Posted by: tuulenhaiven | February 15, 2015

Poem Strip

Including An Explanation of The Afterlife

by Dino Buzzati (1969) – trans. Marina Harss (NYRB – 2009)

Here’s one of those random discoveries I mentioned in my last post. I don’t know why I noticed it, or why I was skimming through the B’s in the fiction stacks at the library in the first place. This “pathbreaking graphic novel from the 1960s” by an Italian author, in it’s pretty NYRB packaging, was definitely coming home with me though.

It’s such a weird book, folks. I like how the reviewer at The A.V. Club put it back in 2009 when the book was finally released in English – “Comics have been described as movies on paper, and this one reads like a rock ’n’ roll-sexploitation-fantasy-occult midnight cult favorite.” Truth.

It is Buzzati’s impression of the Orpheus and Eurudice story, set in a skewy version of 1960s Milan. A singer watches his girlfriend disappear into the mysterious house across the street, then learns the next day that she has died. Unconvinced, he ventures into the house where he last saw her, and begins a bizarre journey, guided by a demon who is…well, an empty jacket…and helped and hindered by a slew of mostly naked women.

Parts of the story are very disturbing (sexuality is one thing, sexual torture is another entirely) and the objectification of women throughout bothered me. Balancing that though was my delight in Buzzati’s images. I like his line work, and the lyrical combination of text and trippy visuals fascinated me.

Some of it is quite beautiful, and the part where the dead gather to hear Orfi sing about the life they’ve left behind is haunting. As I’m flipping through the book again I feel compelled to reread it, despite the fact that my initial perusal left me with a puzzled face and a shrugging “Well, that’s something, anyway” reaction.

The piece is connected to so many other things, influenced by myth, and the music, art, and films of the time. It is a rich thing, if a strange one. This review from PopMatters does a decent job of delving into the book and it’s maze. Anyone with an interest in the history and development of comics and the graphic novel form should find something in Buzzati’s Poem Strip to intrigue.

I’m interested in reading Buzzati’s most famous book, The Tartar Steppe, and want to find his book for children as well – The Bears’ Famous Invasion of Sicily – the English version of which has an intro by Lemony Snicket. Curiouser and curiouser!

Posted by: tuulenhaiven | February 14, 2015

One Love

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Picture me at 6, a rather tiny girl with two long braids wearing a Mother-made flower-print dress (ah la Little House on the Prairie) carrying a stack of books that tucks precariously under my chin, trotting down the library steps.

Now picture me at 28, still pretty tiny with a DIY Star Trek-inspired haircut (only partially by accident…) carrying an even larger stack of books (longer arms, hurray!) that tucks pretty expertly under my chin, trotting down the library steps.

Some loves are forever, folks!

I’ve been reading a lot so far in 2015, despite being amazingly busy – or perhaps because of being busy. Instead of sinking my teeth into a 1,000 page tome as I often do midwinter, I’ve been sticking to short books. Adventures that last an evening or a couple of days at most are more my speed this year. There have been a lot of new people and passions popping up in my life lately, and my reading reflects that. I’m confident that some of these people and adventures will be more than brief encounters, both on the streets and on the page.

For instance, I started reading Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman series at last, and tumbled into Brian K. Vaughan’s and Fiona Staples’ SagaSaga is by far the best comic I’ve read in ages, which is saying a lot since I mentioned The Sandman in the same breath. The two can’t be compared, I just happened to read them at the same time and I am entranced by Saga and…intrigued by The Sandman.

Saga is a space drama about a family struggling to survive in the midst of a galaxy-wide war. The parents are soldiers from opposing sides of the multi-generation-spanning battle, so their love is outlawed and their child is considered an abomination. They live on the run, making friends and unlikely allies along the way. Not super unusual, as story-lines go, but Brian K. Vaughan seems to be following no rules when it comes to world-building (SO MANY different alien species, crazy tech, magic, helpful ghosts, robot princes…)

Anytime the story runs the risk of flying out of control the narration of the child, Hazel, draws everything back in with such amazing, often amusing deftness, that I was left with my jaw hanging more often than not. Fiona Staples’ artwork is gorgeous, and it more-or-less floored me on every page. Her colors glow, her characters are beautiful (or beautifully grotesque) and the worlds she makes are lavishly, ridiculously detailed. The character development, the diversity, the sunburst of imaginative storytelling that is contained in this series…!

I have been pretty literally pushing this into my friends’ hands, and have begun the torturous journey of actually buying a comic issue by issue… Bah! It’s even worse than watching a weekly TV show! If you somehow haven’t read Saga yet and need more convincing, read this article by Hannah Means-Shannon, who manages to be much more coherent about what makes the comic great, and even important.

While I wait for more Saga to come out, at least I can read The Sandman. The insensible gush that I am reduced to spewing when I talk about Saga is exactly how I remember my friend Leila (who writes Bookshelves of Doom) talking about The Sandman years ago… I’m reading Vol. 5 now, and I’m enjoying it overall. I generally dig anthropomorphic personifications, and the central character of the series is Dream (one of my favorite pastimes, incidentally), so I would be hard pressed to dislike it. Something isn’t quite jiving yet for me though – the stories aren’t getting under my skin the way I expected them to. I like the gritty, urban fantasy setting, and I do love the perky, wise, female character Death, but I’m not gripped. Gaiman is a masterful storyteller, and the myth and mystery of the world of The Sandman is admirable. The artwork is intense and brooding, no matter who is drawing it. I’ll continue following Dream down his dark road, but only out of curiosity right now, not compulsion. We’ll see what the next dream holds.

