What I’m Reading: Maggie Smith’s Goldenrod

I scooped up Maggie Smith’s Goldenrod (Simon & Schuster 2021) from the library and enjoyed this breezy, sensual, and mindfully resonate read of poems. Each poem had its own spark, but the array of them also unfurled like Smith on the porch telling you a good story, with laughter, a few gaps in the telling that come from a good time, and maybe a beer or two from her fridge, but not three, across an autumn evening in Ohio.

Smith’s savvy middle-age voice is edgy yet suburban, a writer and a mother of two, and ends poems that question the boundaries and ideas we set up for ourselves, with statements like, “Do we know anymore what it is to be human?  I’ve stopped knowing what it is to be human.” 

I like this invitation to question.

In one poem titled from her daughter’s point of view, “After the Divorce, I Think of Something My Daughter Said About Mars” (p. 74), Smith writes, “One you go, you can never come back.”  Yes – that’s a life changing event.

The poem ends: “So if you go, / you have to stay gone.”  This was a moving comment on how her daughter has viewed divorce: a change with no going back, as if to Mars, where love lives on, but also with a certain firmness about maybe moving forward rather than dwelling on what’s not.

I was thinking about, overall, what makes Maggie Smith’s poetic voice optimistic and even cheerful. She never forgets, even in stepping out at night into the backyard, the same one she’s seen before and like everyone else falling into habit, to find and search again to find what’s delicate and precious.

I read Smith’s well circulated poem, “Good Bones,” some time ago, and am glad to read her latest full-length.

G. H. Mosson


What I Witnessed: On Laurie Anderson

I was lucky enough to catch multi-media artist Laurie Anderson’s show, The Weather, at The Hirshhorn Museum this August 2022, and Anderson remains a provocative, complex, and searching artist even in the latter days of her five-decade-plus career. Anderson’s 2022 work also is playful, elusive, and at times, blunt, and of course, ironic. The Weather, for me, was tonally dystopic, but also pulse-beatingly creative.

Her show weaved through the circle of this uniquely concentric museum; one room called into question the experiencing of a mechanical environment, for me. Anderson had red flags in a hallway that moved at times by mechanical arms to an eerie, recorded soundscape. Each side had five or so flags. On each side, most but not all the flags moved in unison, like soldiers, like slow dancers. The dark room’s lighting exposed some of the gentle contours of each flag’s blood-red draping.

What does it mean to have an interpretative or emotional experience of this technology? That’s what I mean by her work calling “experiencing” into question.

Generally, this red-flag piece spoke to how environments shape us. Of course, it also had an eerie and yet graceful effect. My friend alongside also commented on the red connotations to blood and war. Today, a day later, the red made me think about passion. Red flags as metaphor.

The show was larger than this. There was a room of onsite images and text from floor to ceiling that appeared to be made onsite. Further along, there was a room of large scale paintings of a loose brushwork and atmospheric figures and landscapes. There were two rooms involving imagistic projections. Anderson is a multimedia artist indeed.

I happened this August to visit MASS MOCA, an amazing contemporary art museum in North Adams, Mass., and saw two or three films of Anderson there too. She’s wonderful, provocative, curious, odd, and I plan on returning to and exploring more of her work this year. The Weather, at The Hirshhorn Museum, was overwhelming, provocative, impactful, and disorienting in good way.

G. H. Mosson


What I’m Watching: Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water

My kids and I just finished the anime series, Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water (circa 1990-1991), and I already miss it.

Nadia features the adventures of Nadia, a young girl, runaway circus performer, and orphan allegedly from Africa, and John, a French young inventor; and of course, their relationship, how they help each other and grow, and what happens along the way. I won’t say what happens. The above brief sketch of these two can be found in the very first episode. For fans of the U.S. anime series Avatar and Korra, simply put, I highly recommend it. The themes are closer to older-child age appropriate.

