Monday, September 15, 2014

Monday Muse Reads 'Mortal Blessings'

It would be infinitely lonely to live
in a world without blessing.
 ~ John O'Donohue*

There exists a space between some mothers and their daughters. It may be filled with judgments and misunderstandings, with fear or disappointment or anger, with deliberate distance and unexpressed sorrow. It can be deep, seem an unbridgeable chasm.

It also can be, in the words of the late Irish poet John O'Donohue, "like the discovery of a fresh well", the source on which to draw "our power to bless one another" in "privileged intimacy".*

For Angela Alaimo O'Donnell, author of the recently released memoir Mortal Blessings: A Sacramental Farewell (Ave Maria Press, 2014), a sudden fall and its complications provide an unexpected pathway into that transformative space.

Early in Mortal Blessings, we learn that Marion Salvi Alaimo, the author's mother, age 82, has fallen and broken a hip. We also learn that that fall "prove[s] catastrophic"—not because of age alone but because of alcoholism and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and other factors that have left Mrs. Alaimo's body severely weakened. So relentless is disintegration of her body that Mrs. Alaimo dies 48 days after her fall.

Between the time of the fall and the time of death, O'Donnell recounts how, at the time unconsciously, she and her siblings uncover, close, and bless the space between their mother and each of them, individually and collectively. In what O'Donnell describes as "wandering through strange terrain", they find their way forward, through joy and suffering and loss and grief, by creating and observing "rituals, methods of dealing with overwhelming difficulty, which [are] rooted in sacramental practices" learned during their Catholic upbringing. 

Catholic, yes, of the church, but also not; all-embracing, available to any reader of any faith, even no institutional faith. Because while making use of wholly contemporary or the most ordinary of tools—a cellphone, a wheelchair, a portable DVD and movies, get-well cards, a pair of scissors, nail polish, and a mirror—the rituals practiced by O'Donnell and her sisters call forth, fundamentally, their abiding love. Love that does not require pastors or priests, rabbis or imams.

The rituals involving their mother are simple, sometimes communal, at other times not: writing in a journal while traveling, selecting clothes, naming family members in photographs, watching Dirty Dancing, phoning friends and family, eating pie, combing hair, pushing a wheelchair, holding hands, praying in the dark. In each activity is vested the knowledge that "[s]acrament is enacted" in everything we do when we do it for someone we love.

Indeed, what stands out so clearly in this book, is informed by O'Donnell's rich understanding of the meaning and use of ritual, is that we all have available to us "numberless and immeasurable" ways — Andre Dubus's "seven times seventy sacraments, to infinity"** — to give, affirm, and heal with love.

What is so refreshing and ultimately compelling about O'Donnell's story is how very human and personal yet universal it is. The truth of her narrative is that it is recognizable, she says, "to anyone who has cared for a sick or dying parent". And, most important, the "methods" the author and her sisters practice daily while caring for their mother require the presence of no one but themselves.

It is, after all, presence—in laugher and tears, in witness, in memory and remembrance, in forgiveness—that, O'Donnell intuits, "gives us the opportunity to become better people." Presence affirms, gives meaning to, and honors the unbreakable bond between parent and child, mother and daughter, not only in life but also long after death. It is, O'Donnell shows us, sacrament and blessing both.

John O'Donohue, To Bless the Space Between Us (Doubleday, 2008), xiii, xiv, xv.

** Andre Dubus, "Sacraments" in Meditations from a Moveable Chair (New York, Random House, 1998, paperback, 1999), 85.

Angela Alaimo O'Donnell is a poet, essayist, and Fordham University professor. Her poetry collections include Waking My Mother (WordTech Communications, 2013), Saint Sinatra and Other Poems (WordTech Communications, 2011), and Moving House (WordTech Communications, 2009). O'Donnell also is the author of The Province of Joy: Praying with Flannery O'Connor (Paraclete Press, 2012), among other books.

Mortal Blessings is available in print and as an e-book and may be purchased directly from Ave Maria Press or through other booksellers.

Read an excerpt from Mortal Blessings.

