Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Women You Should Know - Shirin Neshat by Stacy Hope

"Being political is an integral part of being Iranian. Our lives are defined by politics."
~ Shirin Neshat
Women You Should Know:
Shirin Neshat 
by Stacy Hope

Silence and darkness heighten the senses as I enter the art space; I am greeted by two screens mounted on opposite walls, and me, smack in the centre. Whipping my head back and forth between them, two figures appear suddenly: a man on one screen, and a figure of what is soon revealed to be a woman on the other.

The auditorium in which the man performs is filled with male admirers, fans, from whom he faces away in defiant confidence. He is man! He need not witness the reaction or present himself to them. He begins to sing a beautiful Rumi love song that is, as he knew it would be, well received. Finally, he turns to acknowledge his audience, when his attention is diverted back towards his original position. It is not the woman’s turn; she is confronted by empty seats which she faces in need of addressing something imagined. She begins. Wordless sounds escape her mouth, haunting, guttural and consumed by emotional gumption that I have still yet to understand.

There is something that sets apart artists from countries where freedom of expression is a foreign concept, reserved for Western audiences who like their swear words to be accompanied by coffee and cigarettes. It’s not that they have more to discuss, on the contrary they have less to talk about, resulting in a concentrated frustration that easily makes them the expert. Iranian artists just happen to be among those who depict this trait immaculately—politics tends to be their vice. Shirin Neshat is one such artist.

I’d like to say she was born on a cold Persian night to strictly devout conservative parents, but that is quite far from the truth. In fact, one could attribute her current perspective to her parents who romanticized Western ideals and freedom, only to reject the values of the Iranian state. Having moved to the US to study art in LA, eventually enrolling at UC Berkeley, she then remained in a self-imposed exile from Iran. Neshat’s displacement and replacement is constantly explored in her works. The idea of duality and being caught between two worlds, cultures, ideals, perspectives, etc. is a theme that resonates in both the Iranian reality as well as hers.

Neshat started to explore this duality and meaning, challenging Iranian and American perceptions of Islam through photography, then with film installations, and finally graduating onto making films like her most recent Women Without Men. Her subject matter is almost always about women and how they are measured against men. As in Turbulent, and other film installations like Fervour and Rapture, she explores the tenacity of the female psyche to overcome—be it the revolution or their imposed roles in society. Hence, it is no surprise I chose Neshat. It is also no surprise, if you are familiar with my own personhood, that I am drawn to her and to her muffled expressions of realism, that may first appear vacant or forced, but can later be revealed as truly something of great beauty.

“Magical realism allows an artist like myself to inject layers of meaning without being obvious. In American culture, where there is freedom of expression, this approach may seem forced, unnecessary and misunderstood. But this system of communication has become very Iranian.”

Stacy Hope is a Guyanese Anthropologist, Self-defined artist, Blogger for the Conscience Collective and an Independent Consultant working with the United Nations, World Bank, various NGOs and private sector. Her main areas of expertise are gender mainstreaming, indigenous peoples rights, and mining policies (amongst others).

Monday, 24 March 2014

Quote of the Week - Woolf

"The impact of poetry is so hard and direct that for the moment there is no other sensation except that of the poem itself."
~ Virginia Woolf

April is coming! Get ready for National Poetry Month!  Not to mention the start of Yankee season!

Strong poetry comes at you like a Mariano Rivera pitch - you've got to pay attention - as a writer or a listener. You know, I couldn't find one picture of number 42 where he wasn't smiling at the end of his pitching motion.  Pretty sure that's the secret of his transcendence right there.

Hope you've been reading our Women You Should Know series - more coming this week!

Monday found me on the back foot just when I was thinking I should approach the net.

Gotta run.  Get my footwork going.

Sunday, 16 March 2014

Quote of the Week - Childs

"Close your eyes and go to sleep

Put away those tired dreams
Quiet now all in your heart
Let all the joy begin to start"
~Toni Childs 

Full Moon.

Oh, I had a jones - serious.

My life was far too minus Ms. Toni Childs.

So, now you get you some.

