By Deb A.
The tides are turning against a major donor in the art world. Over the last week, the Tate Modern, the National Portrait Gallery, and the Guggenheim all announced that they would no longer be accepting donations from the Sackler family.
The Sacklers earned themselves a name in the art world by donating millions upon millions of dollars to museums and galleries. The Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Louvre have Sackler Wings, the British Museum has Raymond and Beverly Sackler Rooms, and the group of Tate galleries had already accepted over $5 million from the family before their recent announcement.
The problem lies in the source of the Sackler family's billions: Their company, Purdue Pharma, developed and aggressively marketed OxyContin while hiding its addictive properties, making the Sacklers almost single-handedly responsible for North America's opioid crisis.
Photographer Nan Goldin, who herself became addicted to painkillers after being prescribed OxyContin, established Prescription Addiction Intervention Now (PAIN) to protest the Sacklers's involvement in the arts and insist that they fund rehab programmes and overdose antidotes instead of making prestigious donations. She led demonstrations at the Met and the Guggenheim, and threatened to withdraw from an exhibition of her work at the National Portrait Gallery if it accepted a million-pound donation from the Sacklers. The gallery turned the money down.
The Sacklers are far from being the only ethically problematic patrons of the arts, and it is unlikely that museums and galleries around the world, especially those with long histories, will be able to extricate themselves completely from blood money and ill-gotten gains. But this is no reason to avoid taking a stand; galleries must make it clear that they will no longer accept money that was earned by putting lives at risk.
By Deb A.
William Stanley Merwin died on March 15, 2019. He was 91. Merwin was a poet whose life and works lend themselves well to elegant variation. He was a conservationist—not only in his poetry, which often bemoaned the destruction of the natural world, but also in his personal life; he and his wife restored 19 acres of land in Hawaii ("His poems, like that forest, are a kind of time preserve," noted Dan Chiasson in the New Yorker) and founded the Merwin Conservancy. He was a literary translator who took up the practice on the advice of Ezra Pound as a way of improving his own writing. He was a practising Buddhist and an anti-war activist; he was a conscientious objector in World War II, and he rejected his 1971 Pulitzer Prize (for The Carrier of Ladders), requesting that the prize money be donated to a peace activist and the draft resistance movement. As well as being a Pulitzer Prize winner (twice: He also won in 2009 for The Shadow of Sirius), he was a U.S. Poet Laureate and the recipient of nearly every other award available to American poets. Merwin was a prolific writer, publishing over 20 books of poetry—which, in his signature style, offer little in the way of punctuation—and nearly as many books of translation, as well as several plays, memoirs, and other books. His last original collection of poems, Garden Time, was published in 2016, 64 years after his first, A Mask for Janus (1952).
For the Anniversary of My Death
By W. S. Merwin (The Second Four Books of Poems, 1993)
Every year without knowing it I have passed the day
When the last fires will wave to me
And the silence will set out
Like the beam of a lightless star
Then I will no longer
Find myself in life as in a strange garment
Surprised at the earth
And the love of one woman
And the shamelessness of men
As today writing after three days of rain
Hearing the wren sing and the falling cease
By Deb A.
"Every black person deserves to see themselves this way": Mikael Owunna's Infinite Essence photography project is his reaction to the barrage of images of dying or dead black bodies. It is both poignant and incredibly beautiful, and a thorough look at his website and social media, along with this interview with NPR, is well worth your while.
Patrick Heide Contemporary Art in London is showing a group exhibition focused on Brexit entitled Should I Stay Or Should I Go?
It didn't take long for the first comic depicting U.S. Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (as an establishment-fighting hero) to emerge. (Devil's Due Comics)
The New York Times marked Black History Month by telling the stories of some of the notable black men and women who did not receive obituaries when they died. The project is called Overlooked, and its last entry of the year is a look at graffiti artist Dondi.
If it's too cold to get outside, at least there's this: The Outdoor Photographer of the Year winners for 2018.
It's somehow hard to imagine a list like this that didn't include Margaret Atwood (spoiler alert: This one does): CBC's "10 Canadian books coming out in March we can't wait to read."
By Deb A.
Astrolabes & Constellations is poet, writer, and artist Cristina Querrer's first full-length collection of poems. Published as part of the Agave Press Manuscript and Portfolio Series, the volume brings together questions of self, identity, travel, nostalgia, loss, and forgiveness, and examines what it is to be the product of circumstance. We spoke to Cristina about growing up in the Philippines, creative expression, and the meaning of home.
