Julia Smith's blog

Bullseye with Jesse Thorn: The Pointer Sisters

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The Pointer Sisters Get Excited (About Music, Clothes, and More)

The Pointer Sisters have always been musical chameleons. They had huge dance-pop hits in the 1980s, like "I'm So Excited" and "Jump (For My Love)", but at that point they had already found success in genres from jazz to R&B to disco, and even won a Grammy for their country hit, "Fairytale". The sisters grew up in Oakland, California and were taught by their reverend father that rock and roll was 'the devil's work'. However, when their parents weren't around, they snuck in listening sessions to Elvis, The Supremes, and James Brown.

Sisters Bonnie and June Pointer formed the earliest incarnation of the group in 1969, joined within several years by Ruth and Anita. They recorded their debut self-titled album in 1973, and the single "Yes We Can Can" became their first hit. They went on to record more hits over the next few decades, including "How Long (Betcha' Got a Chick on the Side)", a cover of Bruce Springsteen's "Fire", and "He's So Shy".

Ruth and Anita Pointer join us for a wild and entertaining interview about their signature vintage style, forging their own musical path, and mixing family with business.

This interview originally aired February 18, 2014.

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Carolyn Kellogg Talks Westerns

Every week we like to check in with one of our favorite culture critics to get some recommendations of things that are worth your time. This week, Los Angeles Times book critic Carolyn Kellogg stops by to talk about some of her all-time favorite westerns, starting with one that broke the mold.

Her first recommendation is Cormac McCarthy's All the Pretty Horses.

Kellogg also recommends Patrick DeWitt's The Sisters Brothers.

This segment originally aired July 22, 2014.

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Bobby Lopez on The Song That Changed My Life: "Pure Imagination"

Think of a song you know by heart. A song that's been in your life for such a long time, you don't even remember when you first heard it. Maybe it was in your favorite movie as a kid.

Bobby Lopez writes those kind of songs. He's a composer for musicals and movies, and co-created the hit Broadway shows The Book of Mormon and Avenue Q. He and his wife Kristen Anderson-Lopez are behind the enormously successful songs for Disney's Frozen, including Let It Go.

This week, Bobby shares the song that changed his life: the inspiring and magical Pure Imagination, from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.

This segment originally aired February 18, 2014.

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The Outshot: The Muppet Movie

Why do folks get into showbiz? If you think it's all to get attention, fame, or money, let The Muppet Movie show you why you're wrong.

This segment originally aired February 18, 2014.

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Bullseye with Jesse Thorn: John Oliver & Larry Wilmore

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John Oliver on 'Last Week Tonight', American Positivity and a Love Story That Began at the RNC

Though John Oliver is English, he's probably best known now for being part of an American cultural institution -- The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. He served as the show's "Senior British Correspondent" for seven years before he was tapped to guest host in 2013. Stewart went off to shoot a documentary, and Oliver filled in as host for eight weeks, to great critical acclaim.

It was an audition of sorts, and Oliver got the part. He was offered his own weekly show on HBO, which began airing just a few weeks ago. Last Week Tonight provides Oliver his own platform to talk and joke about everything from the death penalty to climate change to the Indian general election.

He joins us to talk about his love for American positivity, his tone and approach for Last Week Tonight, the unique challenges of doing news satire and the signature field pieces of The Daily Show, and the romantic story of how he met his wife at the Republican National Convention.

Oliver's show Last Week Tonight airs on HBO Sunday nights at 11pm. He also co-hosts The Bugle podcast with Andy Zaltzman.

This interview originally aired May 20, 2014.

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My Brother, My Brother and Me Proffer Advice: Reading Classic Lit, Gaming with Your Boss, and Solo Concert-Going

Justin McElroy, Travis McElroy and Griffin McElroy stop by Bullseye to solve our cultural quandaries. Listen to their advice on reading classic literature like "Super Fudge", playing video games with your boss and grooving solo at a James Taylor concert.

