Archive for June, 2012

June Poetry Pick: Paradise, Indiana

Fans of the Scrapper Poet know that I love collections that explore a specific sense of place, and that is what I love most about Bruce Snider’s Paradise, Indiana.  I won Snider’s book during the Big Poetry Giveaway  from the poet  Shara Lessley (whose book, Two-Headed Nightingale is another great read!). 

Paradise, Indiana is a book length elegy.  From the start, we see the poet mourning the loss of a cousin. In many poems, Snider narrates the past. For example, in “Parts” the narrator explains the relationship he and his cousin have with automobiles:  “In the back of that car, all elbows/and mouths, we knew nothing//corrupted like happiness.”  This shared love is traced through many poems, but is especially important in “At these Speeds” where the narrator says, “He saved for months (mowing lawns, taking/extra shifts at the Dairy Queen) and when//finally he brought it home, I helped him/swirling rags, polishing until the hubcaps shone//the tires special ordered to fit.”   It’s apparent that the narrator shares this love of cars, but then ends the poem pondering the choice his cousin made to take his own life: “But how could I imagine//such travel, knowing only the grief of it/which held me as long as it must have held him/engine//quivering, headlights filling the dark ordinary/garage, one sudden brilliance, then the next?”

Long after his cousin’s death, the poet grapples with life and loss, in several poems titled “Afterlife”.  My favorite is the work where the narrator contemplates the significance of physical objects left behind: “Months later/his wadded t-shirt still smells//of chewing tobacco/his basketball jersey/unforgivable in its wrinkled heap.”

The poet also chronicles the loss through other characters.  He explains in “Fortress” that “After his death, Aunt Starr disappeared/in heaps of faux gold jewelry…”  In “The Girlfriend” the narrator watches as his cousin’s girlfriend mourns, but somehow moves on so  “That spring, she’ll date a guy/on the basketball team” while the narrator himself says”When I pass her at school/I’ll pretend I don’t see her.” 

A beloved cousin’s death  is not the only loss detailed in this collection, however.  Loss is very much part of the physical landscape.  Indeed, the opening poem, “Map” is written in one of my favorite forms: the ghazal.  In this poem, the persona offers both mourning and solace set against this kind of backdrop: “Each winter, sleet turns the cornfield into a cemetery/It’s epitaph reads: Indiana.”

It may be rather presumptuous of me to say that Snider has re-written the elegy.  But I will say it anyways.  Through the reconstruction of a Midwest that many believe we have already seen in poetry, Snider ventures into places such as gay bars and grungy rest stops, stores where grandmothers shoplift and backyards where young teenage boys touch forbidden sexual escapades, all the while studying what is means to suffer loss but also have hope. For those who love narrative poetry, this collection is definitely one you want to pick up!  (And this is Snider’s second book.  I now have his first book, The Year We Studied Women, on my wish list!)

You can find out more information about Paradise, Indiana here.


Where is June Going?

I’m sorry to say that this may be the summer of little to no blogging!  Next week, besides finishing up my creative course, I will be teaching a Young Writers Studio at JCC.  In conjunction with teaching, I will also be spending the week back at Chautauqua listening to various writers including Norman Lear, Meg Wolitzer, and Billy Collins.  More good news: I actually have drafted two new poems in the last few days.  Hopefully, when June is over, I can take a close look at my drafts and my manuscript and dedicate July to finishing my collection.

The Week Ahead…

I always have trouble adjusting to real life after I come home from a writing retreat or a conference.  It’s like getting a taste of some sort of utopian world — where you have unlimited time to write and study and socialize with others who love the written word as much as you do.  I also admire those who can summarize their travels in a concise manner.  I feel like I ramble when I try to write about any type of writing festivities. 

Still, as always, (this is the fifth time I have attended the Chautauqua Writers’ Festival) the weekend was a blast.  A few highlights include meeting up with my old mentor/professor Judith Vollmer, listening to Martin Espada’s reading which included one of my favorite poems of all time, “Alabanza” and learning about the work of nonfiction writers Valerie Boyd and Natalia Rachel Singer. 