I’ve actually read 22 comic books so far this year (out of 27 books in total, heh) which has been great fun. I checked out the new Ms. Marvel series by G. Willow Wilson and Adrian Alphona which is delightful on so many levels. It is a huge win for female comic writers and diversity in lit, as it features the first superhero who is a young Muslim gal. SO AWESOME! I like the artwork and I just want to coo over Kamala Khan, who has enough awkward spunk to make me love her, regardless of her many other fabulous qualities. This comic is so important and charming and I can’t wait for more. (Ana at ‘things mean a lot’ reviewed the first volume of Ms. Marvel as well as a whole handful of other female-written comics that I need to go read asap!)

Another terrific comic is Lumberjanes by Noelle Stevenson, Grace Ellis, and Brooke Allen. It is about five friends who have mad-capped adventures at a summer camp for the more scrappy sort of gal. They fight off yetis and three-eyed foxes, go over waterfalls in canoes, make it out of a booby-trapped cave, put up their dukes against a pair of squabbling gods, and take friendship to the max! This is another comic that has me up on a chair cheering. I heart it so hard. I am reading it issue by issue and I’m antsy for a new one!

I read lots of stand-alone comics as well, such as Julie Maroh’s pretty Skandalon (didn’t care for the story much,) and Hannah Berry’s devilish Britten and Brülightly (I’ll certainly read more of her work). I liked Rutu Modan’s Jamilti and other stories well enough, and enjoyed the second volume of Aya by Marguerite Abouet and Clément Oubrer. I was striving to read as many graphic novels/comics by female authors as I could, although all the Sandman and Saga among other things still kept my male/female author stats about even for the year so far.

I love the random discoveries that I make, totally independent of blog reviews or friends’ recommendations, or my never ending “threads” – the books that just tumble into my life while I’m poking through the library stacks for something else entirely. Gast by Carol Swain found me recently. It tells the tale of Helen, a young bird watcher and amateur naturalist who has recently moved to rural Wales. She reminds me so much of myself at that age, and I imagine I would have acted similarly to her – wandering solemnly across the countryside, solving mysteries, talking to animals – if I hadn’t had a hoard of sisters to keep me company. Helen learns about a “rare bird” that has recently died on the nearby farm, and she investigates slowly and thoroughly. She comes to a gradual understanding of her former neighbor Emrys, who kept sheep and liked to wear makeup, and ended his lonely, misunderstood life one afternoon while his dogs kept watch.

The story is told in black and white, nine panel pages, with minimal speech and no narration beyond the notes you can read over Helen’s shoulder. Carol Swain’s use of silence is wondrous. Helen watches, and thinks about things, and feels things, and you can think and feel along with her, feel the breeze wafting across the Welsh hills, and hear the gentle baaing of the sheep. Gast (which means “girl” in Welsh) caught me entirely off guard and proved once again why the graphic novel format is so unique and special. Highly recommended.

Above the Dreamless Dead: World War I in Poetry and Comics edited by Chris Duffy was another excellent random discovery. I hadn’t heard of the Trench Poets before, so this collection of their poems, adapted by some of the best cartoonist working today, was a good introduction and a pretty amazing concept. The poems are haunting, painful, full of the agony and horror and dark humor of war as penned by the likes of Siegfried Sassoon, Rupert Brooke, Isaac Rosenberg, and 10 others – many of whom died before their words were ever heard. The reproduction of the poems as visual things was carefully, respectfully, and brilliantly done by each artist. They’re brutal, beautiful renditions, a duet of writer and artist the illuminates and compliments both aspects. Each piece tears at my heart, but I found Luke Pearson’s adaptation of Channel Firing by Thomas Hardy, S. Harkham’s riff on War by Francis Edward Ledwidge, and Isabel Greenberg’s take on Therefore Is the Name of it Called Babel by Osbert Sitwell especially effective/affecting. James Lloyd’s vision of Repression of War Experience by Siegfried Sassoon was also incredible, bringing to life the reality of living with “shell shock”, so misunderstood at the time and still horribly relevant. Ugh, this book, you guys. It’s a hard one, but it’s so good.

And I’ll leave you with that for now. I have other books I want to spread love for, but I need to consume more than just black tea today and also walk my housemate’s dog and look at the snow and go listen to some music tonight, which means getting dressed… I hope you’re enjoying your winter reads as much as I have been. Let me know if you find anything super good!

Peace.

Posted by: tuulenhaiven | January 24, 2015

Finding Myself

Sunrise Light

I looked for myself
in the wide open spaces
between sunset colored sandstone.

I looked for myself
beneath a sage bush
where a rattlesnake had shed
last year’s skin.

Guarding the Arroyo

I looked for myself
in a summer dry arroyo
beneath a hard turquoise sky.