Below, O'Donnell talks in depth about some of the sacraments she and her sisters observed while caring for their mother:

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Thought for the Day

Absence is a house so vast
that inside you will pass through its walls
and hang pictures on the air.
~ Pablo Neruda

Quoted from Neruda's "Sonnet XCIV" in 100 Love Sonnets (Trans. Stephen Tapscott; University of Texas Press, 2014) This is a bi-lingual edition. Neruda published the collection in 1959.

Pablo Neruda, 1904-1973, Chilean Poet, Winner, Nobel Prize in Literature 1971

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Saturday Short

Use whatever you have to create peace!
If you have music, use your music to create peace.
For us, we have coffee. We are using coffee
to bring peace to the world.
~ Founder J.J. Keki

Below is the trailer for Kawomera — Plant, Pray, Partner for Peace, a documentary produced and directed by photographer-filmmaker Marla Mossman. The film is about a transformative interfaith community of coffee farmers in Mbale, Uganda, who created a cooperative to export their coffee and live in religious harmony. Today, the cooperative, founded by J. J. Keki, has more than 1,000 members. The farmers sell at fair trade prices directly to the artisan roaster Thanksgiving Coffee Company (read about the business model), which enables the members to achieve a higher standard of living. 

The film includes interviews with local rabbis, ministers, and imams; examines the community's various traditions; and explores how peace can be achieved through cultural acceptance, respect, and understanding. Its message of Peace Kawomera, or "Delicious Peace", is profoundly timely.

Kawomera won "Best Documentary Short 2014" at the NYLA International Film Festival. A screening is scheduled for September 16-21 at the Global Peace Film Festival, in Orlando, Florida. (My thanks to International Arts Movement for the introduction to Mossman's work, which also includes the documentary-in-progress Peace Caravan Journey Along the Silk Road. Watch the trailer and visit the Peace Caravan Website.)

KAWOMERA - Plant Pray Partner for Peace Trailer from Marla Mossman on Vimeo.

Smithsonian Folkways Recordings released in 2013 an album titled Delicious Peace: Coffee, Music & Interfaith Harmony in Uganda (recorded in 2012). All of the songs are written and performed by the cooperative's farmers. (Read Jeffrey A. Summit's article in Smithsonian Folkways Magazine about making the recording.)

Mirembe Kawomera Coffee (Website)

Friday, September 12, 2014

All Art Friday

All Art Friday

All Art Friday Spotlights

✦ Another great resource goes online! Folger Shakespeare Library, in Washington, D.C., last month made available online, free from restrictions, almost 80,000 images. Under a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike license, the images may be used for any purpose, provided FSL is credited as the source. Read the announcement about the Digital Image Collection and view a selection of the images for re-use. The Public Domain Review also has published a selection of images.

D.A.P./Distributed Art Publishers has issued the first major monograph, Emilie Brzezinski: The Lure of the Forest, about the career of the marvelous monumental wood sculptor Emilie Brzezinski. The 200-page book includes 180 color and 20 black and white images of Brzezinski's work created between 1974 and 2013. 

Monograph Cover

Brzezinski, who lives in McLean, Virginia, was the subject of a feature article in The Washington Post Magazine this past August: "Emilie Brzezinski Is Her Own Kind of Power Player: An Artist With a Chain Saw" by Frances Stead Sellers. The feature includes a brief video and a slide show. A solo exhibition of the same title as the monograph is scheduled to open at Kreeger Museum in Washington, D.C., on September 16, and will continue through December 27. (I plan to see it.)

CBS Sunday Morning Feature on Emilie Brzezinski (2002)

✦ A practitioner of Kundalini meditation, California painter Jamie Brunson has translated her contemplative states into quiet visual language in her series Lattices & Veils. Read his Artist Statement about the series to learn how he "conjoins" her studio and meditation practices.

✦ The unique vessels and wall discs of Irish ceramics artist Sinead Fagan are wheel-thrown and distinctive in color, which is achieved with a firing process known as saggar. Decorative-only, the beautiful pieces have won a number of awards and are found in both public and private collections. Fagan's work may be seen in galleries in Dublin, Cork, Galway, and Waterford.

Here's a brief look at some of her work at Mill Cove Gallery, which seeks to promote and highlight the excellence and diversity of Irish ceramics:

✦ Today's video, Coloring the Landscape (Chris Farina, Rosalia Films), features Nici Cumpston, who talks about her process of hand-coloring photographs. Winner of the Telstra National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Award and associate curator of Australian art at Art Gallery of South Australia, Cumpston was  in residence from January 17 to May 18, 2014, at the wonderful Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. See more of her beautiful works.