Based in part on Ten Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, Nadia offers amazing creativity in an odyssey of adventure, and a world-spanning origin story that unfolds during its 39 episodes. As the title indicates, there’s a “secret.”

What else might I add, without giving anything away? My kids and I also enjoyed the opening song, and would sing it as we began our next episode. Further, there’s a certain sort of realism to some of the violence in this anime, along with positive underlining values of non-violence and respect for nature, plus emotional depth–all of which makes it best-suited to slightly older kids. This depends on the household. For me, ages 11 and 13 were great for Nadia. Some of the nuanced emotions will resonate upward with adults, but the show’s okay if the heart-rending depth of some of this is just missed by the younger crowd.

Wikipedia, linked here, quotes a good takeaway for Nadia by the Anime Encyclopedia by Mr. Clements and Ms. McCarthy, the apparent editors: “Very rarely has [a popular approach to writing anime] produced a show of such enduring charm and emotional validity.”

I got my copy from the library. Thank you library, a communal and valued resource!

G. H. Mosson


What I’m Reading: Seven Thousand Ways to Listen by Mark Nepo

Mark Nepo’s Seven Thousand Ways to Listen (Free Press 2012) is an amazing compendium of vignettes on living through listening. It provides reflections upon adult evolution through various kinds of listening, whether from his own experiences or stories from others. Snapshots of insightful prose are followed by various prompts for mediation, journal writing, and discussion, if you wish to practice with it or expand what’s explored into your own life.

While this book cannot be summed up, Nepo writes on p. 134, “While the soul’s calling helps us discovery our life’s work, the call of the soul is a continual call to aliveness.” One can see this phrase as a call to move forward. Of course, it also taps into the general theme of the book, listening, to be listening for this “aliveness.” The listening leads to the “continual call” to entering into listening rather than plans.

Nepo also wrote this book later in life and after several books and real world success. So, the above quote can be viewed as well through the lens of transition, from getting to where you want to be into a next stage. In fact, he directly addresses this topic in the middle of his book. This second stage of life after ‘striving’ also is covered well in the more analytical, essay-formatted book by social economist Arthur C. Brooks, called From Strength to Strength: Finding Success, Happiness, and Deep Purpose in the Second Half of Life (Portfolio 2022), which I am finishing too and highly recommend.

Digression aside, I am in the midst of reading Nepo on listening. It is my third book by him. His listening book proceeds as very short vignettes, in sections of 1-4 pages or so, followed by prompts for practice. So, it can sipped and savored, used and shared.

It also made me notice a tendency to wish to “finish” a “book.” But why? Much of what he discusses cannot really be finished, like the Nepo quote above, but rather is for refreshment and practice. Further, there is so much here I can easily see me rereading it in 2023 – after I finish it – which hasn’t happened yet.

I think it was late 2020 when I read Mark Nepo’s also amazing The Endless Practice (2014), which features more detailed essays. Seven Thousand Ways to Listen (Free Press 2012) is more like a day book of gems. It offers equal emphasis on prose reflections as prompts for a reader’s use. Highly recommended for inspiration and exploration.

G. H. Mosson


What I’m Watching: La La Land

I recently found this 2016 academy award winning musical-movie in the library, where I get most of my movies. It is a whimsical, sweet, and also slow-paced contemporary take on the Hollywood musical romantic comedy of yore. Imagine romance when life is uncertain while starting out. Because it had a great ending that I won’t reveal, I’ll say I’m glad I watched it; it was pleasant overall. However, the movie’s focus on panoramic scenes lost track of telling the story through people, and this made the slow paced movie even slower.

La La Land won Academy Awards for best actress by Emma Stone, best cinematography, best director, and in three other categories, in the year it came out. I am no expert on musicals or shooting movies, but the cinematography surprisingly stayed away from close-ups in the dialogue and the dancing and was a detriment in my humble opinion to this film. When Emma Stone could be seen, her deeply felt, dramatic expressiveness within the context of playing an ordinary person, yet aspiring actress, was quite captivating. For example, a red-and-white striped couch was in the forefront of the visual presentation rather than the talking roommates next to it in one scene, or sometimes the dancing was shot from such a distance it was barely visible and more of a mood than a performance. La La Land displays a contemporary American focus on things over people, in this regard.

