The Shakespeare Project: Henry VI, Part III

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The Writer’s Almanac helpfully reminded me yesterday that it was Shakespeare Day (both his birth and death day, or at least as far was we know), which was good encouragement to finish reading Henry VI. I only had a few scenes left, but was having trouble motivating myself. Because, as I have now mentioned multiple times, I’m pretty over this particular interpretation of the War of the Roses. I admit this is because I have, based on very casual personal research, and a crush on this well-cast actor, I’m pretty much decided that the Yorkists were right and therefore this whole conflict was wasted bloodshed.

I basically had made up my mind at the end of Part II how I felt about all characters involved in this tragic miscommunication, and at first it felt like there was a possibility for poor Henry to escape away to a monastery and pray, letting York and his sons take back the throne (as clearly based on patriarchal genetic inheritance ridiculousness was theirs). But of course, this is a Shakespearean history play so 1. there must be heads cut off and 2. a woman must ruin everything.

I wrote last time about how I appreciated Queen Margaret’s badassery, and I still kind of do, but it turns to folly in this part. Not just because she loses the ultimate battle, but because she has no foresight. She and her son should have stayed in France and they would have lived long, prosperous lives, claiming to be wrongfully exiled but with their heads intact. But, no, the all important crown must be won back for “poor Ned.” (Side note: why did they all name all of their sons Edward? I appreciate the comparative lack of Henrys in this installment, but still…diversify for the sake of clarity at least.) She does seem to love her son, but it’s clear that she really wants to hold power for herself and as she is female this is evil, I get that. But the scene where she and Clifford murder York is a bit heavy handed on the hand wringing villainy. Great wordplay sure, but it must be tricky to play and keep her seeming even remotely human.

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Gabriela Petrushevska in a Macedonian production available from Shakespeare’s Globe Player

Even if I hadn’t already made up my mind about the rightful claimants to the throne, the really disturbing, onstage murder of the youngest York boy would have turned me against the Lancastrians from then on. (Yes, I know that the York’s then retaliate by killing the also seventeen year old Prince of Wales, but he was actively waging war against the York princes when they killed him. Rutland was traveling home with his tutor and literally begging to spared the sins of his father. It’s heartbreaking and I’m not sure how you can watch that scene and then root for anyone associated with Clifford.)

This play also begins the character assassination of Richard III, which I won’t bore you with all my grievances now, but suffice to say the conflation of physical disfigurement with moral ineptitude is pretty hard to read with a modern eye. You’ll all get to read my full treatise on this if I ever reach the Rs. For now, just one more Henry to go!

Six Degrees of Cinema: Paterson

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Remember when I used to do these posts? Well, I have a couple of non-nominated Adam Driver movies that I wanted to see so I’m resurrecting this. As I wrote yesterday, I had just finished rereading Paterson by William Carlos Williams, the morning that I went to see this. I didn’t know if that would feel relevant, but it definitely did. It’s not a direct adaptation of Williams’s poem, but the feeling of the movie, it’s repetition and it’s preoccupation with notable figures in history with some connection to Paterson, has the same tone and rhythm.

On the level of plot there’s not much to recap here. A bus driver named Paterson wakes up next to his Iranian partner, gets up, eats Cheerios, works on a poem, drives his bus, eats dinner, walks the woman’s English bulldog Marvin, goes to the bar. Repeat. Then repeat again, with slight variations throughout the week. She flits between slightly odd creative projects, all variations on black and white, he remains consistent, but they clearly love each other. There is no love between the man and the dog. That’s it really.

But the sum of these days is something really lovely. Watching this couple navigate the mundane while also remaining committed to their creativity was quietly inspiring. Sitting in the this theater felt like communal meditation. And, not to put too fine a point on it, it felt like reading poetry. Complete with symbols that are clearly important but open to interpretation (what’s with all the twins?) and a laundromat rapper reminding us of WCW’s mantra, “No ideas but in things. No ideas but in things.”

