Dale Fisher's "Washtenaw County: Visions of the Eagle" offers a look at our lives before Covid

VISUAL ART WRITTEN WORD

A photo of photographer Dale Fisher and his book Washtenaw County

It's just a fish-lens photo inside Yost Ice Arena. There's nothing special about it per se. The Michigan Wolverines are playing what looks to be the Wisconsin Badgers; it's 50 seconds into the game, a zero-zero tie, the stands are mostly full.

But during a time when all norms have been flipped because of Covid-19, seeing this simple scene of a hockey game being played 2 miles from my locked-down house hit an emotional hotspot that I've been pretty good about suppressing: dreaming about life in the Before Times.

The photo is in Dale Fisher's new book, Washtenaw: Visions of the Eagle, which is filled with pictures that will make you wistful for a full Big House, a packed Crisler, community fairs, and other events that brought people together for shared experiences.

Like the other six books by the Ann Arbor native, Fisher's latest focuses primarily on aerial photography, capturing the natural beauty and historic small cities of our county -- as well as that giant football stadium -- from the open door of a helicopter. But there are numerous ground-level photos among Washtenaw County's 288 pages, too -- many not even taken by Fisher or his co-photographer and partner Joanne Ackerman, who shot the book's cover image. The Yost photo is by Jonathon Knight. Other photos are provided by the businesses that helped sponsor the book and as well as nonprofits whose work Fisher supports. Those images are interspersed with Fisher and Ackerman's photos, blending editorial and business shots. It's a quirky approach, but not all that different from the way Fisher funded his other collections.

Not a Fake Ad: I Spy two new books from the Ann Arbor Observer highlighting its beloved monthly contests

WRITTEN WORD INTERVIEW

Fake Ad and I Spy books

If you live in the Ann Arbor school district, you are a recipient of the Ann Arbor Observer. The monthly magazine offers in-depth reporting on local issues and residents, a robust calendar of area events, and two long-running contests that are often the first things to which readers turn: "Fake Ad" and "I Spy."

If you're a superfan of these challenges, you won't have to wait until the next Observer arrives because the magazine is publishing two books of highlights from the contests: I Spy…Architecture: Photo Puzzles From the Ann Arbor Observer, Vol. 1 by Sally Bjork and The Fake Ad Book: 47 of the Best Fake Ads of All Time by Jay Forstner.

Forstner has worked on "Fake Ad" since the early 1990s when he had his “dream job” of being a staff writer for the Observer.

“I came up with the 'Fake Ad' as a way of trying to contribute more to the Observer because I loved the publication and the people I worked with," Forstner says. "The funny thing is that in the first years after I started writing the 'Fake Ad,' I also wrote some of my best articles for the magazine. I think the 'Fake Ad' was my way of connecting with my work.”

Bjork proposed the "I Spy" feature to editor John Hilton in late 1998.

“It originally focused on historic architecture and eventually expanded to include other things," Bjork says. "It began in February of 1999 and, thankfully, it has been going ever since."

Picking favorites from these beloved features proved difficult for both writers. Forstner recalls the fake ad for the Victorious Egret lingerie shop for ornithologists. “It combines three of my passions: wordplay, sexy lingerie, and bird watching," Forstner jokes, "which are very difficult to pursue all at the same time, sadly.”

Female protagonists populate U-M MFA graduate Sara Schaff's new collection of short stories

WRITTEN WORD PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Sara Schaff, The Invention of Love

What you have. What you want. What you hang on to. What you give up. 

Jeans. A house. A spouse. Drawings. Places. Jobs. A fantasy. 

Sara Schaff’s second collection of short stories, The Invention of Love, invests in these questions of possession and ownership, of affiliation and surprising loss. The best way to understand the characters’ distinct circumstances and the fine lines between one version of their life or another that they choose, or that gets chosen for them, is by looking at the plots themselves. For example, two half-sisters lose their mother, and both covet her pair of jeans used for dancing in “Our Lady of Guazá.” In another story called “Noreen O’Malley at the Sunset Pool,” Noreen must let go of the narratives about her friends and lovers that she hoped for as she cares for her new baby. 

