“We need to give each other the space to grow, to be ourselves, to exercise our diversity. We need to give each other space so that we may both give and receive such beautiful things as ideas, openness, dignity, joy, healing, and inclusion.”
— Max de Pree
I’ve been selecting a book to read each month from A Year of Reading, a nifty little guide that provides five options every month based on a theme. The books included are diverse in author and in genre, so I’m challenging myself to read more out of the box. Now, I’m a fairly eclectic reader anyway, but this challenge helps me to read more books by authors of color, and in different formats than I would normally pick up. January’s The Principles of Uncertainty for example, is mostly artwork, such as paintings and photography, with written musings along the way.
February featured comedian, Aziz Ansari, and his take on Modern Romance.
March was a particular favorite read of mine on the topic of justice with Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy.
Playing catch up, this month’s review features the theme from April: Creative Spirit.
Crazy Brave by Joy Harjo
I am at my core, a lover of memoir. I am in awe of fiction writers as I personally find it difficult to write fiction. I often think the truth is stranger than fiction and many of the craziest scenes or details in fiction books come from truth. For example, in Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants, there’s a bit about a dead hippo the ringmaster keeps parading about during the circus, pretending the hippo is swimming in its tank. The hippo was in formaldehyde, and Gruen learned about the trick from a past employee of a real, traveling circus.
What Harjo has done with her memoir, Crazy Brave, is phenomenal, and as A Year of Reading suggests, it should be read aloud.
A well recognized poet, Harjo’s memoir encompasses story, lyric, and poem.
Overview from Goodreads:
In this transcendent memoir, grounded in tribal myth and ancestry, music and poetry, Joy Harjo, one of our leading Native American voices, details her journey to becoming a poet. Born in Oklahoma, the end place of the Trail of Tears, Harjo grew up learning to dodge an abusive stepfather by finding shelter in her imagination, a deep spiritual life, and connection with the natural world. She attended an Indian arts boarding school, where she nourished an appreciation for painting, music, and poetry; gave birth while still a teenager; and struggled on her own as a single mother, eventually finding her poetic voice. Narrating the complexities of betrayal and love, Crazy Brave is a memoir about family and the breaking apart necessary in finding a voice. Harjo’s tale of a hardscrabble youth, young adulthood, and transformation into an award-winning poet and musician is haunting, unique, and visionary.
I’m discovering more and more lyric novels lately. Books that tell a story, but do so partially, or completely, in poetry format. Rising authors like Jason Reynolds are doing so, using spoken word to communicate his tale. And in my own neck of the woods, artist and author Mai Chao shared the story of her Hmoob parents fleeing the Secret War, living in a refugee camp, and immigrating to America, in her beautiful lyric novel, Gathering Fireflies.
Harjo’s work is partially written in verse, and part traditional storytelling. It is beautifully oriented around directions (north, south, east, west), and place (her home of Oklahoma).
This book was a decadent treat for the wordsmith in me. Harjo’s writing comes from a place of loss, misdirection, and unknowing followed by the grace of time, perspective, and truth. In her own words:
“A story matrix connects all of us.
There are rules, processes, and circles of responsibility in this world. And the story begins exactly where it is supposed to begin. We cannot skip any part.”
― Joy Harjo,
I recommend Crazy Brave for any artists out there. Harjo’s story, and her work, is utmost about resilience, and it inspired me. And for bookworms, if you haven’t yet checked out a lyric novel or memoir, consider this a jewel of an introduction to the craft.
It really should be read aloud.
Have you ever checked out a lyric piece of work?
What did you think of the genre?
What other books for artists, or on creativity, do you recommend?
Happy Redhots Day!
It’s another month’s edition of The Redhots and Marcia Richards and I are back and bolder than ever!
Ok, you caught us, we’re both crazed madwomen right now!
Let’s face it, the holidays are stressful! Believe me, I work in retail. I’ve put in an insane amount of days and hours for the past month – hence the disappearance of me from the blogosphere. But I’ve missed you all and wrote you a little poem while I was away. So settle into your pajamas, kiddos, Jess is going to read you a story!
