Category: poetry

Your Life

Amidst the stress of joejob work (whoops, I’ve been advised to call it “enable-job”, because truly, attitude is everything), planning for (and conducting) radio interviews, chasing future stories for Play Anon, hosting company, and mad job applying, I really haven’t been keeping up to date on my writing. And I feel bad about that. I came across this little treat via Twitter today, and wanted to share it. There’s something in Tom Waits’ plaintive, gruff delivery of this beautiful, simple poem that strikes a chord with me: the sense of struggle, of survival, of a shining, brilliant faith beaming forth amidst the crap of the world Hank was so familiar with.

Corny but true: “The Laughing Heart” makes a heart laugh. Enjoy. More soon.

Linkalicious

Voila, Play Anon’s latest batch of neat cultural and human-interest stuff found through a week of online trawling. Enjoy, and please feel free to leave your own suggestions too.

Photographer Viviane Sassen captures a gorgeous Africa
. According to PLANET magazine, the fashion photographer’s work is “(n)ot quite haute couture, not quite documentary” but is “the result of directed African pilgrimages. (They) fall into an enigmatic category incorporating personal memory, imperialism, and sensual beauty.” The exhibit, on now through April 10th at Danziger Projects in New York City, is the photographer’s first American exhibition and incorporates images from past series based around the cultures and peoples of Ghana, South Africa, Zambia, Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania. Beautiful stuff.

Photographer Izabella Demavlys documents scarred lives in her latest series. The former fashion photographer took pictures of women in Pakistan who survived acid attacks in Without A Face; she also document their family time with Saira. In an interview with Eyeteeth, she explains her move away from the world of fashion, to a wider definition of beauty:

One of the reasons I shifted over from fashion photography was its conceptualized views of women. I came to a point where I couldn’t work in that environment anymore….nor did my work change perceptions, behaviors, or engage the viewer in any issues. I simply fueled the fashion world with more images of young women who would represent what I believe is a distorted idea of beauty.

It’s so encouraging to see Demavlys actually living the old adage, of being the change she wants to see in the world. She has a real artist’s eye for the female face, combined with an unerring love for her subjects. Inspiring.

Zimbabwean artist Owen Maseko has been arrested. His crime? Daring to question the government in his latest exhibition of graffiti work, 3D installations, and paintings. Artist Voti Thebe, who is also the director of the National Gallery where Maseko exhibited his work, was also arrested. Maseko’s own website is here. I’m angry and disappointed this didn’t make bigger news, or garner outrage from fellow artists in North America; Maseko and Thebe are both hugely talented and they truly deserve every bit of support here.

Photographer Matthias Heiderich captures a colourful Berlin. Despite rising rents and a rapidly homogenizing “underground” culture, I’m still sensing the weird, wonderful, experimental Berlin of old through Heiderich’s beautiful shots contained in his series, Color Berlin. Anyone else?

A moving collection of photographs captures seven years of war in Iraq. March 19th marked the seventh anniversary of the invasion of Iraq; the Denver Post has an incredible compilation of photos that are tragic, heartening, funny, sad, infuriating, inspiring, and will, frankly, give you a whole new appreciation of the art of photojournalism, and the resiliency of those who do it.

English artist Antony Gormley gets spacey in his latest New York exhibit. Gormley’s bio describes his work as “a radical investigation of the body as a place of memory and transformation” and the exhibit, Breathing Room II (running at the Sean Kelly Gallery in New York City through May 1st) takes those notions and uses you, the viewer, as a prime subject. Heady, fascinating, and ultimately revealing about the comfy, pre-conceived notions we hold about space and time.

The Art Gallery of Ontario is featuring the concept of time too. Running through August 1st in Toronto, Sculpture as Time: Major Works. New Acquisitions features a bevvy of international artists’ works including that of Tino Sehgal, whose last exhibit at the Guggenheim caused a stir about the role of performance art in the 21st century. Prepare to re-think ideas and preciously-held beliefs. In other words, you may get uncomfortable -which is sometime a good thing. Right?

Loopy (pun unintended) Frenchman Sebastien Tellier has a cheeky (pun intended) new video out to commemorate the tenth anniversary of stylish French music label Recordmakers. This video really makes me want to pick up line drawing again. Surreal, funny, sexy… I see Bunuel smiling at this one. Nice tune too.