AGAVE: Navigation is a recurrent theme in the collection, and you say of yourself that you've "taken the scenic route in life": You were born and raised in the Philippines as an American military child, and you're a U.S. Army veteran with an MFA and an arsenal of tech skills. How do your poems support you in finding your path? How do they reflect that navigation?
CRISTINA QUERRER: Navigation and nautical imagery have been my recurring themes. Firstly, I come from a fisherman family in the Philippines, so water has been in my blood, so to speak. As far as nautical imagery, it mostly comes from my constant traveling since childhood as a U.S. military child and into adulthood. It’s about my seemingly “meandering” migration pattern and the need to map and document the routes and experiences that appear in my poetry. It reflects back life’s circumstances, all of what is within and beyond my reach.
What does the Philippines mean to you?
The Philippines is my starting point. It’s my birthplace. I explore identity, and I find that being of mixed race, I was blessed to have a fixed Filipino identity, thanks to my mother and her relatives for their inclusion, acceptance, and love.
While you're a writer and poet first, you seem to want to delve into as many creative avenues as possible: You're also an artist and a blogger, and you've recently started podcasting; you've got your eye on songwriting as well. What motivates you to explore so many ways of expressing yourself?
What motivates me to explore various ways of expression is the discovery process. I like to explore other possibilities because I find the many modes of expression are interconnected and quite possibly feeds each other. Just as a visual artist can switch and work on several pieces of paintings, is how I approach the many creative avenues. Right now, building my podcast channel is on my radar, but I have other projects I’d like to return to, like my visual art, my next poetry collection, and finishing up my novel, to name a few.
You mentioned on your first podcast that you wanted to investigate what creativity means to you. What have you discovered so far?
Since my interviewing other writers and poets about their creative process on my podcast, I find that mine is not that different from theirs. Staying creative means staying open to ideas, to explore the possibilities. In my podcast, the writers and poets are doing this, no matter what projects they have done or plan on doing. Continuing to be creative to me is more about mapping and planning as well as being open and being spontaneous.
What do you hope readers of By Astrolabes & Constellations will experience through your poems?
I hope my readers can feel a sense of travel through my collection because it is a result of some of my travels: from the Philippines, the U.S. (Connecticut/New Mexico/Florida), to the Federated of Micronesia, where I have lived and worked briefly, and back. My opening poem talks about a paper boat that traveled the world and came “back to this island.” “This island” can represent the Philippines or something as ubiquitous and essential as feeling home with oneself.
Cristina's podcast can be found at yourartsygirlpodcast.com.
By Deb A.
The world's richest short story competition—this year's winner of the Sunday Times Audible Short Story Award will take home around $38,000—closed for entries this past week. While writers around the world cross their fingers, British public radio has an incentive for the next generation of authors to start typing.
BBC Radio 2's 500 Words is the world's biggest short story competition for young people. Open only to UK residents aged 5–13, it nevertheless attracted nearly 135,000 entries last year, and more than 800,000 stories altogether since its inception in 2011. The rules are simple: Children can submit one original story that is no longer than 500 words. And mixing up your and you're is no tragedy: Spelling, grammar, and punctuation don't count. Originality, plot, characterisation, language, and enjoyment do.
Created to foster a love for reading and writing at an early age, the competition offers some fantastic prizes for the winners of each age group (5–9 and 10–13). Gold Award winners will receive a stack of books as tall as the competition's chair, former Radio 2 DJ Chris Evans (that's 1.88m); 500 books for their school library; and a tour of a BBC children's TV show. Silver Award winners will take home the Honourary Judge's height in books; a quick search for Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall's height yields 1.73m. Entrants should make sure to eat their vegetables, as a Bronze Award will earn them their own height in books. All six winners will also receive an illustration of their story by an acclaimed children's illustrator.
Every entry has been sent to the Oxford University Press since 2012, creating a corpus of 328 million words and counting. An analysis of the data showed that last year, the environment, gaming, women in history, and unicorns were all popular themes. Plastic, used to indicate pollution, was the word of the year.
The 2019 submission deadline is March 7; aspiring authors can find learning resources as well as inspiration (for instance, David Walliams's enthusiastic reading of last year's Gold Award winner for ages 5–9, Evan Boxall's The Poo Fairy) on the 500 Words website.
For slightly older short story enthusiasts, 500 Words is also looking for UK teachers and librarians to act as volunteer judges and whittle down the entries to a long list.
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