REVIEW -- OnStage Production's Hairspray is a Jewel Worth the Trip

“…your eyes can deceive you; don’t trust them.”

-Obi-Wan Kenobi,
“Star Wars: A New Hope”

Tracy sends a cheerful "Good Morning, Baltimore!" to her hometown.

Tracy sends a cheerful "Good Morning, Baltimore!" to her hometown.

Okay, I will freely admit that the first couple of times I attended a show at OnStage Productions, my eyes concealed a perfect gem, literally at my feet. When one arrives at The Old Mill in Lexington, it looks like someone converted a couple of ancient warehouses into an upscale brewpub, added a small shop or two, then called it a day. While these establishments do exist, there’s also something quite special just a few feet underground.

Housed in a renovated downstairs area, OnStage has created  the look, feel, and atmosphere of a cozy, hip, Off-Broadway house. The space is a bit cramped, and has a slightly “rough at the edges” feel, as I firmly believe all good playhouses should. Be prepared to sit close to your seatmates, but that’s all part of the aura and style OnStage has created in building what could easily be a 100-seat, upstairs, Greenwich Village theatre. Just set your personal space requirements to “NYC mode,” and you’ll have a blast.


Speaking of blasts, Director Robert Harrelson truly blew us away with Saturday night’s performance of Hairspray, The Musical, which continues its run this Thursday-Sunday. With a cast full of talent, and some most innovative staging, Harrelson makes the show work like a well-oiled machine. The set, though simple in design, effectively creates the show’s various locales through a quartet of four-sided columns, outstanding use of lighting to suggest a specific space, and a never-ending flow of kinetic energy from the cast, who all move things around just in time to be perfectly in place for the next scene. The action of the play never wanes, nor does the seemingly boundless energy of the cast. One of the highest compliments I can give a musical is that it “never stops moving,” which perfectly describes this version of Hairspray.


And of the performance, itself? Well, it had me singing along with half the score, and laughing uproariously, often at the most inappropriate jokes and one-liners. Again, I must sing Harrelson’s praises for DOING THE SHOW AS WRITTEN. Hairspray, the John Waters film which gave rise to the musical, was subversive as hell, made fun of cultural stereotypes, and embraced the taboo with mischievous glee. The musical has toned down a bit of Waters’ signature vulgarity, but keeps its norm-shattering and cheeky storyline intact. Harrelson has not altered the script in any way, nor has he “bleeped out” a single potentially-controversial line. This is Hairspray as it was written to be played, not a sanitized-for-grandma production. (Incidentally, I saw several grandma-types laughing and enjoying the show right along with me.) Bravo for Harrelson for his faithfulness to the work, and the ensuing quality that comes with that integrity.

Charity Gilbert, Laiyah Smith, and Jamila Wicker raise the roof as "The Dynamites."

Charity Gilbert, Laiyah Smith, and Jamila Wicker raise the roof as "The Dynamites."

The cast has some double-casting, with about half the roles being played at all performances, with others alternating between two actors. My friends and I saw “Cast A,” and they delivered a fast-paced, turbo-charged, roller coaster of a ride that I’m sure is matched in quality by “Cast B.”

Leading the cast as Edna Turnbladt is Bradley Watts (who shares the role with Jeffrey Sigley.) Watts is great fun to watch, and throws himself enthusiastically into the part. There’s a definite nod to Harvey Fierstein’s Edna, but Watts makes the role his own, not only vocally, but also through the creation of a slightly softer, somewhat less acerbic Edna than we’ve seen from other productions. Without ever losing the comedy or the no-nonsense personality, Watts gives us an Edna that retains her strength, but never at the cost of her femininity. Her rapport with husband Wilbur, played in both casts by Theodore Reynolds, is spot-on, and the two clearly trust each other as scene partners, creating a snapshot of the trust and affection between Edna and Wilbur. Reynolds is appropriately goofy without ever resorting to mugging for the audience, and makes Wilbur the lovable doofus with great success.

As Tracy Turnbladt, Whitney McDonald shines in a role she is clearly delighted to be playing. Her talent is undeniable, and she’s clearly confident in the character choices she has made. A “plus-sized” social warrior and crusader for justice, McDonald’s Tracy is also quite lovely. (Think Nigella Lawson meets a Designing Women-era Delta Burke, with a dash of Adele thrown in,) and serves as a perfect example of how beauty not only comes from within, but also that outer beauty can take many forms. McDonald allows Tracy a sweetness that never compromises her commitment to equality and progress. As for her vocals, one word. Wow! Harrelson has clearly followed the old theatrical adage of “cast the best singers first,” and McDonald can deliver on a ballad or belt the paint off the back wall, without ever losing pitch or sincerity. (Tracy is played on alternate nights by Katie Edelson.)

As foils for the Turnbladt women, we meet Velma and Amber Von Tussle, a former pageant star, and her beauty-queen daughter, Lisa Baker and Zanna Mills, respectively, who share the roles with Leslie Dellinger and JoJo Wallace. Baker brings down the house with her “Miss Baltimore Crabs” number, and Mills, who demonstrated her skill at playing sweet and innocent as Mary Ann in last season’s Gilligan’s Island: The Musical, shows that she can play “mean girl” Amber with equal aplomb. Mills also makes her debut as a choreographer in this production, and the result is a series of well-rehearsed, toe-tapping, fun choreography that almost pulls the audience members into the aisles to boogie down.

As David LaTorre performs with both casts, I can quite literally say that there isn’t a weak (L)ink in the show. (Thanks, folks, I’ll be playing here all week.) In what could easily be a standard, Richie Cunningham-esque boyfriend role, LaTorre find’s Link’s humanity in every sense of the word. Neither Superboy nor “bad boy,” Link finds himself at several personal and ethical crossroads, and LaTorre conveys well his sense of conflict, as well as his desire to do what is right, even if it costs him. Ara-Viktoria Goins is a somewhat sexier Motormouth Maybelle than devotees of Hairspray may be used to, but it works brilliantly with the character’s believe-in-yourself philosophy. Goins, like McDonald, has a huge voice that can shake the rafters, as well as purr seductively, as she demonstrates in her performance of “Big, Blonde, and Beautiful.”

Ara-Viktoria Goins as Motormouth Maybelle.

Ara-Viktoria Goins as Motormouth Maybelle.

Much of the social statements in Hairspray center around the budding romance between Seaweed Stubbs (Joshua Wright) and Penny Pingleton (Camryn Harsey, alternating with Kari Tilghman.) Seaweed is black, Penny is white, and it’s 1962, so there’s plenty of era-based controversy over their relationship. While never preachy or heavy-handed, their story strikes at the core message of the play, which is that what’s on the outside doesn’t matter. Both performers approach the material with a light touch, but their message of social justice, equality, and the strength of unity comes through loud and clear. Wright and Harsey both bring strong voices and considerable stage presence to their roles.

Debra Leopard and Mark DiNovo, as usual, turn in memorable, fully-realized, enjoyable characters. While Leopard is a hoot as Penny’s religious-fanatic mother (and also shines in a smaller role as the High School principal,) DiNovo had me doubled over with laughter every time he took the stage. His two “bonus” roles in “Good Morning, Baltimore” and “The Big Doll House” are absolute side-splitters, and his lame-clad Mr. Spritzer is a delight. Linda Lawton Brochin serves up a couple of hilarious cameos, and Karlton Timmerman’s Corny Collins hits all the right notes as a smarmy-but-charming dance show host, and manages to show off a very nice singing voice, as well.

Were there a few negatives? Yes, but none that marred the experience. The musicians (yes, Hairspray utilizes live musicians, which I strongly support) could be a bit overpowering at times, but to be fair, we were seated fairly close to them. A couple of the soloists had to struggle with a note that was too high or too low, and I occasionally missed a lyric or two. There was one small glitch during a scene change, but by the time I even noticed, it had been corrected.

OnStage Productions is a short, 20-minute drive from Downtown Columbia, and I strongly encourage everyone to make that drive. Hairspray is slick, polished, well-paced, and provides a subtle reminder of the importance of equality and acceptance in society.


Hairspray concludes its run this Thursday-Sunday. Tickets can be purchased by visiting

Frank Thompson is Theatre Editor for Jasper.

Next up for the Jasper Project?

Keith Tolen is our first featured artist in the

Tiny Gallery Series

Thursday, October 4th in

Studio #7 of Tapp’s Arts Center

SIX USC MFA Students Bring Ekphrasis to Stormwater Studio's Jan Swanson & Heather LaHaise Exhibit

Jasper welcomes

Dylan Nutter, Katarina Merlini, Trezlen Drake, Victoria Romero, Andrew Green, & Emily Davis

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This Thursday evening at the Jasper Project’s Fall 2018 Release Party, six MFAs from the University of South Carolina will be doing a special ekphrastic reading.


The event, which will take place at 6:00 p.m. at Stormwater Studios, will host several activities including live music, $10 refillable drinks, readings from the new issue of Fall Lines, as well as the ekphrasis.


What is ekphrasis? Ekphrasis is a work of literature such as fiction or poetry that stems from and/or is inspired by visual art. As the Poetry Foundation says, “Through the imaginative act of narrating and reflecting on the ‘action’ of a painting or sculpture, the poet may amplify and expand its meaning.”


What you may know is last week Stormwater Studios launched its new exhibit, “Year of the Dog” featuring artists Jan Swanson and Heather LaHaise. What you probably don’t know is since the opening, six of USC’s MFA candidates have been working at the studio and choosing paintings that inspire them. All week they have been writing fiction and poetry based on the art of Swanson and LaHaise. This Thursday, they’ll read them for the first time.


Before then, though, you can meet the artists here and get an idea of the treat you’ll be in for Thursday.


Hope to see you there!

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Dylan Nutter


Dylan Nutter is a second-year poet in the M.F.A program at the University of South Carolina. He is the Poetry Editor for Yemassee Journal.  He holds a B.A. in English with a concentration in creative writing from Salisbury University. A native of Maryland, his poetry gravitates towards the manipulation of sound and the exploration of the relationships between family, location, and identity

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Katarina Merlini


Katarina Merlini is a Samminarinese-American poet born and raised in Michigan. In her poetry, she explores the nature of heritage, inheritance, and Americana. She has earned distinction from both the University of Michigan as well as the University of South Carolina where she is pursuing a MFA in Poetry beginning Fall 2018.


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Trezlen Drake


Trezlen Drake is a second-year poetry MFA at the University of South Carolina. A native North Carolinian, she has been writing poetry since elementary school, but is learning skills to craft the kinds of poems she never would have dreamed of at 8 years old. Her writing style favors persona and confessional poems sprinkled with flavors of the South.

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Victoria Romero


Victoria Romero is a second-year MFA fiction candidate at the University of South Carolina who writes about the interconnections of societally separated people. She hails from New York and is also mysterious.

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Andrew Green


Andrew Green is a fiction writer from Baltimore, Maryland and is currently a second-year MFA candidate in Fiction at the University of South Carolina. His historical fiction examines characters on the margins during periods of technological and cultural change.

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Emily Davis


Emily Davis is a MFA candidate in Fiction at the University of South Carolina. She teaches composition and is a reader for Yemassee, USC’s art and literary journal. She's interested in genre-mixing, bending, and breaking, superheroes, contemporary fiction, and narrative structure. She lives and dies by her three dogs.

by Christina Xan

Join Us

Thursday, September 27th at 6 pm

Stormwater Studios on Huger St. behind One Eared Cow Glass

Music by The Witness Marks and more

Buy a $10 souvenir Jasper Cup & drink beer/wine for free

Artist Profile: Olga Yukhno by Hallie Hayes

Olga Yukhno's gallery show opens on Thursday night at Anastasia & Friends Gallery and will be up throughout the month of September

artist Olga Yukhno

artist Olga Yukhno

Art is a trade embodied by many around the world; Olga Yukhno clearly displays this.


