Friday, April 29, 2011

The After-Calm

50º ~ another beautiful spring day on tap, storms gathering in the west for tomorrow night

I'll be nose-to-the-grading-grindstone from now until Tuesday, but I leave you with this picture of yesterday's perfect sky.  Beauty like this is quite painful in the aftermath of the storm and the death toll that keeps mounting.  Still, we all breathe easier under non-stormy skies.

Peace, y'all.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

A Great Disturbance: Buy a Book, Help Those in Need

46º ~ chilly start to the day, warming up, finally some sun and 24 hours with no predicted severe weather, thank you, universe!

I know this may sound hokey, but when I woke this morning to the news of over 180 people dead from our outbreak of severe weather here in the south and southeast, I couldn't help but think of Obi-Wan Kenobe: "I felt a great disturbance in the Force."  I am devastated and sad and mourning.  Especially for the dead and their loved ones, but also for the huge swatch of destruction.  Many people have lost their homes and all of their possessions.  Once again, I feel a bit helpless and hopeless in the face of a natural disaster.

The only good I can do from here is to give money to reputable organizations.  So: I'm offering this deal through May 7.  Buy a copy of Blood Almanac directly from me and 100% of your money will go to the American Red Cross.  While I don't have a PayPal account in place, I'll be glad to accept a check in the mail.  To purchase, email me at: sandy dot 40 dot longhorn at gmail dot com.

And to sweeten the pot, I'll match every purchase with the same amount in a personal contribution.  The cost is $14 (I'll cover postage).  If you already own a copy, consider buying one for a friend. 

That means, for every purchase, $28 will go to the Red Cross.

As many of you know, tornadoes make frequent appearances in my poems.  Here are two: the first older and in Blood Amanac, the second newer and just published in Escape Into Life.

On the Great Plains’ Eastern Edge


People here don’t dream of falling, but the opposite
of falling, the drying up and being blown

across the far-flung horizon during months of drought
when topsoil embeds itself in every surface —

sheets hung on the line to dry, shut eyelids,
hair up in a braid, firmly clamped lips —

when even good roots can’t hold and there’s no water
left in the well to wash it all clean.  Every year

when the twisters come there’s a new story
about your grandmother’s neighbor pulled from sleep

and shaken like a tablecloth before being dropped
in the family plot to rest beside her husband,

dead these twenty years, or the minister and his wife plucked
from the closet where they huddled clutching the Bible

and each other and set down without a scratch
in the yard, not even a ripped page to show for it.

When the rains do come, by God’s own grace
and after a dozen farmers are dead from self-inflicted

gunshot wounds or a noose swung over the hayloft’s beam,
those who remain dream of the swelling up, the washing

away and slow drowning — a different kind of falling.
Our bloated bodies come to rest in the muck

of gray-green lakes.  The silt makes room,
shifts in the gloom and the bluegills come, curious,

the pike, resilient, to nibble at cotton fibers,
spitting out buttons and clasps to get at the heavy, rotting flesh.


(Originally appeared in Hotel Amerika; then Blood Almanac)




Cast out by rough winds and a roar
louder than his father’s voice,
the boy emerged unscarred—

though the frame house shattered
in the hands of a vengeful God.

Orphaned in the aftermath:

the father-body carried off
and buried in a field of debris,

the mother-body, already
a two year absence before the wind,

the boy collected her journals
and stacked them in a leather satchel,
carrying her heavy scrawl

from prairie town to cities on the river.

With one hand on her words, one fist
threatening God, and a voice
packed with his father’s rage,

he could collect the clouds and fling
the funnels far from any home.

(Originally appeared in Escape Into Life)

 

Be safe, my friends.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Sojourner Truth

63º ~ stormy through the noon hour and then we may have a few days peace; friends and fans living east of the kangaroo, keep your heads down, but one eye on the sky

Just a quick video clip this morning to get you pumped up for Wednesday.  Here is Alice Walker channeling Sojourner Truth by reading her famous 'Ain't I a Woman?' from 1851.



Be well, y'all.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Free Poetry and a Link to What Editors Want

62º ~ under the threat of tornadoes all day today, batten down the hatches, know the quickest route to your safe place, friends and fans of the Kangaroo

stormy days in Little Rock, River Market District
While I have a brief respite from end-of-the-semester grading, I'm mostly feeling worn down at the edges.  I'm happy that my school work is caught up at the moment, but more papers arrive tomorrow and onward we go into the massive grading that will consume the next two weeks of my life.  In other words, do not be alarmed if I miss a day or two of my normal Monday, Wednesday, Friday blogging. 

