Burgeon and Bloom
- For S.T.S., wordplay is a way of life; hip-hop lines his pockets, poetry feeds his soul.
- Fine art jeweler Bruce Metcalf refuses to use traditional metals and gems in his work.
- 20th century American writer H.P. Lovecraft has been terrifying readers for generations.
H.P. Lovecraft (1890–1937) is a revered writer of supernatural horror fiction. Although little known during his lifetime, he is now regarded as one of the most influential authors of the twentieth century.
Born in Providence, RI, as Howard Phillipps Lovecraft, he began writing stories and poems as early as age 7. He published his first short story in 1916 and over sixty more tales in the next two decades, mostly in pulp genre journals. His 1928 short story “The Call of Cthulhu,” introduced the mythology of a terrifying cosmic entity who would appear in several subsequent Lovecraft stories as well as books, films, songs, and games by other artists.
Lovecraft’s work is characterized by its dark themes, fantastical imagery, and dim view of humanity. Although modern commentators criticize the racist tone of some of his stories, his writing would influence numerous literary figures, including Stephen King and Neil Gaiman, and such film directors as John Carpenter and Guillermo del Toro. His imagery has appeared in rock songs, TV shows, and video games, and his stories are still regularly reprinted.
- Art & Design
Coming up, for STS, wordplay is a way of life. Hip hop lines his pockets, poetry feeds his soul.
STS: Poetry is special to me, like that’s what I first fell in love with. I wanna be remembered as a poet.
Master fine jeweler Bruce Metcalf refuses to use traditional metals and gems in his work, finding them all a little too precious.
Bruce Metcalf: In many cases that’s the only thing people see, “how much did that cost?” Which is not what I want people to think about my work, how much did that cost, no, that’s not the point.
And for generations, the early 20th century American writer H.P. Lovecraft has been terrifying us, we find out how.
Jillian Sayre: A reader is not just applied but present in the stories.
That’s all coming up on Articulate.
Woo, alright now. Do my one two. And it go.
Never had a lot of skill we make it work man.
Now we on the road like dollar cab and church vans.
Writing about experiences from the first hand.
To judge a book by appearance might be the worst plan.
Some people search a lifetime for their calling, for others it comes early.
Sugar Tongue Slim: Hi, I’m STS, rapper and poet. I get busy.
Raised in Atlanta, STS found poetry as a high school freshman. After dropping out of school he headed north where he found new teachers and shifted his focus from poetry to rap.
STS: If I went to Columbia, it’d be a whole different conversation. Like I would probably just be a literary poet. But I didn’t, I went to the streets of Philadelphia, and in the streets of Philadelphia, some kids can rap.
Yeah this how Philly used to sound
Before they threw the rock up
And they shot the block up
And they shut the club down
This was a Renaissance town
Full of seekers who found
A soul song in they heart
A sort of hip to they hop
A certain je ne sais quoi
A touch of jazz in the park
A saxophone in the dark
A jam session don’t jam
Without a drum and guitar
drummer singing his blues
An angel strumming her harp
They all playing for change
It’s hard to tell them apart
And I was holding my heart
Felt like a good place to start
In Philadelphia, STS, which stands for Sugar Tongue Slim, connected with the legendary hip hop producer DJ Jazzy Jeff, who then introduced him to Dre and Fedal, producers of big names such as Usher and Chris Brown. It wasn’t long before he was signed to Def Jam Records; famously home to both poets and rappers.
AJC: A lot of poets have sat in that chair and went “I’m not a rapper, I’m a poet.” What are you?
STS: I’m both. Like I’m glad that they say that too because I tell people all the time, “Just because you do poetry doesn’t mean you can rap, just because you rap doesn’t mean you can do poetry.” It’s two different worlds. With a beat constraining you as a rapper, and then you having to use couplets all the time. Poetry you’re free, you can go wherever. If you wanna obey the margins you can, but most people don’t, and so it allows you to do more. But to understand how to do each of them perfectly, you have to really focus in on it. Like when I’m focused in on rapping, like I’m working on an album or something, then don’t bother me about poetry.
