Three Leonard Cohen Animations

Leonard Cohen, High Priest Of Pathos…

     Lord Byron of Rock and Roll…

          Gentleman Zen

                Master Of Misery…Morbidity… Erotic Despair…

                    Prince of Pessimism…Pain…

                         Troubadour For Troubled Souls…

The gravel-voiced singer-songwriter accumulated hundreds of nicknames over a career spanning more than half a century. He wasn’t thrilled by some of them, remarking to the BBC, “You get tired, over the years, hearing that you’re the champion of gloom.”

Taken all together, however, they make for a decent composite portrait of a prolific artist whose sensuality, mordant wit, and obsession with love, loss, and redemption never wavered.




He took some hiatuses, including a 5-year stint as a monk in California’s Mount Baldy monastery, but never retired.

His final studio album, You Want It Darker, was released mere weeks before his death.

Journalist Rob Sheffield articulated the Cohen mystique in a Rolling Stone eulogy:

This man was both the crack in everything and the light that gets in. Nobody wrote such magnificently bleak ballads for brooding alone in the dark, staring at a window or wall – “Joan of Arc,” “Chelsea Hotel,” “Tower of Song,” “Famous Blue Raincoat,” “Closing Time.” He was music’s top Jewish Canadian ladies’ man before Drake was born, running for the money and the flesh. Like Bowie and Prince, he tapped into his own realm of spiritual and sexual gnosis, and like them, he went out at the peak of his musical powers. No songwriter ever adapted to old age with more cunning or gusto. 

Cohen also excelled at interviews, leaving behind a wealth of generous, freewheeling recordings, at least three of which have become fodder for animators.

The animation at the top of the page is drawn from Cohen’s 1966 interview with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s Adrienne Clarkson, shortly after the release of his experimental novel, Beautiful Losers. (His debut album was still a year and a half away.)

Earlier in the interview, Cohen mentions the “happy revolution” he encountered in Toronto after an extended period on the Greek island of Hydra:

I was walking on Yorkville Street and it was jammed with beautiful, beautiful people last night. I thought maybe it could spread to the [other] streets and maybe even … where’s the money district? Bay Street?… I thought maybe they could take that over soon, too.

How to tap into the source of all this happiness?

The future Zen monk Cohen was pretty convinced it could be located by sitting quietly, though he doesn’t condemn those using drugs or alcohol as an assist, explaining that his fellow Canadian, abstract expressionist Harold Town, “gets beautiful under alcohol. I get stupid and generally throw up.”

8 years later, WBAI’s Kathleen Kendel came armed with a poem for Cohen to read on air, and also plumbed him as to the origins of “Sisters of Mercy,” one of his best known songs, and the only one that didn’t require him to “sweat over every word.” (Possibly the consolation prize for his dashed hopes of erotic adventure with the song’s protagonists.)

(The animation here is by Patrick Smith for PBS’ Blank on Blank series.)

Animator Joe Donaldson riffs on an excerpt from Cohen’s final major interview, with The New Yorker’s editor-in-chief, David Remnick, above.

Remnick recalled that his subject, who died a few days later, was “in an ebullient mood for a man… who knew exactly where he was going, and he was headed there in a hurry. And at the same time, he was incredibly gracious.”

The 82-year-old Cohen spoke enthusiastically if somewhat pessimistically about having a lot of new material to get through, “to put (his) house in order,” but also admitted, “sometimes I just need to lie down.”

Related Content:

Hear Leonard Cohen’s Final Interview: Recorded by David Remnick of The New Yorker

Ladies and Gentlemen… Mr. Leonard Cohen: The Poet-Musician Featured in a 1965 Documentary

Leonard Cohen Plays a Spellbinding Set at the 1970 Isle of Wight Festival

Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

RIP Radical Poet and Revolutionary Publisher Lawrence Ferlinghetti (1919-2021)

“Democracy is not a spectator sport,” Lawrence Ferlinghetti proclaimed on the wall of his City Lights bookstore, a San Francisco fixture since the poet, activist, and publisher founded the landmark with Peter D. Martin in 1953. Ferlinghetti, who died on Monday at age 101, was himself a fixture, a venerated steward of the counterculture. (See him read “Last Prayer,” above, in a clip from The Last Waltz). On his 100th birthday–on which the city instituted an annual “Lawrence Ferlinghetti Day”–Chloe Veltman interviewed him, describing the poet as “frail and nearly blind… but his mind is still on fire.” It was the same mind that started a publishing house in the 50s with the intent to stir an “international dissident ferment.”