For today, remember that there are five days left to enter for a chance to win FREE POETRY: a copy of Blood Almanac OR Jesse Lee Kercheval's Cinema Muto.  That's right: two winners!  Click on the link and leave a comment on my previous post and you are entered.  Easy-peasy.  On Sunday, May 1, I'll use a random number generator to choose the lucky winners. 

~~~~~

Many thanks to Jessica Goodfellow, who blogs at Axis of Abraxas, for the link to this wonderful essay "What Editors Want" by Lynne Barrett, published in The Review ReviewWhile the beginning of the essay focuses on short stories, the subsequent sections are filled with great advice for all writers.  My favorite part is this:

"So your job is to help the editor by sending work that is developed, complete, thoroughly revised, and—of great importance—appropriate for the magazine.

To do that last part of your job well, you have to read the magazines.

Yes, you do."

I tell my students this over and over, but it's always good to be able to show them that someone in the industry is saying it too.

It also reminds me that one of my top priorities, post final grading, will be to send out new and appropriate work to my well-research list of journals.  Ah, something to look forward to!

Friday, April 22, 2011

Friday Draft: Record 11 - 4

67º ~ soggy soupy day, another 20º degree change in highs expected between yesterday and today, forecast full of storms, scattered

Irises on the Hendrix Campus, the antithesis of this week's poem
Baseball season is fully underway, friends and fans of the Kangaroo, and that means keeping score and keeping track of records.  While the Cubs hover around .500, just breaking even in the wins and losses, I've taken stock of my goal to draft a poem a week.  Staring with the first week of January, I'm proud to claim 11 wins and only 4 losses.  Woo Hoo!  My limited math skills say that's .733 in baseball terms, or 3 and 1/2 games over .500.  (Don't trust my math!).

Given the craziness of the past week, tornadoes, chalking the walk, the ever-present grading, some drama in the hallway at work, I wasn't sure what today's time at the desk would produce.  I did my Thursday night reminder to self about Friday drafting with only half-hearted energy.  As I went through my morning routine today, I tried and tried to think of poetry and was constantly distracted.  Monkey mind, I think, the Buddhists call this when they try to meditate. 

So, I cleared the desk/decks and took down my journal and my folder of poems in progress.  I glanced at the poems from the last few weeks, a new saint and two tales.  I enjoyed returning to the saints last week and thought I might go back there again.  Then, I opened my journal and found this note from last Friday.  "Make the barn poem a haunting tale."  This will make sense if you stopped by last Friday.  If not, read this.

Just glancing at that scribbled note was enough to set me off and running.  I'm beginning to doubt anyone will want to read a whole book of these tales, but who knows, they seem to be what wants to be written.  I did alter the first line slightly.  Instead of "Once there was a girl...," this new draft begins, "Once, a girl was born in the shadow / of a well-kept barn."  The draft is titled "Haunting Tale of Girls and Weathered Barns" so you can probably see that there's a twist in the poem that takes our girl from this well-kept barn to one that's falling down a bit. 

Another one of my worries is that these poems do not turn into prose hacked into lines.  I'm desperately focused on the poetic elements as I draft.  Here you might see why I've clung to lyric poems for so long and why I've shied away from narrative.  I'll try to focus even more on craft as I revise the poems along the way.

It seems without setting out to do so, I've begun writing a series.  Perhaps the form of tales has provided me a way to channel what I want to say about growing up in the Midwest and allows me the freedom of moving past confessional autobiography.  This is all fascinating to me, but I don't want to think about it too much, lest the poems evaporate.


PS: nothing is evaporating here in real life in the house of the Kangaroo.  There is so much humidity in the air that we are coated in fog this morning and it seeps into the house.  When I printed my drafts, the ink was slightly blurry.  As I looked closer and held the paper near my face, I realized that the paper itself was just a touch damp, soft really.  When I lived in the Midwest, I thought I knew humidity; NOPE, the South wins on that!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Where I've Been: National Poetry Month Chalk the Walk

52º ~ stormy days, a bit worn down by the sound of tornado sirens, hail, lightning strikes, and drenching rains

On Tuesday and Wednesday this week, PTC celebrated National Poetry Week by hosting a Chalk the Walk event.  I confess, Dear Reader, that I stole this idea from my good friends Hope Coulter and Rebecca Resinki, who teach at Hendrix College.  Back in March, Hope mentioned the activity to me and I knew right away that I wanted to do it at PTC.  The whole concept is brilliant:  have students use sidewalk chalk to write lines of poetry around a central location on campus.  Many, many thanks to Hope and Rebecca for this!

