Tag Archive | libraries

Blackout Poetry and West LA Zinemaking

At the latest meeting of the artists and writers collective, our warm-up activity was blackout poetry. To create a blackout poem, you take a printed text and black out all but the words you want to incorporate into your poem. It’s a kind of constrained writing, and it’s rather tricky because you have to see something of your own in the midst of someone else’s text. We used pages ripped from the author’s note of this year’s UCLA Common Book, The Line Becomes a River by Francisco Cantú. (I picked up my free copy in January and read the book then; I recommend it.) In the end, I found it easiest to dispense with the vast majority of the words on the page, and I came up with: “the absence of stories is the crisis / nothing else frees us from anonymity”.

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My local library, the West Los Angeles Regional Library, recently launched a zine collection and has also begun holding monthly zinemaking workshops. Isabelle and I went for the first time last month and recently went again. Thanks to these workshops, we’ve discovered the library has a second floor (!), hung out with cool librarians, and used an old-fashioned typewriter (much cooler than my inherited electric typewriter). Over the two workshops, I also completed my newest zine, Confessions of an Obsessive Journaler (also available to print and download under Other Writing).

Mobile Museums and Rare Books

Earlier this month Isabelle and I went to the Mobile Museum Fair at the Los Angeles Central Library downtown. The fair brought together a couple dozen exhibits and libraries, from the International Printing Museum‘s printing shop on wheels (which we’d once seen in front of our building on campus) to the Feminist Library on Wheels to a native plants pop-up seed museum. The trucks were lined up outside the library on 5th Street while other exhibits were scattered throughout the library’s halls and meeting rooms.

We’d heard there would be tours of the Rare Books Room, and we were lucky enough to snag the third and fourth spots out of twenty for the second and last tour. After signing up, we visited the Connecting Cultures Mobile Museum, which featured a large collection of masks and musical instruments from around the world. On a table in the middle of the room were a handful of instruments you could play, including a few thumb pianos, a guitar, and something Isabelle thought was a guzheng. She showed me how to pluck it. On the walls were many more instruments: balalaikas, an erhu, a kora, a hulusi, a banjo, a violin… There were also the masks, but I was more into the musical instruments.

Part of the instrument collection, including Scottish highland pipes and the violin-like hashtar from China

We checked out the museum trucks outside and visited the Department of Recreation and Parks’s eco trailer, with stuffed wildlife from the Santa Monica Mountains. Inside the library, we also saw the screen printing station in the courtyard, a couple of mobile libraries, a mastodon skull, and volunteers cuddling a tegu (a very big lizard) and a snake. Later on, after the Rare Books Room tour, we arrived in the rotunda just as the inflatable planetarium was toppled. We examined the seeds and seedpods at the seed museum and then took a quick look around the 21 Collections exhibit in the Getty Gallery.

Fox in the eco trailer

At four o’clock, those of us who had signed up for the tour were taken up in an elevator to the Rare Books Room, where we were welcomed by Xochitl Oliva, Senior Librarian of Digitization and Special Collections. Now, I received Susan Orlean’s The Library Book for Christmas, and I had finished reading it shortly before the Mobile Museum Fair. Orlean’s book is about the history of the Los Angeles Public Library and, in particular, the central library, the building that houses it, and the 1986 fire that destroyed hundreds of thousands of books there. She also writes about a number of current library staff, and Oliva is in her book! Reading it also gave me much more context for this visit to the library; the only time I’d been before was with Mike the Poet over two years ago.

Alice in Wonderland, illustrated by Salvador Dalí

Oliva oriented us to the library and then spoke about each of the pieces from the collection that had been selected and set out for display on two wooden tables in the center of the reading room. There was a large-format edition of Alice in Wonderland with illustrations by Salvador Dalí. There was the oldest book in the collection, a 13th century Latin manuscript from the priory of Nostell in England. There was a Shakespeare Fourth Folio, a page from a Gutenberg Bible, a map depicting California as an island, a Sumerian temple dedication cone with a cuneiform inscription (the oldest item in the collection), and samples from the library’s collections of menus and fruit crate labels.

The oldest book in the special collections, a 13th century Latin manuscript from England

Sea Creatures and Zines

Last week Isabelle and I went to the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach. It’s a splendid aquarium, and we spent a long time looking at everything. Here are some of the highlights:

Our first stop were the pools with rays, sharks, and horseshoe crabs, all of which you could pet. This is a bluespotted ribbontail ray, which has beautiful blue spots. I like how you can see the reflection of the leaves on this ray.

Then we bought nectar to feed the lorikeets!

A puffin!

Jellyfish! There were many different kinds, and they were all mesmerizing.

