Arts & Culture

VPR's coverage of arts and culture in the region.

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Ted Levin

Many years ago, I remember reading an interview with the late Edward Abbey, in which he said he was willing to rail about our abuses of nature half the time, if he could be lost in the desert, alone, the other half.

Taylor Jewell / Invision/AP

Documentaries stood out at this year’s Sundance Festival – like John Chester’s Biggest Little Farm, with its detailed look at the withering challenges faced by a Santa Monica couple who flees Los Angeles to start an organic farm in the California countryside. Confronted by drought, wildfire, ravenous coyotes, toxic algae and a sick pig, they can only choose to endure. Many Vermonters could relate.

Ben Mirkin

I live in the Northeast Kingdom. But my daily writing job takes me south to Hanover, where I have a tiny condo. Especially on stormy winter days, the hour-long, white-knuckle commute makes it tempting to move to the Upper Valley altogether. But, in addition to dear friends and family, the Kingdom has cultural assets you can’t find anywhere else.

Courtesy of UVM

Growing up in the fifties in Morrisville at People’s Academy, our spring event was 'Kake Walk' - a parody of a racist amusement staged by slaves for their owners. The owners, king and queen of Kake Walk, sat in large chairs and watched as slaves high-stepped towards them in pairs with their arms pitched up and back. The grand prize for the highest steppers was a kind of “plantation cake.” Hence the name Kake Walk for an event that persisted in Vermont in my childhood and at UVM until 1969.

Courtesy of UVM

Known as Kake Walk, one of the highlights of the campus social calendar, it’s been described as “a standard act in minstrel theatre, originated on plantations as a competition among slaves” and UVM now has a digital collection of 231 items documenting it that date from 1895 onward.

Can the Holocaust be funny? That's the premise of The Last Laugh, a documentary film that features Holocaust survivors, as well as Jewish comedians, trying to answer that question. It's being screened this weekend at the University of Vermont, followed by a panel discussion with some of the filmmakers.

Young Writers Project: 'Elemental'

Feb 14, 2019
Lake Champlain Waldorf School poet Charlotte Hughes uses the chaotic forces of nature to describe the deterioration of a couple.
YWP Media Library, artwork by Tim Searls, 16, Danville, Vermont

They say that
he was the water
and she was the fire.
But his riptides overcame her
and buried her flame.
She was caught in his wild storms
and tossed around like a rag doll.
She used to be fierce,
but she became soggy
and flexible like a rubber band.

Porche: Devotion

Feb 14, 2019
Porche

When invited to offer a devotional at the Vermont State Legislature this year, I thought about how lately most every headline I read seems to carry a potentially lethal dose of venom. So I decided to present a love poem to devotion to even up the score a bit.

Author and psychologist Polly Young-Eisendrath sees love as a spiritual path bewteen equals.
Grandfailure / iStock

Love can be a mystery. It can be confounding. But still we pursue it. With gusto. So on the holiday devoted to love, we'll talk with psychologist and author Polly Young-Eisendrath about modern love, understanding how to communicate with your partner and creating a relationship of equals.

James Sturm's new graphic novel is "Off Season."
courtesy Drawn & Quarterly

In his new graphic novel Off Season, cartoonist James Sturm charts the narrative of one couple trying to cope with the bewildering unraveling of their marriage and the political landscape of the 2016 presidential election.

Stafford: Time To Tap

Feb 11, 2019
Luke Q. Stafford

Supporting your local economy; it’s a virtue many Vermonters seem to hold dear. So here’s a seasonally-appropriate tip for improving an economy so local, it’s literally in many backyards. 

Cassidy

Teachers, family members, employers - and in fact almost anyone who interacts with other people - have more power than they can imagine, to hurt or to support, and most of the time we’re unaware of the effect we have on others. So I was astonished when a former student contacted me out of the blue to tell me that in going through her father’s papers she’d found reports from when she attended Brattleboro Union High School.

Young Writers Project: 'Peace'

Feb 8, 2019
This week’s Richmond, Vermont, poet Anna Wahlin puts words to the stormy resistance she feels walking uphill toward the better, brighter future.
YWP Media Library, digital art by Walker Jones

The snow swirls around me,
covering up my footprints
and leaving me stranded
in the colorless blizzard.
The cold bites at my bare skin,
turning it to a rosy red,
trying to take me over.

A reading lamp pointed during a made bed in a darkened room at a nighttime.
BenAkiba / iStock

What do you do when you can't fall asleep? Some people meditate, others count sheep — and some pop in their headphones and listen to Sleepy, a podcast made by audio producer and Vermonter Otis Gray.

Three students sit at a table with a poster of drawn book spines hanging on the wall in the background.
Meg Malone / VPR

In Ban This Book some of 9-year-old Amy Anne Ollinger’s favorite books have started to disappear off her school library's shelves, and she discovers that adults are challenging the books and the school board is banning them from the library.

Dorothy’s List readers at Montpelier’s Kellogg-Hubbard Library had a lot to say about banned and challenged books — especially when they discovered some of their favorite titles have been questioned.

Charlotte, Vermont, poet Courtney McDermott writes of spontaneous introspection that claims her in a school locker room, allowing her past to weave itself into her present as she comes to a new understanding of herself.
YWP Media Library, photo by Jenna Rice

One shoe off, then the other.

Quiet, besides the rhythmic replacement
of clothing fabric against my skin.
The lights don’t buzz;
the sink doesn’t drip, for once.

Yates

We’re not the only state to claim our own fifth season. Here it’s Mud Season. In Alaska, the big melt is called Spring Break Up. But whatever the name, this transition from winter to spring signals a reconnecting to the land.

Young Writers Project: 'Skiing'

Feb 4, 2019
Burlington, Vermont, poet Laura Zhou-Hackett reflects on the first blurry image of her childhood: her father and herself, swishing through the winter countryside.
YWP Media Library, photo by Lindsey Stuntz

Happiness is the faded memory
of tiny cross-country skis
next to your father’s tall ones,
and of climbing the snowy hill sideways
(or else you will fall back down).
Happiness is the sight of a frozen pond
next to an open field,
and the swish-swish of skis
penetrating the still, quiet air.

The cover of Chard deNiord's book I Would Like To You If I Could: Interviews with Ten American Poets. It has a blue-green background.
University of Pittsburgh Press, Courtesy

Vermont's poet laureate, Chard deNiord, took up a different role recently: interviewing other poets about their lives and work. The result is a book called I Would Lie to You if I Could: Interviews with Ten American Poets.

Suzanne Spencer Rendahl

Unlike many who flock to ski resorts, I’ve always balked at the price of lift tickets as well as the crowds. Memories from childhood sitting on a chairlift while getting battered by the wind, and then ice skating down a steep slope also haven’t helped. So early in adulthood I learned the joys of cross- and back-country skiing, which allow me to fly through the woods under my own power.

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