#hush #onrepeat.

Something about that line - "let all the joy begin to start" - that set me free. We don't have to use words the way we were taught- we can use them to say what we need to say.

Life has been far too minus that joy, too.  Where'd that go? Let's get that back, 2014!

Childs also showed me a different way of fierce. Fierce vulnerability. Fight for your right to be vulnerable. To love in the face of all that come.

One love. Monday is the new day.
Toni Childs
Sarah says it's not too late
When running out of words to say
No-one can believe it's soul time
When no-one else can see the light of day
Close your eyes and go to sleep
Put away those tired dreams
Quiet now all in your heart
Let all the joy begin to start

Holding out your heart in anger
Holding out your heart not faking
Holding out your love to him girl
All the thinks you think you'll win
You want love, you need love
The struggle and the power
It's harder just to make it
And it's all that we can try
I believe in love
Just what can be in your mind

Young man says it's not too late
Just put away that violent pain

You want love, you need love
The struggle and the power
It's harder just to make it
But it's all that we can try
And the good love is so ruly
And without love, loving truly
And when we lie, and when we cry
It's all that we can try

We are all about the women this month and here's some down home preaching from Ms. Childs. Listen if you need it. (You do.)

Hey - don't not check out our Women You Should Know series, please -- celebrating inspiration girl style:

Olivia Robertson

Dorothy Arzner

Mahalia Jackson

and more to come!

Friday, 14 March 2014

Women You Should Know - Mahalia Jackson by Angelique Palmer

Women You Should Know:
Mahalia Jackson 
by Angelique Palmer

My grandmother insisted on two things in her home: that we show reverence for her faith and that we call her Nanny. And on Sundays, we’d have grits and eggs with our toast. It is the smell of grits-- married quick-like to the coffee and chicory, the authoritarianism of sunrise bathing every surface in my Nanny’s one bedroom apartment and that black radio; these things are most austere in my memory’s snapshot. The radio of course, is what’s important here: its place of esteem on the side table by the window, next to the almost full ashtray, coupled to Nanny’s rocking chair.

When Nanny’s radio played Mahalia, everything stopped: the grits boiled over, the sun took a knee, the coffee tried to be as black as the radio, and the radio was the voice of God. Mahalia sang and Nanny felt whichever applicable emotion. Mahalia sang and Nanny wept or praised or danced or cried out so the rocks and radios didn’t have to. No one told Nanny anything she didn’t want to hear, and she wasn’t hearing a lot of what the world would tell a person born woman and black in 1920’s New Orleans. But she heard Mahalia whenever she sang, and I knew all up and through my tiny body, this was powerful.

Mahalia too, was New Orleans born and bred, but she grew up singing in the pews of Mount Moriah Baptist Church. She would go on to give concerts everywhere from Munich, Germany to Carnegie Hall. She was a sensation. In 1956, she debuted on The Ed Sullivan Show and in 1958 recorded Black, Brown and Beige with Duke Ellington and his band on Columbia Records.

She was an integral part of the Civil Rights Movement. She sang at the inauguration of John F. Kennedy and it was her voice that pacified the many mourners at the funeral Dr. Martin Luther King.


Mahalia Jackson died in 1972, succumbing to complications from multiple health problems.

Her bluesy gospel was legitimate. It was southern: a spicy roux of spiritual obedience and social defiance. It was a bloodletting: every moan told the listener she felt everything she sang. It was in essence gospel- perseverance, reverence, adoration, but it was sung in a way that tells people where you’re from and changes where they’re going.

Mahalia Jackson was quoted as saying, "Gospel music is nothing but singing of good tidings -- spreading the good news. It will last as long as any music because it is sung straight from the human heart." This is a lesson that has lasted a lifetime for me. From Mahalia I learned what kind of poet I want to be. I didn’t realize it at the time, but Nanny and Mahalia taught me how to choose my gospel- the rays of my good news, to use the full capacity of my lungs for singing it, and to watch it change someone- even, and especially, if that someone is me.

