Tag Archives: Pittsburgh

Stretch Goals: Nobody’s Jackknife

Poetry is a lot like yoga: it asks you to stretch out of your comfort zone, and the level of difficulty varies from situation to situation. Nobody’s Jackknife, the first full-length collection from Pittsburgh’s own Ellen McGrath Smith, functions as a master class for advanced readers and a challenge to motivated beginners. Like the best classes, it is by turns gentle and fierce, and by the time you get to the end of it, you should be glowing and panting a little bit; if not, you might be reading it wrong … or, at least, not wholeheartedly.

The yoga metaphor fits because Smith used it first: an entire section of Nobody’s Jacknife is made up of poems that bear the name of specific poses. These pieces explore the nature of the pose and its relationship to the world in which one poses, as explained in “Downward Facing Dog (adho mukha svanasana)”:

Each posture some kind of creature. Each minute
some kind of creature. Each creature is some sort
of time but not waiting (67).

In this particular poem the nature and performance of downward dog are juxtaposed with the damage done by Hurricane Katrina; like a good teacher, Smith urges the reader to explore the relationship:

…Or is the dog the stretch itself
and not the body that could bark and growl if only

it could see a city under water,
under a lid that the leaders don’t lift
until it’s too late. In the beginning,
keep the eyes open. Then you will know
what you are doing and where you go wrong–(ibid).

As readers move through the sequence of poem-poses they’re asked to consider their internal and external worlds, how they’re held in tension, how to reconcile them through awareness and effort. It’s fine if you’re wobbly because you don’t have to get it right the first time; in fact, it’s better if you don’t: as you read and reread each poem, new levels of connection and meaning rise to the surface, just as continued yoga practice will, inevitably, change you.

Though they work well on their own, the yoga poems take on greater depth and resonance when read in context. Each of the three previous sections of Nobody’s Jackknife is an invitation to experience life as Smith does: full-throttle, no apologies, level-headed and clear-sighted. Her emotional range is wide and honest, as if she not only would not, but could not lie to the reader.

“The Locust: A Foundational Narrative,” for example, which stands alone as part one, will knock the breath right out of your chest. It’s pretty clear just why the poem won a 2012 Orlando Award from A Room of One’s Own Foundation, but you’ll need to read it six more times to fully absorb its impact (and really appreciate the rest of the volume). Part two  revolves around drinking, with most of the poems named after beverages (“Absinthe,” “Port,” “Rolling Rock Beer,” etc.). In this sequence, booze consumes you, but the final poem in the series, “First Communion,” with its shift towards sacramental consumption ends the section on a hopeful note:

Every tongue awaits the body.

Every body is a word.

Every word a possibility (37).

Section three has a gentler, more introspective tone and a somewhat experimental style; the imagery glides by like waves, lapping over the reader and lulling her into reflection. When linear narrative returns near the end of the sequence, it’s no surprise that it manifests in a few yoga poems, preludes to the deeper exploration in section four:

...now I was nothing
     but a body--good or bad--
          and it was something
               they could draw--
          it had mass; it was not
filthy 

("Camel Pose (Ustasana) 48).

I never feel like I’m doing the poets I review quite enough justice, but this time I’m telling you straight up: I am not doing this volume justice. Perhaps it’s not fair to you to review a work that cannot be neatly encapsulated in a few sound bites or fully appreciated on one reading. Then again, if you’ve made it this far into the essay without running away screaming, a stretch reading goal might be just what you’re after.

If I’ve guessed correctly, you can reserve your own library copy of Nobody’s Jackknife here. Are you in the mood to challenge yourself these days? Or do your summer reading plans err on the side of calm and chill? Leave us a comment and let us know where your comfort zone is.