Man writes Shakespeare anagrams, s=l=o=w=l=y. No, it isn’t a joke. K. Silem Mohammad, a published poet and professor, is using a painfully meticulous process based around anagrams whereby he’ll render all 144 of the Bard’s sonnets into new expressions of poetry. So far, he’s finished 68. I like that he’s into both traditional, metered poetry, as well as the “collage” approach. Re-defining the definitions is what keeps art -and life -interesting.

This week: Posts on Hot Docs, Spectacle: Elvis Costello With… , the latest Daniel Lanois video, and more food features and recipes. Happy last-week-of-March!

walk good, children

Director/Playwright ahdri zini mandiela‘s moving theatre work who knew grannie? a dub aria is currently on at Toronto’s Factory Theatre. I went to the show unsure of what to expect; I had seen mandiela’s other work (notably her inspired direction of A Midsummer Night’s Dream for the 25th anniversary of the Canadian Stage Company) and I was also aware she’d founded the ground-breaking b current Performing Arts Company.

Now, I’d been told grannie is “more of a song” than a formal play. Well, what a beautiful song -and what a delightful, wholly satisfying, of theatre it is! Exploring ideas around family, community, loss, and black identity in the 21st century, the work carefully, masterfully incorporates musical elements into its rich, poetic dialogue; it reminded me of Beat poetry, of jazz, of Caribana, of church, of things intimate and epic and singularly, defiantly boundary-crossing -all elements that, to my mind, should be playing a part in humming the tune of contemporary Canadian theatre.

Characters like the bespecled likklebit (Miranda Edwards), the cellphone-addicted vilma (Andrea Scott), yuppie kris (Marcel Stewart), and rebel tyetye (Joseph Pierre), as well as grannie herself (Ordena) are all well-drawn and eagerly performed. Despite their different journeys, mandiela has created a vital thread of connection running between them, a thread that’s given physical manifestation in the form of multi-coloured lines of cord running across the Factory’s wide stage expanse. Used alternately as clothing lines, cages, lines of demarcation and nationality, Julia Tribe’s inspired design is a beautiful compliment to mandiela’s writing and direction, demonstrating the twin notions of separation and connection, distance and intimacy, past and present (and even future) all at once.

Combined with the live percusison of Amina Alfred, who knew grannie: a dub aria is masterful, moving theatre that salutes the past (be it conventions, generations, people or places) while moving boldly into new, exciting realms of performance possibility and the outer reaches of the human heart. I had the opportunity of interview ahdri zhina mandiela about the work; her answers are, unsurprisingly, every bit as poetic as her show.

What inspired who knew grannie: a dub aria? Was it a specific person, or situation?

the aria is inspired by my mother, who is the eldest daughter of her mother, the grannie on whom the central character is based. my mother is in her mid-80’s and may pass on soon; this is my way of facing that impending loss.

How did you decide on the show’s format? Was music always a major part of it?

as a performance poet, most, if not all, of my writing is poetry, and the musicality of language has always been present in my work. this piece demanded that the music be highlighted in the telling of who knew grannie; hence the coining of the term ‘dub aria’.

How does the language inform and shape the narrative and characters?

verbal language is just one of the communication principles in the narrative. emotional language, language of space & movement are others; each contribut(es) to shaping the characters personalities, journeys, and interactions.

Why did you include drums?

the ‘languages’ needed to have their music highlighted/enhanced/embellished.

plus, the drum is a primal musical instrument, and very much represents grannie’s voice: that’s the musical instrument she would play if she was a ‘musician’.

Who is this for?

everyone: we all have a grannie still living or on the other side. and we all have some memories of relating to a grannie or grandmother figure.

who knew grannie: a dub aria runs at the Factory Theatre in Toronto through April 4th.

Photo credit: Nicola Betta Photography.

Prince


Like many following the crisis in Haiti, I’m left with tremendous feelings of sadness. What can I do? How can I help? Is my donation enough? What else? As a journalist, it’s been interesting to observe the various ways stories from Port au Prince are being related; some are more positive than others, but there is an undeniable emphasis on loss, which is both fitting and yet discomforting. Surely we have to start focusing on the reconstruction stories soon. Energy goes where eyes go, after all. And eyes need to be on feeding, rebuilding, doctoring, and all-around aid.

Jean-Michel Basquiat understood this concept of energy. His paintings were full of question marks: who am I where do I belong? how do I define myself -as a black man, an artist, an American? His works, utterly shaped by graffiti and street art, have a rhythm and pulse that many painters work hard at capturing. They’re not meant to be soothing, polite, or elegant, but rather, raucous, loud, and confrontational. I frequently wonder if this is owing to Basquiat’s own mixed background and the sense I get that, in his 27 short years, he was on an urgent, stabbing quest to try to fit in -on artistic as well as socio-economic levels -with a society that he knew, to some extent, would never entirely welcome him as their own. Maybe this sense helped to fuel the rage I see (and love) in his works.

