Tag Archives: Leigh Anne

The Wright Stuff

I poetry. I write it, study it, read it, edit it, publish it, teach it. … Sometimes I weary of it. I could not live without it. Not in this world. Not in my lifetime.

C.D. Wright in Cooling Time: An American Poetry Vigil, qtd. in The New York Times.

Photograph of C.D. Wright by Blue Flower Arts - all rights reserved to same. Click through for source page.

Photograph of C.D. Wright by Blue Flower Arts – all rights reserved to same. Click through for source page.

She didn’t have to. When Wright passed away unexpectedly in January, she left behind one final, magnificent collection of poems with a title Fiona Apple would envy: The Poet, the Lion, Talking Pictures, a Wedding in St. Roch, the Big Box Store, the Warp in the Mirror, Spring, Midnights, Fire & All. Even that mouthful—to which I’m going to refer as The Poet for clarity’s sake—doesn’t do justice to the scope of the work, which resembles the Doctor’s TARDIS:  it’s much, much bigger on the inside.

One blog post can’t do justice to all the goodness in this volume, but there are recurring themes a reader can latch on to and explore. One of these is Wright’s joy in words, which circles back around again and again in a series of poems called “In a Word, a World” which appear at intervals throughout The Poet. We know this sequence is important because Wright uses its first poem to kick off the volume:

I love them all.

I love that a handful, a mouthful, gets you by, a satcheful can land you a job, a well-chosen clutch of them could get you laid, and that a solitary word can initiate a stampede… (3).

This intimate sense of relationship mirrors John 1:1: “In the beginning was the word,” and infuses The Poet with a joyful sense of the sacred right off the bat. Subsequent poems in this cycle make similar confessions about Wright’s close relationship to words in language this is often passionate, but never merely sentimental:

I love the nouns of a time in a place, where a sack once was a poke and native skag was junk glass not junk and junk was just junk not smack and smack entailed eating with your mouth open… (72).

Other sequences include “Hold Still, Lion,” in which Wright reminisces about Robert Creeley; “Jean Valentine, Abridged,” which examines her fellow poet’s aesthetics and body of work; “Spring and All,” a close reading of William Carlos Williams’s first foray into poetry; and “Purgatorio,” a study of the first volume of Chilean poet Raúl Zurita’s epic trilogy. That these sequences don’t appear in order, but are instead wound in and around each other, encourages the reader to make connections between these—and other—poetic sets, and to the stand-alone poems that separate them. It’s all good, Wright seems to be saying. It’s all connected. Check it out.

The value of poetry in our contemporary world is something else Wright muses on at length in The Poet. Musings like “A Plague of Poets,” “The not knowing whether what you’ve set down is any good,” and “If one were to try to describe the heed that poetry requires” interrogate the writer, the writing process, the reader, and the world that creates the reader (even as the reader her/himself creates the world). The best of these is “Concerning Why Poetry Offers a Better Deal Than the World’s Biggest Retailer,” a long piece that begs to be read out loud and contains wry observations like, “…what if this is just middle capitalism?” (32). Dry humor aside, however, the author has some definite goals that poems should achieve if poets want to stay relevant:

That they enlarge the circle.

That they awaken the dreamer. That they awaken the schemer.

That they rectify the names.

That they draw not conclusions but further qualify doubt.

That they avail themselves of the shrapnel of everything: the disappearance of cork trees and coral, the destroyed center of Ramadi, the shape of buildings to come, the pearness of pears.

That they clear the air (39).

The Poet is knocking me out with its obvious deep joy, its loving acknowledgment of the long, global poetic tradition in which it’s situated, and the touches of snark that surface here and there like the fish at Pymatuming hustling for tourist breadcrumbs. If it sounds a bit too much like a book for seasoned poetry veterans only, I’ve done my job wrong; The Poet is more like a block party to which everybody’s invited, whether you’ve lived in the neighborhood forever or just moved in yesterday. My only regret is that I came to the party so late, after the hostess had quietly slipped away.

Click here to get to know The Poet, and let us know in the comments section whether you’re a poetry lifer, a curious bystander or something else altogether. All voices are welcome, and needed, for the party to be a success.

–Leigh Anne

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Are You Experienced?