Blue and yellow-banded poison dart frogs

Sea turtle!

Me and Ellie the harbor seal! We caught part of the seal and sea lion show in the morning, and when one of the trainers announced that Ellie (short (?) for Elga) was 28 years old, we were quite astonished! That’s our age, basically.

In addition to the above, we saw:

  • Penguins, who did some every enthusiastic laps of their tank, leaping and diving like dolphins and swimming very fast
  • An otter
  • A petting tide pool with colorful starfish, anemones, and sea urchins. If you put a finger or two among the sea urchins’ spines, the spines gently close around your fingers–the tide pool volunteer called these hugs!
  • Seahorses and seadragons (both weedy and leafy)
  • Many, many fish, many of which have fantastic names. There are all the compounds imaginable, from rabbitfish to porcupinefish, and then there are the Korean lumpsuckers and the sarcastic fringeheads…

After visiting the aquarium, we had pho for lunch and then walked to the central public library, which has a zine collection. (We’d tried to go after the Long Beach Zine Fest, but that was a Sunday, and the library was closed.) First we found my books!

Then we browsed the zines, picked out ones that had caught our eye until we each had a stack, and sat down to read them. I had chosen a couple by and about indigenous women and one that was a collection of someone’s Livejournal entries. Isabelle passed me one in which the artist/zinester annotated the journal he’d kept on a high school trip to Paris. I like the idea of reading other people’s diary entries, I guess, though I should know from my own journal that they’re often quite boring. I’m definitely not enmeshed in zine culture, and so far zines have tended to be hit or miss for me, but every so often I stumble upon a sentence that’s so relatable it feels a little magical.

Poetics of Location

Two Sundays ago, my friend Isabelle and I went on a walking tour of Downtown LA with Mike Sonksen, a.k.a. Mike the Poet, who recently published a chapbook called Poetics of Location. The tour began at the Central Library of Los Angeles, a place both of us had been curious to see but had yet to visit. We arrived a bit early and went inside to see the mosaics and (very colonialist) murals in the soaring rotunda. Then we joined a handful of other tour participants outside the library’s north entrance. Mike greeted us and presented us with our signed copies of his new book.

The first stop on the tour was in fact the library, but this time we used the grand entrance on the west side of the building. My favorite part of the library was the steps outside this entrance, which were inscribed with phrases in various languages (English at various stages of its development, French, Korean, Chinese, and Esperanto, among many others), as well as the digits of pi, an integral, a passage of music, and much more.

Once we left the library, Mike the Poet proceeded to regale us with tidbits about the various buildings in the neighborhood. These included the Library Tower, once the tallest skyscraper in LA; the Biltmore Hotel; and the Gas Company Tower. He made scads of movie references that I didn’t get. He also told us about the literary history of LA, reading to us from John Fante in John Fante Square (just an intersection next to the Gas Company Tower) and telling us about Carey McWilliams in Pershing Square.

The tour was punctuated by Mike’s performances of some of his own poems, as well as performances and readings by his poet friends who also came on the tour. There was F. Douglas Brown, whom I’d heard at the Mixed Remixed Festival earlier this year; the brother and sister pair Dante and Monique Mitchell; and one of Mike’s students, a high school senior.

The tour took us through part of the Jewelry District, past movie palaces and a vaudeville hall, and into the charming St. Vincent’s Court. It ended at the Last Bookstore, a famous independent bookstore I’d wanted to visit for ages, mostly to see its iconic book arches (they’re like flying buttresses!). It did not disappoint. The place was a warren of books. In the center of the ground floor, there was a low stage surrounded by leather furniture oozing stuffing. We gathered here for a last reading. Mike, Dante, Monique, and F. Douglas Brown all performed more poems. Monique’s was inspired by the Valley of the Dry Bones in Ezekiel.

After the reading, Isabelle and I wandered the bookstore for a good while. I began in the music section, where I found one of Cecil Sharp’s collections of English folk songs and the complete scores of Handel’s concerti grossi (I did not buy either). In the children’s section, I found Adam Gidwitz’s The Inquisitor’s Tale, which I’d heard a lot of great things about. So of course I picked it up. (But I’m still reading Dream of Red Mansions! Will it never end!) Upstairs, there was science fiction, fantasy, foreign languages, and much more, as well as the famous book arches! There are also galleries, studios, and shops on the second floor, including a yarn shop that was, alas, closed. Several artists’ work was exhibited in the narrow corridors. There were a bunch of painted wooden whales hanging on one wall. I particularly liked the illustrations by kAt Philbin. The artist bio said her work was reminiscent of Edward Gorey’s. I’m a Gorey fan, and I could see the resemblance in some of the pieces.