In this chain: Paterson – 

Read Harder Review: Paterson by William Carlos Williams

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So, this one is a bit of a cheat. I’m counting Paterson as my “book I had read before” on my Book Riot Read Harder list, because I have a distinct memory of being assigned the book length poem in college. I even remember that the only copy I had at the time was in a Norton Anthology, one of those bricks with the very thin paper and crazy small print. I remember reading the first page, that English professors always made us buy for survey courses. (I think this was for Modern American Poetry? Or maybe even just the second half of the intro to American Lit? Fellow Northwestern English majors help me remember…)

Anyway, that’s really all I remember about having read this. I’m sure I finished it. I was/am a big nerd and usually did all of my reading, especially in my poetry classes. But like most stuff I read for survey classes, I remember the one sentence , (in this case: “No ideas but in things,” that I’m sure I quoted in a midterm paper. You may know that there is a movie of the same name out right now with Adam Driver as a bus driving poet. The director, the indie legend Jim Jarmusch, didn’t directly adapt the book (that’s really not possible), but seems to have taken his own swing at the Williams’s central premise, that a man and a city can stand in for each other.

I’m going to see the movie tonight and decided to revisit the book in preparation. And this time around I was amazed that I could ever have forgotten it. It’s an epic collage of history, found text (including letters from a young, slightly sycophantic Allen Ginsberg!), and of course, poetry.

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As with any work of this length, some sections are better than others. It went off the rails a bit in the third (or maybe 4th book) when he tries to tell a more coherent narrative story. I much prefer the grand pronouncements (though he didn’t like them much himself – see above re: ideas and things.)

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This section really spoke to me as I read it the night of the airport protests. My Instagram followers seemed to like it too.

He also takes a weird tangent in book 5 where he goes on and on about women being either virgins or whores, where I couldn’t tell if he believed that, or his Paterson believed that, or if he was being satirical. I kind of don’t want to unpack it, because I hate discovering my favorite writers hate women…especially when he dropped this reference in an earlier book:

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For those not in the know on their Temperance Movement radicals…Carrie Nation was hardcore

But contradictions are part of the point of course. (There’s a direct line easily drawn between Leaves of Grass and Whitman’s multitudes and this poem.) If Paterson the character is Paterson the city, I think it’s pretty clear to say that Paterson the city is also means to be America. And as we all see right now, America is a mess of contradictions.

But if you let Williams’s writing just wash over you, the effect can be pretty glorious:

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And the Nominees Are 2017: Round 3

This time of year I basically schedule the rest of my life around movie showtimes, and this week that has made me really happy. But first a catch up review:

Deadpool

Much like my review of Spy last year, I saw this near when it came out and didn’t take any notes, because it didn’t occur to me that it would be considered one of the best movies of the year. Also, I went to this after a grad school happy hour and under the influence of an Alamo Drafthouse alcoholic milkshake. Which I think is probably the best way to see this. Ryan Reynolds is very funny. The film in general is incredibly crude. And that’s really all I remember.

Captain Fantastic

What a strange, beautiful little movie. When I heard the premise, a man (Viggo Mortensen) raises his kids (there are 6 of them) out in the wilderness of Oregon, homeschooling them and training them to survive (complete with gifts of boning knives and cliff face climbing.) I was sure I going to have a Beasts of the Southern Wild reaction, where the rest of the film gets obscured by my obsessive worry over the well-being of the children. But 1. I truly believe these kids could take care of themselves 2. I actually really understood appeal of the life this father (and his recently deceased wife) had created for their family. I wouldn’t personally choose to forego Christmas in honor of Noam Chomsky’s birthday, but reading by a campfire only stopping to all play music together totally worked on me.

These are characters completely committed to the counter culture, and rather than treating them like a joke* like it would have been easy to, writer-director Matt Ross, lovingly portrays the pitfalls and joys of that choice. The kids can all quote the entire Western cannon, but have real trouble talking to people their own age, which is wonderfully dramatized through the oldest son Bo (George MacKay)’s story. He wants to honor his father and the life he clearly loves, but is heartbreakingly uncomfortable around girls and knows his discomfort is because of the choices his parents made.

