Here are some suggestions for holiday presents to win over your crush & delight your weirdo poet friends. Merry crush-ness! –J. Hope Stein
1) The Book Group (BBC)
This BBC TV show called The Book Group is addictive.
Premise: there is a book group and each episode is titled the name of the book the group is assigned to read that week. The episode follows each character in their life and then culminates with the book group meeting.
Hilarity & crushes ensue.
2) Pink Thunder (Black Ocean)
Michael Zapruder makes dreamy moody Steve Malkmus/Roger Waters-like music with poems by: Dorthea Lasky, D. A Powell, Carrie St. George Comer, Bob Hicok, Joshua Beckman, Anthony McCann, Travis Nichols, Matthew Zapruder, Hoa Nguyen, Matt Rohrer, Gillian Conoley, Mary Ruefle, Valzhyna Mort, David Berman, Joe Wenderoth, Joe Wenderoth, Tyehimba Jess, James Tate, Sierra Nelson, Dara Wier, Bret Fretcher Laver and Noelle Kocot.
In an artist statement Zapruder writes about the origin of the project, which sparked in 2006 when he traveled with the Wave Poetry bus:
I had been spending most of my time writing and recording songs and taking every opportunity to talk with poets and other song-writers about the relationship between songs and the written word, especially in poems. I wanted to turn poems into songs to learn more about that relationship. I wanted to hear what would happen. For about a week I rode the bus and listened to readings every night. I slept in the bus, too, and maybe my dreams mingled with the poets’ because I got their music in my ear.
What I love about this project is the pursuit to find connections with other disciplines and poets. It’s good for poetry and it’s a really groovy listen. & In the songs themselves you can feel a highly sensitive being.
3) Winter Writing Playlist
A little alchemy to mix in with your writing day.
Wilco – One Sunday Morning
Fiona Apple – Every Single Night
Beirut – The Rip Tide
The Tallest Man On Earth – Love Is All
Caveman – Thankful
The National – Exile Vilify (From the Game Portal 2)
Lovers – To Be a Dancer (I Am Alive)
M83 – Wait
King Creosote & Jon Hopkins – Bubble
King Creosote & Jon Hopkins – Your Own Spell
Caveman – Old Friend
4) Once and The Swell Season
The motion picture Once captures what it looks like when two people fall in love, which results in the creation of intimate music. The subsequent documentary The Swell Season captures what it looks like when the same two people share their music with the world, become famous and fall out of love. This is the only example I know of where the presence of love is so clearly caught on film. You can see it enter and you can see it leave. I have so much more to say about this, maybe another time. For now, it makes a good gift.
5) Regina Spektor, Fiona Apple & Sharon Van Etten
Three of our strongest singer song-writers (who just happen to be female) seem to be even more deeply exploring their respective creative spaces. Regina Spektor’s “What We Saw From the Cheep Seats“, Fiona Apple’s “The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw, and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do“ and Sharon Van Etten’s “Tramp” come from rare & inspired places.
6) Woolly Mammoth
Woolly Mammoth Antiques, Oddities and Vintage describes itself as:
“…a curiosity cabinet of items resurrected from the past. We specialize in taxidermy, specimens, animal themed-ephemera, ready-mades, textiles, vintage jewelry, art made by us and our friends.”
There are too many incredible images on the Woolly Mammoth website for me to even pick one– Check out this giraffe head & other creepy fascinations (website or etsy) or, if you are in the neighborhood, stop by the Chicago store & meet Skye and Adam, the inspired & good-vibing couple who scour the planet to make these incredible finds.
7) Double Issue of Verse
When I was in a cabin for the month of January in the remote mountains of Central Oregon, I discovered a bunch of Verse from back in the day and gobbled them up.
This year editors Brian Henry and Andrew Zawacki published 2 new issues of Verse, which I have also gobbled up– Each is packed with great substantive portfolios of featured writers: John Olson Laurie Blauner Endi Bogue Hartigan Tony Mancus Jean Donnelly Ezekiel Black G.C. Waldrep, Alissa Nutting and Allison Titus, erasures by Travis MacDonald, prose and photographs by Joshua Edwards, and a long poem by Francois Luong.