I came across a book featuring his work today and was forced to pause between floor cleanings. Leafing through Life Doesn’t Frighten Me, Basquiat’s shifting sense of power, vacillating between lost rebel and confident artiste, was both enthralling and challenging. His works are a loud, exuberant complement to Maya Angelou’s proud paean to resolve in the face of massive fear and overwhelming odds.

It may sound pretentious, but I found a new power in his many works exploring black identity in the light of the Haitian tragedy. Basquiat’s father was born in Haiti, while his mother was Puerto Rican. What would he think about the events of the last few days? How would he express the magnitude of the calamity that has befallen his father’s homeland? Would he look at UN efforts and proclaim SAMO? Or might he paint, in the spirit of Angelou’s words, a defiant, fortifying tribute to the indomitable spirit of Haiti’s citizens? We will never know. But seeing his works again have, in a strange way, given me a sort of hope the news hasn’t, and perhaps, won’t. That’s okay. Maybe that’s part of the beauty -and mystery -of art.

Don’t show me frogs and snakes

And listen for my scream,

If I’m afraid at all

It’s only in my dreams.

I’ve got a magic charm

That I keep up my sleeve

I can walk the ocean floor

And never have to breathe.

Life doesn’t frighten me at all

Not at all

Not at all.

A More Intimate Experience



I moved from Dublin to London a little over ten years ago. My head was full of poetry, music, art and anxiety. I loved writing and I loved writers. While I have a hard time remembering my last few months in Ireland, one event, driven by this passion, sticks out: seeing Nick Cave twice in one day.

The lanky, deep-voiced Australian artist was in Dublin on the lecture circuit, delivering his treatise on the relationship between creativity, poetry, life, and love. He held an afternoon chat, during which he would occasionally break away to play the odd tune on a grand piano. I recall his stripped-down version of “West County Girl,” with its dramatic, low-roaring ending of “then purrrrrs… AGAIN” sent chills down my spine. He talked about saudade. He talked about owning grief. He talked about Jesus, creation, the Old Testament, the New, an the relationship of art -of writing -to each. Fancying myself a true writer, I was in love with Cave’s dramatic, deeply-felt works, even if I didn’t quite have the life experience to fully understand them. And a writer talking about writing… was manna from heaven. Verging on broke, I took what little I had and bought another ticket for the same talk happening that evening. I filled an entire journal with notes hastily scribbled during his chat, and once I’d run out of ink, I sat, silent and pie-eyed, hoping to someday be half the writer Cave was -and indeed, still is.

Cave has never shied away from showing his writerly streak, in all its flagrant glory. Part of this, for those who know his work, comes from his early exposure to literature courtesy of his English teacher-father, who died when Cave was still quite young. Known for his work with the Bad Seeds, Cave also published And the Ass Saw The Angel (Harper Collins) in 1989, a wildly surreal, violent, bizarre work that was equally potent, poetic, and memorable. He’s always worn his love for the written word proudly on his sleeve. He says (in the clip above) that his work has always been “bursting at the seams with lyrical information” -which is putting it mildly in terms of his own gift with words. As befits a rock and roll guy with a poetic streak, he credits music for giving life to his words, noting there’s “a musical rhythm to the language.” But his heart’s still firmly with those words, just as much as it is with tones, sounds, and rhythms.

The Death Of Bunny Munro (Harper Collins) is Nick Cave’s latest novel. While I’m not the biggest fan of some of his more recent music (Grinderman being the exception), I admit that the novel is deeply intriguing. It’s as if, in embracing his literary side, he’s also embracing the aggressively male side that characterized at least a portion of his work in the 1990s with the Bad Seeds (the stuff I particularly adored then, natch); it’s like Cave is exercising (not exorcising) that still-remnant Bad Seed, the one that’s been at least outwardly tamed by domestic responsibility. He can live in the squalid, dark corners of his imagination through writing, without robbing the his other creative pursuits of their pungency.