–Leigh Anne

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The Home Opener

Sunday, April 3rd was the Pittsburgh Pirates Home Opener or Opening Day. For any of you reading who aren’t baseball fans, here is a handy dandy wiki link (I had to double-check I was using the right terminology). I grew up watching more football than baseball, but I used to play softball (not for very long though). When I was thinking about what to write for this post, I really wanted to write about the home opener, but I couldn’t come up with a creative way to write about it, and then I realized that there is SO MUCH information out there about baseball and the Pirates (and honestly that is a good thing … because there are a lot of things happening with baseball).

pittsburgh pirates

People go to baseball games for a variety of reasons, because they like the game (my mom [Hi Mom!]), because they like the food and being in a stadium (me) or because they’ve been dragged there by their family (my dad and sister). So for this post, I wanted to provide some information that may help people who love their family that much that they’re willing to go to put up with the game (there ARE interesting things about baseball).

Major League Baseball (MLB) is split into two leagues, the American League and the National League, which are then broken down into East, Central and West. Have I lost anyone? Not yet? Great! After regular season there is post season, which is better explained here, but is three rounds that lead to the World Series, and the World Series is a best of seven series. Now that you are all-knowing in baseball, you can definitely name the retired numbers and Hall of Famers from the Pirates, right? Okay, maybe not, but if I’ve sparked your interest, there are a number of ways that you can find out more information about (Pirates) baseball. And for those of you who stuck through this post and have no interest in baseball there are some pretty fun fiction reads too.

So are you interested in baseball now? Have you always been interested but found something new in this post? Do you go to games for a special reason? Are you tired of reading this post?  Feel free to comment below (to one or all of the questions if you feel ambitious).

-Abbey

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Run for a Reason

On Sunday, May 1, 2016, runners will take to the streets to participate in the 2016 DICK’S Sporting Goods Pittsburgh Marathon. This year, not only can you run in any of the events of that weekend, but you can also raise money for the Carnegie Library while doing so! Currently, runners and Library-lovers have raised close to $1,000; if you are interested in running or donating, check it out here!

Run for the library I used to be a biker. Or a cyclist. Whatever the preferred title is. When I started working for CLP in 2002 I rode my bike to work four or five days per week, climbing up 18th street to CLP – Knoxville where I performed my duties as a children’s specialist. On the weekends I’d go for long bike rides; I rode my bike to the store, to run errands, I rode it everywhere. In 2011, I rode it all around the city in the 48.4 mile Cycle for CLP tour of all Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh locations. If there was a day that I didn’t ride the bike (whether due to fatigue, extreme weather or just simple laziness) I’d be cranky and irritable. In the winter, if there was snow on the ground I might run a few miles every once in awhile, but that was about it.

But over the years a change took place and I have ever so slowly, and at times, reluctantly, become a runner. Now, I haven’t touched the bike for months, but in 7 weeks I am going to lace up my running shoes and run 30,000 or so steps to raise money for literacy and learning.

Way back in 2002 (or even 2010), if someone had told me that I’d be running a marathon I wouldn’t have believed them, and said there’s no way that would ever happen.  

In 2011, on a whim I signed up for the Pittsburgh Sprint Triathlon. After panicking, flailing around and hyperventilating in the open water, I completed the bike and run portions of the race. I finished realizing that I needed to work on being a better swimmer, and perhaps a runner too. After hours and hours spent in pools, rivers and lakes, I still can barely swim. But I begged a couple of friends who were accomplished runners to let me run with them. The first time I ran with my friend Garrett in Frick Park was not a blissful experience: It was cold … and icy … and I was miserable much of the time. We ran a little over eight miles, and afterward, I could barely walk for two days (Does this sound like fun yet?). Every muscle in my legs was so sore it took me five minutes to walk up and down the stairs.

Yet I persisted. Each weekend I’d run somewhere in the eight-nine mile range, and the runs got easier. One Sunday morning, I ended up running 13 miles with a friend, and he told me, “Hey. If you can do 13, you can probably run the full marathon.”  I balked, but you know what? He was right. I ran longer and longer distances each weekend, came home, ate myself into a food coma, and slept all afternoon on the couch. My training plan that first year was very much in the vein of “I run long distances for the worst possible reason: I run to eat.” I have now become one of those people that feels that running for two-three hours is something reasonable to do on a Sunday morning. It can be blissful and sometimes painful, but most of all I find it meditative. Running is where I practice my storytelling for children’s and teen programming; where I think through management issues at work; or just plain daydream about video games, clocks and cooking. Some people practice yoga or meditate. For me, running is a chance to spend a couple of hours alone with my thoughts.   

