Tag Archives: Scott

Jack Gilbert, Anne Sexton, And The Lyricism Of Loss And Alienation

I read poetry like I eat dark chocolate. I go through spurts of wild consumption of the stuff, then I don’t touch it for weeks or longer. I spent most of 2014 erratically reading Jack Gilbert. The best thing to get if you want to start reading Mr. Gilbert is Collected Poems. His muscular, hard-hitting poems never fail to strike a chord inside of me. I feel like he speaks to me in a way few writers can. His harrowing descriptions of his experiences of loss and regret often leave my head spinning. Take this series of lines, wherein he writes of finding one of his wife’s black hairs around their home after she had passed away:

… A year later,

repotting Michiko’s avocado, I find

a long black hair tangled in the dirt.

Brutal. Real. Sad. Uplifting?

Jack Gilbert’s poems breathe with life even as they entertain the grim reality of death and loss. The very bleakness his sometimes dark and gritty poetry evokes acts as a light. How? He reminds us we are not alone. Others have walked this path of frailty, loneliness, and loss. If these tests are a tunnel, you can come out on the other side.

So how to unpack Anne Sexton? Like Mr. Gilbert, she’s a poet of exceeding honesty and skill. Her work combines a delicate, lyrical touch with hard-hitting language and themes. Her career was tragically cut short when she took her own life in 1974. I started seriously reading her stuff late this year. I knew of her, but I had not read much of her work until a friend quoted some lines from her for me. They are from the poem “Her Kind”, and they assert that inherent sense of otherness Ms. Sexton felt:

I have ridden in your cart, driver,

waved my nude arms at villages going by,

learning the last bright routes, survivor

where your flames still bite my thigh

and my ribs crack where your wheels wind.

A woman like that is not ashamed to die.

I have been her kind.

That’s the last stanza of three.

I approached Ms. Sexton’s work with some wariness and without making assumptions. I dug into a lot of CLP’s collection of criticism on her as I read more of her work. I used our literary databases too. They helped. As a man raised in a popular culture steeped in violence and misogyny, I approach the work of poets like Ms. Sexton with caution and care. I will not say that reading and studying her has made me better at understanding the challenges women face. It has served to broaden my perspective.

Jack Gilbert lived through his pain and loss and produced an amazing volume of poetry to catalog it all. Anne Sexton’s poetry explored themes of gender and alienation. She burned brightly for a short time, then left us too soon.

We’ll all write more about our “reading resolutions” for 2015 in tomorrow’s post, but I can rightly say now that Ms. Sexton’s work will be part of my 2015 must-read list.

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–Scott P.


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“The Fantastic Four And Wolverine Are Dead, Jim”

Well, that’s what the late, great Deforest Kelly might say in the role of Bones, from Star Trek. In two recent and stunning moves, the cognoscenti at Marvel Comics killed Wolverine (a good thing if he would just stay dead) and cancelled august superhero title The Fantastic Four.  It will be hard for me to continue with this post and not seem like a curmudgeonly old man screaming for some snotty kids to get off the grass in his front yard. I will still try.

For a while in the early 2000s it seemed like every story-based decision Marvel made involved length of arc and fitness for inclusion into a trade. That’s what Library Journal would call a graphic novel. Stories, and the nature of storytelling in comics, changed because of this. The monthly comics became secondary to the collected work in the more popular and marketable graphic novel.

So be it. At least then Marvel (and DC) were still thinking in terms of the comic books themselves.

Then sometime after the very first Spider-Man movie killed it at the box office, Stan Lee’s long held dream of Marvel’s marriage to Hollywood and wider media came to pass. Sean Howe covers Stan’s Hollywood vision-quest in his amazing book, Marvel Comics: The Untold Story. It’s now gotten to a point where even the mediocre Marvel movies make mad loot. That old adage that money ruins everything is not true. Money ruins most things.

While they will never admit it, the folks at Marvel “killed” Wolverine and cancelled Fantastic Four because both properties belong to rival movie studios. They might cite creative reasons, or the low sales of FF, but we should know better. Making these moves undercuts in some small way the creative impetus of rival studio Fox. For an awesome visual of exactly which studio owns each major Marvel superhero property, check here.

While I was born on a Tuesday, it was not last Tuesday. I know Wolverine will be back (dude, he’s the best there is at what he does, and what he does is sell comics). I also know FF will rise again. Comics are a business. They have been since the halcyon days of Timely. The business used to be about selling comics. Now it’s about pillaging them for the next movie script.

My position is not without hypocrisy. I saw Guardians Of The Galaxy five times. I will content myself with cherry-picking the Marvel and DC movies I like.

Meanwhile, I need to go see my grief counselor; Wolverine is dead after all.

–Scott P.

