Sunday, July 6, 2014

50 Works of Art, Part II

11. “The Layers” – Stanley Kunitz
I read this poem for the first time a month or so before I first studied abroad in South Africa. I had a feeling that my time abroad would change me, though I couldn’t imagine how. But that summer when I was 19, I was so open to new things. I wanted life to change me. I couldn’t even count how many times I’ve reread this poem since.

I have walked through many lives,
some of them my own,
and I am not who I was,
though some principle of being
abides, from which I struggle
not to stray.
When I look behind,
as I am compelled to look
before I can gather strength
to proceed on my journey,
I see the milestones dwindling
toward the horizon
and the slow fires trailing
from the abandoned camp-sites,
over which scavenger angels
wheel on heavy wings.
Oh, I have made myself a tribe
out of my true affections,
and my tribe is scattered!
How shall the heart be reconciled
to its feast of losses?
In a rising wind
the manic dust of my friends,
those who fell along the way,
bitterly stings my face.
Yet I turn, I turn,
exulting somewhat,
with my will intact to go
wherever I need to go,
and every stone on the road
precious to me.
In my darkest night,
when the moon was covered
and I roamed through wreckage,
a nimbus-clouded voice
directed me:
“Live in the layers,
not on the litter.”
Though I lack the art
to decipher it,
no doubt the next chapter
in my book of transformations
is already written.
I am not done with my changes.

12. “Woman Ironing” – Pablo Picasso

This painting fascinates me because at first it seems cold, and bland. But the more I take it in, I see hints of color, and softness. I have done work that feels like drudgery, but if I really explore all that I feel even in the most mundane tasks, there’s a softness there, too.

13. Joan Didion

I almost can’t pick one title, but I’m leaning toward Where I Was From. I worship at the altar of Joan Didion—she always picks the perfect word to express something, and she has that rare gift for nonfiction prose: She is engaging without ever being academic or detached. She’s written passages that have convinced me I was there at the scene, that this is my memory. HOW DOES SHE DO IT?!?!

14. “Frankly Mr. Shankly” – The Smiths

The Queen is Dead is my favorite Smiths album, and this song is so much more than catchy. I play this when I feel like I’m burning out, when the work I do has no reward (I feel this way especially in the winter). But this tongue-in-cheek song reminds me that I’d rather give everything I have for something I care about than even try for one minute to be rich or famous.

I didn’t realize that you wrote such pretty awful poetry. Thanks, Morrissey.

15. “Sexy”  by Jhumpa Lahiri

Hands-down my favorite short story. Devastating, sensual, perfect. Every word is perfect.

16. Roger Ballen

I saw a Ballen photography exhibit the last time I was in Cape Town, and it changed my viewpoint forever. I will always look for the strange, whimsical, and even grotesque in everyday scenes, forever more.

17. “Forgotten Language” – Shel Silverstein
The joy and wonder of childhood is a rich subject that many artists return to; and the loss of that innocence is just as compelling to explore. I am a grown ass adult and this is my favorite poem. For the rest of my life. The end:

Once I spoke the language of the flowers,
Once I understood each word the caterpillar said,
Once I smiled in secret at the gossip of the starlings,
And shared a conversation with the housefly in my bed.
Once I heard and answered all the questions of the crickets,
And joined the crying of each falling dying flake of snow,
Once I spoke the language of the flowers…
How did it go?
How did it go?

18. Dancer in the Dark / Selma Songs (soundtrack)
What, did you think Bjork wouldn’t make an appearance on this list?

I’m not going to lie—I’ve only watched Dancer in the Dark once, and I don’t think I’ll ever watch it again. I just can’t do that to myself again! But what I can do is listen to the soundtrack. Over and over. “A New World” is about wonder and awe for this world, and I want to keep that in the forefront of my mind, always.

19. Brass Furnace Going Out – Diane di Prima

Sometimes we need to plumb the depths of sadness and loss, to find meaning. This is the most intense poem I have ever read. But it’s got power—di Prima has power.

20. “Extraordinary Machine” – Fiona Apple
Don’t be sad, babies! We are all full of surprises, and good, good, gooey-good things. Let Fiona Apple remind you of this (I promise this is not a prank):

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