Angelique Palmer is a Performance Poet and Educator from New Orleans now living in North Virginia. A former television news producer, she was 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. (Women You Should Know 2013 - Judith Jamison)

Editor's Note:  Thanks to Angelique for selecting powerful, affecting women who are dear to me - with no coaching! -  and creating such beautiful tributes! You can find earlier posts in the Women You Should Know series in the blog archives  from March 2014, 2013, and 2012.  If you are interested in being a guest blogger on the Zestyverse, let us know!

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Women You Should Know - Dorothy Arzner by Melissa Hacker

Women You Should Know:
Dorothy Arzner 

January 3, 1897 – October 1, 1979
by Melissa Hacker

I dropped out of college, moved to Seattle, and was waiting tables, dishwashing, and working in childcare. The University of Washington ran a fantastic film series, complete with detailed printed handouts, and I began to get an education in film. One rainy, dark winter it was all Werner Herzog, Rainer Werner Fassbinder and Douglas Sirk. Films featuring extravagant madmen and trapped women.

Soon after, I went back to school and was in a film production class using obsolete cameras donated by the local TV news station, and the professor, who was also obsolete, showed the class a cartoon of a woman holding a camera while jumping up on a chair, cowering. There was a mouse on the floor in front of the chair. I no longer remember the context – what technical or aesthetic lesson he was ostensibly teaching at the time, but I do remember his point; that women do not belong behind the camera. 

It was perhaps in this context that I found Dorothy Arzner. 

She was a very welcome discovery.

Dorothy Arzner was a woman director in the heart of the Hollywood studio system. After starting out as a stenographer, she quickly became a scriptwriter, editor (she edited the Rudolph Valentino vehicle, Blood and Sand), and then directed 16 feature films. 

She launched the careers of Katherine Hepburn, Lucille Ball, and other actresses. She directed Clara Bow's first talkie, in 1929, and is credited with developing the first boom mike when, to allow Clara Bow greater freedom of movement on set, she had technicians attach a microphone to a fishing pole.

I just watched Dance, Girl, Dance again. Made in 1940, it passes the Bechdel test:
  1. It has to have at least two [named] women in it
  2. Who talk to each other
  3. About something besides a man
Judy (Maureen O'Hara) and Bubbles (Lucille Ball) are in a dance troupe that falls on hard times. Judy wants to be a ballerina, but when Bubbles becomes a burlesque queen – Tiger Lilly -- and offers her a job at $25/week, Judy dances as a “stooge” or joke, a ballet between the bump and grind. 

After a powerful moment when Judy turns on the audience (the burlesque and the film audience), challenging the male gaze, they do have one big brawl, onstage, between the curtains, but all ends well. 

Bubbles gives her rich, new husband (married when he was drunk) back to his ex-wife: "Just call it Tiger Lilly throws playboy back to mate…for $50,000," she instructs the paparazzi. Judy joins the ballet company of her dreams. She was on her way to an interview there early in the film, which did not happen because Madame, the troupe’s elderly manager, a former Russian ballerina, too excited by the prospect of helping Judy to pay attention, met a tragic end while crossing the street. 

Ah, melodrama!

Finding Arzner opened the door to a world of inspiration. She was among a handful of women directors in early movie history including Alice Guy-Blaché, Germaine Dulac, Lois Weber, and Thea von Harbou. You can learn more at the Women Film Pioneers Project and an Arzner bio pic is finally in the works!

Melissa Hacker is a filmmaker born and raised in New York City. Her first film, My Knees Were Jumping; Remembering The Kindertransports was short-listed for Academy Award nomination and screened in film festivals , universities, and broadcast worldwide. Venus, an experimental video, was included in the group exhibition “Objects of Devotion and Desire: Medieval Relic to Contemporary Art” at The Bertha and Karl Leubsdorf Art Gallery, and received special accolades in The New York Times' review of the show. Venus also screened at the Josephinum Medical History Museum in Vienna. Honors received for Ex Libris, her current work-in-progress, include a Fulbright Artist-in-Residence award, production grants from the New York State Council for the Arts and the Austrian National Fund, and residencies at Yaddo, VCCA, Playa, and Saltonstall. Melissa has an MFA from Hunter College, and works as a wandering adjunct professor and film editor.