If you still have questions that need answers, the McElroy brothers host a weekly advice show for the modern era called My Brother, My Brother, and Me. You can subscribe wherever you download podcasts and send your queries to mbmbam@maximumfun.org.

This segment originally aired January 28, 2014.

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Larry Wilmore on His Early Comedy Writing and Training at The Daily Show

Last year, as Stephen Colbert stepped away from The Colbert Report, Comedy Central cast their net for a new nightly host. They settled on someone close to home -- the Daily Show correspondent Larry Wilmore. Wilmore has just launched the new program. It's called The Nightly Show.

Before his time with Jon Stewart, Wilmore wrote for The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and In Living Color. He also created The Bernie Mac Show, and co-created The PJs with Eddie Murphy.

The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore airs weeknights at 11:30 on Comedy Central.

This interview originally aired February 3, 2009.

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The Outshot: Why "I Want You Back" Is The Greatest Pop Song Ever

There's really only one way to prove "I Want You Back" is the greatest pop song ever: listen.

This segment originally aired September 23, 2013.

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Bullseye with Jesse Thorn: H. Jon Benjamin & Jessica Walter

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This week's episode includes content from previous broadcasts! Check out the links below to listen and share each segment.


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H. Jon Benjamin on Archer, Bob's Burgers and an Unlikely Career in Voice Acting

H. Jon Benjamin is a writer, comedian and a prolific voice actor, but he's not exactly the man of a million voices. In fact, he's really the man of one voice, which depending on the setting could be the shiftless son on Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist, the misanthropic dad of Fox's Bob's Burgers, or a self-involved secret agent on FX's Archer. Benjamin has appeared in his own physical form on shows like Parks and Recreation, and in 2011 created and starred in the Comedy Central series Jon Benjamin Has a Van.

Benjamin talks to us about and how his career in comedy and voice acting came together, the humble beginnings of the beloved animated series Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist, and the perks inherent in voicing the super-spy and super-jerk Sterling Archer.

Archer begins its sixth season this week on FX.

This segment originally aired January 22, 2013.

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Canonball: The Runaways' "Live in Japan"

Over the course of four short years, the teenage members of glam rock band The Runaways released four albums for a major label, toured the world, and unleashed their classic single, "Cherry Bomb". While the group was huge overseas, they never gained the same level of popularity in the US.

Rhythm guitarist and vocalist Joan Jett went on to acclaim with her band Joan Jett & the Blackhearts, but as Evelyn McDonnell tells it, The Runaways have never really gotten their due.

McDonnell wrote the book on the band. She's the author of Queens of Noise: The Real Story of the Runaways, based on interviews conducted with the influential "queens of noise". McDonnell found that the band's manager Kim Fowley had a tight grip on the group's sound, and that their studio albums didn't fully capture their unique sound and chemistry.

Evelyn takes us on a journey to the other side of the Pacific Ocean to hear where the band hit their peak: on a Japanese tour where they recorded their album, Live In Japan.

This segment originally aired March 18, 2014.

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Jessica Walter Talks about Vulgar Lines on "Archer", Love for Lucille Bluth and Showbiz Secrets

If you only know the actress Jessica Walter from her recent work, you probably know her from her role as the singularly-focused, boozy, terrifically manipulative matriarch Lucille Bluth on Arrested Development or her voice acting on the animated spy spoof, Archer. But her career stretches back fifty years, with hundreds of TV appearances, from The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, The Love Boat, and Trapper John, M.D. to a starring role in Clint Eastwood's directorial debut Play Misty for Me.

Jessica sits down with us this week to talk about getting line reads for (the often quite vulgar and racy) scenes on FX's Archer, her love of Lucille Bluth and working with Clint Eastwood. She even divulges a few trade secrets from her role on Flipper.

The sixth season of Archer returns this week.

This segment originally January 21, 2014.

