March Reviews: HOPE
March News: Thomas Harris, Robert Hass, Pan Morigan, Buckwheat, Inventing Anna, & Lynn Duryea.
The March newsletter features fiction, poetry, new music, a special tribute to Buckwheat - the 70s Norcal band that could've and should've, Inventing Anna, and part one of my interview with the artist Lynn Duryea including a short video documenting her journey.
I need to acknowledge the horrific invasion of Ukraine. I am doing what I can to support the heroic resistance and I try to donate a little more each day. What the Russian military is doing in Mariupol as I write this is genocide. All of us must follow our conscience and do what feels right as we appreciate our families, friends, colleagues, our democracy, and our safety.
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"White Poison" by Michael Harris.
I picked up the book "White Poison" by Michael Harris to further research Native American life in Northern Calfornia for an upcoming project and was blown away by the quality of the writing. This is a self-published masterpiece and deserves attention. Gritty, real, urgent, and important.
From my Amazon and Goodreads review: 5 Stars. Suspenseful, Urgent, and Important Writing of the Highest Caliber. I was absolutely floored by the way this book moves forward, by the pacing, impact, and poetry of the sentences, and by the meticulous and authoritative research that adds further depth and meaning to the rich characterizations. I intend to read everything this important writer gives us. This is a masterpiece.
Michael Harris has also written "The Chieu Hoi Saloon", "Where Desert Rivers Die", "Postwar Children: Two Novellas", and "Romantic History". So there it is. Four more must-read books on my reading stack.
"Summer Snow" by Robert Hass
"Summer Snow" by Robert Hass is his first new collection of poetry since 2010. I love this book, as I have loved his poems since I first read "Field Guide" a lifetime ago. When things seem difficult or confusing, his poems bring me back to what matters.
Here is the thing about Hass: I believe he is at heart a radical. He teaches at the most prestigious places and acquires deserved awards as a matter of course, but what he is really doing is finding ways to bring poetry, and the understanding of contemporary poetry, to all of us. His books of poetry include "The Apple Trees at Olema" (Ecco, 2010), Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award winner "Time and Materials" (Ecco, 2008), "Sun Under Wood" (Ecco, 1996), "Human Wishes" (1989), "Praise" (1979), and "Field Guide" (1973).
But it is his essay collections: "Twentieth Century Pleasures: Prose on Poetry" (1984) the National Book Critics Circle Award; and "A Little Book on Form: An Exploration into the Formal Imagination of Poetry" that reach out to all of us with what is the equivalent of an advanced seminar in contemporary poetry. It is right here for the price of a book. He opens doors that I love walking through.
I sense in these books his desire to get the message out to all of us: poetry is important. Poetry can embrace you and take you places you did not know you needed to be.
"Wild Blue" by Pan Morigan
Pan Morigan is a Canadian poet and musician. I first came upon her original music on the album "Castles of Gold: Songs and Stories of Irish Immigration told by Frank McCourt and Roma Downey, Sung by Pan Morigan". I included a song from that album below. I think you can hear what would make me remember her. The writing, composition, and performance are haunting.
Her original compositions and violin playing on that album was striking and memorable, but her most recent album "Wild Blue" really stands out. For me, it was like hearing Van Morrison's "Astral Weeks" for the first time.
Pan plays violin, guitar, and is a gifted vocalist. She has clearly gone to school on Celtic roots music, the old ballads, world music, classical songs, and jazz. In this album, she melds influences from all over. I can hear 2000 years of music history in her performances. This recording features Ben Butler and Marc Shulman on guitars, and Ben Wittman on percussion.
Her recordings are available on Spotify and Apple, and on her website Pan Morigan. Please sign up for her newsletter. We need to support an artist of this quality and let her know she is appreciated. She should be known widely.
This is one of my favorites songs on the album and I think you will hear the world music influences that make her music unique.
Buckwheat: A Special Tribute
The 70s Norcal band that could have and should have broken out.
What started as a brief survey of a folk-rock quartet from the 70's that I saw play live a number of times and really liked, became a full tribute involving input from all four band members. It was fun to put this together and see how these talented musicians evolved. The tribute became too long to fit in the newsletter so I posted it on my site as a stand-alone article.
(The full tribute is available on dandomench.com. Your email is your free log-on. Here is an excerpt:)
One night I saw them play at Delta College. The large space was crammed with people loving the performance. In the middle of one of their songs, a long fiddle note suddenly cut through the air like an angelic soprano. The people around me looked at each other. What was that? The multi-instrumentalist James Renney had turned sideways to the crowd, picked up his violin, and lifted the song to a new level with an incredible solo. Pat, George, and Tom did not hesitate to rise with him and their improvised jam rocked the room. When Buckwheat was good, they were very good.
There was something special in the way these four guys listened to each other, played off each other, and made the music work. They were never perfect and that was part of their appeal. They were clearly having fun on stage making music.
The 2017 reunion resulted in the song "Leonardo", an original composition by Tom, being recorded in James Renney's home studio in 2017 in one take with some atmospheric touches added later by James. The drummer on that recording is Roy Blumenfeld of The Blues Project fame. This song clearly shows the evolution of their musical talent and what might have been had things turned out a little different.