Ferlinghetti and Martin started their bookstore with a mission: “to break literature out of its stuffy, academic cage,” Veltman writes, out of “its self-centered focus on what he calls ‘the me me me,’ and make it accessible to all.” City Lights was the first all-paperback bookstore, opened at a time, he says, when “paperbacks weren’t considered real books.”




For Ferlinghetti, literature and democracy were not separate pursuits. The idea was radical, and so were his patrons. “A bookstore is a natural place for poets to hang out,” Ferlinghetti told NPR’s Tom Vitale, “and they started showing up there”–“They” being East Coast Beats like Ginsberg, Kerouac, and the great, unsung Bob Kaufman.

Like a Northern California Shakespeare and Company, Ferlinghetti’s City Lights became the physical embodiment of a literary movement, especially after the infamous publication of Allen Ginsburg’s Howl and Other Poems, for which Ferlinghetti stood trial for obscenity, an event that “propelled the Beat generation into the international spotlight,” writes Evan Karp. “For the first and–arguably–only time, literature became a popular movement in the U.S.” Young people around the country realized that poetry was relevant to their politics (and lives), and vice versa.

Ferlinghetti published his own first book of poetry, Pictures of the Gone World, in the same year he published Ginsberg’s, but he has not received his critical due alongside the other Beats, despite the fact that his second book, 1958’s A Coney Island of the Mind, “sold more than 1 million copies over the year, ranking perhaps second to Howl as the most popular book of modern American poetry,” Fred Kaplan notes at Slate. (See him read the book’s first poem, “In Goya’s Greatest Scenes We Seem to See…,” from his City Lights office, above.)

Ferlinghetti himself never wanted to be identified with the movement. In a 2013 documentary, he emphatically says, “don’t call me a Beat. I was never a Beat poet.” He described his poetry as an “insurgent art”:

If you would be a poet, create works capable of answering the challenge of

apocalyptic times, even if this meaning sounds apocalyptic.

You are Whitman, you are Poe, you are Mark Twain, you are Emily Dickinson and Edna St. Vincent Millay, you are Neruda and Mayakovsky and Pasolini, you are an American or a non-American, you can conquer the conquerors with words….

His purpose, he writes, was to pierce a culture he calls “a freeway fifty lanes wide / a concrete continent / spaced with bland billboards / illustrating imbecile illusions of happiness.” From his Navy service in WWII–in which he saw the aftermath of Nagasaki weeks after the dropping of the atomic bombs–to the last days of the Trump administration, he kept his keen eye on America’s abuses. His “poetry is notoriously critical of politicians and the status quo,” Karp writes, and he was “unafraid to name names and take stances publicly” as a writer and a lifelong activist.

“Gerald Nicosia, the critic,” Vitale points out, “says Ferlinghetti’s two greatest accomplishments were fighting censorship, and inaugurating a small press revolution.” What did Ferlinghetti himself think of his place in the culture? “In Plato’s republic, poets were considered subversive, a danger to the republic,” he told The New York Times in 1998. “I kind of relish that role.” As for what might finally shake the country out of the anti-democratic spirit that has held its people hostage to corporations and a hostile government, he was not sanguine: “It would take a whole new generation not devoted to the glorification of the capitalist system,” he said. “A generation not trapped in the me, me, me.”

Related Content:

Lawrence Ferlinghetti Turns 100: Hear the Great San Francisco Poet Read “Trump’s Trojan Horse,” “Pity the Nation” & Many Other Poems

Allen Ginsberg’s Howl Manuscripts Now Digitized & Put Online, Revealing the Beat Poet’s Creative Process

2,000+ Cassettes from the Allen Ginsberg Audio Collection Now Streaming Online

Allen Ginsberg’s Howl Manuscripts Now Digitized & Put Online, Revealing the Beat Poet’s Creative Process

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Watch Amanda Gorman Read “The Hill We Climb,” “Making Mountains As We Run,” “Fury and Faith,” and More

Led by celebrity host Tom Hanks, the Biden inauguration’s entertainers, A-listers all, were safe bets, reliable stadium-fillers with instant mass appeal. They “did exactly what we needed them to do,” remarked Stephanie Zacharek at TIME, offering the reassurance that “we no longer need to live in dread.” They were “singers you actually know,” Alexis Petridis wrote at The Guardian. The comment was a dig at the previous administration’s C and D-list lineup, and also, perhaps, an admission that what Americans most crave is the familiar, which, of course, means, first and foremost, a national focus on celebrities we all know and love.