If anyone out there has contemplated running a half- or full-marathon, or starting smaller with a 5K or 10K, here are some library resources to get you started.

Run Your First Marathonbook1

 

 

 

 

book2.pngFeet, Don’t Fail Me Now

 

 

 

 

book3The Runner’s World Big Book of Running for Beginners

 

 

 


book4
The Complete Running & Marathon Book

 

 

 

 

See you on May 1st!

 

-Ian

 

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One Shot Harris

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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.

oneshotPittsburgh owes much appreciation to one man for documenting the city’s African American urban life during the Jim Crow era—specifically, this sharp lensman concentrated on the Hill District and a once-thriving social life that has long-since passed and faded to memory.

The Hill District during its heyday was a vibrant place, the city’s cultural center—where people of all ethnicities lived alongside each other, and where independent businesses and Pittsburgh’s Jazz scene thrived.  Who is this man?

We’ll give you a couple hints: He’s had numerous exhibitions of his photographs over the years in Pittsburgh and nationally (the Carnegie Museum of Art showcased his work in 2003, 2006, 2009 and 2011), has an archive devoted to his work of over 80,000 negatives and worked for the Pittsburgh Courier.

The answer: Charles “Teenie” Harris.

Harris was born in 1908 and was an avid baseball player in his youth, later becoming a semi-pro athlete, and among other things, playing for the Negro league Pittsburgh Crawfords. It wasn’t until the early 1930s that he bought his first camera. He proved to be a natural, and within a few years opened his own photography studio (earning the nickname “One Shot” because he rarely made his subjects sit for long) and became the main photographer for The Pittsburgh Courier, one of America’s leading black newspapers during the 1930s and Civil Rights eras.

tharrisThis working class beat photographer snapped well over 100,00 images for The Courier during his years at the paper (1936-1975). And he did it in a unique way, shooting the important and influential people of his day, with the city’s everyday life. Lena Horne, Louis Armstrong, Muhammad Ali, Duke Ellington, Ray Charles and John F. Kennedy were all photographed by Harris, alongside Pittsburgh’s weddings, nightlife and little-league games. He found them all equally important and celebrated and portrayed the dignified lives of African American people that became even more influential during the 1960s. You can learn more about this fantastic man at the Library. Just a few of the titles we have for you to peruse:

-Whitney

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East of Liberty Screening on February 2

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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.

Although the changes to the demographic and socioeconomic makeup of East Liberty have been coming for quite a while — the Whole Foods has been there for 14 years! — the rate of change seems to be increasing exponentially these days. It can feel as though every week brings a new large scale real estate development or business moving into the neighborhood.

The north- and west-facing windows of the the office that I work in, located on the second floor of our East Liberty branch library, have proven to be a good vantage point to watch some of these changes unfold. In the two and half years since my department has occupied this space, we’ve seen the vacant 1909 YMCA converted, at great expense, into a boutique hotel; a Jordan Monahan mural that had become something of a neighborhood icon painted over as a new tenant occupied the old Novum Pharmaceuticals building; and, at the Penn Plaza apartments across the street, tension has grown between tenants of the apartments and the owners of the development who wish to evict them so that they can further develop what has become a very valuable piece of real estate.

Watching all of this change from an office window is one thing, but to really understand a neighborhood, you have to talk to the people who live there. Filmmaker Chris Ivey has been doing just that from the early days of the redevelopment of East Liberty. As he describes on his website:

“I was hired to document the tearing down of the high rises. At the same time I interviewed some of the residents who lived in the high rises and they weren’t happy at all because of the spectacle that was before them. They were really angry. It was their home, it was where they used to live, some for 30 years or more. Even though in many ways it wasn’t the best place to live it was all they had and to see strangers having fun by shooting paintballs at the block left them furious.”

