Archive for February, 2013

A Month of Detours

February started off with a detour.  And I haven’t been able to get back on track (with either regular life or my own writing) since.

Yes, here in Western Pennsylvania/New York, we missed many of the big named snowstorms (Nemo, I’m talking about you!), but we’ve had our share of Lake Effect Snow.  At the start of the month, I had to battle many days of uneasy travel to my job, and one morning, I had to take a detour, because of an accident, through the icy Alleghenies.  The hills and farmhouses, covered in sparkling white snow, were beautiful.  The road was not.

Since that drive, I’ve had major projects to complete for school, a start of a new class, and more prep for my Modern Novel class, a course that I don’t get to teach very often and requires a lot of extra reading.  (Right now, we are finishing Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut — not my favorite, but my students love him!)

Then, there was a family member who had an accident (he is fine), an elderly father who was sick (he’s feeling better now), and a friend who was diagnosed with stage four kidney failure (he and his wife are coping).

Plus, we are dealing with a clogged drain that is causing some water in our basement (we are working on that issue…)

And…we are facing another storm that may make for another fun trip to work in the morning!

Still, I know, that like all detours, one eventually gets back on the original route towards his or her destination.  I want to find that route soon!


CFS: Country Living

Harpur Palate is currently looking for work pertaining to country living!  According to the journal’s webiste, the editors are looking for essays, stories and poems that take the reader “away from city skyscrapers and bring them to the interior of the eclectic American countryside.”  No hillbilly stereotypes!

Please click here for more information.

February Poetry Pick: Mud Cakes

MudCakesWeb“On the playground it always came down/to the same thing: Doug had the toy lightsabor/and I didn’t,” so says the narrator in “Being Luke” a poem that highlights the major themes in Jason Schossler’s Mud Cakes.  Schossler’s first collection of poetry is a coming-of-age story in America, complete with explorations of religion, family dynamics and pop culture.  Acting as an umbrella over the collection, however, is Schossler’s depiction of place, and how this place influences our personal identities in today’s world.

Ashtabula, Ohio, located on the rural shores of Lake Erie, is the location for the poems in this collection.  From the first poem, “Steinbeck’s Route,” Schossler sets the stage for this landscape: “Think of him in hunting cap and naval cap/as he bucketed into Ashtabula County//lightly crusted with the dirt of travel/the overloaded springs of his camper sighing//under the weight of double bed and four-burner stove/in front of Dunk’s Home Diner. ” The narrator’s take on Steinbeck’s journey is fictional, as he later explains, “He wrote nothing of our town//neither of the lake-polished driftwood/along the beach nor the oily waves that sloshed//against the piers.”  Thus, when the narrator ends the poem with Steinbeck leaving, “it wasn’t for lack of friendly face” but because “the road away from here/seemed broad and straight and sweet”  — we see reflections that certainly mirror the mixed emotions of home shown throughout most of this collection.

Other poems further explore the landscape of the narrator’s world.  In “Amelia Avenue” we find children at play on “asphalt softening” in a world full of “helicopter seeds and soda-pop caps.”  In “Garage” we find a narrator missing his father among a landscape of “hubcaps, a railroad lantern, bucks of nails/a Sanka can of spark plugs.”  And in one of my favorite poems, “Potholes” the poet describes the landscape in terms of the road conditions.  “The gravel mouth by Dairy Queen,” for instance, “drank in rainwater/and oak sprigs.” Indeed, the damaged road affects vehicles, “blown tires, cracked axles, bent rims” but leaves a bigger fear with the narrator, who says, upon approaching “asphalt that will only break again like poorly/mended bone” that if he hesitates and idles too long “the road might disappear beneath me.”

Lyrical explorations of landscape are important in this collection. Yet, readers will immediately see that narratives are the predominant form of poetry in this book. Schossler, himself, talks a little about influences in story telling here on his website, and in his work, we see memories told through images of pop culture and childhood play.  In “Mud Cakes” we see a mother eat her children’s earthy creations full of “thistle seed/red mushroom, dried beetle shells” and in “New Toy” we see a narrator contemplating all the reasons there wouldn’t be something new to play with:  “An empty gas tank/was a constant nemesis/as were cracked engine blocks/and broken water pipes.”  Many other poems display a later period in time, as shown in “September” where a narrator teetering on the edge of those precarious adolescent years notices two girls “in swimsuits and sandals/towels hugging hips/like some shy part of themselves/carrying the smell of that dark place/that circles dock and harbor.”

Schossler’s work was brand new to me.  I purchased the book because I couldn’t resist the cover, and when I flipped through the pages, I was drawn in by the poet’s stories. It wasn’t until I got the book home, that I realized that the collection takes place in a community located less than two hours from where I currently live.  As someone who is drawn to place, especially those places that are often pushed aside in the literary world, I love that Mud Cakes narrates a world where children learn how to be resilient and hopeful even though they are immersed in the struggles going on around them.