For contemporary musicals, Everyone Says I Love You (1996) by Woody Allen stands out as far superior, as well as the movie of the Broadway musical Into the Woods (2014).

It is always fun to check stuff out from the library and explore.

G. H. Mosson


What I’m Reading: “Voices In The Air” by Naomi Shihab Nye

I have just finished “Voices in the Air” (Greenwillow Books 2018), a day-book of poetry by American poet Naomi Shihab Nye of German and Palestinian heritage. It’s subtitled “Poems for Listeners” and reflects her range of subjects reflective of a healthy curiosity. The poems will appeal to those equally curious or willing to be.

I was lucky to watch Nye read recently in Baltimore, Maryland, at the splendid auditorium of The Baltimore Museum of Art. That is my favorite way to be introduced to a new poet. Of course, Nye is the author of several books, has been published widely, and I have encountered her poetry before in magazines and online. Still, my inscribed copy “Voices in the Air” is the first time I’ve read a full book of Nye’s.

Nye is a delightful creative spirit; that was on full display during her reading. Through many asides, she shared tidbits from her creative practice. Likewise, “Voices in the Air” is a collection of accessible poetry that ranges across topics with enchanting imagination. I appreciate the energy of these poems.

Nye’s poetry may be straightforward, and written for a wide audience. Likewise, the stars at night, shining. This book can be read by a precocious high school student and also will reward adults who like pleasure, travel, and wisdom in literature.

I enjoyed “Voices in the Air” and I will probably read it again soon. The pages eddy by like a sweet breeze and leave delight and smiles. Why not once more? I call it a day-book of sorts, because the book collects various interests in no framed order and so imparts a loose, joyful, insightful, and curious atmosphere. There is no frigate like a book, said Emily Dickinson. True here of Nye’s poems.

G. H. Mosson


What I’m Watching: Rifkin’s Festival

I enjoyed this 2020 movie by Woody Allen, set in San Sebastian, Spain, a sort of low key drama about a failed writer, university professor (Wallace Shawn) and his publicity agent wife, and what happens at the tail end of a marriage, and whether people stick with it or not.

I. A Discussion

While Rifkin’s Festival is just a quiet, slice of life movie, with some smirks and smiles from the quips throughout, it does also display the skeleton a very good film when Allen’s creativity is fully formed, flowered, and in bloom. For that, I would turn to Wonderwheel (2017), a masterpiece of theatrical film-making with a dramatic script, home run acting, and the realism bordering on the ridiculous, and yet always reaching back to realism, for that melancholy laughter, and heart-tugging drama, that’s juicy and memorable.

So what does Rifkin’s Festival do well that one finds in Allen’s signature approach to film-making? Well, San Sebastian is a delightful, seaside town. Allen’s use of it makes the entire movie easy on the eye. Allen, famously with NYC, uses the present culture and his milieu to elevate his art and he does that here too.

Likewise, Rifkin’s Festival deals with a handful of characters, and this is quite typical of Allen’s film-making. The close focus, often augmented by a certain magical mix of casting the right actors, seems like a play focused on essential characters, rather than a cinema experience with landscapes, travel, car chases, backstories, flash forwards, and the passage of time.

This movie offers a mature story that needs to be read into. The characters lack big scenes where conflict shows us ‘what they are made of’, and so lack the drawn depth of Wonderwheel (2017), or what we get from Cate Blanchet and Andrew Dice Clay both in Blue Jasmine (2013). Rifkin’s Festival had a pleasing ensemble cast, heavily Spanish and European, but this mild-mannered pleasant movie lacked the drama or dialogue necessary for unforgettable acting.

