Archive for October, 2010

On Living in the “Out of My Comfort Zone”

I’ve spent considerable time this past month or so in what I call “Out of My Comfort Zone.”  I’ve been writing a lot of things I don’t usually write.  For instance, I finished two poems a week ago — both poems fall into the rewriting women’s mythology category.  One poem retold the princess-kisses-frog-finds-prince story in the Rust Belt setting.  Another poem retold the story of Eve (from the Bible’s claim to fame).  I don’t dabble with a lot of persona poetry(although, I love reading persona poems), so while I liked both of these poems, I’m not sure they are really “me.”  Still, I sent them off to a market that publishes a lot of women’s poetry.  We will see what happens.

I have also dabbled more with the prose poem — and I have enjoyed that.  Fans of the Scrapper Poet will recall that I posted a note a few weeks ago about my confusion about the prose poem.  Still, I have found that writing prose poems does give me a “time out” from my worries about line breaks and I can focus on language more.   Believe it or not, I have also sent out three prose poems for possible publication.

And, it looks like I won’t be moving back into the Comfort Zone for awhile — at least not entirely.  Next semester I am teaching a British Literature survey class.  Now, I have taught this class before but it has been at least six years.  I have grad work in Brit Lit — and this class, which covers 1800 to the present, is my favorite time period.  I love the 19th century novel.  But alas, my students don’t.  Even my students who love to read avoid the thick masses of Dickens, Austen, and Hardy.  So, I am using an anthology, but I’m looking for the perfect Victorian novel.  I have already decided to use War of the Worlds by HG Wells (I know, I know, not the typical choice for a survey lit class, but I have plans…)  But I want to use another one — what to do, what to do…I’m thinking either Emily Bronte or Thomas Hardy.  No, I’m not using Pride and Prejudice and Zombies!  In fact, Jane Austen is not my favorite although so many of my students love her….Do I have any Brit Lit novel readers?  What would you suggest?

A Whale for the Weekend

This site is not new to many of my readers, but if you haven’t seen (or heard) Nic Sebastian’s  Whale Sound, you should link on over.  Great poems there — including work by Gabriel Welsch, Mary Biddinger, Justin Evans, Collin Kelley, Diane Lockward, and many, many others. 

Bloomsburg, Centralia, and Beyond

I had a great time at Bloomsburg this past week.  Poet Jerry Wemple was a fantastic host, and I loved meeting his colleagues and students.  My reading went well, and I was surprised (but pleased) to see people attend who lived in the surrounding areas.  JoAnne was a wonderful reader — so much so that now I have to go back and re-read her book, Red Has No Reason.

After the reading, about 10 people (faculty, community members, students) went out to eat and conversation turned towards the surrounding areas.  Bloomsburg University is in the middle of Anthracite Coal Country, and I was surprised to learn that I was only about a half hour away from Centralia, a place that has been a subject of both my poems and more importantly, my academic work in working class poetry and history.  (Centralia is a subject of many Pennsylvania poems and works of fiction that take place in coal mining countries). Centralia is the famous Pennsylvania “ghost town” that was destroyed by an underground mine fire.  Now, destroyed by a fire makes this particular event sound sudden and tragic.  Well, the events surrounding the fire were tragic, but the event actually lasted decades, and the town itself was surrounded by more than an underground fire.  Centralia was a hotbed (no pun intended) of politics — and its history is very complex.  You can read more about this town here.

So of course, I had to go exploring.  So the morning after my reading I went looking for Centralia.  And I have to admit that in spite of Centralia’s presence in such books as Weird Pennsylvania, there was really nothing strange or spooky about Centralia.  In fact, if I hadn’t actually been looking for what is left of this town, I would have passed right through it.  There’s a few foundations and dead end streets.  A few wooden signs marking past street names are nailed to trees. There are some homes there, but I didn’t want to pull over and gawk.  I did travel down a few gravel/dirt roads and was greeted by some cracks in the earth and the smell of sulfur, but no open flames and very little smoke.

I can’t say that I was disappointed at what I saw.  That would be the wrong observation.  Instead, I have to say that I was amazed at how the earth reclaims what we have built.  Some may disagree with me, but I believe that in a few more decades people traveling on this stretch of road won’t even realize there was a town there.

Off to Bloomsburg…

It’s another busy week for the Scrapper Poet.  I’m off to Bloomsburg for a reading with the talented mathematician/poet JoAnne Growney.  Yep, you heard that right. JoAnne is a poet and a mathematician.  I’m eager to listen to her read and to learn about the relationship between poetry and math. As for me, I will be reading from Stealing Dust, but I may sneak a few new poems in…

Dead Birds & Queen Anne’s Lace

Today, I took a long look at my manuscript in progress, and I noticed two things that keep on popping up in my poems: dead birds and Queen Anne’s Lace.  I can see the image of white lace of Queen Anne’s Lace, but why all the dead birds?  Seriously.  I have compiled three dead crows (in three different poems); a peasant and a barn owl (together in a single poem); and two different kinds of sparrows (in two separate poems).  Right now, I have a tentative title for my manuscript, but I’m thinking about changing it to include something with birds….

I am right in the middle of  JCC’s Fall Break, and I’m trying to get caught up with grading.  It’s been a bit tricky to do because after suffering through a week of rain, rain, and more rain (and with all the rain, the damp, cold temperatures), the world has burst into color and warm air, and I want to be outside.  Hopefully, tonight, I will get caught up.

On the Ghetto Exorcist

Poems about violence are hard to write — and if they are written well, they are also hard to read.  I have just finished one of the best chapbooks I have ever read.  James Tyner’s The Ghetto Exorcist won The Coal Hill Review’s 2009 chapbook contest and I can see why. This slim collection explodes with sharp language and danger, somehow  finding the beauty of violence.  The bio note at the end of the chapbook calls Tyner a “struggling pacifist” and anyone reading his poems can see this struggle.  His work comes from the violence of the gang world where he came from — my favorite poem is “After Jumping Some Kids and Taking Their Money, 1988” where the narrator details the event with precision and even a sort of innocence, especially with the opening line: “We buy Cheetos and Fanta/with the money we stole./Took it as they cried/pried it loose with kicks to the stomach/and stomps to the face.” 

The Ghetto Exorcist is an ebook, and while I don’t usually read collections online (this is not a literary snob remark — I just have trouble reading longer works online), I couldn’t resist this collection. 

Here is the address:

http://www.coalhillreview.com/?cat=11

I looked up James Tyner and couldn’t find any full length collection out there — I hope, I hope, one is coming soon!