For a moment, however, this repetition of comforting household names was punctuated by an entirely new young face and voice—that of a poet, no less, a standard bearer of the form that has held the nation’s rapt attention in the work of Whitman, Frost, Hughes, and Angelou.




Amanda Gorman, chosen as the first National Youth Poet Laureate in 2017, channeled a tradition of American lyric writing about America in her inauguration poem, and she brought to it her own experiences as a Gen Z black feminist and activist who overcame a speech impediment to address the country at one of the most significant televised public events in recent history.

Gorman’s resume is a testament to her generation’s commitment to art and activism in the face of compounding crises, and to her personal commitment to change in a country that promises little for young black artists in particular. Named youth poet laureate of Los Angeles in 2014 at age 16, she published her first book of poetry, The One for Whom Food is Not Enough, the following year. She then went on to found a nonprofit writing and leadership program, open the literary season for the Library of Congress in 2017, and graduate cum laude from Harvard College with a degree in sociology in 2020.

While charting her own literary path, Gorman learned to use her voice as “a political choice,” as she says in her TED-Ed student talk above, in which she confidently asks a small audience of her peers, “whose shoulders do you stand on?” and “what do you stand for?” These are the questions she asks students in workshops, she says, to shake them out of the idea that poetry is for “dead white men who were just born to be old.” Then she shares her own answers. Gorman’s public appearances tend to focus on process as much as on politics and prosody. In a talk on “Presentation and Reading” at the Academy of Arts & Sciences in Cambridge below, she reads a poem, then has a brief discussion of “how it came to be.”

Gorman is as skilled a storyteller as she is a poet and educator. In her 2017 Moth GrandSLAM appearance in Boston, further up, she tells the story of trying to catch her big break auditioning for Broadway, an aspiration shaped by her childhood love of The Lion King. Her inaugural poem, she tells PBS, was written to “be accessible to anyone who might be watching, that they can feel that they are represented and well-established in this poem,” an act of writing she calls “a really difficult dance to do.” The effort did not blunt the poem’s most incisive lines, however, including its reference to “the belly of the beast,” in which “we’ve learned that quiet isn’t always peace.”

For Gorman, speaking out is a personal imperative she honed as “a form of a pathology,” overcoming her speech issues “by embarking on spoken word over and over and over again and reciting my poems. No matter how terrified I was, because I had the support of others, I was able to kind of slowly climb my way to the place I am at today.”

For millions of young people who watched the inauguration, it will be Gorman’s story of perseverance, community, personal growth, and refusal to be passive and silent in the face of social injustice that will most resonate, perhaps for the rest of their lives, amidst celebrations of a longed-for return to the familiar. See Gorman read more of her poetry above and below, including a poem for another inauguration, that of Harvard President Lawrence S. Bacow, in 2018.

Related Content: 

Joy Harjo, Newly-Appointed U.S. Poet Laureate, Reads Her Poems, “Remember,” “A Poem to Get Rid of Fear,” “An American Sunrise” and More

Listen to Robert Frost Read ‘The Gift Outright,’ the Poem He Recited from Memory at JFK’s Inauguration

Animated Poetry by US Poet Laureate

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

A Look Inside William S. Burroughs’ Bunker

When everybody had one or two vodkas and smoked a few joints, it was always the time for the blowgun. —John Giorno

From 1974 to 1982, writer William S. Burroughs lived in a former locker room of a 19th-century former-YMCA on New York City’s Lower East Side.

When he moved on, his stuff, including his worn out shoes, his gun mags, the typewriter on which he wrote Cities of the Red Night, and half of The Place of Dead Roads, a well-worn copy of The Medical Implications of Karate Blows, and a lamp made from a working Civil war-era rifle, remained.

His friend, neighbor, tourmate, and occasional lover, poet John Giorno preserved “The Bunker” largely as Burroughs had left it, and seems to delight in rehashing old times during a 2017 tour for the Louisiana Channel, above.