It’s actually Singer’s work I’m thinking about this morning as I type this post.  At her reading, Singer spoke about her most recent project, a blog Winter With Zoe,  that chronicles a year with Zoe, her dog dying of cancer. I’m paraphrasing what she said just a bit but she opened her reading with these words: “If you love a pet, you are destined to get your heart broken.”  I’m not sure why I’m thinking of her words this morning.  It’s a gray sort of day outside.  The rush of the conference is over, and real life is settling in.  I think it’s because her blog is uplifting, encouraging us to live as a pet would live, and that is to live in the moment, not worrying so much about the future.  I know that my own mind is always going 100 different directions at once, and most of the time, it’s thinking about the future — tomorrow’s class, next week’s writing seminar, Sunday’s poetry reading, Thursday’s car inspection, today’s doctor’s appointment — the list goes on and on, and that focusing on the here and now is a much happier and healthier place to be.

Off to Chautauqua

This morning I leave for the beautiful Chautauqua Institution to attend the annual writers’ festival.  I’m leaving technology behind, taking only a notebook, lots of pencils, and a poetry book or two.  (Okay, okay, I will have my cell phone for emergencies, but you have to understand, my cell phone is simple and ancient.  Believe it or not, I really only make phone calls on my cell phone!)  Thus, emails will go unanswered and student papers will go unread.  I’m looking forward to the weekend.

Summer Submitting…

Are you making room for submitting to journals in between all your summer plans?  I’m trying….Diane has posted her annual list of journals (Thanks Diane!)  that accepts submissions during the summer.  Perhaps I will be inspired to get moving with my own summer submissions!

June, Oh June

So far, my summer has been a series of self-imposed deadlines — some of them having to do with poetry, such as sending out submission packets and working on the poetry unit of my summer creative writing class.  But, I haven’t got a whole lot of new poems written.  To say that I’m in some sort of writing funk may be an understatement.  I am, however, hoping to change all that when I take off on Thursday to attend the annual Chautauqua Writers’ Festival.

In the meantime, I’ve been reading Young Adult Literature: From Romance to Realism by Michael Cart.  (This book is part of a future project where I hope to write a paper regarding working-class issues in young adult literature).  Cart offers an excellent history of young adult literature, so much so, that I’m feeling a bit nostalgic for my teen Harlequin/Wildfire/Sweet Valley High/Sunfire days.  He talks about the ups and downs of the young adult literary world including brief discussions about where young adult literature is going.  For those of you who may feel a twinge of the same sort of nostalgia I’m feeling, check out this cool website, (which is not affiliated with Cart — I just like it)

CFS: Women and Place

Sundress Publications is looking for submissions for a multi-genre anthology (poetry, fiction and nonfiction) regarding women and place.  Submissions will be accepted on a rolling basis through 2012.  Please look here for more guidelines.

A God in the House

I worked retail for many years and one thing that my bosses and my mother agreed on was what was “appropriate” for conversation and what wasn’t.  Talking about the weather was safe.  Talking about religion and/or politics was not.  I think about that advice for some reason when I read poetry.  I don’t know why. I don’t believe we should avoid politics in poetry.  I also don’t believe we should avoid religion.

A God in the House: Poets Talk About Faith edited by Ilya Kaminsky and Katherine Towler is a book, obviously, that does not avoid religion.  In this collection, the editors bring together 19 contemporary American poets to talk about spirituality and/or religion and the act of writing. 

In one of the essays, Gerald Stern notes that “Poets — maybe all artists — get away from their own religious upbringing in order to arrive at a condition of faith.” Indeed, his words are echoed in many different ways as a variety of poets explore religion and spirituality in their own lives.  For instance, G.C. Waldrep discusses his time with an Amish community while Gregory Orr places his relationship with religion in the context of family tragedy.  Other poets include Fanny Howe, Annie Finch, Li-Young Lee, and Dunya Mikhail.  My favorite essay is  “The Possibility of God” by Jericho Brown, where the poet talks about his struggle with his religious background, his family and his personal life, while still ending up believing: “I love God. I love liberty. I shame one if I lose the other.  I think of God now as way more patient than I could ever be.  I have to believe that God is better than me and better than all of us. That’s the only thing that could make God God.”

This is a collection that does not pass judgement, nor do any writers believe that one religion or path of spirituality is “better” than another.  The essays are non-academic in nature, and in general, are must reads for anyone interested in how contemporary poets explore spirituality in both personal and writing lives. 

A God in the House is published by Tupelo Press.  Take a look here for more information.

CFS: Women and Work

Calling all Working-class women poets! Editors Carolyne Wright and Eugenia Toledo are compiling an anthology titled Raising Lilly Ledbetter: Women Poets Occupy the Workplace.  The deadline for submissions is September 3, 2012.  Poets may submit up to five poems for consideration for publication.  Please read the full guidelines here.