Archive for April, 2012

April: The Month of No Poetry Writing

I admire people who actually get to write poetry during National Poetry Month.  I really do.  It’s just that April is the end of the school semester for me, and this past month, between grading and traveling and giving readings, I’m afraid that I didn’t get a lot of new poems done.   Furthermore, I think literary journals have been doing a bit of spring cleaning, since I received six rejections — two from journals that I thought forgot about me.  And no acceptances. Blah.

Still, it was a good month in many ways.  I sold more chapbooks and as I mentioned before, I’ve been “tickled pink” (as my mother used to say) about the positive response.  I am taking part in the Big Poetry Book Give Away, so if you haven’t signed up yet, you need to do so really soon!  (And thanks to everyone who left replies saying that they already purchased Wearing Heels in the Rust Belt).  I will announce the winners on the first of May!

April Poetry Pick: Plume by Kathleen Flenniken

I have a poetry prompt that I often give my creative writing students.  I ask them to write a poem (this works well for creative nonfiction, also) about the first historical event they remember.  Sometimes, I put the question another way: When was the first time you realized that you were part of a bigger picture?

I then use myself as an example.  In 1979, I was a little girl worried about spending a whole dollar on penny candy and wondering how I could get my tangled ponytails into Princess Leia buns.  Then, one evening, I walked into our family room and saw my parents staring at strange bloated buildings on the television screen and heard the ever favorite Walter Cronkite talking and I knew from their expressions that something was just not right with my world.   I’m speaking of the accident at Three Mile Island, which is located about three hours from my home.  Of course, I didn’t realize the full importance of the event.  I just knew that my parents were anxious and that something important had happened.  It was years later before I understood what.

It’s no secret that my generation grew up with what I can “nuclear anxiety” and of course, a simple blog post can not detail all the reasons why.  But a recent book, Plume by Kathleen Flenniken, illustrates part of this picture.  Flenniken grew up next door to the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Washington state and worked at Hanford for three years as a civil engineer and hydrologist.  Plume is a collection of poems that explore both the poet’s place in this world, as well as Hanford’s role in a larger part of America’s nuclear history.

Flenniken starts her story by addressing John F. Kennedy.  In “My Earliest Memory Preserved on Film” she explains her place in the start of Hanford Nuclear Reservation’s history, “I’m sitting on my father’s shoulders/as you dedicate our new reactor and praise us//for shaping history.”  She later says, “A half century later, I click play again and again/for proof you approve–/but the nuclear age is complicated.”

And complicated it is.  We have poems that explore the everyday lives of those who live in the region.  Some poems are more lyrical like “Afternoon’s Wide Horizon” which states, “The atomic age had been a fond friend/where I lived in Atomic City”.  Some poems mourn loss such as “Rattlesnake Mountain” where the ground was a “radioactive burial ground” that the poet also explains is both “sacred” but “ruined”.  Other poems explore the deception of the facility. As the front flap of the book explains, the 1980s brought declassified documents that revealed that the environment had become contaminated and that essentially, the safety promised to the families living in the area was a lie.  And at the same time, the poet’s childhood friend, Carolyn is losing her father to cancer: “Your marrow/blood cells began to err one moment efficient the next/a few gone wrong stunned by exposure to radiation.”

 But this collection also includes other snippets of nuclear history.  In these poems we hear about Physicist John Archibald Wheeler who worked at the Hanford Site and Manhattan Project health physicist Herbert Parker.  But, my favorite poem is “Atomic Man,” a poem about Harold McCluskey who is a “medical miracle” because during an accident he became the most radioactively contaminated human ever to survive.  As McCluskey says in a poet’s persona voice, “If I have a superpower/it might be clearing a room in seconds/or living 10,000 years, fading little by little.”

