Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Women You Should Know - Carolyn Rodgers by Nikki Skies

Carolyn Rodgers 
by Nikki Skies

All women need to know the height of fire, and the depth of its smolder. Women should experience the thread of insurgent veins with splintering ice and the unbend of the wind. All women need to hear their voice bounce from apartment corners to symphony set stages. A writer daring to her individual passion during a time of “we,” Chicago-born artist Carolyn Rodgers, is someone to know.

Carolyn Rodgers was an essayist, critic and a leading voice of the Black Arts Movement (BAM). Rodgers’ ideas about women’s roles conflicted with more traditional ideas of the African-American sub-culture which many then referred to as “revolutionary.” Reading Rodgers’ writings, I hear the wave of impulses she created within the audience. I relax in knowing her free verse style of poetry was criticized for its themes of religion, revolution, street slang, and sometimes its ruminative search for identity.

My art has been called “fiery, powerful, revolutionary” -- I never take my pen choosing to scribe such adjectives or emotions. I have always felt the need to express my breath in the now. Behind walls of portrait-filled designs, unbeknownst to fellow artists, I’ve heard them call me selfish and arrogant. I’ve simply always wanted to live my vernacular and connect with another beating heart while performing.

Rodgers was criticized for her use of profanity, which male leaders of BAM considered inappropriate for a woman. The most infamous poem, with cuss words woven throughout, is The Last M.F. Rodgers used this menacing vernacular to explicate men’s perceptions of how women should speak and behave. Considering the BAM movement was the timeframe when the writings and politics were to unify African Americans against defying stereotypes, Rodgers used the spirit of the movement for self-preservation. That is empowering. It is freedom. It’s why every woman should study Rodgers’ literary works and natural progress she grants it within her lifetime.

During the dominance of Sonia Sanchez, before bell hooks, Rodgers set the stage for my voice to express in unique solidarity. My art is not always committed to the agenda of Amnesty International. Nor does it always express the perfect shade of lipstick or bouquet of flowers. It is forward brave. It is the color palette and the garden Rodgers wrote about in the poem Breakthrough:

“… my mouth has been open most of the time,
But I ain’t been saying nothing but thinking about ev’rything
And the partial pain has been how do I put myself on paper the way I want to be
Or am
And be not like anyone else in this Black world but me…”
“…there are several of me and all of us fight to show up at the same time
And there is uh consistent incongruity.”

Nikki Skies is a writer, lecturer, teacher/workshop facilitator, Dana Foundation Arts Fellow and playwright living in Atlanta, Ga. Nikki is the author of several chap books and a poetry book entitled, “Pocket Honey, Wind and Hips”. She has also authored a short story book, “Mississippi Window Cracks”.

Editor's Note:  Thanks so very much to Nikki Skies for closing out the 2013 Women's History Month!  I'm so grateful to her for sending Carolyn Rodgers our way!  Rodgers was a student of Gwendolyn Brooks - one of my absolute favorite women you should know... Please read the rest of our guest bloggers posts, too --  Angelique PalmerRuthanna Barnett, and Caroline Rothstein!  The Zestyverse feels very grateful to be surrounded by such taleneted, generous, and spirited artists!

Monday, 25 March 2013

Quote of the Week - Rukeyser

We tell beginnings: for the flesh and the answer,
or the look, the lake in the eye that knows,
for the despair that flows down in widest rivers,
cloud of home; and also the green tree of grace,
all in the leaf, in the love that gives us ourselves.

The word of nourishment passes through the women,
soldiers and orchards rooted in constellations,
white towers, eyes of children:
saying in time of war What shall we feed?
I cannot say the end.

Nourish beginnings, let us nourish beginnings.
Not all things are blest, but the
seeds of all things are blest.
The blessing is in the seed.

This moment, this seed, this wave of the sea, this look, this instant of love.
Years over wars and an imagining of peace. Or the expiation journey
toward peace which is many wishes flaming together,
fierce pure life, the many-living home.
Love that gives us ourselves, in the world known to all
new techniques for the healing of the wound,
and the unknown world. One life, or the faring stars.

- Muriel Rukeyser, "Elegy in Joy"
I found a quote from this poem; then I found the poem.  I could not resist using the entire thing (although several website list this portion as an excerpt, so perhaps there is more).

As an Aries, I love beginnings!  Love starting things, love the spark of new, the matchstick strike of idea, the kindling new personalities rubbing up against each other.  Only failure and tennis have taught me the incredibly counter-intuitive world of follow through.