It’s hard to believe that Burroughs found Giorno to be “pathologically silent” in the early days of their acquaintance:

He just wouldn’t say anything. You could be there with him the whole evening, he wouldn’t say a word. It was not the shyness of youth, it was much more than that, it was a very deep lack of ability to communicate. Then he had cancer and after the operation that was completely reversed and now he is at times a compulsive talker, when he gets going there is no stopping him.

According to Burroughs’ companion, editor and literary executor, James Grauerholz, during this period in Burroughs’ life, “John was the person who contributed most to William’s care and upkeep and friendship and loved him.”

Giorno also prepared Burroughs’ favorite dishbacon wrapped chickenand joined him for target practice with the blowgun and a BB gun whose projectiles were forceful enough to penetrate a phonebook.

Proximity meant Giorno was well acquainted with the schedules that governed Burroughs’ life, from waking and writing, to his daily dose of methadone and first vodka-and-Coke of the day.

He was present for many dinner parties with famous friends including Andy WarholLou ReedFrank ZappaAllen GinsbergDebbie HarryKeith HaringJean-Michel Basquiat, and Patti Smith, who recalled visiting the Bunker in her National Book Award-winning memoir, Just Kids:

It was the street of winos and they would often have five cylindrical trash cans to keep warm, to cook, or light their cigarettes. You could look down the Bowery and see these fires glowing right to William’s door… he camped in the Bunker with his typewriter, his shotgun and his overcoat.

All Giorno had to do was walk upstairs to enjoy Burroughs’ company, but all other visitors were subjected to stringent security measures, as described by Victor Bockris in With William Burroughs: A Report from the Bunker:

To get into the Bunker one had to pass through three locked gates and a gray bulletproof metal door. To get through the gates you had to telephone from a nearby phone booth, at which point someone would come down and laboriously unlock, then relock three gates before leading you up the single flight of gray stone stairs to the ominous front door of William S. Burroughs’ headquarters.

Although Burroughs lived simply, he did make some modifications to his $250/month rental. He repainted the battleship gray floor white to counteract the lack of natural light. It’s pretty impregnable.

He also installed an Orgone Accumulator, the invention of psychoanalyst William Reich, who believed that spending time in the cabinet would improve the sitter’s mental, physical, and creative wellbeing by exposing them to a mysterious universal life force he dubbed orgone energy.

(“How could you get up in the morning with a hangover and go sit in one of these things?” Giorno chuckles. “The hangover is enough!”)

Included in the tour are excerpts of Giorno’s 1997 poem “The Death of William Burroughs.” Take it with a bit of salt, or an openness to the idea of astral body travel.

As per biographer Barry Miles, Burroughs died in the Lawrence Memorial Hospital ICU in Kansas, a day after suffering a heart attack. His only visitors were James Grauerholz, his assistant Tom Peschio, and Dean Ripa, a friend who’d been expected for dinner the night he fell ill.

Poetic license aside, the poem provides extra insight into the men’s friendship, and Burroughs’ time in the Bunker:

The Death of William Burroughs

by John Giorno

William died on August 2, 1997, Saturday at 6:01 in the
afternoon from complications from a massive heart attack
he’d had the day before. He was 83 years old. I was with
William Burroughs when he died, and it was one of the best
times I ever had with him.  

Doing Tibetan Nyingma Buddhist meditation practices, I
absorbed William’s consciousness into my heart. It seemed as
a bright white light, blinding but muted, empty. I was the
vehicle, his consciousness passing through me. A gentle
shooting star came in my heart and up the central channel,
and out the top of my head to a pure field of great clarity
and bliss. It was very powerful—William Burroughs resting
in great equanimity, and the vast empty expanse of
primordial wisdom mind.

I was staying in William’s house, doing my meditation
practices for him, trying to maintain good conditions and
dissolve any obstacles that might be arising for him at that
very moment in the bardo. I was confident that William had
a high degree of realization, but he was not a completely
enlightened being. Lazy, alcoholic, junkie William. I didn’t
allow doubt to arise in my mind, even for an instant,
because it would allow doubt to arise in William’s mind.

Now, I had to do it for him.

What went into William Burroughs’ coffin with his dead body:

About ten in the morning on Tuesday, August 6, 1997,
James Grauerholz and 
Ira Silverberg came to William’s
house to pick out the clothes for the funeral director to put
on William’s corpse. His clothes were in a closet in my
room. And we picked the things to go into William’s coffin
and grave, accompanying him on his journey in the
underworld.

