Review: Fluid States by Heidi Czerwiec Print E-mail

Czerwiec cover(River Teeth Blog August 2, 2019)

Shapes Shifted, Senses Altered, Values Freely Wheeled

There may be no more startling way to bait readers into an essay than this: “Is there a word for the unsettling sensation of sitting down on an unexpectedly warm toilet seat, because someone used it just before you and sat there for a good long while? Maybe something in German?” The author titles it: “FREUDENSCHANDE: PRIV(AC)Y,” translated as “joyful-shame.” Using more of these “made-up” German compounds as section titles, she goes on to compare the “bowel mover” in the “public privy” to the commodious confessions of the personal nonfictionist, the emotional “shitshow” so many memoirists and essayists insist readers have to sit with. All this “warmth sharing” breaks “the illusion of privacy” and invites us into the shape-shifting, sense-altering, fearlessly original prose of Heidi Czerwiec.

Review: Making Violence Holy Jo Scott-Coe's MASS, a Dialogue with Renee D'Aoust Print E-mail

Mass(River Teeth Online December 03, 2018)

Note: D’Aoust and Larson reflect on the structure, style, and meaning of Scott-Coe’s research-based prose meditation on the mass murderer Charles Whitman. The ex-Marine sniper killed his mother and wife as well as more than a dozen people from the University of Texas Tower in Austin on August 1, 1966. But there’s a companion story—that of an alcoholic Catholic priest whose friendship with the killer (he married Whitman and his wife) is also core to the tale. The priesthood creates a secretive brotherhood that hides male violence, especially against women, from public scrutiny, while it sanctions the same in the patriarchy.

TL: First, I’d like to orient our readers with a little bit about Scott-Coe. She is the author of Teacher at Point Blank and the essay “Listening to Kathy,” has taught at Riverside Community College for many years, and advises the literary annual, Muse. I have much to say about Mass, which is provocative and challenging because of its unusual style and its inescapable implications about the Catholic church whose all-male hierarchy continues to hide deviant laity and sexual crimes within its ranks.

Review: Sing Out! Peggy Seeger''s "First Time Ever: A Memoir" Print E-mail

Peggy Seeger(Another Chicago Magazine October 23, 2018)

Among the most artful duos to lift their voices in the cause and community of folk music are the singers Peggy Seeger and Ewan MacColl. They fell in love in 1956—she, twenty-one, newly arrived in London from Maryland to play the five-string banjo on a television show; he a songwriter, actor, and communist, English-born of Scottish parents, twice her age (and married), whose balladry (“Dirty Old Town,” “My Old Man“) had helped ignite the British Folk Revival, ablaze in cellar club, busking corner, and studio single-takes.

Their voices were set—MacColl, the tufted wobble of an English dockworker, Seeger, the wren-like lilt of an Appalachian schoolgirl. Together, though, their alloy is like bronze. Listen to them synchronize melody and rhythm on the “Ballad of Accounting.” It’s an anthemic tune about taking ethical stock of one’s life, questions of moral pungency few bother with any more:

               Did you stand there in the traces and let ‘em feed you lies?
               Did you trail along behind them wearing blinkers on your eyes?
               Did you kiss the foot that kicked you, did you thank them for their scorn?
               Did you ask for their forgiveness for the act of being born?

Review: Death & a Return to Wholeness: Joe Garrison's "The Broken Jar" Print E-mail

22426581 368017880304136 934533691096048969 o(San Diego Troubadour November 1, 2017)

Few composers push so many musical moods onto their listeners—shifting from ecstatic to brooding on a dime—as much as San Diego’s Joe Garrison does. He interrupts his pieces with silence only to shock them awake with sonic surprise. His unconventionality is twin-engined: sound’s nature to vanish before us and music’s design to take us somewhere. We do get somewhere but Garrison stops regularly for coffee like a night-driving trucker. He loves studying the territory’s map, momentarily pondering the road he went down—and then, shifting gears, heading off in a new direction.

