In Divine Nothingness, Pittsburgh’s Gerald Stern Proves He’s Still Around

One of my very favorite poems is “Lucky Life” by Gerald Stern, born and raised in Pittsburgh and now living in Lambertville, New Jersey.  It is somewhat embarrassing for me to have discovered this well-known poem only two years ago – I mean, it was published in 1977 – but discover it I did, last year, while spending some time down at my beloved Jersey shore. It found me at exactly the most perfect time, as if he was writing directly to me. I thought about it during our vacation this year and I’ve thought about it again, several times over the course of what has been a rather challenging month, personally-speaking.

It’s one of those poems that describes exactly what fellow treasured Pittsburgh poet Toi Derricote means when she says, “Gerald Stern has made an immense contribution to American poetry. His poems are not only great poems, memorable ones, but ones that get into your heart and stay there. ”

How could they not, with lines like these?

“Dear waves, what will you do for me this year?
Will you drown out my scream?
Will you let me rise through the fog?
Will you fill me with that old salt feeling?
Will you let me take my long steps in the cold sand?
Will you let me lie on the white bedspread and study
the black clouds with the blue holes in them?
Will you let me see the rusty trees and the old monoplanes one more year?
Will you still let me draw my sacred figures
and move the kites and the birds around with my dark mind?

Lucky life is like this. Lucky there is an ocean to come to.
Lucky you can judge yourself in this water.
Lucky you can be purified over and over again.
Lucky there is the same cleanliness for everyone.
Lucky life is like that. Lucky life. Oh lucky life.
Oh lucky lucky life. Lucky life.”
~ from “Lucky Life” by Gerald Stern

Love that. And words like these are what made me pick up Divine Nothingness, Gerald Stern’s latest collection of poetry, published last November.

Divine NothingnessAt 90, this is Gerald Stern’s seventeenth poetry collection and there is a definite sense of the passage of time. Divided into three simple parts (perhaps to symbolize childhood, adulthood, and the final years of life? Or a nod to Pittsburgh’s renaissance and rebirth, as one might interpret “Three Stages in My Hometown”) Divine Nothingness  contains the reflections of a life.

There are the places (‘so let me take you back to the meadow/ where the sidewalks suddenly become a river …”) and the people (“There was a way I could find out if Ruth/ were still alive but it said nothing about/ her ’46 Mercury nor how the gear shift ruined/ our making love ….”) of particular moments experienced during a time gone by. These poems segue into an acceptance of life’s finality and the self that is left behind.

“…and, like him – like everybody – I scribble words
on the back of envelopes and for that reason
and for two others which I’m too considerate to mention 
I’ll be around when you’re gone.”
(from “I’ll Be Around”) 

~ Melissa F.

2 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Help Me Choose: YA Book Club Edition

Before I ever worked for the Library, I was a member of a Young Adult book club. Our book club has gone through a few different iterations, but in the past year or so, we’ve settled into a pretty great rhythm: One person picks the book and the restaurant, and we meet up on a predetermined date to eat tasty food and chat about our book. It’s my turn to pick our title for August, and my deadline to choose just so happens to be tonight. I have so many potential choices I’m having difficulty narrowing it down.  Here’s a look at a few books I’m considering – if you’ve read any of them, please comment and help me decide what my pals and I should read next.

33 Snowfish by Adambookcover (5) Rapp – A gritty-yet-lyrical look at three teenage runaways and their life of crime, this book is sure to be emotional and should inspire some pretty interesting discussions.

Beautiful Music for Ugly Children by Kristin Cronn-Mills –  Gabe is balancing his transition from female-to-male, his course load at school, and his burgeoning success as a late-night DJ, and he does it all with uncommon humor and honesty.