I think this is one I’ll be thinking about for a long time, particularly when my periodic, fleeting urge to go be a hermit in the mountains hits me.

*Hello, Critics’ Choice – this is not a comedy. Thankfully the HFPA got that right for the Globes.

Miss Sloane

I went into this movie pretty blind. In all of the movies that I’ve been going to recently I never saw one trailer for this and only remember a few tweets from Jessica Chastain the week before it opened. But she got nominated for a Golden Globe, so I went.

And I honestly can’t figure out why no one is talking about this movie. It follows a high powered lobbyist (Chastain) who switches sides to work on behalf of passing common sense gun legislation. But this is less Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and more Ides of March.  Miss Sloane is ruthless, unethical, and cold. She never sleeps and has no life. For the first half of the film I kept waiting for her weeping moment of missing out on family life. Or the story to punish her in some way for being too masculine, because that is what usually happens to female characters with too much power.

But then this movie completely surprised me and turned out to be a story about a ruthless, powerful woman who is in control of her own narrative. She isn’t likeable, but she’s not a robot. She has a backstory, but the writer Jonathan Perera and director John Madden don’t feel the need to “soften” her by giving us all the details of how she “got so cold.”

At the end I was reminded of the conversation around Sandra Bullock’s character in Our Brand Is Crisis (which I haven’t seen) and how it was originally written for a man. Miss Sloane felt like the writer created a compelling story and then thought Chastain was the best actor to fill the part (and she is) rather than setting out to create “a strong female character.”

Sadly, probably due to terrible marketing, this movie didn’t do very well at the box office, which has led a lot of right wing press and idiots on Twitter, to declare that “feminist, gun control propaganda” doesn’t sell. So, if you live somewhere that this is in theaters, I urge you to go see it, one because it’s good and two to show the studio that we will pay for stories about complex women and “liberal causes.

(Side note: This movie is a somewhat depressing picture of what it will take for liberals to win in Washington. we’re gonna need to fight like the other guys do…even when we don’t like it.)

Also Jake Lacy plays a hooker with a heart of gold….

 

Lion

The fact that Dev Patel is being submitted as a supporting actor for this film is insane. Just wanted to get that on record right away. Although he doesn’t show up until half way through, he and his performance are the soul of this movie. Also, I have a new appreciation for his face. I’ve always thought of him as a quirky and charming presence, but damn he has a two hour face. (Side note: He and Rooney Mara have great chemistry. Their love story is really just a side narrative in this, as it should be, but I would love to see them do something else together.)

This tells the true story of Saroo Brierley, a man who, as a young boy, got separated from his family in rural India by horrible misadventure (he accidentally got on a decommissioned train) and survived the slums of Calcutta until he is adopted by an Australian couple (Nicole Kidman – who gives great performance despite terrible hair, is that a wig? A horrible perm? and David Wenham). He grows up to the a successful hotel manager but becomes consumed by the search for his birth family, using the earliest versions of Google Earth.

The story is emotional and the imagery beautiful. And the only things keeping it from being in my list of best of the year are totally personal preferences:

  1. In this post Boyhood and Moonlight world  could really do without the titles on the screen telling me how much time has past and where we are. Just tell the story, the audience will figure it out.
  2. The sequences with young Saroo (Sunny Pawar) are so heart wrenching to watch. Pawar is so young and so small and I just wanted to gather him up in my arms and protect him. I know this is based on the real man’s recollections, but I really don’t understand how no one tried to help him. I guess this is actually a point in favor of the film – that it got to me so emotionally, but it makes it a little harder to recommend.

Neruda

My first foreign language nominee this year!

Based on this and Jackie I now want to see everything Pablo Larraín has made or will make in the future. Both of these films take on subjects that could have been straightforward awards season fare (JFK’s assassination, Pablo Neruda’s flight to exile from fascist persecution in Chile) and instead present idiosyncratic portraits of these larger than life figures ass humans.

Neruda is a weird film. Walking out of the IFC last night I overheard at least three people admit that they “didn’t get it.” And I’m not sure that I entirely did either, but I’m not sure we’re meant to “get it” completely. Larraín and screenwriter Guillermo Calderón have crafted a movie that feels like a Latin American novel filled with rich characterization, beautiful imagery, and a heavy dose of magical realism.