AJC: It would seem that sort of the literary bar for poetry is higher than the literary bar for rap, is that a fair description?
STS: Very much so, I hate to say, people say you have to dumb down, but yeah you have to dumb down. Because literary work is for people who actually read, rap most of the time is to have a good time. Like that’s what people often forget, there are those who have a message and that’s good, there’s nothing wrong with that, that’s needed too. But at the same time, you’re not gonna play poetry when you go to the club. Like you’re gonna play a rap song.
I came to kick it you know
My dog is tipping Ali
Shaheed Jerobi my flow
be the golden ticket
So you enjoy the show
and I’ll be back to visit
But now I’ve got
the spit like a spigot
Get back to business
get your hands in the air
It’s time to party tonight
We gonna get down hell yeah
You have the time of your life
If you’re doing it right
If you’re doing it right
If you’re doing it right
If you’re doing it right
Got your makeup on
And because STS raps to pay the bills, his hip hop is geared towards club and radio play. His poetry though, remains sacrosanct.
STS: Sometimes I’ll say stuff if I’m rapping, and I’m like “That’s a poetry line,” I have to take it out, because it’s too deep, you have to do too much thinking. And if I’m just trying to get you to keep going on with the flow, then—
AJC: You don’t wanna be distracted by meaning.
STS: If the song has meaning, then I’ma put meaning into it. But if it doesn’t then it doesn’t, like sometimes—
AJC: But are these your rules?
STS: Yeah. These are my rules, these are my rules.
AJC: Why are you putting those limitations on yourself?
STS: Because I respect the work so much. Poetry is special to me, that’s what I first fell in love with. I wanna be remembered as a poet.
So at this grand swerve, this n-word,
this is where ghetto boys meets Ginsburg.
In a box Chevy down Lindbergh,
sitting shotgun as I pen verbs.
These lifelines are like life rhymes when I’m lighting
hues in these lifetimes, in the nighttime when the light
shines directly down in these white lines.
AJC: What won’t you do?
STS: You’ll never hear me talk about violence. People always say like, “You do a show, a rap show, you gotta worry about this,” and I say “No, why?” If the music isn’t violent then the people aren’t violent, because you can’t do violent things to nice music. The music speaks to your soul. You cannot tear up a club to “Happy,” it’s just impossible.
Although he avoids promoting violence, he doesn’t shy away from aggressive language.
STS: I try not to curse unless I need it, if it’s needed. Sometimes it’s needed. If I’m trying to get your attention off the top. Yeah, poetry, I go do a poetry slam, first thing I’ma do is curse. “Who is he?” That’s what everybody’s thinking. I need to get your attention. Now if I say, “Hey hey, can I get your attention?” You’re not gonna give me your attention. Sometimes you gotta curse, whether it’s just what you say after it.
But regardless of what’s said afterwards, STS’s song “Why Can’t I Say It,” makes it very clear that there’s one word that’s definitely off limits to some.
Why can’t he say it
He can say it ’cause I said it
It ain’t racist ain’t no
hatred in his heart man
He know better he ain’t
never practiced segregation
Never knew no Jim Crow
He did practice my
lyrics to sing at the show
He know to never judge a
novel by it’s cover come on
And he ain’t never said it
in reference to color come on
And if he said it it’s like
saying he’s my brother come on
AJC: Why can’t I say it?
SLS: That’s the thing man, it’s just one of those things, you’re like man, it’s ours, we took it. The n-word was not a cool word to say. We took it, flipped it, we gonna drop the “er” gonna throw that “a,” and when I say it I’m saying it to you because you’re my man. We took it and made it what we wanted it to be. So at that time it’s like “Oh nah,” because when y’all was saying it ya’ll wasn’t saying it the way we was saying it. We saying it the way we wanna say it so its ours.
And today STS is a valued collaborator for big stars such as Ciara, Jill Scott, and The Roots. He also has an international following as a solo artist. He says the key to finding happiness in the rap game is by redefining the rules.
STS: There’s not gonna be a whole bunch of Jay-Zs, but if you can find your place in it and you can be successful in your place and be happy in it, then you’re good.