Both faculty and students rallied around our event, and we were lucky to fit it in between storms.  However, Tuesday night's rain washed the slate clean for Wednesday students.  Not a bad thing, but it will be fun to see what two day's worth looks like in the future.

Here are some pictures of the event.







All thanks to my colleagues and the students at PTC for making my dream a reality!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Alan Michael Parker: An Evening of Poetry

65º ~ overcast, building humidity

Last Thursday night, I cruised down I-40 to Hendrix College to attend Alan Michael Parker's poetry reading.  It was definitely worth the short drive.


Parker began the reading by self-identifying as a 'brat,' and I knew I'd be in for a fun evening.  Then, he announced that he's been writing tales and fables lately, and I sat up even straighter in my chair.  While our voices are about as divergent as they can be, "The Firefighter's Tale" and "Fable for Our Anniversary" were inspiring.  In particular, I was struck by the extreme fantasy at play here.  In the first poem, dreams are kept in a candy dish and the firefighter picks them out one at a time.  In the second poem, getting coffee from the deli is "an epic quest" and there is a magical floating goat as an anniversary gift.

Moving into his current collection, Elephants & Butterflies, we heard a trio: "Cars Poetica," "Peaches or Plums," and "UPS Next Day Air."  I hope you see the humor in the titles alone.  There was much chuckling in the audience, and yet, the poems were as well crafted as any I've heard or read lately.  The play of sound and rhythm added to the comedy in a deft way.  I loved Parker's intro to the UPS poem.  He mentioned that he once had a mail carrier who was a 'slacker.'  As someone who used to wait on the mail for any good news regarding a submission, I can relate, completely, to waiting on the mail.

We got one more poem before Parker moved on to his recently released novel, Whale Man.  He labeled the poem "morally bad" because the speaker accidentally sees a colleague's exposed breast (through a gap in her dress) and is titillated.  Parker said that he wanted to explore whether writing a less than moral speaker made him a less than moral poet.  It's an interesting query.  While the novel was interesting and laced with as much humor as the poems, it didn't hold my attention as much, but that is more my issue than any issue with the novel.  I simply find myself losing my ability to focus on fiction these days.  The plague of such submersion in poetry, perhaps?

The second half of the playlist began with two list poems, a form that Parker admonished us all not to write, having become cliche as a form itself.  And so, these poems were a test for Parker, and I think he passed with flying colors.  In "18 Ways to Consider a Neighbor Whose Holiday Lights Stay Up All Year," we get "3. This is how he treats his body," "6. He is spelling something into space," and "15.  Like lamps lit for all those husbands lost at sea."  In "22 Reasons to Return to the Store," he weaves in Greek mythology with "4. I looked for Eurydice in every aisle."  The myth returned in the latter part of the poem, but I missed capturing the line.

Finally, we had "Family Math," a poem that plays on numbers, mathematics, and relationships.  Then, Parker ended with the last poem from Elephants & Butterflies and the last poem from his forthcoming collection.  What I loved is that he stated that he did this purely for himself because he wanted to see and hear them side by side.

In the Q&A, there was a lot of great information.  Including:
~ dramatic monologues:  somebody has to be listening within the poem, "elastic identity issues"
~ Parker's work is sound driven, "banging a couple of words together to make ear sparks"
~ rhyme throws the reader back up into a previous moment in the poem (doh! I almost struck myself in the forehead; this is so obvious and yet I've never heard it put this way and never thought of it myself)
~ comedy is a formal problem that requires a lot of hard work; it allows the writer to be ultra-serious without killing the reader; he's really trying to make himself laugh
~ the lived life vs. the imagined life; Parker makes up 90% of the details of the poem b/c nobody wants to read about the boring life of a straight, middle-class, middle-aged, white guy; is a passionate liar

If you like your poems witty and sprinkled through with comedy, seek out the work of Alan Michael Parker, and I doubt you'll be disappointed.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Friday Draft: A New Saint Poem


61º ~ the aftermath of last night’s storms still on the windows and in the gray-white sky, tornado warnings at 2:00 a.m., huge trees down around town, power outages abound, several houses with trees through roofs, our house unscathed


I’m drafting this post in Word because our cable/internet has been knocked out by the storm.  Last night, before the storms, I attended Alan Michael Parker’s reading at Hendrix college (expect more on that later).  Our styles are quite divergent, as his relies on a piercing wit and poems laced with humor, but still, the evening energized me and reminded me that there are so many diverse voices in poetry today. 

