Saturday, November 22, 2014

What I'm Reading: Floodgate Poetry Series Vol. I: Bazzell, Call, McGrath

57º ~ a murky, heavy-sky day of gathering thunderstorms, late November in the mid-south, most trees have lost their leaves, but the sweet gum holds on, tenacious


The Floodgate Poetry Series features three chapbooks by three poets in a single volume, and the debut volume is just out from Upper Rubber Boot Books. This collection features chapbooks by Jenna Bazzell, Martin Anthony Call, and Campbell McGrath, and the series is edited by Andrew McFadyen-Ketchum, of poemoftheweek.org fame.


My connection to Volume I is that I blurbed Call's contribution: The Fermi Sea: Book I of Hologhost. Today, I read both Bazzell's and McGrath's chapbooks as well. I'm struck by the distinct differences in each collection, and yet how the volume somehow holds together as a piece in itself. Overarching themes of history (both personal and political) woven through with glimpses of the future run through the collection.

First up is Jenna Bazzell's Homeland. A devastating elegy for a troubled mother figure, the poems are frantic prayers spoken in a haunted, southern landscape. While I was impressed with the entire set of poems, "Nightgown" stuck with me, and I think I'll be returning to it in the days to come. Here is the opening.

Tonight, call back the ghosts you refused--listen to their steps

from the ceiling to the floor--palms flat to the window, a pair
of stumbling bare feet. Nights like this you're spun
                                                       in your mother's skin: fingers
thin as forsythia limbs, slender neck bent over a coffee table.


After these poems of grief, grounded in a lush landscape, we move on to Martin Anthony Call's The Fermi Sea. These poems move us into a dystopian future where the promise of technology has changed the world, but not always for the better.

Here's my blurb:

Martin Anthony Call’s character sketches in The Fermi Sea call to mind a dystopian Spoon River Anthology set somewhere mid-twenty-first century on the West Coast. Filled with nanotechnology, all-digital media, walled cities, holograms, and air cabs, these poems project a gritty disillusionment about the power of both humans and machines. (Think more Blade Runner than Star Trek.) With deft poetic strokes, Call introduces the reader to a host of characters whose trials have only just begun.

Here is a bit of "Wheeler," one of the opening poems.

Simon drops off the sofa at the sound
                     of his buzzer blaring
and the Vid-Mon popping on full volume.

4 AM wake up call could only be
                      Wheeler, leery and
lizard-eyed, woefully paranoid

Wheeler, who might be a city administrator
                     if not for the rabbit-
         hole of prescription pharmaceuticals.
   


Finally, Campbell McGrath shifts us back in time with Picasso/Mao, a series of persona poems covering much of the 20th century from the point of view of these two influential men. While much has been written about both Picasso and Mao, here we have a re-imagining through a heightened, personal lens as McGrath attempts to remain true to the facts of history while broadening our empathy for these cultural giants.

Here is the opening of "Mao: On Patience (1931)":

Sick with malaria, I withdraw from the clamor
of disputatious cadres
to live in a bamboo pavilion with He Zizhen,
my revolutionary companion,
who has surrendered our newborn daughter
to be raised by peasants. A model comrade, she would not
saddle the Party with an infant's needs.


All together Volume I of the Floodgate Poetry Series does not disappoint. It offers all of the advantages of the chapbook with the added spark of three voices placed side by side, so that the poems of one poet linger and influence the reading of the next.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Upcoming Reading: Drake University & the Des Moines Public Library: The Writer's Harvest

45º ~ a distinct chill in the air, bright/brilliant slanting sun, autumn in Arkansas


As always, the semester presents its marathon challenges, and then, I look up, and notice we're 3/4 of the way through. This year, that means, I'm about to go to Iowa for a reading. Wahooooooza!

What: The Writer's Harvest
The Drake Writers and Critics Series, in partnership with the Des Moines Public Library
When: Thursday, 13 November, 3:30 p.m. - 6:00 p.m.
Where: Des Moines Public Library, downtown branch
Who: ME & Aimee LaBrie, plus a sampling of Drake students whose work appears in their lit mag, Periphery

In true weather fashion, an "arctic blast" plans on blowing through while I'm up home. Highs should be right in that comfort zone of the low 30s, and, oh yes, there's a chance of snow at some point. Uhm, yum? Still, central Arkansas will be only slightly warmer, albeit without the snow chances.

I guess I'll be taking my winter coat along and reading some "cold" poems. If you live in or near Des Moines, I hope to see you there!

Can't wait to visit with all the Drake writers and see my MFA buddies, Amy Letter & Brian Spears!