Plume’s book is a wonderful poetic investigation of what we have done to our world in our pursuit of nuclear power.  It’s a fine addition to my library which does house other books exploring the nuclear age.  More specifically, Christina Pacosz’s Notes from the Red Zone was published as part of Seven Kitchens Press Rebound series.  You can take a look at Dave Bonta’s review of this chapbook here.   Two anthologies, Atomic Ghosts (poetry) and Learning to Glow (prose) both edited by John Bradley, also take a look at our nuclear age.

Because Chapbooks Need Love Too…

Weave has a great roundup of chapbook reviews published on their homepage.  Obviously, I am a fan of the chapbook, so I’m always thrilled when chapbooks get a bit of attention too!  Take a look at the reviews.  I just finished one of the chapbooks, I Fall in Love with Strangers by Kelly Scarff. I met Kelly at a recent reading (both of us are graduates of the University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg) and I love her work.

This is Not Onion Snow

Onion Snow is a term used in rural Pennsylvania.  (It may be used elsewhere, but I’ve been told that it’s a Pennsylvania term).  It is the first snow after the first warm spell in spring.  Generally speaking, it’s a dusting of maybe an inch of snow on the ground in the morning that melts by noon.

This is not onion snow.

After a month of warm weather and a mild winter, those of us in the Northeast are getting pounded by a storm that may bring over a foot of snow.  Wide spread power outages are expected because the heavy snow will weigh down trees that are in full bloom.

So, if you are snowbound and reading this post, you can relax with the knowledge that this is all supposed to be over by noon tomorrow and that by the end of the week we are supposed to have our warm weather back.  And, you can also stop by Michele Battiste’s blog where I am guest blogging a bit about how I discovered working-class poetry.

Two Links for the Weekend

Sarah Blake Schoenholtz is celebrating National Poetry Month by hosting NPM Daily, a site posting columns and essays by poets.  The site has already had some great work by poets I know (Richard Newman, Julia Kasdorf, and Terrance Hayes) and poets who are new to me (I really have to check out more work by Rachel Mennies).  Take a look!

And, special thanks goes to C.J. Opperthauser who has posted a microreview of Wearing Heels in the Rust Belt here.   I’m thrilled that Wearing Heels is getting so much good press, and guess what? If you don’t have a copy yet, or if you want to enter for a chance to win a copy, please leave a comment here.

Thursday Morning Bits

We are slowly wrapping up the semester here at JCC and my students in my creative writing class are revising their work for their final portfolio.  Yesterday we had an Online Literary Journal Scavenger Hunt where we met in the computer lab to look at various journals.  Their class assignment was to pick their favorite literary journal and discuss why, citing specific works found in the journal.  So which journal ended up being the class favorite?  Blackbird.

Special thanks goes to Will Nixon who posted my poem “The Boy Who Ate Cigarettes” on his blog along with his own poem, “A Natural History fo Cigarette Butts.”  Who would have ever guessed that there were two of us in the poetry world who could (and would) write about boys eating cigarettes! :)

Finally, I  don’t know if I have a lot of readers in the area, but if you happen to be around Lakewood, New York, on Saturday afternoon, stop by Holly Richardson’s Off the Beaten Path, an independent book store located at 28 Chautauqua Avenue.  I will be reading at 2:30 pm.  Copies of Wearing Heels in the Rust Belt will also be for sale.  Off the Beaten Path is celebrating its three-year anniversary (go Independent bookstores!!!!), so besides my reading, there will be bookstore bargains and free food.

Three Poets, Three Memoirs

Obviously, I read a lot of poetry books.  But I also read a lot of books that fall into the literary nonfiction genre including history books, journalism, nature writing, and memoirs — especially memoirs.  So what better way to celebrate National Poetry Month than by blogging about three memoirs by contemporary poets?

Don’t Kill the Birthday Girl by Sandra Beasley (Random House, 2011) Sandra Beasley is allergic to dairy, soy, egg, beef, shrimp, pine nuts, cucumbers, cashews, cucumbers, and mustard.  As a child, Beasley was declared by a nutritionist as “not really designed to survive” — but she did survive, and her memoir is a journey about living in a world where a simple kiss, tinged with cupcake frosting, could kill.  Sandra Beasley is the author of the poetry books Theories of Falling and I Was the Jukebox.

