Archive for October, 2011

Matched & 100 Poems

When it comes to reading, I have many guilty pleasures.  One is reading the dystopian/science fiction young adult novels that are so popular now (I finished off The Hunger Games series months ago).  I just finished Matched by Ally Condie.   Matched takes place in a future world where nothing is left to chance and fate is controlled by an all-knowing, very powerful government.  The main character, Cassia, is likeable, although the love triangles that always seem to be found in these types of books are a bit tiresome.  Still, poetry plays a central part of this book, which is why I’m writing about it here.

In this world, the government has decided that society has become too cluttered, so many material things have been taken away from the people — including pieces from the art world.  Children are educated in art by knowing that there are 100 pieces of art they should know: 100 paintings, 100 songs, and yep, you guessed it, 100 poems.  The rest have been lost.

The book takes a turn when Cassia’s dying grandfather gives her a poem that has not been found in the “100 poems.”  What poem is this, you may ask?  It’s Dylan Thomas’s “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night.”  In this world, Cassia can be arrested for merely carrying this poem around. 

I’m not going to go into the other plotlines of the book, or the fact that yes, this book is part of a trilogy (which is the big craze in the young adult literature world — everything has to come in 3’s).  Instead, I leave you with this question:  what 100 poems would you keep for future generations? You would make this decision knowing that these children would not know other poems — only these 100.


Halloween Writing Prompt

Halloween is in the air here.  The air is cool and damp, and in my neighborhood (which has an after-school-special feel to it), the costume parties are on.  Apparently princesses are big this year.  And zombies.  And zombie princesses.

I digress.  Growing up, most of us knew tales of urban folklore — you know, the killer who torments the babysitter on the phone, Bloody Mary who shows herself if you call her name three times in the mirror, the serial killer with a hook for a hand.  These tales have been analyzed quite a bit in studies related to popular culture.  Of course, we didn’t know they were stories from urban folklore — we just told them to scare ourselves silly.

Katie has a great post about using these stories in our poems — and making them fresh in our writing.  Earlier this week, I drafted a poem titled “How to Pick Up a Vanishing Hitchhiker” — I admit, it’s showing a bit of promise.


Tawni O’Dell, Writing, & Coming Home

Loyal readers of the Scrapper Poet know that the work of novelist Tawni O’Dell strikes a chord with me.  Last night, along with a crowd of about 70 people, I had the privilege — and yes I say privilege, we don’t get a lot of famous writers in the frozen North here — to listen to Tawni (I will call her Tawni in this post, but it’s not like we are best friends; she just seemed like a real down to earth person) speak about her life and her works. 

I’m always a bit nervous about meeting famous writers and writers I greatly admire.  Many have not lived up to my expectations — which I admit, are sometimes a bit lofty.  For example, a few years ago I sat in the audience where Janet Zandy was speaking on a panel, and all I could think of was “Wow, she seems so normal.”  (For those of you who don’t know Zandy — she is a working-class scholar, editor and writer) That day at the panel, she was well spoken and respectful of audience’s questions.  Her answers also played well with other panelists’ comments. I don’t know what I was thinking — that she would have some kind of blue collar halo around her head? The let-down was on my part so since that moment, I have been trying to tone down my expectations a bit when I see someone whose work I absolutely adore.

Anyways, Tawni was fabulous last night.  Sarcastic and funny and really down to earth.  She spoke about her journey from five rejected novels (yes, five — I should not feel sorry about my little pile of rejection notes concerning single poems) to being a member of Oprah’s Book Club (for her book Back Roads).  She spoke about the baffling process of turning a book into a movie (Back Roads is in the works — a story too complicated to properly relay here.) She spoke about fan mail (some funny, some obnoxiously funny) and she spoke about her new novel, that is still “being written.” 

Still, what I remember most was the part of the talk about really knowing a place.  Tawni’s novels all take place in Pennsylvania — mostly coal country Pennsylvania and while her primary settings are small towns that really don’t exist, she does mention places I know well.  Tawni explained that she left Pennsylvania and moved to Chicago for 13 years, and it wasn’t until she was away, that she really began to understand her home.

I guess I can say the same thing about my own writing.  I didn’t realize the differences about my world until I went away to college.  I didn’t realize that many teens did not grow up in the back of pickup trucks or by local bars and pool halls.  I didn’t realize that many people did not learn to swim in ponds and rivers — like I did.  I didn’t realize that many people didn’t know that swing shifts and nights shifts in factories existed.  I don’t even think I knew the terms “blue collar” or “working-class” until I moved away from home.  (I was naive in some aspects — totally NOT naive in others)

Today, that’s something I am going to be thinking about as I sit down to revise some of my poems.  For some odd and wonderful reason, I am caught up with my school work (that won’t last long) and I have time to really think about five or six poems that are waiting for my attention.  For those of you who focus on a sense of place in your writing I would encourage you to think about what the rest of the world see in your place. Why?  What do you want to do to clarify or even completely turn around this perception?  And why is that so important?

New Poem at Rougarou

According to legend, the Rougarou is a wolf-like beast that haunts the swamps and bayous of Louisiana.  However, in this post, Rougarou is a literary journal by the ULL Department of English where my poem has just been published.

You can read my prose poem here.

You can read about the Rougarou here or here.

Rain & Some Good News

It has rained straight since Friday morning, and the forecast doesn’t call for that to change.  In some ways, our beautiful Autumn October has been ruined.  When I look outside, all I see is a child’s drippy watercolor painting where all the bright hues have run together.  And it’s damp.  And it’s cold. 