Olga Yukhno is an artist from Pyatigorsk, Russia, and is the current Gallery Director at The University of South Carolina’s McMaster Gallery.  It is back in her native country where she began her journey as an artist.


As a student at Pyatigorsk State Linguistic University, Yukhno received a Bachelor’s degree in Linguistics and a Master’s degree in Education and Psychology.  However, she continued to pursue her love for art.


Yukhno focused a lot on enameling, using metal work tools that her father had made for her.  She fell in love with Juxtaposition within her art and continued to show this throughout her work.  While in Russia, Yukhno apprenticed under distinguished artist and enamellist Nikolai Vdovkin.  It was here where Yukhno experienced some of her most formative years as an artist.


In 2008, Yukhno moved to the United States where she continued her journey as an artist.  She realized that she no longer had the resources needed to continue enameling, and decided to expand into new mediums.  Yukhno loves making complex and intricate pieces; “I love detail.  I think I’m not capable of making something simple.”  This was one factor that led her to the decision of expanding into 3D-figurative work.


Yukhno says, “It was a very intimidating process for me because it just seemed to be so complicated and intricate, and I was not even sure I was capable of that.  So, I was able to take a class and it changed my, it changed my world because I tried it and I loved it!”


Yukhno has been working with 3D-figurative art for two years now.  It is in this work that she finally feels as if she has found her voice.

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Yukhno’s degree in psychology greatly influences her current work and brings about pivotal questions relating to the human mind.  She correlates her interest in humanity and human psychology with her figurative sculptures.  It is in this that she will be introducing her first 3D-figurative art exhibition, What Moves Us?


What Moves Us? is a solo art exhibition hosted by Anastasia & Friends, displaying Yukhno’s 3D artwork.  The show will open on Thursday, September 6, at 6:00pm and will last until 9:00pm.  The theme of this show is the motivation of people, where Yukhno displays the questions that rest in her mind relating to the motivation of humanity through her artwork.  She enjoys thinking and analyzing different aspects of human psychology, and this can be seen through her intro exhibition.


 Yukhno is very fascinated with denial and how it works.  She finds it interesting how we sometimes recognize when we are in denial, yet we choose to not see it.  She also finds interest in how society influences us as individuals.

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Yukhno says, “I’m extremely interested in the influence of society on us and how we influence on each other, and the issues of judgment … it’s fascinating how some people strive to resist it, but most people don’t, and it makes me wonder why and how, and what makes us give up or what makes us just keep plowing through, refusing to give up.”


These are the ideas that can be expected to be seen through Yukhno’s 3D-figurative sculptures found in the What Moves Us? exhibition.


This is just one of many things Yukhno has planned.  While she will continue with sculpture, she also wants to expand into instillations and collaborative work, bringing in more ideas of societal influences, but also of political and social issues.


Be on the lookout for this talented artist. One can expect more to come from Yukhno in the future.


Did you know that the Jasper Project is an all-volunteer organization that relies on contributors and sponsors to do the work we do, such as publish Jasper Magazine?

We need your Jasper Guild membership fees to make our world go round.

Please visit


and join or renew your membership in the Jasper Guild today.

You'll drink for free at the Jasper release party on September 21st at Stormwater Studios AND you'll see your name in that very issue of

Jasper Magazine.

And, you'll be a part of a pretty fabulous project in Columbia SC that is going into it's 8th year of supporting arts and artists because of people like YOU!


Black AF - And Why Columbia Deserves More New Performance Art And Why That Art Must Come from Everyone

"Nothing is more empowering than being able to speak your truth."

Preach Jacobs - photo by Brodiemedia

Preach Jacobs - photo by Brodiemedia

One of the most telling signs of a healthy arts scene in a city is when performing artists and arts organizations no longer rely solely on art being fed to them from the outside or from a canon of tried and true productions, and instead look within themselves and to their own resources to create new art and make unique contributions to culture. While we rarely see performances of new works from our more heavily funded Columbia arts organizations who seem to be more incentivized to put butts in the seats of the expensive Koger Center than to challenge, stimulate, and yes, grow their audiences, it is the smaller venues and organizations – think Tapp’s Arts Center, Harbison Theatre’s Performance Incubator, and local bars – where we most often find new work being created and performed.

Thankfully, Trustus Theatre has a history of encouraging new performing arts via their Playwright’s Festival and sketch comedy programs and, this season, they brought it all home by presenting Constance, a new musical theatre production composed by Daniel Machado, Adam Corbett, and the Restoration and written by Chad Henderson, all Columbia-based artists. Interestingly enough, Constance sold out and came close to selling out on most nights, challenging the assumption that Columbia audiences are content with the same plays, compositions, and ballets their parents grew tired of decades ago.

Now, just one week later Trustus Theatre offers a brand new one-night-only original production written and performed by Preach Jacobs and directed by Kari LebbyBlack AF.

Black AF originated with Preach Jacobs who, at 34 is a well-known member of Columbia’s local music scene. “My grandmother passed away last year and it took a toll on me,” Jacobs says. “She came from a generation where black folks … didn’t talk about their lives. …But there would be moments where she would begin to talk and those were jewels for me. Her stories were fascinating and she gave me the understanding that everyone deserves to tell their story. Black AF is paying homage to my granny and ancestors because by telling my story I’m telling their story. Unapologetically black. Black as fuck.”

Jacobs enlisted the help of Columbia native actor/director/musician Bakari Lebby, 27, whose previous directing work has included Sunset Baby at Trustus and Some Girls at Workshop, who readily jumped on board. “We had talked about how we wanted to work together on something,” Lebby says, "and Preach said he had this theatre project that he wanted to do that was ‘part TED talk, part stand up, and part hip hop show.’ That sounded dope and innovative to me, and then he told me he wanted to call it Black as Fuck, which also appealed to my interests. Then we started really fleshing out the concept and content together.”

Both artists identify the importance of supporting black art and new art from traditionally marginalized voices as being integral to their decisions to go forward with this project. “Life is scary. Shit is cray. We need art to be able to confront, explore, and express our feelings as well as the feelings of others,” Lebby says. “Any art that is not ‘mainstream’ is critically important right now. Representation. Real representation.”

“It’s important as black people in America to not just have our stories told, but in fact we be in charge of telling our stories,” Jacobs adds. “It may seem like a simple idea but it’s something that we’ve been deprived of. In this current climate it trickles to other groups of people that haven’t had their voices heard. The Me Too movement is proof of generations of women that are finally being heard and able to tell their stories. Nothing is more empowering than being able to speak your truth.”

With any new performance art audiences may be uncertain of what to expect and whether to invest in the not-inexpensive ticket price of $25, but Lebby has faith in the format and the gifts Jacobs brings to the stage. “This show is not the average ‘one-man show.’ Yes, Preach will be occupying the stage the whole time, but there is a DJ. There will be some visual supplements. There will be musical performances and dialogues. The show is funny. The show is darkly funny. It’s also a bummer at times. It is also ceaselessly honest and in Preach Jacobs’s voice. He carries the show confidently.”

Jacobs emphasizes the role of “raw honesty” in the performance, adding that the show is “a love letter to my ancestors.”

With the title of the show being Black AF (Black as Fuck) it’s reasonable to question the audiences to whom the show might most appeal, so we asked both gentlemen why both black people and white people should show up, or even if both black people and white people should show up.

According to Lebby, black people should attend “because supporting black art is lit. It’ll be a good time. The more that we show up, the more opportunities that we can get and give to more artists of color. … These are conversations we need to be having with each other.”

Jacobs says, “Hopefully the black folks that show up can relate to what I’m saying. Having a shared experience is a type of emotional bonding that I look for with my art. Watching Black Panther resonated so much because of that fact. Black folks could relate.”

As for white folks, Jacobs hopes they will “come with an open mind and really hear what I believe are things that could help with dialogue about race relations. There’s not much in the show about black and whites dealing with each other per se, as much as it is embracing and loving myself. To learn that being black isn’t a curse is life changing but also a process. Some of these things might surprise them.”

Lebby adds, “I think checking out perspectives that you haven’t seen on stage before is cool. If you’re a white theatre person, yes, come see this show. It’s important. You don’t get to ‘support black art and then not actually support it.”


Black AF is a one-night-only event coming up Sunday, May 27th at 8 pm at Trustus Theatre and tickets are available at
A free accompanying art show will also be held May 26th at Frame of Mind (142 State St., West Columbia, SC).
- Cindi Boiter is the executive director of The Jasper Project and the founder and editor of Jasper Magazine

Focus on JAY Finalists - Nicola Waldron for literary arts

We're chatting with the 2017 JAY Awards Finalists as we enter the last few days of voting and preparing for the JAY Awards (& Retro Christmas party!) coming up on December 5th

Nicola Waldron - literary artist     photo by Forrest Clonts

Nicola Waldron - literary artist     photo by Forrest Clonts

Jasper: What made the past year so great for you as an artist?

Nicola: I have been lucky to have a number of prose pieces accepted for publication in various venues, and to feel in this way that my voice is being included in the national conversation in some small way. I also had the opportunity to work on a piece of performance art through the Jasper Project’s Syzygy Solar Eclipse Festival: it was so good to collaborate with new friends, and to be given the encouragement to experiment. I learned a lot, had a lot of fun, and found some new avenues to wander down.


Jasper: Why is art so important right now?

Nicola: This has been, as they all are in their way, a hard year, which also means it’s been a year to respond to those difficulties. For me, that means thinking through issues in my writing of femaleness, Americanness, immigrant-ess, and parenthood. If your heart is a social justice engine, then struggle can be its juice, its defibrillator; and art its beat.


Jasper: What role does art play in your life?

Nicola: Writing is my way of being fully alive within myself, when public life sometimes feels oppressive. As a classic introvert, my work is where I live most of the time. It brings me ridiculous joy, those moments where the words on the page come to actually match what it is I’m thinking or feeling: synergy. There’s nothing quite like it.


Jasper: What role does community play in the execution of your art?

Nicola: The support of the community is of enormous significance. We can, and must, labor away or play with our art in private, but without an audience or someone, at some point, saying ‘I hear you; this matters,’ I’m not sure there’d be much point. For me, it’s all about connection. I love the moments here in Columbia where I find myself in a room with like-minds and think, ‘These are my people,’, by which I suppose I mean, ‘here is my true family, the people who will support me in whatever I do, in my attempt to examine a subject and get at the truth of the matter.’


Jasper: Who are some of your favorite local artists from an arts discipline other than your own?

Nicola: I really adore the visual art of painters like Lee Monts, and Christopher Lane, both of whose use of color and form moves me in the way a good poem moves me. I also enjoy the courageous, boundary-pushing work of artists like Michaela Pilar Brown, and Nicole Kallenberg Heere, and Dogon Krigga, though this is not an exhaustive list, by any means. These artists inspire me to break down some walls of my own. In theater, I have particularly enjoyed the work I’ve seen at USC’s Center for Performance Experiment this past year—so much talent in the work of directors and actors like Stephen Pearson, Robyn Hunt, and Mary Beth Gorman. Just so much talent everywhere you look!


Jasper: Is there anyone you’d like to thank for their support of your arts career?

Nicola: Without the support of the Jasper Project, and particularly people like Cindi Boiter, Ed Madden, and Al Black, their warm friendship and encouragement, I’d have fallen into a pit of despair long ago. Thank you one and all. (editor’s note – ow, wow, thanks, Nicola!)


Jasper: Why should folks come out to the 2017 JAY Awards and Retro Christmas Party?

Nicola: Because people dressed as Christmas trees!




BUY Tickets at






Girls Rock Roulette 2017 - by Bria Barton

... some bigger girls are getting their chance to shine.

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An ensemble of rocker chicks is strumming, drumming and singing their way to New Brookland Tavern on Sept. 23 to show off what it means to have girl power.