The Sale Before ChristmasIt was the sale before Christmas and all through the mall the customers were shopping for gifts big and small! The registers were ringing, the managers running. And somewhere in their temporal lobes – a constant, steady drumming! This coupon! That special! Lines the length of trains! – Had this particular manager wracking her redhot brains! There were gifts to still wrap, Heck presents to buy! Not to mention the store potluck, that dang peppermint pie! There was severe lack of sleep and a small bought with the flu. But Christmas was coming! What’s a girl to do? The dishes began to pile at home, and the laundry was crawling the walls. Is this what Kris Kringle had in mind when he said “Deck the Halls?” At last the day came and went, though short, it was full of cheer. With family members, grace and thanks I can wish you a Happy New Year!
Your turn! This Redhots edition we want to hear YOUR holiday stories! Marcia and I are each posting a picture about the holidays and we’d love to hear your reactions, stories, perhaps poems (who doesn’t love a good limerick or haiku?) all about the holidays! Thanks for sharing and we hope you all had a very happy holiday!
For all of you struggling with your writing projects! Here are the rhymes you didn’t learn in school to help you. Enjoy!
Hickory dickory dock,
the mouse ran off with my plot!
The clock struck one,
the writer was done!
Hickory dickory dock.
Hickory dickory dock.
The bird pooped on my plot!
The clock struck two
What’s a writer to do?
Hickory dickory dock.
Hickory dickory dock
The dog chewed through my plot!
The clock struck three
Guess it wasn’t to be.
Hickory dickory dock.
Jack and Jill went up the hill
to fetch another chapter.
Jack fell down
bringing the pages ’round
and Jill came scribbling faster.
Old Mother Hubbard
went to the cupboard
to give the poor dog a pen.
When she came there
the cupboard was bare
and so the poor pup wrote no end.
Spent the day working at home, cleaning and organizing my desk and closet. In the midst of the dust upheaval, I unearthed my bin full of old journals and literary magazines. Thought I’d share a poem of mine published in Spires Literary Magazine, Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, Spring 2005. The summer before I returned to school my mother’s father moved in with us due to his decreasing health. I wrote this while sitting in the kitchen at home one night.
When Grandpa Came to Live With Us
When Grandpa came to live with us–
it was because he needed oxygen
think with rainwater,
similar to the
which stewed outside
Strange enough, Wisconsin summer,
humidity so thick I couldn’t breathe
In the house
a whole woods full
a cowbird’s call
in Grandpa’s cough
seven june bugs
like pill bottles
The stir of leaves
cracks of sticks–
an oxygen machine
The long blowing
of the grasses
and tree branches,
steady hum of a sleeping
I’m reporting again. On March 9, 2011 the Wisconsin State Senate voted on the budget repair bill without democratic senators present. What has been proposed for two weeks as the only way to balance our state budget, and described as an economic plan, omitted every part of the bill that mentioned fiscal issues, thereby making the democratic representatives’ presence unnecessary. The result, an unchecked and unbalanced vote to end labor unions and collective bargaining rights. Senate members met illegally without due notice and voted on a bill that was not even present at this meeting, and never available to the public. The following is the footage from the actual voting process and a spoken word I wrote in reaction to this shameful event.
I grew in a state where houses
were sprinkled from a watering can
where budding cities sprouted like beanstalks
and the families, its leaves,
called out Forward!
Fifty years of paving progress
only to be wiped out
in one shady chamber room.
Shame! To you Governor Walker.
Shame! To you politicians
who don’t speak for your constituents
and ignore their educated,
respected, and collected VOICE!
Do you not see the eyes of 50,000 faces
staring into your windows,
which should be THEIR windows
waiting for an invitation into their own home?
Can you not hear them knocking?
They come to you as equals
and still you won’t look at them without lies.
Holy, holy, holy
who marched on the capital stairs
with their families and their signs,
sleeping on the sidewalks,
spilling out into the streets
they beg to have a word,
but still you haven’t heard!