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The Outshot: Prince's "Dirty Mind"

Prince is one of the rare artists whose name has become synonymous with an entire era of sound. Jesse explains how Prince's 1980 album Dirty Mind was the turning point in his career, marking a transformation from musician to music god.

This segment originally aired July 2, 2013.

New to Bullseye? Subscribe to our podcast in iTunes or with your favorite podcatcher to make sure you automatically get the newest episode every week.

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Maximum Fun's Best Episodes of 2014

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It's been a great year for Maximum Fun! A whole truckload of shows joined the network and we're celebrating. Whether you're an old-school MaxFun listener who wants to try a new show, you're brand new to the network, or you want to introduce a friend to the joy of podcasts -- we've got you covered.

Where's the best place to start? Why not try a sampler of the best episodes of 2014, as voted on by the members of the Maximum Fun subReddit and members of our Facebook groups, and spearheaded by Reddit user groverjefferson!

You can click through to each episode, or download the entire batch of episodes from this handy RSS feed.

Adventure ZoneEpisode 1: Here There Be Gerblins

Baby GeniusesPaul F. Tompkins

BullseyeCaroll Spinney, Dave Mattina, Ian Edwards

Bunker BuddiesEpisode 1: EMP

Dave Hill's Podcasting IncidentEpisode 84: Greetings from Australia

Destination DIYJuly 2014: Teen Inventors

The Flop HouseEpisode 158: Labor Day

The GoosedownEpisode 4: Villains

International WatersEpisode 31: Stiff as a Varnished Eel

Jordan Jesse GoEpisode 332: Cake-Spangled Banner with Maria Bamford

Judge John HodgmanEpisode 166: My Legal Pony

Lady to LadyEpisode 89: French Stewart

The Memory PalaceEpisode 61: The Glowing Orbs

My Brother My Brother and MeEpisode 215: Glass Shark

Oh No Ross and CarrieRoss and Carrie Bust a Gut: Laughter Yoga Edition

One Bad MotherEpisode 80: Mom Ruts, plus guest Jill Barber

RISK!All-Star Episode #5

SawbonesCorpse Theft and the Resurrection Men

Song ExploderEpisode 1: The Postal Service

Stop Podcasting YourselfEpisode 349: Jon Dore

Throwing ShadeEpisode 138: How to Train Your Dragon 2, Summer Weddings, Gwyneth Paltrow, Cosplay

Wham Bam PowEpisode 73: Galaxy Quest

Again, major thanks to groverjefferson for putting the survey and list together, and to YOU for listening! Happy New Year from all of us at Maximum Fun.

Bullseye with Jesse Thorn: Lewis Black, Syl Johnson & Annie Hart

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Still Fuming: Lewis Black on Drama School, New York, And Why He's Still Fired Up

No comedian is angrier than Lewis Black. For the past 25 years, America has been infuriating him, and he's been on-stage telling us why.

After graduating from the Yale School of Drama in 1977, Black spent ten years as a playwright at the West Bank Cafe Downstairs Theater in New York. He transitioned to stand-up comedy in the late 1980s and has been regularly featured on The Daily Show's "Back In Black" segment for the past 16 years.

Lewis tells us about nearly getting expelled from Yale, why he loves performing in Bismarck, ND, and how theater is like heroin.

Lewis Black's most recent special, Live at the Borgata, is available now in digital formats. This interview originally aired in August 2013.

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Hip Hop with Andrew Noz: DJ Quik's Pacific Coast Remix and Rammellzee's Beat Bop

Hip hop blogger and Pitchfork columnist Andrew Noz joins us with a couple of his all-time favorite hip hop tracks. His first recommendation is Pacific Coast Remix by DJ Quik (featuring Ludacris), a track devoted to sunny Los Angeles's dark side. He also suggests checking out the 1983 track Beat Bop by Rammellzee and K-Rob. It's a song from an era where the uptown and downtown communities mingled in a way that the rap world would rarely see again. This segment originally aired in June 2013.

