When Swing Was King

After the February 18 Mansfield Symphony Orchestra Pops Concert


Carl Topilow and the MSO

Carl Topilow, in red coat with red clarinet, leads the Mansfield Symphony Orchestra with his knees and shoulders, bobbing on the podium to the music as he plays along. The conductor leans with a sidelong glance to the drummer and, as one, the group moves toward the end of the piece, finishing on one blue note of a dime. Tonight, at the MSO’s “When Swing Was King” pops concert, Topilow is not Topilow. He’s Benny Goodman, he’s Artie Shaw. He and his bright  red clarinet lead a big band and it’s 1944 and the audience is young again.

At the introduction to each song the crowd murmurs appreciatively. Next to me my grandmother hums along. Everyone of a certain age has a memory that corresponds with each song. A piece of their youth, of the early years with their spouse, of their time serving their country.

The songs Topilow picks range from Gershwin excerpts to Glen Miller to an entire patriotic piece fitted around a bugle solo. Before I had thought of swing as swing, but now I begin to think of the complete range of sweet to sultry to stars and stripes.

The sweet songs inspire my grandmother to turn to me and tell me memories of her courtship with my grandfather. She uses the word courtship, and it occurs to me that I’ve only ever heard this word from someone of her generation, and also that I’ve never been courted. Stardust, Moonlight Serenade, Night & Day — a sweetness and innocence that I cannot fathom, but desperately want to know. Continue reading


“Krokus,” an exhibition of collages at Relax, It’s Just Coffee; a review by Jason Kaufman

Just a word or two (thousand) to urge you to see the collages of James Lee Van Horn and Riley Kemerling at Relax, It’s Just Coffee!

Over the last two years I’ve kept tabs on the progress of James Lee Van Horn’s massive collage project, titled “B’reshith.”

The collage began with the Milky Way chocolate bar advertisement in the lower left corner. In the advertisement, the bar is broken and the caramel center stretches enticingly between the halves. Behind the stretching caramel, James inserted the image of a woman parting the stream of caramel, revealing a deeper orb of light. He was smart to begin with a reference to the Milky Way, because he was indeed setting off to create a virtual universe of images, whose complex (absurd, poetic, accidental) referentiality open and sustain a kind of internal ‘space’. B’reshith is 8ft. x 4ft., but most of the images that fill the space are taken from magazines of a standard 9in. x 11in. format. Because the relatively large space within the frame dwarfs the comparatively small images (figures), there is really no dominant figure in the piece. No protagonist, or unifying subject, but a homogeneous spattering of subjects vying for our attention. If we stand back and view the piece as a whole the figures go out of focus, and we are forced to read it as a formal surface of rhythms, colors, and lines. It’s only when we approach the piece, taking it in section by section, that we can clearly see the images and begin to tease out possible narratives. This visual limitation is important because it simulates an epistemological limitation, which I believe is central to James’ worldview and which can be summed up by Bucky Fuller’s maxim, “The world is non-simultaneously apprehended.”

B’reshith has gone through many stages since then, and it’s great to finally see it in its ‘finished’ state. The beauty of James’ approach to Work is that he rolls with whatever happens. I don’t mean to say that he doesn’t have certain intentions when he begins his work. He does, and those intentions continue to shape it throughout the process, but he isn’t afraid to lose control. Example: In one of B’reshith’s later stages it was vandalized pretty heavily with graffiti. This might lead others to abandon the project, but I swear to god when he told me about it he was giddy as a school girl. He loves the accidental. He welcomes the Other. His starting place is the external. He curates fragments of others, appropriates, adds to, removes from, referees the most disparate aspects of our culture. I see him more as a caretaker of these small public spaces than an author. His work is a disorienting blend of gaudy found materials, the most banal pop-cultural references, and references to esoteric wisdom traditions. Though his work begins from the outside, it’s clear the work is praxis for internal change (psycho-spiritual): for James in the creation, for us in the reading. I’ll leave you to the reading.

The collaboration between James and Riley Kemerling started when James gave her the collage scraps left over from B’reshith. From these scraps she made two collages (Fig. A and Fig. B).