Nici Cumpston on FaceBook

Exhibitions Here and There

✭ Colorado's Aspen Art Museum continues through October  26 "Mainly Drawings", the first survey of the drawing practice of German-born painter Tomma Abts. Abts won the Turner Prize in 2006. The exhibition spotlights 41 abstract works from 1996 to the present (some are being shown for the first time) and new works created expressly for the show.

An exhibition of Abts's work runs through October 25 at David Zwirner in New York. The first at the gallery since 2008, the show features all new work. (Read press release.)

Aspen Art Museum on FaceBook and Twitter

✭ The first exhibition of its kind devoted to a gorgeous calligraphic script developed in 14th Century Iran, "Nasta'liq: The Genius of Persian Calligraphy" opens September 13 at the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Washington, D.C. The show, which will run through March 22, 2015, features more than 20 works from the years 1400 to 1600 that relate how the script transformed from a tool to convey the written word to an artistic form. The work of four master calligraphers — Mir Ali Tabrizi, Sultan Ali Mashhadi, Mir Ali Haravi, and Mir Imad Hasani — is spotlighted; also included are examples of calligraphic tools and accessories and a demonstration video of techniques. Tours of the exhibition are scheduled throughout the run. Read the press release for additional information. Browse a selection of images.

Freer | Sackler on FaceBookTwitter, and YouTube

✭ The 2D high-definition video projection The Ocean Within (2013) by German-Brazilian artist Janaina Tschape continues on view at St. Louis Museum of Art through October 19. It is, according to the exhibition notice, exemplary of the artist's "great interest in the ocean and her characteristic interpretation of it as mysterious, dreamlike, and fantastical." Take some time to visit Tschape's Website, where you'll find images of beautiful paintings, mono prints, cut-outs, and more.

SLAM on FaceBook, Twitter, and YouTube

Tschape's work is included in the current National Museum of Women in the Arts exhibition "Total Art: Contemporary Video", continuing through October 12. Visit the exhibition page with video clips and scroll to the end for Tschape's Lacrimacorpus (2004).

Janaina Tschape on FaceBook and Twitter

Montana Museum of Art & Culture, at the University of Montana in Missoula, is showing through September 27 a selection of lyrical recent work by award-winning painter Sandra Dal Poggetto, who uses abstraction and wood, wire, feathers, and other appropriate fragments from the natural world to explore philosophical and aesthetic conceptions of our landscape. A solo exhibition from Dal Poggetto's ongoing American Folk series, "Meditations on the Field", also includes the artist's selection of objects from the museum's permanent collection that she has re-contextualized to illustrate how humans relate to the natural world, both apart from and as part of the landscape.

Sandra Dal Poggetto, American Fork #4, ca. 2010-2011
Oil, Oil Pastel, Charcoal, Graphite, Buckskin on Canvas
83.5" x 79.25"

A roundtable discussion with the artist is scheduled for September 25. 

Listen to a radio program with Poggetto, who lives in Helena, at Reflections West.

Sandra Dal Poggetto on FaceBook

MMAC on FaceBook

✭ Continuing through September 28 at New York City's Museum of Biblical Art is "Back to Eden: Contemporary Artists Wander the Garden". Among the 19 artists exhibiting in the show are Barnaby Furnas, Jim Dine, Mark Dion, Naomi Reis, Lina Puerta, Mary Temple, Fred TomaselliAlexis Rockman, and Matt Collishaw. The artists explore metaphors, the ways humans have tried to re-create a "perfect garden", and questions of dominion over and stewardship of nature. A slideshow is available at the exhibition link above. Read Artnet's review (complemented by color images), "You'll Fall for 'Back to Eden' at the Museum of Biblical Art" (pdf).

MOBIA on FaceBook, Twitter, and Vimeo

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Artist Nicole Marie Mueller

Recently, "The Curator", a column that appears at Curator Magazine, featured artist Nicole Marie Mueller. Mueller is a painter, collagist, and experimental animation filmmaker, as well as the founder of Blue Lined Designs, Baltimore, Maryland, which comprises a team of artists who collaborate on mural paintings (the business is co-owned by Mueller and figurative painter and printmaker Lee Nowell, and includes illustrator Jacqueline McNally). (Be sure to look at those other artists' sites as well.)