I looked for myself
in the shadows between boxes
in the back of a moving van.

I looked for myself
in the curl and the crash
of an ocean wave.

Sentinel 2

I looked for myself
in the flecks of mica
on a rosy granite cliff.

I looked for myself
in the sifted sunlight spilling
through tree boughs and pine needles.

I looked for myself
in the heart of a man.

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I looked for myself
in the road spun to black silk
on the wheels of my car.

I looked for myself
in the sand and the shells
shifted and sucked
by another sea.

I looked for myself
in high silent snowy peaks
and in low silent lava tubes.

Cascade Peaks, weird tower, lava flows, and other things seen at the top of McKinsey Pass - Sept. 4th 2013

I looked for myself
in the heart of a man.

I looked for myself
in the dragon’s roar
of a train in the night.

I looked for myself
in the graceful dance of iron
back and forth across three rivers.

Oct. 5th 2013

I looked for myself
in the heart of a man.

I looked for myself
in the maze of an old steel mill
where a wistful wind wandered.

I looked for myself
beneath a bridge
where a gallery of graffiti hid.

Bloomfield Bridge Graffiti - Nov. 23rd 2014

I looked for myself
in the middle of a crowd,
in the puff of breaths in cold air,
in feet marching toward a cause.

I looked, and I looked,
and I looked for myself until
myself grew tired of waiting
for myself.

And myself tapped myself
on the shoulder and said
“Quit trying to find me,
I’ve been here all along!”

Here’s an unwinding thread I’ve been following down back alleyways and across bridges throughout Pittsburgh lately:

A friend got me to read Pittsburgh author Ed Piskor‘s Hip Hop Family Tree comics. (I’ve talked about this before!) Piskor mentioned on FB that he’d dug the Mozelle Thompson album artwork show at the Most Wanted Fine Art gallery. Who is Mozelle Thompson? I wondered.

I found an article on Geek Pittsburgh about the show, and the man – one of the most prolific record album cover illustrators of all time and one of the very first African American artists to ever put brush to LP cover. Born in Pittsburgh’s Hill District, Thompson kept busy throughout the 1950s and up until his death in 1969. He was more-or-less forgotten in his home city until local DJ J. Malls stumbled across an album decked out in Thompson paints.

“…Pittsburgh really hasn’t historically celebrated many African American visual artists,” J. Malls (Jason Molyneaux) told Anthony Letizia (author of Geek Pittsburgh). He set out to help change that, collecting Thompson illustrated albums and patching together a biography of the artist. His efforts culminated in the show at Most Wanted Fine Arts in November, and I managed to slip in to see it on the last day.

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I loved the show! Thompson’s appreciation for fashion and costume design is apparent throughout his album work, and his lines are gorgeous. I want to see if I can track down some of his book illustrations – Pumpkinseeds, written by Steven A. Yezback, would be a lovely find.

When I spoke to curator Jason Molyneaux on the last day of the show he seemed pleased with the overall interest and attention he had stirred up. He seemed unsure of where to go from there, however. Further documentation and preservation is necessary, but that takes time and money, and the grant he’d drummed up had been exhausted.

I’m someone who knows about Mozelle Thompson now, though, thanks to Molyneaux, and I’ll do my little part to spread awareness – keep an eye out in the record and bookstores, and of course tell YOU!

Back to my threads:

Tumbling across Geek Pittsburgh was great, because Letizia writes about all kinds of interesting Pittsburgh-related wonderment. In his article about Mozelle Thompson, he mentioned two other under-celebrated local artists who were working in the mid-20th century – Matt Baker, one of the first African American male comic book artists, and Jackie Ormes, the first female African American comic strip artist.

Thank goodness Letizia wrote articles about both of these people, since the internet is terribly brief when it comes to info about them (here are his riffs on Ormes and Baker). I tracked down books about both (Matt Baker: The Art of Glamour edited by Jim Amash and Eric Nolen-Weathington, and Jackie Ormes: The First African American Woman Cartoonist by Nancy Goldstein) and have been enjoying getting to know them.

Matt Baker, who was famous during the golden age of comic books (1940s/’50s) for his gloriously well-drawn ladies, was a quiet, cheerful man who dressed fantastically and worked hard – and was respected across the board, despite being a black man in an industry composed almost entirely of white males.

I found it quite interesting, actually, that he often drew the panels for stories penned by Ruth Roche (whom I intend to research) – a female author, and a black male artist. Quite remarkable at that time…! I’ll be hunting for issues of The Phantom Lady, and Canteen Kate, but I’ll be very lucky if I can identify Baker’s work – although his style is distinctive, he rarely got to sign his work and other artists mimicked his pencils (partially for continuity sake, and partially because he was so good!)

As for Jackie Ormes, she was a tiny little lady who penned several different comic strips during the 1930s, ’40s, and ’50s for the big African American newspapers of the day – the Pittsburgh Courier and the Chicago Defender. Her strips were known for humorously documenting daily African American life, and commenting on the politics of the day with biting insight. Her very well dressed, attractive heroins spoke their minds and met with success, in direct contrast to the way African Americans were depicted in the cartoons of white newspapers.