AJC: When did you realize that was okay? Because everybody wants to be Jay-Z and a lot of people drive themselves crazy before they realize what you realized.
STS: Well I met Black Thought, when I met Black Thought it changed my whole perspective on everything.
Knocked up nine months ago
And when she finna have she don’t know
She want neo-soul ’cause it’s heart and soul
She don’t want no rock and roll
STS: Anything that you could want, he had, and he’s respected. You can never question who he is as a lyricist, as a man, none of that. And he’s happy, and I was like “Yo, I just wanna be happy.”
STS: When I do a show, people come up to me and say “Yo, you’re my favorite rapper.” And I’m like “Me? Cool!” I’m doing my job, I’m good. Like, I’m happy.
The scale of Bruce Metcalf’s dedication to his craft is inversely related to that in which he works. He makes decisions on a microscopic level that culminate in unique works of art. With a book on the history of American studio craft, countless academic articles, and a new project dedicated to promoting young fine art jewelry makers, Metcalf has become something of a thought leader in his industry.
Bruce Metcalf: If I were to say “What are you?” I’m a jeweler, and then everybody thinks “Oh do you make wedding rings?” No, no I make this weird stuff.
And though it operates outside jewelry’s conventional signaling systems, Metcalf’s work has been featured in numerous world class museums, including Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts, the National Museum of Scotland, and the American Craft Museum.
Metcalf: Most people when they put jewelry on, they use the signs that are already out there, like the diamond engagement ring, and people are very blinker as to what jewelry is and should be, and I try to work outside of those envelopes.
AJC: Your pieces are still sending out signals, are you deciding what those signals are?
Metcalf: Absolutely. That’s what I do.
AJC: And so let’s say the piece you’re wearing now, what’s that saying?
Metcalf: The first thing it registers as is that I’m not ordinary. That my taste and my sensibility isn’t the ordinary male, or female for that matter, way of looking at the world. So it registers as a kind of, I wouldn’t say avant garde, but unusual. I mean that’s the first thing you would read, and then from there you can start looking at the brooch and you can decode it any way you like. I mean there’s specific set of intentions in there, but you can look at it and the forms are evocative enough that people can come to their own interpretation.
Metcalf is not precious about how his work is interpreted, except in one regard, he only works in non-precious materials.
Metcalf: The problem of gold in jewelry, it’s very difficult because it calls up all these associations of wealth and value. And that’s the first thing people see, and in many cases that’s the only thing people see. “How much did that cost?” Which is not what I want people to think about my work, “How much did it cost?” No, that’s not the point. And that’s also why I don’t use diamonds typically. I don’t want that association with preciousness and value to be the first thing that shows up on the map. And instead what you’re looking at is a different sort of value system. There is no, when you look at this, it’s just carved wood and epoxy resin and epoxy putty and micarta. None of these materials have any association with value. So if you’ve taken that away you have to look at something else. You have to look at the image.
But simply evoking admiration is not enough. Jewelry, even at this level, is still an applied art.
Metcalf: It’s really important for me that these things actually do get handled and touched and put on and then circulated in social space, because that’s how they act. That’s when they actually do what they can do best which is to surprise people and interest people. These are great conversation starters. And people will walk across the room to talk to you, people are curious. I also make necklaces that are big, they’re really big. And they’re head turners, I can put those on a woman and she’ll walk down the street and people will stare at her as she goes by. They’re really really good at attracting attention. And what’s interesting then, is that the person who’s wearing the things kind of has to rise to the occasion, so you can’t be a wallflower anymore. So you have to in some ways assert yourself and engage, which a lot of people are timid about. So the jewelry actually has the power to change people’s attitude about themselves.
But key to Metcalf’s understanding of his own place in the world came, not from art, but life. More specifically, his father’s premature death.
Metcalf: He died in the summer of 1970 in an office doing his job. Had a massive stroke and died later the same day. And it occurred to me, he did not do what he loved. He did what he had to to make a living, which is what men in his generation did. He came up in the depression. And I resolved, looking at my father’s death, doing something he didn’t love, that that would not be my fate. I would not die that way, and I would not exist that way. And it was just my good luck within a few months of my father’s death, that I walked into a jewelry department at Syracuse University and found where I belonged. Up until that moment I was a lost boy, I had no idea what I was gonna do. But jewelry was the perfect venue for me, and the right material, the right scale, everything. It was perfect.