Girls Rock Columbia is hosting Rock Roulette 2017, a fundraising event that goes toward funding their Girls Rock Camp and year-round programming.


Although Girls Rock strives to teach their younger members the splendors of music and self-confidence, on this night, some bigger girls are getting their chance to shine.


“At Girls Rock Camp, we always remind our campers that their most powerful instrument is their voice. It's really important to us that our adult volunteers and supporters have opportunities to use their voices just like our campers,” Jess Oliver, Girls Rock Columbia executive director, says. “We lead by example, so it's good to be able to empathize during camp week when we are asking them to do something that might be intimidating. This is a great opportunity for volunteers who might want to work on building up their confidence in front of an audience because they will have their band mates up there with them for support.”


Last month, the Girls Rock ladies were each assigned a band in preparation for Rock Roulette 2017. Over the last couple of weeks, their task has been to practice their instruments and compose at least one original song with their respective band members.


“I am most excited about the people who have never played an instrument. One of my band members is playing keyboard for the first time, and she showed up to rehearsal absolutely glowing,” Oliver says. “It helps me remember that, yeah, we are largely a summer camp for youth, but it's really important to empower each other too. We adults doubt ourselves sometimes and feel small and powerless too, so it's important to take the opportunity to do something brave and remember, ‘Oh yeah... I ROCK!’”


Those participating in Rock Roulette 2017 are also individually raising money for Girls Rock through their own Razoo links, which they have posted on their social media. Oliver encourages people to donate because every dollar goes “directly to Girls Rock Columbia's future programming.”


Oliver believes that the public should come out and support Rock Roulette 2017 because it might just be that inspirational push a person needs in order to step out of their comfort zone. Additionally, she says, “[Rock Roulette is] bound to be a fun and energetic night of community and positivity” and that the audience can expect to see “a lot of really big smiles.”


“I'm also really happy that we have some community members participating in Rock Roulette who have never volunteered with us,” Oliver says. “We want to continue to grow, and this is one way we can keep making connections.”


Rock Roulette 2017 begins at 8PM. Tickets are $10 and can be purchased at They will also be available at the door.

Cassie Premo Steele Talks with Syzygy Poetry Open Call Winners Ann Humphries & Maggie Olszewski


Interview with Ann Humphries and Maggie Olszewski


Jasper asked Cassie Premo Steele, who adjudicated the Syzygy New Voices of the Eclipse poetry contest for new and emerging writers, to talk to the winners about their poetry and processes.


Maggie Olszewski, whose poem, “The Nature of Shadow,” was chosen as the contest winner, was born in Columbia, South Carolina, and she is 16 years old. She has been writing ever since the age of 6, when she wrote her first piece—a Harry Potter fanfiction. This year she is attending South Carolina Governor's School for the Arts and Humanities, where she will further pursue her craft.


Ann Humphries is also from Columbia, where she studied poetry with Nikky Finney and Ed Madden at USC. Her poem, “An Eclipse and A Butcher,” was chosen as the honorable mention in the contest. She has also earned Ultimate Outsider status for visiting all 47 state parks — as the only blind person to finish. She has a guide dog and tree named in her honor.


Cassie: Since this was a contest for new and emerging writers, can you tell us a little about why you entered the contest and how it felt? This might be helpful to others who may be hesitant to submit their work.


Maggie: This prompt really hit home for me. As someone who is deeply invested and interested in the science behind the upcoming eclipse, the idea to convey my feelings towards it artistically hadn't occurred to me. It felt great to take the prompt and shape my own thoughts around it. 


Ann: I loved this prompt. I became deliciously lost in the research. I spun five poems about the eclipse. 


Cassie: Can you say a little about what the process of writing poetry is like for you?


Maggie: I usually sit down with a rough idea of where I want to go or end up—often a first line, a theme, or a story. I get my thoughts onto paper and revise in a couple of days.


Cassie: When you have a specific assignment, such as you did for this poem about the eclipse, is your writing process different?


Maggie: Yes. When I have a specific assignment, I don't wait to revise. I plan the structure of the poem before I start and make sure I have a stronger sense of what I'm trying to accomplish. 


Ann: I appreciate deadlines. I played in the research, asked myself what would be a unique perspective. What I especially admired about this contest is its intersection of science, visual art, poetry, even plays, culture, history, and technology. This contest took me to fresh reservoirs of writing.


Cassie: What's your sense of the poetry and arts scene in Columbia?


Ann: Bursting with life! And Jasper is a nexus for collaboration across the genres. By the way, I searched the country for comparable contests. All I could find were readings and plays in Oregon and Illinois. Good for Jasper! Bravo to the SC Humanities Council.


Maggie: I know quite a few actors and artists through my father, but not as many as more established writers might (obviously). From what I can tell, everyone seems to know everyone, and there's an immense amount of collaboration and supportiveness that goes on. It seems like a really cool thing to be a part of. 


Cassie: And if you could wave a magic wand and make something happen in the city, what would it be?


Ann: Bring back the Book Festival - or fully support Deckle Edge. I savored every morsel, would have pitched a tent. If only we could have clones to attend all the events.  


Maggie: Hm. That's a good question. I'd probably clear the city of litter. It's not too bad in my little corner of Columbia, but I've driven through areas that could really do for a cleanup. Maybe we could get all the artists together to clean up the city and make an art project from it!


Cassie: I love that idea! Anything else you'd like to share?


Ann: I'm becoming a Jasper Guild member.


Maggie: And I’m really grateful for this opportunity.


Cassie: Thank you both.


Jasper thanks Cassie for all her efforts in this project - from adjudicating the open call to participating as a poet in the Syzygy Poetry Invitational.

If YOU'D like to become a member of the Jasper Guild like, Ann (and thank you, Ann!), just click on "Store" at this website's main page.

Look for Ann and Maggie's poems in the Fall 2017 issue of Jasper Magazine.

Join us on Thursday, August 17th at 3 pm in the first floor auditorium of Richland Library to hear Ann, Maggie, Cassie, and a spectacular cast of South Carolina's most elite poets read their poetry in response to the eclipse at SYZYGY: The Poetry (free). Then join us at 7 pm or 10 pm at Tapp's Arts Center for the performance of SYZYGY: The Plays ($10).


Cassie Premo Steele is the author of 14 books of poetry, fiction, and non-fiction, including Earth Joy Writing (2015) and Beautiful Waters (2016).  She has recently completed a novel about mindfulness called The Lessons of Birds and is working on a poetry collection called Tongues in Trees. She works as a writing coach with women from around the world and lives in Columbia with her musician/web developer wife and laughter-inducing daughter. 

Cassie Premo Steele is the author of 14 books of poetry, fiction, and non-fiction, including Earth Joy Writing (2015) and Beautiful Waters (2016).  She has recently completed a novel about mindfulness called The Lessons of Birds and is working on a poetry collection called Tongues in Trees. She works as a writing coach with women from around the world and lives in Columbia with her musician/web developer wife and laughter-inducing daughter. 

REVIEW: Rock of Ages at Trustus Theatre

Rock of Ages is a musical devoted to the idea of Rock Music as a distinctive character, or caricature, in the popular imagination. And while the actual story of rock ‘n’ roll may be a complicated, complex, and contradictory one, our idea of it is not—it’s sleazy, loud, showy, and, above all, gloriously debauched. It’s about Sunset Strip sleaze, leather-clad excesses, and arena rock choruses that thud through your head no matter how much beer, booze, or other substances threaten to overwhelm. It might occasionally be dumb, but it’s often with a knowing wink and rarely without a double dose of fun.

That, in a nutshell, is what the musical, which was a massive success during its lengthy run on Broadway, and the particular version of it that Trustus is offering, is all about. Artistic director Chad Henderson, who also plays the grizzled club owner Dennis Dupree, points this out explicitly in his program notes, that the troupe’s primary endeavor here is to offer “Nothing but a Good Time,” and they are hell-bent on delivering. How much they succeed though depends, to a certain extent, on how much you are willing to revel in the poppy glam metal songs that are the bulk of this jukebox-style musical. The narrative is more than a bit thin, to the point where the comedic meta-narrative commentary is the only thing that can save it, and it never rises above a sort of rote sense of genre. But that’s not the point—it’s the nostalgic power of these songs, their sound, and their mythos, all of which is difficult to deny.

Luckily, the usually capable casts of Trustus have always boasted standout singers (and crack stage bands), and Rock of Ages is no exception. Songs like “Don’t Stop Believin,’” “Here I Go Again,” and “We’re Not Gonna Take It” prove they were almost built to double as great musical numbers, and when the full cast launches into one of these familiar choruses it’s hard not to feel like things are right with the world. Individual performers may shine or falter at certain moments, but Trustus company standouts like Katie Lietner as the female lead Sherrie or Michael Hazin as the bar manager/ostentatious narrator, make it abundantly clear why they are familiar sights on the Thigpen stage.

But while Leitner is great in her role and the kind of powerhouse singer the part needs, she and the male protagonist Drew (played by Rory Gilbert) end up a little sidelined despite being ostensible leads. The weakness of their romantic plot line—she arriving in L.A. to be an actress but ending up as a stripper, he as an inspiring rock star-turned-fledgling boy band hopeful—makes them a little less memorable compared to the purely humor-driven B and C plots. It’s in those where the real chemistry and spark of the show happens. Henderson and Hazin obviously have some stage chemistry and comedy chops in their bromance friendship and constant fourth-wall-breaking commentary that the fact that they are trying to save Dennis’ rock club almost gets lost in the mix. Similarly, Kayla Cahill’s performance as the protest-leading Regina and Cody Lovell’s German businessman-turned-candy-purveyor sparkle in their own budding romance and brief stage time. Too, Jason Stokes’ turn as the spoiled rock star gone to seed, Stacee, is also quite winning.

But again, focusing on individual performances is a bit of misdirection here, for any lengthy attention to the plot detracts from the blown-own spectacle of the music itself. Director Dewey Scott-Wiley wisely puts the band in serious costumes and places them prominently right up front on stage, so even when not performing the need to keep the music central was apparent. Music Director Chris Cockrell brings plenty of the necessary glam and pizazz to fit the part, and his crew cranks through these tunes with glee. The scenic design itself was also quite clever, utilizing some scaffolding, and a few stairs, doors, and curtains to conjure up a number of different settings in a blink of an eye. So while not strictly necessary, the production notes here rang gracefully.

In the end, though, this is about as critic-proof a play as you can get, with the pure, unfettered (guilty?) pleasure of the songs themselves in the driver’s seat. Henderson notes that there are some parallels to a seedy rock club being challenged by a more bland business takeover has some interesting parallels to the history of Trustus in the now-sleek Vista neighborhood, and it’s tough not to draw some connections between our current growth-hungry (although also arts-supporting) mayor and the one in the play, but leading you down that road won’t be particularly fruitful. Spray that hair up, throw some glitter in the air and, uh, “come on feel the noise?” – Kyle Petersen

Disclaimer: Chad Henderson is married to the reviewer’s sister-in-law. This made his depiction of Dennis no more nor less ridiculous, although it’s not clear whether the same can be said of his ultimate fate.

Rock of Ages runs through July 1—for times and ticket information head to


Ony's Bands - Tyler Digital - Appearing Thursday Night at the Jasper Release Party

JasperProjectLogo Columbia may not be the epicenter of the electronic music scene, but there are artists who are trying to broaden our scene with more of it. These artists are usually either on mixed bills or performing at house shows, but there is more going on in this sector of our music scene than some may realize. A few of these acts will be performing at Jasper’s fall 2016 release party at Art Bar on September 29, including Tyler Digital.

Tyler Digital is the electronic project of local musician, Tyler Matthews. Matthews has been producing seriously for about three years, and makes dance pop fit for house parties and DJ sets. His influences range from Hans Zimmer to Led Zeppelin, and he hopes to one day be a soundtrack producer as influential as the likes of Zimmer. I asked Matthews more about his music and the local electronic scene in the following interview.