It's true as your 3rd grade science project - not all seeds make it.  But many of the ones that do, become trees.

(Hope you're been reading the fantastic guest bloggers so far in Women's History Month!  Angelique Palmer, Ruthanna Barnett, and Caroline Rothstein!)

Friday, 22 March 2013

The Amanda Palmer Factor

By now you've no doubt heard about, if not seen, Amanda Palmer's TED Talk.  (She gives good TED Talk - you should see it if you haven't.  It's a nice little performance art piece in and of itself.)

And now, to add to that, we have the Veronica Mars $2 million dollar campaign - now having raised almost $4 million!

The blogosphere, the creative community and even Hollywood is buzzing about all this.

So.  What does it all mean?

It means that I sometimes can't get to sleep for thinking about the awful intersection of being a full-time creative and self promotion, self involvement, and possibly, over-ridingly, vanity.

It means that I have an urgent need to write this blog so that I can get more sleep and get back to what I need to do - self promoting my new book and funding a show I'm producing for The Brighton Fringe.


And let me tell you, it's mighty hard to want to do any of that when the poster children for all this are up in your face raising more money than they need for projects that would have been funded by the industries they represent so that their fans can pay not once, but twice, for the privilege of their creativity.  (Yes - you can give to the Veronica Mars crowd funding campaign AND pay for your ticket to see the movie when it maybe comes out in 2015.)

That sounded sooo Hater.  I'm not hating...them...I liked Veronica Mars.  And I've got nothing against Amanda Palmer.  It's the whole concept of using social media as a commercial for individual ego that gives me a kind of low-lying, daily Sartrean nausea.

If Amanda Palmer thinks she crowd-surfed and trusted her audience, well, pretty sure I'd be dead without my community.  Certainly I'd never have stayed in a surprising squat - a green oasis half a block from a tube station - slept in a hostel, barbecued with 2 houses of South African ex-pats or been Batgirl on a canal boat. Sure - bad things have happened, too.  Some really bad things.  But the truth is, trusting in that way - being honest about what you're asking for and what you can and cannot give in return - has led to experiences and insights I never could have had any other way.  It has made me a person who carries the experiences of others in a heartfelt way.  It has given me a confidence in the power of my art and words to create deeper feeling - to connect others more deeply to themselves.  That kind of trust creates love.  It's also the place where art emerges consistently and the elusive inspiration is a fact of daily living.

I'd like to think that if one of the people who've put Amanda Palmer up while she was on tour tweeted her that they needed a place to crash, she'd oblige.  But I have a needling inside me that says there's a secret equation underneath all of this, and that's not part of it.

No one owns crowd funding.  It's an open source medium.  Like the internet, which started as a way to connect people to information and information to people, then quickly became a gateway for the delivery of pornography, or Craig's List which started as a way to buy, sell, recycle, and re-use resources and is now, well, a place where you really don't want to be, in rather short order, crowd funding has been redefined as a way to make celebrities more famous and make them seem vulnerable, which makes us like them more, which makes them more famous.

What we are seeing in this moment is a shift in the public perception of crowd funding - away from community, from shared values and things that promote global progress and toward yet another (yawn) area of the exploration of entertainment, fame, and fans.  There's no reason that these projects need crowd funding. These artists want validation to be sure, and that elusive idea of control.  (The fact that the 2 biggest stars of this new show are women is probably not coincidental.  Routinely marginalized by the entertainment industry, female-driven projects often get 2nd tier treatment - even when you're an established recording and performance artist, or a TV star.  Flexing a little muscle, defining your footprint - these have to be important to both Palmer and Bell.  Everybody puts Baby in a corner until she breaks out and takes stage.)

When crowd funding began, it embodied the idea of having your six-degrees community lift you up to do something positive and rewarding for everyone within your reach.  What it is now, not even five years later, is a way to measure your fan base, increase project exposure and bolster your vanity.  It's no longer crowd funding; it's fan funding.

I'm not sure if I'm resentful of this shift, though I know a lot of artists are.  It's a little sad and a little disappointing. What worries me is that a technology that was developed in order to circumvent a type of greed has fallen prey to exactly that type of greed.

We can't reclaim what never belonged to us.  Open source is just that - available to all; adaptable to current needs.  What we can do is build another sandbox.  And then another.  And another.

(So, this turned out to be two blogs - stay tuned for part 2...)

