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Poets recall John Berryman

Posted by: Claude Peck Updated: October 25, 2014 - 1:16 AM
 

Seven poets remembered John Berryman (above) Friday afternoon at the University of Minnesota. It was the kickoff of "John Berrryman at 100," a three-day conference organized by the university where Berryman taught from the mid-1950s until his suicide in 1972.

The conference site, the Elmer Anderson library on the west bank, is literally a stone's throw from the spot where the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, who suffered from alcoholism and depression, leapt to his death from the Washington Avenue bridge.

At a late-afternoon event, more than 100 people showed up for a reading by actor/writer/director Ben Kreilkamp and poets Jim Moore, Joyce Sutphen, Michael Dennis Browne, Peter Campion, Ray Gonzalez and Wang Ping.

Kreilkamp put an actor's topspin on five of Berryman's Dream Songs, including the powerful #384, which opens, "I stand above my father's grave with rage."

Moore remembered taking a class from Berryman and read "The Ball Poem" and "The Traveler."

Sutphen recalled once seeing Berryman wallking out of Walter LIbrary, "talking wildly to himself." She regretted not following him to hear one of his famed lectures. Sutphen read her own poem "Berryman's Hands," as well as a Shakespeare sonnet.

Browne, who has taught at the university for 39 years, read an elegy Berryman wrote for his good friend, poet Randall Jarrell, as well as some of Berryman's favorite lines from Shakespeare.

Campion movingly read a section from Walt Whitman's "Song of Myself," as well as his own poem "Blood Brook" and Dream Song #75.

Gonzalez read from a biography of Berryman, plus several Dream Songs and his own prose poem, "John Berryman and Robert Lowell Switch Hospitals."

Wang Ping, who teaches at Macalester, read one of her poems from her new book, "10,000 Waves," and the famous Dream Song #14 ("Life, friends, is boring. We must not say so.")

Full conference schedule here.

From left, poets Ray Gonzalez, Wang Ping and Peter Campion at "Berryman at 100" conference at the University of Minnesota on Friday, Oct. 24.

Fear and screaming: Horror Fest at Southern Theater

Posted by: Claude Peck Updated: October 24, 2014 - 3:08 PM
From "Frankenstein" by RawRedMeat Productions. 

Nine local troupes are staging 11 nights of horror at the Southern Theatre in Minneapolis through Nov. 2.

The Twin Cities Horror Festival is like a scary mini-Fringe Festival at Halloween time, with dance, theater, film and music, multi-show passes and latenight showtimes.

"Frankenstein" is a "terrifying new adaptation" by RawRedMeatProductions. "Doll Collection," by Four Hmors, is an original work about the general creepiness of dolls. In "Panacea," a 7-piece musicians' ensemble known as the Poor Nobodys performs live to original film and found footage.

Also performing are physical-theater troupe Transatlantic Love Affair, Hardcover Theater (a dark comedy about amputation), Ghoulish Delights, Gorilla Sandwich (a parlor farce adaptation of the classic John Carpenter movie "The Thing"), The Importance of Being Jim Fotis, and Erin Shepperd Presents.

Most individual shows are $15, and there's a 4-show pass at $50 and a 6-show pass at $75. Many of the shows start late, and some are followed by even later-night scary movies, so check the schedule. Follow the fest on Twitter @tchorrorfest.

Berryman, rebooted

Posted by: Kristin Tillotson Updated: October 23, 2014 - 2:17 PM

Poet John Berryman taught at the University of Minnesota from 1955 until his death in 1972. A centenary conference celebrating his work is being held there this weekend. Undated Star Tribune file photo by Pete Hohn.

To his fans, the work of John Berryman has never faded. Many an indie rocker has been inspired by the  idiosyncratic poet famous for his "Dream Songs" and other works like his groundbreaking "Homage to Mistress Bradstreet."

“Each poem trembles with a terrible, furious beauty that lies somewhere beneath the surface of his often perplexing words,” opined Nick Cave. The Hold Steady and Okkervil River have written songs about him.

But now Berryman, a Pulitzer winner and former University of Minnesota professor who notoriously leapt off the Washington Ave. Bridge in 1972, seems poised for revival, with several new books coming out this month and a centenary conference -- Berryman was born 100 years ago Saturday -- at the U this weekend.

After Berryman’s suicide, says conference participant Peter Campion, a poet and U of M professor, “there was an attack on him, because of his alcoholism, that went along with this sort of puritanical  ‘80s vibe. But people are coming out of the woodwork for this conference, we’re expecting standing room only.”

Berryman remained highly influential in the world of American poetry despite his reputation "going underground" after his death, Campion said: "He had such tremendous range. He was a tried and true Shakespeare scholar who also wrote like a quicksilver improvisational blues musician. No one could imitate him, to try would be silly, but he set a model that was so freeing, giving other poets permission to use other voices,including different ethnic voices, in their work.” 

Four new books from Farrar, Straus and Giroux include re-issues of Berryman's Dream Songs (foreword by Michael Hofmann) and his Sonnets (foreword by April Bernard). "The Heart Is Strange," is a New Selected Poems including three previously uncollected poems. The memoir "Poets In Their Youth" by his wife, writer and psychologist Eileen Simpson, has also been re-issued. 

As Hofmann notes in his foreword, young readers in particular are drawn to Berryman's fearless, freewheeling style:"no one writes like that, no one dares, no one would have the wild imagination or the obsession. Who knew English could encompass that flux; that whinny; those initially baffling, then canny and eventually unforgettable rearrangements of words; that irresistible flow of thoughts and nonthoughts of that degree of informed privateness?