In the end, I don’t think it really matters if Gael García Bernal‘s film noir policeman literally stamped through the Andes after Neruda (played by the perfectly cast Luis Gnecco) because the story isn’t about literal truth. It’s about poetry, and how it can create real feeling without making any literal sense, especially given the right circumstances.

This film makes the argument that art matters, and that fascist regimes know this, its why they persecute artists. This movie manages to convey that without too much preaching, and while holding onto a sense of the absurd in the face of real darkness.

Also, Sing Street got nominated for Best Musical/Comedy! You can read my thoughts here.

 

Songs That Hit Me Harder Now

I started working on this playlist a couple of days after the election. I was an emotional wreck. Like not sure I was capable of pulling myself out of bed levels of despair. I’m still very sad and angry, but I’ve begun to channel that energy in more productive directions. But certain songs have been making me cry that never did before. Some of their lyrics made a new kind of sense, and some I can’t really explain, but they listening to them and letting myself cry has been cathartic for me so I thought I would share them with you all:

Second Nature – Original Broadway Cast of Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson 

I understand why people have issues with this show. It definitely can be read as glorifying Jackson, and parts of it are really just dumb. But I’ve been thinking a lot about it lately and how American populism is often such a dangerous, violent thing. I think it’s, unfortunately, worth a revisit in our current climate.

My Shot – Original Broadway Cast of Hamilton 

Just as a corrective.

Truth No. 2– Dixie Chicks

Bread & Roses– Judy Collins
I know I’ve shared the Joan Baez and Mimi Farina version of this before, but literally every version has always made me cry and especially now…

Pompeii – Bastille 

Ghosts That We Knew – Mumford and Sons 

He Thinks He’ll Keep Her – Mary Chapin Carpenter 

OK this one doesn’t make me cry, but I don’t think I had listened to it before this weekend since I was like 10. And I really didn’t understand it before. Also, this video is such a find. Look at all of those powerhouses! (And all that 90s hair..)

If We Make It Through December – Merle Haggard 
Thanks to Stu-Bot on TBTL for this one.

Make Them Hear You – Brian Stokes Mitchell from Ragtime 

Helplessness Blues – Fleet Foxes

Five Star Book: The First Collection by a Living Female Rock Critic by Jessica Hopper

I know, two 5 Star book posts in as many weeks! But I couldn’t let a book that made me grab a pen and underline things as often as this one did go unrecommended.

I saw Jessica Hopper speak about this book at the Texas Book Festival last year and bought it based on her & (frankly) a sense of feminist obligation. If the title is true, which it seems to be, then we have to buy this one to ensure there will be more.

Reading it didn’t feel at all like a chore though. Hopper is insightful and witty, hard hitting when she needs to be (like in her interview with Jim DeRogatis about R.Kelly’s very disturbing [alleged] obsession with underage girls) and compassionate always (even in the sections titled “Bad Reviews”).

It’s actually sort of intimidating to even write a review of her book, because she has mastered the form. So instead here are 5 of my underlined favorite lines:

“Girls in emo songs today do not have names. We are not identified beyond our absence, our shape drawn by the pain we’ve caused. Out lives, our day-to-day-to-day does not exist, we do not get colored in.”

From “Emo: Where The Girls Aren’t” Punk Planet #56, July 2003

“It’s often uncool to be the person who gives a shit.”

This is from her conversation about R. Kelly, but it also speaks to the book as a whole. One of my favorite writers, Rob Sheffield, wrote a blurb for the back of this book that says, “She concedes nothing to the idea that it is dumb to care so much.”

“lord alive, there is not a more earnest and tenderhearted person in rock n’ roll than Eddie Vedder, in case you doubting just how sensitacho he rolls.”

