Julie grew up barefoot and semi-feral on a farm in the northwest corner of Ohio. At 18 she began winding her way east, drawn by easy access to black clothing and strong coffee. She took a right turn in Boston and ended up in Washington. Her education includes early childhood immersion in “Gilligan’s Island,” English literature at Ohio State University, theology at Boston University, and a recent M.F.A. degree in creative nonfiction from George Mason University. The latter has led to research and writing about the people who have lived in her Columbia Heights house and neighborhood over the past century or so. Julie also learned much, some of it useful, while sharing an office with art director Ed Spivey for a dozen years; she now has her own space, but doesn’t miss Ed, since his office is next door and the walls are thin.
Julie’s abridged list of inspirations: Flannery O’Connor, Dorothea Lange, David Sedaris, Zora Neale Hurston, Rev. Billy. The gospel according to pop: indie music, 60s pop and soul, ‘ 70s funk & punk, on it goes. Eastern North Carolina barbecue. “Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front.” A grandmother who never stopped praying, despite poverty, abuse, and ill health. The other grandmother, who once gave a house away. My mother, questioning, sarcastic, dreaming of more than she ever got. The three amazing young women who are my nieces. Peg & beam barn construction. Belle & Sebastian’s “State That I’m In.” The Perseids meteor showers. Ezekiel’s performance art prophecy. Diner communions (finding Christ in vinyl-upholstered booths).
Some Sojourners articles by Julie Polter:
Replacing Songs with Silence
Censorship, banning, blacklists: What’s lost when governments stifle musical expression?
It’s the Sprawl, Y’all
Why suburbs-on-steroids are wearing out their welcome.
A glimpse of grace and abundance from - of all things - reality TV.
The Cold Reaches of Heaven
Nobel Prize-winning physicist Bill Phillips talks about his faith.
Just Stop It
Daring to believe in a life without logos. An interview with journalist Naomi Klein.
Women and Children First
Developing a common agenda to make abortion rare.
Obliged to See God (on Flannery O’Connor)
Articles By This Author
'That Song You Sing For The Dead'
Carrie & Lowell, Asthmatic Kitty Records.
Songs of Ourselves: Grief, Hope, and Sufjan Stevens
Sufjan Stevens’ newest album, Carrie & Lowell (out now), is a heartbreaking meditation on personal grief. It’s also joyful, baffling, and delicately mundane.
In the spirit of a listening party, a few of us sat down to play through the album, sharing liner notes and meditations on the songs that grabbed each of us. Conclusion: it's really, really good. Stream Carrie & Lowell here, and listen along with us below.
Tripp: I love the first song of an album. I think of it as the introduction to a possible new friend. “Where The Streets Have No Name” on U2’s Joshua Tree or “Signs of Life” on Pink Floyd’s Momentary Lapse of Reason, that first track can be the thesis statement to a sonic essay.
So, when I get a new album — even in this day of digital albums or collections of singles — a first track can make or break an album for me. I sat down and listened attentively to “Death With Dignity.” It does not disappoint. With it Stevens introduces the subject of the album — his grief around troubled relationship with his mother and her death — as well as the sonic palate he will use throughout the album.
Simple guitar work, layered voicing, and a little synth, the album is musically sparse. The tempo reminds me of movies from the nineteen sixties or seventies where the action takes place over a long road trip.
Catherine Woodiwiss: I was thinking road trip, too. There’s real motion musically, which, given a claustrophobic theme and circular lyrics, is a thankful point of release. It’s a generous act, or maybe an avoidant one — he could have made us sit tight and watch, and he doesn’t quite do it.
Julie Polter: This isn’t a road movie, but the reference to that era of films just made me think of Cat Stevens’ soundtrack for Harold and Maude, especially “Trouble.” (This album is one-by-one bringing back to me other gentle songs of death and duress and all the songs I listen to when I want to cry).
Were You There?
How art can help us wrestle with race and brokenness.
Noel Paul Stookey and Peter Yarrow: 50 Years of Song in 'Love of Community'
The folk trio Peter, Paul, and Mary had almost 50 years together until Mary Travers’ death in 2009. Peter Yarrow and Noel Paul Stookey continue as musicians and activists, and have reflected on their experiences in a new a photo-filled book Peter, Paul and Mary: 50 Years in Life and Song (Imagine/Charlesbridge). A just-released album, DISCOVERED: Live in Concert, includes 12 live songs never before heard on their albums. And on Dec. 1 (check local listings), PBS will air 50 Years with Peter, Paul and Mary — a new documentary with rare and previously unseen television footage and many of the trio’s best performances and most popular songs.
I spoke with Yarrow and Stookey this week about music, movements, and the spiritual aspects of both. (Stookey had what he describes as a “deep reborn experience” as a Christian around 1969 or 1970; Yarrow doesn’t affiliate with a specific religious institution, but describes much of what motivates him in spiritual terms.)
Stookey describes how all three of them were drawn to carrying on the precedent of folk forebears such as Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger to make music “in the interest of, and love of, community.” Their appearance at the 1963 March on Washington was, he says, “the galvanizing moment” for their activism, the beginning of a trajectory that would engage them in the civil rights, peace, anti-nuclear, environment, and immigration movements, and “less media-covered causes and events — a rainbow of concerns that we were inevitably and naturally drawn into.”
New and Noteworthy
Paternal Insights edited by Anderson Campbell / Sing Freedom by Robert F. Darden / In Between by finelinefilms.org / More than Metaphor edited by Shelia E. McGinn, Lai Ling Elizabeth Ngan, and Ahida Calderón Pilarski.
Taking the Long Road Home
Slow Church: Cultivating Community in the Patient Way of Jesus. IVP Books.
New & Noteworthy
Accidental Theologians by Elizabeth A. Dreyer / Extending the Table by Mennonite Central Committee / Overrated by Eugene Cho / Burning Down the House by Nell Bernstein
New & Noteworthy
The Disposable Project by Raul Guerrero / Jesus Was a Migrant by Deirdre Cornell / The New Black by Yoruba Richen / How to Be a Christian Without Going to Church by Kelly Bean
The Rich Get Richer
Ninety-five percent of all economic gains in the U.S. since the Great Recession went to the top 1 percent. What does our growing wealth inquality mean for the future of democracy?
New & Noteworthy
Visions of Vocation by Steven Garber / Anicent Sufi Invocations and Forgotten Songs from Aleppo by NAWA / Invisible Hands by Corinne Goria / Jacob's Choice by Ervin R. Stutzman
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