Florence Foster Jenkins, Holy Fool

By Asher Gelzer-Govatos

florence-foster-jenkins-2016-meryl-streepIn many respects the new film Florence Foster Jenkins takes a paint by numbers approach to its genre—the classic biopic. It features a meaty role for a star (Meryl Streep), designed to play well to Oscar voters in the next awards cycle. It gets a lot of mileage—comic and dramatic—out of contemporary differences with its chosen time period (1940s New York). And of course it follows a well-worn dramatic arc: historical figure faces personal and professional tragedy, falls to a low point, then overcomes through the power of the human spirit.

In one very important respect, however, Florence Foster Jenkins stands out: its choice of subject. Unlike the typical biopic the film does not focus on someone of extraordinary ability or historical significance. Instead it examines the final days of a woman more notorious than famous. [Read more…]

Poetry Friday: “More Strange”

angelThis poem coaxes me to inhabit a story I’ve heard many times, and makes it astonishingly new, summoning me with the urgency of the second-person perspective and the half-answered question of the title. It’s a poem that asks a lot of its reader—nothing less than to experience a mother’s grief at the loss of her son—and yet offers so much in return, in the short space of five stanzas. Maybe because I am a mother, but certainly because of the poet’s skillful shifting of imagery and energy, I feel the weight of this poem grow heavier with each stanza as it moves further from the flutter of the angel’s wings in the opening line—and inexorably toward the cross. I love the risk and humanness of this poem: how the speaker registers everything that happens through her body, how the final lines so powerfully conflate the bodies of mother and son, speaker and reader.

—Melissa Reeser Poulin [Read more…]

Attending to the Body, Part II

Attending to the body part twoContinued from yesterday.

The following is excerpted from Attending Others: A Doctor’s Education in Bodies and Words, a new memoir by Brian Volck.

In the mountain clinics of rural Honduras, where every medicine and piece of equipment arrives by pickup or is carried on our backs, there’s no way to bring all we want or need. Before heading out, we listen to the locals, ask doctors who’ve been before, and assemble our materials accordingly.

Tylenol and Motrin, vitamins and antibiotics, soaps and toothbrushes are stuffed into plastic bags and shoved into backpacks. We make room for a scale, thermometer, paper and pens, as well as personal medical equipment: stethoscopes, flashlights, blood pressure cuffs.

Whatever else comes along is the result of an educated guess. [Read more…]

Attending to the Body, Part I

By Brian Volck

Attending to the bodyThe following is excerpted from Attending Others: A Doctor’s Education in Bodies and Words, a new memoir by Brian Volck.

 

I don’t recall when I first learned of lectio divina, a reading practice rooted in Christian monasticism still followed by contemporary Benedictine monks, nuns, and laypersons. Lectio divina is traditionally divided into four parts: lectio (reading), meditatio (meditation), oratio (prayer), and contemplatio (contemplation).

Simply put, it asks the reader to attend, to notice the details of the text and name the responses they engender.

In lectio, a passage is read slowly, paused over, and read again—aloud, if possible, engaging the body through eye, mouth, and ear—while asking, “What words, phrases, or images stand out?” In meditatio, the passage is considered in relation to the reader’s life, without theoretical abstraction or aggressive interpretation. This is a conversation to be entered, not a puzzle in need of a solution. [Read more…]

Poetry Friday: Four Sonnets

medivalmanuscriptSonnets meditating on illuminated manuscripts of the Middle Ages may sound a bit sanctimonious, even borderline pompous, but like all the best sonnets, Melissa Range’s subvert expectations. The sonnets, each named for a pigment monks used to color the manuscripts, explore the seedy underbelly of each pigment. For starters, they are all highly toxic. Also, kermes-red is made from “the insect’s brood /crushed stillborn from her dried body,” making even its origins destructive. Verdigris, once applied, is corrosive. It “eats / the page and grieves the paleographer.” How could such beautiful art be made up of something so deadly? How could such devout men be poisoned by such a noble calling? Range explores these questions: “Taking the paint on his tongue, he tastes the blood / but, pocked Christ, can’t feel your toxins enter.” It seems paradoxical that the sonnet form, so measured and contained, can raise such unwieldy, sprawling questions about beauty, faith, art, and death. The strict meter, rhyme scheme, and heavy reliance on Latinate words conjure the mood of a meticulous monk in his cell. (Lines like “but a toxic and unearthly green meet /for inking angels wings, made from copper sheets” beg to be read aloud.) And yet, the sudden switch into first person tilts the poems, almost uncomfortably, into the personal in lines like “There’s copper in my brain, my heart of hearts / in my blood, an essential mineral,” and, “this bright solution, like your law / has leached into my pores.” It’s a poet’s job to ask questions without simple answers and to challenge her readers’ perspectives. Range does this beautifully, crafting poems that explore not just the mystery in this ancient art but the way we view beauty in our own lives.

—Christina Lee [Read more…]


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