Next time I spend an afternoon with the microfiche at the Carnegie Library, I’ll be scouring old Pittsburgh Couriers for Torchy Brown in “Dixie to Harlem” or Patty-Jo ’n’ Ginger strips!

Since I’ve had comics on the brain for the last few months, I decided to finally visit Pittsburgh’s ToonSeum yesterday, where I learned about the science behind superheros and got to check out some of the original Superman, X-Men, Justice League, and Avengers artwork. Pretty cool stuff. They should really do a show about Baker and Ormes though!

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After ToonSeum, I trekked across the Andy Warhol Bridge to visit the Andy Warhol Museum. I haven’t felt compelled to do so sooner, for some reason. I recognize why Warhol is important, “Hurray!” for Pittsburgh artists of course, and it’s cool that he gets a whole museum to himself…but until life transpired to get me into that museum for just $1, I couldn’t be bothered to go.

You’re not allowed to take pictures in the museum, no not even of your kid playing adorably with the floating silver balloons in the Pillow Room, so here’s something awesome that I found on the Andy Warhol Bridge:

Andy Warhol Bridge, Jan. 2nd 2015

It was pretty fun, in the end, to explore the 7 floors (he gets SEVEN!) of Warhol’s museum. I saw lots of weird things, and a few really interesting things too. My favorite things I saw weren’t made by Warhol though.

There’s an exhibit about his The 13 Most Wanted Men mural, created for the 1964 World’s Fair, on the 2nd floor of the museum. It’s an interesting piece due mostly to the fact that it was almost immediately censured – it was covered by Fair officials with silver paint only days after it was revealed. The exhibit features some of the smaller Most Wanted Men paintings that Warhol made later that summer, as well as lots of documentation from the surrounding scandal.

A local organization called 1hood, partnering with Westinghouse High School, used the exhibit as a catalyst for generating conversation about the representation of young black men in media (something 1hood is all about improving), and the visiting artists created two new “Wanted Men” murals. These were on display as part of the exhibit (there is a reception going on tonight – I wish the weather wasn’t so hideous today, or I would go!) These were powerful and important pieces. I’m pleased to discover 1hood – they seem to be getting up to the best sort of mischief.

The other thing I loved at the Warhol was a tiny retrospective of Chuck Connelly‘s work called My America. It tried to capture 40 years of his work in a few small rooms, and left me wishing he could get 7 floors of a museum. Another Pittsburgh artist, his work mesmerized me. I wanted to get swallowed by this one (St. George and the Dragon)…

…which in reality is huge and viciously bright, with paint that sticks off the canvas a good few inches. Then there was this one:

And this one:

(…which is terrifying…)

I don’t know much about this Pittsburgh-born artist, but I intend to find out (there’s a documentary about him, apparently – I’ll be investigating that tonight!)

Phew. That’s the thread, for now. But it’s still unwinding and like a kitten I will follow it around the corner and under the stove.

For now, since we’re on the topic of Pittsburgh artists (heh), here’s my scribble, drawn yesterday:

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Parson's Beach, Dec. 26th

I was in Maine for Christmas, and although I walked on the beach, played Dutch Blitz for hours with my sisters, spent lots of time eating all my favorite Mom-made foods, and even went on a quick trip-within-my-trip further up the coast to Acadia National Park…I managed to finish five books as well, and knocked out my goal of reading 75 books in total this year.

Quick book-gush, here, before I run the year-end numbers:

It was wonderful to revisit the tattered paperback copies of Patricia McKillip’s Harpist in the Wind series, read last when I was probably 11. Her world-building and use of language is close to unmatched, I think, and The Riddle-Master of Hed, Heir of Sea and Fire, and The Harpist in the Wind are the best things she’s written. I had mostly forgotten the details of the story of Morgan, prince of the tiny island country of Hed, born with three stars on his face and a destiny far greater than making the best beer in the realm.

And I had entirely forgotten Raederle, the second most beautiful woman in An, who fought beside Morgan and had to come to grips with her own powers. In fact the books are chock full of badass ladies (and they get at least one book more-or-less to themselves) which is always refreshing, and especially nice in these, considering that the books were published in the late ’70s.

I definitely need to add these to my personal collection (a large portion of which got shipped from my parent’s house back to mine in Pittsburgh – yay!) and I plan to reread more of McKillip’s books in the new year. You should too!

And now I gotta relish some stats, since it is that time of year, and I am a list-loving dork, and Goodreads keeps my list looking so pretty!

I finished my reading year with The Beats, a graphic non-fic book about those weird and wild guys (and gals!), written by Harvey Pekar among others (with lots of artwork by Pittsburgh’s Ed Piskor).

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I started the year with the 2nd installment in Moira Young’s Dust Lands series, and I finished the series later in the year. I read a lot of authors more than once – 75 books written by just 57 authors. Margarita Engle gets the prize for shelving 4 books in my mental library, although Ed Piskor authored 3 books I read and did artwork for a 4th so he gets the runner-up prize.

I finally read more books by female authors than male, which was a goal for the year – 41 books by the ladies, and 34 by the guys. Another goal – to read more diversely (meaning authors who are not white) – needs to be improved upon in 2015. Out of 75 books read, only 21 were written by authors of color.