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"The Song That Changed My Life" with Annie Hart of Au Revoir Simone

Annie Hart of Au Revoir Simone grew up in the suburbs of Long Island. As the story goes for a lot of teenagers, she didn't quite fit in. The kids at her school wanted to spend time at the mall. They weren't interested in making stuff, shooting videos and writing zines.

Annie found a whole new world, and a whole new group of friends, through music. The song that changed her life is "Knew Song", by the Long Island hardcore band Silent Majority.

Au Revoir Simone's most recent album is Move In Spectrums. This interview originally aired in January 2014.

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The Enigmatic, Grammy-Nominated Syl Johnson

Inspired by the sounds of Jackie Wilson, Little Walter, and Muddy Waters, Syl Johnson set out to make his own mark in music in the 1950s. His own gritty, bluesy voice and funk rhythms earned him a place in the Chicago soul and blues scene. Over the course of a career on Chicago's Twinight and Memphis' Hi Records, Johnson released several singles that climbed their way up the pop and R&B charts ("Different Strokes", "Come On Sock It To Me", "Is It Because I'm Black?") and but never attained the smash success of contemporaries like Al Green or James Brown.

He found ubiquity later in life, when dozens of hip hop artists from Run-DMC to Kanye West dug into his catalog to sample his sounds (perhaps foremost his signature scream on "Different Strokes"). Johnson found himself in the spotlight again a few years ago when the archival label Numero Group assembled a Grammy-nominated boxset of his early cuts, titled Syl Johnson: The Mythology. This interview originally aired in October 2012.

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The Outshot: "Coney Island"

Jesse recommends a portrait of an American caught in between its past and its future in Ric Burns' documentary Coney Island.

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Bullseye with Jesse Thorn: Luis Guzman

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Luis Guzman: From activist and social worker to prolific character actor

Luis Guzman is one of America's most successful and prolific character actors. He's appeared in dozens of films and television series, from Short Eyes in the 1970s to Miami Vice in the 1980s to Carlito's Way, Boogie Nights and The Limey in the 1990s. He made a name for himself playing thugs and cops. A few years ago, he was on the short-lived but beloved series How To Make It In America.

He talks with us about growing up in New York's Lower East Side, and about his work there as an activist and social worker. As a teen, he hung out at the legendary New Yorican Poets Cafe, watching poets and writers like Amiri Baraka, Allen Ginsburg and Miguel Piñero. Piñero ended up casting Guzman in Short Eyes, and got him his first television audition for Miami Vice. Since then, Guzman has become a favorite of directors like P.T. Anderson and Steven Soderbergh.

Pitchfork's Ian Cohen on his Favorite Heavy Rock

Ian Cohen, contributing editor at Pitchfork, stops by to recommend some of his all-time favorite heavy rock releases.

He tells us about an album which (in a move unusual for its genre) has an entirely pink cover. Deafheaven’s newest album, Sunbather, has been well-received and is on its way to becoming “an absolute landmark.”

In addition, Ian recommends the most recent Swans album,The Seer. In a bold creative move, the band creates a title track well over thirty minutes long.

Artisanal Pencil Sharpening with David Rees

If you knew about David Rees in the 2000s, it was probably for his indie political cartoon Get Your War On. When we caught up with Rees a few years ago, he had decided to get back in touch with an old-school writing instrument -- the pencil. Rees started his own artisanal pencil sharpening service, sharpening bespoke pencils, and wrote a book called How To Sharpen Pencils. Rees joined us to discuss the lost art of pencil sharpening.

Be on the lookout for Rees' upcoming show on the National Geographic Channel, Going Deep with David Rees, this summer.

The Outshot: Threat by Jay-Z

Rap isn't poetry – it's its own thing. But, like poets, many of the best rappers imbue their lyrics with layers of meaning. Need proof? Jesse suggests a close listen to a single verse of Jay-Z's "Threat".

