Archive for August, 2011

Finding Routine

I can not believe that tomorrow is September 1! Yes, summer flew by.  And yes, the start of the semester has been crazy, but I’m into the second week of classes so I should be well into my routine.  But I’m not quite there yet.

I have had a few poets come into my life (at readings, through workshops) who have told me that I couldn’t possibly be a poet and keep up the heavy teaching load expected at a community college.  These poets have nice jobs at big name universities with a teaching load of maybe one or two classes (upper level) a semester.  I didn’t get mad at their observations — I was only a bit dumbfounded.  I still am.  Have they looked at the local job market?  Do they know what their students will do for future jobs (especially if they are teaching future poets?)?  Have they looked at past poetry history where poets did many types of “jobs”? 

I’m lucky that I have many poets in my life who never question my career choices.  (Actually, most poets I have run into are supportive of my work).  And I’m also lucky that I have a job I enjoy and learn from everyday.  Yes, I do have a heavy schedule, but in today’s world,  I’m happy to have any schedule at all. 

As for writing?  A writer writes.  A writer finds time.  Hopefully, a writer finds routine.  And as soon as I can find my desk, which is cluttered with schedules, and syllabi and student rosters, I know I will find that routine.

Five for the Fall

Classes have started, and this week has been mass chaos.  Yet, in spite of the hot temperatures (80s and a bit muggy), it feels like Fall.  Could it be the new students, the new classes, the new office supplies?  (I love office supply stores — simply love them.)  I hope to write longer posts soon, but for now, here are five poetry books I’m dreaming about for the Fall:

  1. The Torah Garden by Philip Terman
  2. American Busboy by Matthew Guenette
  3. Poetry in America by Julia Spicher Kasdorf
  4. Instructions for Killing the Jackal by Erica Wright
  5. Hurricane Party by Alison Pelegrin

All of these books are either forthcoming in the near future or are out right now, and I haven’t had time to purchase them yet — except for Kasdorf’s book, which just came in the mail today!  I’m so excited about this book — Kasdorf is one of my favorite contemporary poets, and she hasn’t had a poetry book out in over 10 years!

CFS: Due North

The Crab Orchard Review is now accepting submissions for their annual theme issue: Due North.  Take a look at the guidelines here.  Submissions will be accepted until November 5, 2011.

Two More Days

I’m back to work this Thursday and I start classes on Monday (a week from today).  I’ve spent the day organizing my desk (how come offices don’t clean themselves over the summer?) and revising my syllabi and class plans for the new school year.  As I was reviewing my notes, I realized that I revise my work for class in the same way that I revise my poems.  I think I may be one of the last poets who still does a lot of her drafting/revising/editing on paper before moving to the computer screen.  I draft all my poems on notebook paper or in small Dollar Store Journals.  I draft my class plans and schedules on notebook paper.  In all cases, I use a lot of scribbles and arrows. I love colored pens (purple is my favorite).  Somehow, I like the messiness of it all!

This week, besides preparing for the new year, I will be enjoying the last days of summer.  I will most likely return to my regularly scheduled blogging by the weekend.

CLSC Book Eleven: American Rust

It’s true that I drift towards working-class literature.  But, I also drift towards novels that take place in Pennsylvania.  Of course, with the nature of Pennsylvania’s working-class history — the two types often overlap.  American Rust is an example of this overlap.  This first novel by Philipp Meyer tells the story of Isaac English who is left to care for his aging father in an old Pennsylvania steel town in the Monongahela River valley.  Tragedy strikes when Isaac sets out to escape the decaying town, along with his friend, Billy Poe.

I read American Rust last year, and had mixed feelings about the book.  I re-read the novel this past week, and found that I still have the same mixed feelings.  I love how Meyer explores the physical landscape on this world — his details are sharp and authentic, so much so that I found his descriptions of decay lovely, and almost poetic. 

However, while I loved the landscape, I just couldn’t get into his characters.  It seemed that almost all of the characters were stereotypes: they simply fit into one of two categories of characters that fall into working-class fiction, especially working-class fiction that falls into dying small towns.  We have the tired, injured workers who are bitter about the past glory days of factory work, and who now drown themselves in beer and prescription drugs.  Then, we have the young, smart adults who flee from their background and never return, except reluctantly  to help family or friends left behind.  And certainly, these people do exist– they are very real characters.  Still, I would like to see a different type of character — one who stays behind out of choice to help, or perhaps one who leaves but willingly comes back to save what can be salvaged out of dying town.  I know those characters exist too.

Still, perhaps I’m being a bit unfair.  I love the work of Tawni O’Dell so much, that I was hoping for another Tawni — and Meyer’s style of writing is much different.  In spite of my mixed feelings about American Rust, I will look forward to Meyer’s future work.  (And I hear, there’s a movie of American Rust in the works…)

Fighting with Food

Have you ever worked in the food service industry?  At a fast food restaurant?  A summer camp?  A fancy diner?  Then, poet Matt Guenette, author of the brand new book, American Busboy, wants your horror stories!  Take a look at his blog here.  Drop him a note about your favorite food industry story by this Friday (August 12).  He will judge the best story and the winner will get a copy of American Busboy!

Off the top of my head, I can’t think of any real horror stories from my brief stint in the food industry.  The best I can come up with is the year I was a waitress at a summer camp, and we had to fish dead ants from the maple syrup containers.  A sweet, but untimely death, for these little guys.