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Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh and Eleventh Stack are celebrating Black History Month by highlighting books, music and movies by African American Artists. We also have a ton of great events and programs for children, teens and adults. You can view all of our Black History Month posts here.

“Crap. My paper is due tomorrow, and I looked all over the web, but I still need two more sources.”

“The arguments in my Facebook feed are breaking my brain. Where can I learn more about this stuff without all the nasty comments?”

“I wonder how many people this issue actually affects. Different websites have different numbers — which one is right?”

If you’ve asked questions like these, you know that the web is a great place to start learning about something, but it’s not perfect. Granted, nothing is truly perfect, but it is possible to get your questions answered quickly and easily. All you need is 5 minutes, your CLP Library card and an internet connection.

Skeptical? I don’t blame you. It almost sounds like an infomercial, doesn’t it? Let’s test it out with the African American Experience, one of the online collections the Carnegie Library offers.

Sources Teachers Love 

Let’s say you’re writing a paper about the Black Arts Movement. You’ve found a lot of great websites, but your teacher says you can only use two: everything else has to come from a book, newspaper, magazine, or other print source. You get wrapped up in other stuff (it happens), and suddenly, boom: the paper’s due tomorrow, and the Library is closed. Now what?

Screenshot, The African American Experience - topics section / Black Arts Movement

Screenshot, The African American Experience – topics section / Black Arts Movement

Now you grab your library card, log into The African-American Experience, select your topic from the main page (helpfully grouped in chronological order), and use the drop-down menu on the side to explore further resources. The best part? Because the information here originally comes from print books/encyclopedias, you’re getting what you need and still following the rules of the assignment. There’s even a correctly-formatted citation at the bottom of each source, should you need one.

Problem solved. Next!

No Fighting, No Trolls

You know how, when certain topics come up, suddenly everybody’s an expert? Opinions get heated, comments get ugly and everybody walks away feeling bad. Wouldn’t it be great to get some information that covers controversial topics in a neutral, facts-based way, without having to sift through thousands of search engine results?

One question some people argue about is whether to say “Black” or “African American” in conversation. The African American Experience tackles questions like these in its “Perspectives” section, using a neutral tone, and discussing the topic in an even-handed way.

Screenshot from the "Perspectives" section of the African American Experience.

Screenshot from the “Perspectives” section of the African American Experience.

Each perspective begins with the key question on the table, then offers, via the drop-down menu, the main facts you’ll need to know followed by several perspectives that look at different sides of the question. If you’re in a hurry, you can jump to the closing, which summarizes the perspectives. Finally, the “Investigate” option takes you to a list of resources—both web and print-based—you can use to dig deeper.

Now that you’ve got an objective view of the question and the way it’s been answered historically, you can decide for yourself what you think without all the drama. And you might even have a great response to Uncle Know-it-All next time he says something ignorant, which you can deliver calmly and confidently.

The Numbers Game

Statistics are always tricky, because they can always be counted in different ways by folks who have different agendas. Still, at some point, you’ve got to decide whose numbers are trustworthy enough to make up your mind. So why not generate them yourself?

CLIOView, a chart-building tool within the African American Experience, lets you arrange and compare raw state data on a variety of topics, such as:

  • Number of voters in a given election
  • State population during a given time period
  • Population living below the poverty level
  • Marriage rates

and a lot more!

After clicking on the CLIOView tab, you’ll select which states you want to compare.

Screenshot of CLIOView tool, from The African American Experience.

Screenshot of CLIOView tool, from The African American Experience.

Next you’ll choose which data sets you want to work with. You can compare up to three categories in multiple states, so your search can be as simple or as complex as you like.

Screemshot, CLIOView tool, The African American Experience.

Screemshot, CLIOView tool, The African American Experience.

Once you’ve got your results, you can print them, organized by state or by category. If you need the data to look a little fancier, you can use the Graph tool to create a more attractive design. And if you’re curious about where the raw data comes from, you can click “Sources” to find out. Now your personal curiosity is satisfied, and you know where to go if you ever need those numbers for a presentation or report.

Obviously, using The African American Experience takes a little more of your time than a web search might. But if you’re at the end of your rope and the internet just isn’t delivering, the Library is here for you. Take The African American Experience for a test drive, or ask a librarian to give you a walk-through.

