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Archive: Arts & Culture / Spokane and North Idaho

Skoog will run the red lights at Auntie’s tonight

It's barely past Thanksgiving and Christmas is already in the air. Lights are up in neighborhoods across the city, TV ads feature all shapes and sizes of Santa Claus and every business is offering some sort of holiday discount.

So, yes, Christmas is coming. It's only natural, then, that I should share a link to a poem titled "The Carolers.

The poem was written by Ed Skoog, a poet who will be reading at 7 tonight at Auntie's Bookstore. A native of Kansas, Skoog earned a MFA from the University of Montana and is the author of both chapbooks and full-length collections (such as 2013's "Rough Day").

Skoog will be reading from his new book, "Run the Red Lights." Sounds like something that might make a good gift.

For Christmas. 

Veterans Day: a time to remember, reflect

Tomorrow is Veterans Day, which is the day we set aside for — as the quote goes — "honoring those who serve."

All too often, that intent — honoring the men and women who serve — gets mixed up with the mission that they are duty bound to tackle. It's an age-old conundrum for those of us who have seen enough of war, sort of like loving the person but hating the crime.

If the past is any indication — and it typically is — too many celebrations tomorrow will focus on glamor and glory instead of on the grief that war causes, on the loss and horror and wrenching sadness.

Too many celebrations will involve waving the flag and singing songs and feeling the kind of pride that I did when I stood and recited the Pledge of Allegiance in third grade.

I, however, will do something different. I will silently and reverently remember those who served with me during the Vietnam War, and I will grieve the loss of the 58,220 Americans who lost their lives there, plus the million or more Southeast Asians who also died.

And I will read, again, Mark Twain's "The War Prayer." For a transcribed copy, click here.

If reading the words of one of America's national literary masters is too much for you, click on the embed below. It's an animated version of Twain's story, and its meaning applies as much today as it did more than a century ago when it was written.

Busy poet laureate Marshall speaks at Shadle

Above: A ballot box sits in front of the Shadle Branch of the Spokane Public Library

Tod Marshall gets around. Washington State's Poet Laureate not only has a day job as a professor of English at Gonzaga University, but he continues to write poetry when he can — that is, in between teaching, grading papers and making public appearances as part of his laureate duties.

Marshall will make another of several regional appearance tonight at 6 at the Shadle Branch of the Spokane Public Library. His topic: "Great Poems That Tell Tales," which is a shorthand way of talking about "poets who use narrative effectively."

In past posts involving Marshall I've included poems of his. This time I'm including a link to an interview that Marshall gave to fellow poet and teacher Yusef Komuntakaa for the Poetry Foundation.

It's called "Every Tool Became a Weapon." Here's an excerpt that seems apt on this day before a presidential election:

"Certain blacks and whites during the 1960s and 1970s went into the streets and forced change here in the United States. We must accept this: numerous oppressive laws wouldn’t have changed in this country if some progressive-thinking people hadn’t put their lives on the line in the name of freedom and change. That’s recent history."

Enjoy bedtime with Kenn Nesbitt on Saturday

One of the tasks of a parent is to make sure the kids get to bed. As any parent can tell you, it's seldom easy.

Which is one reason to applaud the work of writers such as Kenn Nesbitt. A former Children's Poet Laureate, an honor bestowed by the Poetry Foundation, Nesbitt has written several collections of poems aimed at children. He has performed them in front of audiences all over the country.

At 7 p.m. on Saturday, at Auntie's Bookstore, Nesbitt will appear with his new book — "One Minute Till Bedtime: 60-Second Poems to Send You Off to Sleep" — along with several other contributors. Among others scheduled to read with Nesbitt: Chris Cook and Verla Kay.

The reading might be past the bedtime of those youngest readers out there. Then again, it might be just the antidote for those young readers who keep their parents up till all hours.

Note: An earlier version of this post mistakenly listed this event as occurring on Friday.

Poet Laureate Marshall to read on South Hill

Above: The South Hill Public Library is a comfortable place to read.

If you've never heard of Tod Marshall, now's your chance — both to hear of him and from him.

For the record, Marshall is the Poet Laureate of Washington State. He also is a professor of English at Gonzaga University. That's who he is. What he has to offer, besides a body of poetry, is a lecture on "Great Poems That Tell Tales," which he will deliver at 6 tonight at the South Hill Public Library.

Here is a sample of a Marshall poem titled "First World Concerns":

Parking. Carbon. Peak oil. Free Range. What gets hard
and with what frequency, whether to turn off cable
and just stream. The second world is populated by bad habits:
worry, impatience, fill in the blank. The third world
is the body, what is felt in the blood, vulnerable girl or boy.
The fourth world is what the squirrel, the sparrow,
the skunk might do: to squirrel, to sparrow, to spray
smelly scent all over offenders, the many offenders.
The fifth world is everyone’s search engine history,
that stale air. There is no sixth world, only the imperative
to gather six things and keep them safe. Really safe.
See if you can. See if you can hold them and still run
fast enough. See if you can leave the rest at the curb.
Have faith: a seventh worlder will arrive to haul it away.