Last night before bed, I flipped through the journal to the page where I’d pasted the notes from my trip up north a few weeks back.  It’s just a list of nouns that I associate with the Midwest, but I thought it would be good to get things simmering.  I’ve been wanting to write a barn poem, perhaps as a haunting or cautionary tale, as barns hold some fear, for me, that I’d like to explore.  So, I went to bed with that.

Sleep was interrupted by the above mentioned tornado threat and I wasn’t sure what frame of mind I’d be in come the morning.  While both C. and I were a bit slow to start today, and my normal routine was a bit mixed-up due to oversleeping, I’m happy to say that I did write a draft.  Yippee.

I sat down at a newly organized desk, with everything removed except my journal and my packet of poems in progress.  Feeling sluggish, I began by reading over the two tales I am still revising.  (I’m happy to report that all of the other tales are out there in the world looking for a home.)  I did some tweaking to the two poems and felt satisfied.  I cast about for how to begin a new draft.  I flipped back to my Midwest words and settled on the barn.  After drafting two pages of barn memories, trying to capture this feeling of darkness, dampness, and danger, nothing clicked.  Sigh. 

Nevertheless, I persevere.

I happened to flip past the word bank from last week.  These were words from Traci Brimhall’s amazing book, Rookery.  I thought, what the heck, let’s try that again.  At the same time, I was thinking about the recent publication of my work in Escape Into Life.  In that publication, two of my older saint poems reside next to two of the newer tale poems.  (All of this was just percolating at the back of my mind.)  I looked at the word bank and realized that I don’t have access to the internet, so no Random.org to generate pairs.  Instead, I flipped from the word bank to a my new page in the journal and jotted down whatever word caught my eye.  In whatever mysterious way this works, after I had about a dozen pairs, lines began to form on the page.  Suddenly, I realized that I was writing a new saint poem.  I happened to remember “The Winter Saint,” and since these new lines were about summer heat and grain elevators exploding, I made this one “The Summer Saint.”  It’s about a man who escapes death three times in three days (grain elevator explosion, lightning, hornet swarm) and how his neighbor’s force him into sainthood.

When the draft felt as finished as it was going to be today, I set it aside and the barn kept bugging me.  While I didn’t draft the poem, I did realize that it needs to be a haunting tale and not a fairy tale.  A leaping off point for next week’s draft, perhaps?

For now, I’m thankful that we have electricity, although I know I could have written the poem without the computer.  I’m thankful none of our half dozen massive trees fell on our house and that our roof didn’t lift off the walls.  I’m sending thanks to the crews working to remove the debris from our roads and restore electricity to those without.

Stay safe out there, friends of the Kangaroo.


Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Two Saint Poems and Two Tales Make their Debut

77º ~ one of those rare low-humidity, nice breeze, bright sun kind of days

Another short post, but this time with a link to four of my own poems that appeared in print today.  Two of my saint poems and two of my new tales (fairy and cautionary) are now available to read online at Escape Into Life.  Many, many thanks to Kathleen Kirk, the poetry editor, for choosing these poems and for finding such AMAZING art to add with them. 

When the World Sleeps, Dan-Ah Kim from EIL, click for link

For those interested, here are the links to the process notes for each poem.

"Midwest Nursery Tales"
"The Once-Winged Saint" - oh, no, I didn't blog about the drafting process for this one!
"The Fledgling Saint"
"Fairy Tale for Girls Enthralled by the Storm"

You Must Read/Listen to This Poem NOW

53º ~ gorgeous cool spring morning, perfection

Today, I simply tell you to go and read/listen to "The Smoke" by Bruce Snider at Linebreak.  If you know anything of my work, you should see why this poem has got me all a-gush today.  Beautiful reading by Van K. Brock as an extra treat.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Monday Blues

78º ~ started the day with storms/rain/clouds and now we have bright sun and huge humidity

A note, Dear Reader:  I am not writing this post because I want or need to be patted on the back and consoled.  I write this post because my goal in keeping this blog was to be real about what it means to be a poet these days.

These days, being a poet, for me, has been about trying to get the second book published.  For those who are frequent readers, you'll know that I spent about two years getting the book together, with some of the poems written years before that.  I've been quite active about publishing individual poem in reputable national journals, and nearly all of the poems have been accepted at that level.  I've created an active presence in the world of poetry and try to give back as much as I can.  This past fall, I did a complete overhaul of the book based on some great criticism from someone who knows the field intimately.  I have the manuscript out at book contests and open reading periods alike.   In other words, I've been following all of the advice I've ever been given about how to do this work.