Still, a character may make a delightful discovery amidst a seemingly unbearable situation, such as a woman eventually becoming enthralled by Anna Karenina despite the fact that her ex-husband’s new wife (and their family friend) had been the one who recommended the book. These observant views of these women show their realizations and complicated hardships as they navigate life and its turns. 

Schaff will speak with Greg Schutz, writer and lecturer at the University of Michigan, in an At Home with Literati virtual event on Tuesday, July 21, at 7 pm. Schaff and Schutz are friends and fellow graduates of the MFA program at the University of Michigan. Information to join via Zoom is on the event webpage. We corresponded via email beforehand, and here are my questions and Schaff’s responses. 

"Michigan Quarterly Review" launches "MQR Mixtape" to highlight new forms and writers

WRITTEN WORD

MQR Mixtape 1

The best ideas often come with pizza.

That's the edible the Michigan Quarterly Review staff usually scarfs -- along with Hershey Kisses -- during its annual end-of-the-academic-year gathering to brainstorm plans.

But with the coronavirus raging, the MQR brain trust couldn't meet in person over a shared pie in 2020, but the staff did follow up on an idea from the previous year. The result is MQR Mixtape.

"We call it the Dream Session, and here, we throw our ambitions on the board," writes MQR Mixtape guest editor Elinam Agbo in the introduction to the first issue of the online journal. "Last year, one item on the list was a new imprint, a way to feature the experimental and the eclectic. How could we lean into the flexible and highlight new forms while furthering the journal’s mission to publish diverse emerging voices?"

The first issue of MQR Mixtape is titled Becoming and features the poetry of Nadia Alexis and Jasmine An and the fiction of Morgan Thomas, Sabrina Helen Li, M.E. Bronstein, Piper GourleyAma Asantewa Diaka, and Yohanca Delgado. There's also photography by Nadia Alexis, Chante Lasco, and Chelsea Welsh, and art by Sena Moon.

Quarantine Binge: The wonderful world of webcomics

VISUAL ART WRITTEN WORD COVID-19

webcomics collage

Perhaps you’re finding that you have watched all the TV and movies that you can and you’ve read all your books. What to do? I suggest the eminently bingeable genre of webcomics, which are pretty much just like regular comics but just posted online. For free.

Even if you generally don't read comics and graphic novels, I suggest looking through a few webcomics and seeing if you like them -- most are very different from traditional superhero comics. And, hey, this pandemic is leading a lot of people to try something new. I tried savory oatmeal because I ran out of bagels and found out that it was great, so maybe you’ll get sucked into the fantastic art and stories that these comics have to offer.

You can split webcomics into roughly two categories: daily strips and graphic novels. Certainly, there are a lot of comics that don’t fit into either category, but a lot of popular webcomics like XKCD, Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal, Strange Planet, and Dinosaur Comics feature one-pagers frequently. These are like popcorn and you can easily spend a day or two reading the massive backlog of these comics. But the comics I’m going to feature here are mostly of the graphic novel variety. They are long stories in which each page contributes to an over-arching plot. 

This is just a teeny sampling of the webcomics out there and those linked below are my personal favorites. When it comes to webcomics, there really is something for everyone and a growing diversity amongst stories and creators. Comic artists are generally very generous about promoting each others' work, so if you find an artist you like, see whose work they recommend. 

Also, blanket advisory: with a few exceptions, all of these comics deal with mature themes. If you are in the (very understandable) mood for mindless fluff, this is not the list for you. But if you want to find some stories full of complex characters, adventures, ethical dilemmas, and amazing art, any comic listed here is a great place to start.  If a comic sounds intriguing but you’re worried about disturbing content, you may want to do a bit of research about it first.

The link to each comic goes to the first page of the story.

Polly Rosenwaike's stories give an intimate glimpse into the contexts of motherhood

WRITTEN WORD PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Polly Rosenwaike and her book Look How Happy I'm Making You

Author photo by Michael Lionstar.

This story was originally published on March 29, 2019.

Women who want babies. Women who do not. Women who try hard for a baby, and women who easily become pregnant. Women who lose a baby, and women who have one. 