Tonight's reading is free and open to the public.

Marra is what Spokane is Reading today

Anthony Marra boasts a pretty impressive resume. After graduating from USC, he earned an MFA at the esteemed Iowa Writer's Workshop. He won a Stegner Fellowship at Stanford University, where he now teaches.

Marra is the author of a 2013 novel, the intriguingly named "A Constellation of Vital Phenomena," which won both acclaim and awards. But it's his short story collection, “The Tsar of Love and Techno,” that is relevant here: It is the focus of this year's Spokane Is Reading project.

As such, Marra will appear at 7 tonight at the Bing Crosby Theater (at 1 p.m., Marra will appear at the Spokane Valley Event Center). Both events are free and open to the public.

Not yet impressed? Then read some of the critical comments about Marra's work:

First, the New York Times on Marra's novel. Now a rave review from the Washington Post

Now, Times reviewer Sarah Lyall on Marra's story collection: "(Marra) starts this miracle of a book by showing us how a system can erase the past, the truth, even its citizens. He ends by demonstrating, through his courageous, flawed, deeply human characters, how individual people can restore the things that have been taken away."

And from The Guardian: " 'The Tsar of Love and Techno' … shares much with David Mitchell’s expansive 'Cloud Atlas,' and it wears its blend of dry humour and tragedy very well."

From Newsday: "By the time you reach Marra's astonishing final story about Kolya, 'The End' — set, a dateline tells us, in 'Outer Space, Year Unknown' — the book has achieved a heart-rending cumulative power."

That should be enough to intrigue you. It should definitely impress you, if not convince you to catch one of his appearances.

Ben Cartwright cooks up some poetry tonight

Like most every other kind of art in the world, poetry is an acquired taste. This may seem obvious, but is it?

Take cooking, for example. In recent years — one could argue since at least 1963 when Julia Child co-authored "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" — food has become the province of chefs who possess a sense not just of taste but for presentation. As such, cooking has earned the description used in the title of Child's book.

Yet no matter who the chef is, or how beautiful the dish, no one is going to prepare something with cilantro that my wife would consider eating. "It tastes like cat urine smells," she says. When it comes to art, personal preferences always have to be considered.

It's the same with other arts. How many of the general public have read, say, Dostoevsky for mere pleasure? Or watched the movies of Ingmar Bergman with the same sense of enthusiasm. Meditated over the paintings of Jackson Pollock? Listened with pleasure to the music of Miles Davis? And so on.

And you can place poetry at or near the top of the list. On the website of Sage Hill Press, publisher Thom Caraway attempts to define what he looks for in a good poem. In his appreciation of poems "that invite me in, give me work to do, reward that work, and toss me around the universe," he adds a list of poets he loves (among them: Richard Hugo and Nance Van Winkle) and those he does not (among them: John Ashbury and Sylvia Plath).

I'm sure Caraway has had more than one dinner-party debate over the inclusion of Plath in that last grouping.

Anyway, all of this is a long-winded way of announcing a poetry reading tonight at Auntie's Bookstore. Spokane poet Ben Cartwright, who teaches at Gonzaga University and whose poems have appeared in a number of publications, will read from his first book "After Our Departure."

For a taste of what Cartwright has to offer, click here.

The reading is set for 7. As is typical, the event is free and open to the public.

And don't worry. As far as I know, cilantro will not be served.

Schott’s poetry explores nature, baseball and more

Poetry is the topic tonight at Auntie's Bookstore, where Lynn Rigney Schott will read from her new chapbook, "Light Years."

This might not seem like too special of an event. But fans of baseball might disagree.

Schott, who lives on a farm near Kettle Falls, is the daughter of the late baseball manager Bill Rigney. In fact, a poem that Schott wrote about her father, "Spring Training," was published in the March 26, 1984, edition of The New Yorker magazine. A New York Times article about Schott and how her poem came to be published can be accessed here.

But Schott, who has an uncanny way with words, writes about other things as well. For example: the natural world she observes from her home near Mingo Mountain. You can also access three of Schott's poems by clicking here. I'll just include a stanza from one of my favorites, a poem titled "The Butcher Bird:

I don’t know which is worse, you said,
Catholicism or Science.
Better to be a marveller like Muir
who admired the world in a wild-ass storm
from the top of a reeling Douglas fir.
“I clung with muscles firm
braced, like a bobolink on a reed.”

Schott's reading will begin at 7. As is typical at Auntie's, the event is free and open to the public.

