Artists of the Year

Hurricanes, war, avian flu, locust plagues, that annoying song you couldn't get out of your head. It wasn't the greatest of all possible years. Nor was it halfway decent. But to prove that it wasn't all bad, we asked 29 writers to rave about the ar

Nowadays, jury-rigged pop stars coo plastic endearments to fans while seeking 24-hour coverage, and rap stars feign hardness but have custard centers. Whitney really and truly does not give a fuck. In one episode, Bobby says that he became a singer because he loves people and wants them to love him. "My wife ain't the same," he laughs. Her gift might be tethered to a lot of dark and dysfunctional poles, but it ain't attached to a need for your emotional validation. In Whitney's view, you put down your money, you get the CD or the movie, and that's the end of the transaction. If you run up on her when she's naked in a spa, asking for the autographs you just received to also be dated so your friends will know when you got them, you pretty much deserve the "Bitch, please" face.

So set aside the relentless misrepresentation of what unfolded onscreen, how, for instance, countless articles and bloggers tsk-tsked Whitney for telling how Bobby gave her an impromptu enema--doodie bubble, y'all--when in truth, it was Bobby who told the story while a clearly embarrassed Whitney waved her arms to shut him up. Consider instead that at the core of the show--a combative, fucked-up relationship in the standard, sneering judgment--is in fact a depiction of genuine affection. Bobby and Whitney are that 'hood couple who will fight in the street, kicking each other's asses up and down the block, pulling knives and cracking bottles to improvise shanks, and then turn around and cut the shit out of anyone who threatens or harms their man/woman. After Bobby tells the doodie bubble tale, Whitney mockingly growls, "Now, that's black love." Naw, it's just love. I cannot wait for the DVD extras.

Ernest Hardy'sBlood Beats, a collection of interviews, essays, and reviews from the last 10 years, will be published by Red Bone Press in April of 2006.

 

Donald Revell
By Stephen Burt
Poetry should startle, puzzle, worship, provoke, inquire, pray, denounce, think, propose, complain, and console, but it's not often you find one poet whose work can do all of those things. When you do, it's likely to be some towering giant of the Canonical Past. But there is one among us who has done all these things with words. Donald Revell started out in the 1980s as the gloomiest of all cosmopolitan Gusses, giving gunmetal-gray life to citified angst. Theory and practice succumbed to one another's weary frailties in his intricate sentences: "In the needle's eye,/or selling what you own at the strait gate,/who will know how to kiss you and just when/to pull the hair at your neck and say your name?" From such a spectacularly sad, effective distaste, halfway between late Wallace Stevens and late Hüsker Dü, Revell retreated into puzzles, hermetic codes, strenuous would-be magical spells: "The soul is a nest./The soul catches the wind/between numerals." The short, hard stanzas of his mid-'90s odes suggest computer programs written by Emily Dickinson, or alchemical charms suspended in ice.

Yet Revell has recently written some of the warmest, happiest, clearest good poems of 21st-century America: "The work of poetry is trust...I find my eyes find/Numberless good things." Revell has virtually become his own opposite. His newest lines reflect a happy second marriage, enthusiastic fatherhood, serious faith, and the wide-open warmth of the Southwest, where he now lives: "anything short of Heaven as I get older/Is Hell, smoke settled in a hollow, and the hollow/Myself in the deserts I truly love." The new poems, collected along with all the best of the old in Revell's 2005 career-spanning volume, Pennyweight Windows: New & Selected Poems (Alice James Books), remind me of James Wright, of music by the Postal Service and Low, of the most beautiful diary in the world: Its desert-burnished gems await you now.

Stephen Burt chairs the English department at Macalester College; his new book of poems,Parallel Play, comes out on Greywolf Press in February 2006.

 

Jenni Olson
By Rob Nelson
Jenni Olson's experimental documentary sets itself the challenge--modest yet monumental--of persuading us to live. The funny thing--not so funny, really--is that The Joy of Life is drenched in sadness and suffused with thoughts of death, including the sense of how easily it comes to us when we call.

The film comprises two distinct but complementary halves whose voice-over narration is wedded to long, stationary shots of a hauntingly vacant San Francisco. In the first, we hear a lonely woman confessing her lust for companionship, her insecurities intensified as one girlfriend after another loses interest and leaves. In the second, we hear the same woman, seemingly drawn into a dangerous liaison with the city itself, discussing the contested politics of the Golden Gate Bridge, its low railings apparently designed to dramatize our potentially lethal desire for grandeur. (At least 1,300 people--including a dear friend of Olson's--have killed themselves by jumping from the bridge. The film has helped compel the Golden Gate's board of directors to reconsider modifying the architecture for safety.)

Like the most famous of San Francisco films, Olson's vertiginous provocation is about two kinds of falling--falling in love and falling to ruin--and the dizzying connections between them. It's also a treasure trove of paradoxes: For one thing, The Joy of Life takes its name from an old cigarette ad seen gleaming from the side of a building that looks about to collapse; for another, it seeks community in part by making one of the most densely populated of U.S. cities appear desolate, out of time. Olson has estimated that 30 percent of her film's images contain elements that no longer exist--a figure that's certain to rise in accordance with the fate of any film (or any thing).

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