Archive for November, 2011

Thanksgiving Break Bits

I’m recovering from the holiday celebrations and trying to gear myself up for the last two weeks of the semester.  Somehow, I managed not to bring a lot of school work home with me, so this upcoming week, I will have piles of papers due.  Then, I will have finals to grade.  Then, the Christmas holiday.  So to sum it all up — I am heading into the craziest time of the year.

I needed this break to relax, and I did.  I managed to catch up a bit with my reading.  In late December, I will be posting my top ten poetry picks of the year (full length collections published in 2011), and I have to say that it’s going to be hard — while I read a few collections that have disappointed me, most books published this year were very good.  (I also just got done reading Kristin’s fantastic lists of poetry collections for Christmas.  Take a look here for what she has to say!  I know I will be making my wish list with her help!)

More importantly, however, I worked on my manuscript.  I seldom blog about the painful project I call my first length poetry collection in progress.  I read so many articles and so many essays about compiling a manuscript that I stare at my piles of poems scattered about my bed (usually with a cat involved somehow) and just get discouraged.  Then, I quit and gather up the pile, throw the whole project in a folder, and stuff it into the bottom drawer of my desk.  No lecture here, please:  I know the collection is not going to get published this way.

But this break, I took time to sort through my poems.  I got rid of some favorites because they didn’t quite fit with the flow of my collection.  I also broke out of the awkward chronological order that seemed to want to dominate my book.  Am I totally happy with the collection?  No.  But, I’m pretty satisfied.  I think it’s a great start.  Right now, my manuscript is sitting sealed in an envelope ready to go out into the world.  I’m charging Anthony with post office duty on Monday!



RIP Ruth Stone

I just heard about the passing of Ruth Stone.  I never worked with Ruth Stone, nor did I ever have the opportunity to hear her read, but I greatly admired her work. (I have quite a few of her books on my bookshelf)  A few years ago, I taught one of Stone’s poems, “Another Feeling” in my creative writing class.  One of my students said that the poem “really bothered her.”  When I asked why, the student told me, “Well, I thought about the poem long after last class was over.”

Wow.  Isn’t that what a great poem should do?

You can read “Another Feeling”  here.

RIP Ruth Stone

Illinois, My Apologies

Someone once asked me why I never ventured very far from where I grew up.  There’s a lot of answers to that question.  I could talk about how Pennsylvania retains its natives (more than any other state, I hear).  I could talk about how I wanted to stay close to family and friends.  I could talk about how I was lucky enough to find a good paying job close to my home state. 

Mostly, however, I just say that I have an “exasperated” fondness for my world.

Recently, I finished a chapbook that expresses more than just “an exasperated fondness” for the land.  Justin Hamm’s chapbook, Illinois, My Apologies, displays the anger  a person can have with a place, along with the frustration of unrequited love for a land that is not always kind.

In the opening poem, a grieving narrator muses,  “Yesterday my mother died/and as I passed between your/hard black winter fields/I remembered/that I belong to you/for the first time/and for once my first thought/was not to scream/but turn my ear to the open/and listen.”

And this is a collection that does spend a lot of time listening.  Sometimes, this listening takes part when the speaker details the people of his place as he does in “At Sixteen” where he describes the fathers who live in the Midwest: “Bleary eyed and bitter/about their swollen/father ankles/their crooked/father fingers/their click-clacking/father joints/and their endless/father mortgages.”  Sometimes, the listening takes place when a speaker recounts a memory. My favorite poem in this collection is “The Last Year on the Farm” where the narrator remembers, as a child, crawling into his grandfather’s lap, and “pressing pillowy cheek to sagging cheek/enclosing in your fingers his twisted ones/and straining against the obstinacy of time/to see the same thing he was seeing.”

Other times, this listening is sort of an inner monologue the speaker has with himself.  For instance, in “The Flour Epiphany” the narrator remarks while looking in a mirror:  “I see my father in two versions: one as a young man/when he wore so much drywall dust/with a vast, innocent dignity/and one as an old, old man/when the color will be nothing/more than another dreaded sign/of his accumulated age.”

All in all, Hamm’s collection is more than just a thoughtful volume that explores an American place.  His poems are full of barfight sweat, churning rivers, industries that stand stark and ugly on horizons.  Such descriptions may make a reader wonder how a speaker would even want to try to love such bleak landscapes.  But I can guarantee that any one who reads this collection will gain new appreciation for the Midwest and the people, especially men, who toil there.