AJC: And the multiplicity of crafts and skills needed.
Metcalf: Yeah I didn’t know—
AJC: That was attractive to you right?
Metcalf: Yeah, I didn’t know going in that I would enjoy the craft so much, that was new to me and it was unexpected, but I took to it like a duck to water. And in some cases I would do this technique and I had actually felt like I had done it before, which is very peculiar, to touch a tool and a piece of metal and work it and think “I’ve done this, I know what this is.” It was very very strange.
AJC: And, “I’ve done this before and I’m good at it?”
Metcalf: Well I wasn’t good at it yet, but I knew how to do it. Without having it being explained to me. And out of that kind of sense of both intuitive rightness and a sense of having sort of done that before, I have become a real craftsman. I mean I’m a real craftsman, I don’t screw around.
Crafts that include carving, injection moldings, silversmithing, plating, wood turning, stone setting, welding, and soldering. And of course drawing. And while some artists outsource their more mundane tasks, Bruce Metcalf does it all himself.
Metcalf: There’s a word to come from painting called “touch,” that is about something that only the artist can do, the judgements that only the artists can pull off and it can’t possibly be offloaded. And this thing, it may not look like it, but it was full of touch. Because I have to make very very fine decisions about what these forms are, and how they’re placed and then how they’re colored, and then the mechanics of the things besides. I couldn’t hand this over to a munchkin and tell them to do that. They wouldn’t have the skills or the knowledge or the judgment to do this.
AJC: Do you think that there is a piece of you that is common to all of, do you see yourself in all of it?
Metcalf: Yes I can.
AJC: What is it, what’s the thing?
Metcalf: It’s a sensibility that comes from cartooning. And it comes from drawing. So all of these forms, they’re drawn first, and the way I draw them, it’s an outline, it’s very much like a comic from the 50’s, that’s the way they drew outlines. And they are distilled in the way that a cartoon is, and in many cases they have this kind of plump cartoon-like quality in everything that I’ve done from the beginning, really.
Metcalf’s joy in his creativity has also endured since the beginning.
Metcalf: Isn’t that great, a life of the imagination where everything you are doing is kind of trying to engage in the world in an imaginative way rather than a reflexive way? And I believe that, that’s from my hippie days, that what we are about, what we are at best about is using our imaginations and always trying to figure out some kind of reinvention. “How do you do this differently?” And you can’t do that in every aspect of your life. And so I live a very sort of plain ordinary life in a plain ordinary house, and I drive a plain ordinary car, but I go into my studio, and I can do that. I can look at these things and I think, “How can I do that differently, how can I make this change up, how can I get my imagination into these things in a way that’s really clean and really pure?” And to me that’s the sum and substance of the thing, it’s not how much they’re worth, or how many they sell or who’s wearing them or any of that, it’s really about, “Are they…Do they work as a kind of piece of my own imagination?”
The early 20th century American horror writer, H.P. Lovecraft was born into a solid New England family. It was assumed he would go to Brown University to study astronomy, but there was a problem.
Darrell Schweitzer: He discovered he couldn’t do the math.
But he could write, so much so that he would become posthumously one of the most influential horror writers ever. Through his mostly short form contributions to pulp rags lie “Weird Tales,” and regular correspondence with fellow writers, his universe has become the backdrops for countless creations since.
But his influence on popular culture comes with some baggage.
Jillian Sayre: He was racist and had antisemitic and had terrible world views.
Mike Bukowski: Then you have stories like “The Shadow over Innsmouth” which is basically about racial purity, and “The Horror at Redhook” which is just a giant essay on xenophobia.
Schweitzer: Well not a real cosmopolitan multicultural guy.
Sayre: He is not necessarily your favorite person, but as a writer he produces these sort of sprawling epics that are really provocative for a study.