Riley’s approach is significantly different than James’. James seems concerned with simulating the sensation of rapid change, spacial disorientation, and the anxiety we all (unconsciously) feel as inhabitants of the contemporary imagescape, something akin to what Fredric Jameson called post-modern hyperspace, where technology and information processing leave us unable to locate ourselves within space. We are smeared out, at all times, online, in television. We circle the globe in nanoseconds and are everywhere but here, quietly, now. Riley, by contrast, seems to neutralize the onslaught of images by digesting them. Whereas the images in James’ collages remain distinct because of his clean-edged style, Riley paints the collages, obscuring the edges and burying the images within the surface of the work. It’s as if she is changing and blending the appropriated images into her own Being-substance. The soft, diffused surfaces and the subject matter itself lend her work a feminine, sexy quality that James’ hard-edged, brutal compositions don’t possess.

I claimed the starting place of James’ work seems to be the joy he takes in displacing his own Self, by opening himself up to the Other. For him the work begins with the external. By contrast, I sense that Riley’s approach is more internal. Her work feels rooted in a deep, sensitive relationship to her own interior life. In James’ work, the appropriated images are never really altered. They operate much as they always have, as referents to things in the world. James offers us a sea of images to drown in, and the pleasure of viewing his work is that he simultaneously teaches us how to swim in the randomness. By contrast, because of the way Riley has manipulated these same appropriated images, they no longer seem to refer to the outside world, but to disclose something intimate about herself.

I hope I’ve given you some ideas of how to approach the work. Please, please, please go to Relax, It’s Just Coffee, grab a latte, and spend some time with their work. This is a great collaboration! Here are a few more images from the show.


James Lee Van Horn

James Lee Van Horn

Born in the thresholds of dial-up and hypertext James Lee Van Horn, aka Teenwolf, stalks the Rust Belt as a trickster and a pundit’s worst nightmare. Nourished on the teats of Maybe logic and ontological graffiti he searches for the silver bullet that will signal his PERICHORESIS.

Riley Kemerling




Riley Kemerling is an Ohio born and raised artist, now studying Illustration and Drawing at the Art Academy of Cincinnati. Riley uses a variety of materials in her work, such as charcoal, acrylics, oils, watercolors, graphite, and pen and ink.


Jason Kaufman

Jason Kaufman is a writer and sculptor living in Mansfield, Ohio with his wife, Jenny, and son, Cormac. He is closely involved with the local art community in Mansfield, where he participates in monthly art critiques and writing workshops, poetry & prose open-mics, and writes reviews of regional art exhibitions. Jason works for The Renaissance and Main Street Books, a local independent book store.

“Da Field,” by Chico’s Brother

In “Da Field,” Chico’s Brother, aka Aurelio Villa Luna Diaz, explores the darker side of Mansfield, Ohio, circa the 1980’s. The song starts off with a harsh mechanical percussion, reminiscent of the town’s industrial roots, like a sheet-metal press stamping out car parts, which gives way to the sound of wind-chimes. The song’s affect is of drinking lemonade on the front porch in summer, deeply peaceful, but you can’t shake the feeling that something Cthulhic inhabits the shadows. After a while you realize sheet-metal press percussion has ceased, but it’s all the more real for its absence —like the blood pulse in your ears, this eerie clack of teeth. This shit is rotten to the core!

Sovroncourt to re-release album on cassette–Richland Source

Check out Sovroncourt in Richland Source: http://www.richlandsource.com/life_and_culture/article_e794ecbe-77d0-11e3-90e2-0019bb30f31a.html.

Then head over to pre-order Waves and Wheel on cassette, due to release from Wild Kindness Records Feb. 18, 2014.

On Base, by Llalan Fowler

Summer tastes like cut grass and infield dirt and warm water out of paper Dixie cups. Between the ages of ten and sixteen I spent every summer banging dirt out of my cleats on the dugout cement, dreaming about the boys in the big league.

First Base

I was fourteen and pretty sure I’d be the first girl in the history of ever to get a high school diploma before she got kissed. And then I got kissed and it was so sadly cliched I wanted a do-over even at the time. We were on the band bus on the way home from a football away game when I was fed a sluggish mouthful of tongue. I would not kiss anyone else until I was in college.

First base was my favorite base in softball, though I never fielded it, being neither tall nor left-handed. But as a runner you can run past it and still be safe. On the other bases an infielder could tag you out with the ball if you overran the base, but you can stomp on first and blow on past at top speed into the outfield. You could could just keep going, really, out past the fence and the wild grass into the corn and down to the river or beyond.

Second Base

In girl’s softball, you aren’t allowed to lead off the bases; you have to wait until the ball leaves the pitcher’s hand before teasing to the right. On base at second I was invisible to the pitcher and felt sly as though holding up bunny ears behind her in a snapshot. I was slow, so the possibility of getting past the shortstop and third baseman to steal was slim, but still, I liked that I represented a threat.