Over the past decade, Ivey has been working on a film series called East of Liberty. So far, the series includes “A Story of Good Intentions,” which follows residents who were displaced from the high-rises that were demolished to make way for much of the new development; “The Fear of Us,” which highlights the experience of business owners who are fighting to remain open as new businesses emerge to appeal to a changing demographic; and “In Unlivable Times,” which is about youth culture.

Chris Ivey will be screening “In Unlivable Times” at CLP – East Liberty on February 2nd, starting at 6pm. This film, which portrays inner city youth in their own voices speaking about their experiences and dealings with neighborhood violence, will be shown in its entirety with time for a discussion after.

If you cannot make the screening, the library does have copies of the film series available for checkout, but I will say that it will absolutely be worth the effort to come out if you can. Ivey’s next film, “Youth Rising,” is currently in production, and as this recent Post-Gazette piece by Diana Nelson Jones shows, he and his work have a way of bringing people out to have meaningful discussions about very difficult subjects like race, class, displacement and neighborhood violence, which means that it will be well worth coming out on a cold Tuesday evening in February to watch it with other community members.

The screening will be on the second floor of CLP – East Liberty, at 130 S Whitfield Street, starting at 6 pm. The film is approximately 55 minutes long, and discussion will follow.

Here’s a link to the event on Facebook. We hope to see you there!

-Dan

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On Reading 100 Books, Part II

Another year over, and once again I failed miserably at reading 100 books.

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But I did succeed in garnering the silent judgement of cats everywhere.
Source

All right, maybe “failed” is a strong word. I ended up reading 70 books and that’s nothing to scoff at, right? Scornful sideways glances from feral felines aside, I decided to highlight five of my favorite books and three of my least favorite books of 2015. If it tickles your fancy, you can look at the whole list on the next page.

The Five I Liked the Most:

loveLove is a Dog from Hell: Poems, 1974-1977 by Charles Bukowski
I learned about this book of poetry by way of The Limousines’ song of the same name. This was my first foray into the writings of Bukowski and it didn’t disappoint. With lines like “I have gotten so used to melancholia / that / I greet it like an old / friend.” and “I am going / to die alone / just the way I live,” this certainly isn’t Lord Byron or John Keats.  This is the kind of stuff you read after a breakup, right before rushing out to do it all over again. These are a few of my favorite lines from the poem Chopin Bukowski:

people need me. I fill
them. if they can’t see me
for a while they get desperate, they get
sick.

but if I see them too often
I get sick. it’s hard to feed
without getting fed.

youYou by Caroline Kepnes
Stephen King—of whom I officially became a fan in 2015 thanks to It and Four Past Midnight—called this book “hypnotic and scary.” What more of an endorsement do you need? You illustrates how easy it is to stalk a person in the digital age. It’s an eerie, well-written page-turner that’s left me eagerly awaiting the sequel, Hidden Bodies, due out in February.

mosquitoMosquitoland by David Arnold
It’s very seldom that a book bring me to tears (in a good way), but this YA debut did just that. The premise—a teenager has to return to her home town via Greyhound when she learns her mother is unwell—was what interested me in this book. Whether in real life or in fiction, I love a good road trip. Just like the tumultuous teenage years, Mosquitoland is equal parts happy and sad. It’s now one of my favorite YA novels of all time.

treesSea of Trees by Robert James Russell
I came across Aokigahara—a dense forest at the bottom of Mt Fuji and a popular place where people go to commit suicide—while reading one of my favorite websites. Doing a simple Google search for more information on the location led me to this novella. It’s a quick, creepy mystery about a couple searching Aokigahara for the woman’s lost sister. What’s even creepier is that two movies have been made about this forest, one starring Matthew McConaughey released in 2015 and one starring Natalie Dormer that came out just last week. The creepiest bit, though, is that this is a real place. Check out this great documentary short put out by Vice for more on the Suicide Forest.

linesPoorly Drawn Lines: Good Ideas and Amazing Stories by Reza Farazmand
This book actually came in for someone else, but I saw it and ordered it for myself. It’s hilarious, nonsensical and was a welcome break from the previous book I’d read, The Price of Salt, which was neither hilarious nor nonsensical. Visit the website of the same name for more giggles.