His most favorite gun, a 38 special snub-nose, fully loaded
with five shots. He called it, “The Snubby.” The gun was my
idea. “This is very important!” William always said you can
never be too well armed in any situation. Of his more than
80 world-class guns, it was his favorite. He often wore it on
his belt during the day, and slept with it, fully loaded, on
his right side, under the bed sheet, every night for fifteen
years.

Grey fedora. He always wore a hat when he went out. We
wanted his consciousness to feel perfectly at ease, dead.

His favorite cane, a sword cane made of hickory with a
light rosewood finish.

Sport jacket, black with a dark green tint. We rummaged
through the closet and it was the best of his shabby clothes,
and smelling sweet of him.

Blue jeans, the least worn ones were the only ones clean.

Red bandana. He always kept one in his back pocket.

Jockey underwear and socks.  

Black shoes. The ones he wore when he performed. I
thought the old brown ones, that he wore all the time,
because they were comfortable. James Grauerholz insisted,
“There’s an old CIA slang that says getting a new
assignment is getting new shoes.”

White shirt. We had bought it in a men’s shop in Beverly
Hills in 1981 on The Red Night Tour. It was his best shirt,
all the others were a bit ragged, and even though it had
become tight, he’d lost a lot of weight, and we thought it
would fit.  James said,” Don’t they slit it down the back
anyway.”

Necktie, blue, hand painted by William.

Moroccan vest, green velvet with gold brocade trim, given
him by 
Brion Gysin, twenty-five years before.

In his lapel button hole, the rosette of the French
government’s Commandeur des Arts et Lettres, and the
rosette of the American Academy of Arts and Letters,
honors which William very much appreciated.

A gold coin in his pants pocket. A gold 19th Century Indian
head five dollar piece, symbolizing all wealth. William
would have enough money to buy his way in the
underworld.

His eyeglasses in his outside breast pocket.

A ball point pen, the kind he always used. “He was a
writer!”, and sometimes wrote long hand.

A joint of really good grass.

Heroin. Before the funeral service, Grant Hart slipped a
small white paper packet into William’s pocket. “Nobody’s
going to bust him.” said Grant. William, bejeweled with all
his adornments, was traveling in the underworld.

I kissed him. An early LP album of us together, 1975, was
called 
Biting Off The Tongue Of A Corpse. I kissed him on
the lips, but I didn’t do it .  .  . and I should have.

Related Content: 

Call Me Burroughs: Hear William S. Burroughs Read from Naked Lunch & The Soft Machine in His First Spoken Word Album (1965)

How William S. Burroughs Influenced Rock and Roll, from the 1960s to Today

William S. Burroughs’ Class on Writing Sources (1976) 

Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. She most recently appeared as a French Canadian bear who travels to New York City in search of food and meaning in Greg Kotis’ short film, L’Ourse.  Follow her @AyunHalliday

Dial-a-Poem: The Groundbreaking Phone Service That Let People Hear Poems Read by Patti Smith, William S. Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg & More (1968)

Thanks for allowing me to be a poet. A noble effort, doomed, but the only choice. —John Giorno, Thanx for Nothing

Dialing a poem today, I’m connected to Joe Brainard, who died of AIDS-related pneumonia in 1994, reading an excerpt of “I Remember.” He stumbles over some words. It’s exciting. There’s a feeling of immediacy. When the reading ends in an old-fashioned dial tone, I immediately think of a half-dozen friends I’d like to call (assuming they respond to something that’s not a tag or text).

“Take down this number,” I’d say. “641-793-8122. Don’t ask questions. Just call it. You’ll love it.”

And they probably would, though they wouldn’t hear the same recording I did.

As Dial-A-Poem‘s founder, the late John Giorno, remarked in a 2012 interview:

 A person asked me the other day: “What happens if I listen to a poem and I want to tell a friend to listen to it?” I told him: “Well, she can’t.” [laughs] That’s the point. What happens is, when things are really successful, you create desire that is unfulfillable. That’s what makes something work.

Giorno established Dial-A-Poem in 1968, placing ten landlines connected to reel-to-reel answering machines in a room in New York City’s Architectural League:

I sort of stumbled on [the concept] by chance… I was talking to someone on the telephone one morning, and it was so boring. I probably had a hangover and was probably crashing, and I got irritable and said to myself at that moment, “Why can’t this be a poem?” That’s how the idea came to me. And we got a quarter of a page in The New York Times with the telephone number you could dial. 

In its first four-and-a-half months of operation, Dial-A-Poem logged 1,112,237 incoming calls, including some from listeners overseas. (The original phone number was 212-628-0400.) The hours of heaviest traffic suggested that a lot of bored office workers were sneaking a little poetry into their 9-to-5 day.

Dial-A-Poem reconceived of the telephone as a new media device:

Before Dial-A-Poem, the telephone was used one-to-one. Dial-A-Poem’s success gave rise to a Dial-A-Something industry: from Dial-A-Joke, Dial-A-Horoscope, Dial-A-Stock Quotation, Dial Sports, to the 900 number paying for a call, to phone sex, and ever more extraordinary technology. Dial-A-Poem, by chance, ushered in a new era in telecommunications.

Featured poets included such heavy hitters as William S. BurroughsPatti SmithAllen Ginsberg, Ted Berrigan, Robert CreeleySylvia PlathCharles Bukowski, and Frank O’Hara (who “only liked you if you wrote like him”).

The content was risqué, political, a direct response to the Vietnam War, the political climate, and social conservatism. No one bothered with rhymes, and inspiration was not necessarily the goal.

Unlike Andy WarholJasper Johns, and other career-minded artists who he hung out with (and bedded), Giorno never made a secret of his homosexuality. Sexually explicit and queer content had a home at Dial-a-Poem.

Meanwhile, Dial-a-Poem was featured in Junior Scholastic Magazine, and dialing in became a homework assignment for many New York City Public School students.

Two twelve-year-old boys nearly scuppered the project when one of their mothers caught them giggling over the Jim Carroll poem, above, and raised a ruckus with the Board of Ed, who in turn put pressure on the telephone company to discontinue service. The New York State Council on the Arts’ lawyers intervened, a win for horny middle schoolers… and poetry!

For anyone interested, an album called You’re A Hook: The 15 Year Anniversary Of Dial-A-Poem (1968-1983) was released in 1983. Vinyl copies are still floating around.

If you dial 641.793.8122, you can still access recordings from an archive of poetry, notes SFMoMA.

via Messy Nessy

Related Content: 

Stream Classic Poetry Readings from Harvard’s Rich Audio Archive: From W.H. Auden to Dylan Thomas

Library of Congress Launches New Online Poetry Archive, Featuring 75 Years of Classic Poetry Readings

Cartoonist Lynda Barry Reveals the Best Way to Memorize Poetry

Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. She most recently appeared as a French Canadian bear who travels to New York City in search of food and meaning in Greg Kotis’ short film, L’Ourse.  Follow her @AyunHalliday

Langston Hughes’ Homemade Christmas Cards From 1950

Who doesn’t treasure a handmade present?

As the years go by, we may begin to offload the ill-fitting sweaters, the never lit sand cast candles, and the Styrofoam ball snowmen. But a present made of words takes up very little space, and it has the Ghost of Christmas Past’s power to instantly evoke the sender as they once were.

Seventy years ago, poet Langston Hughes, too skint to go Christmas shopping, sent everyone on his gift list simple, homemade holiday postcards. Typed on white cardstock, each signed card was embellished with red and green pencils and mailed for the price of a 3¢ stamp.

As biographer Arnold Rampersad notes:

The last weeks of 1950 found him nevertheless in a melancholy mood, his spirits sinking lower again as he again became a target of red-baiting.

The year started auspiciously with The New York Times praising his libretto for The Barrier, an opera based on his play, Mulatto: A Tragedy of the Deep South. But the opera was a commercial flop, and positive reviews for his book Simple Speaks His Mind failed to translate into the hoped-for sales.




Although he had recently purchased an East Harlem brownstone with an older couple who doted on him as they would a son, providing him with a sunny, top floor workspace, 1950 was far from his favorite year.

His typewritten holiday couplets took things out on a jaunty note, while paying light lip service to his plight.

Maybe we can aspire to the same…

Hughes’ handmade holiday cards reside in the Langston Hughes Papers in Yale’s Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, along with holiday cards specific to the African-American experience received from friends and associates.

via the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University

Related Content: 

Langston Hughes Reads Langston Hughes

A Simple, Down-to-Earth Christmas Card from the Great Depression (1933)

Hear Neil Gaiman Read A Christmas Carol Just as Dickens Read It

How Joni Mitchell’s Song of Heartbreak, “River,” Became a Christmas Classic

Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. Her latest alter ego, L’Ourse, wishes you a very merry Xmas and peace and health in the New Year  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

An Introduction to Rap Battles: Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast #71

Pretty Much Pop hosts Mark Linsenmayer, Erica Spyres, and Brian Hirt are rejoined by our audio editor and resident rapper Tyler Hislop (rap name: “Sacrifice”) to discuss a form of entertainment close to his heart: Two people staring each other in the face in front of a crowd and taking lengthy turns insulting each other in a loud voice using intricate rhymes, references, jokes and even some cultural commentary and philosophical spit-balling.

So what are the rules? How does modern battle rap compare to free-styling, the beefs aired on rap albums, and classic insult comedy? What’s the appeal of this art form? Is it because of or despite the aggression involved? Battle rap is regarded as a free speech zone, where anything’s fair game, but does that really make sense?

A few relevant films came up in the discussion:

  • Bodied (2017), a film written by Alex Larsen (aka Kid Twist) and produced by Eminem, featuring several current battle rappers doing their thing along with discussion by the characters of the ethical issues involved
  • 8 Mile (2002), a semi-autobiographical film starring Eminem, which displays the older, free-styling over a beat type of battle rapping
  • Roxanne Roxanne (2017) a biopic about Roxanne Shante depicting hip-hop rivalries of the 1980s.

Here are some matches Tyler recommended that also get mentioned:

More resources:

Hear Tyler talk about his many rap albums on Nakedly Examined Music #24.

Hear more of this podcast at prettymuchpop.com. This episode includes bonus discussion you can access by supporting the podcast at patreon.com/prettymuchpop. This podcast is part of the Partially Examined Life podcast network.

Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast is the first podcast curated by Open Culture. Browse all Pretty Much Pop posts.

Watch How to Be at Home, a Beautiful Short Animation on the Realities of Social Isolation in 2020

I think, as social primates, we want to feel a strong sense of belonging either in a relationship or to a community—or both. But also intrinsic to our humanity is a feeling that we are truly alone.

—Filmmaker Andrea Dorfman, 2010

When they first became friends, poet Tanya Davis and filmmaker Andrea Dorfman talked a lot about the pleasures and hardships of being alone. Davis had just gone through a break up, and Dorfman was just embarking on a relationship after four years of flying solo.

These conversations led to a collaboration, 2010’s How to Be At Alone (see below), a whimsical videopoem that combines live action and animation to consider some of solitude’s sweeter aspects, like sitting on a bench as signal to the universe that one is available for impromptu conversation with a stranger.




That bench reappears in their 2020 follow up, How to Be At Home, above. Now it is cordoned off with black and yellow caution tape, a familiar public health measure in 2020.

As with the earlier project, a large part of Davis’ purpose was to reflect and reassure, both herself, and by extension, others.

Although she has become a poster child for the joys of solitude, she also relishes human contact, and found herself missing it terribly while sheltering alone in the early days of the pandemic. Writing the new poem gave her “an anchor” and a place to put her anxiety.

Dorfman notes that the project, which was commissioned by the National Film Board of Canada as part of a short film collection about Canadians navigating life during the pandemic, was “essentially catalyzed by COVID.”

As she embarked on the project, she wondered if the pandemic would be over by the time it was complete. As she told the CBC’s Tom Power:

There was this feeling that this could go away in a month, so this better be finished soon, so it’s still relevant. So as an artist, as a filmmaker, I thought, “I have to crank this out” but there’s no fast and easy way to do animation. It just takes so long and as I got into it and realized that this was going to be a marathon, not a sprint, the images just kept coming to me and I really just made it up as I went along. I’d go into my studio every day not knowing what lay ahead and I’d think, “Okay, so, what do we have up next? What’s the next line? And I’d spend maybe a week on a line of the poem, animating it. 

It appears to have been an effective approach.

Dorfman’s painted images ripple across the fast turning pages of an old book. The titles change from time to time, and the choices seem deliberate—The Lone Star Ranger, Le Secret du Manoir Hanté, a chapter in The Broken Halo—“Rosemary for Remembrance.”

“It’s almost as though the way the poem is written there are many chapters in the book. (Davis) moves from one subject to another so completely,” Dorfman told the University of King’s College student paper, The Signal.

In the new work, the absence of other people proves a much heavier burden than it does in How To Be Alone.

Davis flirts with many of the first poem’s settings, places where a lone individual might have gone to put themselves in proximity to other humans as recently as February 2020:

Public transportation

The gym

A dance club

A description from 2010:

The lunch counter, where you will be surrounded by chow-downers, employees who only have an hour and their spouses work across town, and they, like you, will be alone.

Resist the urge to hang out with your cell phone.

In 2020, she struggles to recreate that experience at home, her phone serving as her most vital link to the outside world, as she scrolls past images of a Black Lives Matter protests and a masked essential worker:

I miss lunch counters so much I’ve been eating [pickles and] toasted sandwiches while hanging unabashedly with my phone.

See How to Be at Home and the 29 other films that comprise The Curve, the National Film Board of Canada series about life in the era of COVID-19 here.

How to be at Home

By Tanya Davis

If you are, at first, really fucking anxious, just wait. It’ll get worse, and then you’ll get the hang of it. Maybe. 

Start with the reasonable feelings – discomfort, lack of focus, the sadness of alone

you can try to do yoga

you can shut off the radio when it gets to you

you can message your family or your friends or your colleagues, you’re not supposed to leave your home anyway, so it’s safe for you

There’s also the gym

you can’t go there but you could pretend to

you could bendy by yourself in your bedroom

And there’s public transportation

probably best to avoid it

but there’s prayer and meditation, yes always

employ it

if you have pains in your chest ‘cause your anxiety won’t rest

take a moment, take a breath

Start simple

things you can handle based on your interests

your issues and your triggers

and your inner logistics 

I miss lunch counters so much I’ve been eating [pickles and] toasted sandwiches while hanging unabashedly with my phone

When you are tired, again of still being alone

make yourself a dinner

but don’t invite anybody over

put something green in it, or maybe orange

chips are fine sometimes but they won’t keep you charged 

feed your heart

if people are your nourishment, I get you

feel the feelings that undo you while you have to keep apart

Watch a movie, in the dark

and pretend someone is with you 

watch all of the credits

because you have time, and not much else to do

or watch all of the credits to remember 

how many people come together

just to tell a story

just to make a picture move

And then, set yourself up dancing

like it’s a club where everyone knows you

and they’re all gonna hold you

all night long

they’re gonna dance around you and with you and on their own

it’s your favourite song 

with the hardest bass and the cathartic drums

your heart pumps along/hard, you belong

you put your hands up to feel it

With the come down comes the weeping

those downcast eyes and feelings

the truth is you can’t go dancing, not right now

not at any club or party in any town

The heartbreak of this astounds you

it joins old aches way down in you

you can visit them, but please don’t stay there

Go outside if you’re able, breathe the air

there are trees for hugging

don’t be embarrassed

it’s your friend, it’s your mother, it’s your new crush

lay your cheek against the bark, it’s a living thing to touch

Sadly, leave all benches empty

appreciate the kindness in the distance of strangers

as you pine for company and wave at your neighbours

savour the depths of your conversations

the layers uncovered

in this strange space and time

Society is afraid of change

and no one wants to die

not now, from a tiny virus

not later from the world on fire

But death is a truth we all hate to know

we all get to live, and then we all have to go

In the meantime, we’re surrounded, we’re alone

each a thread woven in the fabric, unravelling in moments though

each a solo entity spinning on its axis, forgetting that the galaxy includes us all

Herein our fall

from grace from each other from god whatever, doesn’t matter

the disaster is that we believe we’re separate 

we’re not

As evidenced by viruses taking down societies

as proven by the loneliness inherent in no gatherings

as palpable as the vacancy in the space of one person hugging

If this disruption undoes you

if the absence of people unravels you

if touch was the tether that held you together

and now that it’s severed you’re fragile too 

lean into loneliness and know you’re not alone in it 

lean into loneliness like it is holding you

like it is a generous representative of a glaring truth

oh, we are connected

we forget this, yet we always knew.

How to Be at Home will be added to the Animation section of our collection, 1,150 Free Movies Online: Great Classics, Indies, Noir, Westerns, etc..

Related Content: 

Watch 66 Oscar-Nominated-and-Award-Winning Animated Shorts Online, Courtesy of the National Film Board of Canada

Watch “Ryan,” Winner of an Oscar and 60 Other Awards

2020: An Isolation Odyssey–A Short Film Reenacts the Finale of Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, with a COVID-19 Twist

 

Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

More in this category... »
Quantcast
Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.