Bullseye with Jesse Thorn: George R.R. Martin and 'E' from Eels

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George R.R. Martin: Killing Off Characters, Critiquing Tolkien, and Dealing with Angry Fans

We look back at John Hodgman's conversation with George R. R. Martin author of the very popular series of fantasy books called A Song of Ice and Fire. The novels have been adapted for the acclaimed HBO series Game of Thrones. At the time of this interview, the fifth book in Martin's series, A Dance with Dragons, had recently been released. There are two more novels in the series and fans eagerly await their arrival.

Martin joins us to talk about killing off characters, creating new religions and dealing with the expectations of fans.

For a longer version of this interview, check out its original broadcast in 2011.

Vol Libre and The Tommy Westphall Universe with Jason Kottke

Jason Kottke of Kottke.org, a collection of some of the finest links the internet has to offer, brings us this week’s culture picks. Jason starts us out by recommending Vol Libre, a short animation from 1980 that wowed people with its fractal-generated graphics when it was made and still impresses today.

Next, Jason recommends The Tommy Westphall Universe, an exploration of all of the television programs connected to St. Elsewhere and therefore relegated to dream status by the final reveal that St. Elsewhere itself was a dream.

Pop Culture Advice from My Brother, My Brother and Me: Water Cooler Talk, Comic Book Movies, and Vinyl Snobbery

Justin McElroy, Travis McElroy and Griffin McElroy return to Bullseye to answer some of your most pressing pop culture problems and end up taking on Duck Dynasty, James and the Giant Peach, Lionel Richie, grandparents and more.

If you've still got questions that need anwers, the McElroy brothers host a weekly advice show for the modern era called My Brother, My Brother, and Me. You can subscribe wherever you download podcasts, and send your queries to mbmbam@maximumfun.org.

The Outshot: The Fania All-Stars

This week, Jesse recommends that we all overcome any reluctance to let salsa music into our lives, and to begin with the Fania All-Stars.

Bullseye with Jesse Thorn: Bootsy Collins, Oliver Wang on Al Green

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Ahh...The Name Is Bootsy, Baby! Bootsy Collins Pushes James Brown's Buttons and Gets Wild with George Clinton's P-Funk

Bootsy Collins is a legend in the world of funk. He's a bassist who came to his instrument by happenstance and fell in love. He was only in his teens when he was discovered and hired by the Godfather of Soul, James Brown, to be part of his backing band, The J.B.'s. Bootsy went on to play with another notoriously inventive and pioneering funk artist, George Clinton, as part of Funkadelic and Parliament.

He continued the funk with Bootsy's Rubber Band and a number of other musical collaborations. His most recent album is Tha Funk Capitol Of The World, and he currently teaches bass at his own Funk University. He's also playing a couple of festivals this spring and summer.

Bootsy talks to us about being on the forefront of funk, playing with James Brown, doing LSD on stage, quitting and/or being fired from The JB's, pushing the boundaries of black popular music with George Clinton, and his own amazing solo career.

He and Jesse spoke in 2011. Find an extended version of that original conversation here.

The Dissolve Talks about All-Time Favorite Movies: "Real Life" and "To Be or Not to Be"

This week, a look back at some all-time favorite movies from our pals at The Dissolve. Staff writer Nathan Rabin and Editorial Director Keith Phipps join us to talk about some of their all-time favorite films.

Nathan recommends Albert Brooks' 1979 satire Real Life, a prescient look at documenting "real life" in pre-reality television times.

Keith recommends the 1942 Ernst Lubitch classic To Be or Not to Be (Criterion Collection), starring Jack Benny and Carole Lombard.

Canonball with Oliver Wang: Al Green’s I’m Still In Love With You

In Canonball, we take a flying leap into the canon of popular music. We're joined by professor and music writer Oliver Wang to talk about an Al Green album that deserves your attention. No... it's not Green's chart-topper, Let's Stay Together. Wang says that it was Al Green's followup to that album that really rattled him to his core.

