Oh goodness. This has been a Year. I do not have many words to bring hope to what has ultimately been 365 days of harrowing tragedy. There is too much aching here to shape into any form of brightness, no matter how hard we may search & grasp & yearn. Such deafening hurt. Such twisting dark.
But 2016 has not been all bad. There are pinpricks of starlight even in the blanket of black, rays of sun even in the storm. By which I mean: there is art.
Art that carried us throughout this hellish year. Art that gave to us even as we lost so much. Art that built us up even as everything else crumbled around us. Art that sang to us in the static, said, soft & sure & true: you are not alone. You are not alone. You are not alone.
Here, then, is a list of the best literature, music, poetry, podcasts, & blog posts I consumed in 2016. The art that served as figurative & literal lifelines when the year pushed me far from shore, left me floundering beneath the surface. I hope you take them as the gifts that they are. Allow them to warm you on winter nights & light your way when all hope seems lost. That, after all, is what art has always been for.
(A small note: below is the list of my absolute favourite art of this year, but it is in no way representative of everything I consumed. If you are so inclined, take a look at the full list of my 2016 art on Tumblr.)
LITERATURE: Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston (frank & lyrical commentary on love & gender & race); Running in the Family by Michael Ondaatje (fever dreams of home in the tropics); Night Sky with Exit Wounds by Ocean Vuong (calm & furious & enthralling poems of queerness, Vietnam, how to know a person & still forgive them); H by Elizabeth Shepard (the most honest & sensitive book on mental illness I have ever read); The Road by Cormac McCarthy (a searing yet hopeful exploration of a family in desolation); Confucius from the Heart by Yu Dan (beautiful & utterly unpretentious beginner's guide to the principles of Confucianism); War of the Foxes by Richard Siken (the gorgeous, restless, loud-&-somehow-quieting followup to Siken's first book Crush)
MUSIC: Seven Swans by Sufjan Stevens (favourite song: "The Dress Looks Nice on You"); Cleopatra by the Lumineers (favourite song: "Ophelia"); Young North by the Paper Kites (favourite song: "Paint"); Bon Iver by Bon Iver (favourite songs: "Wash" & "Holocene"); A Rush of Blood to the Head by Coldplay (favourite song: "The Scientist"); I Forget Where We Were by Ben Howard (favourite songs: "I Forget Where We Were" & "She Treats Me Well") Purpose by Justin Bieber (favourite song: "Love Yourself"); Continuum EP by John Mayer (favourite songs: "Waiting on the World to Change" & "Slow Dancing in a Burning Room"); Take Me to Church EP by Hozier (favourite songs: "Cherry Wine" & "Like Real People Do"); Lights Out by Ingrid Michaelson (favourite song: "Wonderful Unknown"); The Lumineers by The Lumineers (favourite songs: "Flowers in Your Hair" & "Slow It Down"); Chaos and the Calm by James Bay (favourite song: "Let It Go"); Dream Your Life Away by Vance Joy (favourite songs: "Mess Is Mine" & "Georgia"); Modern Vampires of the City by Vampire Weekend (favourite songs: "Obvious Bicycle" & "Step"); Celeste EP by Ezra Vine (favourite song: "Celeste")
POETRY: “Fury” by Tina Chang (The deep woods / are ahead and if the panthers could just reach it.); “On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous” (Say surrender. Say alabaster. Switchblade. / Honeysuckle. Goldenrod. Say autumn.) & “Someday I'll Love Ocean Vuong” (& remember, / loneliness is still time spent / with the world.) by Ocean Vuong; “Art is an Act” by Jody Gladding (the most beautiful word / is / trespass); “Riddles” by Caitlyn Siehl (What came first, humans or despair? / Did it crawl inside of us or did / we crawl inside of it?); “Untitled (The Pictures of Me That I Look Happiest In)” by Lydia Havens (Being loved like this / raises every horizon, and makes me invincible.); “somewhere i have never travelled,gladly beyond” (nobody,not even the rain,has such small hands) & “pity this busy monster, manunkind” (listen: there's a hell / of a good universe next door; let's go) by e.e. cummings; "Litany in Which Certain Things are Crossed Out" (Love, for you, / is larger than the usual romantic love. It’s like a religion. It’s / terrifying.) & "Little Beast" (I couldn’t get the boy to kill me, but I wore his jacket for the longest time.) by Richard Siken; "Scene" by Christina Im (America tells me / there’s no shame / in being someone’s daughter / loudly.); "Full Dark, Being Big Enough" by Lydia Eileen (I can’t breathe when you move your mouth like that / but not for lack of trying); "Tulips" by Sylvia Plath (I am nobody; I have nothing to do with explosions.); "What He Thought" by Heather McHugh (poetry / is what he thought, but did not say.)