Editor's Note:  Check out all the posts in this series, starting with Siofra McSherry's on Olivia Robertson! You can find additional posts in the Women You Should Know series in the blog archives  from March 2012 and March 2013.  If you are interested in being a guest blogger on the Zestyverse, let us know!

Monday, 10 March 2014

Quote of the Week - Abzug

"They used to give us a day--it was called International Women's Day. In 1975 they gave us a year, the Year of the Woman. Then from 1975 to 1985 they gave us a decade, the Decade of the Woman. I said at the time, who knows, if we behave they may let us into the whole thing. Well, we didn't behave and here we are.” 
~ Bella Abzug

Well. Here we are. Again or still.

But hey - let's celebrate!  It's Women's History Month and we just had International Women's Day and we are celebrating all month on the Zestyverse with guest contributors on the Women You Should Know series. Last week's post from Siofra McSherry was on Olivia Robertson.  This week we'll have Melissa Hacker on Dorothy Arzner.

We could use more of Bella's feisty nature, political savvy and sense of humour - not to mention the hats!

Your prompt for the week >>>>> misbehave!  Why not? She would've!  Wear big hats, speak out, be your own damn self!

Happy Monday!

Sunday, 9 March 2014

The Simple Brilliance of The Star-Splitter

I forget sometimes the simple brilliance of Robert Frost.

Forget to read his poetry. Forget to remind myself of the common sense lessons. Forget about his good balance between self and community and nature.

Today I remembered. I found this poem: The Star-Splitter.  I was enticed by Orion being just at the beginning.  I've written more than one poem that starts with Orion - was I following Frost, stealing from him, or is Orion just perfect for poetry?

I don't think I'd read this poem before. I read Frost in school.  He's good in the way mashed potatoes are good. We might move on to more exciting poets, more intriguing and nuanced themes. But everyone loves mashed potatoes and it's not a good idea to abandon them altogether.

As I read, I heard Jack McCarthy's voice, and I saw the seemingly roundabout way of telling a story that I found in francEyE's poetry.  Always amazed at Jack's grounded voice; always amazed that francEyE's seemingly random tidbits in the beginning of the poem ended up tying together in a way that connected beautifully and underlined her subtext. I won't be able to ask them what they thought of Frost; or him what he might think of them. Nonetheless, I can feel Frost's legacy in our poetry community.

The updated Cosmos is on tonight. I am excited for this - I love science shows. This poem about stars and people and community and Orion seems to have found me at just the right time.

I'll try to remember not to forget Robert Frost again, at least, not for a while.

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Women You Should Know - Olivia Robertson by Siofra McSherry

"Be happy now. Don’t worry about if you were happy yesterday, or whether you will be happy tomorrow… eternity is between seconds. You find Deity, the Goddess, the God, now. And your home becomes your sanctuary. You have a sanctuary as your hearth – a candle, one candle, a stick of incense, wherever you are is Heaven. That’s what my message is … wherever you are, should be Heaven." 
~ Olivia Robertson

Women You Should Know:
Olivia Robertson

by Siofra McSherry

When she died in 2013, Olivia Durdin-Robertson was perhaps the last surviving member of the great generation of Anglo-Irish spiritualists, with Robert Graves, W. B. Yeats and Æ frequent visitors to her ancestra home, Clonegal Castle, as she grew up in the 1920s. As co-founder of the Fellowship of Isis, an international organization with over 20,000 members in 90 countries, her contribution to the global Goddess movement is unparalleled. Her leadership has energized devotees of the divine feminine from all faiths and backgrounds.

Already an accomplished author and illustrator, Robertson had her first direct mystical experience at the age of 29. The goddess Isis subsequently called her to a spiritual life. Always droll and down-to-earth about her experiences in the other world, she claimed “we had a long conversation, but afterwards I couldn’t remember any of it.” She received a lifelong vocation to redress the global imbalance between the patriarchal religion that has dominated for centuries and the divine feminine, becoming convinced that such equilibrium is necessary for the survival and happiness of humanity. To help achieve this aim she established the Fellowship of Isis in 1976, with her brother Lawrence and his wife Pamela. Lawrence had previously been a Church of Ireland minister, but resigned after becoming convinced, like Olivia, that God was female.