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Women You Should Know - Adrian PIper by Caroline Rothstein

I Can’t Stop Thinking About Adrian Piper’s Art
By Caroline Rothstein

When I was a senior in college, I took a life-changing English course called “Writing Through Culture and Art.” My friends and I called it “the pretentious class” because everyone in the class was a handpicked artist, writer, art historian, art critic, or art aficionado. Our professor was poet Kenneth Goldsmith, with whom I credit much of my professional path as a writer and performer. In Kenny’s course, I drank the avant-garde Kool-Aid, believed every class discussion as gospel towards a life of intellectual inquiry and devoted artistry, and worshipped each artist we studied, most notably Adrian Piper and Marina Abramovic.

I incessantly think about Piper and Abramovic – when I write, when I perform, and when I walk down the sidewalks of New York City, desperately pondering my mission and intention as an artist. While Abramovic is undoubtedly a legend and game-changer for contemporary art, I am mind-boggled that when I mention Piper’s name – especially to fellow performers – people draw blank stares. Maybe Piper’s lack of notoriety lies in what she illustrates in much of her art: racism. Maybe it’s because she is black, and Abramovic is white. Maybe it’s because she emigrated from the United States in the mid-2000s to Berlin, Germany, where she now resides. Still, she is forefront in my mind: she beckons me deep into her work, as I relentlessly consider the impact she has on the art world, social identity, and New York City as a performance stage.

Piper is both a conceptual artist and an analytic philosopher. Her biography is extensive, her list of contributions to philosophy and art grand, and her reception of fellowships and awards profound. Yet, while her repertoire is vast, my dance with Piper revolves around four pieces: her Catalysis series, Funk Lessons, Cornered (Part 1 & Part 2), and Calling Card.

In all four series, Piper stages simultaneously subtle and overt confrontations about race, racism, and class, as much of her work addresses her experience as a black woman. I also address race, racism, and class in my artistic work, but there is something about the way Piper explores these issues that mesmerizes me. Maybe it’s because I am the intended, privileged observer confronted, moved, and altered by Piper’s work. Maybe it’s because I am by no means a subtle artist, and often quite aggressive in the ways my work explores social identity. Maybe it’s because Piper is black, and I am white, and I will never be able to articulate her experience or perspective. I can only continue obsessing over her brilliance and the way her work makes me – and so many more – think about race and art.

Whatever it is, I will most likely never see Piper’s performance art live; I missed the boat by virtue of time and location. I will most likely continue my journey as an artist and social justice advocate agonizing over how to best reflect issues and experiences around social identity in a way that is powerfully engaging. I will most likely continue thinking about Piper every time I have a new idea for a new piece addressing a new concept hoping, at the very least, our work can have a conversation, and somewhere in Berlin, she knows she continues to make an impact.

Caroline Rothstein is a New York City-based writer, performer, and eating disorder recovery advocate. Her YouTube series “Body Empowerment” airs the first and third Monday of each month. For more about Caroline, follow her on her Twitter, Facebook, and visit

Editor's Note:  Wow. Wow. Wow. Another fascinating post in the series by this week's guest blogger Caroline Rothstein.  Thanks so much to her for giving me Adrian Piper - because I didn't know!  I think we should fund a trip for Caroline to Berlin to create a work with Ms. Piper! Check out all the Women You Should Know series this Women's History Month. You can find the ones from March 2012 in the blog archive.  If you are interested in being a guest blogger on the Zestyverse, let me know!

Sunday, 17 March 2013

Quote of the Week - Townsend Warner

"It is best as one grows older to strip oneself of possessions, to shed oneself downward like a tree, to be almost wholly earth before one dies."

I love this so so much.  Thanks to Goodreads for this one.  (Yes - it is my favorite website!)  Why didn't I know about this writer before this week?

And you know how I feel about trees!

(Tree photo above can be purchased on Etsy.  Photo by Carl Christensen.)

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Women You Should Know - Vivian Maier by Ruthanna Barnett

I love taking photos -- at least I love the potential photos that I intend to take. I almost made a career of photography, but my impulsive whims took me elsewhere.

