In Memory of W.B. Yeats by W.H. Auden, a Tribute to the First Week in June

A poignant poem by W.H. Auden concerning the death of Irish poet W.B. Yeats, appreciating  both the heartache and joy of a person’s life and death.  Appropriate for all days, but especially this past week.

In Memory of W. B. Yeats
W. H. Auden, 1907 – 1973

I

He disappeared in the dead of winter:
The brooks were frozen, the airports almost deserted,
And snow disfigured the public statues;
The mercury sank in the mouth of the dying day.
What instruments we have agree
The day of his death was a dark cold day.

Far from his illness
The wolves ran on through the evergreen forests,
The peasant river was untempted by the fashionable quays;
By mourning tongues
The death of the poet was kept from his poems.

But for him it was his last afternoon as himself,
An afternoon of nurses and rumours;
The provinces of his body revolted,
The squares of his mind were empty,
Silence invaded the suburbs,
The current of his feeling failed; he became his admirers.

Now he is scattered among a hundred cities
And wholly given over to unfamiliar affections,
To find his happiness in another kind of wood
And be punished under a foreign code of conscience.
The words of a dead man
Are modified in the guts of the living.

But in the importance and noise of to-morrow
When the brokers are roaring like beasts on the floor of the
Bourse,
And the poor have the sufferings to which they are fairly
accustomed,
And each in the cell of himself is almost convinced of his
freedom,
A few thousand will think of this day
As one thinks of a day when one did something slightly unusual.

What instruments we have agree
The day of his death was a dark cold day.

II

You were silly like us; your gift survived it all:
The parish of rich women, physical decay,
Yourself. Mad Ireland hurt you into poetry.
Now Ireland has her madness and her weather still,
For poetry makes nothing happen: it survives
In the valley of its making where executives
Would never want to tamper, flows on south
From ranches of isolation and the busy griefs,
Raw towns that we believe and die in; it survives,
A way of happening, a mouth.

III

Earth, receive an honoured guest:
William Yeats is laid to rest.
Let the Irish vessel lie
Emptied of its poetry.

In the nightmare of the dark
All the dogs of Europe bark,
And the living nations wait,
Each sequestered in its hate;

Intellectual disgrace
Stares from every human face,
And the seas of pity lie
Locked and frozen in each eye.

Follow, poet, follow right
To the bottom of the night,
With your unconstraining voice
Still persuade us to rejoice;

With the farming of a verse
Make a vineyard of the curse,
Sing of human unsuccess
In a rapture of distress;

In the deserts of the heart
Let the healing fountain start,
In the prison of his days
Teach the free man how to praise.

From Another Time by W. H. Auden, published by Random House. Copyright © 1940 W. H. Auden, renewed by the Estate of W. H. Auden.

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Librarian’s Pick of the Week: I Know a Woman Like That

Library patrons are always asking me, “what have you read (or seen) lately that you loved?”  This is what I loved this week.

I Know a Woman Like That directed by Elaine Madsen 

Why: Elaine Madsen, mother of actress Virginia Madsen interviews a variety of influential women spanning the length of the country with daughter in tow.

In this wonderfully touching, honest and heartening documentary, Madsen spotlights a range of women from ages 60-90+ who are powerful, altruistic, driven, spunky, and kind, otherwise known as “women like that.” The interviews include former mayor of Evanston, IL, Lorraine Morton, Gloria Steinem, Eartha Kitt, author Maxine Hong Kingston, and other incredibly strong women of grit.  Madsen’s impressive interview skills warm the interviewee into genuine responses as she asks them where they are now.  What is life like at that current moment, resisting the urge to wax poetic about the subjects’ youth as so many films tend to idealize.  What is so fascinating about those being interviewed is their nearly universal responses about sex, confidence, and wisdom, thereby defying how those of “a certain age” behave behind closed doors, and what they think about their bodies.  All of the participants expressed a feeling of calm, or as Lauren Hutton explains, when you’re younger you have higher highs and lower lows, and it evens out as you age; you get smarter and more comfortable with who you are (paraphrasing).  All expressed, whether in their 70s or 90s, that they feel that they’ve finally gotten to know themselves and are just starting a new, exciting phase in their lives.  Given how the U.S. treats and views senior citizens, this reality defies common conception, bordering on revolutionary.

The Madsen duo have created a piece of art that seems could only have been accomplished by a closely bonded mother/daughter team, relating their personal and familial experiences to their subjects and the screen.  The phrase “youth is wasted on the young” springs to mind as the subjects in the documentary make a compelling case for the vivaciousness and security that often accompany later years, the best kept secret of women like that.

I Know a Woman Like That is currently available on Hoopla through most libraries and on DVD.

Watchalikes: Faces Places (Varda & JR)
Advanced Style (Cohen)
Out Late (Alda & Brooke)
The September Issue (Cutler)

Librarian’s Pick of the Week: Inquiring Nuns

Library patrons are always asking me, “what have you read (sometimes seen) lately that you loved?”  This is what I loved this week.

Inquiring Nuns directed by Gordon Quinn

Why: In the late 1960s, two nuns traveled around Chicago asking people if they were happy, what lead to happiness, and what would make them less happy.  There are several remarkable aspects of this film, including the visual details and the responses of the subjects.

The footage of 1960s Chicago architecture, the street signs, the Art Institute, the fashion, and even the subjects’ manner of speaking seem to become their own characters as each possesses such distinct style and depth.  As the nuns approach the interviewees, they gingerly ask, “are you happy?” and the subjects responses show us an extraordinary glimpse into human nature.  It reminds us that there is no us/them depending on when you were born; personality types transcend, and a penchant for peace is a large part of the human condition (the documentary takes place during the Vietnam War).  There’s always that one person who is perpetually happy, sometimes making you doubt their sanity.  The depressive who attempts to hide their anxiety with humor; the self-involved; those who live in the moment, and those who live in the future.

The best part of this documentary is its subtly–it resists dramatic music, closeups, or editing that could manipulate the viewer into a prescribed emotion.  It’s a straightforward film where the subjects are asked a question and its their answers, their surrounding environment and the climate of the era that packs a restrained punch.

Last Five Books

The last five books that I’ve read-typically independent and off the beaten path.

Zero Day by Ezekiel Boone (2018)

(3rd and final of the Hatching Trilogy.  ancient & hungry spiders are unearthed and eat their way across the globe in terrifying & amusing ways. well-written, fun, smart, well-developed characters.  highly recommend the audio version.)

The Twilight Pariah by Jeffrey Ford (2017)

(a highly enjoyable shorter novel detailing three friends post-high school tangling with the darker forces of nature, the past, skeletons, and haunted people and places.  humorous, compulsively readable and original.  great novel to throw in your bag before a flight.)

No Excuses Detox: 100 Recipes to Help You Eat Healthy Every Day by Megan Gilmore (2017)

(accessible clean-eating.  appetizing, whole food recipes with everyday ingredients.  the spaghetti squash pad thai is heaven.  muffins made with cashew butter & no flour of any kind-it can only be sneaky sorcery that makes them so GD delicious.)

Self-Care for the Real World by Nadia Narain & Katia Narain Phillips (2018)

(down-to-earth life lessons & suggestions on how to discover what self-care means to the individual reader.  a book you buy and leave next to your bed.)

The Undesired by Yrsa Sigurdardóttir  (2017)

(icelandic thriller weaving two stories from decades apart.  unconventional story, unexpected twists, & engrossing characters.  shocking, unpredictable ending.  the audio narration is wonderful.)

 

 

Librarian’s Pick of the Week: The Unrepentant Cinephile by Jason Coffman

Library patrons are always asking me, “what have you read (sometimes seen) lately that you loved?”  This is what I loved this week.

The Unrepentant Cinephile: Collected Reviews of Cult,                                                   Exploitation, Horror and Independent Films by Jason Coffman

Why:  When this substantial book arrived in the mail, I was surprised by its impressive size due to the healthy amount of reviews contained therein, especially given the modest price of $15.99 on Amazon.com.  With a decade of film criticism under his belt, local (to my neck of the woods) Chicago critic and filmmaker Jason Coffman has complied a truly impressive tome of reviews from the 1960s (or even earlier, there are a lot of reviews) to present day.  Coffman’s reviews will speak to even the lay audience to the titled cinephile as he discusses such films as the most recent Ghostbusters, Jack Frost, Let the Right One In, Scott Pilgram v. the World to more independent films such as Mercury in Retrograde, Nude Nuns with Big Guns (definitely on my list), to my favorite indie horror flick, Basket Case.  The charm of the book lies within both the variety of reviews coupled with the author’s laid-back and warm affection for all his subjects, even if they are “complete trash,” prefaced by an endearing, “Goodness me” (The Nail Gun Massacre).  Coffman also includes a hilariously entertaining chapter entitled “Bad Movie Night” of the best of the worst films which scream to be viewed.  I’d recommend this book (it would also be a wonderful gift) to anyone who loves film, whether it be a penchant for Steel Magnolias to Un Chien Andalou.  Fingers crossed for Frankenhooker in the second printing.

Feminist Short Stories: Horror & Sci-Fi (Part 3)

Spotlight on Five Feminist-Minded Short Stories with Elements of Horror & Sci-Fi

Joyce Carol Oates once so perfectly wrote, “One criterion for horror fiction is that we are compelled to read it swiftly, with a rising sense of dread, and so total a suspension of ordinary skepticism, we inhabit the material without question and virtually as its protagonist: we can see no way out except to go forward.”  This quote perfectly encapsulates why so many love the horror genre; it transports its reader to another world where one can observe, and be an entirely new entity, whether person, monster, witch, or troll.  When you combine horror with the feminist short story, you enter a whole new realm that’s even more terrifying than any Pinhead from Hellraiser or Damien from the Omen.  The horror delves into reality, where much can be hidden beneath the facade of such vanities as a life of wealth, the perfect marriage, or an idyllic community.

The tales below are a sampling of five feminist short stories that do indeed leave us with a “rising sense of dread” because sometimes, the horror is too personal.

Eau-De-Eric
Manuela Saragosa

In this thoroughly creative and universal short story, author and journalist from the BBC World Service (photo above) explores the strong connection between scent and memory, how a simple whiff can conjure and propel us back into the most painful of past memories.

We are privy to a snapshot into the life of Kathy and her young daughter Ellie  one year post Kathy’s husband, Eric’s untimely death.  When she brings home a resale shop teddy bear to her daughter, Ellie names the doll after her father citing a similar scent to which Kathy agrees, much to her dismay.  As the story unfolds, the bear becomes a compulsively constant companion to the girl, complicit in her whispers behind closed doors.  He seems to perpetually stare at the mother and her new boyfriend, communicating a feeling of ultimate betrayal, an emotional neglect as Kathy forges her new life.  This new man, his presence betraying the memory of Ellie’s father.

In this shorter short story, Saragosa flawlessly commands and transforms the mood of the plot with only a few sentences, morphing the daughter from saint to sinner, the mother from dubious parent to survivor.  The scent of the father, though comforting to Ellie, becomes reminder of the terror endured by the mother during their marriage.  The smell becomes the personification of the dead man, inviting him back into the house as not only a bear, but possibly inhabiting the form of their daughter, an inescapable entity of memory now passed through the possession of DNA.

It’s the perfect short horror story–it’s a seemingly simple story that takes you on a subtle though impactful emotional ride that encompasses memory, single parenthood, death of a parent, and the complexities of grief.

from Six Scary Stories, selected and introduced by Stephen King

The Summer People
Kelly Link

Two years after reading The Summer People over a snowy Chicago winter weekend, the mystery and magic of the tale, written by short story maven Kelly Link still fills me with wonder every time it springs into my psyche.  The basis is magically fantastic in every sense of the word.  Similar to American Gods by Neil Gaiman, Link creates a world where many of us wish to live, where the ordinary is peppered with the extraordinary, living as one, though the extraordinary is often hidden to most.

The story focuses on its main protagonist, teenage Fran, caretaker of everything and one in her life–her father, her home, the people who vacation in their southern part of the US and the homes in which they stay.  Fran is a tough cookie; she’s weathered so much burden throughout her life, including an absentee mother, an unreliable and alcoholic father, and the knowledge of necessity.  Fran knows that if she doesn’t keep up the adult responsibilities for her father, no one will, including the care of their otherworldly summer inhabitants who keep Fran’s mother, father, and now Fran captive by location.  They are both blessed with the presence of magical beings who care for the family, and damned by them as their perpetual caretakers.

Link entwines the complicated plight of a lower income, broken family expressed through the steadfastness of a young woman and the whimsical quirks of the Summer People.  Though Fran has grown weary of their antics with slight sprinkles of amusement, the readers learn of their supernatural abilities as they gradually unfold to Fran’s friend Ophelia.  Almost by happenstance, Ophelia innocuously inserts herself into Fran’s life and naturally that of the Summer People, unknowingly entering into a world which may cost her more than her curiosity.

from Get in Trouble: Stories by Kelly Link

In the Water Works (Birmingham, Alabama 1888)
Caitlín R. Kiernan

Ireland native Caitlín R. Kiernan is so damn fascinating that it can’t help but steep into her writing.  Aside from her fiction career she has been a professor, having studied zoology, geology and paleontology in addition to publication in various scientific journals.  In the Water Works (Birmingham, Alabama 1888) reflects that respect for all that is old and of the earth by its setting, late 1800s and the unspoiled, soon to be colonized land of Alabama during that time period.

The story begins with an introduction to Henry S. Matthews, professor of geography and math who’s painted as a solitary, quiet man with a calm mind only stirred by fossils and the primitive.  He picks through the strewn aside “antediluvian seashore in hardened bits and pieces” that the workers unintentionally unearth, armed with axes that bore through the Red Mountain to bring industry and water to Birmingham.  The miners, referred to as “hard men” view Matthews as some curious creature that he himself surveys from the ground as he tags along during their work to reap the underground gifts.  The mostly silent relationship eventually turns into one of ominous kinship as something is unearthed deep in the Red Mountain. Matthews is called to witness this unknown thing, lurking in what may should not have been disturbed.

Throughout the story Kiernan’s descriptions of mud, mountains, rocks and earth mirror that of a living being; nature itself is a body of organs, blood and bones.  Kiernan expertly uses such personifying phrases to set her mood: “iron-ore bones…Appalachia’s long and scabby spine…fresh wound, these walls, this abscess hollowed into the world’s thin skin…”  The tenor throughout the story is completely intoxicating; it’s dark, it’s wet, it’s cold, it’s eerie, it’s grey and unknown; “the autumn sky growls…”  It’s everything you want in a short story, leaving an unforeseen punch that becomes part of your psyche.  Bookmark it in your collection, or if from the library, make a copy and keep it near.  You will never again look at the reaping of the earth the same again.

from American Supernatural Tales, edited by Guillermo del Toro (among others) and can also be accessed via Google Books here.

The Lady of the House of Mirrors
Rafaela F. Ferraz

Portugese author and natural history buff Rafaela F. Ferraz reimagines Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein where our traditional Victor is Rosie, the recent inheritor of the store Dolls for Dreamers, where unique and sometimes supernatural dolls are crafted for the wealthy.  Aided by her Igor (Theo), they set out to create a companion for an eccentric shut-in, the woman known as the Lady of the House of Mirrors.  While they typically sculpt with clay and brass, this time they seek a human body to equip with the workings of a robot, a dead though living doll who is able to manage not only servitude, but also conversation.

We don’t know a lot about time frame, location of the story or much about Rosie’s past, but the crumbs gathered give way to glimpses of a world of awe.  The upper class has seemingly cut themselves off from a seedy underbelly where Rosie’s workplace resides; there are bodies being sold for wings, young dead men in corsets, missing limbs and glass eyeballs.  The world created by Ferraz is one of evocative imagery, all of which serve to create a highly sensual locale. Besides the allure of this new world, the real meat of the story lies in Rosie– the creation of a complicated, sometimes flawed and confused human being.  A renown business on her shoulders, trying to fill the shoes of a genius inventor whose prestige may be unattainable.

The ending is ambiguous, leaving you with more questions than answers and much like the world of the house of mirrors itself, at its conclusion you are left in a state of wonder, which is consistent with the vibe of the story.  Prior to viewing the tv show, Twin Peaks: the Return I may have yearned for that Hollywood ending, but Ferraz creates a Lynchian twist where the reader can inhabit a space where they both ponder the possibilities while accepting the mystery of that which may not be explained.

from Daughters of Frankenstein: Lesbian Mad Scientists! edited by Steve Berman

The Sleep of Plants 
Anne Richter

The Sleep of Plants, written by Belgian author Anne Richter details the life of “she,” our protagonist who willfully transitions into a plant, seeking silence through a world of observation.  Similar to In the Water Works, we see repeated allusions to nature, the inextricable connection between humans and the natural world and how one cannot removed from the other.      

Our protagonist, “she” lives quietly with her mother and spends the majority of the story reflecting on how she seeks a life of solitude.  The vehicle for this solitude manifests itself as the desire to transform into a houseplant and begins her metamorphosis by “planting” herself into a pot of soil.  Her mother, upon finding her daughter upstairs in a flower pot, seems to decide to ignore the dirty secret and avoids her altogether.  “She’s” fiance finds her and brings her water and food in the form of insects.  Eventually, she transforms into a being that exists on water and sun, living as one that contently observes and never speaks.

Published in 1967 shortly following the advent of second wave feminism, The Sleep of Plants is reminiscent of Chantal Akerman’s film, Jeanne Dielman, addressing themes of solitude, boredom of the middle-class woman woman during the 1960s, and depression stemming from the pressure of expectation; to be a social being and marry against one’s will, in this instance.  The story is compelling in its ingenuity, curious and somewhat confusing, all making it a great slice of life to ponder what the hell is going on.  For an introvert, the idea of morphing into a plant sounds more like heaven than horror, but who’d want to eat all of those bugs?

from Sisters of the Revolution: A Feminist Speculative Fiction Anthology, edited by Ann and Jeff Vandermeer

Part 1 can be viewed here.

Part 2 can be viewed here.

$35 at Age 35 on the 5th of November

Today I turn 35 years old, and there are many lessons that I’ve learned, and yet have to learn. One of the most important is that no matter how rough your life is right now, there’s someone, or something, who might be having an even harder time who needs help and money and the support of kind strangers. Often $35.00 feels like a lot to give, but as the Buddhist Lodro Rinzler said (paraphrasing) in one of his amazing books, when you feel like you can’t give anything, that’s exactly when you should give something in order to expand your heart.

I am going to give $35.00 to an animal shelter today, and I ask that today you give $5.00 for my birthday (or even higher if you can) if you are able to an animal shelter, a homeless shelter, or some other charitable organization that you hold close to your heart.  If nothing comes to mind, please donate to where I’ll be donating,  The Catcade in Chicago, a non-profit cat cafe and shelter that pulls from high kill shelters in Chicago and love them so much until their perfect person comes in to adopt them.

The Catcade also hosts cat yoga on Sunday mornings and is the most adorable hour of yoga of your life. You should go.

Here is a short list of other non-profit organizations for more inspiration:

Whiskers and Tails Rescue Foundation 

Felines and Canines

Treehouse Human Society 

Deborah’s Place (Women’s Shelter)

NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council)

Go out and rescue or foster an animal from a shelter. Adopt, don’t shop.