AND! There is an intimate interview with Eileen Myles in which she mentions her friend David who had a brain tumor and recalls:
“So I went to this opera while David was dying, with a notebook to watch ‘Il Trovatore.’ I wrote this poem called ‘The Troubadour,’ which is the first poem in School of Fish. What I did was I just notated, described what was happening on the stage, and when they sang in Italian I just decided what they were saying. The thing that was so gratifying about it was that at various points I alluded to David’s death, and so I got to mourn my friend in a big, elegiac, over-the-top way, with a scenario that wasn’t mine. In terms of emotion, I feel like what I’ve been trained to do as a poet is to use excessive conditions as a way to reveal things.”
Get Both volumes - they are only $8 for each — (includes postage): Verse, English Department, University of Richmond, Richmond, VA 23173.
8) MacTaggart Jewlery
Poet Paige Taggart makes these really cool necklaces and earrings. I’m not 100% sure what they are made of–She seems to work with buttons and metals and beads and all sorts of things. But there is a quality to them that just looks like good vibes — I once saw poet Christie Ann Reynolds wear one that looked like a beaded snuff box. I’m deciding between a bunch of pieces right now for my sister in-laws and myself, including these below:
9) Something for Nothing: the Art of Rap
Something for Nothing: The Art of Rap - an oral history of rap music– Ice-T interviews Eminem, Kanye, Chuck D, Snoop, Mos Def, Run DMC & more—Lots of surprises in here. This is a really compelling investigation of the birth and evolution of rap music and is the first piece I’ve seen on rap that takes it seriously as an art form and focuses on craft and process. Anyone interested in language and its evolutions and revolutions would enjoy.
10) Ed the Happy Clown
In Wiki’s words, not mine : This is a dark, humorous mix of genres which includes vampires, pygmy cannibals, Martians, Frankenstein’s monster and others. Prominent is its use of scatological humor, nudity, sex, body horror, extreme graphic violence and potentially blasphemous religious imagery. Central to the plot are a man who cannot stop defecating; the head of a miniature Ronald Reagan attached to the head of the protagonists’s penis; and a female vampire who seeks revenge on her adulterous lover who murdered her to escape his sins. Buy here.
11) Beasts of the Southern Wild
Beasts of the Southern Wild is an inspired film, which will inspire other great works. Don’t try and pick apart the narrative and be smarter than it, just watch it– My favorite scene takes place in a “mother-brothel”– a surreal island where neglected kids seek fantasy encounters with mother figures. The details are gorgeous and surprising and filled with magical realism, nourishing smiles and homemade food. It is absolute magic and uncontainable joy.
Also, I think director Ben Zeitlin is our next George Lucas. I can’t wait to see what he does next.
12) Dancing Girl Press & Hyacinth Girl Press
13) Marina Abramovic The Artist is Present
When you have a documentary where the subject is an artist whose life work is passionate and riveting and then you have a filmmaker who is able to use that and tell a larger story that takes on bigger meaning, then you have a great documentary, where you do not need to be familiar with the work of performance artist Marina Abramovic to enjoy the human story. This is why this makes such a great gift– The Artist is Present is ultimately about the human effort it takes for anyone to be present in any moment of their life.
14) Dark Elderberry Branch: Poems of Marina Tsvetaeva
A Reading by Ilya Kaminsky and Jean Valentine (Alice James Books)
Praise from C.D. Wright (from the Alice James Website)–
“The magnitude of love, exile, loss, desperation and faith is met with a fortitude most of us will never have to muster; a vulnerability most would never expose. We can thank the stolen paper, quills, red ink; the bells of Moscow, piles of bills an bread from a stranger for a glimpse into the lines and life of Marina Tsvetaeva in a tender ‘reading’ by poets Ilya Kaminsky and Jean Valentine, a collaboration exquisitely suited to deliver these earthly traces.”
