Archive for November, 2009

Lake Effect Snow “Event”

So, after a wonderful Autumn — warm, sunny, very pleasant — we are in for some Lake Effect snow tonight and tomorrow.  The weather forecast is calling the band of snow the “first organized lake effect snow event” of the season.  I have two questions (both have been in back of my mind since I moved to the Snow Belt).  First, what exactly is a “snow event”?  And second, is there such thing as a “disorganized lake effect snow event? 


Erinn Batykefer at Red Hen Press

As part of my over-the-break reading, I have been catching up on posts, so I have just discovered that Erinn Batykefer is blogging over at the Ren Hen Press blog.   Batykefer’s book, Allegheny, Monongahela was published this past spring, and because I believe that all Pennsylvania poets (she is from Pittsburgh) should somehow stick together (a post for another day — my belief has something to do with the fact that Pennsylvania retains its residents, but these residents also tend to have identity issues), I purchased her book right away.  And of course, I loved it.  Hilda Raz calls this collection “a series of invocations to memory — of the divided self in the body of another, the blood residue after loss.”  For me, Allegheny, Monogahela is a book about a poet wrestling with violence — but physical violence that leaves the scars we can see, and the emotional violence that leaves wounds we can’t.  One of my favorite poems, “Allegheny Love Letter”  has the river speaking directly: “You know this, as you must know that in me/eyeless, limivorous fish dig food from the muck/among rotting suicides, that every flood//has me spilling sewage and gore over my banks./And still, there you are among sycamores or waving/from bridges.”  Rivers play a big role in my own poetry — and when I reread this poem, I smiled because one of my students just wrote a poem about the Allegheny River in his life — except that he lives in the state of New York, so his writing was coming from the northern end of the river.

The most recent post has to do with creative writing pedagogy and the use of the persona poem.  My students love persona poems.  Love them.  However, I have found that some of the topics are a bit out of my personal understanding.  (I am just not that hip — I guess).  What I mean is that I don’t get all the pop culture references — Batykefer, on her post, mentions the use of figures from the Twilight series — and I have to say that while every year, I get some poetry about vampires, I have never read so many poems that focus on vampires, werewolves and aliens.  Sometimes, I want to throw my hands up in the air and simply outlaw poems about pop culture (I do outlaw a few things — sunsets, butterflies, and pretty flowers, for example).  But I don’t really want to do that — especially when so many poets do a wonderful job using images and icons from pop culture.  Batykefer’s post suggests that we shouldn’t outlaw those images — but consider about how to use these images well.  I know that she is right, and as a creative writing professor, I have to think about how to teach my students new and better ways of using those figures from pop culture (yes, including the characters from Twilight).  Her own personal example (yes — she wrote a poem inspired from the Twilight series) was insightful.

Now, I suppose I have to go back and rethink my rule about those sunsets, butterflies and pretty flowers.



Over Break

What I should do over Thanksgiving Break:  Take a day and clean my office.  I am surrounded by books, folders, and papers.  My coffee cup that reads Poetry Works has coffee that is three days old. I know.  That is disgusting and something you didn’t really want to know.

What I will probably do: Sleep in, watch Lifetime original movies, and pet the cat.  Oh, and catch up on my reading including Temper by Beth Bachmann, Poppin Johnny by George Wallace, Hunger All Inside by Marie Gauthier, and Ink for an Odd Cartography by Michele Battiste.

On They Speak of Fruit

I have looked forward to finding and reading more of Gary McDowell’s poetry ever since his poem “How Mosquitoes Came to Be” was featured in the first issue of Anti-.  So, when I learned that Cooper Dillon’s debut publication would be McDowell’s chapbook, They Speak of Fruit, my fingers stood ready over my Paypal account ready to order.   And when They Speak of Fruit arrived in my mailbox this week, I was not disappointed.

In the hands of McDowell, the natural earth becomes a world of imagination and magic.   Sometimes, his images are harsh.  For instance, in the opening poem, “All Stones Are Broken Stones,” the speaker states that “Last night I dreamt of swallows/flying from her mouth/their slanted wings left cuts in her throat.”  Sometimes, they are much softer, more contemplative.  For example, “Ninth Morning in a Row with Binoculars” finds a lone speaker driving along a major highway, and when a bird is knocked into the passenger seat, the perplexed persona is left  wondering, “How does one/resuscitate a bird? How does one know when/to resuscitate a bird?”   Whatever the image, whatever the story, McDowell places the human existence into our world’s natural wonders,  crafting every surreal line and detail so that we too, as readers, believe in only beautiful things no matter how grim and serious our lives seem to be.   And of course, every poem makes me wish for Gary McDowell’s first full length collection!


Checking It Twice…

I haven’t thought too much about the holidays.  I haven’t even thought about Thanksgiving even though it’s next week.  However, many bloggers are starting to post their suggestions for holiday shopping.  Special thanks to Kristin for posting a chapbook list on her blog, and for including Stealing Dust!

I’m Indie Bound

This time of year I have heard bloggers shouting Shop Independent! — and I always have simply sighed.  In rural Western New York, bookstores — independent or otherwise — are a bit hard to come by, so in the past I have resorted to ordering from the evil empires of the book world (Amazon, Barnes and Noble, etc…)  But not this year — I’m happy to report that the Jamestown area has a new independent bookstore called Off the Beaten Path located in Lakewood (right outside of Jamestown).   I know I don’t have very many readers from this area, but if you happen to stumble into my part of the world, stop by Holly Richardson’s independent bookstore.  She does special ordering — and she is now offering a program for teachers (at any level!)   And guess what?  She even has a poetry section that has more than the token Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman, Billy Collins books!

Monday, Monday

Well, there are Mondays and then there are Mondays.  Today has fallen into the latter category.  For those of you who teach in the college setting (and perhaps high school, as well, I never taught in the high school atmosphere so I don’t want to speak for high school teachers), you know how things go a little crazy in November.  That’s what my life is right now: totally nuts.

On the bright side, special thanks goes out to Sandy, for highlighting one of my poems found in Stealing Dust!  Thanks again, Sandy!

In a Flood Year

Because I have read Sara Tracey’s work before, I just knew that her chapbook, Flood Year (Dancing Girl Press), would be fantastic. And I wasn’t disappointed.  Flood Year is a dance between two cousins, a relationship described in the opening poem, “Two Wombs,” as two people close at birth: “We were so small, the nurses/kept us in one crib like twins.”  The poet goes on to explain that “Our mothers found us holding hands,/foreheads pressed together/as if telling secrets.”

And so the scene has been set.  Throughout this slim collection, Tracey explores the bond between the two cousins who are like sisters.  When the beloved Stella moves to Arizona at the age of five, we, as readers, watch the two cousins grow and change.  One cousin seems angry, the other bewildered.  One dyes her “hair blond/eyebrows too, used SPF 60 and wore/long sleeves all summer” while the other lets her boyfriend “trace her tan lines with his tongue.”  The poems seem to slide in and out of their relationship, so that we see the way that both girls grow, the way they both change.

But readers will be sadly mistaken if they believe that this is a work of female angst. Flood Year is also a careful study of place and how place affects us and inspires us.  We understand the poet’s world of Rust Belt Ohio where a person could chronicle a flood, where “ever night/the air was heavy with shit and people/who lived in the ravine were trapped/for three days” and we also see a world where someone could fall asleep in the grass and wake up damp from dew, not quite understanding “where water came from nothing.”  But we also understand the world of Stella, where an “agave farmer taught her to shoot tequila when she was fourteen” and the dirt is “made of bones.”

Sara Tracey has the gift of place.  She knows landscape and she knows people. In this first chapbook, we, as readers, find ourselves straddling different worlds, longing to learn more about the people we have met.  I have said before that 2009 is the year of the chapbook, and I believe that Flood Year is another book that should be added to everyone’s reading list.  As for me, I am now looking forward to Sara Tracey’s first full length of poetry.

Happy Friday the 13th!

I know that today is not a national holiday — but apparently, my students decided that Friday the 13th is an optional attendance day, for I had almost no one in class today.  Maybe it’s the nice weather — 50 degrees and sunny in November!  In Western New York! Last year at this time I was on my way to the Winter Wheat Festival.  I decided that this year I just couldn’t go.  Boo. Maybe next year.

Precious Thoughts

A few years ago, I taught Push by Sapphire in my Modern Novel class.  I was surprised at how shocked my students were at the story.  I mean, really, this is the generation that sees people’s heads get chopped off on the Internet.  When I revised my Modern Novel course to teach it a second time, I took Push off the reading list and replaced it with The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison.  It wasn’t that I was afraid of shocking my students.  I just felt that I didn’t do a good job teaching Sapphire’s brillant novel.  On the other hand, there is a lot of critical material about The Bluest Eye — so I felt that I had more “help.” 

Now, with all the press out about Precious (the movie based after Push), I’m rethinking my decision.   Did I just chicken out of dealing with the Push’s themes of violence, incest, abuse, and poverty?  I know, of course, that The Bluest Eye deals a lot with the same themes; still, there is something far more disturbing about the issues in Push.  Or perhaps, it’s the way that Sapphire approached these issues — unflinching and almost matter of fact.  My Entertainment Weekly (I know — not a great “literary” source, but it works here) recently published a review of Precious stating “What’s terrifying about the abuse here is how casuallly it’s accepted as a fact of life, by both perpetrator and victim.”   I know that I have students who know this way of life.  Perhaps that is what made teaching Push so challenging.  And painful.

With all this said, I want to see Precious.  I know that it’s out in limited release — so I doubt that the film will make its way to rural New York.  Still, there is always DVD.  I also believe that this film has the power to make people talk.  Sapphire, of course, has not been silent about the challenges of making this film, and I’m looking forward to seeing the end result.

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