More information can be found on Schossler’s website and at Bona Fide Books.

Love & Oranges in 2013

Is it possible to write an original love poem today?  One that is not sentimental, but still portrays real feelings without falling into overused metaphors and clichés? These are questions I pose to my students when I teach creative writing.  I’m not sure of the answers  — but I know that there are many love poems out there for us all to enjoy.  Here is one of my favorites: Oranges by Gary Soto.   (The link is from The Favorite Poetry Project at Penn State — it’s a great blog!)

CFS: Theme Issues at Glass

The editors of Glass: A Journal of Poetry have recently announced plans for two theme issues.  According to the journal’s website, plans are in place to have two sections in each issue: one section for general submissions and the other section devoted to poems pertaining to the issue’s theme. The featured theme for volume six, issue one ,is rebirth and the featured theme for volume six, issue two is Great Lake Poets.  Please check out the website for submission deadlines and other guidelines.

The Next Big Thing Blog Tour

I’ve been tagged to take part of The Next Big Thing Blog Tour by the wonderful poet and editor Justin Hamm!  Take a look as what he has to say about his new chapbook, which should be out any day now.

What is your working title of your book (or story)?
Barefoot by Roadkill, but I will probably  change my mind!  (Another working title is Roadkill Girls – the image of roadkill is obviously very present in my collection)
Where did the idea come from for the book?
I love narrative poetry, and am especially drawn to poetry based on memories, especially childhood memories, and how these memories influence personal identity.  Many of these poems are narratives.  In general, this book expands on some of the themes found in my chapbook, Wearing Heels in the Rust Belt, which won Main Street Rag’s 2011 Chapbook Contest and was published last year.
What genre does your book fall under?
Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
The narrator changes quite a bit and grows up, so I believe that Elle Fanning would be great in the poems that feature a young narrator (if she doesn’t grow up too fast).  Jennifer Lawrence (Think Winter’s Bone, not The Hunger Games) would be wonderful as the narrator in the poems where the speaker is older.
What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
A young girl comes of age in a small rural Rust Belt town in Western Pennsylvania.
Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
I don’t have a publisher yet, but I do have an editor who wants to see a full length manuscript from me!
How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
Wow.  I would say two years for this first draft, but I’m still revising!  A lot!  I feel there are a lot of gaps in the book, and that is why I haven’t sent my book to many publishers.
What other books would you compare this book to within your genre?
Any contemporary books that explore working-class life, so yes, I love poets Jim Daniels and Philip Levine.  With that said, I think that my book, in many ways, could be compared to work by Sandy Longhorn (because she writes about the rural life, although the rural life found in her book, Blood Almanac is very different from what I know), Julia Spicher Kasdorf (The poet’s background is very different from my background, but it seems that a lot of her poems touch on similar themes that are found in my poems), and Sandee Gertz Umbach (whose great book, The Pattern Maker’s Daughter, mirrors many themes of working-class life in Pennsylvania that are found in my book).
Who or what inspired you to write this book?
Many of these poems are autobiographical.  Many are not.  So yes, I can say that my life has inspired this work, but it would be more honest to say that the people around me inspire me — family members, neighbors, my friends, and  my students. The landscape also inspires my work, and many of my poems revolve around the rural life that is all around me.
What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
It’s definitely about the rural life, but blue-collar/working-class issues are very much present.  After all, I have women who work in factories, women who are waitresses, and women who pump gas for a living.  And obviously, since women are featured as main characters and narrators, anyone interested in gender studies may enjoy my work.
I’m supposed to tag five other poets to participate, but most of the people I know have already been tagged!  Instead, I will provide links to five poets who have interesting work coming soon…
Sara Tracey has just announced that her book Some Kind of Shelter will be published later this year.
Jeannine Hall Gailey talks about her new book, Unexplained Fevers, which should be out soon!
Mary Biddinger discusses O Holy Insurgency, her third collection, which has just arrived at her doorstep (and should be arriving at my home in the next few weeks!)
Collin Kelley talks about his newest collection, Render!  I just preordered my copy and you can too!
I know the work of all these poets, so of course, I’m always eager to see what is coming next.  However, Kelly Davio is new to me. Still, I’ve heard so many good things and I love what she has to say about her forthcoming collection, Burn This House!

CFS: The Road Taken/Not Taken

The editors of Spillway are looking for poems about choices!  Their themed issued for June 2013 will focus on poems that explore the general theme of the road taken/not taken.  Submissions will be accepted until the last day of March.  Please refer to the guidelines for more information.