I’ve always suspected this to be true. from “Vedderan: Notes on Pearl Jam’s 20th Anniversary Concert” TinyLuckyGenius, September 2011

“They stand for hope and big ideas as well as simple ones: have fun, include everyone, be positive, do good work. It’s an active rejection of adult cynicism. You could call it anti-capitalist, but there’s no indication anyone involved has given it that much thought.”

From “Will the Stink of Success Ruin the Smell?” LA Weekly, February 2009

“It’s subtler than patriotism; the abstraction is a nostalgic ruing for that old=-fashioned American freedom (not the 2012 GOP’s hijacked late-stage-capitalism-amok-in-you-uterus version), the sort that might entice a young girl to move up from Georgia with just a lamp, a chair and her guitar.”

From “Cat Power: Sun” SPIN magazine, September 2012 

I’ll probably put together a playlist sometime soon of songs this book introduced me to. But though its about music, its really about not being afraid to give a shit, to care too much about something other people call trivial, which i think you can tell from the name of this blog is a sentiment I can get behind.

Weekly Adventures: First Week in NYC

I meant to write like 3 separate posts this week, but it’s been 2 years since I’ve worked 9-5 and remembered to blog. Most nights by the time I’m home I have the energy to lie down in front of my fan and watch clips of John Oliver (and The Bachelorette – and my British soaps). But that’s because I’ve been having so much fun exploring the city. I’ve been visiting New York since I was in middle school, but in the past few years I haven’t been here as much and I’ve never been here for longer than a couple of days at a time before. So, I took advantage of that full force in my first week. (And caught up with a couple of my favorite people who are here now too!)

Highlights include:

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Catching the final day of the Poetry Project’s Beats and Beyond poetry festival, including a reading from Michael McClure, who was one of the other poets to read the night that Allen Ginsberg first read Howl.

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It was pretty awesome.

On Friday my fellow Tenement Museum summer interns used our free entry to museums to visit the Whitney. Their new building is beautiful, and right now they have a great exhibit of portraits from their permanent collection spanning two floors. It includes traditional painted portraits and street photography (my favorite), and more experimental pieces, like this one:

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Called Standing Julian, by Urs Fischer, this piece is actually a gigantic candle, that burns all day (it’s extinguished at night), and allowed to melt down.

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There was also a exhibit dedicated to Stuart Davis , whom I had never heard of before (because my art history knowledge is completely selective), but I really loved. Especially his use of color.

 

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Super Table – Stuart Davis (1924)

Afterwards we got tacos at Chelsea Market and walked the Highline, which was both super touristy and very pretty.

For my other main adventure of the week, I went with Hanna and a few of her Princeton friends to the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx, which was the best. Although, we missed the peak flowering season for a lot of the sections, the Rockefeller Rose Garden was spectacular:

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You can see a lot more pictures I took at my flower-centric Instagram @Itaketoomanypicsofflowers

Then on the way home, I happened upon the Hare Krishna Festival in Washington Square Park, which was so vibrant it was overwhelming.

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Also, I’ve lost the Hamilton lottery a bunch of times.

Weekly Adventure: Fabulous Februrary Weekend Edition

Hi everyone, I know that I’m behind on my nominations posts (one should be coming tomorrow, I meant to be writing it now, but I forgot my notebook and I’m at work and technology hates me today and I’m tired…)

OK, enough whining, especially because, although I am tired. It’s because I actually had a weekend this weekend. Actually, I had the equivalent of like three weekends for me. This was mostly possible, because I didn’t have to work on Saturday (thank you Austin Seminary’s strange academic calendar), and because I did almost none of the homework I meant to do. (Which has made the last two days really fun and not at all stressful.)

Anyway, the adventures started with a happy hour (because I’m in grad school), this one was hosted by the Association of Moving Image Archivists student chapter here at UT. I’m not really planning on being a film archivist, but I do really love movies (as I hope you can tell by now), so I tagged along because they were going to a screening of Paris, Texas hosted by the Austin Film Society.