Still, I got some good news yesterday.  Holly Burnside and Anthony Frame, editors of Glass: A Journal of Poetry, dropped me a note to say that they nominated my poem, “The Summer I Stopped Catching Bees” for Sundress Publications 2011 Best of the Net Anthology.   Here’s the announcement here, and you can read my poem here.  Thanks Holly and Anthony!

October Haunts

To say that I’m taking a break from poetry would be a bit misleading.  But right now, I feel a bit crazy with revisions and upcoming deadlines (not to mention trying to set up some readings for the spring and summer for Wearing Heels in the Rust Belt).  So in an effort to save myself from total insanity, I have dedicated October as read horror books month.

I will admit, dear readers, that as a kid I read every horror book in sight.  I read Stephen King’s work way before I was supposed to, and I loved this young adult/kid series titled Twilight (no — not by Stephanie Meyer fame, the only information I could find about this out-of-print series can be found here). But, I haven’t read much horror/suspense in recent years.  So, I’m trying to catch up.

What have I already read this month?  John Ajdive Lindqvist’s novel, Handling the Undead, is his second novel.  His first book, at the risk of talking about vampire books, was the very dark, Let the Right One In.  I really liked Let the Right One In, and thought that both movies based after the book were very well done.  Handling the Undead, about a city that handles zombies after a mysterious electrical storm brings back its dead people, was also a good read — except the ending, which I won’t discuss here, just in case you want to read the book.

Right now, I’m reading Frankenstein’s Monster by Susan Heyboer O’Keefe, a sequel of sorts to the original class, Frankenstein.  I know that I’m always taking a risk when I pick up this kind of book, and to be honest, this risk did not pay off.  I’m just not enjoying the story, even though the author is attempting to place more sympathy with Victor Frankenstein’s creation.   However, it is making me want to go back and read Mary Shelley’s original classic — which is a good thing.

As for monsters in the poetry world?  My recommendation of the month is Richard Newman’s chapbook, Monster Gallery: 19 Terrifying and Amazing Monster Sonnets.  This link (you will have to scroll down) has information about the chapbook as well as sample poems.  I love the idea that Newman dedicated a whole volume to monster poems that are also sonnets!  My favorite is “Attack of the Giant Crab People” — but Newman also includes a poem about vampires (for you vampire lovers out there) titled “Vampire Laments the Loss of His Reflection.”

CFS: Cars, Bars & Stars

One of my favorite literary journals, Slipstream, has posted its latest call for submissions for the theme, “Cars, Bars & Stars”.  Check here for the guidelines.  Their last issue, with the theme “Sex, Food, and Death” is a great! (and check out the cover!)

Fall Break

Will the real October please stand up?  This month started off cold and rainy — so cold, that I gave in and turned up the heat (because of high gas bills, I try to wait it out until November).  But now, this weekend has brought our Indian Summer — colors that make Pennsylvania the landscape of picture calendars.  Plus, it’s wonderfully, wonderfully warm outside.

I’m in the middle of JCC’s Autumn Break, and I’m trying to get some writing done.  I have been drafting almost everyday, but somehow can’t actually get a lot of my poems “done.”  Nevertheless, I did send out three submission packets last week.  Unlike most people — I don’t send out a lot of submissions in the fall, mostly because my schedule is always crazy busy.

In other news, my postal carrier has been very busy this week.  I got my contributor’s copies of Fourth River, the literary journal published by Chatham University’s MFA program.  My work joins poems by some of my favorite people, including Phil Terman, Todd Davis, and Judith Vollmer.  In general, the journal focuses on work that creates a strong sense of place — you may want to check it out!

I also got my regular copy of Cave Wall, one of my favorite literary journals.  Just a reminder:  October is when Cave Wall is open for submissions, so you may want to look at the full guidelines.   I also got the Fall 2011 copy of Midwestern Gothic, which features some great poems by poets Nancy Devine, Christina Olson, and Brandi Homan.  In fact, if you click here, you can read a great interview with Homan!

Finally, I found out that I will be reading my poems at the annual Appalachian Studies Association conference in March.  This year’s conference will be held in Indiana, Pennsylvania — a mere three hours from where I live (That is close — in rural Pennsylvania world).  I don’t know the details yet, but will keep you posted.

Now, it’s time to venture back outside to enjoy the rest of the weekend.

Glossy Thursday

The best advice that I have ever received was to read — read everything — even poets who don’t write like you or poets you don’t think you will understand.  I’ve just finished a book that falls into the first category.

Ida Stewart’s book, Gloss, won the Perugia Press’s award for 2011, and because I always love Perugia’s books, I ordered my copy right away.  And then I found out that the book was about the Appalachia region, and I got even more excited.  When the book came in the mail, I dove right in.

At first, I must admit, I was a bit disappointed.  I have always loved the work of other West Virginian poets including Irene McKinney and Maggie Anderson, and I guess I was expecting an imitation of their work, which of course, is unfair all around.  Stewart is not a strict narrative poet — although her poems certainly tell stories.  Instead, she evokes a song like, lyrical quality in her work — almost as if she is trying to capture the echoes of mountains.  Her works are full of wild sarsapilla, of “little moons/of deer eyes,” of split-rail fences. Yet, while there is celebration in her work, Stewart does not ignore the politics of her world, often having her mountains celebrate their own presence or speak against the pillaging of their world. 

Although I live in Northern Appalachia, Stewart’s world is not my world.  My mountains, or “hills” are still intact.  (Pennsylvania is wrestling with another environmental issue, fracking, which has not yet entered the poetry world.  Or maybe it has and I just don’t know about it!) But Stewart’s use of language embraces the natural wonder of our land without falling into cliché — her work really deserves a more careful review on my part, but as time is limited right now, I just want to say that Stewart is on my list of poets whose work I will watch for!