Tag Archives: Arts

Kubla Khan Read by Benedict Cumberbatch

I recently posted that Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s Kubla Khan is my favorite poem.  Then I found this clip of Benedict Cumberbatch reading it.  Although the cadence and pace are not the same as the way I typically read it, which is really similar to the way my college professors did, the change in pace shifted my focus to words and phrases in another way, emphasizing different imagery and motion, especially in the middle.  Its interesting, I like it.  Have you ever been to a poetry reading?  I think it might be fun.

‘Til next time,

Jessica

 

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Ode to A Nightengale

Keats read by Benedict Cumberbatch…poetry month. (Yep, that’s the only reason I found this…poetry month.)

‘Til next time,

Jessica

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For Those in Doubt…Including Me

I get these Daily Rumpus emails by Stephen Elliott, and Saturday he linked to this video on The Rumpus site. The Gap by Ira Glass came at a good time. Reading over the short stories I’m working on, and recent drawings left me with the it’s-all-crap feeling. All the creative types I know suffer through this, and sometimes it is just a phase…sometimes that phase makes encore performances.

  1. It doesn’t all suck. It just isn’t…polished.  You’ll either get an end product you’re satisfied with (deadlines keep me from the endless “perfecting” that happens otherwise) or you’ll get three wishes from a genie…okay, so maybe just an end result you don’t hate.
  2. Keep working.  None of us ever get where we want to be without effort.  Besides, if we got everything perfect the first try, what do we have to strive for?
  3. Imperfections are where the love lives…just keep working

‘Til next time,

Jessica

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Creating the Theme for Twin Peaks

Oh, this is just beautiful.  Are you a Twin Peaks fan?  It’s weird how certain topics come up in conversation over and over again.  I’d watched Twin Peaks a bit when it first aired, but I was a bit young (my parents really weren’t all that thrilled about their 13 year old watching it).  I hadn’t really thought about it too much since.  A couple of weeks ago, Netflix recommended it for me, so I put it in my list of stuff to watch.  Last week, I had a conversation with a co-worker about them doing something new for the 25th Anniversary.  Today, Amanda Palmer included this in her blog post.

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Just gorgeous!  I love learning more about the creative process for other people in other medias.  In some ways everyone’s process is so different, but there’s something recognizable that I feel an affinity for in it all too.

Plus, three mentions of a show that aired in 1990-1991 in as many weeks?  Maybe the universe is trying to tell me something…or maybe it is just the 25th Anniversary coming up. What do you think?

‘Til next time,

Jessica

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The Professor I Wish I Could Have – Neil Gaiman Joins Bard College

Bard College has a new professor starting in Spring 2014.  This professor has never attended a university, but is teaching an advanced writing workshop that will be exploring the history of the fantastic, approaches to fantasy fiction, and the meaning of fantasy today.  Students will be lining up to take this class…or they will if they’re smart.  He’s Neil Gaiman.  That’s why.

The post that led me to this information poses two important questions. “1) Who’s babysitting your dogs, Neil Gaiman? 2) Can we babysit your dogs?”  These are very important questions, and I would be more interested in the answers if my brain would get off repeat.  Neil Gaiman’s teaching. How awesome will that class be?  Neil Gaiman’s teaching.  How awesome will that class be?  Neil Gaiman’s teaching.   Admittedly, I’m kind of giggly and possibly bouncing in my chair (Well, in my head anyway) at the thought of the students who will get to take this course.  I definitely wish I was going to be one of them.

Here’s the Bard College announcement:

Bard College announces the appointment of Neil Gaiman as Professor in the Arts. Gaiman, who joins the College in the spring semester of 2014 as a member of the Theater and Performance faculty, will teach courses across the Division of the Arts and the Division of Languages and Literature. His first course will be an advanced writing workshop exploring the history of the fantastic, approaches to fantasy fiction, and the meaning of fantasy today, taught through the Written Arts Program and the Experimental Humanities concentration.

My first real exposure to Neil Gaiman was actually through his Twitter (@neilhimself) and his commencement address below.  The video is a little lengthy, but totally worth it.  If you want to read it instead of watching, you can do that here.

For someone who has always tried to play by the rules, this is a really great reminder.  That you don’t have to play by all the rules to be a success.  Taking a few chances, and making a few mistakes (even big ones) is okay…maybe a lot better than okay.  Because no matter what happens, make good art.

Some days you need a bit more inspiration than others to get you going than others, and when I need that little extra push to sit down and actually do the creative work I think about this speech (among a few other things).  When your boss shoots down your latest idea or your characters have morphed into people that don’t quite fit your story plan anymore and you’re stuck; when the blank page/canvas/computer screen just won’t be filled, and the mild panic like feeling sets in telling you that you are not cut out for this I come back here.   Because we all feel like a fraud sometimes.  No matter what….make good art.