When I got home, I looked up the Last Bookstore and noticed that there was going to be a cello concert there the next day. Steuart Pincombe, a cellist with whom I wasn’t familiar, was going to be playing three of the Bach cello suites. Sadly, I couldn’t go to the concert, but I learned that Steuart Pincombe once had a project called What Wondrous Love Is This? in which he and other musicians played and sang early American music, including the shape note tunes Wondrous Love, Restoration, Ecstasy, and Russia, in a hollow square (the way shape note singers sit)! For that I would’ve gone all the way back to the Last Bookstore for the second time in as many days.

England, Part I

I’m on vacation in England! Mostly in Oxford, but we’ve made some excursions. Photos, forthwith:

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In the courtyard of the Bodleian Library

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Tom Tower, Christ Church

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All Souls College

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Ceiling of the Divinity School

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The original conducting score of Messiah!

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Church of St. Mary the Virgin, Iffley

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Detail of beaks on the doorway of St. Mary’s

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Modern day thatching in Iffley, by the Rumpelstiltskin Thatching Company

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Christ Church (a.k.a Hogwarts?)

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Sheep on the Derwent moors, Peak District

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Me and Bismarck over the River Derwent

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Himalayan blue poppy, Hidcote

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Hidcote

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Cream tea (and elderflower and mint pressé)

A Visit to the Getty

This past weekend was a bit of a whirlwind. Be warned: this is a long post with lots of photos!

I devoted most of Saturday to visiting the Getty Center. Allow me to tell you how we got there. The Getty’s website will tell the intrepid public transportation user to take the 761, which will drop you off right in front of the entrance. However, I didn’t really know where to catch the 761 (nowhere particularly close to where we live), and it would cost money (though the fare is admittedly cheap). On the other hand, we have passes for the Big Blue Bus, and I saw that we could catch the 14 practically on our doorstep and ride it to the end of the line, which seemed to be just a few blocks south of the Getty entrance. So we rode the 14 to the end of the line and began walking north on Sepulveda Blvd, only to discover that the sidewalk ended almost immediately. Beyond, Sepulveda looked more like a highway, running alongside the 405. There was no sidewalk on the other side of the street, only the dirt embankment of the freeway.

Silly me for assuming Los Angeles would be designed for pedestrians. But no matter! If we went one block eastward and struck out north, we might find a way back to Sepulveda at a point where it had a sidewalk again. The streets weren’t quite grid-like, but as long as we kept track of the cardinal directions, we would be fine. We found ourselves wandering through the quiet and very exclusive-feeling streets of Bel Air. We hopefully followed a long, meandering lane whose through-ness was ambiguously labeled and reached a dead end. Hopes dashed, we doubled back to the last outlet onto Sepulveda, at which point it became clear we would have to walk on the sidewalk-less curb or retrace our steps by quite a ways to find a 761 bus stop. We chose to go forward.

Happily, after a short stretch of Sepulveda in which we had to push past shrubs, an asphalt path, narrower than a sidewalk, appeared, and we were able to walk on that until the sidewalk returned. The moral of the story: you can’t really take the 14 to the Getty.

Once through the entrance, we rode the tram up the hill to the Getty Center itself. The Getty has gardens, multiple pavilions of art, and panoramic views of Los Angeles, and apparently the architecture of the place itself is impressive, though I’m afraid I didn’t pay much attention to it. I’d heard the Getty had illuminated manuscripts and some famous Impressionist paintings, so seeing those was my priority.

The illuminated manuscripts currently on display are all part of an exhibit called Chivalry in the Middle Ages. This is a page from Tristan and Isolde (or Yseult, or whatever your favorite spelling is). The manuscript is in French, and I was surprised how much I could read and understand of this and of the copy of the Roman de la Rose. The chief impediment to understanding was the script, not the actual words.

Tristan and Isolde

I liked this plate (which might be…Italian?) for the ship in the center. It was only when looking at the photo at home that I noticed the musical instruments around the edge.

Plate

This is apparently Orpheus, even though I always picture him with a lyre. On the left side of this vase is a depiction of the prophet Elisha, who, in an episode I do not recall from 2 Kings, had some sort of mystical experience provoked by the sound of a stringed instrument.

Orpheus

You can probably guess why I took a picture of this portrait.

Pink Lady

If you squint at her music, it almost looks like a shape note tunebook!

Music Book

We left this pavilion and took in the view from the hilltop. We could see mountains in the distance, but also the smudgy air settled over the city. We spotted UCLA, which includes the reddish Romanesque buildings in the middleground of this photo.

Getty View

Next, we looked at some more recent art. These goats in J. M. W. Turner’s Modern Rome–Campo Vaccino are so cute!

