Tagged: brian doyle

Some of that outside validation we all crave

This year’s edition of Best American Essays lands in bookstores today, and alumni magazines and writers are represented. Listed among “Notable Essays of 2011” are:

— Brian Doyle, editor of Portland, for “The Creature Beyond the Mountains,” which appeared in Orion.

— Patrick Dunne, for “Into the Deep,” which appeared in the Spring 2011 issue of Notre Dame Magazine.

— Kerry Temple, editor of Notre Dame, for “A Summer Night,” which he scribbled for the Summer 2011 issue of his magazine.

Congratulations to all.

Doyle’s dream

When I opened an envelope that contained the Winter 2011 issue of Portland, I found a little note from editor Brian Doyle clipped to the cover, a note noting that this issue was something he’d long dreamed of publishing—an issue devoted to music, one that included a bound-in CD. So I slipped the CD into my iMac and started reading.

On the cover is a gorgeous photograph of a mandolin. I don’t like the mandolin, I never want to play the mandolin, but this image is scrumptious enough to make me at least want to own a mandolin. Once past the front-of-the-book campus stuff, you come upon seven pieces on music—Connor Doe’s sweet meditation on being a guitar player and a new dad at the same time; a Trappist monk’s counting of the myriad sounds that make up the music of his day; the music latent in the Indian names for Oregon rivers; singer and songwriter Jennifer Crow speaking through Doyle about creating music; Kirsten Rian’s startling remembrance that starts out recalling when guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughn died and then becomes something wholly unexpected; an essay on the music of sandhill cranes; a story by Pico Iyer—and the CD with 20 pieces of music.

I asked Doyle for how long had we wanted to do such a thing. “Oh dear, years,” he replied. “Credit where due: Mark Wood at Pomona [Pomona College Magazine] bound a CD into his magazine years ago, but his was all music from the campus, as I recall, and the thought niggled at me that o sweet mother of the baby Jesus wouldn’t it be cool to do a record of all sorts of wild music from all corners of the vast university community, alumni, and students and guests and friends and faculty and staff and everyone and anyone. Man, that would be way cool.”

What made the issue happen now was the capital campaign. Yes, the capital campaign. Said Doyle, “We are conducting that rare and lovely music, a campaign where everyone’s creative ideas for drawing people toward the university are not only allowed (holy moly!) but encouraged (what planet are we on?!), and paid for (what galaxy is this?!). The poobah running our campaign gets it that interesting ways to get people to lay ears and eyes on the university are actually fundraising efforts, yes? On the theory that people who attend to you will soon enough get absorbed by your drive and need, and help out.” Read the captions that accompany the many photographs of musicians and instruments and sheet music and you realize that this is the slyest campaign issue of an alumni magazine ever. Each one gently suggests that Portland could use help in remaining a place that fosters the making of music and fine prose and quality thought, and directs the reader to the campaign’s website. The CD is glued to a an insert that briefly explains the campaign.

Regarding that CD, which cost about $10,000 to produce, Doyle said, “Steve Forbert gave me a song. Steve Forbert!!!!!! who had been a visiting writer—we were intrigued by how songwriters are writers and don’t get the credit for writing stories. Neil Murray gave me a song, and he’s one of the greatest Australian songwriters there is. He’d written a piece for our magazine. An alumnus gave us a song and died two weeks later, 88 years old, lovely gentle wonderful man; his daughter told me the last grin she saw on his face was the news that every reader of the magazine would hear his lovely jazz tune. A wild young hip band named the Dimes gave me a song because they had had so much fun playing a show on campus. An alumna gave me a song from her country rock band and told me so many funny stories about singing in roaring bars at night and singing at church early in the morning that we ended up doing a whole feature on her. A student walked into my office and said she had recorded songs with her friends on a university program in Kenya, would I listen, and my heart sank, because the phrase recorded with friends usually means shrieking cursing howling awful vulgar sniggering rap, and her songs made me want to caper because they were so lively and happy and laughing. It was a total ball, this issue. Also I note with amazement that no one [among the musicians] asked for a penny.”

The only flaw in this whole exercise derives from Portland being perfect bound, which messed up a few of the photos that Doyle ran full across, full bleed. I asked him is this might the one time he wished his magazine were saddle-stitched. “Sigh. Yup.”

Let’s end with a medley, which feels appropriate, a medley of prose highlights. First, Connor Doe:

At one point during our rehearsal, my son, who was pretty new to being a son then, kept perfect time while banging the stick on the floor and grinning jubilantly. I’m not kidding. It didn’t last for more than a few beats, and probably it was a complete accident, but it was absolutely perfect. Maybe the best thing about being a dad is that perfect time is always possible.

