By Deb A.
Poetry is Anne Whitehouse's first love; she is also a skilled writer of fiction, book reviews and feature articles, as well as proposals and reports for the development sector. Her poem, "High Summer", was featured in the inaugural issue of Agave Magazine, and the equally graceful "Poet in New York" will be showcased in Agave's upcoming issue.
AGAVE: "High Summer" is elegantly simple. How did the poem take shape?
ANNE WHITEHOUSE: “High Summer” is a poem that came to me as a recollection—I wrote it not in the summer, but last autumn, as I was thinking back nostalgically on Vermont summers in the past, when my husband and I used to rent a house in a valley in the Green Mountains. And while I love the revolving wheel of the seasons of the year, and I love each season for its unique gifts and qualities, I have a particular intensity of feeling for summer, because I grew up in Alabama where summers are brutally hot. What is wonderful about Vermont is that even when it is hot, you can almost always find a cold body of water where you can cool off. Simple thoughts like this brought forth this simple poem.
What do you believe is the key to transporting a reader in so few words?
I love the haiku form, which achieves its effects through suggestion and nuance. Sometimes feelings are only expressible obliquely. Although “High Summer” is not strictly a haiku, I was thinking of the aim of haiku when I wrote it—to make meaning clear through the least means, to use everyday language to get inside the commonness of life. In the poetic traditions of the Far East, empathy is extended to things, not only to sentient beings. A haiku poet does not describe, because description introduces a division between the poet and the experience. In a haiku, poet and experience are one. That, I think, is the key.
What motivates you to write poetry?
When I feel inspiration to write a poem, it’s very peculiar—it’s like a physical reaction to something I am confronted with. I don’t try too hard to understand it, because that might kill it. It’s more important to learn how to recognize it and use it. The fact that it’s different for every poet is a realization that came to me a few years ago. I was having a conversation with another poet about the emergence of the 17-year cicadas that I had recently witnessed in Louisville, Kentucky. He was disgusted by what seemed to me a most miraculous phenomenon and, indeed, I ended up writing one of my Blessings in my Blessings and Curses series about it.
Do you write by hand or on a computer?
I often start writing by hand. I prefer writing with soft pencils on unlined paper. I also love my blue Waterman fountain pen. Writing with a soft pencil or fountain pen takes less physical effort and my hand doesn’t cramp so quickly. I admire beautiful handwriting. When I grew up, handwriting was actually a subject that was taught in the schools. We started printing in first grade and cursive writing in second grade according to the Palmer method. It is an accomplishment that is all but lost now. Today many students are only taught how to print, and even their printing is not very legible. Perhaps it’s not important anymore since they type everything on a keyboard. Perhaps only in countries like China or Japan, where calligraphy is so much a part of the cultural heritage, are children still taught how to write beautifully by hand. I remember when my daughter was in fifth grade, the members of her class were paired with Chinese students who were learning English. The handwriting of the Chinese students writing in English was much better than the Americans. Something has been lost, and it’s sad, but maybe we ought not to lose too much sleep over it. Probably it’s inevitable, like many other skills that technology has rendered obsolete.
And all that being said, even though I often start writing by hand, I quickly switch to the computer. It is just so much easier. I can’t imagine not writing on a computer. I love my MacBook Pro. I am writing these words on it now.
What poets have had the greatest influence on you?
I don’t think that writers are aware of their influences at the time that they are being influenced. If one is aware of the influence, then it’s not really an influence. It might be a model. But influences are more mysterious and unconscious.
I fell in love with the music of poetry before I understood what it meant. I didn’t grow up in the musical household. When I was a pre-teen, I discovered popular music and rock music, but long before that, I had fallen in love with the music of words. One of my favorite nursery rhymes began:
“One misty moisty morning
when cloudy was the weather,
I chanced to meet an old man
clothed all in leather.”
I recall coming across Ariel’s song in my children’s Shakespeare:
“Full fathom five thy father lies;
Of his bones are coral made…”
More than favorite poets, I have favorite poems, poems that I come to again and again, that I have memorized, that have become a part of me. They have influenced my love of poetry and my awareness of what poetry can be, but have they influenced the kind of poetry I write? I don’t know, and I don’t think I want to know. Writing is matter of faith and intuition. You’ve got to trust it and not question it too much.
The next issue of Agave Magazine will be published in February 2014. To receive a copy delivered directly to your inbox, subscribe here.
By Deb A.
With a day's take of $420 in his pouch, a white-haired man packs up his stall in Central Park and heads home. He has sold only a handful of canvases — including four to a man who just needs "something for the walls" of his new house. No-one seems to have noticed that he is selling original signed works by Banksy that could be considered a bargain at a thousand times the $60 asking price.