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I read tons of fiction, as usual – only 12 books were non-fic. I read 21 books that were based on historical events though, and really not that much fantasy. I read 7 books of poetry/novels-in-verse and 3 plays. I read 18 graphic novels/comic books, and 9 books that were translated works.

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I had some big reading adventures this year. I finally tackled Roberto Bolaño’s 2666, via the one group read I took part in (thanks again Richard!) I explored Cuba‘s lands and history through Margarita Engle’s beautiful books, and became obsessed with the story of the Johnstown Flood and the West Virginia Mine War.

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I woke up to the fact that publishing in this country skews hard toward white (male) authors, and joined the movement to bring more diversity to books (thanks Aarti for nudging me!) My goal to read more books written by women of color led to the discovery of many wonderful new authors, and will be an adventure I continue in 2015 and beyond.

Finally, while I read many excellent graphic novels (with an emphasis on female authors there too) it was Ed Piskor’s work, and the start of a rollicking journey through hip hop culture, that I especially enjoyed.

My loose goals for the new reading year are: 100 books…?! more female authors of color! more graphic novels! Patrick Rothfuss! The Lord of the Rings! the rest of August Wilson’s plays!

I don’t know why it’s so exciting to look forward to a whole new year of reading, like it’s going to be any different than the last one (physically I mean – after all, the mechanics of reading are pretty consistent), but I always do get pumped. All those new books to discover and form a relationship with! The new worlds to see, and characters to encounter! The new ways of seeing that all this will grow within me! Pretty cool.

I’m not going to even bother waiting until midnight – there are fabulous books to bust into immediately. I’ll be back to chat about them next year. Cheers!

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Pics from the Maine trip, just ’cause (a very snow-less, rather sunny Maine this year…!):

Backside of the Beehive, ANP, Dec. 27th

Thunder Hole, ANP, Dec. 27th

Timber Island, Dec. 29th

Timber Island, Dec. 29th

Timber Point, Dec. 29th

The Bowl, ANP, Dec. 27th

Posted by: tuulenhaiven | December 23, 2014

Holiday Horr- I mean HAPPINESS!

Winter Light and Flower Show, Dec. 14th 2014

In the midst of the wild three weeks before my winter break and trip up to Maine, I managed to make it to Phipps Conservatory to soak up some of the magical Winter Light and Flower Show. I’ll get grinchy along with the best of them at times, but pretty lights (er… large, alien-looking ones…?) usually bring me cheer.

I did delight in the decor, but I kept catching myself mid-double-take. Like last year, there were poinsettias in all the wrong places, but that wasn’t the only thing that put me on my guard…

Winter Light and Flower Show, Dec. 14th 2014

A few too many Doctor Who Christmas specials may have led me to eye snowmen like the one above with some apprehension, but my friends and I left the conservatory alive so this one is probably harmless…

Winter Light and Flower Show, Dec. 14th 2014

I’m not sure if the alien lights themselves, or their reflection is more unsettling…

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Speaking of reflections, is that mine or did I get trapped inside this ornament?

Winter Light and Flower Show, Dec. 14th 2014

This is just a horror story waiting to happen. WHY IS THERE ONLY ONE ICE SKATE?!

I still love the Phipps, and it’s been a treat to visit the conservatory regularly for over a year now – the membership I bought during the last Winter Light and Flower Show has been money well spent.

I’ll be glad when the holiday glamour is gone though, and all I have to worry about is Romero, the Corpse Flower…!

Posted by: tuulenhaiven | December 7, 2014

There’s a time to break and a time to chill

I have been getting a crash course in hip hop culture lately, and it has been fantastic. A major initial draw to my AmeriCorps host site was the “Hip Hopera” that the high school puts on every year – a student produced, written, and performed show. That environment of creative learning sounded amazing and I wanted to be a part of it.

When I had my interview with the site supervisor, she asked me if I was into hip hop…and I had to admit that I wasn’t – not yet! My go-to answer when facing questions like that is, “I grew up listening to the 3 C’s – Celtic, Christian, and Classical – and I’ve been trying to recover ever since.”

Fortunately, my ignorance of hip hop culture didn’t prevent me from being placed there, and I’ve enjoyed several months of relentless inspiration, creation, and hard work. The raw talent buried in these kids is incredible. They will goof off for days, then suddenly drop a killer beat, startle me with a powerful spoken word piece, or draw a comic that blows my mind.

The kids are writing rap songs and learning to DJ, and their beats are almost impossible to keep still around. As I stood in the doorway of the recording studio a few weeks ago, covertly shuffling my feet (I walk down the hallway and kids are krumping, so I don’t dance in public!) I realized that I was being irresistibly drawn into the mysterious world of hip hop.

Conveniently, a friend had left the first two volumes of Ed Piskor‘s Hip Hop Family Tree at my house, so I was able to start educating myself in style. As I mentioned recently, I mostly read comic books/graphic novels these days, so Piskor’s books were perfect.