Matthews will be performing a DJ set as Tyler Digital at the Jasper release along with Autocorrect, The Moon Moths, and King Vulture.

Can you describe what your music is like? On some days it's energized left-field dance pop — and on another day it's an emotional hybrid of synth-wave and symphonic house. I try to not sound like anyone else, but that doesn't make life easy for writers.

What is your songwriting process like? I like to make a good synth sound, then make a 1-2 bar chord progression, put together a beat and then make a bass that goes well with both. After that I like to chop up some vocals turn that into a lead instrument. Everything else just builds around those components.

What bands/DJs/acts do you typically play with? Is it usually a mixed bill/house show sort of situation or would you say there is an active scene? And if not, do you wish there was one/think it's possible that it will emerge? Long answer: Mixed bill/House Shows - Yes. Mason Youngblood runs Moas Collective; he's done a great job of getting electronic producers together. But he moved to Brooklyn for his PhD and then several of our friends spread out to Atlanta, Portland, Nashville, New York, Puerto Rico, etc in just the last year. But we still talk music often and collab because internet life. Right now I do shows with Anissa Armaly (Dulce De— DJ and producer) and also Wright Clarkson (OS3) who is a baller. I also do shows with Contour and some other producer friends from the Charleston scene. Ahomari (Cyberbae) plus the Tri City Rec crowd is making amazing music right now. So there's definitely talent in SC, but quite the limited audience; I think any musician here would admit that. Regarding the scene now, we blend in with the bands in Scenario Collective and they have events all the time. I'm confident we could expand the live scene in 5 Points, Main Street, and the Vista if any owners were looking for that. Ideally I'd love to have a space in Cola similar to Common Market in Charlotte - the crowd and atmosphere there is amazing and one we need in Columbia. Or maybe I should just ask the Whig for a residency.

Do you have any other shows or releases coming up? I'm doing a DJ Set for WUSC on October 27th. And once a month there's usually some house show or dance party that I'll get asked to do. From a creation standpoint, I'm writing a soundtrack for a short film which I plan to make myself. And then I'm producing a rap EP for a couple of talented bosses. They are Columbia's next hope.

What is your philosophy as a musician, if you have one? The best music you will make are the songs that happen naturally, fluidly, and quickly. Translated to philosophy: just keep making music - you will surprise yourself. You can't do anything wrong when making music anyway.


Ony's Bands - Autocorrect & the Jasper Release Concert Thursday Night at Art Bar

  Autocorrect describes themselves as a “post-human experimental rap choir,” blending performance art, hip hop, and internet content. From their name alone, one gets the impression that they are calling attention to the ways in which technology affects how we communicate. Their songs address this issue in varying ways. The group consists of Cecil Decker (rapping, drums, sampling, programming), Chris Johnson (vocals, synths, guitars), and Moses Andrews III (bass, vocals, synths).


Decker explains that their main goal is to “explore the way modern communication and technology fractures identity.” He says, “There’s an interesting duality with social media, where it can unite and divide people.” Autocorrect explores this divide and how it affects the individual. They’ll be performing at Jasper’s Fall 2016 release on September 29 at Art Bar, with other performances by The Moon Moths, King Vulture, and a DJ set by Tyler Digital.



Can you tell me a little bit about your band and how/when you formed?

Autocorrect, neé Salvo, spawned in 2014 from colliding noise/rap/ambient projects between Cecil, Chris, and Sean. They trapped Cecil’s then-roommate Moses—the funkiest person alive—in a dank meme ritual. Initially a recording project, Cecil’s propensity for performance art combined with the rest of the group’s classical music training turned the one-off idea into an exhilarating live band.

Can you describe what your music is like? 

We are a post-human experimental rap choir. Student loans, minimum wage, tweetbots, and crippling depression. There has never been a better time.


What are some of your previous releases? Are they available online?

Our newest album, as it is, will make you cry into your drink while you bust a move on the dance floor. All of our records/EPs/etc are available at


What is your songwriting process like?

We assemble in the smallest room possible, gathering our chaos magick underneath an extensive and relentless pile of electronics. We stare at each other in silence until someone has an idea. Then, we spend the next 6 hours making a song.


Who/what are some of your musical influences?

El-P, John Cage, Pino Palladino, Koji Kondo.


What are your goals for the band/its future?

Our imperative is to always make art that challenges us and the audience. Right now, we want to start absorbing every other kind of music into our collective body. So we’ve scheduled sessions with local superstars, like the Post-Timey String Band, in order to suck the music juice out of their brains.


REVIEW: Florence Foster Jenkins starring Meryl Streep & Hugh Grant



Florence Foster Jenkins starts with a bird's eye view of 1944's New York City then cuts to an unconvincing monologist reciting Hamlet's long-butchered second soliloquy to a room filled with elderly couples in suits and derby hats.  The curtains of the Verdi Club stage open to reveal a man dressed as Stephen Foster, "the father of American music", suffering from writer's block.  Florence Foster Jenkins descends from the stage rafters, unevenly lowered by thick black cords, dressed as the Angel of Inspiration, complete with wings.  She smiles and waves her hands around, until Foster suddenly pounds the famous notes of  "Oh! Susanna."  The brief scene closes without Jenkins having said a word.  Off stage, she is dissatisfied with her performance, having not fully "embodied" her role.

Florence Foster Jenkins is currently being shown at the Nickelodeon Theater, starring Meryl Streep and directed by Stephen Frears.  The movie is based on the true story of its eponymous main character, an American socialite who showed great patronage to the early 20th century music scene.  She is convinced of her singing ability, despite the fact that, as her pianist Cosme McMoon describes, "her vocal chords, they don't phonate freely.  Her phrasing is haphazard.  As for her subglottal pressure, it defies medical science."  Her singing is encouraged by her second husband St. Clair Bayfield (Hugh Grant), the opening's mediocre Hamlet, who pays friends and reporters to praise the small concerts Jenkins performs.  He hides negative reviews and is fiercely protective of Jenkins' feelings, but this task becomes overwhelming when Jenkins decides to give a public performance at Carnegie Hall.

Though the movie easily could have easily fallen down the slippery slope of slapstick comedy, it attempts a much more complex path.  Jenkins is suffering from syphilis, which she contracted from her first husband on their wedding night.  A combination of her illness, along with the arsenic and mercury she was using to treat it, likely affected both her hearing and ability to accurately evaluate her own voice.

This movie explores the idea of codependency — between people, lying and happiness, comedy and tragedy.  The characters defy tropes, each one a combination of good, bad, and delusional.  They are constantly redefining loyalty, questioning how much they owe to each other and how to display it.  They also reshape notions of truth, questioning whether it is better to keep Jenkins happy and ignorant, or reveal the city's true perception of her.  The movie makes you want to laugh at Jenkins, while simultaneously hating any character who does.  It illustrates the irony of happiness and the wholesomeness of lying.

The movie is most notably a testament to human resilience. Jenkins has suffered through life childless, abstinent, and publically mocked. She is vain, placing one wig on top of the other instead of switching them out. She is self-righteous, commenting that she doesn't need a second take at the recording studio. However, she is also easily affected and open. She is shocked to hear sailors laughing at her performance in Carnegie Hall, one man even shouting "she sounds like a dying cat." However, the crowd is so impressed by her bravery and charm that they chant for her to continue singing until she belts out. The movie closes with Jenkins whispering to Bayfield, "people may say I can't sing, but no one can ever say I didn't sing."


Frozen Ghosts, Black Hole (2010) by Columbia, SC native Osamu Kobayashi, born 1984 - oil on canvas)  

"This is the simplest form / of current: Blue / moving through blue; / blue through purple; / the objects of desire / opening upon themselves / without us.” — "The Way Things Work", Jorie Graham


This is how it feels to walk through the Columbia Museum of Art's Big & Bold exhibit. The  exhibition room is flooded with bright color and light, every painting and sculpture seems iridescent.  For example, the painting Cape II by Sam Gilliam is a series of currents and pools of color, threading against and bleeding into one another.  The piece looms over spectators, several feet taller than any person.  Most art exhibits are curated under a certain theme, typically unified by the subject of the work or similarities between the artists.  However, Big & Bold isn’t a collection 20th century cigar paintings, or a display of Southern female photographers.  The work displayed was chosen for its emphasis on artistic concepts outside of the subject — every work seems to be an exploration of texture, luminosity, or medium.  The exhibit also seeks to answer the question: does size matter?


Cape II - Sam Gilliam (1970 acrylic on canvas)

Gilliam (born Tupelo, MS 1933) is a color field painter, meaning he poured acrylic paint directly onto an unprimed canvas.  Except, color field painting was too flat and literal for Gilliam.  He began bunching up the canvas, so that the paint flowed in the particular direction he wanted.  The canvas itself was used as art, adding newfound element — a more holistic, immersive feeling to the work.  Similarly, David Budd's painting Mars Black is a plain, all-black canvas, at least from afar.  However, closer, one can see that Budd was obsessed with what goes into making a painting, every little brush stroke.  It shows each layer of glimmering paint, each lifted scale, a city of texture.  This piece illustrates how much effort goes into each individual stroke, the entirety of the excoriating art-making process.  Each work in Big & Bold has a sense of innovation to it and a larger-than-life history.


For example, the most famous piece is inarguably a print from Andy Warhol’s Mao series.  This 1976 print displays Mao Zedong, the totalitarian Chinese ruler, in gaudy neon colors, lathered on his face like stage makeup.  A man named Bruno Bischofberger encouraged Warhol to paint a picture of the most important person in the 20th century, suggesting he do Albert Einstein.  However, Warhol chose to do Mao.  With that, he turned a man who campaigned against individualism and capitalism into a monument to artistry and consumerism.  Warhol rapidly reproduced the prints of Mao in different sizes and color schemes — the height of product availability, a harlequin oxymoron.


Phil III by Chuck Close

Big & Bold displays that size does matter.  It helps convey a feeling and a story.  A photorealist, Chuck Close’s Phil is a hyperrealistic, enormous portrait of the composer Philip Glass.  Close (born Monroe, WA, 1940) suffers from face blindness, a neurological disorder that affects the patient's ability to recognize faces.  The photograph confronts that troubling reality, and emphasized his ability to overcome his disorder, with two-dimensional, stationary faces being all that he can understand.  This struggle would not seem merely as pronounced if Phil could hang in a bathroom.  Amy Fichter’s illustration Breasts, a series of colorful lines that form a women’s boldly stuck-out chest, stands against the societal rejection of women’s bodies.  It wouldn’t be nearly as rebellious and unabashed if it could fold into a back pocket.  Most strikingly, however, Big & Bold shows how important certain things are to the artists, and what they want to say the loudest.


The exhibit runs through October 23, 2016 - for more info check out Columbia Museum of Art



25 The Columbia Museum of Art is currently displaying "Daufuskie Memories", an exhibition of photographs by Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe, being shown until August 7.  Through the late 70s and early 80s, Moutoussamy-Ashe explored the people, customs, and buildings of Daufuskie Island, a sea island off the coast of South Carolina.  The series is comprised entirely of black-and-white gelatin silver prints.


The island is famous for its rich preservation of Gullah as result of its tight-knit community and isolation from the mainland.  Gullah is a culture and language developing from the descendants of enslaved Africans in the Lowcountry region, a fusion of Africa and the English South.  In "Emily's Son at Nursery School During Naptime", a young boy is sprawled out on a mat beneath a stove. Hung up behind the stove is a sheet that reads, "moja — 1 // mbili — 2 // tatu — 3," and continues to ten.  The words are numbers in Swahili.  The stove is also labeled "stove", this time in English.  On the other side of the room, propped against the wall, is a Dr. Seuss-themed corn-hole board.  The Daufuskie islanders are suspended between two worlds, yet still largely separate, wedged between the stove and the wall.



