Archive for January, 2010

How Many Books Do You Read?

I’m a reader — more of a reader than a writer.  And I read everything.  Anthony calls me a cereal box reader — the person who at breakfast, will sit and read the ingredients on the cereal box.  I grew up in the small town where the library had a general rule — you could get a library card if you could write your own name.  I remember sitting at the kitchen table practicing my name over and over again, until the K had a straight back and the r was pointed in the right direction.  I was the little girl who would drag home a stack of library books.  When I got older, I saved my money for books.  Now, our apartment is held together by stacks of books. 

I’m also not a picky reader — while I tend to read more poetry and literary nonfiction, I read almost anything (except Romance) on almost any topic.  I go in spurts where I read one type of book or one author.  For example, a few years ago, I read everything by Jodi Picoult. (Beach reading, I know, but we don’t have a lot of beaches in the snowbelt).  One year, I went through a period where I read tons of books on genocide and another year I went through a phase where I read books on Arctic exploration.  Don’t ask me why I go through these streaks — it’s just a lot of things interest me.

Once, one of my colleagues asked me how many books I read per year.  I shrugged.  I really didn’t know.  Like almost everyone else I know, there are certain times of the year where I read more and certain times of the year where I don’t read as much.  During the winter months, I read more.  During finals, where I am reading student papers, fun reading takes a back seat. 

This year, I am going to keep a booklist of how many books I do read.  I just took a look at my January 2010 list — the official tally for this past month is 16 books.  I have read six novels, two books of poetry, two chapbooks of poetry, and six works of nonfiction (including three of books of true crime).  Yes, I have read 16 books this past month, which seems high — even to me.  But that could be that I was off for two weeks and because it’s also nice to snuggle in with a good book when the weather is dismal outside.

Highlights of the month?  The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson and The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood.  Also, Brandi Homan’s second collection of poetry, Bobcat Country, which I just talked about a few days ago. 

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Entering Bobcat Country

Brandi Homan’s first full length collection of poetry, Hard Reds, made me proud to be a feminist.  Her second book, Bobcat Country, made me homesick.

In some ways, it’s hard to explain why.  The setting for many of the poems found in Bobcat Country is Iowa, not the backwoods of rural Pennsylvania, where I grew up.  Still, there’s something achingly familiar about many of the characters in Homan’s poems.  In the opening poem, “What It Means to be an American”  the poet explains, “It’s picnic.  Buckets of beer, a bluegrass band, a shotgun/wedding.  Casseroles in covered dishes, sparklers, fireflies./Doritos and french fries. cantaloupe squares and a waitress/humming in the background.”  Hmmmm.  Substitute country music for bluegrass, and that’s home to me! 

Even more eerie are the lines found in “Welcome to Bobcat Country” where the poet offers such observations as “We drove to Planned Parenthood, picked wedding colors. We/listened to gangster rap in the stockroom, ate at Perkins and/Perkins and Perkins”  and “We drank in the barn, the backyard, the back room, the/bedroom, the haunted house where they filmed Twister. We/had the highest teen alcoholism rate in the state.”  Okay, I didn’t know the world of Twister, necessarily, but I knew the world of teen alcoholism — something so common in rural areas that most people really don’t think it’s a problem.

So basically, Homan’s book spoke to me because everything was so familiar.  But I liked her use of short, terse language, her gritty details.  I suppose there are those who say that Homan falls into cliché, but I disagree.  Her truths are rooted in fields, in farms, in family kitchens and in the relationships women have with their friends, their sisters, their mothers, their families.  She’s painfully honest about the lives so many people live and the in the lives we wish we had never lived.

Not all the poems necessarily  take place in Iowa.  Many poems balance the poet’s past with her struggle in academics — a workingclass background with the more “intellectual” world (as someone who has a working-class background, and now works in academics, I use the term “intellectual” very loosely.  Trust me).  In “Mobile Homecoming” the poet explains that “I saw that others, hello Professor, viewed me/as not middle class.  That I was low-middle class, or low-class/even, depending on how much cash the one doing the viewing/had.”  She goes on to look at her own past, to explain that “The boys we loved wore Carhartt/coats and Coed Naked t-shirts.  We rode in cars chased out/of town, were raised on mayonnaise” and that “I grew up in a nice house on the good side of town/with parents who once owned a mobile home.  My father shot/a rattlesnake in the driveway.  He stopped it before it got to/the dogs.”

Even if you are not from Iowa (or Pennsylvania)  I bet you will find something familiar in Homan’s world, even if you are looking for advice about poetry (see “For Poets (& Others)” published in the online journal, Anti-  In general, this is a fun yet cynical look at the politics of poetry!)   So you really should check out Bobcat Country, which has just been published by Shearsman Books.  And if you somehow missed Hard Reds, take a look at my review published at Prick of the Spindle.