Read the full tribute and listen to more Buckwheat music on dandomench.com.
"Inventing Anna" created by Shondaland and starring Julia Garner. Based on a true story. On Netflix.
Sympathy For The Devil
I was impressed with this series. At times the acting got a little large for my tastes, but only a few times, and overall, this is an important series for many reasons.
First off, it nails the tech influencer "Insta" universe we live within to the wall and lets it hang there for us to see - a world of ambition and materialism. This is the new gilded age.
This series also happens to be a perfect example of what our new golden age of the screen requires of writers and directors: multiple characters well-developed, layers of conflict, dialogue-rich scenes, plot twists, urgency, and powerful cultural resonance. This series moved so fast at times, it gave me whiplash. Julie Garner is as good in this as she was in "Ozark", a performance that won her an Emmy, and she dominated in every appearance in that series.
There has been plenty of fire out there about the show, especially on Twitter. A good number of complaints seemed to say, in one way or another, that IA was asking them to sympathize with Anna's criminal behavior.
I did not experience sympathy for the devil. I experienced ambiguity. Shonda Rhimes is not afraid of ambiguity. She loves to draw you into a character's heart and then surprise you with a sudden push away. This allows her to use the best work her writers dish up and gives her actors room to move. People who wanted to side with one character, who wanted their favorite to "win", discovered their favorite was not as innocent as they initially seemed. Great drama uses not just external conflict, but internal as well, including the internal conflict of the audience.
Yes, Shondaland was asking you to sympathize with a criminal and with her victims. But this was not just another hero-is-the-villain story, nor was it just an exploitative movie of the week snatched from the headlines BS, because there was a larger truth roiling under the obvious self-protective moves of these characters.
I am not a psychiatrist, but I worked for years as a counselor treating patients living with mental health disorders in a locked psychiatric hospital. Some of these patients suffered from progressing disorders that hurt them, and in some severe cases, hurt everyone they came in contact with. Some of these patients were psychopaths.
Here is a quote from the Encyclopedia Britannica: "Psychopaths are born, and sociopaths are made. Both psychopathy and sociopathy, and APD (Anti-social Personality Disorder) generally, share features with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD), the condition exhibited by persons commonly called narcissists."
As portrayed in this series, Anna believed her own lies, and to be confronted by reality, was like death to her. She could only exert herself more when confronted. Her mother reported that Anna "was a stranger in her house" starting in childhood. Her classmates described her as highly manipulative and frightening. But the trait that was consistent in her character from the very beginning was that the discomfort of others, no matter how painful, was not felt by her. Her moments of empathy were always linked to one of her goals, and in retrospect, false.
The thing that this series got right was the effect someone like this has on their family, friends, and any system they encounter. They are wrecking balls leaving destruction and pain in their path. But please don't misunderstand me here. I am not diagnosing anyone, I am talking about a character in a series.
A character that is relevant to our times politically.
The real Anna could talk fashion and banter with high society matrons in their language because she was compelled from an early age to memorize the language in the high life magazines. Her skills were "legendary". Psychology Today featured an article last year titled "Why Female Psychopaths Are a Different Breed" with the subheading: "Callous and opportunistic, female psychopaths are the rarest of a rare breed. Though they share much with their male counterparts, they may be even better equipped to elude detection."
And about feeling sympathy for this character, and even the real Anna, there is this: It is not true that a person with this disorder feels no pain. In fact, they live in a kind of hell. They are fighting with every ounce of energy they have to avoid the central pain of their lives which is their mental disorder. They are prone to addiction, suicide, and violence. They often have early criminal records. Except for a few moments of egocentric triumph, they live in anguish. This series captured that agony and it is that subtext that primarily leads the viewer to feel sympathy for her.
The character of Anna in Inventing Anna is a hurting human being desperate to relieve an existential, unrelenting pain by creating a false self; and in this attempt to find relief, badly hurt others. If you are an empathic, healthy human being, you may find yourself caring about a liar and a thief. There is more than a touch of greatness in a drama that can do that for you.
INTERVIEW: Lynn Duryea - an artist of transformation
I found it impossible in a brief newsletter to capture the journey and accomplishments of the artist Lynn Duryea. I will try to do it in Three Parts which I will later assemble into a stand-alone article.
PART ONE: Introduction to Lynn Duryea and her work.
I am fortunate there is a short documentary on Lynn's life, work, and personal transformation that will serve as a perfect introduction. I highly recommend taking a few minutes to watch the video below. It is worth it just to see Lynn's hands as she works the clay for one of her sculptures.
I also recommend visiting her website: lynnduryea.com for more information. It is enlightening to me how Duryea renewed her approach to her art and went back to graduate school to acquire a Master of Fine Arts that lead to a professional teaching career. More about that in Part Two.
Part Two of my interview with Lynn Duryea will continue in the April Newsletter.
In the meantime, send light and love to Ukraine in the great hope that peace will break out.
I thank you for taking the time to read and share. Grateful.
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