I’m really glad to see Cave still writing, and still exploring this important side of his artistry. And I’m glad he’s being honest about it, in traveling through this kind of dark, non-cuddly terrain. Artists worth their salt shouldn’t, by their nature, always release likable, easily-digestible stuff. The artists I happen to love the most, that tend to stay with me longest, often release work that is challenging, thought-provoking, hard -and distinctly non-nice. Record companies may not always like their artists’ extra-curricular creative activities, but… balls, I do, and some of them enjoy doing it, too. Sometimes it’s the only thing that keeps sanity intact for artist and audience alike.

That doesn’t mean sales don’t matter, though. As if to underline this, Bunny Munro was itself released in three formats: hardcover, audio book, and iPhone application. The audio book version includes a score by Dirty Three member/Bad Seed/scary-lookin’ dude Warren Ellis. The audio book intrigues because you get Cave’s deep voice giving a deeply-dramatic rendering of his own words (I remember in Dublin he called them “children,” which I was chuffed at, referring as I did then to my own work in the exact same way); in addition, you get Ellis’ intuitive musical underscoring, creating an eerie, atmospheric complement. If you have an iPhone, you can partly-read, partly-listen, using the specially-designed app. Who would’ve thought books would be so easy, so multi-faceted, so … octopus-like in reach, scope, presentation and marketing? I don’t buy the whole romantic notion of “simple appeal” even though I do enjoy the sensual appeal of the tangible (I mean hell, I love cooking, right?). I love how technology and tradition have married with The Death Of Bunny Munro, and I love that Nick Cave is so very open to it. He says he wrote the first chapter on his iPhone, and the rest in longhand. And yet he equally admits that sitting down with a book is probably more intimate.

This balance between tradition and technology is really refreshing; its equal embrace by an artist of Cave’s calibre is downright inspiring. I haven’t decided which format I’ll get yet, but I’m leaning at the audio book -if only to hear that dramatic voice reading words rendered by mind, heart, and those long, elegant fingers. I ran into Cave -by accident or some grand intelligent design -several time after I moved from Dublin to London. He was in Toronto recently to read from Bunny Munro and do a raft of interviews as well as a book signing. When I heard his voice on the radio, I smiled. My romantic ideas around writing have totally vanished, but Cave’s respect for his art is a boon to me still. And I can’t wait to be corrupted by Bunny.

Surgical Poetry

I’ve started reading a book called Direct Red, by Gabriel Weston. It’s about Weston’s experiences in the world of a hospital; the British author was an arts grad who decided to become a surgeon, so she took the requisite night classes, and years of medical training, to achieve her dream. Direct Red is her account of day-to-day life in her chosen field.

But reading the book, Weston has the beautiful, flowing wordplay of a poet:

At medical school, while studying pathology, I was charmed by the names of the colourful dyes used to stain tissues for clearer microscopic viewing. Crystalline as jewels, primary as food colourings used for cake icing and egg painting, the names of these elixirs seemed brighter in my mind than the substances themselves, the Platonic hues offset by their arcane prefixes. And through a process I cannot chart, every time I feel sick in theatre, I summon a rainbow collage of these names to mind. They stimulate my ebbing consciousness and usually call me back from that strange physiological precipice to normal function.

Somehow, this shimmering language describing hues, shapes, shadows, forms and memories reminds me so much of a favourite poet I’ve recently rediscovered: Seamus Heaney, who is currently being feted in fine style by the RTE (and beyond) on account of his 70th birthday. More about him, and his poetry, in a future post.

For now, I’m going to sit back and enjoy Weston’s beautiful, imagistic work; by bringing the poetical into the surgical, she marries the worlds of science and art in a way that hasn’t been properly explored since Da Vinci.

Living With Lions

Toronto-based writer Julie Wilson has a fantastic site called Seen Reading, where she writes about works she’s observed being read in public places. It’s smart, insightful, and deeply telling about our relationship to words, images, and each other.

Lately, Julie’s also been collecting readings of poetry. To quote from the site,

30 in 30 was created April 1, 2009 to celebrate National
Poetry Month
. Thirty Canadian poets were asked to submit two readings: one poem of his/her own, and one cover/tribute. That audio will appear over the course of April.

But there are more than thirty poets, poetry lovers, and days on the
calendar. To that end, you, too, can help us build upon this growing
archive of appreciation and performance by sending your recordings to julie[AT]seenreading[DOT]com.

My own recording of Rumi’s Ghazal 441 is included (scroll to the bottom). It’s long been a favourite of mine, and I recited it, spontaneously, by heart one day when I had extra time in a radio studio. Enjoy, and if you have a poem you love, record it & send along to the good Julie Wilson! Share the poetry. Tis the month, after all.

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