I find Mueller's work playful and appealing. Her line is fluid but controlled, and her sense of color can be dramatic; and, as she indicates in her Artist Statement, she undertakes "experiments" with "incongruous marks and materials" and scale to explore ideas about change, movement, and complexity. The results are dynamic, as these paintings on paper demonstrate.

Below is one of Mueller's charming stop-motion animations, What the Dog Saw.

Nicole Marie Mueller Studio Blog

(My thanks to "The Curator" for introducing readers to Mueller and her work.)

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

'Black Ballerina' Documentary in Progress

The nonprofit indie Shirley Road Productions and producer-director Frances McElroy are filming a feature-length documentary, Black Ballerina, that seeks to examine the subjects of exclusion, equal opportunity, and change in the world of ballet and classical dance as experienced by three different generations of African-American women who pursued careers as ballerinas — Joan Myers Brown, Delores Browne (see this interview and profile), and Raven Wilkinson — and as related to the dance pursuits of three young black women in 2014. Joan Brown founded Philadelphia Dance Company (PHILADANCO). Delores Browne was a principal with New York Negro Ballet and Wilkinson performed with Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo.

Supporting the project are the National Endowment for the Arts, PA Partners in the Arts, and Capezio Foundation. Additional financing is being sought to complete filming and post-production work. (Information is available at the film link above.)

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Another Front Page Story (Poem)

Another Front Page Story

Is is so starless
where you are now      as in Gaza

sunbirds fall
and your name lifts like a veil

that expanse we call sky
how it narrows and clouds

your last words gone
unheard                       somewhere

in that desert
your heart stops

        your mother still

pleading            her lament refused
swallowed like so many

                           thick tongues tied

another front page
story of hearts breaks

in the morning
news, the hard line

shifting with the sand
we keep throwing

© 2014 Maureen E. Doallas

I wrote this following the murder of journalist Steven J. Sotloff.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Monday Muse: Poetry at the Folger

Now in its 46th season, the O.B. Hardison Poetry Series at Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington, D.C., offers a full slate of readings by contemporary poets. The season's overall theme is "Poetry as Illumination".

The 2014-2015 fall-spring program begins on Monday, September 15, when Poet Lore, a publication of The Writer's Center, celebrates its 125th anniversary as our oldest poetry magazine. Joining the celebration, titled "125 Years of Literary Discovery", are four stellar poets: Traci Brimhall (Our Lady of the Ruins2012, and Rookery, 2010), Cornelius Eady (Hardheaded Weather: New and Selected Poems, 2008), Terrance Hayes (Lighthead, 2010), and Linda Pastan (Traveling Light, 2012). The Poet Lore's editors Jody Bolz and E. Ethelbert Miller make the introductions, beginning at 7:30 p.m. in Folger Elizabethan Theatre.

The remainder of the season is as follows:

Monday, September 29, 7:30 p.m. ~ During "Here and Now" in the Folger Elizabethan Theatre, Stephen Dunn talks with moderator and poet Alan King. Dunn has published some 17 poetry collections, of which the most recent is Lines of Defense (2014). Dunn's 2000 collection Different Hours (2013) won a Pulitzer Prize and other honors.

Monday, October 20, 7:30 p.m. ~ A trio of poets is scheduled to appear for "Writing from the Edge: 40th Anniversary of Graywolf": Matthea Harvey, who earlier this year published her fifth collection If the Tabloids Are True What Are You? (2014); Claudia Rankine, author, most recently, of the forthcoming Citizen: An American Lyric (October 2014); and Vijay Seshadri, 2014 Pulitzer Prize winner for 3 Sections (2013, available  in hardcover and as an e-book). Seshadri's The Long Meadow (2004, paperback 2005) received the James Laughlin Award of the Academy of American Poets. Poet and critic Stephen Burt (Belmont, 2013) moderates. Note: This program will be held at Lutheran Church of the Reformation, 212 East Capitol Street, N.E., Washington, D.C.