These women populate the stories in Look How Happy I’m Making You, the debut collection by Polly Rosenwaike. Efforts to conceive and be mothers -- and the effects of those efforts on these women -- engage them. 

Rosenwaike’s stories, however, do not only center on the processes and acts of conceiving, birthing, and parenting. This collection moreover illustrates the complexities of the feelings and relationships surrounding motherhood and the wish for it. 

Rosenwaike draws inspiration from her own experiences as a mother and often works from branches of the Ann Arbor District Library. A resident of Ann Arbor, she is the fiction editor of Michigan Quarterly Review, is widely published in literary magazines, reviews books, teaches at Eastern Michigan University, and has two daughters with her partner, poet Cody Walker. 

Rosenwaike will read and discuss Look How Happy I’m Making You at Literati Bookstore Wednesday, April 3, at 7 pm. She answered questions about life in Ann Arbor and her new collection.

Valencia Robin’s poetry collection "Ridiculous Light" spans time, space, and seasons -- from Milwaukee in the 1960s to Ann Arbor in the 1990s

WRITTEN WORD PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Valencia Robin, Ridiculous Light

Author photo by Jennifer Walkowiak.

This story originally ran August 12, 2019.

Valencia Robin’s new poetry collection, Ridiculous Light, spans time, space, and seasons -- from Milwaukee in the 1960s to Ann Arbor -- and offers moments of distinct observations. The speaker invites readers into specific recollections and, within them, shares not just what happened but vivid descriptions and sublime reflections on the natural world, people, identity, and experiences. 

A poet and painter, Robin is one of the founding members of GalleryDAAS at the University of Michigan. She now lives in Charlottesville, Virginia. 

She will return to Ann Arbor to read at Literati Bookstore on Friday, August 16, at 7 pm, and Pulp interviewed her before her visit.

Jimi Hendrix's Experience: Jas Obrecht's "Stone Free" goes deep into the guitar great's transformative 10 months in London

MUSIC WRITTEN WORD PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Jas Obrecht and Jimi Hendrix

This story originally ran February 11, 2019.

The life of guitar legend Jimi Hendrix has been explored in numerous biographies and documentaries, so you could be forgiven for being skeptical as to why the world needs another book about the man widely considered to be the greatest guitarist of all time and a major influence on the sound of rock music. Jas Obrecht's new offering on the subject, however, takes a much closer look at a specific period in the life of Hendrix.

Stone Free: Jimi Hendrix in London, September 1966-June 1967 is a detailed, day by day look into the guitar great's arrival in England and his rapid rise from obscurity to fame. Obrecht's book puts into perspective just how quickly and completely Hendrix revolutionized pop music. The supporting cast is a who's who of British rock icons including The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Who, The Animals, and many others. I had the pleasure of sitting down for an interview with the author, who has written nearly 200 cover stories for Guitar Player and other music magazines as well as a number of books on blues and rock.

Obrecht will be reading from his new book on Thursday, February 14, 7 pm, at Literati Bookstore in Ann Arbor. Below is the conversation we had, slightly edited for flow.

Interview: U-M Professor Stephen Rush, author of “Free Jazz, Harmolodics, and Ornette Coleman”

MUSIC WRITTEN WORD INTERVIEW

Ornette Coleman

Ornette Coleman, the least understood person in the room.

This story originally ran December 5, 2016.

Ornette Coleman’s music can be inscrutable to unprepared ears. The jazz giant, who died in 2015 at 85, developed a music theory he called “harmolodics.” It’s a style that goes beyond the “free jazz” tag that frequently accompanies Coleman’s name -- even if the alto saxophonist/trumpeter/violinist did release a genre-defining record under that name in 1960 -- and relies as much on a philosophical idea as a musical one. Simply put: Harmolodics is about race.

Harmolodic theory can baffle experienced musicians, too. Even guitarist James “Blood” Ulmer, who played with Coleman for 6 years, said, “I don’t get it!” in a new book called Free Jazz, Harmolodics, and Ornette Coleman by Stephen Rush, professor of performing arts technology at the University of Michigan.

But Professor Rush, who has taught at U-M for more than 30 years, breaks down Coleman’s complicated theories in a series of free-flowing interviews with the legendary composer that clarify harmolodics’ underlying philosophy. Plus, the book’s in-depth musical examinations will help students absorb the style into their own playing.