Poet Laureate Marshall explains it all tonight in Otis Orchards

Above: Photo by Amy Sinisterra

Poetry can be a tricky discipline. A quick online search (thank you Google) gave me two illustrative quotes:

This one is from Robert Frost: "Poetry is when an emotion has found its thought and the thought has found words."

This one is from Marianne Moore: "Poetry is the art of creating imaginary gardens with real toads."

Quite a difference in tone, eh? But not necessarily meaning. The key to understanding poetry is in finding the right teacher. And few teachers I know are better qualified to explain the rhyme (or non-rhymes) and reason of poetry than Tod Marshall.

Marshall, of course, is the reigning Washington State Poet Laureate (through 2018). But he is better known locally as a professor of English at Gonzaga University, where he is Director of Writing Concentration. He is the author of five poetry collections, the latest of which is "Bugle."

So if you want to get a feel for what Marshall thinks of poetry, then you might want to show up at 6:30 tonight at the Otis Orchards Library to experience an event titled "Exploring Poetry With Tod Marshall." The "atmosphere" promises to be "casual."

And you never know. You just might learn how to separate the gardens from the toads.

Koehler to talk expressly about Darjeeling tonight at GU

Jeff Koehler describes himself fairly succinctly: "writer, photographer, cook, traveler."

And just to prove that he's not overstating the case, Koehler — a 1991 graduate of Gonzaga University — will present his latest book, "Darjeeling: The Colorful History and Precarious Fate of the World’s Greatest Tea," at 7:30 tonight at GU's Cataldo Hall Globe Room.

The book, the intent of which is summed up pretty well in its title, is receiving not only awards but also rave reviews. It won the International Association of Culinary Professionals award for Literary Food Writing. And the Chicago Tribune reviewer had this to say:

"When he writes about the tea itself … how the pickers skillfully pluck the leaves and toss them into a basket, how the tea smells as it's being dried, the daily taste tests at each estate — his prose is both sensory and balletic."

Here's an example of that prose (describing an expert's tea-tasting process): "He loudly slurps a generous mouthful of liquid off the spoon. Holding it for a moment, he takes two or three quick and sharp aerating sucks that flood the (tea) around the palate and send it up into the olfactory organ in the nose in the manner of an animated wine taster. The tip of the tongue gauges sweetnesses and saltiness, the middle tartness, the back bitterness, and the back edges sourness. But he is also feeling the tea: the inside of the gums, cheeks, and the back of the tongue catch the astringency or pungency by sensation rather than taste."

Here's a link to another good review in The Guardian.

Koehler's appearance is part of Gonzaga's 2016-2017 Visiting Writers Series. The event is free and open to the public. 

Ballet fans: Catch the Bolshoi on Oct. 16

Just because you're interested in one art doesn't require you to be interested in all others. Here's an analogy: Just because I've grown to like grilled asparagus, it doesn't mean I'm ever going to like beets.

Seriously, the very thought of eating beets makes me want to … well, you get the point.

So just because you may like going to the movies, reading a good book, catching the occasional stage play or musical concert, doesn't mean that you have to like, say, modern art, Broadway-type musicals — or ballet.

Especially ballet. Watching men and women dressed in tights and tutus prance around a stage to the sound of piccolos and bassoons simply doesn't appeal to everyone.

And yet … if you do ever catch ballet at its best — watching Mikhail Baryshnikov leap, for example, or Natalia Osipova perform in "Giselle" — you're likely to feel some sort of tug at what could be termed appreciation, if not outright admiration.

So, yeah, even the plebeians among us can see the value in toe-dancing. Which is why it's a good thing that Fathom Events will be presenting a special live screening of Russia's Bolshoi Ballet performing the Shostakovich ballet "The Golden Age," with choreography by Yuri Grigorovich, on movies screens nationwide on Oct. 16.

The performance will be screen in Spokane at Regal's Northtown Mall Cinemas.

You might want to consider attending. You never know. Ballet just might speak to you — even if beets never, ever will.

Author Terrell shares stories of war tonight

Some of the world's best literature has involved stories of war. From "The Iliad" to "War and Peace," "The Killer Angels" to "The Things They Carried," writers have described the horrors of war in both imagined and remembered ways.

Whitney Terrell offers a combination of both. While serving as an embedded reporter for such publications as the Washington Post, Slate and National Public Radio, Terrell twice witnessed U.S. military action in Iraq. His reporting led to his writing "The Good Lieutenant: A Novel."

Here's what the Publisher's Weekly reviewer had to say about "The Good Lieutenant": "(Terrell) critiques the follies of the Iraq War and the adamantine nature of the military mind-set. Terrell ('The King of Kings County') shows us how soldiers think and address one another with a stinging combination of military argot and pop culture references. The book’s last line echoes the title of one of the first novels about modern warfare, Thomas Boyd’s 'Through the Wheat' (1923), to which this novel is an entirely worthy successor."