The boys in high school thought I was a tease, but I was really just terrified. How long do you play defense against them? I liked that I represented a challenge, but not the prize. I was more comfortable shifting from one crouched leg to the other along the baseline between first and second, swaying slightly, letting my glove trace the sign of infinity in the infield dirt between my cleats.

Third Base

In eleventh grade Jackie Parson turned to me in English class and said, “Did you know a blow job has absolutely nothing to do with blowing?” I answered something like, “Oh yeah! That’s so weird!” even though I didn’t really have clue.

It is the most physical of bases, always sliding into it if you’re doing it right. Hit a triple, steal, get caught looking at home a little too hungrily and take two lurching steps back before sliding in safe. The third baseman, shortstop, pitcher, and catcher all keep a wary eye on it: the penultimate step before changing the whole game.

Fourth Base

In college I slunk away from a bonfire when they started passing the bottle of Jack Daniels and playing “never have I ever.” The girls giggled and acted coy, as though they actually had done the acts they pretended they hadn’t, saying they’d  never “done it” in a lifeguard chair or their parent’s minivan. I just never had. Ever. I was very far away from home.

Fourth base represented my target, the goal I studied in class behind my eyelids. I was a pitcher. I threw windmill — the style of whirling your arm in one fierce circle while taking a saucy, hip-swinging step towards home base. I pictured a channel of energy stretching from my open hand, beneath the hitter’s bat, smack into the catcher’s glove. I was in charge. I got what I wanted. What secret did I know? There is no fourth base; only home.

© Llalan Fowler, 2013

Llalan Fowler

Hello. My name is Llalan, pronounced LAY-lin. I am a reader, a writer, and an Ohioan. I am also the manager of Main Street Books, the only independent, general bookstore in Mansfield, Ohio. So not only am I a big reader, but I am also an avid supporter of local business. Please visit my blog, The Bookstore Lady, which follows the ups and downs of bookselling in a small town, the trials and successes of running a small business and some difficult or beautiful parts of just being human.

Other incidentals that might be helpful to know: I love beer, am kind of a snob about it, and have been known to brew it when the mood suits (I actually write for another blog called PitchKnives & ButterForks in a column called “Just Add Beer”); sometimes I cry at commercials, even the ones just about paper towels; I have never been tan in my life.

“Arcadia Kids” a poem by Alison Bolen

On the quiet, sandy beaches of Lake Michigan
We build a fort from tree stumps and garbage bags.
We fill it with laughter and fear. We sit in a triangle and light
Discarded cigarette butts, dreaming ourselves into tomorrow.
We are tanned. We are wild. We are roaming the outskirts of
Our adult lives. We are growing. We are gliding.
We are pulling our future from the bottom of the
Lake with sand and silt and mucus of the womb.
We float on the intestine of a large black tire. It crashes
With the waves, docking our dreams and engulfing our youth.
Our parents watch from the bluff, responsible for dinner and dusk.
They feed us. We eat. We swim away from them and paddle back,
grabbing on to forearms and not letting go.
The undertow pulls us to the floor of the lake but
We hold on, clawing for life and stealing
Sharp breaths between waves.
We are swimmers but we are not strong.
We are travelers without a map.
We are locals but only for the season.
We are in between. We are adrift.
The sun rises and it sets into the dark, black edge of the world.
The moon lights up the cloudy sky. It shifts. It splits. It calls our names.
We answer with a chord. We watch it float on the water’s surface and blink away.
We fade. We lose touch. We swim upstream
While entire fortresses of bolted walls and sturdy steps are buried underground.
We forget the beaches for a spell and then return
With new life crawling in the sand.
We write a letter to the past and throw it into the fire.
No one answers. No one replies.
But up here, we are never alone.
Up here, the moon, the dunes, the waves: they know us. They built us.
They pulled us under and dragged us to this shore.
We will walk its rocky coast until we die.

© 2013 Alison Bolen
Alison Bolen, Arcadia Kids, Mansfield Ohio, Main Street Books, Book Loft Literati, Poetry, Poem, Voices from the Borderland

Dang, that poem is powerful!
When not writing poetry and non-fiction, Alison Bolen is an editor for SAS Institute, a developer of analytics software and one of the world’s largest private software companies. Mansfield was blessed to have Alison as part of its literary community for years. She is now living in New York with her husband and three children.

A/O pre & post screening discussion


I wanted to follow up the A/O video and review post with some footage of the wonderful conversation that opened up following the the unveiling of the film.