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CLP Gets To Work


Friday, November 7th featured CLP’s first ever installment of Show Your Work, a partnership between the public library and local entrepreneurs and innovators in the fields of commerce, art, and technology. This amazing event, held at our East Liberty branch, included over fifty attendees and featured four presentations from local innovators in various fields. These folks gave five minute lightning talks about their current projects and then took questions and feedback from the audience and an esteemed panel of experts.

The presenters included:

  • Todd Medema — CMU alum and serial entrepreneur working on a new way to view the passage of time
  • Shannon Miller — co-founder and Chief Gift Officer at giftbug
  • Alexandra Oliver — creator of the Collective Archive project to document and archive Pittsburgh culture
  • Allison Plummer & Ethan Plummer — creators of the Sentinel Box bicycle safety mapping device

The panelists included:

  • Nick End — entrepreneur and leadership team member at Shoefitr
  • Rabih Helou — co-founder of the coworking space at The Beauty Shoppe
  • Chris Millard — Program Coordinator at AlphaLab Gear

Part cocktail party and part networking session, Show Your Work represents the first of a new type of programming venture for CLP. We saw a need for more common space where Pittsburgh innovators could meet up and share their energy and ideas. As we move forward into 2015, we’ll continue to address that need with more Show Your Work events and with our new Work Nights series of programs.

Debuting at the South Side branch Thursday, December 12 from 5:00 PM – 12:00 AM (yes, that’s right, the library will be open until midnight), CLP Work Nights will offer entrepreneurs and innovators a clean, well lighted space with amenities like free wi-fi, photocopies, coffee, and snacks. While these comforts are all good things, the atmosphere a Work Night offers is what really counts. A gathering of like-minded innovators carries a special energy all its own, and we hope folks can harness that creative power to drive their own projects to completion.

Programs like Show Your Work and Work Nights allow us to further our mission as a community facilitator and economic incubator. We measure the impact of our service in the success stories our patrons tell us. As the new year dawns think about joining us for these special new programs. Work nights. Then tell us about it.

–Scott P.

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“New” Pulp Conjures Familiar Feelings

Graphic novel (re: comic book) fans seeking something other than standard superhero fare need look no further than two new titles from publisher Image Comics.

Five Ghosts from writer Frank Barbiere  and artist Chris Mooneyham details the exploits of explorer, thief, and bon vivant Fabian Gray. Set in the 1930s, Gray inhabits a world much like the one Indiana Jones made famous, but tinged with even more supernatural power. Gray himself is a haunted man. Cursed by the presence of the fabled Dream Stones embedded in his chest, he possesses the ability to call upon the powers of five “literary” ghosts. This quintet includes the archer (Robin Hood), the swordsman (Musashi), the detective (Sherlock Holmes), the vampire (Count Dracula), and the wizard (Merlin).

Gray and his cohorts face off against threats both magical and mundane, from possessed tribesmen to murderous pirates, and of course, Nazis–I hate those guys!   Mr. Barbiere weaves plenty of cool literary references into the stories, and Mr. Mooneyham’s moody, gorgeous artwork looks like a cross between Mike Mignola and Howard Chaykin.

Start by reading Five Ghosts: The Haunting Of Fabian Gray (that’s volume one); then read Five Ghosts: Lost Coastlines (that’s volume two).

If Five Ghosts inhabits the realms of Indiana Jones and King Solomon’s Mines, Black Science takes its lead from the sort of retro-raygun sci-fi seen in Flash Gordon and DC Comics Adam Strange. Don’t think that these more innocent antecedents make Black Science light or frivolous. Writer Rick Remender and artists Mateo Scalera and Dean White inject plenty of darkness into Black Science. Lead character and rogue scientist Grant McKay uses proscribed experiments to punch his way into a forbidden dimension of madness and chaos.

He and his intrepid crew encounter a host of horrors as they journey through worlds undreamed in search of a way home.

As I have grown more and more disenchanted with modern superhero fare, I take comfort in titles like these. They have a spirit and sense of fun that “modern” Marvel comics lack. If you dig pulp, check these titles out!

–Scott P.

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Some Scary Sci-Fi

Being only three days out from Halloween leaves me thinking of scary movies. Being a sci-fi nut, I love those films that freely mix the horror and science fiction genres. Two dynamite films come to mind: one well-known, the other mildly underrated.

Alien_movie_cover AlienRepeat after me. “Alien is not a sci-fi movie; it’s a horror movie.” Ridley Scott’s brilliantly gritty space thriller dresses in plenty of sci-fi trappings, but delivers all the chills of a first-rate horror flick. The spacers terrorized by H. R. Giger’s hideous creature are simple corporate workers trapped in a terrible situation and knocked off one by one in gruesome fashion. Mr. Scott uses cunning visual techniques and camera angles, and just enough creature effects, to perfectly capture the frenetic action of the crew’s hopeless struggles against a power beyond their capabilities. The best way I can demonstrate this is by linking to a clip of Brett’s (Harry Dean Stanton) death. It is not for the faint of heart, so don’t click unless you can handle it. Here it is. Brett stands powerless in the face of the inhuman Alien. The horror he endures in those last few seconds of his life freezes the viewer’s blood. It did mine. That’s why Alien succeeds as a horror film. 