The Three I Liked the Least:

watchmanGo Set a Watchman by Harper Lee
I went into this book with almost zero expectations. I’ve experienced first-hand how disappointing a decades-later followup can be (I’m looking at you, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull). Part of the charm of To Kill a Mockingbird was the way that Lee wrote Scout. Everything that happens is seen through a rose-colored, knee-high lens of childhood. That’s not the case with Watchman. Scout is twenty-six and has returned to Maycomb to visit Atticus. Events transpire that make her question the truths she clung to during childhood. The readers question these truths right along with her and I normally love a good existential rumination, but it’s handled in such a bland and forgettable way here. And that’s not even mentioning how certain characters are almost unrecognizable (ethically speaking) from their Mockingbird counterparts or how the death of a beloved character from Lee’s first novel is only eluded to rather than shown. How this ended up on Goodreads’ Best of 2015 list is baffling, especially when almost every patron I talked with about it also didn’t like it. I don’t want to waste anymore digital ink complaining about it, so I’ll just echo Philip Hensher‘s comments:  it’s “a pretty bad novel.”

starwarsStar Wars: Aftermath by Chuck Wendig
Unlike Go Set a Watchman, I had at least one expectation for this book–that it would prepare me for the galactic landscape after the fall of the Empire. Sadly, this book did little to elucidate the mystery of what happens between the end of Return of the Jedi and the beginning of The Force Awakens. The plot takes its time getting started and by the time it does, I wasn’t nearly as invested in the characters as I should have been. These weren’t familiar characters like Luke Skywalker or Han Solo, so I didn’t particularly care what happened to them. Not to mention the new characters all came across as annoyingly self-assured. Because of this, I felt like there were no real stakes in book at all. But maybe that’s on me; it’s been a long time since I’ve read supplemental Star Wars material. There is one scene of Han Solo and Chewbacca aboard the Millennium Falcon, but as a whole, the book skews toward poorly-written fanfiction. In the plus column, I’ve got to give credit to Wendig for introducing the first gay hero in the form of ex-Imperial soldier Sinjir Rath Velus as well as a lesbian couple. In a universe where there are literally hundreds of different alien species, Star Wars has never been that concerned about diversity … but that’s a blog post for another day.

americanAmerican Pastoral by Philip Roth
This is up there (or down there) with The Train from Pittsburgh as one of my least favorite, most hated, severely unenjoyable reads of 2015. The actual plot of this book–an all-American family is torn apart after their daughter blows up a convenience store at the height of the Vietnam War, with musings of the rise and fall of the American Dream sprinkled in–could be boiled down to probably fifty pages. The other 350 pages of Roth’s novel are made up of tangential ramblings including, but not limited to, the history of Newark, the minutiae of Miss America contests and more information on glove-making than any human ever needs to know. It was frustrating for me to read through these prolonged chapters filled with walls of text and just when I thought that there was no point to be made–that maybe I’d picked up a New Jersey history book by mistake–and I was about to give up, Roth would wrap up his tangent and continue with the narrative. In It, Stephen King was similarly long-winded while detailing of the history of the fictional town of Derry, but King held my interest far more than Roth did in describing a place that’s only a six -hour drive away. Again, I have no one to blame but myself–I only read this because first-time director Ewan McGregor filmed the adaptation here, but getting through this book was such an ordeal that I’m now in no hurry to see the movie, despite my well-documented love for Pittsburgh on film.

Did you set or reach any reading goals in 2015? Do you have any reading goals for 2016 or any tips on how I can finally get to 100? Sound off in the comments below!

