By Deb A.
Most reports about centenarians focus on their longevity: what they did or didn't eat, drink or smoke; what words of advice they have to offer for readers who wish to blow out 100 candles one day. The sheer fact of having reached a century's worth of existence is deemed fascinating, possibly even educational, in and of itself. But when recounting Tsuen-Hsuin Tsien's life, there is an even more remarkable figure than his 105 years: 30,000, the number of rare Chinese books he risked his life to rescue from obliteration during World War II.
T.H. Tsien, a librarian and renowned scholar of Chinese writing and printing, was tasked with finding a safe haven for around 60,000 rare volumes during the Japanese occupation of Shanghai. Had these cultural artifacts been discovered, they would have been destroyed. Had his plans been discovered, he would have suffered a similar fate. However, he saw the work as his duty, and never looked back.
The Library of Congress in Washington had agreed to take around half of the precious inventory, but customs was under Japanese control, and it took Tsien several years to work out how to get the books across the border. Upon the advice of a sympathetic customs agent, he crated the goods and labeled them as new books purchased by the Library of Congress, posing as a bookseller and including bogus invoices. The treasures were shipped out throughout 1941, a few crates at a time, until all 102 had reached their destination. In Washington, they were copied onto microfilm and made available to scholars around the world.
When Tsien was sent to bring the books back home in 1947, a civil war in China left him unable to return. He joined the University of Chicago, earning two degrees there and becoming a professor emeritus of Chinese Studies and curator emeritus of the university's East Asian Library. He died at his home in Chicago on April 9th.
Thousands of books from T.H. Tsien's personal collection are held in a library bearing his name in Nanjing University. Tsien's own writing includes Written on Bamboo and Silk: The Beginnings of Chinese Books and Inscriptions, and Paper and Printing.
By Deb A.
Its streets turn pink in the spring with cherry blossoms, the views from the top of the largest aerial tram system in North America are breathtaking, and it's the most livable city in North America (and number three in the world). It was also a favourite destination for draft dodgers in the 1960s. Americans have long felt the magnetic pull of Vancouver, and, over decades, have established a formidable presence in the ethnically diverse city. Their impact on the city's creative scene is palpable: Americans head up the Vancouver Art Gallery and the Vancouver Opera, and everything from X-Men to X-Files has made its way onto screens via Hollywood North (a title shared with Toronto). They've also written a book or two....
By Deb A.
Ink runs from the corners of my mouth.
There is no happiness like mine.
I have been eating poetry.
- from Mark Strand's "Eating Poetry"
April is most decidedly not the cruellest month for poets and poetry-lovers; instead, it is a time to celebrate the power of poetry with the Academy of American Poets, who declared April National Poetry Month in 1996. The Academy claims that this is the "largest literary celebration in the world, with tens of millions of readers, students, K-12 teachers, librarians, booksellers, literary events curators, publishers, bloggers, and, of course, poets marking poetry's important place in our culture and our lives."
Agave Magazine is adding itself to that list this year by holding a poetry contest. Here's what you need to know.
Winning entries will be published in the Spring 2015 issue of Agave Magazine; winners will also receive a print copy.
Terms and conditions
April 30th, 2015 (also known as National Poem in Your Pocket Day in the United States)
By Deb A.
Stained, littered, unflinchingly honest, Tracey Emin's My Bed debuted at the Tate in 1999 to reactions as messy and visceral as the sheets it put on display. The piece is now back in Tate Britain, this time surrounded by Francis Bacon paintings rather than her own drawings, and starkly lacking its original shock value. Now that our collective fingers have loosened from our pearls, it is possible to take a deep breath and more clearly examine the work's true power: what is the meaning of this rumpled pile of bed linens, cigarette butts, contraceptives, bodily fluids, and vodka bottles, now that so many taboos around women's sexuality have been broken, or at least repeatedly dented?
Emin's answer is clear: "Back in the '90s, it was all about cool Britannia and the shock factor and now I hope, 15 years later, people will finally see it as a portrait of a young woman and how time affects all of us."
The bed, in which Emin stayed for several days during a period of depression triggered by relationship issues, is part of a wider tradition of exposing an intensely private element of an artist's personal life. Toward the end of the twentieth century, this became known as confessional art.
Louise Bourgeois is generally recognised as the mother of confessional art. One of her best-known works is Maman, a giant sculpture of a spider that she described as an ode to her mother: "She was my best friend. Like a spider, my mother was a weaver. My family was in the business of tapestry restoration, and my mother was in charge of the workshop. Like spiders, my mother was very clever. Spiders are friendly presences that eat mosquitoes. We know that mosquitoes spread diseases and are therefore unwanted. So, spiders are helpful and protective, just like my mother."
Mona Hartoum's Light Sentence grew from her sense of dislocation after being unable to leave London to return to her home in Lebanon after war broke out there in 1975: "The movement of the light bulb causes the shadows of the wire mesh lockers to be in perpetual motion... you have the disturbing feeling that the ground is shifting under your feet."
Yoko Ono does not shy away from exposing her personal struggles, including her fight for custody of her daughter in Plastic Ono Band's "Don't Worry Kyoko (Mummy's Only Looking for Her Hand in the Snow)". Ono herself is clear that "if you go back to all my albums, they're all confessional."
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