What times are these
when human rights
are fallen on deaf ears?
you’ve left our communities
fearing but not quite believing
our democracy could end.
But with crafty hands
you penned a legislation
not even present at the voting table,
and yet so evil
it was voted in “aye!”
God bless you,
for standing up against
the murderers of the middle class!
We are a grieving public.
But our anger and our fear
will be mended
one signature at a time,
oh yes, we will sign!
For the voices in that room
did not represent our state
we will change the faces
that sit in that shady chamber room
that took away our voices,
yours and mine,
we will meet again
when we send you
that sweet forgotten postcard,
our love note to our capital,
that check in a ballot box,
we’ll sign it,
“wish you weren’t here!”
For you are not Wisconsin’s governor!
If you could make a movie feel so powerful, so historical, and so eloquently raw all at the same time, I think you’d find yourself watching the film, Howl. Written and directed by Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman, and starring James Franco as Allen Ginsberg, Howl is a film that deeply moved me. It combines the recitation of Ginsberg’s most famous poem (Howl) with past and present day Ginsberg, as well as animated imagery. It also depicts the obscenity trials surrounding Howl’s publication by Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s City Lights Books.
I was first introduced to Allen Ginsberg when my high school english teacher from junior year got out his giant hardcover copy of Poetry Speaks, a vast and I believe rare collection of the poets themselves reading their work, with biographies and other writer’s takes on what their writing meant to the generations. Howl is a poem in four parts, it is a love story to a generation, the naked truth about hypocrisy and material goods, a religious poem, a spiritual poem, a letter to one’s friends and role models, a historical and social reference mind f**k, and finally a jazz rhythm read. He uses what was considered at the time to be crude and vulgar language, and many would say it is still crude and vulgar today. But he spoke honestly and openly about life and became a main reference for a movement that swept a post-war generation, the Beats.
It would have been incredible to sit in the courtroom overhearing the obscenity trial of Allen Ginsberg’s poem Howl. One side arguing that the poem has no literary merit because it is obscene, and the other defending freedom of speech and saying the obscenity comes from a known life of obscenities. Ginsberg spent several months in a mental institution and was released after promising his doctor he would not be gay anymore. The first part of the poem is an ode, a remembrance to a man he met in the institution, Carl Solomon, and it may be my favorite portion of the poem.
Do yourself a favor, see this film! It is well acted, well encrypted between court trials, interviews, typewriters, and animation. Ginsberg is someone who spoke out to other writers, who loved poetry and writing in the very pit of his stomach. He and his work, whether you like it or not, have paved the way for expressionist art. See this film!
When did you first encounter Allen Ginsberg? What do you think of his work, is it life or is it just obscene? If you haven’t heard Howl read by Ginsberg, here is a recording of part 1.
I know the rules of blogging platform. We are not supposed to dive into the political, so if you don’t want to listen just click on my Jane Austen post instead. But I can’t silence my head. I’ve argued with people, paced around the house, drove around listening to NPR, and spent countless hours worrying about the future and my family. If you didn’t know, Wisconsin is in an uproar regarding Governor Scott Walker’s plan to end all unions. Thousands of state workers and teachers have rallied in protest at the capital all week long. I really do understand the downsides to a union, in fact, in my job I educate new hires on why our company opts to do without a union, but four people in my family are union members through WEAC or other state positions. And with the plans Governor Walker wants to put forward it will mean less pay every year for our educators and increased pay ins for health benefits. All I’m doing is sharing a spoken word I wrote today because it’s heavily on my mind. I thank you for listening, and whichever side of the struggle you fall on, please send support to my family as I know a battle lies ahead.
I Heard the Cry on the Capital Stairs
This is an appreciation.
You’ll have to forgive my fixation
but this crowd-
balled up against the capital stairs
speaking out so loudly
I can hear it from 200 miles away!
Kill the Bill
to those who won’t even agree to listen
yet admit that their legislation
could use a little editing.
Well I learned how to proofread,
but sometimes a mistake
is not so easily repaired by the
force of an eraser on paper.