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Suzy, my friend! Curry chicken?

My favorite take-out place closed on December 31. I am devastated. I never thought I would live in a world without Zaw’s Asian Food (2110 Murray Avenue, Squirrel Hill.) I was a college freshman, working at the Green Grocer on Hobart Street when Sonny Lee, the manager, convinced me to try something other than white rice (I’m that kid that didn’t let their food touch.). The first thing he introduced me to was their curry chicken. I’ve eaten it at least once a month since 1995. And I’m not the only person, according to this recent Yelp review:

I am so upset about this [closing] I can’t even express it. The curry chicken here was my favorite thing to eat to the point where I would consider it as a last meal. It was a red spicy curry sauce with garlic and ginger and chicken broth. I will miss it so much.

Last meal indeed. It is named Zaw’s Asian Food for a reason. Owners Marvin and Esther Lee are originally from Burma (Myanmar), so the food was never typical take-out; it was a little bit of everything. Through 20 years, 11 apartments, 6 boyfriends, 8 jobs, and 2 degrees, Zaw’s has been there. I live on the South Side. I willingly crossed a bridge for take-out. That’s some serious business. Not only did Sonny know what I wanted to order, he recognized my voice on the phone, he asked about my husband, he noticed weight loss and new haircuts! When I picked up my very last order, Sonny shook my hand and told me it had been a pleasure knowing me all of these years. His voice broke; I left in tears.

I sincerely hope the Lees have a wonderful retirement. And that they pass their recipes on to someone. I have a lead: Ron Lee, the owner of the Spice Island Tea House, is Mr. Lee’s nephew. Anyone have other ideas? I really don’t want to use these cookbooks. Let’s have lunch!

CompleteCurryBookComplete Curry Cookbook, Byron Ayanoglu and Jennifer MacKenzie

Authentic curries made easy. Curry is enjoyed throughout the world. This wonderful selection of curry recipes draws its inspiration from India, Thailand, China, England, Indonesia and the Caribbean. These quick, easy and tantalizing recipes feature ingredients found in supermarkets, yet the dishes maintain authentic tastes and flavors.

BurmaFlavors of Burma (Myanmar): Cuisine and Culture From the Land of Golden Pagodas, Susan Chan

Susan Chan depicts the culture and traditions of Burma, providing ample information on the Burmese market, commonly used ingredients, and eating and serving customs, explaining, for example, that Burmese eat with their fingertips. She also familiarizes her readers with the language, festivals, and principal cities of this country. Complete with b/w illustrations and photographs.

BurmaRIversBurma: Rivers of Flavor, Naomi Duguid

The best way to learn about an unfamiliar culture is through its food, and in Burma: Rivers of Flavor, readers will be transfixed by the splendors of an ancient and wonderful country, untouched by the outside world for generations, whose simple recipes delight and satisfy and whose people are among the most gracious on earth.

TheCurryBookThe Curry Book : A Celebration of Memorable Flavors and Irresistible Recipes, Nancie McDermott

Whatever its incarnation — in a lightly seasoned deviled egg, a cold chicken salad, or a spicy Indian- or Thai-style dish — curry is one of the most popular seasonings in the world. Nancie McDermott explores endless variations on the curry theme, from Jakarta to Senegal, Tokyo to Jamaica, and Sri Lanka to South Carolina. The result is an untraditional — and accessible — celebration

BigBookofCurriesThe Big Book of Curries: 365 Mouthwatering Recipes From Around the World, Sunil Vijayakar

The Big Book of Curries details the intricacies of these delicious dishes, from the numerous herbs and spices that flavor them to essential equipment and accompaniments. The recipes are organized by main ingredient–meat, poultry and eggs, fish, and shellfish–with a special section on vegetarian meals. Techniques for cooking the perfect rice are included, and there is even a selection of starters to prepare the palate. With these 365 recipes to try, an amazing culinary experience is only a few minutes away.

sad & hungry for curry,
suzy

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