Gabi, a Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero – Written like a journal, this book gives readers a glimpse at the complicated, messy life of Gabi Hernandez as she navigates everything from a drug-addicted parent to her blossoming sexuality during her senior year in high school. Lots of CLP staff have already declared their love for this title, one review I read on GoodReads described this book as “the YA poster child for #WeNeedDiverseBooks“, and it’s the theme book for this year’s Teen Alternative Homecoming, so this one seems like a pretty strong contender.

bookcover (4)Sunrise over Fallujah by Walter Dean Myers – I’m not typically very interested in books about war, but the description of this book sounds really compelling:  it’s told from the perspective of several young soldiers in the early days of Operation Iraqi Freedom, with less of a focus on tactics of war and more of a focus on the people grappling with this incredibly difficult situation. It’s easy for us to forget how many members of the armed forces are still teenagers, and I expect this to be a sobering reminder. Also, I think I’ve only ever read one other book by Walter Dean Myers, which seems like a major gap in my reading history.

Silhouette of a Sparrow by Molly Beth Griffin – We’ve only read one other historical fiction title in my book club, and we all enjoyed it. I’m intrigued by the description of this book’s plot, where the main character tries to break free of gender roles in 1920s America.

So, friends, help me decide: What should my book club read next?

-Ginny

8 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Ryan Reynolds Hears The Voices, Anna Kendrick Is Adorable

I’ve honestly lost track of all the ways I learn about movies that I want to see.

132461811

“My arms are getting tired from all this rowing.”
“Shut up, Kyle. I’m looking for a movie that isn’t a remake, a reboot or a sequel.”

With that said, I won’t bore you with how I came to be interested in The Voices, directed by Marjane Satrapi (of Persepolis and Chicken with Plums fame) and starring Ryan Reynolds, Gemma Arterton and Anna Kendrick. My thought process was probably started and ended with:  Anna Kendrick is adorable.

Reynolds plays Jerry, a man who hears voices—and not the kind that tell him to build a baseball field. These voices are in his head, but he believes they’re coming from his dog, Bosco, and his cat, Mr. Whiskers. Besides that, though, everything is normal. He works in a bathtub factory and regularly checks in with his court-appointed psychotherapist (his mother died when he was twelve). When things take an accidentally deathly and sinister turn, Jerry has to rely on the advice of Bosco and Mr. Whiskers. Should he do the right thing, as Bosco suggests, or listen to Mr. Whiskers and give in to his killer urges?

It’s not a film for everyone. The film’s tone is all over the place and not always in a bad way. It flips between broad comedy to very dark comedy to something akin to a drama to a crime thriller—often in the span of a few scenes. It’s not surprising that a multi-genre film like this is having trouble finding its audience; such a varied tone can give a viewer whiplash. At one point we go from a savagely grisly flashback where we learn how Jerry’s mother died to a tender implied sex scene and its corresponding morning after. It was a jarring transition, to say the least.

It was at this point that I thought the film was going to end very differently. Jerry isn’t a bad guy; he’s just sick. He clearly needs help and even though I hate the idea that “finding love” can completely heal a person, I was hoping the love of Lisa (Kendrick) would have been enough to help him. It’s even one of the most brightly-lit scenes in the film and there’s even a vague hinting that she’s just as crazy as he is. Maybe their love would be enough to heal each other.

Sadly, the microscopic romantic (micromantic?) in me was let down, but only for a moment.

the-voices-teaser-poster-600x910

Image from Indiewire – all rights reserved to the same – click through for a blurb on the film

There is an interesting subtext of psychopharmacology and how patients with mental disorders are diagnosed and treated that runs throughout the film (I told you it was all over the place). When Jerry is off his meds, everything is brighter—his apartment above an abandoned bowling alley is clean, Bosco runs to greet him when he comes in the door, the forklifts at work perform a synchronized dance.  But when he starts taking the pills again, we finally see reality. Pizza boxes and discarded microwave dinner trays stack up to the ceiling of his dimly-lit apartment, his pets sit morosely in a lump in the corner while their defecation is everywhere. I really liked the distinction Satrapi made between reality and the life inside Jerry’s mind. This might be her best work since Chicken with Plums.