For some years I took pictures -- lots of them -- alone and with my partner.  We would load one camera with black & white film, the other with colour, and set out on the streets of Jerusalem or Tel-Aviv, the beaches, the deserts and the Sinai peninsula. We travelled to Egypt for a month, much of which was spent in a tiny oasis close to hot springs, the White Desert, the Black Desert, and Crystal Mountain; the simple but amazing beauty of these places reflected in their names. Crystal Mountain really was a huge mountain made entirely of crystals; the Black Desert contained volcanic rock and black sand.  Some of those pictures are probably amazing -- but I didn’t have enough money to develop the rolls of film.  At the end of the relationship, the other party kept those undeveloped rolls.  I had to move on and leave those imagined images behind, but my love for photography is life long.

Years later, I was living on a narrowboat on the Oxford Canal. One of my neighbours, Jeff Slade, was a keen and fantastic photographer. My partner sent him an article about an exhibition in Chicago. There were only a few pictures in the article, but we were all captivated by them. The composition of the photographs framed only one small part of a scene, landscape, or story, yet the pictures seemed to illustrate so much more. 

The photographer was Vivian Maier. Her story is soon to be widely known, which is well-deserved, but by all accounts she would have hated every minute of it. 

She was born on 1 February 1926 in New York City, to an Austrian father and French mother.  She moved to France with her mother, where she spent most of her childhood. In 1949, when she was 23, Vivian began taking photos with a Kodak Brownie box camera. She returned to New York by steamship in 1951 and started work as a nanny. She bought a Rolleiflex camera and continued taking pictures. In 1956, she moved to the North Shore suburbs of Chicago, again taking employment as a nanny, this time for a family with three boys. 

She started using colour film in about 1970, and began to photograph more objects as well as people. She travelled widely – to Canada, India, Egypt, Yemen, South America, Europe, and the Caribbean Islands. She appears to have had no further contact with her own family, and always travelled alone. The few people who did know her all describe her as eccentric, opinionated, intellectual, and private. She didn’t show her pictures to anyone. 

So how do we know anything about her?

After her nannying ended, Vivian could no longer afford to develop her photos, but continued taking them, collecting rolls of undeveloped film. Following a period in which she was probably homeless, the now grown-up boys helped to pay for an apartment, and she stored her photographs in lockers. In 2007, he contents of her storage lockers were auctioned off due to non-payment of rent. Inside the lockers were over 100,000 negatives, thousands of prints, and numerous undeveloped rolls of film. 

One of the buyers of the auction lots was John Maloof, who was researching for a book on the history of the NW side of Chicago. Amongst the photos he found a scrap of paper with Vivian’s name on it; a year later he decided to google her. He found her obituary, written the day before, following her death only two days previously. He started a blog to show her work, and word spread quickly. Gallery exhibitions were arranged, and now a book and documentary film, Finding Vivian Maier is in production, directed and produced by John Maloor and Charlie Siskel.

Her photographs are street photography at its best, encapsulating portrait, place and time. Leaving very little personal trace from her life, Vivian has left us all with thousands of stills from her gaze. 

Ruthanna Barnett is currently based in Santa Cruz, California. She is a part-time immigration lawyer, clinic defender, gardener, knitter, baker, and a full-time radical feminist and opinion-holder. She is a passionate advocate for human rights, in particular for women. She very much enjoys living on the Central California coast and watching hummingbirds.

Editor's Note:  Special thanks to Ruthanna for writing this - she's not someone who likes to write, but I knew she'd choose a fantastic subject!  I love that Vivian Maier is a kindred nomadic spirit!  Check out all the Women You Should Know series this Women's History Month. You can find the ones from March 2012 in the blog archive.  If you are interested in being a guest blogger on the Zestyverse, let me know!

Sunday, 10 March 2013

Quote of the Week - Sandberg

“If current trends continue, 15 years from today about one-third of the women in this audience will be working full time, and almost all of you will be working for the guy you are sitting next to.”
- Sheryl Sandberg, Lean In

This is a sobering truth.  Let's get busy.

Here's the book review of Sandberg's Lean In from Janet Maslin for The New York Times.

And - yeah - I'm thinking all the quotes this month should be from women.  I mean, it's Women's History Month.  What do you think?

Come back Wednesday for guest blogger Ruthanna Barnett's entry for the Women You Should Know series!  (I'm so excited.  I so love the guest bloggers!)

