Our nation’s bookshops have been cultural heroes of the pandemic. Their fights to stay open, pivots to the Zoom, reimagining of launch events and book clubs, support of independent authors, small publishing houses, and local poets and artists has been a lifeline for so many. And now they finally get to reopen in person, just in time for Indie Bookstore Day, for browsing and for breathing in that glorious new (and very old) book smell. Here’s a bit of poetry, some insightful advice for a creative career and practice, and some innovative cultural histories to get you started.
Rich Ferguson, Beat Poet Laureate of California
When the National Beat Poetry Foundation selected Rich Ferguson for the 2020-22 term as California’s Beat Poet Laureate, it was May of 2020. Halfway through his term he did what any self-respecting writer would do – he released a book. Everything is Radiant Between the Hates (Moon Tide Press) is a collection of free verse and prose poems flush with the intoxicating blend of drummer’s rhythm, fearless vulnerability, evocative imagery, and irreverent humor that garnered Ferguson the accolade.
Which doesn’t mean releasing a book during a pandemic was easy. But as Ferguson tells the Weekly, responding not only to the pandemic, but to the year’s protests and politics – and through it all to his role as a parent – was both clarifying and necessary. “The book is dedicated to my four-year old daughter,” he says. “I wanted to document this moment in real time for her, for later.”
With saving this history in mind, and as someone who has also written novels, why then create it as a poetry book and not a more linear narrative? “For me it was better to express what’s going on these days in poetry,” says Ferguson. “So much of this year it’s felt like our souls, spirits and senses were being attacked on a psychic level. And I felt that poetry for me is a better language for expressing how things hit the heart. Poems are like time capsules, little moments that seem pressing to me right now, that also may well be shaping her future. We talk so much about the world we are leaving our children,” he says. “But what are we teaching them?”
Another reason to write the story of 2020 as poems is that there is a real feeling out there, especially in the younger generations accustomed to a verbal culture of fragments and bytes and snippets, that poetry would be attractive to them. Novels may take years, but poems – some poems – can live in the world by tonight. “There’s a match to the modern condition,” says Ferguson. “It’s no longer anachronistic. It has a potential for instantaneity, and that’s the same way we move through the world, making everything out of bits and pieces.”
Everything is Radiant Between the Hates assembles poems carrying advice from a fascinating but imperfect parent, the introspections of a modern urban man, the accidental humor of our cultural shorthands, the physical and spiritual traumas of the worst of our society, the unexpected silver linings of an online life of collaboration alongside the lonely deprivation of the human touch, the sins of politicians, the saintliness of everyone, advice from the ancestors, gifts for the descendants, a good laugh, a good cry, elevated and fresh-faced wordplay, and occasionally a love story. rich-ferguson.com.
Send them all / loving and luminous messages / through the dark and dead of night, / typed on the telegraph keys of your heart. — R.F.
The Black Panther Party: A Graphic Novel History by David F. Walker and Marcus Kwame Anderson (Ten Speed Press). Since its founding in Oakland in 1966, and very much alive in the popular imagination and political discourse of today, the Black Panther Party’s education, activism and mutual aid legacy has helped define the American civil rights movement. Now a new graphic novel gives that legacy, and the towering figures at its core, the literal hero treatment. From social programs to community safety, health care to intellectual rigor, FBI persecution and international solidarity, this comic book style is perfect for illuminating the legendary efforts and key events of the party’s history. esowonbookstore.com.
This Is Not a Gun, Edited by Cara Levine (Candor Arts | Sming Sming Books). This Is Not a Gun is an ongoing multidisciplinary project across art, activism, exhibitions, programs, writings – and an elegant, affecting book which encapsulates its striking premise. While the goal of the work is to propagate awareness, systemic reform and collective healing specifically from the intertwined violence of racism and police brutality. Simply put, This Is Not a Gun catalogs the astounding array of ordinary objects that police officers have allegedly mistaken for guns, resulting in the shooting of unarmed civilians – broomsticks, bibles, key rings, iPods, sunglasses, Skittles, soda cans, pizza and prescription bottles – with contributions from 40 artists, writers, healers and activists in moving words and horrifically ordinary images. thisisnotagun.com.
The Tarot of Leonora Carrington with text by Gabriel Weisz Carrington, Susan Aberth, Tere Arcq (Fulgur Press). The British artist Leonora Carrington (1917-2011) and her late career among the exuberance of the Mexican surrealist movement, is one of the more fascinating figures in modern art history. After settling in Mexico in 1943, Carrington’s strange, mythological, poetic paintings and sculptures became very well known, but the recent discovery of a tarot deck she created was a revelation for scholars and fans. The Tarot of Leonora Carrington includes a full-size facsimile of her Major Arcana; and an introduction from her son, Gabriel Weisz Carrington along with analysis exploring the significance of the occult and other kinds of magic within Carrington’s work. artbook.com.
How To Art
The New Oil Painting by Kimberly Brooks (Chronicle Books). Oil paint is one of the most ancient mediums on earth – but there’s a downside to the richness, depth, mythic stature and durability of this classical material. The solvents long assumed to be requisite for using oil-based pigment are really toxic. But as painter Kimberly Brooks demonstrates in-depth through research and most importantly studio practice, you don’t need harmful chemicals to paint like an Old Master. (Talent might be another story.) Hard to believe, most of what is currently taught about how to handle oils is based on centuries-old understandings of the science and has not been updated in far too long. Better yet, these insights are imparted with wit, precision, instructions, illustrations and actionable exercises. newoilpaintingbook.com.
Make Your Art No Matter What by Beth Pickens (Chronicle Books). A sort of twist on the professional advice/self-help/journey of creative realization genres, this book is a beautifully told guide to overcoming prevalent causes for the dreaded creative block. With humor and empathy and often surprisingly intimate perceptions into the artistic psyche, Pickens unpacks thoughtful ways to move past anxiety, time pressures, money worries, fear, lack of confidence, isolation, and other studio demons. Her very good advice on getting life out of its own way is also coupled with philosophical underpinnings and practical resources that honestly can be of help to anyone looking for a new perspective or even a whole new start. bethpickens.com.
The Freelance Hustle by David Heredia (Heroes of Color). Making a decent living as a freelancer is both a rewarding and Herculean undertaking. And while it’s not only creatives who dream of being their own boss, the independent artist’s road can be especially long and winding. That’s where a book like The Freelance Hustle can help. With no-nonsense chapters like How to Create Revenue Streams, 101 Killer Marketing Techniques, Strategic Networking, Creating Successful Pitches, and crafting pro-level Proposals, the book is particularly geared toward the needs of the cartoonist, illustrator, painter, graphic designer, animator and digital artist. Heredia draws on his own success in these fields to offer guidance with clarity, specificity, benchmarks and practical exercises, augmented with videos and further online content that helps you through it with charm and humor. heroesofcolor.com.
Tripping Over Canvases by Dontae T. Muse (Above Art Studios). Growing out of a larger practice giving career advice, industry guidance, exhibition space, and creative mentorship to independent visual artists, this most recent book is a comprehensive yet concise guide for those on the precipice of making their art their full-time profession. From advice on working with galleries, to how to make social media work for you, how to file business papers with the tax office, how to value yourself in the creative economy, how to pursue public grants and commercial commissions, and more, get comfortable with the term “artrepreneur.” instagram.com/aboveartstudios.