Archive for July, 2009

Writing Prompt for the Weekend

I’m thinking of one of my favorite poems in Anthracite Country  by Jay Parini.  The poem, titled “Playing in the Mines” contains a warning from fathers to their children to never go to the mines where “The hexing cross/nailed onto the cross read DANGER, DANGER.”  This poem made me think of all the dangerous places I was warned about as a kid.  I grew up in a small town, so one would think there wouldn’t be that many, but the adults in my life seem to find plenty of things to worry about. I can name three:  under the bridge that split our town into two; the railroad tracks; and the old clay mines.  Interestingly enough, I have written (and published) poems about two of these three places.   “Under the Bridge” is in the newest issue of Slipstream, and “The Girl Who Turned Cartwheels” can be found here in a past issue of The Coal Hill Review.   Now I have to work on those old clay mines outside of town…

So, here is a weekend challenge: write about a “forbidden place.”  It doesn’t have to be about a place from your childhood, but looking back at this place from an adult point of view can be fun (and insightful). Are these dangers real?  Or imaginary?  Are they “manmade”?   For example, my poem “Somewhere Under the Bridge” was about the recluse teenagers who hung out by the river.  For the most part, they were probably harmless.  However, in “The Girl Who Turned Cartwheels” the persona is exploring railroad tracks — a real danger considering that trains would travel through town at record speeds.  And yes, in the background of this poem is the disapperance of two children.  Keep in mind that your dangerous place doesn’t have to be an over-dramatic piece of the world — you don’t have to write about a location where mass murders or severe abuse took place, although of course, we all know of poets who have used such stories for great poetry.

Seems like a grim note to end this post (and wish everyone a good weekend), but it doesn’t have to be!


In Anthracite Country

I pride myself on knowing the poetry of Pennsylvania — that is the poets who take on the landscape and people of my homestate.  So I was a bit embarrassed when I found Anthracite Country by Jay Parini, a gem of a poetry book resting on the bookshelves of my local library.  I had read Parini’s  criticism, but not his poetry, and I really enjoyed this collection.  In this slim volume of poems, Parini tackles class issues, labor history, and even religion.  And of course, as the title of the book suggests, every poem is set in the Anthracite coal region of Eastern Pennsylvania.  In essence, Parini’s book is about the importance of memory, and the way that memory can play an important part in the literature of witness. 

Just like The Handmaid’s Tale?

The Handmaid’s Tale  by Margaret Atwood is one of my favorite books — and it’s one of my favorite books to teach.  That’s why I picked up The Unit by Ninni Holmqvist.  Many literary critics compare the two books, and after finishing The Unit  this morning, I can see why.

Set in a dystopian future,  The Unit  is about a time when “women over the age of 50 and men over 60 who are are also single, childless, and without jobs in progressive industries” are sent to Second Reserve Bank Unit for “biological material” (quotes are taken from the bookflap).  Here, these citizens are given comfortable living quarters, their own personal medical staff, and all the luxuries anyone could want — but at a terrible price.  They are expected to contribute themselves to both psychological and physical tests, often “donating” parts of their body (a piece of liver here, a kidney there) to those in need.  These people live out their final days until their final “donation” — that is, until they are forced to give up their heart or their brain. 

In this book, the main character is named Dorrit, a writer who resigns herself to this fate.  (Just for the record, almost everyone in The Unit is an artist of some sort — writing, pottery, photography.  In this time period, artists are not considered a valuable part of society — they do not provide valuable contributions).  In The Unit, Dorrit falls in love and then becomes pregnant.  I won’t say anymore about what happens to the fate of Dorrit in case you want to pick up this book (which you should…)

I found this book to be the most chilling read I have had in a long time.  Perhaps it’s because of the plot’s treatment towards the human body, or maybe it’s because of the treatment of artists.  Or maybe because I’m still trying to figure out if the heroine’s actions at the end of the book are noble or not.  Whatever the reason, it’s a book that is going to stay with me for a long time.


I’ve spent the week trying to revise some poems I started at the beginning of the summer.  Not having a lot of luck. I have come to the conclusion that some poems are simply not meant to work.  

In other news, I got my contributor copy of Main Street Rag where my poem “Oxymoron” appears.  I’ve always enjoyed Main Street Rag, but I especially like the press’s books and chapbook selection — I think they do a beautiful job!

Finally, after a quiet summer with rejections and acceptances, I got news from Lake Effect  that they will be publishing one of my poems in their next issue.   I’m hoping the note will end the dry spell — I have quite a few poems out and about this summer.

Love Those Brontes!

I really want to read this.  I know that the reading world (the part of the reading world who is not reading the Twilight series) is caught up with these books, but my heart belongs to the Bronte sisters.  I even hear that Anne (the forgotten Bronte sister, and my personal favorite) plays a part in the novel.   Jane Austen and those zombies will have to wait.

MIA: Poems

My least favorite part of the writing life?  I love writing and revising (as long as I don’t get too frustrated, which happens sometimes).  I don’t mind sending poetry packets out.  Even getting rejected doesn’t bother me too much (although if I get too many rejection slips in a row, I do get a bit depressed).  It’s tracking down submissions that are missing in action.   Today, when I looked over my records,  I noticed that I have two packets out that have been missing for close to six months.  And both places say that I’m allowed to query after three months.  So yep, that’s what I am going to do.

On A Brief History of Time

A few years ago, I took a workshop under poet Margaret Gibson who talked about the importance of poetry giving  voice to those who cannot speak.  The whole time I was reading Shaindel Beers’ A Brief History of Time (Salt Publishing, 2009), I thought of Gibson’s words.  Beers’ first collection of poetry is a work that explores the lives of those (usually women) who are usually not heard.   In “HA!” we learn the story of a woman “dying of ovarian cancer” who has to work at the local Dollar General.  In “Why It Almost Never Ends with Stripping” we see the contemplations of a young woman exploring a new career.  And in “Weekend Rain Ghazal” we see a woman thinking of her past in the vast rural landscapes of farming, proclaiming “My English teacher told me not marry a farmer; my whole life would depend on rain.”  (This last poem, by the way, is my personal favorite).  You don’t believe me?  Well, take a look at this review here and this interview here, and then, add A Brief History of Time to your reading list.

RIP: Frank McCourt

I read Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes  way before it was popular to do so, and yes, I read the controversies surrounding his memoir (as memoirs, by their very nature, are sure to spark controversies).  Still, I loved the way that McCourt balanced humor with grief and pain, how he showed that class issues intersect with culture and religion.  And afterall, we can’t really blame him for the onslaught of memoirs (very few of them worth reading)  that came after the publication of Angela’s Ashes, can we?

RIP  Frank McCourt

Who needs to tweet?

No, I’m not on Twitter.  My excuse has always been that I have a blog and that is enough.  But then I joined LibraryThing.  And you can also find me on GoodReads.  And now?  I’ve just joined She Writes — a social network where women writers (of all genres) can get together and chat.  If you are on She Writes, invite me as a friend.  If you are not on She Writes — take a look at what they have to offer.

And That’s the Way It Is…

The very first time that I realized I was part of a world that was bigger than my little town in Western Pennsylvania was when the Three Mile Island Accident happened outside of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.  We lived only a few hours from this national event, and while so many other events of the 70’s seemed so far away, this accident, born out of a type of power that was supposed to be good for our country, was right in my own backyard.

So I remember penny candy and trying to wear my hair like Princess Leia did in the first Star Wars movie.  And I remember Disco steps, or at least trying to do Disco steps.  And I remember my parents being tense and worried, much like other parents were during this time period when the Rust Belt was born.

But most of all, I remember Walter Cronkite, calm and cool and reflective and almost grandfatherly-like on our little black and white television.  It was as if everything would be okay, no matter what,  if he was on the screen.

RIP Walter Cronkite

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