I’ve been on the AFS e-mail list for a long time, but their theater is a little tough to get to without a car, and I didn’t know until AMIA let me know that I can get free tickets to their screenings as a student. (More info on there here.) Well, this was a great first screening to catch. I didn’t know anything about the movie going in (I have a lot of film geek blindspots to address), and I got totally swept away in its beauty and its heart. Harry Dean Stanton is magnificent both chilling and childlike and lovely and awful all at the same time. I’m not going to write a full review, but if you ever want to talk about this with me please let me know, because I have a lot of thoughts.

On Saturday I did get some work done, but I also, binge watched the entire first season of You’re The Worst.

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It’s strange and dark and delightful and funny. It’s a romantic comedy about just truly awful people, that have just enough self-awareness and charm to make them likable in a twisted way. Not for the easily offended, but well worth a watch.

That night I met a bunch of my favorite people out on Rainey Street. We started at Clive Bar and ended at our secret wine bar. It isn’t really a secret, but I’m still not going to tell you where it is. Every time I go there it feels warm and lovely. And I drink too much. Here are some pictures I took that I haven’t already shared on social media:

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This was like attempt 6, you can tell my face is tired from the look in my eyes. A much cuter version is now my profile pic on Facebook. I’m sharing this was mostly for the blurry-Taylor photobomb.

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As I’m sure you can judge from that last picture, the less said about I felt on Sunday morning the better.

But that afternoon I went to a Super Bowl party. Despite really loving football, I couldn’t bring myself to care at all about the outcome of this game, but I loved the halftime show. And, more importantly, the party was also a birthday party for a dog:

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Most of the dogs didn’t appreciate their hats. You can look at my Instagram for one who did. 

Miró and I ducked out after half time (and birthday cake), because we had tickets to an event. It was called Monkey Town 6, it is very hard to describe. The simplest way to try is to say that it’s an art show. Sort of. It’s a collection of video art pieces projected on a cube. Guests sit inside the cube and are fed gourmet food. There are also dancers. I’m making it sound strange. And it is, but it was also lovely.

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A view of the cube from the outside. Piece currently playing is “Central Park Quilts” by Theo Angell

I’ve never been a huge fan of video art. We were talking after the show that the only place you encounter it is tucked away in corners in contemporary art museums. I always try to give those pieces a shot, and a few times I’ve been rewarded with something interesting or beautiful. But it’s hard, you never know how far into the piece you’ve walked in at the right time or you can hear everyone around you in the gallery or you are just awkwardly hovering waiting for a chance to sit down.

What was great about this was that it forced me to forget all that. I was literally immersed in an environment where I had to just stop trying to figure out the pieces and sort of let them wash over me. Some of the pieces were wonderful, some weren’t for me, some I couldn’t process enough to decide if they were for me or not, but they were all interesting. And it helped me put a finger on what I had found frustrating about this genre in the past. I kept waiting for these to feel like movies or at least like art films I’m familiar with, but really they’re more like poems than anything more straightforward and narrative. And I love poems, so once I thought of these as visual poetry I was totally in.

Also, the food was great.

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Weekly Adventure: Texas Book Festival 2015

Photo Credit: KUT

I’m sure you all know this about me by now, but I think it’s time I came out and said it. My name is Kathryn and I am a book addict. Not even really a reading addict – I mean I love to read don’t get me wrong, but I don’t think that causes problems in my life. Reading for fun sustains me, which is why I’m trying hard to make sure I have time for it this semester, despite the crushing amount of work I have. But no, my problem is with my inability to stop myself from buying books. I’ve been good for a long time, I don’t let myself idly wander through Book People; I patiently wait for a novel to come to me from the hold list at the library where I work rather than breaking down and buying it at Target, when I’m there to buy new black flats and nothing else (yeah right, but that’s another post for another time). But this weekend, I went on a bender. I couldn’t help myself the Texas Book Festival is too great too pass up, and it’s lined with big white tents filled with beautiful books I am unable to convince myself I don’t need to own.

So other than being a dangerous place for someone with my combination of interests and lack of self control, the Festival was filled with fascinating authors who really engaged with their moderators and every panel I went to was lovely. I won’t bore you all with a play by play, but like I did last year, give you my top 5 highlights (in chronological order):

  1. My favorite session of the first day was a tent full of poets (Nick Flynn, Rachel Eliza Griffiths, and Gregory Pardlo talking about how we use poetry to talk about difficult subjects, and America (because you know America is basically a bunch of difficult subjects and beautiful rhetoric).