Reynolds has never been a draw for me (anyone who breaks up with Scarlett Johansson deserves to be shunned), but I liked what he did here. Often fidgeting, he imbues Jerry with an easy-going awkward shyness that makes him instantly likable. Some of the film’s laughs come from just how awkward he is (he scarfs down a slice of pizza with a heart-shaped piece of pepperoni on it in one bite, he sings The O’Jays’ “Sing a Happy Song” a little too loudly for his coworker). I liked that Reynolds did the voices for all the animals in the movie; it makes sense seeing as how the voices originate in his mind.

There’s a very good chance that you will hate this movie. I’d say it’s like American Psycho meets 8 Heads in a Duffel Bag meets Undertaking Betty. Or as Brad Wheeler said in his review, “A meeting of Psycho, Dexter and Dr. Doolittle.” If you can make it through to the very end, though, you’re in for a truly head-scratching surprise. I thought I was watching a Bollywood musical for a second. It’s weird, it’s offbeat, it’s quirky and it might be one of my favorites of the year, so far.

132461814

“Huzzah! I’ve found an original movie!”
“Yeah, but my arms are still tired.”
“I wish your mouth would get tired, Kyle.”

Even if you see The Voices and hate it, just pretend it’s the sequel to Kendrick’s The Last Five Years or the prequel to 2016’s Deadpool. That’ll make it fun.

If you’ve seen it, what are your thoughts? Do you talk to your pets? Let us know in the comments below!

–Ross

9 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

BookCast

Like many of my CLP colleagues, I am an avid podcast listener. On our internal messaging system, we’ve had quite a few conversations about our favorites, and I definitely spotted more than one co-worker at the recent Welcome to NightVale live show in Pittsburgh. I thought it would be fun to put together a list of book recommendations based on podcasts that I listen to. Here are some of my choices – feel free to share ideas of your own, I’d love to hear ‘em!

bookcover (2) bookcover (1)

-Ginny

2 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Whose Tagline Is It?

Photo of the original What's My Line? television set, with the panel of the show. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Want to play a game? Photo of the original What’s My Line? quiz show, courtesy of Wikipedia.

 

While checking in a movie called Zombeavers the other day I let out a chuckle (against my better judgment) at the movie’s tagline: They’ll Dam You to Hell! While this led me to seriously question both my own judgment and sense of humor, it also led me down the path to thinking about movie taglines. A good tagline, like a good movie trailer or poster, should sum up a movie’s essence without giving too much away. Ideally it is still specific enough that it can’t just be applied to any movie (I’m looking at you Taken. “Time is Running Out” is not an especially intriguing tagline. However, “They Took His Daughter. He’ll Take Their Lives.” is totally acceptable in my book.)

This past week I scanned our shelves here in the Music, Film & Audio Department looking for taglines — the good, the bad, and the puny. For interactive fun, feel free to guess the movies in the comments section below for a little game I’m calling Tag-a-Palooza. Or, click on the tagline for the answer.

1. Reality is a thing of the past.
2. Her life was in their hands. Now her toe is in the mail.
3. A comedy right up your alley.
4. The last man on Earth is not alone.
5. Work sucks.
6. Terror goes into overtime.
7. The thing that won’t die, in the nightmare that won’t end.
8. The night He came home.
9. The coast is toast.
10. You’ll laugh. You’ll cry. You’ll hurl.
11. A lively comedy about a guy who isn’t.
12. Some lines shouldn’t be crossed.
13. The ultimate bachelor will face the ultimate challenge.
14. The longer you wait, the harder it gets.
15. Don’t get mad. Get everything.
16. He sees dead people…and they annoy him.
17. Even a hitman deserves a second shot!
18. Sometimes your battles choose you.
19. Escape or die frying.
20. The mission is a man.
21. On the air. Unaware.
22. The good news is your dates are here. The bad news is…they’re dead!