Where do you turn when the internet drives you bananas? Did you know this tool was part of the Library’s online collections? Anything you share will help us help you better, so give us the dirt on the ways you search!

–Leigh Anne

 

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The Sting of Mercurochrome

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Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh and Eleventh Stack are celebrating Black History Month by highlighting books, music and movies by African American Artists. We also have a ton of great events and programs for children, teens and adults. You can view all of our Black History Month posts here.

Wanda Coleman (1946-2013) was a politically active, socially aware poet who took great joy in pushing the limits of what poetic forms and language could do. She’s also somewhat infamous for her extremely negative review of Maya Angelou’s A Song Flung Up to Heaven, which earned her a lot of grief from the Black literary community. Her response to the controversy, which was published in The Nation in 2002, contains a lot of strong—and possibly unpopular—opinions about writing excellence in the context of the history of the African American literary tradition. And she honestly didn’t care whether you agreed with her or not. She was too busy promoting, and creating, her own version of excellence.

The poems presented in Mercurochrome (2001) reflect that excellence in a deep, passionate engagement with both language and culture. As readers, we know exactly what we’re getting ourselves into because Coleman tells us flat-out in the lead-off poem, “The Language Beneath the Language”:

thus you hold me
frozen in your doubtful vision
in your study of my brownness. believe
my curious fingers. trust my
daring fingers
as they probe your opened wound… (15).

mercurochromeIn other words, reader, the book you hold in your hands is not meant to be comfortable. Coleman is out to engage you, and the engagement will not always be pleasurable. If you are willing to be uncomfortable, however, your mind will get blown wide open. And that’s never a bad thing, in the long run.

Divided into six sections, Mercurochrome explores the Black American experience by subverting conventional poetic forms. In Section III, for example, “American Sonnets,” Coleman takes a style many contemporary readers find tedious and manipulates it into something a lot more interesting:

widely widely i open to love. my country
impregnates with seed of hate. conjecture?
no. this mad fornication i endure, jealous
contrary to reason, foolish in my fantasy
that i too am cherished…(95).

By using the classic poetry of love to indicate where love is lacking is more than just clever. It’s a direct criticism of what America has promised, but not provided.

The volume’s title is made clear to the reader in “Letter to My Older Sister (5)”:

…love
as i live it seems more like Mercurochrome
     than anything else
i can conjure up. it looks so pretty and red,
     and smells of a balmy
coolness when you uncap the little applicator.
     but swab it on an
open sore and you nearly die under the stabbing
     burn (70).

And there are a lot of open sores that need healing, including the commodification of Black culture (“Paper Riot”), police brutality (“South Central Los Angeles Deathtrip 1982”), and even the banal quality of most contemporary poetry (“Essay on Language (6)”). For all that it stings, however, Coleman’s lyrics also advocate standing one’s ground:

i am blackness waking
my mother’s face on my father’s gift
i am the utter meaning
immesurable, sensual and stark
i am the jetflow of subterranean events
my father’s gentleness on my mother’s savagery
i am blackness. the awakening (24).

Although it may often sting like a poison, Mercurochrome is Coleman’s lyrical attempt at a cure. If you’d like a bigger dose of her medicine, click on over to the Library catalog and reserve a copy, or try another one of Coleman’s collections on for size.

–Leigh Anne

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3 Poems By…Gregory Pardlo

One of the things I run into surprisingly often is people saying to me, “I’ve never heard of you before”…Yet I’ve been publishing in “mainstream” journals and my book won that prize, so what is it that is making me invisible? It’s not the work and it’s not the publishing credits. — Gregory Pardlo in The Guardian.

“That prize” is the 2015 Pulitzer for poetry, and Pardlo’s question is a good one, one I hope we’ll wrestle with when 3 Poems by… kicks off its 2016 season.

pardloIf you’re new to Eleventh Stack you might not know that the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh hosts a spirited poetry discussion on the second Thursday of most months. Pittsburgh’s poetry lovers include a wide cross-section of your friends and neighbors, from casually interested laypersons to (extremely modest) local celebrity poets. Normally the poets we discuss are chosen by a facilitator, but this year the group will be reading the work of writers who will also be reading at Poets on Tour. This reading series, a collaborative Library project with Pittsburgh Arts & Lectures, brings some of the best contemporary American poets to a Pittsburgh stage, and I’m more than a little psyched about being in the same room with a Pulitzer prize-winner.

