70º ~ a brief return to the 80s for the weekend with a bit of rain here and there, all in all pleasant days, windows are open
Of my mighty list of literary events in the area that I mentioned last weekend, I only made it to one. The energies spread quite thin at this point in the semester, and by Friday I came down with a fever/cold, meaning I missed the launch of UALR's latest issue of their lit mag, Equinox. Next time, y'all!
On Thursday night, I did get to attend the reception for two major Arkansas literary awards: The Booker Worthen Literary Prize and the Porter Fund Literary Prize. For those U of A grads out there, the Porter Fund was established in 1984 to honor Dr. Ben Kimpel; however, he specified that the prize be named for his mother, Gladys Crane Kimpel Porter. The Porter Prize goes to an Arkansas writer who has accomplished a substantial and impressive body of work. The Booker Worthen is a prize established in 1999 to honor William Booker Worthen, who was a longtime supporter of the Central Arkansas Library System. That prize goes to the best book published by an author residing in the CALS service area at the time of publication. A book is eligible for selection for up to three years after its release.
On Thursday, David Welky received the 14th annual Booker Worthen Prize for his book The Thousand-Year Flood: The Ohio-Mississippi Disaster of 1937 and Margaret Jones Bolsterli received the 28th annual Porter Prize for her body of nonfiction work, including her most recent book During Wind and Rain: The Jones Family Farm in the Arkansas Delta 1848 - 2006.
Shout out to Ms. Jobe, who was working at the event Thursday night and representing the first class of grad students in the UCA Arkansas Writers Workshop. I met Jobe in August at my reading and was delighted to see her again. She let me know that she and her peers have been reading the blog, so a huge THANK YOU to y'all! Along with this shout out comes a request. If you have any questions or curiosities about the writing world that you'd like me to address on the blog, please leave a comment or send me an email!
(Jobe: apologies if this isn't how you spell your name!)
This week, fellow poet-friend Justin Hamm and his posse of amazing editors launched the museum of Americana, a new online journal of prose, poetry, and art. According to its mission statement, the editors hope the journal "revives or repurposes the old, the dying, the forgotten, or the almost
entirely unknown aspects of Americana. It is published purely out of
fascination with the big, weird, wildly contradictory collage that is
our nation’s cultural history."
There is some seriously great poetry there, including poems by poet-friends Kathleen Kirk and Karen Weyant, and some awesome art. I haven't had a chance to dig into the prose yet, but I'm sure it will rise to the same level.
The Road to Happiness, recently published by Antilever Press. On top of the poems, the reader gets an amazing introduction written by stellar poet and fellow U of A MFAer, Katrina Vendenberg. Readers from last week will know that I attended a reading in Fayetteville recently and got to hear Johnathon knock a few of these poems out of the park. I'm thrilled that he will be reading for the Big Rock Reading Series in April!
To understand my reaction to this book, you must know something about me personally. I am addicted to true country music. Let me be clear. I do not mean that fluff that plays on the standard radio stations. I mean the dark, soul-exposing music written by the great singer/songwriters stretching back to Johnny Cash & June Carter Cash and reaching up to Lucinda William, Gillian Welch, and Marie Gauthier. Johnathon's book left me feeling wrung out and laid bare in the way of those musicians and their songs.
This is a book that tells the truth about the speaker's life growing up a country boy near Mena, AR, always on the edge of poverty and never far from the reach of religion. These are poems so firmly rooted in place that there is no question about their authenticity. We follow the speaker as he reaches adulthood, marries as is expected, and buries his father, all the while questioning his life and yearning for something more, something bigger.
If you like your poems laced through with the dust and grit picked up and hurled by the wind, or brazenly honest about the real work of marriage and parenthood, or packed full of the debris accumulated on a family farm as the speaker tries to educate himself up out of a life on the edge of prosperity, then this is the book for you. Here are a few titles to tempt you.
"Trespassing in My Childhood Home"
"Soliloquy to the Peephole of Apartment 9"
"White Trash Ghazal"
"Head of Household"
"Notes on the Zombie Apocalypse"
"The Christian Motorcycle Association Arrives for Its Annual Rally Outside Mena, AR"
I'll leave you with a little bit from "Camping in the Ouachita National Forest."
Midnight, and my father's God can't see
in the dark. Coyotes do unto others
by the tinctures of blood, their panting
like the whispered chansons of saints.
Nightcrawlers know a kind of scripture
driven to air on the ballasting dew.