‘Til next time,

Jessica

 


Discovering Joye…This May Be the Coolest Thing Ever


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This is not my normal book review…for a couple of reasons.  Discovering Joye is a book about discovering Joye Kanelakos’s poetry and melding it seamlessly with Jim Stovall’s own story.  Both of these are powerful and moving on their own, but together it is just…wow.  Truthfully, I’m pretty familiar with both the poetry and the story.  My grandmother is Joye Kanelakos, and my mother has worked for Jim Stovall for more than 20 years. (I wonder how these two talented people came together?  Any ideas?)  My mom would bring Grandma Joye books and notes from Jim, and she would send him homemade baklava in return.  I think both of them feel like they got the better end of the deal.  Grandma loved Jim’s books, and she loved feeding people.  (I have no idea how many crumbs were washed out of pockets that woman crammed cookies into as people walked out the door.)  Jim’s books are special.  They are different than anything else I read.  They are thought provoking and uplifting, and that’s no small feat.  Grandma’s baklava was kind of the same.  You’ll never taste anything quite like it.  There was something special in her touch that transformed those ingredients in a way I’ve never been quite able to duplicate.  Both of these remarkable people feed your heart and soul.

Having known Jim Stovall for more than 20 years, through my mother, I’ve gotten to hear his story a few times.  It is always one that inspires me, and I go back to it when I’m feeling particularly unmotivated or as if I don’t have an impact.  His story always gives me the jump start I need to get moving again and make things happen.  I can’t even count the number of times I’ve told myself that the next time I say to myself “someone should do something about that” that person is me, and just go and do it….even if that thing is just the dishes.  “You can change your life if you change your mind,” has seen me through some frustrating days too.  Before I read Discovering Joye I would have said that I knew this part of his story well enough to tell you a good part of it myself.  However, when paired with the poetry, the “discoveries” and the story take on a new depth.  I walked away from a what I thought was a familiar tale with new insight and perception…inspired all over again, by both of them.

Some of Grandma Joye’s poetry followed me through childhood.  In Discovering Joye you’ll find some of my childhood favorites like “Plink Plank” and “Fairies and Other Good Stuff.”  They arrived in letters, usually handwritten on notebook paper, accompanied by drawings she’d made, and they will always hold special places in my memories.  Those poems sit side by side with evenings on the front porch of her home watching the fire flies wink and blink, listening to her talk about fairies who lived in the mimosa trees, Penny the Peacock, and later about life, books and writing,  and family. Reading those we found later though is a gift of a different sort.  Since Grandma Joye passed away, I return to her poems time and again.  It is like being able to have those front porch talks about those things we never got the chance to discuss in person.  Reading her poetry in conjunction with Jim’s story brought new life to the poetry too.  It changed the “conversation” with my grandmother because I read her words in a different light.  Apparently, she isn’t finished talking to me quite yet.  That is a gift of immeasurable value.

So I recommend this book on so many different levels.  If you’re a poetry nut, this is a book for you.  If you need a little pick-me-up…guess what, Discovering Joye has you covered.  If you just want to read a good story, you’ve got that too.

When I remember to keep the book I’m reviewing with me as I write my post, I try to leave you with the first line or so to give you a sneak peek.  This time, I want to give you my favorite poem.  This is one that I have all over the place…just in case I need a reminder.

New Light

I open my eyes to you

     Bright shiny morning,

While some lonely half-dream

     Still clouds my mind;

And I worry your presence

     By pulling in yesterday,

Plucking out moments

     I should leave behind.

Sweet friend and companion,

     Refresher of souls,

I rise to your joyful

     Awakening at last.

And I gather your warmth

     As a maiden her lover.

Embrace me, sweet morning

   Black shadows are past.

‘Til next time,

Jessica

P.S. Keep a close eye out in the next few days…there’s a contest coming!

 


A Random Ball Pit and Two Complete Strangers


Fragile Things: Short Fictions and Wonders

photo (78)I bought Fragile Things several months ago and it sat in my to-read pile for a while.  Then I pulled it out and started to slide slowly down into the short stories and poems in this collection.  This is the book that I decided, with your help (Thank you SO much!), to have Mr. Gaiman sign for me.  When I chose this I hadn’t finished reading it.  I’d maybe gotten halfway through when I left it on a plane….yep, I left the sucker on the plane on my way back from Houston.  What’s a girl to do?  Well, this girl will take ANY excuse to go to the bookstore, so I bought another copy.  Fortunately, I had time to read it before the signing, and was exceptionally sure that Fragile Things was the representation of his writing that I needed him to sign.

I know it is already a bit battered (multiple plane rides, states, and bags will do that to you…I mean to a book, right, a book.)  There was a moment of embarrassment over the state of the book that I was asking him to sign for me, but I thought about how I would feel if I were an author. (This not an atypical occurrence for me.)  Worn means read.  Thumbed through, sections underlined, notes in the margin…loved.  Some books are like The Velveteen Rabbit, the love you show them is reflected on the outside.  Now, I can’t say that I know Neil Gaiman, but he seems like the type of guy to understand that.