Robin Cody:

By my count, some 68 percent of our native rivernames are three-syllable words. Most of the others are four-beat words. Walla Walla, Tualatin, Skomakawa, and Metolius survived the pioneers’ naming of things. The newcomers selected, from the home folks, the most melodious phonemes they heard for this new-to-them place. They adoped rollicking names for lively rivers, so different from the flat Platte and the languid Snake along the Oregon Trail. Imagine their relief, their joy. Even Methodists could hear the three-note riff here that goes bu-DEE-bu.

Kirsten Rian:

Sound rings off forever. There is no reconciliation point, even when it moves past our ability to hear. It’s out there somewhere still, echoing. It’s something to believe in, to know, even though it can’t be touched or seen. Like faith. Music plays itself in how it’s felt, in how the notes reverberate through the tiny bones in our ears, yes, but also throughout all the rest of us, a secular love rooted in the infinity of belief.

And, finally, Pico Iyer:

Once, high up in the nosebleed seats of Osaka Castle Hall in Japan, I closed my eyes and heard Eric Clapton take off on long silvery riffs on his guitar. He stood alone, completely motionless at the back of the state. His head lifted up, his eyes clearly shut. The music was playing him, more than the other way round. In fact it seemed to be streaming through him—he and his instrument just vessels—and enveloping us all in something beyond the reach of explanations. I didn’t have the words for it—I was embarrassed to hear myself saying it—but I didn’t care what his religion was or wasn’t (or mine, either): this was what the world sounded like when it was unbroken.

Best American Essays taps alumni magazines

Not for the first time, the annual volume The Best American Essays has honored a couple of alumni magazines. The 2011 edition’s editors, Robert Atwan and Edwidge Danticat, selected Pico Iyer’s “Chapels”  from Portland (you will need to scroll through the PDF to find it on pg. 50) for inclusion in anthology that includes work by Hilton Als, Christopher Hitchens, Charlie LeDuff, and Zadie Smith. Here is the opening paragraph:

Giant figures are talking and strutting and singing on enormous screens above me, and someone is chattering away on the miniscreen in the cab from which I just stepped. Nine people at this street corner are shouting into thin air, wearing wires around their chins and jabbing at screens in their hands. One teenager in Sacramento, I read recently, sent 300,000 text messages in a month—or ten a minute for every minute of her waking day, assuming she was awake sixteen hours a day. There are more cell phones than people on the planet now, almost (ten mobiles for every one at the beginning of the century) Even by the end of the last century, the average human being in a country such as ours saw as many images in a day as a Victorian inhaled in a lifetime.

The back pages of each edition of Best American Essays lists other notable essays published in the previous year, a sort of honorable mention. Among the pieces honored were Joseph Epstein’s “The Symphony of a Lifetime,” published by Kerry Temple’s Notre Dame Magazine:

I have taken to saying that my wife and I are at the grandparent stage of life. I don’t before now recall using the metaphor “stage” to describe any other segment or portion of my life. The notion of stages of life has been around for a long while, of course, and doesn’t look to be going away.

Go-o-o-o , Lemmings!” by Brian Doyle, published by The American Scholar:

The first sports team I remember loving as a child, in the dim dewy days when I was two or three years old and just waking up to things that were not milk and mama or dirt and dogs, was the Fighting Irish of the University of Notre Dame. They were on television every day, it seemed, in our bustling brick Irish Catholic house. Inasmuch as I was hatched and coddled near Manhattan, there were also Metropolitans and Knickerbockers and Rang­ers and Islanders, and as I shuffled shyly into high school, I met snarling and roaring mammalian mascots, notably the Cougars of my own alma mater, which was plopped in marshlands where I doubt a cougar had been seen for 300 years.

“An Intimate Geography” by Barry Lopez, also published by Portland:

It was night, but not the color of sky you might expect. The sun was up in the north, a few fingers above the horizon, and the air itself was bluer than it had been that afternoon, when the light was yellower. A friend and I were sitting atop a knoll in the Brooks Range in northern Alaska on a June “evening.” We had our spotting scopes trained on a herd of several hundred barren-ground caribou browsing three miles away in the broad, treeless, U-shaped valley of the Anaktuvuk River. The herd drifted in silence across an immensity of space

Finally, the Spring 2010 edition of Portland, “Water as Soul,” was cited as a “notable special issue.”

Congratulations to all.

Weekend read

This week, something different as a weekend read. Two of our own, both residing in Oregon, have recently published novels. Guy Maynard, longtime editor of Oregon Quarterly at the University of Oregon, has written The Risk of Being Ridiculous, published by Hellgate Press. Set in 1969, Maynard’s tale is subtitled “A Historical Novel of Love and Revolution” and features, according to the website, three of my favorite things: radical street politics, rock and roll, and recreational drug use. OK, they were my favorite things 35 years ago, but you get my meaning. Here’s a taste that had me flashing back:

As we filed into the apartment, we were met by a swirl of colors and words, a blur of blobs and lines, explosions and expressions, a collapsed rainbow of politics and art and stoned kids having fun. In playful pinks, letters almost smiling: “Distrust sad people, the revolution is joy.” In a shiny bold blue counterclockwise circle: “In a time of revolution, no bystanders are innocent.” Wild thick red strokes: “Be realistic, demand the impossible!” Sinister black in stenciled seriousness: “KILL YOUR PARENTS.” An intricate Escher-like drawing, hair thin lines intersecting and closing in on themselves to form a tower that spiraled and corkscrewed into the wall, disappearing in a vast imagined distance. Rolling script, green and neat, following an unseen line: “You never know what is enough unless you know what is more than enough.—William Blake.” A multihued day-glo peace sign. A recipe for Mary Jane Superweed Candy, lined up just like it came from a cookbook, with flour and caramels and walnuts and “clean and sifted marijuana” and an option (to be used with “discretion”) to psychedelicize with DMT or LSD. “LOVE” spelled with flower letters with petals and blossoms of yellow and orange and purple. Small red letters in a tight little square: “Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun: Chairman Mao.” A damn good Mr. Natural on a scooter, saying, “Don’t mean sheet.” A skillfully drawn female nude beneath a hastily scribbled quote from Dylan: “He not busy being born is busy dying.”

Anybody other than me and Jeff Lott growing wistful?

Oregon State University Press has just published Mink River, Brian Doyle’s tenth book and first novel. His publisher describes it as . . .

In a small town on the Oregon coast there are love affairs and almost-love-affairs, mystery and hilarity, bears and tears, brawls and boats, a garrulous logger and a silent doctor, rain and pain, Irish immigrants and Salish stories, mud and laughter. There’s a Department of Public Works that gives haircuts and counts insects, a policeman addicted to Puccini, a philosophizing crow, beer and berries. An expedition is mounted, a crime committed, and there’s an unbelievably huge picnic on the football field. Babies are born. A car is cut in half with a saw. A river confesses what it’s thinking . . .

Yeah, but does it have any good stories about basketball and the Dalai Lama?

As a longtime novelist wannabe with two really bad manuscripts in desk drawers—the cat peed on one of them and was right in his assessment—I’m more than a little jealous of these guys. But both know how to wield the language and I’ve no doubt both of these books are worthy of your attention.

2011 Editors Forum recap

Hello, bleary editors and writers. Those of us who had the good fortune to attend the 2011 CASE Editors Forum enjoyed a lively, stimulating conference.

No one can attend every presentation, of course, given the simultaneous breakout sessions, but among those I sat in on, here are a few that stood out:

— Brian Doyle’s impassioned opening session on storytelling. Emotional presentations are chancy—lots of people find them either an acquired taste or a bit hard to bear—but there’s no questioning Doyle’s commitment to fine writing and even if you don’t respond to his emoting, you must admit he tells a hilarious Dalai Lama story.

— Morven Knowles discussion of how CAM remade itself. There was Knowles’ plummy accent, of course, which every Yank in the room secretly coveted. But there was also interesting commentary on what it’s like to not just redesign your periodical, but rethink it as well.

— Tyler Stableford’s excellent photography session. Shutterbugs like me loved it for Stableford’s photos and his clear explanations of how he got the shots. But editors gleaned a lot about what makes one photo better than another, which sometimes is obvious but other times is more subtle and murky. Also interesting was him talking about how he prefers more rather than less instruction from the art director, and how helpful it is to have read a draft of the story.

— The captions-callouts-headlines presentation by Matt Jennings spoke to a lot of us. These are often the rushed, last-minute items that don’t get our full attention, and Jennings noted how that can be a real mistake.

— The Friday morning panel on sticky political situations as experienced by editors and communications professionals at Johns Hopkins, Stanford, and North Carolina State, who did a fine job of sharing the stage and articulating the problems we all encounter while trying to negotiate the politics of our institutions.

— I did not attend Robert Richards’ presentation on copyright and other legal issues, but my boss, Catherine Pierre, did and reports that it was excellent. This has become an ever-bigger issue as we deal with questions of consent, copyright on the Internet, and fair use. (Arianna Huffington, lawyers from The New York Times are on line 3.)

Finally, there were a couple of comic highlights. One was Vicki Glembocki’s reenactment of how she was driving with two sleeping kids in the back seat when she desperately needed to void her bladder. Those of us who have known Glembocki for a long time were not surprised to hear that her solution was to somehow position a diaper so that she could relieve herself while continuing to roll down the highway. Never have I seen such a thing at an Editors Forum. Priceless.

Then there was that dorkboy who confused the cover photo of Michelle Obama for a cover photo of Condi Rice. I’d reveal his identity, but we try not to ridicule people on the blog, and besides, judging by the looks of delight on the faces of all his friends, he’s in for plenty of ridicule as it stands.

Thanks to Betsy Robertson, Maureen Harmon, and the CASE crew, especially Emily DeYoung, for all their work. See y’all in Atlanta, where we all will be invited to a barbecue at Paige Parvin’s house. She promised. Sometime after the fourth beer.