Archive for August, 2010

Welcome, Lola and Charly!

Fans of The Scrapper Poet know that we lost our beloved kitty, Toni, this past July.  We miss her terribly, but as cat fans everywhere will probably agree — a catless household should not stay catless for very long.

So, welcome Double Trouble!

We have adopted two kittens from the local animal shelter.  Charly is short for Charlotte Perkins Gilman and Lola is short for Lolita (yes, of classic reading).  In the picture above, they look quite innocent, but looks, of course, can be very deceiving.  It has been a long time since I have had a kitten, and I have never had two kittens at once!  Anthony and I have spent a great deal of time fishing them out of curtains, dragging them out from our deep walk-in closets, and shooing them off places they should not be, like our brand new dining room table.  They also bounce off everything — tables, chairs, windowsills, us.

But they are a lot of fun, and make both of us laugh.  Charly (the gray striped kitten) is very loving and wants to be held.  Lola is a little scamp — and the leader of the two.  She’s very daring.  On the first day we brought both kittens home, Charly crawled in the back of her carrying case, afraid to come out while Lola pranced about, head held high and tail pointed straight in the air.

Both are kittens — but not from the same litter.  We decided to get two so they could keep each other company.  They adore each other.  At first, there was some hissing over “food rights” but then I caught them eating out of the same bowl.  In the afternoon, they sleep together in our warm Florida room.

What can I say?  There’s an abundance of homeless animals and not enough owners.  So, if you have been debating about getting a pet (or getting a second or third pet), stop by your local animal shelter to adopt. 

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Tally Marks

It’s official.  I’ve been reviewing my files from the past few months.  I wrote 20 poems this summer.  Eight of them have been revised and are out and about trying to find homes in the poetry world.  However, I still have 12 that need work.  I hate to say this, but I think two of them are lost causes.  While I like the images found in both poems, I can’t help but shake the “so what” feeling about the overall theme and ideas.

Goal:  Revise at least 10 of these poems by the end of August.  Since school has started out fairly smoothly, I think I can do this.

Of rainbows and butterflies

I saw a rainbow this morning as I was driving to work.  The first thing I thought was Wow, I haven’t seen a rainbow in a long time.  The second thing I thought was How can I get this image into a poem?

Well, as you all know, I probably won’t ever put this image into a poem — a rainbow is one of the dangerous, melodramatic, sentimental image that writers try to avoid.  It ranks up there with butterflies and sunsets.  And another image that I have added to my Do Not Use list for students: the full moon (inspired in part, probably, from the Twilight series).  These are words you want to avoid in your poetry, I tell my students.

Still, a few years ago, when I presented said list to my students, I had a young woman prove me wrong. She wrote a stunning poem about a butterfly collection, complete with thin tissue-like wings, stickpins, and cigar boxes.  Graphic and detailed, the poem reflected her relationship with her brother who had died at a young age. 

It was a beautiful poem.  And I was proved wrong.

As a teacher (and it seems that teachers get slammed in so many different ways today), I love it when my students break the rules of writing and it works.  (so many times, of course, it doesn’t exactly work)  Rules are supposed to be broken, my students sometimes tell me.  I respond that Yes, but you need to understand the rules before you break them.

This young woman understood the rules.  She understood the cliché of the beautiful butterfly.  And she turned the cliché upside down.

That is what I wish for my students: the strength to turn the world upside down, and the knowledge to understand when it is appropriate to do so.

A Soggy Sendoff to Summer

I know that summer is not really over yet — but considering that I was in the office most of last week, and I start classes tomorrow, today’s soggy Sunday seems like the end of another summer for me.

But it was a great ending.  I help co-run a writing contest at Chautauqua, and we announced the winners today.  I got to hear poet Ansie Baird and historian Bruce Chadwick read today. (I’m halfway through Chadwick’s book, I Am Murdered — a fascinating account of the historic murder of George Wythe, a signer of the Declaration of Independence and close friend to Thomas Jefferson.  It’s basically a historical True Crime book).  I also got to meet Sherrie Flick, a prose writer and judge for one of our contests.  I have longed for Sherrie’s chapbook of flash fiction I Call This Flirting, and I was able to pick up a copy today — along with her novel, Reconsidering Happiness.

So  tonight I am settling in to read, relax, and listen to the rain.  I’m ready for the school year to begin.  As crazy as the semester is sure to get, I welcome a schedule.  Every summer I find myself drifting away from my writing (for some reason July and August are bad writing months for me.  I work wonders in June).  School always puts me back on track.

Nancy Drew and the Case of the Disappearing Summer

I just finished reading Girl Sleuth: Nancy Drew and the Women Who Created Her by Melanie Rehak.  When I was young, I was a big fan of girl sleuth series (although, I always thought I was more of a Trixie Belden girl myself).  I have to say that I’m pretty impressed.  This book traces the history of the character of Nancy Drew and all those who were behind the books.  I always thought that Harriet Stratemeyer  was really Carolyn Keene, but Rehak’s research proved me wrong.  Stratemeyer was actually responsible for about half of the original series.  Rehak also talked about the editing of the series throughout the decades, providing examples of book cover changes and excerpts.  It was a fascinating look at the series and women’s history.

So…I start back to school at the end of the week.  Where did the summer go?  I’ve been swamped the last week or so finishing off poems, putting another chapbook manuscript together, trying to work on two book reviews. I just placed some preorders on new poetry books coming out this fall — I really shouldn’t be buying any more books.  I ordered a big pile of books in June and I haven’t yet worked my way through that pile.  But hey — who can resist new books by  Kelli Russell Agodon, Jake Adam York and Barbara Jane Reyes?

