Notes from the Gardner
Boston Poet Laureate Porsha Olayiwola has been the 2021 Artist in Residence at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, where she’s been exploring the archives, looking through correspondence, clippings, and materials Ms. Gardner collected from Ralph Waldo Emerson, Walt Whitman, Any Lowell, Sarah Orne Jewett, Annie Fields, and T. S. Eliot. And, as she’s deepened her attention on the ocean in her work and the somatic experience of being touched by it, Olayiwola has spent time with the pearls in collection, including a strand worn by Gardner in portraits of her done by John Singer Sargent and Anders Zorn. As part of her residency, Olayiwola was commissioned to write two new poems that respond to “Being Muholi: Portraits as Resistance,” a photography exhibit by South African artist and activist Sir Zanele Muholi. Responding to one of Muholi’s self presentation images, Olayiwola writes: “i’ve learned: the difference / between prayer / and pleading / is distance.” The poems are available to listen to and to read both online and at the museum itself. She writes: “an easy hunger — a clean lust — for what is my own — / knowing — myself is a pilgrimage toward a haloed ungrounding.” The exhibit is on view at the Gardner Museum through May 8.
...and from the garden
Author, illustrator, and environmental educator Kari Percival founded the Early Birds’ Garden Club at her community garden near Boston, learning with kids and parents about what happens when you plant something in the dirt. The experience inspired her lovely new children’s book, “How to Say Hello to a Worm: A First Guide to Outside” (Rise x Penguin Workshop). The book celebrates the act of gardening, of tucking the peas in, giving them a drink, saying hello to ladybugs, bees, and worms, and she raises important questions: “How do you make mud? Dig a path for the water to go. Make a river. Flood it! Mix, mix, mix. Mmmmmm! Mud!” Wonder and delight are in joyful evidence in each earthy illustration as Percival demonstrates the patience and thrill involved with putting a seed into soil, tending it, watching it grow, and then putting what’s grown into your mouth, be it carrot, strawberry, or pea. A section for adults at the end helps answer the question, why garden with toddlers, where Percival makes a convincing case for young kids learning about and reveling in the connections between sun, air, seasons, food, our bodies, and our communities. “Look at all we’ve grown!,” Percival writes, with the kids holding the bounty of their harvest. “Has anything ever tasted so sweet?”
A new book series
The MIT Press and Brown University Library announced the launch of “On Seeing,” a book series “committed to centering underrepresented perspectives in visual culture,” exploring places where visual culture intersects with questions of race, care, decolonization, privilege, and precarity. They call it “an experiment in multimodal publishing,” and the authors in the series will excavate visual culture and the power structures that often scaffold it. Each book will be accompanied by a “community engagement program” specific to the topic of each volume, examples of which are author podcasts, free events and public conversations, downloadable conversation toolkits, and the books will be published in print and in open access digital editions. Both universities stress the importance of expanding and deepening diversity in scholarly publishing, and, with “On Seeing,” hope to “shape new conversations about how we see, comprehend, and participate in visual culture.
“In Sensorium: Notes for My People” by Tanaïs (Harper)
“Dead Collections” by Isaac Fellman (Penguin)
“The Verifiers” by Jane Pek (Vintage)
Pick of the week
Arwen Severance at the Bookstore of Gloucester recommends “Writers & Lovers” by Lily King (Grove): “The book follows Casey ― a smart and achingly vulnerable protagonist ― in the last days of a long youth, a time when every element of her life comes to a crisis. Written with King’s trademark humor, heart, and intelligence, it’s a transfixing novel that explores the terrifying and exhilarating leap between the end of one phase of life and the beginning of another.”
Nina MacLaughlin is the author of “Wake, Siren.” She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.