Archive for September, 2009

Great News at Seven Kitchens Press

Seven Kitchens Press has posted the winners of the third annual Keystone Chapbook Prize.   Congratulations to both winners!

This past weekend I also read, Notes from the Red Zone  by Christina Pacosz.  Notes from the Red Zone is the first in the ReBound Series at Seven Kitchens Press.  It’s a fantastic read.  First written and published in 1982, this slim collection details the thoughts of a poet responding to the Hanford site, a nuclear decommissioned site on the Columbia River in the state of Washington.  For those interested in environmental issues and nuclear history in America, this book is for you!  With the country once again considering nuclear power as a possible future source of energy, the republication of this book is very timely. 

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Sunday Field Trip

Today, I have been trying to turn five sets of rough drafts (and I mean rough) into five different poems.  I’ve also been thinking about the post I wrote yesterday.  Then, I flipped over to Ron’s Working Class Poems site for my workingclass poem of the day — and there it was — one of the first contemporary poems about work I remember ever reading.  “Field Trip to the Mill”  by Patricia Dobler shows a Catholic nun who ushers her fourth graders on a field trip to learn “Industry and Capital and Labor/the Protestant trinity.”    Dobler’s poem is simply haunting. 

Philip Gerard on Grace and Writing

This past June I heard Philip Gerard read at a front porch reading at Chautauqua.  He read a piece titled “Three Portraits of Grace” — and the crowd of about 40 was stunned into silence when he had finished.  Ever since that summer afternoon, I had wanted to buy a copy of this essay which was published in the spring edition of The Louisville Review.  I finally got my copy.  “Three Portraits of Grace” is a work of creative nonfiction which captures three separate stories of the Holocaust.  In the first part, the narrator tells about an old veteran of World War II who breaks down to tell about how his job after the war was to “drive a bulldozer to Dachau, the infamous concentration camp.  His job was to push hundreds of bodies into mass graves.”   The second piece tells a story of a photograph of a SSS officer who is little more than a boy aiming a gun at a man cradling a baby in his arms.  The third part relays a narrative of a daughter whose father served as a captain and had died in the war.  In this part, he relays a daughter’s memory of her mother: “Her mother sits besides the stove in the kitchen of their New England home. In front of her is a stack of letters.  She takes each one from the envelope, reads it, then carefully places it into the flames.  Her eyes are streaming tears.  It takes her a long time to burn all the letters.  Her little daughter watches.  Her mother is a war widow. It is the eve of her mother’s wedding to another man.”

Philip Gerard is careful to explain that some stories do not have “an obvious, coherent narrative.”  This explanation shows through in his piece, which connects three parts to talk about grace in writing.  I was especially struck by Gerard’s final words on the subject:

I believe in the writer as a witness to evil, as a reporter of injustice, as a chronicler of human compassion, even on occasion of greatness, as one whose skills illuminate the Truth with a capital T, without irony.  I believe it is the job of the writer to put into words what is worst — and also what is best — about us.  To light up our possibilities, to discover the finest lives to which we can aspire, and to inspire our readers to greatness of soul and heart.

I’m thinking of Gerard’s words this weekend in the context of today’s poetry.  His piece instantly reminds me of the work of poet  John Guzlowski whose book Lightning and Ashes tells the story of his parents who were slave laborers in Nazi Germany.  But Gerard’s work also reminds me of other contemporary poets who write about social issues and history (besides the Holocaust).  I’m especially thinking about the book My Kill Adore Him by Paul Martinez Pompa which should arrive in my mailbox sometime this week!!

But I’m also thinking of “Three Portraits of Grace” in the context of my own work.  I have loved poetry for a long time, in different forms and different styles.  But I was especially taken with contemporary poetry when I read Working Classics: Poems on Industrial Life during my first year of college.  Since that point, in one way or another, I have wanted to write working-class poetry, or blue collar poetry, or Rust Belt poetry — whatever I call my own work in any given week.  I have noticed that lately some of my works seem to be veering away from my working-class roots, and I’m not sure what to make of that.  Am I simply experimenting?  Or am I losing track of my original goals?

Checking In

No, I did not disappear over The Falls (I’m looking at my last post).  I just have been busy, busy, busy.  But hey, I took some time out between grading and preparing for a new class to browse,  and I discovered that The Barn Owl Review has updated its contributors list for its all-poetry issue. Check it out — what a great lineup!

Slipstream Release Party

I’ve been up to my knees in poetry and student papers (sometimes both), but I am going to wade out and attend the Slipstream Release Party this Saturday evening.  Here are the details:

On Saturday, September 19, 2009, there will be an annual party/reading in celebration of the release of Slipstream #29. The event will be held at the Book Corner, 1801 Main Street, Niagara Falls NY at 6:00 P.M.  The event is free and open to the public.  Click here for more details.  If you are in the area, stop by and say hi!

RIP: Patrick Swayze

When I think of Patrick Swayze, I think of my mother, who played Dirty Dancing over and over again until our VHS tape broke.  She loved, absolutely loved, to watch him dance.  Now, that both of them are gone, I am feeling a little sad tonight. 

Chapbook Renaissance?

I’ve been skimming through an article titled “Chapbook Renaissance: The Little Book in the Age of Digital and DIY”  in the most recent copy of Poets & Writers.  The article by Kimiko Hahn caught my attention for many reasons.  First, I read a lot of chapbooks and support presses that publish chapbooks.  Second, my own chapbook, Stealing Dust, came out this past February (really, I wasn’t aware that I was part of any “renaissance”).   I liked Hahn’s article for many reasons, but mostly because her words put the chapbook into historical perspective.  But her article did leave me wondering a bit about why people choose to publish chapbooks.  I know for those who are in publish and perish situations, the chapbook often does not “count” for real publication, but I really don’t know the percentage of poets who have publish or perish jobs.   For me, I made the choice for a chapbook (after consulting several friends who had published chapbooks) because I simply felt that my full length manuscript was not ready to be sent out.  And yes, since I keep the rights, I’m hoping that some of the poems will find their way into a full length manuscript some day. 

I know a lot of poets view the chapbook as an important stepping stone towards that first book, and some of my favorite poets have chapbooks.  But what I am also finding interesting is that some poets who have books out are now publishing chapbooks as their second collections, and I am wondering why.  It does seem that there are so many great publishing companies for chapbooks — perhaps that is the reason.  If you are a poet who has (or is about to) publish a chapbook, I would love to know why.

And speaking of chapbooks, Tilt Press has announced its new lineup of 2009-2010 chapbooks.  As someone who is a big fan of both Sarah Sloat’s In the Voice of a Minor Saint and Julie Platt’s In the Kingdom of My Familiar, I am really looking forward to the press’s new books!  Special congrats goes out to Margaret Bashaar whose chapbook, Barefoot and Listening will be published.

I’m Wearing White

Well, not really.  It’s just one of those rules that should be broken.  To be honest, I don’t wear white that often, mostly because I’m one of those people who seems to be attracted to pen ink and spaghetti sauce whenever I am wearing white.

The true reason for this post?  I just got done reading a small column in the newest issue of Poets & Writers.  In this column, the editors of Tin House (which is celebrating its 10th anniversary), talk the submission process to their journal.  The column is written in a quick question and answer fashion, with the last question being “What do you not want in a submission?”   The editors’ answer:

This is not particular to our submitters, but here’s the thing: For such a small insect, cicadas sure show up a lot in poetry and fiction.  It sounds silly to take issues with it, but the point is that it smacks of device, which in turn interrupts the dream.  Watch out for stuff like that.

I had to laugh at this response.  A few years ago, a poet I was working with told me to watch those cicadas!  Still, I have to admit these little creatures constantly sneak into my poems.  One of my favorite poems (and it has been published) uses the image of cicada shells cracking underneath a child’s feet.

So here is a writing prompt for the day. Use this title:  Why I Must Have (insert an image that may be considered overused) in My Poems.  What do you come up with?  Just like wearing white after Labor Day, are there rules to be broken in poetry?

Innisfree

The new issue of Innisfree is live, with poems by Diane Lockward, Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Brent Fisk, and Lyn Lifshin.  Innisfree’s  “Closer Look” column for this issue takes a look at the work of Alice Friman.  And in a small bit of shameless self promotion (which I have been doing a lot lately — I will get back to my regular blog posts as soon as the school semester evens out a bit), my poem “Dry Spell”  has also been published here.

Canning Season

Thanks to Ron, who posted my poem “Canning Season”  on his blog about working class poems.   A number of people who have read Stealing Dust have cited this poem as one of their favorites, so I am glad that with this post, my poem will reach a wider audience. 

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