Pretty soulful stuff- includes a paperback AND cd of readings in the original Russian by Kaminsky & Valentine — Check it out at Alice James.
15) Ai Wei Wei Never Sorry
This is an arresting and philosophical documentary about Chinese artist Ai WeiWei.
One of the most touching moments in the film is Ai WeiWei’s installation of 9,000 backpacks at Munich’s Haus der Kunst. It depicts a sentence written in Mandarin characters saying ‘She lived happily for seven years in this world.’ - a quote from a mother of one of the thousands of kids lost in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, which citizens believe to be the fault of negligent construction. Along with this tribute, Ai Weiwei did what the government never did– conducted an investigation to compile a list of names of all the children lost.
16) Ping Pong Literary Journal (Henry Miller Library)
17) Antigonick (Anne Carson, Illustrated by Bianca Stone)
What I love about Anne Carson is her ability to connect the classics with the modern and this collaborative interpretation of Antigonick, utilizing the artwork of poet and artist Bianca Stone (love this- check out Bianca’s video) seems to find new and inspired ways to do this. Someone get me this, okay?
18) Bill Knott’s Selected Poems
Whereas many selected books start with a note about the painful methodology and logic that went into the presentation and choices made in the book, The Selected Poems of Bill Knott (1960-2012) starts with a note to say that all the poems have been arranged “randomly” without thought to chronology or theme “although I may have failed to achieve that intention in all instances.”
Then, where other authors would include praise for their work by notable presses, authors and scholars, Bill Knott (as he often does) has 3 pages of blurbs like this:
“[Bill Knott's] poems are so naive that the question of their poetic quality hardly arises. . . . Mr. Knott practices a dead language.” —Denis Donoghue, New York Review of Books, May 7, 1970
[Bill Knott's poems are] typically mindless. . . . He produces only the prototaxis of idiocy. . . . Rumor has it that Knott’s habit of giving his birth and terminal dates together originated when he realized he could no longer face the horror of a poetry reading he was scheduled to give.” —Charles Molesworth, Poetry (Chicago) Magazine, May 1972
“[Bill Knott is] malignant . . .”—Christopher Ricks, The Massachusetts Review, Spring 1970
“[Bill Knott's work] consists almost entirely of pointless poems, that say disgusting things. . . . [His poetry is] tasteless . . . and brainless.” —Michael Heffernan, Midwest Quarterly, Summer
And here’s the first poem in Knott’s book – he begins with a goodbye-
GoodbyeIf you are still alive when you read this, close your eyes, I am under your lids, growing black.
19) Tarpaulin Sky Press
I love the genre-bendiness of Tarpaulin Sky Press. Their catalogue pushes lyric and narrative into bold and challenging places: Jenny Boully, Kim Gek Lin Short, Johannes Goransson, Sarah Goldstein, Ana Boziecevic & more! And their books are extra pretty and gift-like.
20) Winter Crush play list
A foolproof cocktail of songs to win over your crush.
Friends – Friend Crush
M83 – Midnight City
Fiona Apple – Hot Knife
The Lumineers – Ho Hey
Tegan And Sara – Wake Up Exhausted
Daughter – Landfill
Julian Casablancas – I’ll Try Anything Once – Live From Electric Lady Studios for WRXP, New York
Metric – Lost Kitten
Widowspeak – Harsh Realm
Lovers – How the Story Ends (Original Version)
21) Some Nights (FUN)
Some Nights is deceptively pop-sounding but it goes deep. That combination has made it my #1 go-to album this year in every circumstance. I have a very intimate relationship with the inner monologue of Some Nights-- this is my street-walking album. It’s the first time I can remember taking my earphones off and the same thing is playing in the grocery store, or a passing car on the street, or the petfood store or drugstore or a movie trailer– FUN is everywhere. And to go to a FUN show and see them perform this album live is to go to the church of FUN. You feel the presence of FUN and you know FUN, in all its power and glory, exists.
It’s been quite a year for us all in one way or another and we all deserve some FUN:And it’s all alright Yeah, it’s all alright I’ve got nothing left inside of my chest but it’s all alright.