Event-Hor-cov  Event HorizonIf I ever make a list of the most underrated films of all time, this one will rank very highly on it. This also happens to be another horror movie masquerading as a sci-fi flick! The sci-fi equivalent of a haunted house is a haunted starship, and oh boy, does Event Horizon deliver the goods on that account! The eponymous ship, the Event Horizon, mysteriously reappears after seven years of being lost in space. Lead by Captain Miller (Laurence Fishburne), the crew of the Lewis and Clark answer the lost ship’s distress call. They find the Event Horizon deserted. A ghost ship. Horror ensues. Director Paul W. S. Anderson sets a dark tone with plenty of darkly shot corridors, strange sounds, and haunting visions. Things really start to go pear-shaped when the crew of the Lewis and Clark find a hidden video recording of the last horrific moments on the Event Horizon’s bridge before it disappeared. I am going to link to this, but it is incredibly disturbing and horrific. You have been warned. Here is the link.

These two films represent the pinnacle of what creative folks can do when they skillfully combine two genres. As Halloween approaches, think about tracking down one or both of these titles. If you’ve seen them already, watch them again. If you’ve never seen them before and watch them for the first time, I envy you.

— Scott P.


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Short List Of Banned Sci-Fi

Get your ray-guns ready! I’m going to list my three favorite banned sci-fi and fantasy titles.

F-451-cover Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. This one marks a double-threat–great book and a great movie version (you can watch it at CLP’s Downtown & Business location on October 21st)! Working at the height of his powers, Mr. Bradbury takes us to a dystopian future where fireman start fires instead of putting them out! The ultimate anti-censorship book suffered the terrible irony of finding itself on more than one banned book list since its publication in 1953, and even the publisher itself released expurgated versions removing what certain editors considered to be objectionable content. Fahrenheit 451 remains such an important work, it’s at the center of this year’s Big Read.


 Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman. People sometimes challenge the most innocuous things. Mr. Gaiman’s Neverwhere has a bit of violence, a bit of sex, and a lot of really uplifting and incredible stuff. Of all the things from a high school reading list a parent might challenge, this book should fall near the bottom. According to complaints, one particular sex scene did this one in. If you can get beyond this,  you’ll find a story that effortlessly blends the worlds of modern London and a subterranean shadow-plane of magic, mystery, and adventure. While Neverwhere’s sex and violence quotient seems quite tame to me, I guess I can at least understand why someone might object to it, but learning the last book on this short list had been banned flummoxed me.

Hobbit-cover The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien. Yes, that Hobbit. Some accuse the book of promoting smoking. As an individual who has been rabidly anti-smoking his whole life, but also loved The Hobbit since at least first grade, I don’t see it. Fictional characters smoking a fictional pipeweed (even one as pure as Old Toby) never caused me to waver. Then there’s the folks who identify Tolkien’s work as irreligious. The man was a devout Catholic and his work is suffused with Christian symbolism. I think his Christian bonafides remain pretty unimpeachable.

Folks will come up with all sorts of reasons to ban the books we love. Genres like sci-fi often take it on the chin from would-be censors. All we can do is call them out.

Sunshine remains the best remedy for ignorance.

–Scott P.


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Three For The Pennant Run

The Battling Buccos seem poised to make a run at the first or second Wild Card playoff berth, so let’s keep our fingers crossed that they can continue surging forward in September!  In the meantime, here are three titles for those among us who love Fall baseball.

baseball-codes The Baseball Codes : Beanballs, Sign Stealing, And Bench-clearing Brawls : The Unwritten Rules Of America’s Pastime by Jason Turbow with Michael Duca. No stage reveals baseball’s many esoteric “unwritten” rules quite like the playoffs. This book will provide the perfect companion to anyone wondering why the catcher  suddenly stands up and hurls epithets at the batter, or why a seemingly accidental hit-by-pitch sparks a series of 95 mph retaliation strikes!

 It-aint It Ain’t Over ‘Til It’s Over : The Baseball Prospectus Pennant Race Book edited by Steven Goldman.  This 2007 book looks at some of the most famous and fascinating baseball pennant run chases through the game’s long history. This slick collection of historical essays on the game includes a number of what-if stories, and also recounts great deadline trade deals, pennant races that weren’t, and much more.

 when-red When The Red Sox Ruled: Baseball’s First Dynasty, 1912 – 1918 by Thomas J. Whalen. Love them or hate them, the Red Sox represent a key pillar of Major League Baseball, and one of its most storied franchises. Mr. Whalen’s book explores the golden age before the Babe, and provides a telling glimpse into the professional baseball world of a bygone era.

–Scott P.





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