The photos display a wide range of activities, each with its own motion, emotion, and composition of light.  "Shrimper Pulling in his Line" shows a young man at work, dressed in a striped shirt and a bucket hat, pulling a net onboard a ship.  Fishing was the nucleus of the island, a staple at the dinner table and the main sector of the economy.  The island was also deeply religious, and home to the First Union African Baptist Church.  Several photos — of weddings, young piano players, a woman fixing her daughter's shoes — feature the starkly white, thin-pillared church.  The western influence on faith becomes undeniable in "Susie Standing Next to a Holy Picture", where a woman tightly smiles next to a picture of an unrealistically Caucasian Jesus.


There are pictures of people at funerals, on oxcarts, and drawing water from cast iron hand pumps.  There are scenes of boats in winter, of children buried in each other's arms.  However, the vast number of photographs are of just of people — mid-sentence, smoking cigarettes, gazing deeply back at the viewer.  Moutoussamy-Ashe emphasizes the roles of both human interaction and solitude throughout her collection, reminding the viewer that everyone is so much more than a single action the camera catches them in.



Moutoussamy-Ashe captures these lives in an incredible transition and tragic disintegration.  In the early 60s, Daufuskie islanders started to sell their land to private corporations and disperse throughout the mainland.  Moutoussamy-Ashe caught the last historical glimpses of the island before it became known for its 20-hole golf course and its members-only residential club.  The photographs hold a spirit and landscape that has been widely gentrified in the 21st century.  The photographer herself spoke on the subject, "because the Daufuskie I photographed no longer exist, I know now that these photos are an invaluable archive for the islanders and greater American society."

Fall Lines Program Announced for Thursday, July 28th at Tapp's

Fall Lines

Thursday, July 28th, 2016 ~ 7 – 9 pm

Tapp’s Arts Center ~ Columbia, SC


7 – 8



8 – 9

Welcome & Recognition of Honored Guests – Cindi Boiter

Awarding of Prizes – Ed Madden & Kyle Petersen


Scott Chalupa

Claire Kemp

Kathleen Nalley

Travis Bland

Matthew O’Leary

Eileen Scharenbroch

Bo Petersen

Mark Rodehorst

Tim Conroy

Julie Bloemeke

Mike Miller

Jonathan Butler


Sincerest appreciation to Tapp’s Arts Center, Jonathan & Lorene Haupt, Sara June Goldstein, Bert Easter, One Columbia for Arts & History, Richland Library, Friends of Richland Library, South Carolina Academy of Authors, University of South Carolina Press, Muddy Ford Press, Columbia Museum of Art, SC Philharmonic, Rosewood Art & Music Festival, Deckle Edge Literary Festival


6 SONGS FOR SUMMER, 2016 by Alex Smith


"It is happening...again..."

-The Giant in "Lonely Souls", episode 14 of TWIN PEAKS

Eight months is a blink of an eye these days. I used to call songs like these "prescient". Now I just think of them as reminders I can shake my ass or slow dance to, but reminders, nonetheless, that we're not learning anything from history. And these days, history keeps getting closer and closer...

Listen to these songs. Shake your ass. Slow dance. But LISTEN. If they don't seem topical right now, just wait until it is happening again. Because it will.


David Bowie - "It's No Game (Part 2)" from the 1980 album SCARY MONSTERS (AND SUPERCREEPS)

"I am barred/from the event/I really don't understand this situation/so where's the moral?/People get their fingers broken/to be insulted by these fascists is so degrading...."

Alex David



The Clash - "English Civil War (live)" outtake from the film RUDE BOY

"It's still at the stage of clubs and fists/hurrah....hurrah/a well known face got beat to bits/hurrah...."


Alex Clash


Rolling Stones - "Street Fighting Man" from the 1968 album BEGGARS BANQUET

"Everywhere I hear the sound of marching charging feet, boy/'cause summer's here and the time is right for fighting in the street, boy...."


Alex Stones



Stevie Wonder - "Big Brother" from the 1972 album TALKING BOOK

"My name is secluded/we live in a house the size of a matchbox/roaches live with us wall to wall/you've killed all our leaders/I don't even have to do nothing to you/you'll cause your own country to fall...."


Alex stevie



John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band - "Woman Is The Nigger Of The World" from the 1975 album SHAVED FISH

"If you don't believe me take a look at the one you're with...."


Alex john



Nina Simone - "Ne Me Quitte Pas" written by Jacques Brel, from the 1965 album DON'T LET ME BE MISUNDERSTOOD

This song was my sole response on social media after the terrorist attack in France. Eight months ago.

alex nina
 Eight months is a blink of an eye these days. But these days, eight months ago is so easily forgotten that it's history, too. Listen to these songs. I'll see you in the street.

-Alex Smith

July 15, 2016


Alex Smith is a multi-talented visual and performing artist , based in Columbia, SC, who also writes.



Susan Felleman and Kristin Morris Talk with Jasper about the Bechdel Test & Women in Film by Mary Catherine Ballou

Bechdel test The Bechdel-Wallace Test, also known as the Bechdel Test, emerged out of the 1985 comic strip by Alison Bechdel entitled “The Rule.” In order for a film to pass the Bechdel test, it must satisfy three rules:

  1. There must be two female characters
  2. Who have a conversation with each other
  3. About something other than a man

At first glance, these may seem like simple stipulations for a film to meet. Yet, many films surprisingly do not pass this test. According to a study completed by Walter Hickey of, “In a larger sample of 1,794 movies released from 1970 to 2013, we found that only half had at least one scene in which women talked to each other about something other than a man.” In light of this statistic, it remains imperative to realize that the Bechdel Test does not provide a definitive measure of a film’s overall worth. For instance, some films do not pass the test but they still portray strong female characters. For example, the movies that comprise The Lord of The Rings trilogy do not pass the Bechdel Test; however, each of the films showcase powerful female characters such as the elves Galadriel and Arwen, played by Cate Blanchett and Liv Tyler, respectively. On the other hand, some films that might be interpreted as vapid or sexist, such as this summer’s Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates (released July 8, 2016), manage to pass the Bechdel Test.


Despite these variables concerning which films pass, the Bechdel Test still reveals an inherent bias against women in film. While the Bechdel Test is certainly not a conclusive source for judging film quality, it reinforces deeper implications like the ingrained prejudice against women in our culture and the sexist stigma prevalent in the film industry today. While it may not provide a comprehensive measurement of film quality, the test still provides insight into the bias displayed against females on screen. Moreover, it sheds light on subliminal messages frequently espoused by the media that relegate women to demeaning roles. We must acknowledge these subconscious messages that perpetuate cultural and sexist stereotypes.


As with any struggle, there are ups and downs in the progress towards gender equality on screen. Nonetheless, female actors seem to be making strides, as demonstrated by some recent summer releases that feature female leads and pass the Bechdel Test. Such films include The Shallows and Ghostbusters. Starring Blake Lively, The Shallows (released June 24, 2016) tells the story of a woman attacked by a shark who must fight for her life while stranded on a rocky outcrop. The Shallows contains more depth than one may initially expect before viewing – Blake Lively’s character acts as an instrument of her own fate, and she succeeds in an impressive way. Even though a male figure appears at the end of the film, he does not act as her savior – she survives due to her own actions, instincts, and will to live. Moreover, the female-dominated cast of the new Ghostbusters (released July 15, 2016) demonstrates a step in a more gender-equal direction within the realm of blockbuster films.


Even so, it remains difficult to gauge the full extent and future of women’s progress on screen, due to the perpetuation of male-centric films, and because the Bechdel Test does not provide a complete measure of a film’s inherent feminism. If nothing else, the test serves as an intriguing surface-level assessment that evaluates on-screen gender disparities and the roles portrayed by women in our male-dominated culture. Clearly, it suggests a rampant and inherent misogyny bred within the movie industry. Of course, many differences between the sexes are to be celebrated; yet, misogyny remains something that females must contend with in both private and public spheres, on and off the screen.


With these thoughts in mind, two local Columbia professionals, Susan Felleman and Kristin Morris, kindly agreed to be interviewed and share their thoughts regarding the Bechdel Test and the state of feminism in film today. Each of their answers provides insight into this culturally and historically relevant topic that cannot be ignored. Their interviews appear below:


Susan Felleman is Professor of Art History in the School of Art and Design at the University of South Carolina



Jasper: How did you first learn about the Bechdel-Wallace test?

Felleman:  I am not really sure when I first heard of what was then referred to as the Bechdel test, probably in the late 2000s and possibly from Anita Sarkeesian’s “Feminist Frequency” blog and video series.


What was your initial reaction to the Test Requirements?

I guess I found it a useful tool, less for judging films than for getting students to see and think about the sexist conventions of movie stories. At the time I was teaching in a film program.


Do you find any downsides or shortcomings to the Bechdel-Wallace Test?

Of course, if it’s applied programmatically, which it shouldn’t be, as its origins are to be found in a couple frames of a comic strip. As Anita Sarkeesian notes, passing the test doesn’t make a film feminist, or even good. Conversely, it’s possible for a good film to fail the test, even a feminist one! For instance, I noticed that one of my favorite films, one I often teach, Sally Potter’s vanguard and gender-bending film Orlando (1992)—written and directed by a feminist filmmaker; and adapted from a feminist novel by Virginia Woolf—cannot pass the test.


Do you think the Test provides a helpful analysis of female roles in films?

No, not really. It’s more descriptive than analytical.


What are your general thoughts regarding the current state of feminism/female roles in films today?

Oy! Sometimes it seems that the more things change, the more they stay the same. As with filmmakers of color, women have made very slow inroads into mainstream film production as writers, producers, cinematographers, or directors. And, as with people of color and other minorities, the representation of women in commercial film tends to suffer from grievous bias, as well as tokenism. Women are still by and large treated as objects by an exceedingly conventional popular cinema, even in the occasional film in which they are permitted agency.


Things are a little better in independent and some global cinema, and considerably better in documentary filmmaking. And this new golden age of television has been remarkable for women, on both sides of the camera, although television, too, remains male dominated. I’ve noticed for a couple decades now that many women directors who’d had one or two breakthrough independent films but had fallen from view in Hollywood were increasingly turning up in TV credits. The fragmentation of the audience in the current TV environment has allowed for such noteworthy developments as the success of Shonda Rhimes and Netflix’s original shows like Orange is the New Black, Master of None, and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (three series I enjoy!). That said, one mustn’t forget the added prestige and capital invested in shows with a more typical institutional imprimatur, like The Wire, The Sopranos, Breaking Bad, Mad Men, etc.



Kristin Morris is Marketing Manager at The Nickelodeon and President of the Board of Directors for Girls Rock Columbia


Jasper: How did you first learn about the Bechdel-Wallace test?

Morris: I can't remember the exact moment I first heard of the test, but I'd guess about 7 or 8 years ago? I've only ever heard it referenced as the 'Bechdel Test.'

What was your initial reaction to the Test Requirements?

Initially I think everyone jumps right into seeing if any of your favorite films meet the criteria - and quickly realizing that so many big commercial films don't.

Do you find any downsides or shortcomings to the Bechdel-Wallace Test? 

I think it’s a first step, but there are films I wouldn't necessarily consider 'pro-woman' that would meet the criteria. I remember reading an article how the film Sucker Punch passed the Bechdel Test, even though its arguably adolescent boy fantasy that objectifies young women. I also think that feminist thought has developed beyond the simplicity of the Bechdel test. Race, culture, gender identity, nor sexual orientation are addressed, which are all big parts of the feminist conversation we're having now.


I read a few years ago that Alison Bechdel actually came up with the criteria as a joke in a comic she wrote -- so I don't think it's initial intention was to be taken as a standard for feminist films. It was framed as the most baseline measurement that could still rarely be met. That's so sad you have to laugh at it, I guess?!