Wang talks to us about 1973's I'm Still in Love with You, the record that created a new kind of soul music. Green's beautiful, if flawed voice, was merged with Willie Mitchell's innovative rhythm section and a new sound emerged.

You can find Oliver Wang's thoughts on soul rarities and more on his blog, Soul Sides.

The Outshot: Orson Welles's F for Fake

Jesse recommends Orson Welles' final masterwork, F for Fake. Part documentary, part film essay, it features tricks and truths layered atop each other, creating a mesmerizing narrative.

Geekosystem Investigates General Lee for Judge Hodgman

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Glen Tickle at Geekosystem performs a public service and answers Judge John Hodgman's question from this week's episode, Honk If You Love Justice:

WHY WERE GENERAL LEE'S DOORS WELDED SHUT?

As he says, "the short answer is racing regulations", and the long answer is explained here.

Thanks, Glen!

Judge John Hodgman's Nightmare Gerbil Winner!

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This gerbil's goin' home.

Congratulations to our Nightmare Gerbil Contest Winner Shalyn Claggett, who wrote the fine poem (with footnotes, no less) that you see below! [Edited to add: footnotes were not considered in the judging process - two versions of the poem were submitted.]

And to runner up, Lydia Comer, who creates AMAZING art out of dead animals (check out her submission here!).

And THANK YOU for all of the creative entries. We wish we had a dead gerbil to send to each and every one of you.



ODE TO A NIGHTMARE GERBOL
by
S.R. CLAGGETT
(M.A., Ph.D., M.B.M.L.S., & Practicing Phrenologist)

Zoonomic Muse!1 Your powers I enlist
To persuade Hodgman, Judge, and Jesse, Fist
Of Justice! True and righteous, they must see
The Nightmare Gerbol2 should belong to me.

I long have labored to find and collect
Those artifacts time too oft will forget.
To this assortment fine I hope to add
A rodent fierce, rogue taxidermiéd:

A Wedgewood dish from Silver Jubilee,3
The signature of Makepeace Thackeray,4
A cross from wood of Wesley’s pew have I,5
And dust from Sir James Simpson’s diary6

If fit with gerbol, all would want to see
My cabinet of curiosity,
And for this reason, may this poem move
Your Judge’s heart, and my request approve.

1The invocation of the Zoonomic Muse alludes to Erasmus Darwin’s Zoonomia, which fittingly addresses things fantastic in nature, and (much like the evolving species it addresses) prefigures the inchoate ideas which would later emerge fully developed from the mind of his illustrious grandson.
2Issuing from the fear of having her pie hole prematurely closed, the poet has adopted a spelling that reflects Bailiff Jesse’s pronunciation of the word.
3More specifically, from the Silver Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II in the year 1977—also the year of the poet’s birth. This dish, procured by the poet’s uncle and bequeathed to her on her twenty-first birthday, reflects said Uncle’s remarkable prescience regarding his niece’s then nascent Anglophilia.
4 Acquired from Ebay for merely forty-seven dollars, this signature is almost certainly a forgery. The poet bases her belief in its possible authenticity on the supposition that an actual forger would not list such an item as “Victorian author. Handwriting.”
5 The pews from the first church founded by evangelical and obsessive-compulsive Christian John Wesley were
dismantled in 1977. An enterprising parishioner raised money for the church by selling small crosses made from
the wood—a plan which Wesley would almost certainly have detested. As a former Methodist with a high-church affection for the “bells and smells” of Catholicism, the poet relished the rare opportunity to acquire this most rare of rarities: a Protestant relic.
6 The medical diaries of Sir James Young Simpson, discoverer and popularizer of the anesthetic properties of chloroform, are housed in the manuscript collection of the National Library of Medicine in Bethesda, Maryland. While assessing these as a possible subject of research (quickly rejected after realizing they were in Latin), a quantity of paper “crumbs” fell on the poet’s lap. With fetishistic zeal, she collected these—and to this day, she regards this experience as her most valuable encounter with primary source material.

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