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2. Later in the day in that same tent, I saw Jessica Hopper (author of The First Collection of Criticism by a Living Female Rock Critic) interviewed by Kathy Valentine from The Go-Gos. She was very cool and inspiring (And so was Valentine, though she seemed a little unprepared), and had a great reaction to a drunk guy yelling something at her as he walked by during her reading.

IMG_3739 (1)3. On the second day I started my day at a panel titled “Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed” based pretty much on the name. It turns out that’s the name of a book, which is a collection of essays from writers who decided not to have children writing about that decision. It was a thoughtful and interesting discussion, and more importantly, it introduced my to Geoff Dyer who was hilarious and gave me my favorite quote of the day:

“I’ve really got nothing against children. It’s the parents I can’t stand.”

4. I then went down to the Contemporary Austin, to listen to artist Mark Menjivar talk about his project The Luck Archive. I’ll admit I was partly going to see how he was misusing the word “archive,” but it turned out he isn’t at all. He has created a theoretically sound (accession numbers and all) archive of lucky charms, stories, philosophies of luck, and other luck-related ephemera. It was quirky and cool and made me want to become and archival artist (or an artist’s on call archivist, whichever really.)

5. I ended my festival in the House Chamber listening to Rookie editor Tavi Gevinson, and YA authors Julie Murphy and Rebecca Serle. The room was filled with women and girls ranging in age from 12 to 80 (I assume there were some men in there but I didn’t see them), and it felt like a lovely group of friends trading advice. I particularly loved Serle’s assertion that power comes from “understanding your own narrative and not feeling the need to convince other people of it.” And Murphy’s great (and totally true) line that “there is no one right way to be feminist or one right way to be a human being in general” because we are all contradicting ourselves all the time. Tavi also shared her love (which I share) for Carol Burnett, and gave the most practical advice of the day – “If you can Google it, don’t ask it in a Q&A.” Girl after my own heart.

Five Star Book: Spontaneous Mind, Selected Interviews of Allen Ginsberg

IMG_2677 Allen Ginsberg’s poetry has been very important to me since I first read Howl and Other Poems (I put it on my list of Ten Most Influential Books last fall), and I have always loved the Beat writers in general (particularly the often forgotten women) so I was really looking forward to digging into this collection of Ginsberg’s interviews. What I didn’t know was that, as editor David Carter says in his afterword, “Allen regarded the interview as part of his art,” and therefore had a history of being remarkably candid and giving with interviewers in a way that was rare in his lifetime, and probably even more rare now in the soundbite, gotcha media culture we have created for ourselves.

I don’t always agree with everything Ginsberg proposes (especially when it comes to drugs and the physical power of chanting) but I was repeatedly, deeply moved by his humane approach to the problems he faced. Not only personal but also political and ecological. (He has a great stance on the term ‘flower power’ not being a stupid hippie cliche but a turn towards environmentalism that we would probably now call an attempt at rebranding, but reads as really sincere in context.) Although I enjoyed the glimpses into the Beat community, and his unwavering support of Jack Kerouac as a poet and artist and man, I was particularly taken with the later interviews (the book goes up to 100 days before his death in 1997). He shares an all too rare perspective on world events and personal conflict that was rooted in a remarkable empathy and sense of the shared humanity of all people, even – maybe especially – those he disagreed with. It was truly inspiring to read.

And, on a completely different note, he was able to synthesize a lot of literary theory into practical writing advice. My only complaint with the book is that there wasn’t a full bibliography at the back because I feel like I ended it with about 100 book recommendations from one of the great artists of recent times. (That was another thing that was sort of thrilling; I always think of Ginsberg as he was in On the Road, and the Kill Your Darlings and James Franco’s Howl, but he lived into my lifetime, which means that his ideas – the less LCD based ones anyway – may not be as out of date as I have feared them to be in the past.)