Do you think the Test provides a helpful analysis of female roles in films? 

Not really. If you go through the list of films that pass the test I don't think you'd see them having strong female characters with interesting and complex relationships. For example, here are some of the films that have been released this year that pass the test: Batman vs. Superman, The Purge: Election Year, Captain America: Civil War, and Warcraft. While these big budget movies technically meet the Bechdel criteria, none of these are primarily representing women.


What are your general thoughts regarding the current state of feminism/female roles in films today? I think the focus on women in film is expanding from acting to include directing, writing, producing, and crews. If you're ignoring all of the creative process before there's an actress on a movie screen, you're missing 90% of the process. Outside of the film world, we're looking at representation and who's making decisions. Governments and corporations are intentionally bringing more women on as cabinet members, executives and board members.

In 2015, women accounted for 9% of directors, up 2 percentage points from 2014 but even with the figure from 1998. In other roles, women comprised 11% of writers, 26% of producers, 20% of executive producers, 22% of editors, and 6% of cinematographers ( If we had more women at the writing table and behind the cameras there wouldn't be a need for tests like the Bechdel Test - maybe?


A lot of the work we do at the Nick is featuring filmmakers from marginalized groups. I'm working on a festival in November celebrating the 25th anniversary of the film Daughters of the Dust, which was the first film made by a woman of color to receive national distribution. We've invited 8 emerging female filmmakers of color to come to Columbia and exhibit their work and have conversations about their experiences as young women of color in the film industry. There's more info about the project here:


 --Mary Catherine Ballou is an intern writing for Jasper Magazine.


Ryan mcewen 1 Ryan McEwen's Facebook profile picture is the red-and-yellow outline of a person, one hand draped over a book, the other propped under their chin. This person is vibrantly outlined yet hollowed — the tree they're lying against, and swirling patterns on the tree, can be seen through the person's abdomen. The scenery is overlaid with a series of colorful patterns that are distinct from their surroundings, yet still connected to the overall shape of the trees, sky, and grass. The connection feels almost rhythmic, like a synaesthetic daydream, where patterns appear to be pulsating off the objects around them.  The person by the tree, mostly amorphous and suspended in boldly colorful abstraction, appears calm, even contemplative.


Clicking through McEwen's Facebook, the primary way to view his work, there are many similar pieces — flowing, unbroken lines that curl across the width of the canvas. Inspired since high school by Salvador Dali and M.C. Escher, McEwen is captivated by surrealism and mathematical repetitions, such as the reoccurrence of the Fibonacci sequence in nature. "The most beautiful things are soft, flowing curves... the growth of a flower, a hurricane on a satellite, a spiral galaxy," he explains. However, there are also photorealistic paintings, graffitti art of monochromatic patterns, and chalk art reminiscent of art nouveau. One of his most poignant paintings, a woman on a sailboat at sunset, is almost indistinguishable from the photograph it is based on. His style largely depends on the piece, and his emotion about the subject. He draws inspiration from artists such as Alphonse Mucha, William Adolphe Bougereau, and David Walker. McEwen also finds the beauty in everyday objects and attempts to capture them, or tweak them to their ultimate aesthetic potential. He describes himself as someone who will rearrange a flower bouquet in someone's living room to make it look more pleasing.

ryan mcewen3


McEwen describes one of his earliest memories as being about making art. It was '86, he was three years old, and his family had just bought their first VCR player. He recalls drawing Indiana Jones after they watched the Temple of Doom. McEwen is self-taught, aside from classes in high school. "I remember each one of my art teachers I had growing up. Each one of them certainly gave me attention and supported all of my efforts.  Having said that, I have to mention my family.  My parents and siblings always encouraged and promoted me," he explains of his training. His first painting was a surrealist piece, which he gifted to his brother.


McEwen has grown in popularity through word-of-mouth and his Facebook postings. He has accepted commissions, but he typically creates pieces either for himself or as gifts for his loved ones. He explains that fame and money are not what his art is trying to accomplish; it is more important is to have meaningful connections, to make someone smile. When asked about his mission, he says, "Humbly, I feel like I do have something to offer the world.  I never really feel like I'm competing with anyone or anyone's art directly, except for myself.  I'm always trying to top myself, with every new project."

ryan mcewen 4

Summer Sixes - It's about the BOOKS - by Sherard “Shekeese” Duvall

  Summer 6


Thank you to the incomparable Cindi Boiter and Jasper Mag for thinking of lil’ ol’ me for this Summer Sixes blog series. I am always very humbled and honored when (for reasons I still cannot figure out) people are interested in anything I have to say - so, thank you. I LOVE to read, which I don’t know if many people know that about me. So I’ll share my summer six of which, I believe, are six awesome books to read this summer. With that said ... let’s get to it … in no particular order. - Sherard Shekeese Duvall


 MAMADAYMama Day | Gloria Naylor | 1988

Ironically, it was my mama that put me on to Mama Day. My mom was, and still is, a ferocious reader. And often either bought or told me about books to read. This is a favorite of mine from my high school years that came at a time when I was consumed with anything black and anything science fiction. What’s even better, the story is based on the coastal islands of South Carolina, so there are numerous fictional references to the Gullah people here. I still haven’t figured out why this hasn’t been optioned as a movie yet - if you read it on your next road trip, you’ll see why it should be.


 Down second avenue

 Down Second Avenue | Es’kia Mphelele | 1969

I have a ‘thing’ for writers and writing that is very authentic. I love it when the characters and their dialogue, even if you have never met anyone like them, to your brain, feel real. Mphelele brings you into a world that lets you know EXACTLY what it was like on the ground in segregated South Africa as a young college student trying to find ones way in society. It’s these types of everyday life stories that can literally make you forget that you are reading until you realize there are no pages left. Excellent quick read for a weekend trip.


 mission earth

 Mission Earth Decalogy | L. Ron Hubbard | 1985-1987

Got hours and hours of time to burn on vacation this summer? How about a wildly, sexual, violent, multi-galactical science fiction romp for your imagination? I discovered this series also when I was a teenager, at a time when I was burning through comic books and looking for something more for my wild imagination to devour...and oh...what a wild trip it WAS. Way before I knew that L. Ron Hubbard was L. RON HUBBARD, I ate these crazy sci-fi stories up. I remember, before I could afford to buy em, my mom would go on shopping trips to the mall and I would hide in Waldenbooks for hours reading these absolutely off the wall stories. Need a wacky mind trip? You found it.



 E.A.R.L.: The Autobiography of DMX | Smokey D. Fontaine | 2002

The phrase “you think you know, but you have no idea” was a popular tagline for VH1’s Behind The Music, but should have been the marketed description of this self-portrait. On DMX’s debut album, “It’s Dark and Hell is Hot” (which, once you read the book, you find out is scarily apt) he rhymes, “Feel the pain, feel the joy...of a man...who was never a boy... for real.” You don’t really GET what that means until you take dive into the deep water of what is Earl Simmons’ life. It’s very dark, and hard, and complicated, and beautiful, and emotional -- if there was ever a rose that grew from the was DMX. Pack this in your carry-on bag for your next long flight.



 Walden | Henry David Thoreau | 1854

Thank you to my Columbia High 10th grade English teacher, Ms. Tate ... wherever you are. When I first read this book, I had no idea who Thoreau was and even less of an idea of what the heck a Walden was. This is one of the books that I love because it struck a chord with me at an age when I was trying to find out who and what I was. Reading about this man’s inner thoughts about how we lived and related to the world around us felt a lot like the questions that were pinging around my head at 15. Need a brain getaway? Walden is a great read for a long day on the side of a mountain overlooking a forest. Hello, Appalachia.  



 Manchild In The Promised Land | Claude Brown | 1965

This is my favorite book of all time. And, to me, the most important book of my life. What Claude Brown was able to do in this autobiographical account is literally the blueprint to inner-city America. It is one of the most textured, tangible and authentic reads I have ever experienced. Like my own childhood, it details perfectly the conflicted life of growing up too young and too soon in an environment that is dealing with a toxic mixture of the effects of racism, classism, sexism, poverty, crime, and about every ill you can fit into a neighborhood - juxtaposed with the happiness, joy, fun and bliss of growing up in a place that - despite the broken glass and winos - you call home. The characters and conversations leap off of the page and put you right smack dab in the middle of the place that birthed the ingredients that created hip-hop culture. You want to understand how complicated and beautiful and creative and cold that life can be growing up in the inner-city? There is NOT another book better. Period.


Sherard Shekeese Duvall = TV/Film Producer | Media Literacy Educator | Media Consultant | Hip-Hop Advocate & Executive Producer, Co-Owner at OTR Films




Summer 6 I often joke about how I didn’t grow up with poetry in my house so I had to steal it.

If only it were a joke.

But I always had music, for better or worse, to define the world I was trying to live in or run from. Looking back, I can see how there were six bands who served as a catalyst and a touch stone for discovery that ultimately shaped me as a person and a writer, for better or worse, still living, still running. This list is no way a “best of” list or an argument for the greatest. There were many other bands, then and now, and millions of songs in between. Just six bands and my attempt to break everything I touched to see how it works on the inside. I have forgotten more than I remember.



Let me start off by saying I have no real affinity for AC/DC with Brian Johnson. Yes, Back in Black was an album I cut some teeth on, probably French-kissed a girl while it played in the background. But it was sixth grade. We were on a fishing trip in North Georgia. I went with my best friend Kevin. His brother Brian and his brother’s friend Bryan were older and much cooler than we were and Bryan played Highway to Hell on this giant boom box at the back of the camper. I was in love with the first riff. It didn’t take long to fall in love with the rest: High Voltage, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, Let There Be Rock, and Powerage. The shrill in Bon Scott’s growl oozing sex. The hard driving guitar of Angus Young running around like a madman in a school boy outfit. Malcolm Young holding steady on a kind of cool I didn’t think could be possible. The rest is periphery.

I can’t hear “If You Want Blood (You’ve Got It)” without thinking of the back of a camper, or the backseat of a Chevy Nova, or a pool table in a basement. There was the time I sat in the principal’s office while he questioned how I could wear an AC/DC t-shirt and a cross on a necklace around my neck. The lyrics were fresh in my mind then, as they are today:


It's animal

Livin' in the human zoo


The shit that they toss to you

Feelin' like a christian

Locked in a cage

Thrown to the lions

On the second page

-- from If You Want Blood (You’ve Got It) by AC/DC


Give me “Riff Raff,” “Love Hungery Man,” or “What’s Next to the Moon” any day. AC/DC is for transforming the awkward preteen. For getting high, for punching concrete, for the courage to fuck everything. See also: Led Zeppelin, CCR, and Black Sabbath.


-->Video: If You Want Blood (You've Got It) by AC/DC


the clash

The Clash

Stuck in rural Lexington county with nowhere to go, no prospects for a future, just single-file lines to football practice for nothing, to baseball practice for nothing, to plow or be plowed under for nothing. But then “Janie Jones” is cranking, and suddenly I’m not afraid to put my mouth where my muscle is, and push back against the man.

I’m 16, driving down dirt roads or through Main St blasting that first album as loud as an 85 Toyota standard speaker system could handle. I wore that cassette out. It broke somewhere on “(White Man) In Hammersmith Palais.” Of course Give ‘Em Enough Rope and London Calling got its fair share of wear too. But not like that first album. Not like “I’m so Bored with the USA,” “Hate and War,” and “White Riot.”  I’m not sure what turned me on more, Mick Jones’ riffs or Joe Strummer’s ethos, but what I heard in that band shaped the spectrum of pretty much who I am today -- the punk aesthetic, the smooth dub, the charge of the DIY politic. I’m quite sure I misappropriated all of these things (perhaps still do), but as Joe said, “sometimes you have to be a little bit stupid.”

