It's raining here, and snowing there, and freezing somewhere else, maybe where you live.
On this Thankful Thursday, the weather has turned wintry and I'm snuggling up to the television. It's been years since I've watched traditional tv — sitcoms and cop dramas — and now even my cable favorites have devolved into immature skit humor (I'm talking to you, Jon Stewart).
While I read a great deal, the mind sometimes needs a break from the page, and so on this Thankful Thursday I'm grateful for smart, sharp writers who create quality viewing:
David Simon and Eric Overmyer, the writers behind The Wire and Treme, have changed my perception of what television can do. And they prove that good writing illuminates, informs and entertains.
The Wire is a crime drama series set in Baltimore, Maryland. The show centers around the city's inner-workings: the illegal drug trade, the seaport system, city government, the school system, and the print news media. Forget formulaic scripts and tired tropes; The Wire is an unusually deep and intense exploration of urban life.
Treme refers to a neighborhood in New Orleans, and this show begins three months after Hurricane Katrina as residents try to rebuild their lives, their homes, and their unique culture after one of the worst natural disasters in U.S. history. The cast is sharp, the characters complex, the music lively, and the stories unfold with skillfull nuance. With each episode I'm left a bit haunted, wondering, "Why weren't these stories told? How did we look away?"
Both shows originally aired on HBO and are now available on DVD and Amazon Prime.
Call the Midwife is a BBC drama series about a group of nurse midwives working in the East End slums of London in the 1950s. Based on the memoirs of Jennifer Worth, the show follows young midwives who live and work alongside medically-trained nuns. Each episode reveals the gritty post-war conditions of poverty, mixed with hope in new beginnings.
The series airs on PBS and is available on Netflix.
Stories We Tell, is a movie, not a television series. This personal documentary explores family stories while showing "the truth depends on who's telling it." Writer and director Sarah Polley has been called both filmmaker and detective as she interviews family and friends to get to the truth of her mother and herself. The film is poignant and provides fresh insight into story writing and telling.
"When you're in the middle of a story, it isn't a story at all but rather a confusion," says the filmmaker's father, "a dark roaring, a blindness, a wreckage of shattered glass and splintered wood, like a house in a whirlwind or else a boat crushed by the icebergs or swept over the rapids, and all aboard are powerless to stop it. It's only afterwards that it becomes anything like a story at all, when you're telling it to yourself or someone else."
Stories We Tell is available on DVD and Netflix. (See also Sarah Polley's previous film, Away from Her, a tender film about a couple navigating Alzheimer's.)
What are you watching? And what are you thankful for today?
I wonder if now when we think of “sweat and tears” in poetry what we mean by that is diligent crafting.
But there is another form of this – the experience that went into the poem in the first place, the sweat and tears of everyday living. And the sweat and tears of that which you need not search for, life experience, which seems to find you, wreck and ruin you, and then expect you to get up in the morning.
And so many people are simply at the mercy of the way the world makes them feel, they don’t need deaths or love affairs to feel a little wrecked.
— Katie Peterson
from an interview at How a Poem Happens
Forget the scorn and scolding. These are the new rules: You have permission to write in books. Pick up an old book and make it new.
I love altered books — the idea of expansion, of taking one form and enlarging the canvas.
• One of my favorite works is from Karen Hatzigeorgiou, an artist creating contemporary art in the form of altered books and collage. Her work, The Art of Happiness, was created from a 1935 book of the same title. The result is a journal of striking color, collage and poetry.
“The Art of Happiness is sometimes a book of sadness, disillusionment, and discontent,” she explains. “Still, it's important to note that it is also a book with an underlying current of optimism. And in that way, it has become much more of an altered book journal than I ever intended.”
• Mary Ruefle creates spare and elegant erasure books that feel beautifully distilled.
"I use white-out, buff-out, blue-out, paper, ink pencil, gouache, carbon, and marker," she says. "I have resisted formal poetry my whole life, but at last found a form I can’t resist. It is like writing with my eyes instead of my hands."
• Valerie Savarie is an artist reinterpreting old books with skill and precision. She uses tattered tomes as canvas and turns each into a three-dimensional piece by cutting, sewing and painting. The result is a striking layered collage that leaves most of the book intact.
“I am adding another chapter in the lineage of storytelling," says Savarie. In the past, "stories were communicated verbally and passed on from person to person, with each storyteller adding their own twist. This is my way of passing on that tradition — creating a visual from the written and then allowing the viewer to create their own story from the images and words that they see."
Do you write in books? What altered books have caught your eye, stirred your mind?