Illinois, My Apologies was published just this past year by RockSaw Press, a totally awesome (sorry my 80’s roots are showing) small press with this mission: “We strive to be a working class press, supported by hard work and dedication.”  I got my copy from Justin Hamm himself — and you can read more about his work at his blog located here.

Already Looking Ahead

Kitsune Books, the lovely publishing company that brought us Jeannine Hall Gailey’s She Returns to the Floating World, has a note posted about their books for 2012!  So, I am thinking ahead too! As loyal fans of The Scrapper Poet know, at the end of December, I always post a list of poetry collections that are slated for publication in the upcoming year.  I’m gathering names now — so far, I have the following poets who have collections coming in 2012:  Mary Biddinger, Gabriel Welsch, Jehanne Dubrow, Lori Jakiela, Judith Vollmer, Paula Bohince, Emily Rosko, Traci Brimhall, Brent Goodman, Michael McGriff, Kathleen Flenniken, K.A. Hays, Patricia Smith and Eduardo C. Corral. 

If you have a collection coming out in 2012, or if you know someone I missed (and there are many names, I am sure, I’m a bit secluded here in rural Pennsylvania), please leave a note on my blog or drop me a line at

Guest Blogger at Escape Into Life

I have already come to terms with the fact that this November I will be mostly MIA in the blogging world.  I have piles of papers to grade, deadlines to meet, books to read, and poems to finish (Drafts are literally floating around the house.  I caught one of my cats actually chewing, yes chewing, on one of my poems the other day).  However, you can catch my guest post over at Escape Into Life.  On this particular post, I talk about rust belt writing, Tawni O’Dell (yet again!),  strong working class women, and yes, my new chapbook, Wearing Heels in the Rust Belt.  Besides my post, a poem from the chapbook, is also featured.  Special thanks goes to Kathleen for the invitation!

CFS: The Epistolary Poem

Poemeleon is looking for your best epistolary poems!  If this term is unfamiliar to you, take a look at Poemeleon’s latest call for submissions.  The deadline is January 31, 2012.

CFS: The Persona Poem

Hello speculative poetry writers!  Jeannine Hall Gailey is the guest editor for Eye to the Telescope, an online journal of speculative poetry.  She is looking for persona poetry — poetry written in another voice — voices from mythology, from folklore, from fairy tales, etc… The deadline is December 1, 2011.  Please see here for the guidelines.

November Silence

My blog has been silent because November has started out in a whirlwind — school has kept me busy, poetry drafting has kept me busy, organizing my manuscript has kept me busy.  Plus, I started out the month with two rejections.  Sigh.  I guess that is two more dollars in the Rejection Jar.

Still, there’s always good news to be found somewhere. M. Scott Douglass, Publisher/Editor of Main Street Rag said this about my chapbook in his “Front Seat” column found in the pages of the newest volume of The Main Street Rag:

 “I’m very pleased with all the contest selections we have made this year, but having grown up in Pittsburgh and lived in Erie for 13 years, there were a few I relate to better than others.  This is one.”

Certainly, depicting the strong sense of place of rural/Rust Belt Pa is a goal for me — and I’m forever thankful for M. Scott Douglass and the judges at Main Street Rag for bringing Wearing Heels in the Rust Belt to the page.  Don’t forget (as she tries to slide this bit of shameless self-promotion to her blog), you can preorder my chapbook by clicking on the link located to the left of this post.

In other good news, I just got done reading Joe Wilkins’ Killing the Murnion Dogs (Black Lawrence Press, 2011).  I really don’t have the words to say how much I loved this book.  It made me physically ache.  Wilkins’ book takes the reader to the backroads of America — to a rain thirsty ranch in Montana, to the Mississippi Delta, to a roadside diner in Iowa, to a sidewalk outside a liquor store in South Memphis.   If I’m making his poems sound like a glorified road trip, then I apologize.  I have seen very few poets depict the grit and toughness of America with such loving care.  No melodrama here — just a deep love and respect for the rugged landscape of this country and the people who balance their everyday lives waiting for hope found in rain, in beer and cigarettes, in the open highways.  This book really deserves a full review — but I’m horribly behind with my reviews, so you can see a great sampling of his poetry at his website.