Today, I got another rejection for the book.  For some reason, this one has knocked the wind out of me.  Of course I went through all of this with Blood Almanac.  Of course I know that it's a subjective business with tough competition.  And still I can't help wondering "What's wrong with me?"  I think about all of the examples of people who publish book 1 and book 2 back to back with almost no time in between, and I can't come up with one name of someone with ten or more years in between books, although I know they are out there.  I wonder what I am doing wrong and the perfectionist in me gets a bit out of control kicking herself.

Sigh.  Deep Breath.  Chocolate.

Even writing this post has helped me regain a bit of my balance, but hope has limped off into the corner for now.  I'll cox it out again, I'm sure, but I'm going to let it alone for a bit.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Poetry Panel Arkansas Literary Festival

72º ~ cloud-covered skies, a threat of storms, cooler temps after today

I took a wee break from grading yesterday to attend the poetry panel at the Arkansas Literary Festival.  So glad that I did!  I got to hear amazing poems from four wonderful women:  Angie Macri, Mary Angelino, Shin Yu Pai, and Laura Newbern. I wish I had time to write about the poems, but grading duties call.  I'll give you a picture and brief note for each.  Also, many kudos to these poets for persevering under some serious noise conflict with the bands playing in the street outside and no mic until the 2nd half of the time slot.



Angie Macri is one of my colleagues at Pulaski Tech, and it's wonderful to have a fellow poet across the hall.  Also, Angie graduated from the U of Arkansas's MFA program a few years before my arrival.


Mary Angelino came down and read with Angie at PTC last month.  Mary is carrying on the U of A tradition and will graduate this semester.  Based on the poems I've heard her read (and she thoughtfully added new poems for yesterday's reading), I'd say she's going to represent our program well.


Shin Yu Pai works with the Hendrix Murphy Foundation at Hendrix College just down the road in Conway, AR.  I've posted about her work in the past.  It was great to get to focus on her latest book, Adamantine, yesterday.


Laura Newbern's name had been nagging at me to try and place how I "knew" her.  She does have an Arkansas connection, but when I read her bio it finally clicked.  She is the poetry editor for Arts & Letters, and I've seen her name in correspondence about submissions.  It was great to get to shake her hand and finally put a name to a face.  And the real treat was listening to the poems, of course.

I hope you will google at will and look for poems by these poets.

Finally, send good thoughts to the folks up in Iowa affected by yesterday's string of 11 tornadoes.  Wicked doesn't even begin to cover that wind.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Friday Draft: Basements and Rooted Things

68º ~ a bit hazy and sky full of white cloud cover, but still predicted to hit 80º today, a chance at 90º tomorrow, uhm, summer ~ wait your turn!

I confess, Dear Reader, I am on a drafting high today that is higher than normal.  I've been super busy with work and lots of little things going on around the house.  My to do list never seems to get shorter. And after last week's disaster at the desk, I really didn't think today would come to anything.  In fact, as I tried to think about drafting a poem last night (my pre-visualization exercise), I kept telling myself not to expect any results.  (hmmmm...self sabotage anyone?).  Then, this morning, I told C. that I didn't think it would work but I was going to sit down at the desk anyway.

I had decided last night that I would start with a word bank exercise based on Traci Brimhall's Rookery because I had loved the book so much this past week.  See my review here.  As I was opening my journal to start gathering words, I flipped past a page where I had taped in little pieces of paper with Midwestern icons scribbled all over:  hawks, grain trucks, lightning, creek/river, silos, land swells, walleye, monarchs & milkweed, and many more.  See, when I was driving up home over Spring Break, I got a notification that Kristin B-A had left this comment on my last blog post: "Safe travels--may you come back refreshed, with ideas for more fairy tale poems."  It just flicked by in my email as I checked it at the gas station (no I don't read and drive!)  But that was enough, I started noticing things right and left and grabbed my mini-notebook from my purse (I do jot notes and drive, but I'm very careful and the handwriting is very bad).  THANK YOU, KRISTIN!

So, I'd glimpsed these words, but I went on with my word bank from Rookery wondering if I had any more fairy tale/cautionary tales left in me.  Here's a shot of the word bank (which includes the book and the finished draft just spewed out of the printer).