CFS: Inaugural Issue of Blast Furnace

Blast Furnace, a new independent online journal, is looking for work for its inaugural issue slated for publication in January, 2011. The theme is  blue collar family life.   Go here for more information.

Thanks Andrew, for the link!

CLSC Book Seven: The Lost City of Z

David Grann, the author of The Lost City of Z, spoke at Chautauqua this past week, and while most of his talk merely repeated what was already contained in his book, I really enjoyed the Q&A session afterwards.  It was obvious from the answers he gave the audience that he had completed a tremendous amount of research (which was apparent in his book, I suppose, but in some of his answers he mentioned research that was not in the book) and really knew his stuff.

The Lost City of Z is the story of explorer Percy Fawcett who ventured into the Amazon jungle in 1925 to find the mysterious City of Z, and then disappeared.   Search parties turned up with little or no answers.  Grann was able to intertwine two stories in this working of creative nonfiction/literary journalism.  First, there was Fawcett’s story, and then his own story of how he researched the famous explorer’s life and subsequent disappearance. Then, he describes his own journey into the Amazon.  The book is serious — but there’s also humor, and I have to confess that I re-read Grann’s book in preparation for his talk.  I actually read the book for the first time last spring.

I have always been fascinated about unknown locations — I live in a rural area of Pennsylvania and I still think there are many places left untouched by man (that’s a good thing!) Grann’s book reminds me of all the unknown places in the world — both of the past and the present.

Ruins & Wreckage

I just recently finished Major Jackson’s book, Hoops, and I have been thinking about one of the lines in his poem, ” Wyoming “.  In this particular work, the poet asks, a sort of rhetorical question, “Jersey, the industrial carcass, one/Of the great literary states we agreed/Which of course, begged the question/about landscape: Does a poet’s muse need/Her own wasteland to succeed?”

I guess my response to that question would be “Yes.”

This week, I am taking a class,  titled “Putting Sacred Spaces in a Poem,”    under poet  Todd Davis (who also happens to be the star of Poetry Daily today, take a look here).  I took this class for many reasons, but mostly because I have always been fascinated with the way poets deal with spiritual issues in the written work.  I don’t consider my work especially spiritual, although I have noticed that religious figures and allusions do pop up from time to time in my poems.

On the first day of class, Todd asked class members to talk a bit about what they thought was sacred, or how they would define “sacred places.”  For many people, youth was a sacred place.  Or family.  Several people mentioned natural landscapes.  Today, we talked about sound, and several people, when they read their drafts used soft sounds, like the “l”. 

The word “sacred” does invite a sort of reverence in poetry, yet I’m happy that this class has taken the term a bit further.  With one of the exercises, Todd asked us to list (brainstorm) a group of sounds we associate with our own sacred places.  However, last night when I did this, my list came out harsh — I heard grinding, chortling, huffing, scraping.  In fact, when I reviewed many of my poems, the verbs seem sort of, well, rough.  In fact, my natural landscapes that I hold sacred are rough — full of debris and wreckage and ruins.  Fans of The Scrapper Poet know that I was born in the Rust Belt, grew up in the Rust Belt, and currently live, teach and write in the Rust Belt, so the beauty of corrosion is part of my life.   I love barns that are decorated with faded letters: Chew Mail Pouch Tobacco, Treat Yourself to the Best.  I love railroad yards with old boxcars.  I love crumbling factories that are falling, slowly becoming part of the earth.

What have I learned thus far this week?  That there is something sacred about the harshness of the world, about violence, about death.  It’s how we weed through the rough edges to capture what is important, or what may be considered holy.  I have never really looked at my work, or works of poets who write about working-class life and issues, as sacred, but now, I will.

Revision, Revision

I’ve spent the few days knee-deep in some heavy-duty revision.  I think that I have revised 10 poems or so to my liking.  I’m also happy to report that some literary journals do get a head start on their reading periods, and I was able to send out four packets of poems.  September is one of the craziest months of the year for me, so if I don’t get poems sent out in August, they often don’t get sent out until late October or early November.

However, revision is not just for poetry.  School starts in a few weeks and I’m in the middle of making some important changes in both my developmental writing classes and my creative writing course.  I just got finished with Tom Hunley’s book, Teaching Poetry Writing: A Five Canon Approach, and I am going to revamp my course according to many of the ideals found in this text, including teaching poetry writing in the context of rhetoric and comp theory.  I actually have more “formal” education in rhetoric and comp than I do in creative writing, so I found Hunley’s discussion of theory refreshing compared to many poetry books which deal with craft, but not pedagogy.

I am also designing a new class for my developmental students.  The class, titled “Sports in Popular Culture” is paired with study skills, reading skills and writing components.  I have plenty of reading material, but I am also using some movie clips.  However, I have been a bit disappointed in the selection of sports movies that contain female characters.  So far, I have one selection: Bend it Like Beckham.  Quite a few years ago, I saw a Lifetime (I think it was Lifetime) movie titled Little Girls in Pretty Boxes.  I like the movie well enough, so I found the book which was a great read, and remains a favorite in my journalism class.  However, the movie has never been released on DVD.  If anyone has any thoughts on movies with women sports figures, please let me know!

CFS: New & Old Re-visions of the American South

One of my favorite literary journals, The Crab Orchard Review, has just posted its new call for submissions. Work will be received August 10 through November 1, 2010.  I’m not from the south, but I love literature set in the American South, so although I won’t submit to this particular issue, I can’t wait until it’s published!

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