I can usually skip the introductions, but I really enjoyed the insight the introduction gives the pieces in Fragile Things .  Mr. Gaiman, in his short stories especially, does not only a supremely decent job of creeping me out but also of surprising me.  They are dark, humorous and…twisty.  The poetry though…I do so love a good poem, and this was my first exposure to any written by Neil Gaiman.  The poems in this collection are filled with grace and beauty and a darkness that slowly encompasses you, rather like someone dimming the lights slowly instead of plunging you into the dark all at once.  The flow and the imagery are just gorgeous.

My mother is a true connoisseur of poetry.  If you give her the choice between a novel and a collection of poetry, she’ll pick the poems every time.  She even co-opted my Norton’s Anthology of Poetry from college. (She said she should get to read it too.  She did pay for it after all.  She has a point.  Now, ahem years later, she still has it.)  My Grandma Joye, her mother, wrote poetry, maybe that’s where this love comes from.  Compared to her, I dabble a bit, but I do know what I like.  I like what is in Fragile Things.  I read my Mom a couple of them.  (Isn’t poetry so much better when you read it aloud?)  She thought they were beautiful.  My nephew thought they were weird and creepy, he’s 12….he’s not wrong either.

When I was at the book signing for The Ocean at the End of the Lane someone asked me which story was my favorite.  I really hate that question.  TheOceanattheEndoftheLane_Hardcover_1359996597It is like choosing a favorite child or something.  Me, I’m the person that every third song on the radio is a favorite song, and there are too many books that I love…all for different reasons.  Who can choose a favorite?  Actually, I read a quote from Neil Gaiman that I find to be absolutely true,

“Picking five favorite books is like picking the five body parts you’d most like not to lose.”

Some of the pieces in this collection, like A Study in Emerald, I’d read before online on Neil Gaiman’s website.  It is a Sherlock Holmes meets H.P. Lovecraft kind of piece.  What?  Yes, you totally read that right.  Even though I’d already read this online, it was definitely worth a re-read, and it was even more intriguing the second time around because I’d recently read Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s A Study in Scarlet and watched the BBC Sherlock episode A Study in Pink…well, I watched it a few times. (There are only six episodes!  This deserves a post all its own, and I promise it will get one…you just have to wait a bit.)  A Study in Emerald definitely had its surprising, creepy, and surprisingly creepy moments, let me assure you.

So, Other People is about a guy that goes to hell and the demon he meets there.  I found it to be absolutely fascinating and thought provoking. October in the Chair is a story inside of another story….just read it.  Instructions is fantastic, and I love the reassurance (or warning?) that is included:

“From the back garden you will be able to see the wild wood.

The deep well you walk past leads down to Winters’ realm;

there is another land at the bottom of it.

If you turn around here,

you can walk back, safely;

you will lose no face.  I will think no less of you.”

How to Talk to Girls at Parties is told from the perspective of a sixteen year old boy who gets dragged to a party that isn’t what either of them think it is.  Every time I read it, I really want to know what happens to upset Vic that way, don’t you?

photo (77)Then there’s the piece that closes the collection, The Monarch of the Glen, that stars Shadow from American Gods.  It was good to see Shadow again.  I didn’t realize until the opening paragraphs that I’d missed him.  Really good characters are like that, you need to visit them every now and again.

I could go on and on about the pieces in this collection.  There are so many things to say! Strange Little Girls, Keepsakes and Treasures, Sunbird (oh, you have to read this one!) and so many others that I didn’t want to leave out and couldn’t find space to describe.  Just read it, and you’ll understand.

Some short stories or short story collections I read and I feel cheated out of a novel.  I’m left wanting more, as if this is only enough to whet my appetite…an appetizer instead of a meal.  Fragile Things is a meal in itself…at least three courses, maybe four, and I certainly didn’t close the cover feeling unsatisfied…maybe a bit disturbed and unsettled.  However, if we wanted puppy dogs and sunshine…of the normal sort, we wouldn’t be reading Mr. Gaiman, now would we?  I’m sure that Neil Gaiman could happily write about puppy dogs and sunshine but the sunshine would be a winter sun, cold and wan, and the puppy….well that wouldn’t be a normal puppy at all.  The last time, it was a Hell-hound trapped in the body/attitude of a little dog … who knows what he’d think of next, and that’s why we love him.

This week’s “first lines” is a little bit different.  I picked two  Feeders and Eaters and Going Wodwo for a bit of a sneak peek.

FIRST LINE:

Feeders and Eaters

“This is a true story, pretty much.  As far as that goes, and whatever good it does anybody.”

Going Wodwo

“Shedding my shirt, my book, my coat, my life

Leaving them, empty husks and fallen leaves

Going in search of food and for a spring

Of sweet water.”

‘Til Next Time,

Jessica