Happy Movie Watching,

Tara

PS – Yes, Zombeavers is a real movie that can be checked out from the library!

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Authors Hate Him! Local Blogger Discovers Amazing List Of Things To Do Besides Reading. Number 12 Will Blow Your Mind!

Recently we had a behind-the-scenes discussion about pacing in books, the merits of a slower pace versus a faster pace and all that fun stuff. At the time I was reading The Train from Pittsburgh by Julian Farren and didn’t have much to contribute to the conversation. I’ve mentioned before that I have issues with reading during the summer months so pacing is almost a non-issue. But that’s the great thing about books; they never go away.

The Train from Pittsburgh is one book that I wish would have gone away.

I came upon it on an unremarkable day. I was browsing Facebook, as I am wont to do, when it showed up in a post from The Odd, Mysterious & Fascinating History of Pittsburgh, a great page that definitely lives up to its name. Anyway, I thought, “Oh, it’s got Pittsburgh in the title. I must read it!”

“His wife liked his friends… too much!”
The Train From Pittsburgh from 1952
11232068_1621527834757752_4244905468227612931_n

Posted by The Odd, Mysterious & Fascinating History of Pittsburgh on Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Looking at that cover, I was hoping for a cheesy, pulpy, noir-y book set in 1950s Pittsburgh. What I got was a book originally published in 1948 about white people drinking in excess and whining about their problems with a sometimes not-so-subtle undercurrent of antisemitism and anticommunism. Like if Archie Bunker had been on Cheers and if it wasn’t hilarious.

The main character, Tom Bridges, is an alcoholic who is cheating on his wife, Ellen, but that’s all right because she’s cheating on him, too. Tom is trying to get a man named Mike Myers (no, not that Mike Myers) a job, but Tom’s boss doesn’t want to hire him because Mike is Jewish. Poor Mike is bringing his entire family on the eponymous train from Pittsburgh to New York because Tom practically guaranteed him a job.

Tom gets lit the same night Ellen throws a big party in their New York home and—sixty-seven-year-spoiler-alert—after all the guests leave, Tom decides he’s going to kill Ellen and then himself. His plan is thwarted when Ellen decides she wants to try to get pregnant again.

In the morning he wakes up with a massive hangover and realizes he’s missed the titular train’s arrival. We’re left with no murder-suicide and the presumption that Mike and his family are wandering the streets of New York City.

Pictured: Tom, or me trying to trudge through this book.

Pictured: Tom, or me trudging through this book.

Sometimes unlikable characters can be endearing, as Irene pointed out, but these characters were a waste. Their awfulness compounded with the protracted chapters (I’m sorry, but no chapter ever needs to be sixty pages) filled me with dread each time I picked the book up.

It was so awful that I came up with a list of things that I could have been doing instead of reading:

  1. Finally watch Pink Flamingos
  2. Watch someone Whip and/or Nae Nae
  3. Set the time on a VCR
  4. Find a VCR
  5. Convince myself I like sports
  6. Shop for some sweet Affliction deep V-neck shirts
  7. Finally start a quinoa blog
  8. Have a conversation online using only Tom Hiddleston .gifs
  9. Fill myself with delight reading the Common Misconceptions page on Wikipedia
  10. Picture the actor Mike Myers as Wayne from Wayne’s World as the Mike Myers in the book
  11. Wonder what it would take for our Port Authority to make a cat its stationmaster
  12. Come up with an inane list of activities and publish it on a blog with a readership of about one metric ton [citation needed]

I didn’t do any of those things. I stuck it out because I knew that by reading I was at least engaging my brain. When I finished this book, I didn’t feel like I needed a moment of silence; I felt like I needed to excise the book from me. The next time I get a hankering to read about Pittsburgh in the early part of the last century, I’ll just reread Annie Dillard’s An American Childhood.