Per the rules of the game, I went to Random.org and used the random number generator to create word pairs from the word bank.  The shot below shows the pairs and the resulting beginning of the draft, although those scrunched, short lines lengthened on the computer.  Here's the thing, as I watched the pairs materialize I was drawn to some of Brimhall's images, in particular, a revolver that kept turning up, and then there was what turned into the key word "basement."  It appeared in the third to last pair and set me off.



I had the image of the humid but cool basement of my youth, a place we spent a lot of time in the summer because my folks didn't get A/C until after I left for college.  While northeast Iowa isn't the steaming south, those summer days can get pretty uncomfortable.  So, I decided to start with an image of that basement and I thought I'd have the speaker find the revolver there, but that is not what the poem wanted to do.  Nope!

It starts,


Once there was a girl who spent her summers
in a damp basement, the air there cool
but mildew thick.  Her mother built a set

of pallets beneath the stairs where the family slept
or waited out the threat of another possible tornado.

The draft just poured out of me in less than 30 minutes.  I never did get the gun in there, probably b/c I don't have any real experience with guns and they weren't a part of my history.  Sure, I could make stuff up, but when I tried to get the poem to go that way, I ended up with cliches and stumbling blocks.  The poem became a cautionary tale all on its own and it turned out to be rooted in my Midwestern background, although I hadn't jotted down "basements" on my drive home.  Still, all those jotted words reminded me of home.  So, the draft is now called "Cautionary Tale for Girls Kept Underground in Summer" and ends with this "the foreign tongue of rooted things." 

We shall see where things go with it in revision.

Now, I'm off to school.  I'm participating on a panel today about the choreopoem For Colored Girls who have Considered Suicide when the Rainbow is Enuf.  PTC produced this play last month to sold out performances and has been having events about it all semester.  I'm honored to have been asked to talk on a panel today about the poetry of the piece, and I'm thankful, too, because this has given me a chance to re-read and re-appreciate Ntzoke Shange's work.

Once last note: I'll be grading now for quite a bit but hope to have time for poetry along the way.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

What I'm Reading: Rookery

50º ~ forecast calls for a perfect sunny & 75º, what more could a girl ask for?

Once upon a time I was a broke grad student who craved buying books of poetry.  At that time, I could usually tell you exactly where and when I bought each book.  With good fortune, I now have a full-time job, and the paycheck allows me to buy books at will (my to-read shelf on the newish bookcase is already sagging at the center...and this is a sturdy bookcase!).  So, now, I often forget how I came by certain titles.

Not so with Traci Brimhall's Rookery.  I purchased it at the Crab Orchard Review / Southern Illinois University Press table at the bookfair at AWP this year.  And I bought it specifically because I had been blown away by a set of poems by Brimhall that I'd read in Copper Nickel while on the plane to DC.  So, if you are ever wondering if anyone sees your poems in journals and if that makes a difference.  YES, IT DOES!

I had heard a few fantastic rumblings about Rookery on other blogs before I dove into the book; however, I try to not read, fully, other reviews before I start the book so that I come to it clean.  On the flip side, if I read a review of a book I don't own and haven't heard of, it might lead me to buy the book.  (I know, I'm a flip-flopper!)  All of this is to say that those fantastic rumblings weren't even close to how wonderful I found this book to be.

When I read a book that really sets my hair on fire, I fill the last page with tons of notes.  Here's a picture of the last page of Rookery.


You can bet that the book now bulges with the number of dog-eared pages as well.

Rookery is divided into three sections and I'm thankful for that.  I began reading the first section, "1. (n) A colony of rooks," one afternoon recently.  (Each section is title for a definition of "rookery" and each section title includes a prose poem rumination on that definition. Beautiful!)  So, the first section deals with a difficult marriage in which one partner appears to be having an affair.  There are hints at a lost child as well.  The speaker of the poems is loyal to the marriage, yet, with great complications she cannot bring herself to leave her unfaithful lover.  There is such heartbreak and sadness in these poems, and such beauty that I had to take a break after finishing section one. I was full to bursting with emotion.

Here is the opening of "Aubade with a Fox and a Birthmark"

You crawl into bed, apologies and insect wings 
in your hair.  I forgive the way you touched her knees,
your amber memory of her body.  I make you tell me

how her pleasure sounded--a fox with its paw
in a trap's jaw, blood on her thigh.

Wow.  There is definitely an echo of Kundera's The Unbearable Lightness of Being throughout this first section, another book that left me full to bursting. 

I am stunned by the force of the honesty in these poems and the deftness of the images, largely drawn from nature, but in new and unexpected ways. 