Sometimes it can never be taken back
and it becomes a mandatory civil disobedience,
a role call of citizens who speak up
and speak out about why
you can’t tear down a structure
like a building and not acknowledge
you’re leaving a mess.
And that is why we are here today!
That is why some of your children
could not attend school
because their teachers chose to walk out
rather than spend the day in denial of their own voice
their own voice
handling the matters that impact them directly.
So if you know a teacher,
are related to a teacher,
and Heaven bless you if you are a teacher,
SPEAK now SPEAK strongly
SPEAK with the conviction
of a child raising their hand and asking WHY?
Never stop asking questions!
Never doubt for a moment that our nation
would never learn how to read or count
or grow without our teachers preparing
every class lesson and opportunity
a child is given
by devoting their own free time
to the success and the future
of the next generation!
Say thank you!
Say you hear them!
Say you know there are changes yet to come,
but not from a tumbling structure undone,
in this day, while we stand
united on the capital steps
let us SPEAK,
even if you find yourself only able
Let all voices be known as a face,
a part of the answer,
not the problem!
Say thank you!
Say you hear them!
Say you have the courage
and the remembrance of a teacher
who has shaped your own life
to SPEAK out
and never stop SPEAKING!
It’s Valentines Day. Whether you love or hate the celebration, I thought a little Rumi was appropriate. If you’re unfamiliar with him, he was a Sufi mystic and poet, most noted for his extreme love and devotion towards his mentor Shams of Tabriz. NPR host, Jean Feraca, from Here on Earth had a whole discussion with Coleman Barks, one of the lead translators of Rumi’s poetry and a Sufi studier for over three decades. I absolutely encourage you to check out Jean’s site and listen to some podcasts of her programs; they are always very moving. While driving in the car today, I listened to caller after caller read their favorite Rumi poem, share how they knew Rumi, and why his work makes him the most beloved and best selling poet in America.
I first discovered Rumi through my sister. She learned about him in college and brought one of his books home for me to read knowing how much I liked poetry. I immediately devoured his words and watched a documentary about his life which interviews prominent Rumi translators and the differences these authors have on his works. It’s really interesting how one poet has inspired many others to interpret his work. Some is very proper and written in an older english style, while Coleman Barks brings about more of Rumi’s spirit in his translations, rather than a literal translation. I’ve returned to Rumi poems throughout my life at different times. Sitting by my parent’s garden, I read his love of the land poems. And when I was too young to know any better I read his love poems and yearned for the intense emotions he wrote of. Now, for Valentines Day, I share with you two different Rumi poems that I think are beautiful. Enjoy!
Do you have a story to share about Jalaluddin Rumi? Do you have a favorite Rumi poem? I’d love to hear it!
The Silent Articulation of a Face
Love comes with a knife, not some
shy question, and not with fears
for its reputation! I say
these things disinterestedly. Accept them
in kind. Love is a madman,
working his wild schemes, tearing off his clothes,
running through the mountains, drinking poison,
and now quietly choosing annihilation.
A tiny spider tries to wrap an enormous wasp.
Think of the spiderweb woven across the cave
where Muhammad slept! There are love stories,
and there is obliteration into love.
You’ve been walking the ocean’s edge,
holding up your robes to keep them dry.
You must dive naked under and deeper under,
a thousand times deeper! Love flows down.
The ground submits to the sky and suffers
what comes. Tell me, is the earth worse
for giving in like that?
Don’t put blankets over the drum!
Open completely. Let your spirit-ear
listen to the green dome’s passionate murmur.
Let the cords of your robe be untied.
Shiver in this new love beyond all
above and below. The sun rises, but which way
does night go? I have no more words.
Let soul speak with the silent
articulation of a face.
Some Kiss We Want
There is some kiss we want
with our whole lives, the touch
of spirit on the body. Seawater
begs the pearl to break its shell.
And the lily, how passionately
it needs some wild darling!
At night, I open the window and ask
the moon to come and press its
face against mine.
Breathe into me. Close
the language-door and open the love-window.
The moon won’t use the door,
only the window.