British street artist Banksy has been turning New York City into his own open-air gallery for the month of October in a project he calls "Better Out Than In". So far he has captivated New Yorkers with works including a 9/11 tribute, a slaughterhouse delivery truck filled with stuffed animals, and 'Broadway makeovers' that have ended up prompting even individuals who would not normally engage with the art scene to ponder the meaning and nature of art.
Several of Banksy's pieces were defaced within hours, inviting the world to debate whether this was heartbreaking sacrilege or just the kind of playful irreverence that Banksy himself would approve of... or whether it was all just a blatant violation of New York City's anti-graffiti legislation that should be destroyed immediately. (Mayor Bloomberg's stance is clear: he has pledged to paint over any pieces on city property.) Ideas around art, ownership, intrinsic value and public duty were brought to the public consciousness: one proprietor of a building blessed/cursed by Banksy's aerosol cans was left wondering how—and whether—to preserve the two geishas that appeared overnight, while entrepreneurial Brooklynites covered an image of a beaver up with cardboard and demanded $20 from anyone who wanted to take a photograph, claiming, "it's worth more to you that this is here than to me."
Whether they make stark political statements or simply add a glimmer of whimsy to the streets of New York, Banksy's creations all operate under the motto that inspired the title of the project: Paul Cézanne's statement that "all pictures painted inside, in the studio, will never be as good as those done outside." Art must thrive within its context, whatever form that may take, in order to engage an entire city in big ideas.
I have a theory that you can make any sentence seem profound by writing the name of a dead philosopher at the end of it.
By Deb A.
Empathy's been getting a lot of press recently. The crucial skill of being able to put oneself in another's shoes and feel what that person is feeling is being used to reduce aggression in widely successful school programmes and even championed as the key to saving the world. And now a recent study has shown the potential for literature-loving adults to improve their ability to empathize.
'Reading Literary Fiction Improves Theory of Mind' is the title of a recent study published in the journal Science that gives lovers of literary fiction a moment to congratulate themselves on unlocking social value each time they crack open their favourite book. In essence, David Comer Kidd and Emanuele Castano have found through five experiments that literary fiction sharpened readers' sense of empathy to an extent not found in 'mainstream' fiction or non-fiction.
The reason literary writing encouraged empathy more than the standard airport fare and non-fiction titles is linked to what Roland Barthes calls 'writerly' versus 'readerly' texts. While 'readerly' texts entertain readers and allows them to remain passive, 'writerly' texts require more work: the reader must sense or deduce what is not spelled out. This is good practice for real life, when we have to interpret the cues we receive and fill in the blanks ourselves.
Does this mean that passing on Danielle Steele in favour of Anton Chekhov makes you a better person in the short-term? Possibly—as long as you're not a snob about it.
By Deb A.
Filmmaker, photographer, artist, and new contributing editor: art of Agave Magazine, Issraa El-Kogali finds inspiration at home and abroad. She just completed a guest student year at the Royal Institute of Art in Stockholm, Sweden, and her work has been shown around the world, including the United States, Sudan, Brazil, Nigeria, Germany and the United Kingdom. We're very pleased to welcome Issraa to the team!
AGAVE: As a Sudanese artist who has also lived in the U.K., the U.S., Egypt, and Sweden, how does your background inform your art?
ISSRAA EL-KOGALI: Wherever I am I'm Sudanese. As a third culture child I walked a long dusty road to arrive at a place of understanding my identity. It is continually expressed through my work. As it shifts so does the nature and substance of my work.
Your portfolio includes photography, film, spoken word, writing and even jewelry design. Do you have a preferred medium?
The medium chooses me in a way. What I'm living and feeling suddenly manifests as photo projects or words on a page and so on.
What professional achievements are you proudest of?
My little documentary In Search of Hip Hop. In the three years since I made my first film it's been featured in festivals around the world, and last month it was optioned by BBC Arabic. It's an 11-minute film that keeps giving back! It is also an incredible privilege to join Agave Magazine -- it's an opportunity for me to learn about my contemporaries, and I hope that my experience of the mixed Arab-African aesthetic and my training will add a distinctive flavour and dynamic.
What has been your most challenging work so far?
Nora's Cloth has been my most challenging work, primarily because it's a long-term project where I've had to acquire new skills while I developed the different parts of the installation. It's also the most rewarding. Just the idea on paper won me an Ibsen Scholarship!
What advice would you like to pass on to artists and photographers who are interested in submitting to Agave Magazine?
Submit your work! If you don't try you can't succeed.
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