Here is the ending of "Noli Me Tangere"

But we are minor kingdoms of salt and heat.
We trace each other's scars--proof of our small

green hearts and violent beginnings, engines of cell
and nerve, yielding to a silent, lonely union.

Enough said.

Section two, "2. (n) A breeding place," takes us back to the speaker's childhood and sexual awakening; here religion also begins to take a prominent position and that position is one of questioning.  There are encounters with men heightened with sexual tension, there are mission trips and talk of the rapture, and there are always stunning and haunting metaphors.

In "Chastity Belt Lesson" the speaker is touring a museum with a display about the Middle Ages.  It bears mentioning that the speaker is making this tour with her father, not her mother, who enters the poem in the final lines with a subtle zing.  Here we learn that during the Crusades, chastity belts were "not for the Crusader's wives."  Instead, the were

..................................for girls when the streets bristled

with arrows.  When the air reeked of burning roofs, 
............and men's voices swarmed like hornets.
....Mothers and daughters pushed tips of keys into their throats

and swallowed.

And then, the stunner, the locks described as "Two serrated kisses between their legs."  And finally, the "girls surrendered // their prayers to the mouths of soldiers."   Wow.  These poem do exactly what great poems should do; they leave me speechless.

Finally, section three, "3. (n) A crowded tenement house," takes us on a more general journey of violence in this fragile world.  Here we see the speaker's religious crisis deepening.  There are poems for the women of the Triangle Waist Shirt Factory fire and the women in The Odyssey who kept the suitors company in Odysseus' house and thus paid with their lives.  There is a poem for Margaret Garner, an escaped slave who killed her newborn child when the slave hunters closed in.  And there are poems that question our humanity.

Here is the opening of "Battle Hymn"

Lord, I have seen a mother pull her son's arm
............from its socket and know that in years to come

when he sees her cry, his shoulder will ache
............and he will love her harder.  I have seen myself

ravenous with God-fearing hold a hammer
............over something I cherished.

I'll leave you then with these lines from "Prayer to Delay the Apocalypse," Dear Reader, and urge you to read this book if what you've seen here appeals.

"Tell me heaven will be like Venice--dirty, beautiful / and sinking."
"Take the ghosts first, / they've gone mad grieving for the world."
"Let us continue wandering in these perishable machines // made of dirt and music."
"...like an angel / carry me to the end of the world and lay me down."


Support a Poet / Poetry
Buy or Borrow a Copy of This Book Today!
Rookery
Traci Brimhall
Southern Illinois University Press, 2010

Monday, April 4, 2011

NaPoMo Monday

70º ~ wicked wind all last evening and all through the night into the lightning & thunder storms at 5:00 a.m. ~ a bit calmer now but gray, gray, gray, and another round of storms coming over the western horizon ~ all should clear by noon and then temps "plummet" to the 40s

Several folks have asked if I participate in the National Poetry Writing Month exercises.  This usually means a 30/30 regimen, write 30 drafts in 30 days.  While I would love to join the fun, April is simply too exhausting for me at school.  We've got a ton of events over the next four weeks.  I know that for some writers the extra challenge is invigorating.  Not so for me.  And I think it is so important to know yourself as a writer.  I did do a 14/14 last June and hope to try a 21/21 again this summer. 

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If you want to get your hands on some free books of poetry, visit all the blogs of the wonderful poets giving away books this month (myself included, see image to right) for the Big Poetry Giveaway.  This great event is organized by the indomitable Kelli Russell Agodon and a complete list of participating bloggers is updated regularly on the left side of her blog, ~ Book of Kells.

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I am currently reading an amazing, heartbreaking book of poems and hope to fill you in on Wednesday.

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Today, I'm doing a presentation at school based on a panel I attended at AWP.  In return for funding, we are asked to present to our colleagues on our return.  I love this and think the school is completely justified in asking me to give back.  My presentation is on drawing a crowd to on-campus events at community colleges or non-dormitory institutions.  Some of our students work 40-60 hours per week, attend school full time (minimum of 4 classes), care for children/parents/grandparents, and a myriad of other time consuming tasks.  They amaze me, but it is sometimes difficult for them to attend night events, so we need to do more work on the front end.  (This is not to discount the huge amount of work that goes into creating an extra event on a dormitory-based campus.  We just have to take a few more things into account, mostly in the planning stages.)