But first, a look at his work.

Digest, the volume for which Pardlo won “that award,” is a tightly-knit collection of masterful code-switching. Highly structured poems that both mirror and mock academic rhetoric rest alongside the looser, more conversational rhythms of personal lyric pieces. The collection’s initial poem, “Written by Himself,” indicates which voice we are meant to accept as most truthful/genuine:

I was born still and superstitious; I bore an unexpected burden
I gave birth, I gave blessing, I gave rise to suspicion.
I was born abandoned outdoors in the heat-shaped air,
air drifting like spirits and old windows… (3).

Don’t think for a second, though, that Pardlo is bluffing his way through academe. In some ways it is a mask he wears, and in other ways it’s a mask that wears him. Either way, though, it’s a highly conscious costuming that results in some gorgeous images and wicked wit, as in the following passage from “Corrective Lenses, Creative Reading, and (Recon)textual/ization”:

In this course we
will venerate the subjective mind, or rather, examine how subject/
object share the fuzzy circumference of a lone spotlight
beneath the proscenium arch. There is no reliable narrator. For example, tea
leaves or cloudbursts in the shape of ladybirds.
(19).

If you’ve ever been anywhere near graduate school, the title alone is pure comedy gold. And yet, the deliberate use of academic language to cut through its own usual fog to a different level of awareness isn’t just amusing: it’s sensuous, gorgeous. Perhaps you can dismantle the master’s house with the master’s tools?

Having said all that, what really matters is what you think. If you’d like to read a smart, self-aware, dazzling collection of poetry, click here to reserve a copy of Digest for yourself. If you just can’t wait, click here to register for 3 Poems by…Gregory Pardlo and receive an e-mail with the three pieces the group will be discussing on January 14th at 7:30 p.m.. At the very least, leave a comment below and let me know your best answer to Pardlo’s question: How is it possible so many of us have never heard of him before now?

–Leigh Anne

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Thrive

Each of Pittsburgh’s neighborhoods has its own character. If they were people, you could easily pick them out of a lineup. Lawrenceville would be the bearded guy in the trilby earnestly telling you all about the small batch of artisan mead he’s brewing. North Side is the scrappy guy hawking t-shirts outside Heinz Field for extra cash—friendly, but focused on self-improvement. Shadyside is the magazine editor at the launch party, poised and professional. Greenfield is the woman planting a butterfly garden, quietly transforming her landscape into something lush and soothing. And Oakland would be the multi-tasking twins, identical save for the sweatpants on one and the suit on the other, madly texting each other as they zigzag around people on the sidewalk and clutch their enormous coffees.

Staff at every Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh location work hard at getting to know their neighbors, scoping out the neighborhood’s general vibe and specific needs, and creating services and connections that will help its users thrive. So far, so good: every day Pittsburghers rely on the Library for computer access, educational programs for children and teens, support for adult goals and dreams, and help finding a good book, CD, or movie.

As a librarian in Oakland, I see this play out every day. The community comes to us for quiet study space, the companionship of a knitting circle, the computer classes and resume assistance that will make the job search a little easier. They have toilets that need to be fixed, curtains that need to be sewn, languages that need to be learned before the trip, and questions about where they’re going. They need to e-mail the document before the deadline, fax the papers before the closing, and photocopy the scholarship application before they send it out. They want to learn Ruby, nail the audition, start a non-profit, repair the bicycle, take a break and get lost in a good book. Every day brings something different, and it’s a privilege to be a small part of it.

You, on the other hand, are a very large part of what the Library accomplishes. Your support makes it possible for Pittsburgh to have a vibrant, resource-rich library system—for you, your family and friends, and for every person in our community. Different people in different neighborhoods need different things, but your donation makes the Library the center of its community, regardless of what that looks like. And that is a beautiful thing.

To make a year-end gift to the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, click here. To learn about other ways to help your neighborhood thrive, click here. And the next time you’re in Oakland, stop upstairs and say hi. Especially if you’re brewing a small batch of artisan mead, or are in need of a very large cup of coffee.