Jillian Sayre is a professor of English at Rutgers University, among her most popular classes, a seminar called “American Horror Story.”
Sayre: This is not about demonizing a racist writer, but about how that writer allows us to think about ideas and prejudices that we all carry with us inside.
And all horror succeeds by demanding a visceral emotional reaction instead of a rational or logical one.
Sayre: Horror needs you in order to complete its work. A lot of times in the story you’ll have this sort of mirror reflection of your process in the story itself, so that the reader is not just implied but present in his stories. And a lot of them are his testimonies to invoke a sort of “you” of the reader, one that always comes to mind is the beginning of “Arthur German.”
Narrator: Life is a hideous thing, and from the background behind what we know of it, pure demonical hints of truth which sometimes may get 1,000 fold more hideous.
But despite being a contemporary of some of America’s literary greats, Lovecraft’s style is of an earlier age.
Schweitzer: If you’ve been raised on the idea that Hemingway is the ideal of a literary person, then you know you’re going to have a problem.
John Ashmead and Darrell Schweitzer are co-authors of “Tales from the Miskatonic Library,” an anthology of tales about, found in, inspired by, or stolen from Lovecraft’s mysterious fictional university library.
Schweitzer: So his style may be described as a mix of Poe, the Spectator, and Edward Gibbon, and so it’s very measured and it’s very stately and it is designed to be read aloud. There’s not a lot of dialog in it.
Sayre: Everything is sort of hyper descriptive, but also doesn’t reveal very much, so it implies things.
John Ashmead: There’s a nice command of how much detail to put in. And rereading his stuff you see, knowing how it’s going to come out, how little waste there is, he was very much of a craftsman. He got rid of everything that wasn’t needed to support the fact and then, that’s the story.
But sometimes just enough detail was still too much as illustrator Mike Bukowski’s art, when he set out to draw all the monsters in Lovecraft’s sprawling universe.
Bukowski: There was one particular creature in “At the Mountains of Madness,” that is described with paragraphs and paragraphs of minutia, like down to the length of its fingers. And I just couldn’t grasp it because it was such an alien entity, it almost looked like something, like when I finally figured it out, it almost looked like a microscopic oceanic creature, something like that. But I had to sit down and physically draw it to figure out what he was talking about.
For almost a century, artists like Bukowski have kept Lovecraft’s legacy relevant by constantly reusing and re-imagining his world. So much so, that by the 1990’s, Lovecraftian concepts have become deeply embedded in collective memory.
Joseph Hallman: The idea of Cthulhu or Necronomicon are these familiar little things that can now be called upon from childhood or from nostalgia.
Lovecraft’s influence on composer Joseph Hallman was manifested in a work called Imagined Landscapes: Six Lovecraftian Elsewheres. Like Lovecraft, Hallman’s goal was to leave the audience on the edge of its seat.
Hallman: Most importantly the idea of obscuration of sound so that the audience wouldn’t understand where a melody was coming from or where a sound was coming from. So I would color the sound with multiple instruments playing a single note or playing a note in a different way that is unfamiliar.
Hallman: So it’s very cool to watch performance of this piece because the audience is always looking around to try and figure out who’s playing what. And so that’s a big part of it, sort of unseating the aural expectation of what a classical music piece should be.
And even when it came to the traditions of his genre, Lovecraft was all about unseating one of the most fundamental talents of horror: fear of the unknown.
Sayre: What really horrifies his protagonists is discovering what they don’t know, is making known the unknown, and a lot of his protagonists respond by encouraging people not to know. “Don’t keep exploring Antarctica, don’t look in these places, don’t read this text,” sort of thing. The knowledge of it doesn’t bring any additional power, it in fact just makes you more aware of your own vulnerability.
Schweitzer: I’m sure he would have been both thrilled and terrified by the current astronomical discoveries. For example, that planets are common and that most stars have them. And by the deep sky photos we see from the Hubble Telescope, we’re seeing hundreds or thousands of galaxies. There could well be yet another intelligent species who will never have anything to do with us. So his basic message is, “The universe is not about us. We are only a small episode in a much larger cosmos. We are not the center.”