Goats

And Monet’s Wheatstacks, Snow Effect, Morning is really lovely.

Wheatstacks

The Getty also has Vincent van Gogh’s Irises, which was beautiful.

From the museum, we moved on to the main garden, which is basically a bowl with a fountain/azalea maze at its center. It was pretty enough, and there were some interesting plants, including a huge, tree-like Angel’s Trumpet (Brugmansia), a pomegranate tree (California is so exotic!), and a vine with unusually-shaped purple flowers that made me think “sweet pea,” though I could be totally wrong. Weirdest of all was the black petunia below; I overheard a woman talking about it and had to go find it.

Black Petunia

By the end of the day, we were exhausted, but our trip to the Getty was well worth it. Oh, and on our way home, we caught the 761 directly in front of the entrance.

Other things I did this weekend:

  • My roommate went on a field trip to West Hollywood with her Russian class and brought back pastries, candy, and a bottle of kvas. We split the pastries, which included a poppy seed roll and a croissant filled with cheese (almost like cream cheese frosting) and raisins.
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What is with Russian candy and squirrels?

  • I finally got myself to the local English country dance group’s Sunday afternoon dance. It was fun, and there was a decent amount of overlap with the contra and shape note communities. It was also open band day, so there were twenty or so musicians playing an eclectic assortment of instruments. Have you ever done English country dance to tuba?

The Huntington Library and Gardens

Spring break is glorious. My family came to LA to visit me, and this past weekend, we went to The Huntington, a sort of museum/botanic garden in San Marino that comprises a research library, art galleries, and extensive gardens. The place is vast, and I feel as though we only scratched the surface of everything there is to explore there. We first visited the Library Exhibition Hall and then wandered through the Chinese Garden and a bit of the Japanese Garden.

The Huntington Library has huge collections, including many rare books, and a selection of the most dazzling specimens are on display in the Exhibition Hall. The prospect of seeing these treasures was, for me, the biggest draw of The Huntington, and I was not disappointed. The first glass case I approached upon entering the dim hall contained the Ellesmere manuscript of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, believed to have been produced around 1410, and that’s when I knew this visit was going to be amazing. Illuminated manuscripts make me really excited.

The Exhibition Hall contains twelve mini-exhibits, each of which is organized around one stand-out item. For instance, the contextualizing documents for the Ellesmere Chaucer included an exquisite book of hours and a legal document recording a transaction by a London widow named Emma. The next exhibit featured an original edition (I believe) of Milton’s Paradise Lost, as well as a variety of documents related to the English Civil War (there were lots of cool seals attached to these). Did you know Milton held the position of Secretary for Foreign Tongues? What a fantastic title.

The trove of books, manuscripts, documents, and letters in this one room was almost too much to take in, and I couldn’t possibly list every extraordinary thing I saw. There was the Gutenberg Bible, the Declaration of Independence (which, I noticed, had a note scrawled in the margin, perpendicular to the original text, saying that this copy had been found among so-and-so’s possessions and could it be kept in the family, please), the Shakespeare First Folio, the letter Susan B. Anthony wrote to Elizabeth Cady Stanton right after the former voted illegally in the 1872 presidential election, the documents related to Chinese immigration to the United States in the early 20th century… But I think my favorite piece was the copy of the First Book of Songs of John Dowland, an English Renaissance composer who wrote music for voice and for lute. This book was opened to a page that showed the bass, alto, and tenor parts to a song all oriented in different directions so that musicians could crowd around the book and each read their own part.

After leaving the library, we stopped by the North American Clivia Society’s show, which featured prize-winning clivias whose flowers ranged in color from green to pale yellow to peach to deep red.

Clivia

We then strolled through 園 (Liú Fāng Yuán), the Garden of Flowing Fragrance, which is The Huntington’s Chinese Garden. It is not yet complete, but already it’s very large, with a pond, several bridges, multiple pavilions… There were pink blossoms on still leafless branches, water lilies in the pond, wisteria heavy with purple flowers, and even a tree peony in full bloom!

Chinese Garden

These carved panels depicting traditional Chinese instruments are inside 清越臺 (Qīng​ Yuè Tái), the Clear and Transcendent Pavilion. This is a pipa (left) and an erhu (right):

Pipa Erhu

And this is a qin (left) and some sort of flute (right):

Qin and flute

The tree peony! In March! No wonder I never know what time of year it is in Southern California.

Tree peony

Finally, we took a quick look at the Japanese Garden, which was equally lovely. Here is a glimpse of it:

Japanese Garden

So that was my first visit to The Huntington. Many gardens remain to be explored, and I didn’t even start on the art collections, but really, I would go back just to pore over Middle English manuscripts and Renaissance music scores!