Friday, 8 March 2013

We Are Women


we are women of wandering spirits
fixed hearts
eyes lifted forever to sun moon
whatever rises continually
what hope is we see in stars
and the glint of light in your eyes

we are women of strong backs
even when they are weakened, injured, old, creaking
we remember them strong
and act accordingly
no matter how much it hurts

we are women of grave insight
sending us to the very corners of love
to see what the trouble is what it might be
and how it can be fixed
it’s more important than keeping house

we are women
simply stunningly, daily
we tread ground no one has tested or tried
on cracked feet of ancestors
knowledge rises up through us root to crown
we are determined
to know
what it is
and more
what it could be
and more
what we might make of it
and much more

E. Amato

For International Women's Day.  

Why not?

This is the first poem in the next next book --- Daughters of Invention.

(And  yes - it's always an Ailey party round here.  I know that whole yellow section by heart.  Swear.)

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Women You Should Know - Judith Jamison by Angelique Palmer

Judith Jamison Was My Secret Mommy from Outer Space 
by Angelique Palmer

In 1988 I was convinced I was adopted, left on this planet by beautiful alien ballerinas. I was considerably thin, spent a great deal of time staring into the mirrored wall in my mother’s dining room and plucking about on my tippy-toes. I deduced my Mothership was a stage because with only a little training my body spoke dancer.

That year or maybe the year after there was a television special that changed my life. Television Specials pre-dated a time when everyone had cable; it was effectively the opposite of episodic television like say The Cosby Show. Though I may not remember the exact year or date I remember Bill Cosby Salutes Alvin Ailey especially because it introduced me to her.

I saw footage of her dancing Cry. This beautiful white gown played off her incredible marble-black skin. She wielded this amazing idea of a costume, like a pen and wrote this dance into a story. She wrote the choreography into the most gripping allusion of love and loss, into a tangible being. SHE DANCED IT TO LIFE! I wanted her to be my new mommy. Thus began an unspoken pact with myself to use the life of Judith Jamison as a secret talisman. To, in tough times and blank introspection, ask myself:  What Would Judith Jamison Do?

Judith Jamison was the first person I did research on that I wasn’t assigned to in a class. The Philadelphia-born woman was made renaissance child by a father who gave her piano and violin lessons. Okay, my home was somewhat arty—no child concocts an elaborate story of being left by ballerina aliens without that sort of outlet at home. It was the first parallel I drew to her.

I tried to continue being a dancer at Florida State University, and I KEPT finding myself in writing classes. Jamison had a false start of her own, going to Fisk to study psychology before returning to Philly to hone her knowledge of dance. Spotted at a master class in the Philadelphia Dance Academy, she got a spot with American Ballet Theatre, bringing her to New York. When one thing, namely her stint with ABT, ended, another got its less than elegant start. Apparently she botched an audition with uncharacteristic gracelessness. The story goes, she ran out, in tears, and past a friend of the choreographer. This is how Alvin Ailey found her, later asking her to become part of his dance theater and solidifying an artistic relationship that would last several decades. I began to walk in my gift as a writer—specifically through slam and performance poetry, quite accidentally happening upon Will Da Real One in an empty Literary CafĂ© & Poetry Lounge in Miami one Wednesday Afternoon. As her career as a dancer ended she wanted to preserve the place that had made her into a performer—becoming Artistic Director of AADT. When my career as a news producer ended, I wanted very much to help new voices enter performance poetry. I am thankful Silent Treatment Entertainment lets me do that once a week.

If ever I need to ask “what would Judith Jamison do,” I know I am going the right direction. I say to myself, she would jump at Broadway, touring companies, choreography, the front office. She would do it with zeal, because she did. Now in her 70th year, she is Director Emeritus of the Alvin Ailey Dance Theater. She has done the best to preserve the opportunities she was afforded. She has danced an entire life, one I am still learning the steps to. She taught me technique, craft and improvisation is everything. I hope I am like her when I grow up. 

Angelique Palmer is a Performance Poet and Educator from New Orleans now living in North Virginia. A former television news producer, she is the host of Silent Treatment Entertainment’s weekly open mic, “Spirits and Lyrics” in Manassas and is the curator of The Lock’d & Loaded Cash Slam. She's all about pancakes, Ska music, and answers to Artsy, Nerdy, and Ang.  Find her on Twitter or Facebook.

Editor's Note:  Thanks to guest blogger Angelique Palmer for choosing one of my favorite women on the planet and a huge inspiration to me - without even knowing!  (This is why we're friends!)  And thanks to her for kicking off the 2013 Women You Should Know series!  I'm super excited to have guest bloggers for the series the whole month of March!  Coming up later in Women's History Month:  Caroline Rothstein, Nikki Skies, and Ruthanna Barnet!