What The Clash taught me was simple: a) the old men in the factories want to steal away the best years of our lives, and b) “he who fucks nuns, will later join the church.”


All the power's in the hands

Of people rich enough to buy it

While we walk the street

Too chicken to even try it …


…Are you taking over

or are you taking orders?

Are you going backwards

Or are you going forwards?

-- from White Riot by The Clash


It’s hard enough to be a teenager, much less to be a teenager in a wasteland of fields and old buildings where old men get their kicks by using what little authority they had to bully down change. I wanted nothing more than a riot. A riot of my own. See also: The Sex Pistols, The Ramones, The Buzzcocks, and Wire.


-->Video: White Riot by The Clash



Hüsker Dü (and the Pixies… and Sonic Youth)

Maybe it was because I worked around chainsaws and wood chippers so much. I got to where I loved hearing noise and trying to make music out of it. I didn’t know then that I was embarking on the very practice that would make me a poet. I was just bored. Chainsaws and chippers have three distinct pitches: idle, rev, and bite. I could play some mean throttle, work the revs in succession. But bite was tricky. I was probably hard to work with.

New Day Rising by Hüsker Dü came out in in 1985, but I discovered it (and them) in 89, shortly after the Pixies Surfer Rosa and Sonic Youth’s Daydream Nation came out. I would hang out at this place called the shed. Bryan and two other guys, Doug and Scot, would jam there. They were good. It was fun. And now we’re deaf. But some nights I’d come by and only Doug would be there. We’d talk about music, the punk scene of the 70’s. Doug was going to USC. At the time I didn’t know anyone who went to college. I certainly didn’t know anyone cool going to college. He had cool music and he hooked me up. This was a wonderful year of noise and occasional screaming, but I’ll be honest, I don’t remember much of it. Smoked out in the whir behind a wall of sound. I remember blasting “Terms of Psychic Warfare” in Glen’s truck on our way back to the store, towards the end of our lunch break. A memory that I just can’t let go.

And whereas Sonic Youth and the Pixies played a bit more lyrically, Hüsker Dü was straight forward with their sound. Straight up guitar, bass, and drums; sometimes I couldn’t even hear Mould singing. The sound was primal, swift, and hardcore, wrapped in a welcoming fuzz. Like two guys railing against the county on a Friday night in a burned out shack on a dirt road. Sometimes my ears still ring and I can’t remember why.

But I remember this: if you stand up in the breakroom and yell “THESE ARE THE TERMS,” no one will know what you are talking about.

I guess they couldn’t hear Mould singing either.


It's not about my politics

Something happened way too quick

Bunch of men who played it sick

They divide and conquer


It's all here before your eyes

Safety is a big disguise

That hides among the other lies

They divide and conquer

-- from Divide and Conquer by Hüsker Dü


-->Video: Divide and Conquer by Hüsker Dü




Somewhere before the late 80’s – early 90’s, I thought there was singular definition to being Southern – a truck, a pair of boots, a Billy Ray Cyrus, a Brooks and Dunn. And I raged against it. Too much. I needed something to balance it all out. I need something to expand my definition of the world. I needed less “us vs. them” and more “us.” R.E.M. did for me and more. I came late to the party. Document had just been released, and the single “The One I Love” was getting some airplay. And while everyone in my circle was railing against it, and the band for that matter, because they thought it sucked, I was listening to Murmur, Reckoning, Fables of the Reconstruction, and Life’s Rich Pageant. I didn’t care what my friends at the time were saying. This band had poetry. It redefined (for me) what it meant to be Southern – what it meant to be us. Even well into the 90’s and into the 21st century, whether floating in a pool or singing on the porch at Tim’s house, I felt like I belonged, as if I could begin the begin again, like I was included for a reason and not by accident.

But it wasn’t just the music of R.E.M. that moved me, or the poetry of Stipe, or the inclusion and celebration and understanding of the necessity to queer the world, it was the further exploration of so many other bands musicians I had never heard of at the time: Tom Waits, Patti Smith, Velvet Underground, Gram Parsons, T. Rex, Flying Burritos, etc. Just as my musical taste blossomed, so did my understanding of the fucked up world I was living in. Through Stipe, I found a voice that walked unafraid. Through the band, I found a harmony that I didn’t think could exist. And suddenly I found myself in college no longer ashamed of where I came from, though still angry at politicians and baby boomers (that seems to never change), and perhaps most important of all, to stop trying to always make sense. To “believe in coyotes and time as an abstract” and to “explain the change, the difference between what you want and what you need” (I Believe).  Dark and light, sense and no sense, pop and folk and at times heavy, political and apolitical, queer and straight, mainstream and underground, quirky and sublime, R.E.M. is convergence. They carried that from Murmur to Collapse Into Now with a few songs here and there that should have never been cut for an album. But that is part of the brilliance. The staying power. The “holy shit I can’t believe this band is still playing and still has it” power. I am grateful to Doug for plugging me into it.


Disturbance at the Heron House

A stampede at the monument

To liberty and honor under the honor roll


Just a gathering of the grunts and greens

The cogs and grunts and hirelings

A meeting of a mean idea to hold


When feeding time has come and gone

They'll lose their heart and head for home

Try to tell us something we don't know

-- from Disturbance at the Heron House by R.E.M.


-->Video: Driver 8 by R.E.M.


 The Pogues

I wasn’t born punk. That, I grew in to as mater of necessity to minimize confusion. However, I was born Irish, and I grew up in typical Irish American, working class house with lots of God in it.  But growing up Irish in the South presents its own sense of confusion. Hell, most don’t even know they are Irish beyond their last name, and if they do, they automatically think they are Scots-Irish. Or worse, when everyone saw Braveheart and suddenly wanted to be Scottish. I remember pointing to my Irish flag license plate on my truck (I forget the context), and a guy asked me if that was the “gay flag or did I pull for the University of Miami.” Just absolute cluelessness.

Doug told me I’d like the Pogues. It came out of a conversation when we were talking about this videotape I had of England in the 70’s and the birth of the Punk Rock movement. In the video, jumping up and down in a skating rink at a Clash concert, was a young Shane MacGowan, ears and all, but most of his teeth still intact. From the moment I first heard Red Roses for Me and Rum Sodomy & the Lash and If I should Fall from the Grace of God and Hell’s Ditch (yes, I left out Peace and Love on purpose), I was in love all over again. This is Irish music (that didn’t sound anything like the Planxty and Phil Coulter my dad listened to) and punk merging together. Where the fuck-it-all and die-hard could co-exist. Where pain and misery could co-exist in celebration. Also whiskey and pints. Lots of whiskey and pints. Where the roughshod could stand up and say drink with me for the love of it, for the love of all of it. For the empty pocket. For the blisters. For the friends I had to bury (first Kevin, then Glen). For the birth of my son. For the birth of my daughters. For the divorce. For the marriage. For still having empty pockets. For everyday I’ve lived despite it all.  Fuck all. All of it. Fuck it.


I have cursed, bled and sworn

Jumped bail and landed up in jail

Life has often tried to stretch me

But the rope always was slack

And now that I've a pile

I'll go down to the Chelsea

I'll walk in on my feet

But I'll leave there on my back


I am going, I am going

Any which way the wind may be blowing

I am going, I am going

Where streams of whiskey are flowing

-- from Streams of Whiskey by The Pogues


-->Video: Waxie's Dargle by The Pogues (lo-fi quality)


See Shane MacGowan and the Popes. See Flogging Molly. See Dropkick Murphys.


 uncle tupelo

Uncle Tupelo (+ Son Volt + Wilco + Whiskeytown + Trampled by Turtles?)

The 90’s started to die somewhere around 94-95. The rest of the world has been slowly dying since. It was easier in my youth to fight against everything older and established simply because all those things seemed hell bent on ignoring who we were and where we wanted to be. Bush (#2) came to the Whitehouse, and hell followed with him. That hell we still live in today. Somewhere in the middle I had this cd called No Alternative, a mix of alternative bands that were breaking through. On that cd was Uncle Tupelo. Doug said he thought I would like them, that I can’t be angry all the time. So I unplugged, bought Anodyne. And in doing so, I found connected to the country that I was brought up to believe didn’t exist. From fields in Minnesota to the dusty heartland to the triangle of North Carolina (which might as well have been just as far), there was a connection.  Uncle Tupelo and, by extension, Son Volt and, by extension, Wilco and, by extension, Whiskeytown and, by extension, Ryan Adams and, by extension, newer bands like The Avett Brothers and (one of my new favorites) Trampled by Turtles started to shape a better narrative for me. It was narrative still fueled by the restless punk (think Uncle Tupelo’s remake of the Stooges’ “I Wanna Be Your Dog”) and the desperate need to speak (think “Whiskey Bottle,” “Graveyard Shift,” and “Chickamauga.” But there was a new current of inclusion for the backroad, the small town, the desolate and the matter of fact. And where R.E.M. helped me to secure and balance, these bands did too.

Influenced by the Americana of our parents, Uncle Tupelo (and the like) helped carve a space for my generation to connect and shape. Whereas I wanted to rebel against the established themes from country music (and by some extension The Grateful Dead) that didn’t seem to represent me or who I wanted to be, Uncle Tupelo (and the like) helped me to see more of the similarities than I was at first willing to admit and what I had conveniently forgotten. And it was simple. A banjo. A fiddle. A mandolin. A guitar (both acoustic and electric). Melody. Harmony. A retold story with young characters facing modern challenges. The celebration of the success and failures of those challenges and all the shakedowns in between. This became the folk movement of my generation. A movement uncorrupted by coffee houses and big orange couches in New York City. A movement free from corporate sponsorship. You could find these bands in small venues packed with college students under a cloud of smoke where everyone was, simply put, getting down. This was, and still is, a welcome escape from so much of the cookie-cutter bullshit we hear today. Thank you Jay Farrar and Jeff Tweedy. Thank you Ryan Adams and Caitlin Cary. Thank you boys from Minnesota.  You’ve helped make so much of my world relevant.

So much of my life I spent running from ghosts or trying to tackle them. So much of my life I spent charged and angry with what I was born with and into. And because of Uncle Tupelo (and the like) I’m not so angry as I am charged. Rather than running from those ghosts, I’m singing with them.


Appalachian, so patient

The lessons we've traveled

As soon as we're out, we're kicking our way back in


Fighting fire with unlit matches

From our respective trenches

No authority can clean up this mess we're in


A miracle might point the way

To solutions we're after

And avert our chronic impending disaster


Chickamauga's where I've been

Solitude is where I'm bound

I don't ever wanna taste these tears again

from Chickamauga by Uncle Tupelo


See also: Old Crow Medicine Crow, Langhorne Slim, The Jayhawks, anything but Mumford and Sons


-->Video (sort of): Whiskey Bottle by Uncle Tupelo




Ray a

Ray McManus is the author of three books of poetry, Punch, Red Dirt Jesus, and Driving through the country before you are born, and co-editor (with R. Mac Jones) of Found Anew. His poetry and prose have appeared in numerous journals and anthologies. Ray is an associate professor of English at the University of South Carolina Sumter.

Summer Sixes - Poet Len Lawson Shares his Favorite Films for Summer

"You take the red pill - you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes." 

"Show me the money."

"What business is it of yours where I'm from, friendo?”

"It is the dismal tide. It is not the one thing."

"Don't ever argue with the Big Dog, because the Big Dog is always right."

"Aw, man. I shot Marvin in the face."

"You had me at hello."

"Are you not entertained?"

"I'm gonna get medieval on your ass."

 Like every other American obsessed with pop culture, I love these kinds of rankings. Unlike every other American obsessed with pop culture, I probably take these rankings much too seriously because I am passionate about films. I try to go to the movies as a normal person enjoying the theatre experience. I end up thinking I’m Siskel and Ebert giving movies stars or taking them away for this nuance or that wrinkle.