Terrell, who now teaches at the University of Missouri, Kansas City, will read from his book at 7 tonight at Spark Central, located in Kendall Yards at 1214 W. Summit Parkway (across from Spa Paradiso). The event is part of Gonzaga University's 2016-2017 Visiting Writers Series, and is sponsored by the Gonzaga Center for Public Humanities. Terrell will be joined by a panel of student veterans.

The event is free and open to the public.

Regional history on tap tonight at Auntie’s

Above: A dramatized (and most likely inaccurate) view of the Battle of Four Lakes. 

When I was a kid, I used to think history was like a map. Just as those static classroom charts that clearly showed where, say, the borders of the United States intersected with those of Canada and Mexico — not to mention all the states in between — I thought history was just as it was laid out in our textbooks.

That was before I learned about the notion of perspective. Napoleon Bonaparte may have put it best (if most cynically) when he supposedly said, "History is the version of past events that people have decided to agree upon."

The shock for me was coming to the understanding that not everyone agreed on any one version of what is happening in the very present, must less the meaning of what happened in the past.

And so it is with George Wright, the U.S. Army officer who most famously led forces against a rough coalition of Inland Northwest Indian tribes (Yakima, Spokane, Coeur d’Alene, Palouse and others) in two engagements known, respectively, as the Battle of Four Lakes and the Battle of Spokane Plains.

Note, for example, the differences between the reports of the total number of Indians who participated in the battle (a monument claims "5,000," while historians Robert H. Ruby and John A. Brown state the number was closer to 500). Or the version of the engagement as portrayed in the illustration above.

Wright, over the course of his long career, participated in many such engagements, from the Mexican-American War to the Civil War. But it was his actions following the Spokane-area conflicts that cemented his legacy. Not only did he oversee the hanging of several Indian braves, including most famously that of Qualchan, but he also ordered the killing of hundreds of horses.

 White settlers at the time cheered Wright. But as the years have passed, the soldier's harsh actions have been discussed and debated to the point where a number of people would like to see Wright's name purged from public property, such as Fort George Wright Drive.

That debate is likely to continue tonight at 7 at Auntie's Bookstore  Author Donald R. Cutler will present his book "Hang Them All": George Wright and the Plateau Indian War, 1858" (University of Oklahoma Press, 392 pages). Besides running down the events behind Wright's actions, "Hang Them All" asks a pertinent question (posed in the book's press material): "Do historically based names honor an undeserving murderer, or prompt a valuable history lesson?"

Show up for the talk and Cutler will likely offer his version of an answer.

Join the Louise Penny party tonight

Above: Nathaniel Parker starred as Inspector Armand Gamache in a 2013 televised version of Louise Penny's novel "Still Life."

When I worked at The Spokesman-Review, I held a number of positions. One of my favorites was book columnist, which required me to compile the weekly author readings (mostly at Auntie's Bookstore) and to pass on other regional book news.

I had a button posted to my computer terminal that read "So many books, so little time."

I share that bit of miscellany because of what I'm going to type next: Until last fall, I had never heard of Louise Penny. Check that: Maybe I had heard of the name, its being so unique and all. But I had no knowledge of the person behind the name.

But then I listened to an audiobook edition of Penny's novel "The Nature of the Beast" and I was transformed into an instant fan. Penny, as her fans well know, is the Canadian author of the Armand Gamache "Three Pines" mystery series. And the 12th edition of that series, "A Great Reckoning," is now available.

Gamache, for you other Penny newcomers, is head of the homicide department of the Sûreté du Québec, though by the time of "The Nature of the Beast" he has retired (yet is having second thoughts).

In honor of that release, Auntie's is holding a special Louise Penny Mystery Party tonight at 7. Information for pre-registration can be found here. If nothing else, maybe you can pick up a copy of the book.

One further note: No knowledge of French is required.

See an ‘Ordinary’ Eliopoulos at Auntie’s tonight

If you look at the dictionary definition of the word "ordinary," you're likely to find the following: "of no special quality or interest; commonplace; unexceptional."

All of which lends a touch of irony to the titles of artist/cartoonist Chris Eliopoulos' "Ordinary People Change the World" series, written by Brad Meltzer and illustrated by Eliopoulos. After all, some of the people that Meltzer and Eliopoulos include in the series — Jackie Robinson, Helen Keller and Amelia Earhart, for example — are particularly exceptional.

As Meltzer says on his Facebook page, "Forget politicians. Real heroes still exist in this world. Build strong girls and boys with 'I am Jane Goodall' and 'I am George Washington.' "

The Goodall and Washington books are the latest in the Meltzer/Eliopoulos series and will be the focus of a children's event at 7 tonight at Auntie's Bookstore. Cartoonist Eliopoulos will be at the store in person.

It should be an extraordinary event.