So, dear readers, I now ask you, how does the pacing of a book affect your desire to read it? Do you prefer a quick pace or a pace where things take their time to unfold? Have you ever wanted to throw a book across the room in frustration of its banality? Let us know in the comments below!

–Ross

17 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

I Promise I Won’t Freak Out This Time.

I have a certificate in Women’s Studies. I’m still not entirely sure how I received it, but I feel that way about most of my college experience. I *do* remember taking my first Women’s Studies class. The four dudes that lived with me also remember. Because I lost my mind. Like, if they didn’t do the dishes, they were clearly keeping me down.

Or, you know, they were 20-something guys.

I was furious all. the. time. Everything I read simply made me more angry. So like an adult, I stopped reading the assigned texts.

Fast forward to now and Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh’s Adult Summer Reading program! This year we asked our summer readers to set a reading goal. I volunteered to be a reading coach and set a goal of my own. I will read those feminist classics that I avoided in the interest of not burning my house down. (So far “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman is the only one that had me eyeing the matches.)

Here is a short list, with blurbs from the catalog. (I didn’t read them yet, so I can’t write reviews.) What’s missing? What should I skip? OMG, summer is so short!

SimonedBThe Second Sex, Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir’s masterpiece weaves together history, philosophy, economics, biology, and a host of other disciplines to analyze the Western notion of “woman” and to explore the power of sexuality. Drawing on extensive interviews with women of every age and station of life, masterfully synthesizing research about women’s bodies and psyches as well as their historic and economic roles, The Second Sex is an encyclopedic and cogently argued document about inequality and enforced “otherness.” A vital and life-changing work that has dramatically revised the way women talk and think about themselves.

KateChopinThe Awakening, Kate Chopin

Novelist and short story writer Kate Chopin (1851-1904) was the first American woman to deal with women’s roles as wives and mothers. The Awakening (1899), her most famous novel, concerns a woman dissatisfied with her indifferent husband. She eventually gives in to her desire for other men and commits adultery. It is a searing indictment of the religious and social pressures brought to bear on women who transgress restrictive Victorian codes of behavior.

BettyFriedanThe Feminine Mystique, Betty Friedan

Landmark, groundbreaking, classic–these adjectives barely describe the earthshaking and long-lasting effects of Betty Friedan’s . This is the book that defined “the problem that has no name,” that launched the Second Wave of the feminist movement, and has been awakening women and men with its insights into social relations, which still remain fresh, ever since.

AudreLordeSister Outsider, Audre Lorde

Presenting the essential writings of black lesbian poet and feminist writer Audre Lorde, Sister Outsider celebrates an influential voice in twentieth-century literature. In this charged collection of fifteen essays and speeches, Lorde takes on sexism, racism, ageism, homophobia, and class, and propounds social difference as a vehicle for action and change. Her prose is incisive, unflinching, and lyrical, reflecting struggle but ultimately offering messages of hope.

NaomiWolfThe Beauty Myth, Naomi Wolf

The bestselling classic that redefined our view of the relationship between beauty and female identity. In today’s world, women have more power, legal recognition, and professional success than ever before. However, Wolf is troubled by a different kind of social control, which, she argues, may prove just as restrictive as the traditional image of homemaker and wife. It’s the beauty myth, an obsession with physical perfection that traps the modern woman in an endless spiral of hope, self-consciousness, and self-hatred as she tries to fulfill society’s impossible definition of “the flawless beauty.”

And much more by Lucille Clifton, an amazing author and poet I discovered during National Poetry Month in April.

homage to my hips
these hips are big hips
they need space to
move around in.
they don’t fit into little
petty places. these hips
are free hips.
they don’t like to be held back.
these hips have never been enslaved,
they go where they want to go
they do what they want to do.
these hips are mighty hips.
these hips are magic hips.
i have known them
to put a spell on a man and
spin him like a top!

Anyone else have a reading goal? Need a coach?

not burning anything down currently,
suzy

 

 

 

8 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized