28 February 2012

Of Gods and Men

Outstanding review by Jeffrey Overstreet of the film "Of Gods and Men" in Comment Magazine. Just had to share it. (WARNING: Spoilers!)
Of Gods and Men

I saw the movie in 2010 when it first came out in the theaters, and it is well worth getting your hands on. Netflix has it, and here is the page for it on GoWatchIt, a great new site that lets you find where films are available, whether in theaters, online, or on DVD or Blu-Ray.



27 February 2012

Ekphrasis Takes Over the World!

This past weekend, one of the most memorable of my life, I spent in New York City at the International Arts Movement Regional Catalysts' Summit. It was held in the small, sunlit, inspiring Space 38/39, hung with Makoto Fujimura's golden paintings on silk. I will be posting most about this conference. For now, I want to think about the relationship of my group, Ekphrasis, with IAM and all the ways I was inspired to help Ekphrasis grow and have a larger impact on the community.

So, a large part of the weekend consisted of short presentations by nearly everyone there about what his or her regional group is doing. Ekphrasis was among the smallest; some people presented on mammoth arts centers they have developed that own buildings, galleries, apartments, studios, and performance spaces. Some just meet in a cafe to chat. All had marvelous ideas about integrating faith and the arts and/or about having a greater artistic impact on our cities.

My motto from this weekend is going to be:

Here are some of my thoughts what about Ekphrasis, or its members, might be able to do in coming years:

1. Make each member a leader of something!
2. Find a fiscal agent (perhaps our church or IAM) so that people can make charitable donations.
3. Purchase ads in the programs of the PA Shakespeare Festival, A-town Symphony, A-town Civic Theatre, Zoellner Arts Center, and other venues.
4. Share goals and accountability deadlines for finishing or revising projects.
5. Run a Working Artists' Initiative.
6. Go Christmas carolling (either on our own, or with a local church).
7. Host film nights. I have a list of suggested films.
8. Host artist dinners at each other's homes. Invite new people (artist from the community).
9. Apply for Lehigh Valley Arts Council grants.
10. Write a press release and send it to local newspapers.
11. Start a readers' guild for discussing books, articles, and other materials on faith-and-the-arts.
12. Start or join a Mars Hill Audio discussion group.
13. Host Culture & Faith cocktail parties.
14. Monetize the iambicadmonit blog so that we can pay writers to create content.
15. Develop a little video promoting/explaining our group.
16. Open a tiny concert/exhibit venue, such as a one-car garage, where musicians can perform and artists can display their works!
17. Compile a series of discussion-generating images to use for conversations among ourselves and with others.
18. Do art therapy or writing workshops at the A-town Rescue Mission, Turning Point, and/or the jail.
19. Go on an arts field trip to Philly.
20. Go on an arts field trip to NYC.
21. Have an art auction.
22. Display members' work at the White Stone Gallery.
23. Develop partnerships with all the arts organizations in the area.
24. Rent a gallery space, hang our own works, and curate other art exhibits.
25. Find a business investor to sponsor events, spaces, etc.
26. Start a charter Classical & Arts high school!



20 February 2012

Art in Brokenness

This past Thursday, I participated in an open mic session at the Allentown Public Library. I'm thrilled that the Library is creating great new artistic events; this is promising for the growing artistic life of that beleaguered city. It was well attended for such an event: there were maybe 20 people there? The offerings were from various media: poetry, prose, saxophone solos, a story-telling on the spot, choral and solo numbers from a musical, and one bi-lingual song.

Here is what amazed me about the event. Many of the people who attended were obviously troubled, broken people. They wore their painful pasts on their faces, on their bodies, in their clothes. Some shared about their troubles when they got to the microphone. I was a bit worried, wondering if people with such difficult stories would have had the advantages to learn what it takes to turn their sufferings into art.

That shows what a snob I am.

Because I was totally wrong. As soon as they began singing, reciting their poems, or playing their instruments, these struggling people were transformed into something beautiful. The most hurting person there, to judge from appearances, had the most powerful poetry and the most beautiful voice.

The group of upper-middle-class church-going musical-singers were lousy.

Those who were self-described as ex-cons and ex-druggies were amazing. One talked about how when his life was at its worst, "All I had was a pen and paper." Another time he said, "All I had was God." And the two worked together in his mind, his life, and his art. He was amazing.

Serves my elitism right.



18 February 2012

Ekphrasis Report #15: Pop vs. High Lit

OK, I'm not going to report on Ekphrasis. That's boring for anyone who wasn't there, and unnecessary for anyone who was.

Instead, I'm going to write a post inspired by some of the conversations and ideas sparked at the meeting, and ask for your feedback on my concept.

So, three different members of Ekphrasis are engaged in writing fantasies with quasi-Medieval settings. This prompted all kinds of chat about historical accuracy, anachronisms, diction, etc. And it led me to ask that age-old question:


That question has been asked time & time again. It has been answered in many ways. Let me add my two-or-so cents' worth here with just two speculative measures of "literary" vs. purely "popular" fiction, especially fantasy fiction.


So, I love the Twilight books. If you ask me to, I'll write a post or a series of posts justifying why I -- an English professor and writer of would-be literature myself, as well as a fairly conservative Christian -- can love Twilight. I'll be happy to do so. But Stephanie Meyers' delightful, valuable, compelling books will not be "classics," and are not "literature." They'll never be The Lord of the Rings. Why not?

Because they lack complexity. They have only one plot line. There are no sub-plots. There is no narrative frame. There is only one perspective at any given moment (although another perspective breaks in, successfully, I believe, for one third of the final book). The author did no research "except for when Bella herself does research." The sentences, while correct, are simple and unvaried.

OK, now compare that to The Lord of the Rings, which is only about 10% of the actual world Tolkien developed. He wrote at least four languages for it (in varying degrees of completeness and complexity: Sindarin, Quenya, Dwarfish, and the Black Speech). He developed the history for many millennia and several cultures. He drew the maps. All of this backstory contributes to the richness of LOTR, even when it is not directly referenced. It has the depth and complexity of a series of events happening in a real place with history, geography, and cultures all around and behind it even if they don't come into the story.

Compare the narrative simplicity of a work of pop fiction to the embedded narrative frames of, say, Wuthering Heights. In that novel, the entire story is narrated by the forgettable Lockwood (I always have to look up his name). In turn, the entire story is told to him by Nellie Dean, the housekeeper at Wuthering Heights. The story, then, happens at three removes, so that speeches made directly by characters -- say, by Catherine -- are reported by Nellie (not at all an objective reporter, by the way) to Lockwood, who then reports them (with his own embellishments and interpretations) to the reader.

Compare the characteralogical simplicity of a work of pop fiction to the elaborate psychological portraits of, say, George Eliot or Mary Shelley or George Orwell or Nathaniel Hawthorne or even Charles Dickens. Think of how a skillful master manipulates setting, weather, color, temperature, facial expression, and dialogue to reveal inner life in exquisite detail -- while a pop writer basically just says it straight out. She was furious. He was burning with desire. Etc.

Compare the simple sentences of a work of pop fiction to the labyrinthine syntax of Charles Williams, James Joyce, Henry James, William Faulkner. Try diagramming some of those guys! Whew. And then think of the mental effect of such complexity: sure, it takes more work. But the very work is part of the experience. Again, it's more like real life. Real life comes in tangles, not in smooth packages of adjective-subject-verb-adverb-direct object units.

which leads me to...


The other, equally important, distinction between the merely popular and the classic is on the level of vocabulary, or, more precisely, of diction. I'm not just talking here about the difference between "big words" and "little words," nor between "slang" and "formal" language.

I'm talking about shifts of register that reflect the variety of characters, cultures, historical eras, nationalities, and emotions in a work of literature.

The author of a novel that is going to pass the test of time, and not just the test of book sales for a few years or decades, needs to be able to code-switch through a huge range of tones, simple by means of diction.

She's got to master the sounds of words, to be able to employ those of Anglo-Saxon origin vs. those of Latinate origin. She's got to have characters who speak an elevated, formal, courtly or academic style. She's got to have characters who speak various dialects, real or imagined, and various types of slang. She's got to use a variety of idioms. She's got to be able to vary the rhythm and pace of the narrative to suit the action. Language, well crafted, can speed the reader up and slow the reader down at the writer's whim. The writer needs to know how to do this, so as to slow the reader's pace in reflective and descriptive scenes, then hurry the reader along in moments of action, tension, and climax. The writer also needs to know how to set up various historical references, real or imagined, by means of diction.

And that may very well be the biggest marker of literature vs. the merely popular -- and it's something that probably escapes the notice of most readers (and, unfortunately, writers) of the merely popular. Which is why it continues to be written. And why it continues to sell. But why it won't make the great lists centuries into the future.



17 February 2012

The Writer's Crash

I have recently experienced the worst Writer's Roller Coaster Crash ever, so I thought I'd get a bit personal here and share about it -- in the hope that you other writers and artistic types out there might, in turn, share your experience with me!

First, the backstory. I've been developing an idea for over a year now. At the beginning of January, I sat down and began pounding out the prose for a solid few hours every day. I've never worked so hard, long, exclusively, and uninterruptedly at any project that I can remember, or at least not since my master's thesis.

I've never been so happy in my life.

For six weeks, I sat down every weekday, switched off my wi-fi, and just banged out sentence after sentence. Then I would turn on the internet again and do more research, etc., to round out the world I was creating. As the six weeks rolled by, I got happier and happier, totally caught up in my character's life, feeling I'd found my life's calling, feeling like I was on a permanent caffeine buzz (OK, I was on a caffeine buzz until at least noon every day!). And then I wound up the episode I was working on, which ends rather dramatically, and I was a psyched as if what happened to the character had happened to me!

I went around bursting, telling everyone "This is the best day of my life!"

I felt like it was my birthday.

It was a gorgeous, hot spring day (in February), too.

And then I sent out the episode to a few insightful, literary friends, read bits to other people in my life, and waited for feedback.

And the feedback trickled in, far less than I'd hoped for, not anywhere near as enthusiastic as I'd imagined.

And I crashed. Hard.

So now I'm blue as can be -- well, no, not quite. If I were really depressed, I wouldn't be able to get distance and reflect on this roller coaster. It's happened before: I'll finish a project, have a book published, do a reading, give a recital, complete a school year, or something, and there will be that void afterwards. That sense of: Wait, who am I? What do I do? Why am I here? What have I accomplished with my life?

But just as this high was the highest I've ever had (creatively speaking), so this low is the lowest (also creatively speaking).

And that was just the first episode -- of thirty-six episodes!!! Yikes.

So here's what I would love to know. Writers (and other creative types): Does this happen to you? All the time? Sometimes? When? Why? How do you get out of it? Is it a sign that the work wasn't good? Or is it just the roller coaster we have to ride?

Thanks -- and help!!

~ Sørina



12 February 2012

Rock & Roll & Abel in Allentown

Last night I attended the super hip preview party for two exhibits at the Allentown Art Museum:
"Who Shot Rock & Roll?" guest curated by author Gail Buckland
"The Mark of Abel" by Lydia Panas.
It was a hip crowd, hot music, good food and drink, and very, VERY impressive renovations to the Allentown Art Museum. What with the new hockey arena going in, the changes around and in Symphony Hall (both physical and in programming), the ambitious growth at the Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival, I'm starting to believe that maybe the Lehigh Valley could become the arts destination it dreams of being. Wow! I'm surprised I said that, but I'm going to do some poking around and see what other people are saying, dreaming, hoping, and believing.

So, the party! The art exhibits!
"Who Shot Rock & Roll" is just bursting with color, shock, and motion. It's really an impressive show. There are works in it that have never been seen before. There are candid shots, backstage, at home, stepping off the plane. There are onstage images: Tina Turner in five blurred, overlapping silhouettes as she leapt and danced; the earliest photos of a very young Elvis; a virtuosic collage of Michael Jackson that practically danced by itself. There are album covers and portraits that are works of art in their own right. There is also violence, dirty nudity, obscenity, and sheer perversion. It's really a powerful show: don't see it right before bed, or you might have nightmares!

I think my favorite pieces were four close-up, black-and-white portraits of the Beatles by Richard Avedon. He somehow managed to capture nearly the same expression on each of their faces. They were clean, shy, expectant, before the rugged dust of fame greyed them.

Then the second exhibit I went to see was Lydia Panas's mysterious series, "The Mark of Abel." In these outdoor portraits of family relationships, Lydia washed out her subject's personalities, reducing everyone in the entire series into despairing, confused people with tragic histories and no futures. And yet they are still compelling, beautiful like rainy weather even when you wanted sun.

Her photographs are not narrative, but they provoke narratives. The photographer friend who attended the show with me, Nienke Izurieta, and I talked more about these images than about anything else in the museum. I found the titles thoughtful; Nienke explained to me the camera and exposures and focus, and we debated technique and content to our heart's content. So, go see it!



08 February 2012

Website Announcement

Drumroll, please............

The official website is now available for your viewing pleasure! It's all about networking in the fields of writing, editing, teaching, and arts promotion -- so let me know if there is anything we can do together in one of those areas.

Since the website is brand new, it is still under development and may have some glitches. Your comments, suggestions, and corrections are welcome.

You can also view the website as

Eventually this blog will be embedded over there, but you can always continue to follow it through a feed reader or directly on blogger.