One More Theory About Happiness by Paul Guest (HarperCollins, 2010)  When he was twelve years old, a bicycling accident left Paul Guest as a quadriplegic.  This memoir is a journey of sorts.  Never sentimental, but often times funny, Guest’s memoir explores the meanings of healing and hope. Guest is the author of the poetry books, The Resurrection of the Body and the Ruin of the World, Notes for My Body Double, and My Index of Slightly Horrifying Knowledge.

The Mountain and the Fathers by Joe Wilkins (Counterpoint, 2012) Joe Wilkins lost his father at a young age, and his memoir details this emotional loss in the prologue of his book.  However, this memoir is not written in traditional linear structure in order of chronological events.  Instead, The Mountain and the Fathers is a collection of essays about the author’s relationships with both the men in his life and the harsh landscape that makes up his world.  Set in the backdrop of the “Big Dry” of Eastern Montana, Wilkins book has been compared to the works of Norman Maclean and Jim Harrison. Joe Wilkins is the author of the poetry collection, Killing the Murnion Dogs.

All three books should be added to your reading list!  And if you have any suggestions for memoirs by poets, please drop me a note.  I’m always looking for more good reading.

Inquiring Minds

As part of a celebration of National Poetry Month, Christine Klocek-Lim is posting a series of interviews from poets on her blog.  You can check out my thoughts on inspiration, perspiration, and a poet’s audience (among other things) here.

Route 30

It’s the second week of National Poetry Month and I’m recovering from a whirlwind of a trip to my beloved alma mater, the University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg (UPG). 

Dear Readers, I have to say that the trip was bittersweet in many ways.  I graduated from UPG in 1995, and I only visited campus once after graduation (sometime around 1998 or so, I think).  So I arrived at a campus that was very different from the campus I once attended.  New buildings, new facilities, new roads.  I was disoriented for a moment before I found a building that was familiar to me. Many faculty members are now gone too — retired.  When I looked at a list of faculty names and offices I barely knew anyone. 

Still, I had a wonderful time.  I was on campus to read at the first ever Alumni Reading and Launch of Route 30, a collection of works by UPG alumni. Lori Jakiela (who has a new poetry book out, Spot the Terrorist!), Director of UPG’s writing program, hosted a wonderful event.  I also caught up with my old advisor/mentor Judy Vollmer and the professor of my fiction writing classes, Stephen Murabito. 

Finally, I got the chance to meet many other alumni of UPG and listen to their wonderful work.  In the introduction to Route 30, Jakiela paraphrases Kurt Vonnegut by saying that “real writers are in the places you’d least expect to find them.”   The writers in this anthology may be college graduates, but the subjects of their works are in very real places. 

This morning as I type this post, I’m thinking about how many writers seem to want to teach at big colleges with big names.  As a community college professor, I run into this idea a lot.  In the world of academics, those who teach at community colleges are often considered Black Sheep of the Academic Family — and if you teach in a rural community college, you are really in trouble! :)  But then, I look at UPG as a prime example of how a group of dedicated faculty can make such huge differences in students’ lives.  UPG is not a big campus.  When I was there, most of us were struggling working-class, first generation college students, and I don’t think  the student body has changed that much.  Still, the little program has seen many success stories (and no, I’m not tooting my own horn — I’m talking about the others who were present).  As educators in the humanities, what more could we ever want than to be part of those success stories?

Review for the Weekend

Dave Bonta is reading and blogging about one poetry book or chapbook per day to celebrate National Poetry Month! I’m honored that he has picked Wearing Heels in the Rust Belt for his most recent review.  You can read what he says here, but I know that I will be following along for more books for my own reading list!

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