the world. Explains a lot for me. Of course, I was already reading her early works like “At Risk” and “Property Of” when I was that age.

I can’t believe this amazing interview happened with Jason Isbell and George Saunders. Two of our most important storytellers talking about the craft of writing! I’ve watched it 2x and listened even more on my commute to work. I knew Isbell was a reader because in  “The Life You Choose” he sings ” Who are you if not the one I met?/One July night before the town went wet/Jack and coke in your mama’s car/You were reading The Bell Jar” and he tweets about authors I love on a regular basis. Intelligence and respect for human beings oozes off of these 2 artists. They are true humanists, as Isbell states in the interview, “Art exists because it is needed” (for more on that sentiment check out Station Eleven).

Because we have a huge epidemic of stupidity right now, you may need to pass this list on: Five Books to Make You Less Stupid About the Civil War

The Joan Didion documentary “The Center Can Not Hold” is available on Netflix. Worth watching for all Didion fans – it’s a love letter to her eccentric nature and courageous writing.

 

 

 

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The future is female

To say we are obsessed with the latest Jason Isbell album, “The Nashville Sound” is probably a bit of an understatement. We’ve loved all of his music, but this album is a masterpiece. I can’t tell you how many times we’ve listened to it over the last few weeks. You should listen to it right now.

Our current American climate is creating some powerful art. I know that some feel that it is a naive, liberal thought that art can create change, but art of all kinds gets me through a rough world – always has and it always will. It keeps me sane.

On the Daily Show this week Isbell said that folk music, “hearkens back to a time where we made up songs so we don’t forget our stories.” We are living in crazy, anxiety-provoking times. Unforgettable, deranged times. Isbell captures all of this in beautiful songs – a singer/songwriter for our generation.

 

In “White Mans World” Isbell sings:

I’m a white man living in a white man’s world
Under our roof is a baby girl
I thought this world could be her’s one day
But her momma knew better

This song gets you in the gut. Isbell GETS it.

America elected a man who when asked at a speaking engagement by a woman how to “go about creating the capital that I need to start my business when all I have is my knowledge and my dream.” Trump’s response: “Meet a wealthy guy.”  Of course, this is just one annoying thing among so many disgusting comments about women that the Predator in Chief has made (the latest being a tweet about a morning talk show host’s facelift and another saying awkward things to an Irish reporter about her smile). The President looks at a woman and he sees a body, not an equal.

The  part of all of this that upsets and unsettles me the most, that shakes me to my core, is that people see behavior like this as a sign of strength and normal (although not all will admit it). Bullying, cajoling, talking this way about and to people – a certain group of people identify with the slimy swagger and the tactics. They identify with the underlying fear and insecurity that some people have of powerful women & people of color.  They voted for a man who is “normalizing” all of these horrible traits. That is the part that has horrified me the most throughout all of this.

We are currently living in an alternative universe where scientists, the press/all news (except Fox & Friends & Hannity & Breitbart), judges, the FBI, the pope, actors and actresses – basically everyone except the administration – tell “fake news” because they are mad because their candidate did not win. Lucky for us we have an honorable, honest president whose twitter feed gives us solid facts (Obama bugged the WH, the murder rate in our country is the highest in 49 yrs, no administration has accomplished more in 90 days, largest inauguration day crowd EVER, etc, etc.). Lucky for us, we have a masochistic bully in charge of America (the former leader of the free world) who will make America great again.

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Girl and the Bull – another great piece of Art

America needs to read a fucking book…here’s a few:

Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen won the Pulitzer Prize last year – it’s so incredible. I feel different after reading this book about a Vietnamese refugee at the end of the Vietnam war. The narrator is “a man of two minds” who is constantly caught between different worlds and ideologies. It’s a different side of the Vietnam War narrative, and it should be required reading. Love this line: “Refugees such as ourselves could never dare question the Disneyland ideology followed by most Americans, that theirs was the happiest place on earth”

Commonwealth by Ann Patchett explores complicated family dynamics and ordinary life. Patchett is a master story-teller, and I love everything she writes. Good beach reading.

Girls by Emma Kline – This novel was last summer’s hit book, but I didn’t pick it up because it seemed like yet another book about a Manson-like cult. When I finally read the book, I enjoyed it so much more than I thought I would.  Prickly, impressionable young girls getting caught up in messed up stuff. The writing is great, even though we know the basic story.

Ill Will by Dan Chaon will scare you to pieces. Like all of his books, this novel shifts around from narrator to narrator. I especially loved that technique in his incredible first novel “You Remind Me of Me” . Ill Will is so creepy, and so un-putdownable. It addresses the terrors of heroin, death, paranoia, delusions, memory, serial killers. I stayed up late to finish it, and then I couldn’t sleep. Read it during daylight hours.

The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley by Hannah Tinti reminded me of an Alice Hoffman book with the beautiful imagery and flawed, wounded characters and New England setting.  Alternating between the past and present, at the heart of the story is the love a father has for his daughter and his need to protect her from his past.

Autumn by Ali Smith takes place in England during Brexit, but it’s really a meditation on time and memory. A short little novel that won’t appeal to everyone, but will stick with you if pick it up.

Exit West by Mohsi Hamid is a must-read novel about refugees and trying to live a regular life, and love someone, in the midst of chaos. The book incorporates magical realism into a story about our common humanity and the will to keep going when everything is taken away piece by piece.

Upstream by Mary Oliver. If you love her poems (like I do!), pick up this collection of essays and get transported to a world where words and nature matter.

Have you started listening to the “Nashville Sound” yet?  If no, go listen to it from start to finish.

Isbell sings in “Hope the High Road”…

I know you’re tired
And you ain’t sleeping well
Uninspired
And likely mad as hell
But wherever you are
I hope the high road leads you home again
To a world you want to live in

There can’t be more of them than us. There can’t be more.

Trump may be in charge now, but the future is female.