–Leigh Anne

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After Jessica Jones

Congratulations: you made it through all thirteen white-knuckled, soul-crushing episodes of Marvel’s Jessica Jones on Netflix. Now you need either bibliotherapy or the hair of the dog that bit you, depending on how much you enjoy psychological torture. Here are some Library experiences you can have to either calm yourself down or extend your terror buzz.

If You Just Can’t Even: The Gentle List

Right now you need sunshine, laughter, and reassurance that people are still essentially good. Snuggle up with one of the following suggestions:

Step Aside Pops / Kate Beaton –  Laughter is good for the soul, and this collection of literature and history-inspired comics will make you laugh until you can’t breathe.

Doctor Who: The Complete Second Series – You need to wash Kilgrave out of your head, and fast. Watch David Tennant at his best and most lovable.

This Christmas / Aretha Franklin – What could be better than the Queen of Soul singing seasonal songs of peace and joy? Crank this up and hit repeat.

Modern Romance / Aziz Ansari – Healthy, true love is a real thing! And getting there is more hilarious than heartbreaking. Let Ansari walk you through it.

Bridget Jones’s Diary / Helen Fielding – Because somebody named Jones should get a happy ending, right?

 

"Ida B. Wells," from Step Aside Pops, pg. 118. (c)2015 Kate Beaton. Click through to read more amusing comics.

“Ida B. Wells,” from Step Aside Pops, pg. 118. (c)2015 Kate Beaton. Click through to read more amusing comics.

 

If You’re All Fired Up: The Grrrl Power List

Pumped up and ready to fight the good fight?  Keep your adrenaline levels high and take these to the checkout desk:

Alias / Brian Michael Bendis – If you’re not familiar with the source material, catch up with all things Jessica.

Bitch Planet / Kelly Sue DeConnick – It’s not paranoia if they’re really out to get you. And boy, are they out to get you.

Mad Max: Fury Road – Feminism, rage, explosions, catharsis.

The First Two Records / Bikini Kill – Loud, stomp-around-and-break-stuff therapy. Play it until your neighbors hate you.

Reign of Terror / Sleigh Bells – contains the song “Demons,” a/k/a That One Awesome Song in That One Scene.

Shadowshaper/ Daniel Jose Older – Urban fantasy about a gutsy teen discovering her own special powers.

Your turn:  did you, or will you, watch Jessica Jones? Have you got additional suggestions for post-viewing stress relief (or villain stomping)? Tell us your thoughts in the comments section, but please keep it spoiler-free!

–Leigh Anne

 

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Sins of the City

There are a million stories in the Steel City’s library system. These are two of them.

Black Lotus, K’wan

Detective James Wolf is a good cop who gets results; he’s also a loose cannon who bends rules to suit his own needs. This infuriating combination is exactly what’s needed to solve the gruesome murder of a priest. Temporarily transferred from narcotics to homicide, WolfKwan is given carte blanche to find the killer, who left only one piece of evidence behind: a rare black flower. Wolf’s investigation sends him into a tangled web of secrets, lies and scandal that eventually leads to a cold case from his own shady past. Before it’s over, everybody’s dirty laundry will be hung out to dry, for better or worse. Fast-paced, suspenseful stuff for readers who like police procedurals and other psychological thrillers.

Available in print, Playaway, digital audio, Kindle and EPUB formats.

Kiss the Ring, Meesha Mink

Naeema Cole gave her son Brandon up for adoption, but secretly kept tabs on him to make sure he was growing up right. All of her dreams for him went up in smoke, however, when Brandon was murdered at age fourteen. The three other boys he ran with were the prime kisstheringsuspects, but the police couldn’t prove anything, and everybody walked. Desperate for justice, Naeema transforms herself into Queen, a tough-talking character disguise that helps her infiltrate the boys’ social circle … which turns out to be a bank robbery ring.

The atmosphere is tense as Naeema struggles not to blow her cover, taking greater and greater risks as she searches for the truth, including possibly losing her heart to the leader of the gang, against all logic and her own better judgment. Sizzling with suspense, sex and surprise plot twists, Kiss the Ring will have thriller and romantic suspense readers eagerly turning pages until the end, at which point they can pick up the sequel, All Hail the Queen.

Both titles available in print only.

Ask the library staff about these and other pulse-pounding tales of street justice, and tell us about your favorites in the comments section!

–Leigh Anne

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