A Reading at Last

It is a sad testimony to unlucky scheduling that tonight’s “Mark Webster Reading” is the first reading of any kind that I’ve been able to attend this semester. The reading featured two second-year MFA students, Alex Johnson and Nick Gaudio, who read selections from their work in poetry and fiction respectively. I really enjoyed this reading. Both authors brought their unique personalities to the reading and kept the audience engaged and entertained.

Johnson was introduced by a fellow MFA student who described his poetry as being “totally badass” in that it is “plain spoken and fearless.” I loved this description, because it was both personal and descriptive at the same time, plus it made the whole audience laugh.

Johnson began his reading by thanking several people who have influenced his life and work, then moved on to reading selections from a book, based on Charles Shulz’s “Peanuts” comic, that he is working on. The first poem he read was called “Charlie’s Blues in E Major.” This poem did a good job of establishing Johnson’s style. His poetry is written almost like prose, though more melodic, and his imagery is very direct and specific. His next poem was titled “Remnants,” and contained my favorite line from the reading: “They make the rooms swell with breath.” The imagery used in this line really reveals and embodies the emptiness being described in the poem.  Johnson then recited some poems that he vaguely categorized as being about death with a couple about his father. These poems held Spanish influences, both in the language and imagery, that I didn’t expect. It was a pleasant surprise to hear another element of his poetic style that his first few poems of the evening didn’t exhibit. He then recited a couple poems that he described as being about relationships, a poem dedicated to William Carlos Williams, and ended with a poem entitled “Tailpipe Blues.” Johnson didn’t just read “Tailpipe Blues,” he recited it almost like a song with influences of rap, hip-hop, and blues in his recitation. The way he ended his reading was totally unexpected, at least to me, and it was fun to hear a poet bring music so literally into his poem.

Nick Gaudio also began his reading with thanks (some of his thank-yous were quite humorous) to several people, and ended his acknowledgments by jokingly saying, “Thank you Alex Johnson for reading with me, but fuck you for giving me this cold.” Today was Gaudio’s birthday, so he chose to begin his reading with a couple poems that he wrote in the past. The first was called “How to Sell a Rocketship to a Feminist,” and the second was a prose poem. The bulk of his reading was from a story he began this week called “One Hundred Days of Thunder.” The story was split into “books,” and each of the books was like a vignette of a scene. The books worked together, and several of them picked up at about the same place that the one before had left off, but the breaks seemed to give each scene and interaction more space to play out – they emphasized the importance of what was happening at each moment in the story. In total, Gaudio read nine “books” from “One Hundred Days of Thunder.”

This was an extremely enjoyable reading. Each author presented his work with confidence and punctuated the serious with humor and surprise. Anyone interested can attend the next reading in the “Mark Webster Reading” series on Friday, December 3 at 7:00 pm in the U of M Museum of Art’s Helmut Stern Auditorium.

The Heidelberg Project

I am sure if you are interested in the arts and are reading this blog, then you are well aware of the Heidelberg Project in Detroit.  If any of you read that sentence and now your head is cocked to one side and your brows are furrowed, I am pleased today is the day you stumbled upon the Heidelberg Project.

Now, I was discussing last week the importance of art within the landscape and I left by saying I would bring you examples of landscape art in my future blogs.  Well, I am a woman of my word, and I am happy to introduce landscape art through the Heidelberg Project.

To give you some background, a man named Tyree Guyton and his Grandfather in 1986 started the Heidelberg Project.  Guyton grew up on Heidelberg Street as a child, experiencing the race riots that devastated the city and left many homes abandoned.  In attempts to turn the neighborhood into something the people in the community could benefit from, Guyton worked with his Grandfather turning the empty homes into his canvas.  Using found materials and paint from the area; he began decorating the urban landscape.  His artwork transformed a deserted area into an arena for art and thought.

By using recycled goods and artistic freedom, Guyton set out what he attempted to do even after his work was bulldozed by the city in 1991 and 1999.  After both of these events, he continued to create artwork on Heidelberg Street.  He brought life back into an area where the light was removed and provided people with hope by using the landscape in a friendly way.

His artwork is a masterpiece in my opinion and marries the idea of art and land quite perfectly.  You can actually find a piece of his artwork in the University of Michigan Museum of Art, but experiencing the project on Heidelberg Street is the best experience of all.

Harry Potter, Deathly Hallows Edition

Disclaimer: This post was written last week and is not Leah Burgin’s column in today’s Daily, which, incidentally, is about the same exact thing. Sort of.

Once upon a time, I refused to read Harry Potter, and only relented because a friend had lent it to me― or pressed it upon me, rather, with a “this is really good!” of which I was skeptical (either it had not yet reached peak popularity, or I was simply oblivious)― and my mother insisted it’d be rude to not at least attempt to read it. So I read the first book, then the second, and the third, until at some arbitrary point in time, I began eagerly awaiting the publication of the next successive volume with ever-increasing fervor.

The world Rowling crafts is wide and all-encompassing, with rules and laws built into it that are illogical to reality but entirely logical within its own fictional framework, that are structured and regular but leave room for inferences and implications and the imagination to build something for itself. It separates itself from the mundane, but suggests that the magical world exists simultaneously as an ordinary one, and thus can actually exist; this, at least by my reckoning, is one of the things that makes the series so accessible to its audience― to children, to those who had read it as children, to people who just want to enjoy a nice escapist bit of fantasy. It isn’t merely the sum of the hype and the massive franchise built off seven books. It has shaped the youth of a great many people- it has certainly factored into mine. Don’t pretend you were entirely unaffected.

Harry Potter never did make it into my conscious list of favourite books, however. I preferred to state (with dignity), publicly and to myself, that on my list were the likes of Tolkien and oh, C.S. Lewis, maybe, and perhaps a bit of O. Henry tossed in there for good measure (and to balance out the fact that I enjoyed reading fantasy, etc). Which I genuinely did, of course, I did and do like them very much, but the language of Harry Potter is easier to read, its characters more easily relatable, its content more interesting. It is, for the same amount of effort expended, more enjoyable. Harry Potter is not, understandably, generally considered high literature; they are children’s books, written for enjoyment and immersion in said enjoyment, rather than an introspective discourse about the workings of societal values and the nature of intangible ideals. But what begins as a simple narrative about a boy in a tale of good and evil blossoms out into an intricate and multifaceted web of struggles and intrigues.

Like trying to contort your hand weirdly?

And this leads us to the present argument: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the final installment. We spent all the space before its release rereading the previous books and hypothesizing what would occur in that momentous, precipitous conclusion that would answer all our questions and tie all the loose ends together. What happened was not entirely unexpected, but rather disappointing all the same, to be honest. Realizing that there was only so much time for all the remaining plot points to occur, Rowling must have squeezed everything else into the limited space of 700+ pages in order to bring everything to a logical conclusion. Which… it did, conclude logically, that is, after a fashion, but at least to me, the ending was too contrived, and quite unsatisfactory. The remaining protagonists seem to be all paired off neatly with one another by the end. Then comes the epilogue, in which we see said characters in their now-married couples with their multitudes of children, happy as can be in their domestic bliss. It might just be me, but there could be better and more convincing ways to end such a complex narrative. As a response to the culmination of 10 years’ emotional involvement on part of the readers? Ouch.

Least satisfactory of all is the matter of Severus Snape. The tragic antihero, who plays perhaps the most pivotal role in the entire narrative, whose entire life is one of hardship and of being loathed by everyone around him no matter what he does, does not receive the ending he deserves. He is perhaps one of the most complex characters in the entire series. Snape is caught between moral dilemmas, treads a precarious line, and yet manages to do the right thing (in addition to maintaining a stoic facade, remaining a vaunted intellectual in academia, and being Alan Rickman). And what does he get? He dies, and in a rather undignified way, to boot.


TChen will be the one sobbing all through the end of the last film.

On a short lesson in history

Primordial antiquity.
Primordial antiquity.

Each little blue dot is a galaxy of stars like ours. (We are at the center of this cross-sectional splicing.) Ever since my formal education began, I was told that the light coming in from the stars was, in fact, old, stale, and thus full of sequestered, admirable charm. “You are looking into the heart of history itself,” they all would say. While delicately holding on to that fact, I always felt a magnificent desolation towards these bodies of luminescence, whistling with a blade of grass in my mouth while lying on the lawn and drinking in the marvel of it. It wasn’t until recently that I realized how geo or rather ego-centric this thought was. Taking it in reverse, light from us takes time to travel to other places and observers far away can only see us in the past. While standing at the circumference of this circle, an observer would see the earth one billion years ago. Since the beginning of modern man is estimated to be 200 000 years ago, divide this radius by 5000 and it is at this tiny circumference that an onlooker might first witness the first buddings of our civilization.

Thus, there is no useful simultaneity in such a universe; nobody can see the whole thing “now”. Our history literally spreads out around us like ripples in a pond.

Sue majors in Neuroscience & English and tends to lurk in bookstores.

A real-life Mary Poppins

Meet Julian Beever.  He can make things come to life magically from the sidewalk.

You think I’m kidding?  I’m not.  He really can.  It may not be “magic” in its purest sense of the word, but the sidewalk art that he sculpts becomes a magical illusion that really can boggle your mind.

All of these works of art are created with chalk and a camera.  Beever sets up a camera at a specific spot on the sidewalk, which he uses as his reference point.  As he draws his art on the sidewalk, he walks back and forth from his work to the camera, looking through the viewfinder to see if his perspective is turning out correctly.  Looked at from any other angle that is not face-on, the drawing does look skewed.  But if seen from the exact angle for which it was created, the viewer gets a surprising 3-D shock.

Beever goes around the world making these 3-D creations and offering delightful surprises for those lucky enough to encounter them.  Has anyone of you seen them?  Or do you know of any other works by other artists that is equally innovative and inspiring on the street?

Bring on the Puns

Belly pokes of death.
Pillsbury Doughboy

“No pun intended,” and  “Pardon the pun” are two phrases that most of us have heard several times. Why do we apologize for making puns? There seems to be a general, vague impression that puns are a low and unintelligent type of humor, but I cannot help but disagree with this assessment.  Rather than lending a sense of foolishness to a sentence, a well used pun gives a delightful mental burst of simultaneous complexity and understanding.

Recently, thanks to a friend, I was introduced to the Pillsbury Doughboy’s obituary. This little work of fiction is a pun filled piece of writing that can’t help but put a smile on it’s readers’ faces. If you feel like being amused at the expense of the poor Pillsbury Doughboy’s untimely demise, I encourage you to click on the link above and read his obituary.