The Fellowship of Isis promotes the worship of Isis of 10,000 Names, providing an extensive liturgy, correspondence courses and ordination for members. Members are drawn from many religions in addition to Paganism, and no-one is expected to renounce their previous beliefs in favour of the Fellowship; rather, people are encouraged to integrate worship of the divine feminine into their existing practices. Olivia also established several internal societies, notably the Noble Order of Tara, initiates of which are dedicated environmental activists. She represented the FoI, as well as the global Neopagan movement, at the Parliament of the World’s Religions Centennial Session. She was the only delegate there to pray to a female deity.

Visitors to her home, Clonegal Castle in County Carlow, find a romantically decorated, potentially haunted seventeenth-century Irish mansion with a Temple of Isis in the basement. Shrines are dedicated to the twelve signs of the zodiac and aspects of the Goddess, and an ancient holy well can be found in the Chapel of Brighid. Olivia’s own visionary paintings and drawings of the Goddess feature prominently. Illustrious visitors have included Hugh Grant, Mick Jagger and Van Morrison, and Clonegal has become established as a New Age pilgrimage site, right at the heart of traditional rural Ireland.

As a pagan woman growing up in Ireland, Olivia’s life and work, remarkable grace, and gently intellectual promotion of the values of my faith were inspirational. The Irish establishment treated her with respect—perhaps due to her aristocratic heritage and her position within the community—and this helped me find a sense of dignity and self-esteem as a young woman struggling to find a context for my spiritual practice within a patriarchal, conservative Christian culture. Robertson passed to the Summerlands in November 2013, aged 96. She left a global legacy of inspirational spiritual leadership and a vast international organization dedicated to promotion of the divine feminine, and I am sorry I will never meet her on this plane. What is remembered, lives.

(Images used with permission - copyright  Fellowship of Isis .)

Siofra McSherry is a writer, researcher and doctoral scholar. She has published her poetry widely and writes art reviews for 

Editor's Note:  Special thanks to Siofra for being first up this year! We're grateful to her for bringing her insight and great writing!  You can find previous entries into the Women You Should Know series in the blog archives  from March 2012 and March 2013.  If you are interested in being a guest blogger on the Zestyverse, let us know!

Monday, 3 March 2014

Quote of the Week - Dench

"It's the rudest word in my dictionary, 'retire,'" she says forcefully. "And 'old' is another one. I don't allow that in my house. And being called 'vintage.' I don't want any of those old words. I like 'enthusiastic' and I like the word 'cut' because that means you've finished the shot." She adds, "I heard a woman being interviewed on the radio the other day who was 105, and I expected this very frail voice, but this wonderful voice came out and she said to this reporter who was interviewing her, 'I'll tell you one thing,' she said, 'Don't stop anything. I never stop anything I'm doing because otherwise I'll never get started again.' And I thought, 'That'll do.'"

~Judi Dench

I picked this quote out for this week before Cate Blanchett's mention of Judi Dench's work ethic at the Oscars. I picked it because I don't think creative people ever retire - they may shift focus, but creativity is a daily practise to be encouraged.

Indiewire thinks it's been a good awards season for women.  Maybe it has. Thanks to Cate Blanchett for calling attention to the "women's movie" myth. Thanks to Lupita Nyongo for bringing so much enthusiasm back to the craft. To Jennifer Lawrence for her incredibly honest and completely open-hearted enthusiasm for the announcement of Lupita Nyongo as winner of an award they were both up for - watch the clip if you didn't see it the first time.

We are supposed to be having fun, I think sometimes, we forget that.

And it is easy to forget, when sets become stressful and dangerous places.  Thank you Sarah Jones for reminding us to have boundaries, be safe and to love what we do enthusiastically without putting ourselves in harm's way. Your smile is forever and we will make changes.