An ‘encyclopedic cultural chronicle‘, the series digs into the history of hip hop with gusto. I was soon surrounded by the world of the Bronx in the mid-70’s, meeting Kurtis Blow, Grandmaster Flash, Afrika Bambaataa, and the Sugerhill Gang. What a party! They were making new kinds of music while other folks were forming dance crews, and turning graffiti into an art form.

The first two volumes of Piskor’s history of hip hop take you as far as 1983, and the second volume covers only 3 years – so to claim that the books are packed with information is an understatement. They are dripping with detail, each panel (never-mind the whole page!) practically a story in itself.

The amount of research that went into the books is astronomical. Piskor (a Pittsburgh native, incidentally) charts the managers and recording labels that set the cornerstones for the industry, follows the making of the Wild Style movie, and brings you into the childhood bedroom of famous hip hop personalities.

Piskor’s ability to capture sound and movement in a silent 2-D format is mind boggling. The story is action-packed, and Piskor frames it with a cinematic eye, capturing the riot and romp of parties and epic rap battles between MC/DJ crews. The colors mimic classic comic books (I think I read somewhere that Piskor created a pallet straight from the pages of old comics) which make a powerful visual statement.

In short, I loved these books and can’t wait for the next volume (coming out next year! and currently serialized online at Boing Boing!).

Of course I couldn’t just read Hip Hop Family Tree – I had to listen to the music as well. Thank goodness for YouTube! I’ve been obsessed with old school hip hop for weeks now, letting it become the soundtrack for my life.

The culture is infiltrating my life in other ways too. I watched the excellent Wild Styleand have since been looking at the graffiti around Pittsburgh with new eyes – and drawing it. I am learning how to make beats, and wouldn’t be surprised if my secret dance parties led to an attempt to pick up some break-dancing moves…!

I knew when I started serving as an AmeriCorps KEYS member at a high school in Munhall, PA, that it would be a life-changing experience (after all, it would be part of the answer to, “Do I want to become a teacher?”). I didn’t realize that it would be the final kick against the door into the hip hop world, causing me to tumble through.

Now that this little white girl from coastal Maine is here, I’m not coming back. There’s way, way, too much to see and hear and do. I don’t mind lending my ears and hands to tracking down the perfect beat…!

Posted by: tuulenhaiven | November 23, 2014

Beneath the Bloomfield Bridge

The Pittsburgh weather was kind to us today and I took full advantage of the warmth and sun. I hiked up to Polish Hill for some breakfast at Lili’s Coffeehouse, then went to one of my favorite look-out points – Melwood Avenue where it slips quietly underneath the Bloomfield Bridge.

The bridge leaps over the deep Bloomfield Ravine (also called Skunk Hollow, lovely!) and although Melwood Ave. runs beneath one end, the view from this spot is high up and all of Bloomfield and Friendship/Garfield can be seen spread out below. I was shown this spot in March and have revisited it frequently, watching the city move through the seasons, and checking out the new tags on this part of the bridge:

Bloomfield Bridge, March 14th 2014

Today my eye was caught by graffiti on the left side of this, and I crossed the road to take a picture (of that dragon-face that looks like the dragon in Jeff Smith’s Bone.)

Bloomfield Bridge Graffiti - Nov. 23rd 2014

I was pulled on around the corner by more interesting graffiti, and found myself in a veritable gallery of urban artwork – layers and layers of the stuff!

The Revolt “room”:

Bloomfield Bridge Graffiti - Nov. 23rd 2014

(Above) Looking down (the backside of the “Polish Hill” wall)

Bloomfield Bridge Graffiti - Nov. 23rd 2014

A detail on the “Revolt” wall.

Bloomfield Bridge Graffiti - Nov. 23rd 2014

Looking up.

Bloomfield Bridge Graffiti - Nov. 23rd 2014

Floor to ceiling…

Bloomfield Bridge Graffiti - Nov. 23rd 2014

Going up deeper under the bridge, there was another “room”, this one featuring ramps for a whole other art form.

Bloomfield Bridge Graffiti - Nov. 23rd 2014

I gingerly trekked up and down these steep slopes, careful not to slip on glass or cement crumbs or flakes of graffiti.

Bloomfield Bridge Graffiti - Nov. 23rd 2014

The bridge hummed above me as traffic moved back and forth, and the inevitable hawk soared by, chased by a starling.

Bloomfield Bridge Graffiti - Nov. 23rd 2014

I reveled in my discovery, loving the secret art gallery – another element of a fantastic bridge. When I first moved here and started exploring the bridges, I found the Bloomfield Bridge to be boring. Walking over it was a long, tiring endeavor (with the slight upward slant to it), and it wasn’t visually exciting like so many other Pittsburgh bridges. Now though, it is my answer to the question (posed by people humoring my obsession) “Which is your favorite?”

Like so many things about Pittsburgh, this has come as a surprise to me – but it is one that I am happy to embrace with all my heart. (Just like the weather today!)

On Thursday I’ll have a lot to be thankful for, and the graffiti gallery beneath the Bloomfield Bridge will be on the list. Happy Thanksgiving folks!

