Sunday, August 24, 2014

50 Works of Arts, Part IV

It's been more than a month since I left off on this list, where I name 50 works of art that have struck me and influenced my taste. Time to pick it up again! Here are the 30s:

31. “My Worst Habit” – Rumi
The poet Rumi is a highly influential Sufi (the mystical branch of Islam) poet who wrote about seeking spiritual fulfillment and being ecstatically in love with the divine.

My worst habit is I get so tired of winter
I become a torture to those I'm with.

If you are not here, nothing grows.
I lack clarity. My words
tangle and knot up.

How to cure bad water? Send it back to the river.
How to cure bad habits? Send me back to you.

When water gets caught in habitual whirlpools,
dig a way out through the bottom
to the ocean. There is a secret medicine
given only to those who hurt so hard
they can't hope.

The hopers would feel slighted if they knew.

Look as long as you can at the friend you love,
no matter whether that friend is moving away from you
or coming back toward you.

Loving this poem reminds me how much I need art, especially literature, that comforts. Whenever my soul feels thirsty, I give it Rumi.

32. “First Love” – Stanley Kunitz
I tried to be choosy about artists who appear on this list multiple times, but Stanley Kunitz absolutely gets more than one slot. He chooses exciting words--I swear I can feel them in the tactile sense as I read along. Every time I read this it feels crisp and new:

At his incipient sun
The ice of twenty winters broke,
Crackling, in her eyes.
Her mirroring, still mind,
That held the world (made double) calm,
Went fluid, and it ran.
There was a stir of music,
Mixed with flowers, in her blood;
A swift impulsive balm
From obscure roots;
Gold bees of clinging light
Swarmed in her brow.
Her throat is full of songs,
She hums, she is sensible of wings
Growing on her heart.
She is a tree in spring
Trembling with the hope of leaves,
Of which the leaves are tongues.

33. “The Missing Piece” – Shel Silverstein
Actually, there may be more Shel Silverstein than Stanley Kunitz on this list because THAT’S JUST WHO I AM.




I happen to believe that good writing is clear and concise. It can be brief. It can be simple. It can be for children. As long as the words are powerful and hit the right notes, there isn’t an age limit on a good bit of writing. Especially when paired with art/illustration.

This is the first book I can remember loving. I love it more now that I’ve grown up a bit.

34. “Daytripper” – Gabriel Ba and Fabio Moon
Speaking of words and images paired well together, I have never seen a better example than in this graphic novel. I get chills remembering this intimate, fantastical portrait of one character’s life and the days that shaped him.



35. “Danza de la Muerte / Dance of the Dead” – Federico García Lorca
There was a summer of my life when I read Lorca very deeply. I’m a little bashful with how much I can see his influence on my writing from that time. For one summer, I was dreaming about the Dance of the Dead…

Los muertos están embebidos, devorando sus propias manos. 
Son los otros los que bailan con el mascarón y su vihuela; 
son los otros, los borrachos de plata, los hombres fríos, 
los que crecen en el cruce de los muslos y llamas duras, 
los que buscan la lombriz en el paisaje de las escaleras, 
los que beben en el banco lágrimas de niña muerta 
o los que comen por las esquinas diminutas pirámides del alba. 

///

But it isn’t the dead who dance,
I am sure.
The dead have been buried and devour their own hands.
It’s the others who dance with the mask and strings.
It’s the others, drunk on silver, cold man,
those who grow in the cross of thighs and hard flames
those who seek the worm in the landscape of ladders
those in the bank who dry the tears
of dead girls

(This is only an excerpt, full text available here. Also, something very cool is going on here.)

36. “All About Love” – bell hooks
This nonfiction work (I think it’s categorized as Philosophy?) transformed me—as an individual trying to figure out the world, and also as someone who creates things. This book changed what I would like to create. It changed the lessons my characters in fiction would learn. It changed all of my conclusions.




I take notes on everything I read, but I couldn’t articulate, at the time, how this book was shaping me. These are some of my notes:

Love is an active force that leads the individual into communion with the world.

FEAR IS THE OPPOSITE OF LOVE!!

Love cannot save us but it can transform us.

Hmm, I think I need to reread this soon…

37. Casablanca
I loved this classic film as a child, as a teenager, as a college kid, as an ex-pat, and now, and forever.



I guess all I want to say is that I don’t think good characters (clever characters! funny ones!) need neat, happy endings, or true love. I don’t think they need to get what they want most for a story to have a strong conclusion.

But for all the gruff cynicism, they’ve got to have heart.

38. “Othello” – Shakespeare
I have never been assigned to read this play during any year of school; I tackled it the summer after sophomore year of high school, on my own.



I suppose I found the mention of Othello’s race/appearance/nationality intriguing, but what truly struck me was Iago’s jealousy and machinations. I resented this character, strongly, at that time.

This play gave me a visceral reaction. I knew it was a tragedy going in, but it still broke my heart. It came into my life at an age where I could really experience emotional investment in a work of fiction and also question why or how. And ever since, I have been determined to use words in ways that evoke some sort of strong reaction in readers.

39. Pablo Neruda
I am not picking just one work. Don’t care. It’s just too difficult.

Neruda spills lush, living words on every page—in the original Spanish, but even translated into English. No one knew more about love, or beauty.

NACE (IT IS BORN)
Here I came to the very edge
where nothing at all needs saying,
everything is absorbed through weather and the sea,
and the moon swam back
its rays all silvered
and time and again the darkness would be broken
by the crash of a wave
and everyday on the balcony of the sea
wings open, fire is born
and everything is blue again like morning.

Or! From “Pacaypalla”:
Errante amor, retorno
coneste corazon fresco y cansado
que pertenece al agua y la arena
al territorio seco de la orilla,
a la batalla blanca de la espuma.

///

Wandering love, I come back
with this heart both fresh and wearied, belonging to water and sand,
to the dry spaces of the foreshore,
to the white war of the foam.

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