I have maintained this top list of movies for about two decades now, and it is very competitive and tough for new films to break into it. I do give new films a fair trial to enter the lauded pantheon of my top movies. Usually however, they fall to the wayside farther down rankings. (The last movie to really break into the top list after much deliberation made it all the way to the number one spot, so that’s encouraging for new films.)

For example, I would be inclined to add last year’s epic, bone-chilling film The Revenant to this list, but it has to stand the test of time. Moreover, it would have to knock off the other greats here from their respective perches. I really try to avoid the instant reaction of giving the hot new movie the top spot. This is a long process of analyzing characters, cinematography, musical score, drama, and other factors I think I’m qualified to address. I am an educator after all, so I’d like to think I’m good at crafting rubrics.

I know no one likes reading the introductions to these lists, so without further ado, here they are in descending order. Have fun! - Len Lawson

#6 Gladiator

I’m a sucker for Shakespeare, so this film has all the feels of a Shakespearean tragedy: the setting of Rome, the monarchy, suspense, death, high drama. Maximus Decimus Meridius is the quintessential Shakespearean lead character. He totally puts me in mind of Hamlet or Macbeth. Maximus is the general of the emperor’s army and likely heir to the throne because the emperor Marcus Aurelius believes Maximus is more fit to assume the throne than the emperor’s own son Commodus, a sniveling, weaselly, spoiled brat who consequently kills his father the emperor to quicken his pace to the throne. Maximus is not having it, so he goes AWOL only to find that Commodus has destroyed his home and his family. Maximus is then sold into slavery and forced to compete in the gladiator games in Rome where he again meets up with now Emperor Commodus whose reign is not well-received by the Roman senate nor by his sister Lucilla thriving for her own survival in her evil brother’s kingdom.

Russell Crowe is an endearing Spanish slave who as a former general can rally any Roman to his cause. His famous line Are you not entertained?? has become a rallying cry in sports, especially in MMA and professional wrestling. The drama sets up classic coliseum battles and dangerous alliances. I would love to teach this as a play to college students!


#5 The Matrix Trilogy

I’m pulling a notorious rankings move and including three movies in one spot because it is my list and because one Matrix movie teases the pallet for much more. This movie changed cinematography forever. How many films can you name where a martial arts maneuver or dance move is named for the title? The first film appeared at the turn of the century when the world was still in fear of Y2K (ask your parents). The themes of the film made us think that the actual matrix was a reality and not fantasy. The trilogy has that groundbreaking feel not only on film but on pop culture like the insurgence of the Star Wars films. Personally, as a person of faith, I can make so many spiritual connections to the Matrix films that it blows the mind. The plot is a bit complex for a summary, but once the end of the first film hits you, you’re taken to another place beyond movies. Furthermore by the last film, you are left with more questions than answers, and the answers won’t come unless you watch the movie again and again. The layers are endless. To quote my own poetry, “your mind capsizes.” I would watch any movie if you promised me it would have that kind of lasting effect on me.


 #4 Pulp Fiction

This will forever be Quentin Tarantino’s best work. If you put two gangsters, their mob boss, his wife, and a boxer in a blender, then Pulp Fiction (by definition of this term shown at the beginning of the movie) is what you get. For extra fun, Tarantino jumbles the three acts of the movie out of order, so the heart of the film is not even the storyline. The core of the film is the characters themselves. This cast is awesome: Uma Thurman, Ving Rhames, Bruce Willis, John Travolta, Samuel L. Jackson, and more. After you watch the movie, you want these characters to be in your life for better or worse forever, and you definitely never want Samuel L. Jackson to leave the screen. His dialogue alone has become pop culture gospel. For example, Do you read the Bible, Ringo?...Say what again! I dare you! and before you leave this earth, you better remember Ezekiel 25:17.

This movie is too real for average people like us to watch. You get windows into parts of life you should know nothing about, which is why it keeps us coming back to it.


 #3 Jerry McGuire

A successful sports agent as he says “eats frozen pizza and grows a conscience” one night and basically destroys his career, leaving him with one scrappy, bottom-feeding NFL player. The two develop a dubious friendship outside of their business relationship that changes both their lives for respective purposes.

I am not a real Tom Cruise fan, but I liked him in this movie only because he was stripped of his usual cocky, arrogant Color of Money, Cocktail, Top Gun persona and put into an actual domestic role. It is fun to watch that persona be stripped away scene by scene in character, no less. His awkwardness is endearing when the character Jerry Maguire is out of his element.

Each character has his or her own memorable quotes here. Several breakout stars are in this film: Renee Zellweger as Dorothy Boyd, the frumpy, girl-next-door, widowed mother looking for love (You had me at hello); Jonathan Lipnicki as her cute son Ray (Did you know bees as dogs can smell fear?); and of course Cuba Gooding, Jr. as the embattled football star Rod Tidwell with the classic line Show me the money! It is cool to see Regina King and him as husband and wife both after being in Boyz n the Hood and other unheralded black films.

This is the first and only movie to make me cry. I watched it in the theatre when it first debuted, but one day as a teenager sitting at home watching the scene where Jerry and Dorothy are having issues before Rod’s big game made me tear up. She says, I have this great guy who loves my kid, and he sure does like me a lot. And I can’t live like that. It’s not how I’m built. Wow! She had me at hello!

An extra good scene is where Rod and Jerry are fed up with each other after hanging on by a thread in their respective roles during the football season. Each tries to counsel the other in the areas they are lacking in their lives. I always laugh when Jerry tells Rod, Just shut up! Play the game! Play it from your heart, and I will show you the Quan. And that’s the truth, man. That’s the truth. Can you handle it?? (an obvious allusion to Cruise’s movie A Few Good Men).

Well, I laugh and cry, but the movie has sports, comedy, drama, suspense, and black characters not as stereotypes. Therefore, I’m in for the long haul. Show me the replay! I’ll watch every time.

jerry mcguire


#2 The Fugitive

My favorite actor is Tommy Lee Jones. He can make any movie great by being the same character in each one! He is always the take-charge, semi-surly, no-nonsense leader who lives by the moral compass of a Batman character. I was first introduced to him in The Fugitive.

The first time I saw the movie was when my high school played it in every classroom throughout the day on the last day of school (gotta love those '90s education standards). I couldn’t wait to get to my next class when the bell rang to see what would happen to this doctor who was convicted of murder for the death of his wife, claiming a one-armed man was the killer. Harrison Ford as Dr. Richard Kimble is the anti-O.J. Simpson in this movie.

You are hooked in this movie after the epic train scene which was a huge deal in the '90s. After Kimble escapes the wreckage from the convict transport train crashing, the chase is on for Jones as U.S. Marshall Deputy Samuel Gerard goes on the hunt for Kimble. As a fugitive from the law, Kimble even has the audacity to look for the man who killed his wife and solve the mystery of why. You root for both Gerard and Kimble throughout the movie.

This might be the best cat-and-mouse chase movie ever if it weren’t for my number one. The way Jones as Gerard leads his band of deputies is endearing so much that, again, you want the characters to be with you always. This is also why I love the sequel film U.S. Marshals just as much if not more. I would love to see Harrison Ford and Tommy Lee Jones do a sequel where they just share a beer and remember the old days of chasing down killers and dodging bullets in Chicago. Hopefully, both will make it to this meeting; they’re both getting up in age.


 #1 No Country for Old Men

Again I say, I love Tommy Lee Jones, but in this movie, he is older, slower, and even wiser and cagier than his character U.S. Marshal Samuel Gerard in The Fugitive. In this film, he is not the slick, dominant leader. He is the wily veteran Sheriff Ed Tom Bell trying to keep up with the drug trade and violence in his Texas county. He is also trying to keep up with two younger, swifter, more brazen characters: Josh Brolin as Llewelyn Moss, a hunter who finds a briefcase with $2 million in a drug deal-gone-bad and Javier Bardem as Anton Chigurh, a ruthless sociopath hired to retrieve the briefcase.

There are so many layers to the film. Chigurh (pronounced like sugar, stress on the second syllable) has his own code of ethics and kills on his terms. He is a character for the ages in film on the same level with The Joker but colder, not as maniacal. He even allows his victims to call it on a coin toss to reveal their fates. His air pump is a unique weapon used originally to kill cattle before the slaughter. His shotgun with the silencer on the end shatters victims’ bodies without prejudice. This man should not be roaming free on the streets anywhere. He always taunts his victims with probing questions, yet he never sees reality by their terms, only his. He is sick, but he is brilliant at his skillset, a chilling prophet spreading his gospel of right and wrong in blood. He confronts one of his victims in the film with this epic question: If the rule you followed brought you to this, of what use was the rule?

Llewelyn tries to keep out of Chigurh’s reach throughout the movie with his own military veteran skillset. Each tries to outwit the other with Sheriff Bell always one step behind. The most amazing part of the film is that none of these three main characters EVER come face to face with the other. Brilliant! It is a thriller without much dialogue. The pictures tell the story with genius.

Although it is a masterful film based on the novel by Cormac McCarthy with the title taken from a William Butler Yeats poem “Sailing to Byzantium,"* the scene where Sheriff Bell almost catches up to Chigurh in an El Paso hotel always irks me. If Chigurh can escape Bell, then why doesn’t he kill Bell like the rest of his victims? The sheriff coming back for Chigurh would certainly upset Chigurh’s “code." The sheriff would be very vulnerable returning to the hotel. There are many theories to this scene. This is just another layer to the classic.

The lifestyle of violence portrayed in the film catches up to all three main characters, but each responds to it in different ways. It either consumes them, overcomes them, or surrenders them. The great line by Sherriff Bell and the El Paso sheriff toward the end speaks to the warning of the title: It is the dismal tide. It is not the one thing.

no country

What have we learned from this list? They all have arguably white male-dominated main characters. All but one has gun violence and horrific death scenes. Obviously, I like suspense, thriller, and drama films. I like my movies well-rounded with a little bit of each genre, but these three keep me interested. As a writer and poet, I am always considering elements of fiction in films. I usually can predict a film’s outcome before the halfway point which is no fun for anyone I watch with, but I usually keep these things to myself. I try to lose the critical eye in movies, but that wouldn’t make me an artist, would it?

Len Lawson

Len Lawson is the author of the upcoming chapbook Before the Night Wakes You (Finishing Line Press) and co-editor of the upcoming Poets Respond to Race anthology (Muddy Ford Press). He has been accepted to the Ph.D. in English Literature and Criticism program at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. Len is a 2015 Pushcart Prize & Best of the Net nominee and a 2016 Callaloo Fellow.  His poetry has been featured in Fall Lines, Jasper Magazine, Charleston Currents, and Poems on The Comet. He teaches writing at Central Carolina Technical College, and his website is





*Sailing to Byzantium

by William Butler Yeats

That is no country for old men. The young In one another's arms, birds in the trees – Those dying generations – at their song, The salmon‐falls, the mackerel‐crowded seas, Fish, flesh, or fowl, commend all summer long Whatever is begotten, born, and dies. Caught in that sensual music all neglect Monuments of unageing intellect.

An aged man is but a paltry thing, A tattered coat upon a stick, unless Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing For every tatter in its mortal dress, Nor is there singing school but studying Monuments of its own magnificence; And therefore I have sailed the seas and come To the holy city of Byzantium.

O sages standing in God's holy fire As in the gold mosaic of a wall, Come from the holy fire, perne in a gyre, And be the singing‐masters of my soul. Consume my heart away; sick with desire And fastened to a dying animal It knows not what it is; and gather me Into the artifice of eternity.

Once out of nature I shall never take My bodily form from any natural thing, But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make Of hammered gold and gold enamelling To keep a drowsy Emperor awake; Or set upon a golden bough to sing To lords and ladies of Byzantium Of what is past, or passing, or to come.