Review: A Secular Founding Father: On Ian Ruskin's "Thomas Paine" Print E-mail

Thomas Paine(The Truth Seeker May, 2016)

The one- or two-hour biography, whether film or play or documentary, is fraught with landmines: the portrayal reduces the life, redacts the ideas, rings the subject’s good bells, tosses in a token failure or two, and pumps up an artificial destiny. All was meant to be, we see in hindsight, ’tis great-man history. Such unnuanced bios—I’m thinking of films like Ali and Steve Jobs—re-mythologize the life to salvage one on whom history has been confused or ungenerous. We make a flawed man great again if we carefully rehab him. Think of the slow Teddy-Bearing of George W. Bush.

There may be no better candidate for reconstitution than Thomas Paine, secularism’s favorite anti-British British hero of American independence, perhaps the finest polemicist our republic has ever known. During his life (1737-1809), Paine was loved and reviled, the latter, the loudest. In his sixties and an American citizen, he became the “filthy little atheist” and the “devil incarnate,” a pariah to the cause of liberty. One obituary said Paine “had lived long, done some good, and much harm.” His haters’ wrath centered on The Age of Reason (1794-6), a lucid refutation of religion. In days of yore when dissent in print or speech led to the guillotine, Paine disavowed all creeds and clerical authority, judged the Bible a scurrilous tale of a cruel deity, and thought Jesus Christ just another wayward stargazer. A deist, Paine marveled at the Creation and lovingly called the Creator, God.

Review: Interlude by Jamie Cullum (CD) Print E-mail

leprotti(Music & Musicians Issue 41 2015)

Some vocalists take wing as teen sensations and circle the port; some launch as adults and fly transcontinental. Few make the shift—few as driven as England’s Jamie Cullum: 7 albums in 15 years. He of the bedhead, the suit-and-Converse-wearing Phenom, the 20-year-old crooner who hit pop-smart with 1999’s Heard It All Before. Cullum’s latest, Interlude, meshes jazz and near-jazz: 15 tunes in search of his comfort zone, which, gorgeously produced, still sounds a touch over-comfy, a tad couch-safe. On “My One and Only Love,” the song’s yearning plods, lacking the vibrant candor of his 1999 trio recording. Same with Hank Williams’ “Lovesick Blues,” a ribald honky-tonker too slow-to-pop, though the band’s country funk is heel-toe firm. Several gems here do shine with an inner ferocity, especially when Cullum and an orchestra parlay. Of the album’s two duets, Gregory Porter’s preacherly conviction on the Animals’ classic “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” unbuckles the ride. The sound is brassy, torch-bearing, and the balladeer gets it. Best of show is Jule Styne’s “Make Someone Happy,” the voice/solo piano blend bleedingly sincere. Here a full-grown Cullum crosses conflicted emotions; he’s as much pained by as he’s possessed of the tune’s declaration. Overall—less pap, more tart, please. The talent’s undeniable.


Review: Three Kinds of Motion: Kerouac, Pollock, and the Making of American Highways by Riley Hanick Print E-mail

Hanick.THREE-KINDS-MOTION.web(Essay Daily October 7, 2015)


Around 1910, Vasily Kandinsky, the Russian artist, began a revolution in seeing by finishing the first abstract paintings in Europe, though the Navajo, the Chinese, and the Muslims had been making design art for centuries. It took a few years before he quit portraying mountains and horses’ heads and drew, instead, a phantasmagoria of floating and cellularly busy flat forms. The surprise was that Kandinsky’s subjectless swirls and smudges, lines and dots, said something, despite not representing recognizable images like peasants or churches. Voila, as he’d intended, form in itself was rapturously beautiful. As if the Western eye knew all along that a triangle and a splotch, when layered on canvas, would animate the space like geometric ballet. Why had we avoided the disjunctive so long in art?

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