PODCASTS: The Minimalists Podcast, hosted by Joshua Fields Millburn & Ryan Nicodemus (favourite episode: "Mentalclutter"); Serial, hosted by Sarah Koenig (favourite episode: "Rumors"); The Slow Home Podcast, hosted by Brooke McAlary (favourite episode: "Unsubscribe from the rat race with Paul Jarvis"); The Biddy Tarot Podcast, hosted by Brigit Esselmont (favourite episode: "Tarot for Creatives with Jessa Crispin"); Invisibilia, hosted by Lulu Miller and Alix Spiegel (favourite episode: "Entanglement")
BLOG POSTS, ESSAYS, & OTHER INTERNET-FINDS: Michael Robbins: In defense of book-collecting (It is always daybreak somewhere along my shelves.); Grace Notes (As with music, it takes a lifetime of practice to be kind to yourself. Make space for that practice, and the harmony will emerge.); Lemony Snicket’s Advice on Writing a Nice Thank-You Note (Do not start with the thank you.); the last letter from Luz Long to Jesse Owens (Tell him about his father.); How to tell a mother her child is dead (Do not ever say he was lucky that he did not feel pain.); A letter to the doctors and nurses who cared for my wife (How would I have found the strength to have made it through that week without you?); How to Be Perfectly Unhappy (The problem with "happy" is a lot like the problem with Pluto.); 33 thoughts on reading (19. When I find a book I love, I will shout about it from whatever mountaintops I have access to.); Calling All Applicants (It’s a wild life and perilous, and you’re almost certain to fail.); It Is Art That Will Help Us Survive (Spoiler warning: it’s art that will save us.)
BEST OF MY OWN ART (most popular & personal favourite creations of mine from 2016): Heaven or This, a chapbook for girls who love girls (downloaded over 15,000 times; I am eternally pinching myself); Monsoon Dream, a chapbook for the love & frustration of Singapore (was such an honour to work with one of my favourite indie publishing houses, Platypus Press, to bring this to life); A Cathedral in a Mason Jar, a collaborative novel of music & mayhem (written in two weeks with thirteen fellow insane creatives; full of so much laughter & loveliness); "Sacrifice Speaks", a poem published in The Mira Project (I so very much needed to write this, & judging from your gorgeous reactions, you needed to read it); my monthly horoscope series (my absolute favourite blog series, & one of the most popular on Six Impossible Things); Silver-Tipped Swallow, my Half Mystic column (love & loss & melody intertwine); an interview with L'Éphémère Review (on art & identity & creation as remembering)
And a small bonus: the art that the darlings on my love letter list recommended; I truly cannot wait to delve into these pieces come 2017...
(Please note that I received many, many recommendations from you doves & was unable to include all of them in the list, but thank you infinitely if you did send over your favourite art from this year! It means the universe & more that you are willing to share it with me.)
Daniel Bachman - Live at Sediment Arts; my own playlist, "sweet as cherry wine" (so very honoured that this mix brought so many of you light in 2016!); Mortal Trash by Kim Addonizio; Bluets by Maggie Nelson (no less than four recommendations; I really must get on reading this one ASAP); If Not, Winter by Sappho (translation by Anne Carson); What's Inside: Songs from Waitress by Sara Bareilles; The Cartographer Tries to Map a Way to Zion by Kei Miller; La La Land (dir. Damien Chazelle); Wishing for Birds by Elizabeth Hewer; Metal & Wood by Tyrone Wells; Jana Hunter on figuring yourself out; In the Lonely Hour by Sam Smith; Bri Lamkin on Being Your Own Kind of Artist; Stranger Things (created by Matt & Ross Duffer)
p.s. please do share with me your own favourite art consumed in 2016. what books & music & podcasts & blog posts must i not miss out on for 2017? i am excited to hear your thoughts.