Posted by: tuulenhaiven | November 17, 2014

World Travel During Breakfast

I work a lot now, folks. Or rather, I serve a lot. As an AmeriCorps member I am serving at a charter high school in Munhall, PA, and I am there from 7:15 in the morning until anywhere from 4:30 to 6:30 at night. It is wonderful! I am helping develop a documentary film-making club and a reading program, and I spend parts of my day recording music, or watching my kids dance and sing and educate their creative souls. They also goof off constantly, can’t stop talking, and are beastly, obstinate teenagers half the time. But the other half of the time makes up for that!

It’s hard for me to get through a book these days. I listen to audio books during my epic bus rides (an hour to two and a half some days…) and in this way managed to knock Cloud Atlas off my list. I read Maggie Stiefvater’s newest book – Blue Lily, Lily Blue – on a lucky free weekend day (loved it!). But it took me about 3 weeks to get through Nnedi Okorafor’s short story collection Kabu Kabu (which I didn’t particularly enjoy).

I made a wonderful discovery a few weeks ago, however, which has kept my reading life from being entirely depressing. While lusting over graphic novels that I couldn’t afford one Sunday afternoon at Copacetic Comics, I remembered that the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh has a huge graphic novel collection – and the main branch is open on Sundays! Amazing city, this. I promptly hopped onto a bus and went to satiate my hunger.

I read Craig Thompson’s (author of Blankets) first book – Good-Bye, Chunky Rice – while at the library that day, as well as the first volume of Aya, which was great. Writer/artist team Marguerite Abouet and Clément Oubrerie bring to life a lively heroine and a vibrant city in nineteen-year old Aya and the Yopougon of 1978 Ivory Coast days. She and her friends try to navigate young adulthood with humorous and heart-breaking success. The warm colors of the artwork are delicious, and the writing is decent. I’m eager to adventure further with Aya and her girlfriends.

I took home a huge pile of graphic novels that day, and I’ve been reading them in snatches over my own breakfast and while at school supervising the kids during their pre-class breakfast. I get through one every few days in this fashion, which helps me to maintain my readerly self-respect…!

David Prudhomme’s Rebetiko (trans. Nora Mahony) was another good one. It took me to 1936 Athens, where a rag tag group of Rebetiko musicians are being persecuted by the police. Dodging General Metaxas’ men at every turn, the men pursue their nightly parties full of hash, women, drink, and always the music that they truly live for. Prudhomme manages to convey through his artwork and words the sultry, mischievous, danger-edged feel of these nights, and the sound of Rebetiko – the blues of the Greeks.

Exit Wounds by Rutu Modan sent me spinning off to modern-day Tel Aviv, where a cab driver and a female soldier try to determine if Koby’s (the cab driver) father was one of the victims of a bombing in Hadera. Koby is reluctant at first, having been estranged from his father for years. As the pair unravel his father’s (possibly) last few months, Koby is forced to rediscover who his father is, and along the way examine who he himself has become. The story was interesting, but the artwork really won me over. It reminded me of Tintin a bit, with it’s clear lines and bright colors.

The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt by Caroline Preston (possibly the world’s first “scrapbook novel”?) brought me back to the US in the 1920s. Preston told her tale through vintage postcards, magazine ads, catalog pages, ticket stubs, letters, fabric swatches, candy wrappers, patterns, menus, and more – the tale of Frankie Pratt, who always wanted to be a writer. The book is fun because of it’s format – the story is a little humdrum, but it is a treat to look at.

Actually, I came back to the US and stayed there for a bit, although I didn’t realize it because it took me awhile to notice that Unterzakhn by Leela Corman was set in New York’s Lower East Side. (I thought it was Russia, maybe?) The black and white artwork for this story is striking, and I found the story of sisters Esther and Fanya to be compelling, but frustrating. Life for these children of immigrants in 1910 was hard, and Corman brings out the rough and tumble of it. The girls each make choices in the hope that they’ll lead to a better life, and I watched in dismay and wonder as their choices led them down tangled pathways to failure and success.

The last book I finished was Ivy by Sarah Oleksyk. I was enchanted by the pretty cover, but the insides of the book didn’t live up to it. I won’t spend too much energy talking about it, since it is getting late and I’ll never get used to getting up at 5:30 a.m…!

The Carnegie Library of Homestead is across the street from the school where I serve, and I’m excited to go there tomorrow, return this stack, and check out a whole new pile of graphic novels. Because we all know I’ll be reading Gregory Maguire’s Egg and Spoon for all of the foreseeable future… (They might have set Wicked to music, but I’ve always found his books to be dense and interminable…somehow I enjoy them despite that!)

Just as much as I’ll need my coffee and muffin, I’ll be needing my breakfast reading!

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Posted by: tuulenhaiven | October 26, 2014

There’s a Dalek Hiding at the Carrie Furnaces!

Living in a rust belt city has gradually trained my eyes to see the beauty in old industrial sites. Much of the history of Pittsburgh is tangled up in the steel industry, and it’s collapse in the 1970s and ’80s took most of the physical infrastructure with it. I spent part of last summer out in Braddock, working at a farm that lay in the shadow of the Edgar Thomson Steel Works, the first steel mill built by Andrew Carnegie (in 1872) and pretty much the last one still in operation in the region.