~~~~~

If you have a few minutes, stop by The Rumpus today for a wonderful poem by Reginald Dwayne Betts.  Truly, it knocked the top of my head off.


~~~~~

A prompt for all you 30/30s.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Why We Do What We Do

conditions the same

If you are an educator, this video is for you.

I had the great honor of teaching Toby Daughtery in a creative writing class several years ago.  Two years ago, after he had graduated from PTC and gone on to the University of Arkansas Little Rock, our English Department asked him to appear as a keynote speaker at a regional conference we hosted.  Toby's speech blew everyone away.  Since that time, he has gone on to speak at many colleges, universities, and conferences in Arkansas.  However, this year, he was selected as the Keynote Speaker for the Achieving the Dream annual conference.  Achieving the Dream is a group that addresses issues in higher education and how to make things better. 

I hear tell that Toby has gotten more speaking engagements and I see some bright, bright moments in his future. He truly deserves them.

This is a copy of Toby's speech from the conference, "When All Roads End, Build a Helicopter." It's about 25 minutes long, but I think it is worth it (and not just because I helped teach Toby how to make all those awesome metaphors and similes!).

I dare you not to cry.

Friday Draft: Bits and Pieces

46º ~ still a constant cloud cover, but brighter and whiter today, slight chances of rain, a promise of sun for tomorrow?

Dear Reader, I confess that I have no complete draft for today.  I have had plenty of time at the desk.  I have followed my usual routines.  I have made attempts with several prompts and tried working with some lines that sprang forth over the last week.  No luck.  No dice.  No poems.

I am not the least bit surprised by this.

I spent the last half of spring break traveling (last week).  I was able to see friends and family and lots and lots of nieces and nephews.  I finally listened to the entire, unabridged recording of The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, to finish out the Lisbeth Salander trilogy, as I spent 26+ hours in the car, all told.  Then, on Monday, I hit the ground running at school as we ramp up for April, truly the busiest month of the academic year.  Students are beginning to burn out and we have our biggest writing projects of the semester yet to go.  It's National Poetry Month and the month when Little Rock hosts the Arkansas Literary Festival.  Lots and lots of things to plan and then actually DO.

So, even though I tried to think about poetry and dream up lines last night and this morning, the well done run dry.  Yet, I do not despair.  All of this traveling and school frenzy will replenish the well, so I know that I'll have something soon.  Also, I have learned (so slowly) that I really am a creature of habit.  Traveling disrupts that.  Even if I have time on my return, it takes me several days to re-acclimate and feel at ease.  So be it.

~~~~~

On another note, I'll have a poem appearing in The Rumpus tomorrow, as poetry editor (and friend), Brian Spears is running another Rumpus poem-a-day for National Poetry Month.  Many thanks to Brian for choosing "The Starving Saint" and for doing all he does at The Rumpus!


~~~~~

If you like birds, check out the eagles of Decorah, Iowa.  The eggs are due to hatch ANY MOMENT!  Then, the real fun begins as the male and female parents will feed and protect the young ones.  There's already a dead rabbit in the nest just waiting for the eaglets to appear.  (You can see the hind legs in the lower left of the image below.)  So cool!