Archive for the ‘Literature’ Category

Understanding Twitter

April 2, 2009

Twitter seems to be, first and foremost, an online haven where teenagers making drugs can telegraph secret code words to arrange gang fights and orgies. It also functions as a vehicle for teasing peers until they commit suicide.

Dan Kennedy, writing at McSweeney’s

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Long live gravity

March 27, 2009


By Matthew Ralph

“Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary
some in the wrong direction
Practice resurrection”

When I heard these familiar lines of poetry recited in the opening moments of a play celebrating the farmer, author, poet and activist Wendell Berry on Thursday, I felt a chill come over me like I have seldom experienced watching a stage production.

Practice resurrection. Two words of the 1973 poem “Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front” that, repeated while a hammer dulcimer played softly in the background, nearly moved me to tears as I pondered the deep meaning behind a simple, yet insightful turn of a phrase.

The poetry of Wendell Berry is full of moving moments like that, times where a simple phrase, a humorous anecdote or an observation of the natural world triggers the so-called light bulb of our minds to ever so gracefully turn on.

Wild Blessings, a new play based on Berry’s poetic works, is billed as a celebration of a faithful steward, a friendly neighbor, a loving husband and a kind of modern day prophet claimed by environmentalists, literature enthusiasts, Christians and conservatives alike. But the 75-minute play is as much a celebration of the things Berry has inspired readers for decades to appreciate, enjoy and protect. 

Aided by the lurid sounds of a hammer dulcimer and the striking photographic and video images visible through a large wall resembling a bay window in the middle of the stage and an even larger screen behind it, the play features four actors – an older couple and a younger one – dramatically reading Berry’s words. The actors march in circles, dance, play violin, guitar and percussion and sing. The hammer dulcimer player also sings, but the music mostly provides the soothing backdrop for the words that indirectly weave (using only words from Berry’s pen) a narrative of a slightly mad farmer, out of place in the city who falls in love, returns to the fields, raises a family and fights to hold onto the simple, beautiful things in life like family, friends and God’s creation.

Following along, even for someone familiar with many of his works, was somewhat dizzying at times. Unlike reading the words on a page, the combination of stunning visuals, soothing music and dramatic acting gives little time for you to completely digest. Breaks in the action do occur and the topically connected transitions are generally well played (he titles of poems flash on the screen as the images change), but as the play inches intermission-less toward the finish it does make you wish you could hit pause or maybe rewind on a few of the scenes.

An outline in the playbook might have been helpful as a guide, but in the end Wild Blessings succeeds in maintaining a lot of the subtlety, humor and vivid description that make reading Wendell Berry’s poetry such an enriching and life-giving experience. It doesn’t tell you how to think or lecture about why mountain top removal, conspicuous consumption or infidelity should be avoided. It shows you what you are missing when you trade in natural beauty, elegance and grace for artificial comfort, perceived safety and reckless convenience.

In other words, it shows you what it means to practice resurrection.

Wild Blessings is appearing until April 26 at The Actors Theatre of Louisville as part of the Humana Festival of New American Plays. Click HERE for more information.

Jonathan Edwards or death metal?

February 10, 2009

Blogger/author Jason Boyett recently went through some of Puritan theologian Jonathan Edwards’ fire and brimstone sermons and found the juicier parts extremely difficult to tell apart from random death metal lyrics.

Don’t think so? Try these two on for size:

1.
I can hear the whispers
of the demons poisoning his mind

“More blood,” they say

“More lives”

2.
their damnation don’t slumber
the pit is prepared
the fire is made ready

the furnace is now hot

The rest are HERE.

Postage stamp world

February 4, 2009

By Ann Davis

Yesterday, I had to go to the post office. Accustomed to long PO lines, I’d thought ahead and brought a book – which the clerk thought was funny, because there was only one other customer in there, and she was already being helped by another staffer.

After mailing a package, the clerk asked if I needed any stamps. She had Valentine hearts and flowers. I asked if she had any of the Edgar Allen Poe ones in (before leaving the office, I’d looked online to see what fun stamps are currently out).

She said, “Oh, yeah, we have lots of those. They’re not selling because no one knows who he is.”

“Except the girl who brought a book to wait at the post office,” I said, sadly, as a little piece of me died.

Now part of me thinks this story should encourage me, who’s starting a masters of Library Science this spring, to want to go into reforming libraries in lower-class, crime-heavy suburban areas such as the one near my office. But the larger part of me is just too disheartened. You can clean, stock and renovate all you like, but how do you make the people go in and read? But if I DO do it… and am successful… they can make a movie about it…

“And it’s a shame, it’s one of our prettiest stamps,” said the post office clerk.

If only that were the biggest shame!

Day-Lewis and Del Toro to star in Shusaku Endo adaptation?

February 2, 2009

Variety is reporting that Daniel Day Lewis and Benicio Del Toro are in negotiations to star in Martin Scorcese’s next film, an adaptation of Shusaku Endo’s masterpiece novel “Silence.”

The story centers around two 17th century Jesuit priests who face violence and persecution when they travel to Japan as missionaries.

Scorcese has reportedly had the project on his radar for more than a decade.

(Hat Tip: Looking Closer)

Irving and Updike

January 29, 2009

“We weren’t friends. We knew each other socially for the brief period of time when I lived in Massachusetts—in Cambridge—and he was in Beverly Farms. We had dinner together a few times. We had a polite but not frequent correspondence, too. For a period of time—no longer—fans used to confuse the two of us. How could this have happened? Because we were both “John”? It was baffling, but I got numerous fan letters that were meant for him, and he got fan letters that were meant for me, and this gave us the occasion to write to each other—and send the misdirected fan mail to each other. This has stopped; it hasn’t happened in five or six years. Maybe this was mail from a single demented village or the same deranged family; maybe it was generational, and they’ve died out—those idiots who thought I was John Updike and John Updike was me.”

John Irving

(Hat Tip: Mighty Red Pen)

A&P

January 28, 2009

Another Updike classic.

Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu

January 27, 2009

Classic Updike.

There was a beauty here

January 27, 2009

“There was a beauty here, refined from country pastures, a game of solitariness, of waiting, waiting for the pitcher to complete his gaze toward first base and throw his lightning, a game whose very taste, of spit and dust and grass and sweat and leather and sun, was America.”

-John Updike, from his book “Rabbit Redux.” Updike died Tuesday at the age of 76.

Elsewhere: Thoreau’s worst nightmare

December 3, 2008

What do books like “The Year of Living Biblically,” gimmick documentary films like “Supersize Me” and bloggers like No Impact Man all have in common?

Beyond the obvious self-control and discipline it takes to make a name for oneself sacrificing something for the sake of a compelling story, the people behind books, films and blogs of this nature all have an ulterior motive Michael Agger traces back 150 years in a fascinating Mother Jones article about Henry Thoreau’s own gimmicky path through the woods to becoming a published author.

After 150 years, Walden endures as a monument to frugality, solitude, and sophomore-year backpacking trips. Yet it’s Thoreau’s ulterior motive that has the most influence today. He was one of the first to use lifestyle experimentation as a means to becoming a published author. Going to live by the pond was a philosophical decision, but it was also something of a gimmick. And if you want to land a book deal, you gotta have a gimmick.

Click HERE to read the rest.