As I traveled in and out of Braddock I saw another “last of it’s kind” – an intriguing huddle of huge old blast furnaces, with a tower rising almost a hundred feet above the Monongahela River. I badly wanted to go exploring there, but it looked inaccessible – not to mention dangerous! My interest was stirred up again when these buildings featured prominently in the closing scenes of the movie Out of the Furnace.

Oct. 17th 2014

I would never have guessed that I would end up helping with the preservation and renovation of the Carrie Furnaces, but one recent October morning I found myself doing precisely that! After two weeks of sitting through trainings on mentoring and tutoring and CPR and conflict resolution, my fellow AmeriCorps KEYS members and I were rewarded with a service project at Carrie Furnaces.

It turns out that it is the focal point of a proposed National Park, and is currently part of the Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area. Furnaces #6 and #7 are all that is left of an extensive iron mill that was once part of the Homestead Works. Built in 1907, what looks like an alien tangle of rusted towers and pipes is actually a rare example of pre-WWII iron-making technology. And I got to scrape dirt up off one of it’s old floors!

Oct. 17th 2014

When I discovered that our service project was going to be at Carrie Furnace I pretty much jumped up and down. My fellow members thought I had lost my mind. But boy, were they sorry they hadn’t brought cameras when we showed up there! I had trouble focusing on our work, and kept swapping out my shovel and wheelbarrow for my camera. As if the structure itself wasn’t fascinating enough, there were guerrilla sculptures, beautiful graffiti, and things left over from sanctioned art installations.

The Carrie Deer - Oct. 17th 2014

Oct. 17th 2014

Oct. 17th 2014

The Carrie Deer has a long and interesting story, and the graffiti wall is a designated area, in the hopes that it will keep folks from tagging the historic structure. Music videos are often shot here, and I believe there has been a wedding or two set against this unique backdrop. There will be an epic Halloween party at Carrie Furnace next weekend…!

Oct. 17th 2014

I could have spent hours and hours exploring the place, picking the site historian’s brain, waiting for the light to hit various bits of the old blast furnaces in new ways…

Is this actually a giant Dalek? - Oct. 17th 2014

And once I noticed that this thing looked like a huge Dalak, it couldn’t be unseen.

I was reluctantly dragged away by my friends, who wanted to go eat pizza and drink beer after all of our hard work. I was mollified by tickets the historian had given us to an event at Carrie Furnaces the following Saturday. There would be an iron pour and a casting demonstration. Of course I went.

The Penn State Master Gardener Program had partnered with Rivers of Steel to survey the plants and the land in and around the Carrie Furnaces, in an effort to better understand what was going on in the disturbed soil. They wanted to develop an interpretive component to the research project, and someone came up with a brilliant plan to cast plaques in iron – very fitting given the site and it’s history. A team of artists and master gardeners, and some folks who actually seemed to know what they were doing, got together yesterday to pull off the feat in front of a large audience of curious locals.

It was so cool to watch! They had cobbled together a scaled down version of the furnace you see above (the Dalek!), which is a cupola style furnace. They then proceeded to melt down recycled grey iron (broken radiators and bathtubs!) at 3000 degrees.

Casting the Iron Garden 2014 - Oct. 25th

Casting the Iron Garden 2014 - Oct. 25th

They tapped the furnace repeatedly, then poured the molten iron into prepared resin bonded sand molds for the “Iron Garden” plaques, and other items that the participating artists had come up with.

Casting the Iron Garden 2014 - Oct. 25th

Casting the Iron Garden 2014 - Oct. 25th

There were some very exciting moments as the molten iron flowed and the workers dashed about, refilling the furnace, tapping it, pouring the glowing orange stuff into the molds. Music was playing, the audience cheered and exclaimed, and the whole thing was very punk rock in a way!

Casting the Iron Garden 2014 - Oct. 25th

Casting the Iron Garden 2014 - Oct. 25th

Casting the Iron Garden 2014 - Oct. 25th

Their little furnace was supposed to produce around 3 tons of iron that afternoon. Back in the day, Carrie 6 and 7 consumed 4 tons of raw material for every ton of iron produced, and any given day during it’s peak (1950s and ’60s) it was making 1000-1250 tons of iron. Crazy stuff!

Standing there watching the buzz of activity I couldn’t help feeling confusingly poignant. The blast furnace that loomed above me had been silent and still since 1978, it’s refractory brick-lined insides slowly crumbling away, it’s frame rusting. Back in the day…what was it like at the feet of Carrie 6 and 7?

I didn’t miss the noise and fumes and smoke I could readily conjure up, and was heartily glad that the land around the iron mill was slowly healing and the skies above were clear. Still, there was a wistfulness around the place that afternoon that mingled with the crowd and tempered the excitement. The people of Pittsburgh were once proud of the work that got done here. Back in the day…

Anyway.

Casting the Iron Garden 2014 - Oct. 25th

The giants of Carrie Furnace will go on sleeping, but at their feet, meanwhile – cross your fingers! – the region will continue to find innovative ways to move forward. I feel more a part of that than ever, now that I serve (as an AmeriCorps KEYS member) at a school across the river from there, in the borough of Homestead (where so much historical stuff went down).

Living in a rust belt city has trained my eyes, and my heart, to see all kinds of beautiful new things!

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