He also quotes poet Adrienne Rich, who singled out Berryman and one other famous Minnesota artist for praise when she said, "The English (American) language. Who knows entirely what it is? Maybe two men in this decade, Bob Dylan, John Berryman."

Running Friday afternoon through midday Sunday at the  Elmer L. Andersen Library on campus, the conference features readings by local poets including Jim Moore and Michael Dennis Browne, panel discussions on his influences, memories of his students (several of whom became prominent poets in their own right) and a screening of a short documentary by local filmmaker and Berryman contemporary Al Milgrom. It's free but advance registration is requested: http://www.continuum.umn.edu/reg/berryman  The conference schedule is here.

Dream Song 14

by John Berryman

Life, friends, is boring. We must not say so. 
After all, the sky flashes, the great sea yearns, 
we ourselves flash and yearn, 
and moreover my mother told me as a boy 
(repeatingly) "Ever to confess you're bored 
means you have no

Inner Resources." I conclude now I have no 
inner resources, because I am heavy bored. 
Peoples bore me, 
literature bores me, especially great literature, 
Henry bores me, with his plights & gripes 
as bad as Achilles,

who loves people and valiant art, which bores me. 
And the tranquil hills, & gin, look like a drag 
and somehow a dog 
has taken itself & its tail considerably away 
into the mountains or sea or sky, leaving 
behind: me, wag.

Four Midwestern American Indian Artists Given National Fellowships

Posted by: Mary Abbe Updated: October 23, 2014 - 2:51 PM

Ojibwe artist Delina White who specializes in traditonal beadwork.

Four artist Midwestern American Indian artists have received fellowships worth up to $20,000 each from the Native Arts and Cultures Foundation (NACF), a non-profit organization based in Vancouver, Washington.

Winners of the NACF Regional Artist Fellowships are: Kevin Pourier, a carver of buffalo horn ornaments that range from sculptures to eyeglass frames. A member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, he is a Lakota from Scenic, S.D. Jennifer Stevens, a painter, potter and vocalist from Green Bay, Wisconsin who is a member of the Oneida Tribe. Delina White, an expert in traditional beadwork who lives in Deer River, MN and is a member of the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe. Star Wallowing Bull, an Ojibwe/Arapaho who is a member of the White Earth Band of Chippewa. He lives in Moorhead, MN and is known for his pop-style paintings and drawings of American Indian subjects and motifs. Wallowing Bull's work is regularly shown at Bockley Gallery in Minneapolis.

NACF is  a national nonprofit that supports the appreciation and perpetuation of American Indian, Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian arts and cultures. With money from Native Nations, arts patrons and foundations, NACF has provided nearly $1.7 million in assistance to 89 native artists and organizations in 23 states.

The NACF Regional Artist Fellowship Program is an annual award open to artists in Minnesota, Wisconsin, North and South Dakota who are enrolled members of one of the 37 tribes located in the region and who work in visual or traditional art forms. The awards are made possible by support from the Margaret A. Cargill Foundation.

In related news, the Margaret A. Cargill Foundation also supported a new Native American Artist-in-Residence program at the Minnesota Historical Society (MNHS). Three artists were picked in August, each of whom will be paid during a six month residency, to study collections at the MNHS and elsewhere that are related to their work. They will also develop programs to share their studies within their home communities. The artists are Jessica Gokey, a bead work artist who lives in Wisconsin's Lac Courte Oreilles community; Pat Kruse, a birch-bark artist from Mille Lacs, MN; and Gwen Westerman, a textile artist from Good Thunder, MN who is of Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate heritage.

Twin Cities Jewish Film Festival: from police drama to pickled herring

Posted by: Colin Covert Updated: October 17, 2014 - 5:06 PM
"Dancing in Jaffa" IFC Films.

"Dancing in Jaffa" IFC Films.

With a dozen films over 15 days, the 2014 Twin Cities Jewish Film Festival is a showcase of zany comedy, dark police drama and heart-warning historical documentary. With screenings at both Minneapolis’s Sabes Jewish Community Center and the Jewish Community Center of the Greater St. Paul Area, the series offers features in English and subtitled Hebrew, German, Spanish and Arabic, running from Oct. 19 through Nov. 2.
The charming “Dancing in Jaffa” opens the festival at 2 p.m. Sunday at the Sabes JCC. Getting fifth-grade boys and girls to dance together is tough. It’s tougher still when the students are a diverse mix of Palestinian Israelis and Israeli Jews. That’s the challenge ballroom dance champion Pierre Dulaine took on. When boys and girls dance together, Dulaine’s theory goes, they will see a person, not a vilified abstraction. A fey, theatrical fellow, Dulaine is a natural camera subject. Whether the cross-cultural friendships begun here will stand the test of time is anyone’s guess, but it’s a start.
On Thursday at 7:30, the subject is the legendary New York fish market “Russ& Daughters,” whose history since 1914 (including four generations and 1,800,000 pounds of pickled herring) is celebrated in “The Sturgeon Queens.” The 52-minute documentary interviews scores of the late owner Joel Russ’s descendents and fans as diverse as actress Maggie Gyllenhaal and Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The screening is at the St. Paul JCC.
Oct. 23 at 7:30 there’s “Zero Motivation,” an Israeli “Private Benjamin”-style satire of female military misfits. Variety called the film – nominated for a record-maker 12 Ophir awards, the equivalent of Oscars – “a biting, darkly comic look at the life of the women of the Israeli military [that] showed audiences that for these female secretaries and paper-pushers, boredom can be just as dangerous as battle.”
For a full listing of films and accompanying events, visit http://tcjfilmfest.org/films-and-events.php. You can purchase tickets at http://www.brownpapertickets.com/producer/247176, call the Box Office at 952-381-3499, or email tickets@sabesjcc.org.

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