June Costa’s art is her life, and she crafts her life to be her art. This radical theme resonates through the character and through the cataclysmic events that unfold within one year in her society, events at whose center she stands, an artist hero such as I have not seen expressed before in literature. June Costa makes public art in a city of future Brazil, art that might be described as techno spectacle, everything from graffiti that transforms mountains to holo murals that carry scent. In her resistance to governmental limits, this protagonist changes herself and affects her whole society.
The author does such a job of world-building that I feel I could book a ticket to Palmares Tres. Not a dystopian setting, but rather, a post-apocalyptic setting, June’s society has started over. There is conflict between the government-sanctioned isolationist policy and the protesting technophiles, labeled extremists by the powers-that-be, the Aunties who can rule for centuries. June is from but not of, their upper tier way of thinking.
Alaya Johnson uses an interspersed second narrative voice, daring if not consistently effective. This is the voice of Enki, born poor and dark and wild and creative, voted Summer Prince by the people for his dazzling dance art. When June becomes artistically involved with Enki, he becomes the catalyst for her questioning her artistic ethics regarding, for example, art’s ownership, the cost of artistic defiance, and how to perceive cultural patterns when society is changing so rapidly. Together, June and Enki make political art. Or is it authentic art, which happens to speak to the people in a political time?
Is The Summer Prince at heart a story of the struggle to balance freedom and security? Is it a profound love story, with an array of multicultural characters as the Lovers? Is the core of the story an artist’s coming of age about the power of her craft? Is the Summer Prince a parable about the responsibilities of power? Yes and yes and yes and yes. Besides life as art, other high concepts in this novel stretch the reader in regard to gender, sex and relationship boundaries, about death and aging, about technologies that augment and modify but ultimately destroy the body. There are plot point confusions, but for me, the energy of the imaginings easily lifts the story past them. I look forward to more from Alaya Dawn Johnson.
Mary Oliver’s poem, Sunrise, seems fitting for this time of the stirrings of new life. I share also, her poem Spring, because in February we celebrate Love, and to me one of its most hopeful forms is the animal joy evoked by the lengthening sunlight.
February 2 honors the turning of the sun year’s Wheel to the halfway point between Winter Solstice and Spring Equinox. The fire festival of Candlemas is also known as Holy Bridget’s Day, and as Imbolc, which translates variously as in the belly or ewe’s milk, for the time of lambing.
On that day this year, I made merry with five sisters around a ceremonial fire, and we used the inspiration of the flames to transform and pray for the world, each of us in our own way renewing our passionate love of this life. I revitalized my commitment to my creative work, praying that the instrument of my Being make beautiful word music in the world!
May this time of initiation brighten you, also, and may you illumine your corner of the world.
“Poetry lifts the veil from the hidden beauty of the world,” wrote Shelley, and this is no more true than on an Alzheimer’s Unit. I am a 66-year-old whippersnapper with a lifelong passion for poetry. I’m retired now, but at one time in my life I found myself working in the nursing home world of elders as a social worker.I did my job of facilitating family support groups, naming resident needs at Care Conferences, and finding lost sweaters. I became the friend and advocate for each resident, some of whom I feared, a few of whom I disliked, all of whom I came to actually love. Beneath the tasks of the job role, the poet in me saw the dazzling intersections of the elders’ rich life stories. The poet in me looked around and saw, in one single and singular corridor of Earth school, teachers!
Evergreen was the name of the resident poetry circle which I conducted weekly. Stimulating the memories of participants, patiently eliciting and recording their responses, I stretched my listening limits into outer space. One elder told her son that in the circle, she was “heard alive.”
The pinnacle of my learning experience with these teachers was the evening we held a poetry reading by the residents. Their family members sat in rows as audience, low expectations keeping them quiet and wondering. In the transformed dining room, the EvergreenResident-Poets sat in a semicircle at the front. Each Poet held a page with large-print lines of their own words. I stood in back of the Evergreen arc, holding the microphone. As the turn of each Resident-Poet came, I leaned in and held the microphone in front of them. Some read their own words. You could see the surprise and pleasure on their faces as they recognized their cadence, or their story, or their unique diction. Some proudly held their paper, while I read their lines over their shoulder. To me, the faces of the residents said, “We are still here! See us! Our lives mean something! We still have something to offer!” The families were startled and amazed.
I learned we all have something to give, we all have dignity, even in dementia. In retrospect, that evening was one of the most important nights of my life. Poetry condenses meaning. That evening, an Alzheimer’s Unit became a condensary. It showed me that wherever I find myself in my life, I can peer deeper, beneath the surface. I can find the hidden beauty.