Give Me an American Amen

A month or so ago, I noted in a mini blog review of Gary L. McDowell’s chapbook, They Speak of Fruit, that I was eagerly awaiting a first full-length collection.  It appears that I won’t have to wait much longer.  Gary McDowell’s first full length collection, American Amen,  will be published by Dream Horse Press later this year.  Gary has details listed on his blog. It looks like I will have another book to add to my 2010 reading list!

Already Loving This Collection…

After being on backorder forever (okay, not forever, a few weeks — it seemed like forever), my copy of January Gill O’Neil’s collection, Underlife, came in the mail today.  I admit it — I’ve only read one poem so far, the opening poem titled “Nothing Fancy” where the narrator states, “I am from hush puppies & barbecue/from chitlins & fatbacks/hog maws & hog jaws & grits & scrapple.”  But, the voice is so, so,  real.  This poem reminds me of the poem, “Where I’m From” by George Ella Lyon, another personal favorite, and a work that I often read out loud to many of my creative writing classes.  Bloggers have been out and about talking about Underlife since Christmas, so I know that I’m going to be up half the night reading this great collection.

Movie Break, the Sequel

Last month, I talked a bit about the portrayal of writers in movies.  Several of you suggested other names of movies that portray writers in today’s society.  During the days that I couldn’t get out my front door because of all the snow, I spent my time catching up a bit on my movie watching.  I loved Wonder Boys — in fact, I went back and reread the novel.   I watched The Dark Half.  So Stephen King.  I liked Stranger Than Fiction.  I also liked Adaptation.   In one way or another, all these films offered glimpses of a contemporary writer’s life — whether it’s academic woes and writer’s block found in Wonder Boys or the challenge of bringing a book to the big screen — a problem explored in Adaptation.  Still, in my creative writing class, I think I am going to show clips from Throw Momma From the Train and maybe Room 1408.   I think I can find short segments from both these films that display problems in writers’ lives — most of the other movies that I watched are a bit too complex for me to make due with just a short clip.   I’m eager to see what my students say about the portrayals found in the films. 

Classes started today; my creative writing class meets tomorrow.  I love the frenzy of a new semester.

The Big Melt

January Thaw is upon us, and with temperatures nearing 40 degrees (it’s almost summer here in Western New York), our snow is melting.  I start classes on Tuesday, and I still have a lot of work to do to get caught up for the first of the semester.  Don’t be a bit surprised if blogging is even a bit more sporadic than it has been.

CFS: Broadsided

Broadsided wants your poems.  Once a month, Broadsided publishes a literary/artistic collaboration.  How does this work?  I can use myself for a quick example. My poem, “Advice for Women on the Graveyard Shift” was accepted by Broadsided Editors, and artist Alesia F. Norling placed a “dib” on the poem.  Then, she completed a broadside that presented an artistic vision of my poem.  Take a look at the broadsides that were released last year!  (Scroll down to see mine).  Click here for complete guidelines.  Go ahead — be broadsided!

Snow, Sun, Submissions

So, winter break has been a bit crazier than what I would have hoped.  Anthony and I have been doing minitrips (2 – 3 hour drives) to visit family and friends.  Usually, these are no big deal — but we have driven through major blizzards and whiteout conditions.  Not fun.  We also have almost three feet of snow on the ground.  I can call the landscape pretty now because the sidewalks and roads are clear.  The sun is bright and shining today, even though it’s only about 15 degrees.  Brrr…

I haven’t done any new writing at all — I’ve been feeling a bit under the weather (no pun intended with the above paragraph) myself.  I really want this year to be the year where I can get a poem a week completed.  I’m just not sure that is going to happen.  The good news is that I have done a lot of revising. Some of my poems have taken a lot of deep cuts — which is very difficult for me to do.  I am like my students — I don’t want to let certain lines and images go.  But I did it.   I have also sent out poems to five different places, some postal, some through online submission managers.  Oh, I also got my first rejection letter of the year.  Let’s hope that is not an omen of what is to come!

If You Haven’t Had Enough of 2009 Yet…

Take a look at Coldfront Magazine’s 2009 Year in Review.  It’s a fun list — especially the small section about best covers.  Yet, still more for my reading list.

2010: More Poetry Collections to Come

Consider this Part II of  Poetry Collections to come in 2010. See my first list.  Several people contacted me (via email, Goodreads, etc..) to tell me about other books due out this year (plus, since I am snowed in, I could do more research).  So here are more great reads:

  1. Glossolalia by Amanda Auchter
  2. Seeded Light by Edward Byrne (Turning Point Books)
  3. Stateside by Jehanne Dubrow (Northwestern UP)
  4. Girl on a Bridge by Suzanne Frischkorn (Main Street Rag)
  5. Within Reach by M.J. Iuppa (Cherry Grove)
  6. My Father’s Kites by Allison Joseph (Steel Toe Books)
  7. Temptation by Water by Diane Lockward (Wind Publications)
  8. Light and Travels of Light by Cynthia Reeser (Finishing Line Press)

Looks like it is going to be a very busy reading year!

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