Friday, December 24, 2010

Reasons To Be Cheerful, Part One

'Tis the season for thoughtful happiness, and giving thanks for beauty discovered, re-discovered, and won. Here are a few of the many things that made me happy this year:

Richard Barnes, "Animal Logic" (2009).

Barnes, "Murmur" (2005).

Barnes kindly met with me in April; Lobster & Canary hopes to feature him in 2011. Barnes captures the natural world through his lens better than anyone since Elliot Porter, and no one equals him at unveiling the interplay behind the scenes of humans with other species. For more, click his site here.

Vicki Graham's The Tenderness of Bees (Red Dragonfly Press, 2008) was a lovely revelation, full of succinct, warm,evocative observations and queries on nature and our place in it. (Read Graham while looking at Barnes.) Hints of Dickinson and Gerald Manley Hopkins, with a touch of Annie Dillard. Two samples: "Sing. Take the warbler's note/like a bead in the throat/ let the sound fill/ the heart's silent spaces." "No poem has the symmetry, the stark clarity/ of the Golden Crowned Kinglet's eye stripes/ white on black." For more on Graham, click here.

Helen Oyeyemi, White is for Witching (Doubleday, 2009). One of the most remarkable novels I have ever read: quite literally haunting, macabre, weird, a story of retribution. Oyeyemi is a Wunderkind, having written her first novel while in high school; she is today just barely 26 (!), with three novels and two plays published. Her prose startles in its originality, her plots are unexpected, her characters troubled and troubling. For another review of White is for Witching, click here.

D.M. Cornish, The Foundling's Tale, Part Three: Factotum (Putnam, 2010). At last! The finale of Cornish's brilliant Monster Blood Tattoo trilogy was published mid-November...I am setting aside time in January to read and savor this, to learn the fate of Rossamuend Bookchild. Cornish's illustrations are the cherry on top. For more on the Monster Blood Tattoo, click here.

Kenny Garrett, "Beyond the Wall" (from the Nonesuch album of the same name, 2006).

A trip to China inspired Garrett to create the album Beyond the Wall. The influence of Coltrane and McCoy Tyner is evident. Pharoah Sanders partners with Garrett on sax, and Brian Blade provides his usual combination of delicacy and decisiveness on the drums. For more on Garrett, click here.

John Brunner, The Traveler in Black (Ace, 1971). A favorite from my youth, which I bought used at Arisia this year. I wrote about The Traveler on June 13. "As you wish, so be it."

Pam Grossman, Phantasmaphile (ongoing). Pam's Phantasmaphile is a must-read blog--special bliss for me every couple of days when I get the latest addition dropped into my e-mail box. Pam has a discerning eye for the occult, the arcane, the off-kilter; she is, no surprise!, a co-founder of the innovative, weird arts & event collective The Observatory in Gowanus, Brooklyn. She and her playwright husband Matt (Blue Coyote Theater Group) are a warm-hearted, multi-talented pair to watch. Check out Phantasmaphile here.

Josh Dorman, Equine (2010). Serendipity of the purest sort on a cold winter day earlier this year when we happened to stumble upon the Dorman exhibition at the Mary Ryan Gallery in Chelsea...down the rabbit-hole, through the looking-glass, we never wanted to leave his endlessly engaging geographies and bestiaries. Many artists pretend to creating other worlds: Dorman is the true sorcerer who does so. See more of his work by clicking here.

Ellen Kushner, The Man with the Knives (special limited edition, illustrated by Thomas Canty, April 2010, by Temporary Culture/ Henry Wessells, New Jersey). A strong tale, beautifully depicted, by two of the best (reunited!) in the speculative arts. A memorable moment for the Lobster and the Canary: Ellen signing our copy at the NYRSF December reading (which she and Delia Sherman headlined, as is becoming tradition). You can read the entire story and see even more of the illustrations at click here.

Poets House (Battery Park City, NYC). I spent many hours at Poets House this year, immersed in their peaceable kingdom, surrounded by poetry beyond measure, breathing in that vatic air. Poets House is one of my all-time favorite reading places...I encourage you to make it yours, if you are in the NYC area. Click here for more.

Timothy O'Keefe, "Poem in the Key of Luminarias" (The American Poetry Review, Sept./Oct., 2010). O'Keefe's debut collection won this year's FIELD Poetry Prize. "Luminarias" grabbed me from its first lines: "A pack of doorways pressing relentless together/ so as to form the hall in which I walk toward/ famous blackout you." Whoomph, right in the mind that one goes. Later in the poem: "We are overfluent in coral days/ where each sky is a cake, a birthday cake/ because we've candled it so." O'Keefe is one to watch as well-- click here for another example of his craft.

Anoushka Shankar, talking about her CD Rise (2006). Shankar describes the traditions she has woven together to create her Grammy-nominated Rise. I've blogged about her cross-cultural work with The Orpheus Chamber Orchestra-- her commentary on the act of creative collaboration is both insightful and inspiring.

Rachel Contreni Flynn, "Small Gray House" (in jubilat 17, published 2010). A compact poem of belonging, self-exile and protection, encompassing home, with echoes of Grendel's longing. "The red house frightened her/with its furious air." "She often wakes to a shadow in her room,/a smoky-black curve darting backward." Don't read this while reading Oyeyemi's White is for Witching...or you will not sleep at night.

On Sunday I will present more Reasons to be Cheerful (call it Part Two). In the meantime, here is "Reasons to be Cheerful, Part Three"...from the late, lamented Ian Dury and his inimitable Blockheads (1979):

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