The humor here ran throughout at a steady pace and at the level of a chuckle. This being said, maybe my favorite humorous moment was simply when the Wallace Shawn character, seeming around age-70, said he was working on his first novel and hoping it would be a masterpiece, or, he threatened, he’d just rip it up.

There was no really joke in the scene, except via dramatic irony. I mean, he’s 70. First novel? Fine, yeah right. Of course, it might happened, who knows. That scene produced silent intellectual laughter.

II. Closing Thoughts

In the end, Rifkin’s Festival is worth watching for Allen fans and in the middle tier of his later movies.

For those who haven’t seen an Allen movie for two decades, and want a dramatic one with some bite, then the two mentioned above and Sweet and Lowdown (1999) with Sean Penn are very likely his best of this period.

G. H. Mosson


What I’m Watching: Aniara

I just finished the Swedish deep space thriller, Aniara, about two weeks ago, such tasty food for the imaginative heart.

I say I’ve just finished it because I just cannot return my copy to the library of this fascinating futuristic tale just yet. Based on a classic Swedish novel of the same name, it ranges as deep into the otherness of space as it delves into the vast microcosm of ourselves. I probably will watch it once more before it goes back into library circulation, and then maybe also soon read the book.

Rather than disclose plot points, I’ll say that Aniara is equal to any space odyssey on film that I’ve seen. I just re-watched Planet of the Apes and I’d say Aniara‘s on par. The analogy also is apt because both are cautionary tales. Go check it out if you dig this genre.

The background premise of Aniara is the story of a passenger ship, traveling to Mars, until it veers off course.

With that in mind, let’s hope our brightest industrialists and scientists will help preserve what we got here, rather than get lost in weird dares.

G. H. Mosson


What I’m Reading: The Book of Awakening

Well, I believe it is my third year reading this book. Mark Nepo’s The Book of Awakening (Red Wheel Press), now in its 22nd year. It’s written as a day book. This means, it has entries for each day of the year. Nepo is a poet, philosopher, cancer survivor, and a kind-hearted guide for how things go. Each year I gain further surprise, delight, and understanding in dipping into and swimming through this book.

I still can remember first getting it, looking at it slightly overwhelmed. Thinking: Should I start at the beginning? Well, that question got me nowhere. The book sat unread for a week or so. Then – abandoning any plan – and jumped in at the month I started reading.

That tale of starting what turned out to be a great book is much like a Mark Nepo story. We make plans, but plans should not prevent living. A person is not the product of some picture-perfect plan. At any stage in life, at best, it’s a mix. Yet, sometimes we cannot let go of our plans.

Maybe though, in the end, it’s not letting go of plans – but one’s grip – that’s the essential next step.

Well, I’m reading Nepo’s Seven Thousand Ways of Listening and open to listening deeper, harder, further.

I was delighted as well to hear him recently via an online presentation say this, below:

Students learn.

Teachers remember.

How we take turns.

–Mark Nepo, author of The Book of Awakening

Best, G. H. Mosson


Check Out Main Street Rag & Press

Thanks to Main Street Rag for bringing out “A Veteran’s Nebraska” and “Tipsy Bozo Before the After Party,” two poems I really like and which found their final form with you in the current Winter 2022 issue.

Based in North Carolina, I remember Main Street Rag, the press and magazine, as a friend to the small press community for years and at least over a decade. Right now, I also am happily reading Yehoshua November’s book of poems, God’s Optimism, from Main Street Rag books.

While I am in the middle of God’s Optimism and cannot sum it up, November’s book is as strong as the individual poems of his I’ve seen in journals from time to time. When November mixes his emotionally resonate philosophical explorations with a well-wrought picture of how it’s interwoven into his daily life, these longer poems so far are my favorites.

A religious Jewish author, it also is refreshing to see poetry depicting everyday life where spirituality does not occur on some specific day or at some specific turn of events, but as part of the atmosphere of life.

You can find God’s Optimism here at this small press book store (link).

Main Street Rag, the mag, is linked here.

G. H. Mosson