In addition to being a U-M prof, keyboardist Rush has a staggeringly wide body of work that includes everything from chamber jazz and opera to digital music and sound installations, and he explores harmolodics (and all sorts of other styles) in his Naked Dance quartet.

To celebrate the release of Free Jazz, Harmolodics, and Ornette Coleman, Rush is doing two area readings: Wednesday, December 7, at Literati (Ann Arbor) and Sunday, December 11, at Trinosophes (Detroit). Both are at 7 p.m. (For the Literati event, Rush is joined by Jason Corey, associate dean and associate professor of music at the University of Michigan, who just released a new edition of his book Audio Production and Critical Listening: Technical Ear Training.)

Rush answered questions over email about Coleman and the book, and he gave Pulp a list of recommended recordings that illustrate harmolodics at its finest.

Two new books by Ander Monson consider the West, Midwest, gun violence, and extreme situations

WRITTEN WORD INTERVIEW

Ander Monson and his books I Will Take the Answer and The Gnome Stories

Author photo by Patri Hadad.

Ander Monson, a native of Michigan who lives in Arizona, has not one but two new books that were published this year.

His book of essays, I Will Take the Answer, begins with an account of exploring storm sewer tunnels underneath Tucson and concludes with a reflection on filming a ceremony with an infrared camera. In between, the essays span gun violence, rivers, mines, the Midwest, the Upper Peninsula, music and mixtapes, a Renaissance festival, a reflection on “I,”, and holiday lawn decorations. There is also a mention of the Sea Shell City Michigan’s Man-Killing Giant Clam.

These essays contemplate our relationship to the past and our memories alongside who we are now, what it all may mean, and what the future may bring. One essay called “Facing the Monolith” reflects on how a palm does not survive when transplanted and determines that:

Removed from our worlds, our histories of self, the things and songs we love, our spectacles or the spectacles we have become, the outlines of our lives -- that constant backward looking, searching for what we might contain or in what we are contained—we might well disappear.

The extent that history and self and the world around us are interconnected shapes our realities, suggests Monson. Yet, despite our reliance on our individual collections of history and memory, they do not guarantee security. Monson writes, “I consider, as if floating above some other northern city, the sprawling of the lit-up interstates as fathers drive their children home through snow on winter nights, thinking themselves safe. What is safety, I wonder, when at any moment our life could be torn apart?”

This idea of upending a life is contextualized by Monson’s discussion of the 2011 Tucson shooting in which US Representative Gabrielle Giffords was injured. At the tragedy’s memorial outside the grocery store where it occurred, one of the essays aptly depicts that, “I find a balled-up piece of lined yellow paper. I do pick it up. I open it. a shopping list with six items: ‘triskets, jello, oranges, mayo, peanut butter, sm. eating apples.’ It’s not a note or prayer. Sometimes it’s not clear what the difference is between these kinds of documents.” While this book just came out this year, I sense these sturdy yet vulnerable essays will hold up over time and that I’ll find myself rereading them or returning to them in thought in the future.

Monson’s other book, The Gnome Stories, is a collection of short stories that are, in some ways, a counterpart to the essays. Reading the two books in quick succession may have influenced me, but the stories do present similar situations examined through the lens of fiction, while also standing alone. They investigate how people will respond to unique circumstances, ranging from shooting a burglar to working in a cryogenic facility or a radical weight-loss clinic. Characters find themselves both at extremes and reaching toward extremes at the same time as wondering what defines them, how they can change, and, “[w]hen will it be enough?” As one character who maps people’s memories reflects, “[m]y father once asked me: What are you willing to wreck to get what you want?” The question moves beyond the hypothetical when this character and others undergo this test. Through clear prose and introspective characters, the stories reveal strengths and weaknesses of these characters, as well as question which is which.

Monson’s reading in Ann Arbor is rescheduled as an At Home with Literati event via Zoom video conferencing on Tuesday, April 14, at 7 pm, when he will speak along with author Deb Olin Unferth. 

I interviewed him by email, and we talked about his books, connection to the Midwest, and how the pandemic has affected his plans.