Monday, November 17, 7:30 p.m. ~ The ninth Anthony Hecht Prize* winner Geoffrey Brock (Voices Bright Flags, forthcoming this fall) and 1998 O.B. Hardison Poetry Prize winner and 2009 MacArthur Fellow Heather McHugh (2009's Upgraded to Serious, 2004's Eyeshot, 1994's Hinge & Sign: Poems 1968-1993) make presentations. The evening, held in Folger Elizabethan Theatre and co-hosted by The Waywiser Press, which awards the Hecht Prize annually, includes editor-in-chief Philip Hoy.

* Submissions for the 10th Anthony Hecht Poetry Prize are due December 1.

Monday, December 8, 7:30 p.m. ~ Rafael Campo headlines the evening, which is co-sponsored by the Poetry Society of America and represents the Emily Dickinson Birthday Tribute in Folger Elizabethan Theatre. Among Campo's half-dozen poetry collections are Alternative Medicine (2013). During the day Dickinson's poetry will be read at the Library of Congress; after Campo's reading, black cake, made from Dickinson's own recipe, will be served at the reception.

Tuesday, February 3, 7:30 p.m. ~ Britain's Simon Armitage, whose collections include Stanza Stones (2014), and Peter Oswald, who most recently published The Reply to Light (2012) and is a playwright and actor, meet for conversation about "Drama and Verse" in Folger Elizabethan Theatre with Paul Smith, director, British Council USA

Thursday, February 19, 6:30 p.m. ~ Pulitzer Prize and National Book Critics Circle Award winner Rae Armantrout, author of a dozen poetry collections, including Just Saying (2013) and Versed (2010), appears at The Phillips Collection, which is co-sponsoring "Human Equations at The Phillips Collection with Rae Armantrout". Following Armantrout's reading and conversation with Guy Raz of NPR's TED Radio Hour, ticket-holders may view the museum's exhibition "Man Ray — Human Equations", on view from February 7 through May 10, 2015.

Monday, March 16, 7:30 p.m. ~ The evening is given over to a bilingual reading with Polish poet Adam Zagajewski and his translator Clare Cavanagh. A conversation follows with Edward Hirsch, author of Gabriel: A Poem (2014) and The Living Fire: New and Selected Poems (2011). "Mother Tongue: Poetry in Translation" takes place in Folger Elizabethan Theatre.

Tuesday, May 19, 7:30 p.m. ~ Appearing for the Folger Poetry Board Reading is former U.S. Poet Laureate (1993-1995) and Pulitzer Prize winner (1987) Rita Dove. Dove's most recently published collections are Sonata Mulattica (2010) and American Smooth (2006). The evening is moderated by Guy Raz.

Unless otherwise noted, the poetry readings are ticketed; some discounts, as for students, are offered. Normally $15.00 per reading, a subscription to all nine is available for $90. The events include receptions and book signings.

Anther noteworthy event is on the fall schedule:

✦ "Poets Respond", beginning at 6:00 p.m., on Friday, November 21 (Free) ~ Local D.C.-area poets Joshua Weiner and Hayes Davis read poetry, including original work, that responds to William Shakespeare's Julius Caesar.

Folger Shakespeare Library on FaceBook

The Academy of American Poets on FaceBook

The Library of Congress on FaceBook

The Phillips Collection on FaceBook

Poet Lore on FaceBook

Poetry Society of America on FaceBook

The Waywiser Press on FaceBook

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Thought for the Day

. . . What they never tell you about grief
is that missing someone is the simple part.
~ Gail Caldwell

Quoted from Gail Caldwell, Let's Take the Long Way Home: A Memoir of Friendship (Random House, 2010 (This memoir is about Caldwell's friendship with the late writer Caroline Knapp.)

Caldwell also is the author of the memoirs New Life, No Instructions (Random House, 2014) and A Strong West Wind (Random House, 2007). She was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for her criticism in 2001 for her work for The Boston Globe.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Saturday Short

Today's short is "Edgar Allan Poe in the Bronx: His Life and Times at Poe Cottage", produced by BronxNet, The Bronx Tourism Council, and The Bronx County Historical Society. The latter has administered Poe Cottage since 1975.

The circa 1812 home, which is now a museum, was preserved in 1902.