A Bit of Rock Candy

Fans of the Scrapper Poet know that I love working-class literature (especially poetry!).  Unfortunately, I have noticed that I tend to read working-class literature placed in the Rust Belt of the United States.  This is not on purpose.  I do strive to find other writers — and I was pleased to find Jenifer Rae Vernon’s Rock Candy.

Published by West End Press, Rock Candy is a depiction of life in a small lumber town in rural Washington.  The poet chooses to tell her family stories in dialect, often with disturbing results where we find grandfathers who had to be knocked out by their wives because they “drank and turned mean” to an aunt who shoots her husband.

The middle part of this book is a written eulogy to the poet’s childhood friend, Chastity Bartram, who was murdered — she explains that little acknowledgement was given to her friend’s life or death: “BBC never heard of Nisqually River, or the towns that bloom beside it/People magazine had no comment, she was not rich/or educated and for this, the journals gave her living nothing/not even one small “1,” no letters for unlettered minds.”  Citing Chastity’s difficult life, Vernon ends the long eulogy by saying that this woman was important and addressing Chastity directly:  “Extraordinary sunflower kid string bean freckle-head/you had the gift of funniness/you made us laugh in chalk-dust boredom/you were a blast, my firecracker friend/busted flat life up like silver jacks/on night-sky playground tar/drag racer sparking stars/you were necessary.”

One could say that this book is a collection of stories and eulogies — and that is true.  My favorite poems in this book reflect the author’s childhood in this rough and ragged world, a place where children “picked tar off the road and chewed it like gum,”  where a young boy commits suicide before seventh grade, where a young girl sits in a field with a butcher knife and wonders about “how to muster courage to open forearms.”

Certainly, readers looking for more “traditional” poetry may be a bit disappointed with Rock Candy.  Vernon’s work reflects the gritty and harsh landscape of this world through stark images and actions — metaphors are often missing and sometimes the rhyme scheme is a bit confusing.  Still, I found this book an honest reflection of a working-class world that is often overlooked or dismissed in literature.

Wearing Heels in the Rust Belt

I am excited, excited, excited to announce that my second chapbook, Wearing Heels in the Rust Belt, has won Main Street Rag’s annual chapbook contest.   I will keep everyone posted on publication dates, but for now, I just want to say thank you, my blogging poetry universe, for your support of my past work and your comments and questions here on my blog!

Why I Love Anchor Glass

I love Finishing Line Press and not just because this chapbook publishing company published Stealing Dust.  I discover many new poets through Finishing Line — poets who I don’t think I would find in other venues.  My most recent find is Anchor Glass by Karen Dietrich.

The setting for this slim volume of poetry is a small factory town in Pennsylvania — much like the setting of many of my works.  The narrator in “Certainty” explains this place clearly while depicting an eighth grade classroom:  “We were learning to be good citizens/remembering to fan the Youghiogheny/flowing past coke ovens nailed into grass/river rushing cold over our heads/while we slept in houses/our parents paid for with their bodies/their lungs exhaling ash so fine/it barely darkened our dreams.”

The factory is a dominant force in this collection’s narrative poems.  In one poem, “Factory” the narrator describes the building as a “subterranean staircase” that lingered far after the workers returned home:  “Nighttime your furnace breath puffed like a train/across the river, across other bodies coughing for air/your sulfur lungs burning the bedroom black.”  In another poem, “Night Shift”  a daughter fears for her father’s life as she watches him pack his lunch: “wax paper sandwiches, small cellophaned cakes, hard white icing/glass bottles of cola with red paper labels.”

The factory is also part of the domestic life found in some of these poems.  In “Inhaling” the narrator describes laundry chores: “Over clothesline, mother slings/wet work pants like dead bodies/buttons for eyes, rusted zippers for teeth.” 

Dietrich grew up in Connellsville, Pennsylvania.  With a brief bit of research, I discovered that Anchor Glass closed its factory in Connellsville in 2004.  So in many ways, her book is a respectful homage to little factory towns — a landscape that seems to be disappearing.

When I read the poet’s bio, I discovered a big surprise.  Karen Dietrich attended the University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg — the same campus where I first discovered my love of working-class poetry, and the same campus where I received my degree in English literature.  While I am quite sure there is a huge age difference between us (I graduated from Pitt quite a few years ago), I’m excited to read work from another poet from my campus.  And I’m excited about Dietrich’s work — this sample of writing makes me only want to see more.

CLSC Book Ten: The Mighty Queens of Freeville

I’ve been saying that summer is the time for light reading, yet most of the books I have read the last few weeks have not been, what I would say, beach reading.  But I have to write that The Mighty Queens of Freeville by Amy Dickinson fits into my fast and easy book category — and it’s a fun read.

Amy Dickinson’s book is not a novel, nor is it really a traditional memoir.  It’s a group of essays disguised as book chapters.  The book explores the life of a single mother (Dickinson, herself) after a divorce, and then uses various flashbacks of the author’s life to explore the relationship she has with other family members — most women, many single mothers who struggled to raise their families after the fathers were out of the family.

What I really enjoyed about this book was there was no bitterness or preaching. In fact, many of the chapters were downright funny!  The landscape of small town New York was also familiar to me — and I liked how the author made the choice to buy a house in her hometown, yet explore both life and career options in major cities.  In many ways, this book proves that one can got home again!