Archive for May, 2013

One Conference, Two Papers

We are slowly breaking away from a cold spell that enveloped us this past weekend.  Rumor has it that some people had snow up in the hills that surround my home.  However, today, I woke up to thunderstorms and a  forecast that is going to bring us warmer weather.

I am in the middle of a week of projects.  I’m trying to wrap up some lingering assignments left from the semester.  I am also trying to finish up two conference papers. Yep, in a few weeks, I will be heading to the Working-Class Studies Conference in Madison, Wisconsin, where I will be presenting two papers on two different topics.  I’ve presented at conferences before, but never back-to-back presentations.  Should be fun.  And challenging.

The first paper is about Leonard Kress’s chapbook The Centralia Mine Fire and the metaphors placed within his collection about a fast disappearing way of life.  Regular readers will known about my interest in Centralia, and I have researched and discussed how other poets, including Karen Blomain and Barbara Crooker, have said about Centralia in their poems.  But this is the first time I have taken on Kress’s wonderful chapbook, which is now out of print, but you can read it here.

The second paper is about the depiction of The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire in two young adult books: Uprising by Margaret Peterson Haddix and Ashes of Roses by Mary Jane Auch.  I have always said that when I have more spare time (ha!) I would like to complete an annotated bibliography of young adult books that look at working class histories and/or issues.  (As always, if you have recommendations, please let me know!).  I know these two books are not the only books that describe this important historical event, but I believe they are a good place to start.

So, June is around the corner, and these last days of May will be dedicated to finishing old projects and starting some new ones!

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Read This Book: Navigating Disaster by Sheryl St. Germain

NavigatingWhen I was young, a category four tornado struck a small town located about 30 minutes from where I lived.  Four people were killed in the disaster.  This particular tornado was part of a tornado outbreak that struck Ohio and Pennsylvania in late May of 1985.  At least 30 storms were part of this tragedy that killed 76 people.

With the recent news of the tornado in Oklahoma, I’ve been thinking a lot about this event in my past, and in general, how we face disaster — both at a national level and at a more personal level.  I’ve also been thinking about a book I just read titled Navigating Disaster: Sixteen Essays of Love and a Poem of Despair by Sheryl St. Germain.

St. Germain is from New Orleans, and in her prelude, she tells the reader that she “didn’t want to write a book ‘about’ Katrina.”  Instead, she explains, ‘I wanted to see the catastrophe as part of a larger life story, one that might change that story, but was not the story itself.  We often tend to focus on catastrophe exclusively, making it the heart of a life or an existence. I resist that impulse: though we may be shaped by catastrophe, it does not, and should not, define us.”

Indeed, Katrina is very much part of this book, but it doesn’t define the author or her family.  Instead, St. Germain finds these defining moments in different ways, especially through travel. In her essays, she catalogs physical surroundings but also narrates stories of home. Often, these essays work with memory, negotiating the author’s present ideas to her thoughts of the past. In the first few essays of this book, St. Germain is traveling in Alaska, considering the similarities of her surrounding with her home.  In other essays, she returns to home through memory, contemplating the complex history of racism in her family or the role that the levees played in her life. In my favorite piece, “Why She Won’t Leave: My Mother’s Blues” the author gives us a love song in prose, celebrating both family, place, and home.

St. Germain is a master at the lyrical essay — so much so, that one will probably forget that the book (with the exception of one poem at the end) is a collection of essays and not a collection of poetic verse.  It’s easy to get lost (in a good way) in the places described in this collection, but not easy to forget that the stories being related are told out of love.  Navigating Disaster is a wonderful collection of strength, and a must read, especially in today’s troubled times.

Movie Break

Okay, so the English Professor in me wants to see The Great Gatsby (in spite of the lukewarm reviews).  But, the trekkie in me also wants to see the newest Star Trek movie.  (My brothers raised me on the originals — I watched the reruns over and over again while I growing up.  Today, the shows are on Netflix and when I watch certain episodes, I can quote many lines by heart.) And to make the issue more complicated, the comic book geek I live with wants to see the newest Iron Man movie. 

Who knows?  It’s the first week of summer vacation and I need a break — maybe we can catch all three!  (If anyone has a recommendation, please let me know.)

Update: The new Star Trek movie won out, and it was a good choice — even better than the first movie (no spoilers here).

13 Poems

So far, 2013 has not been especially kind — not on the homefront, not in the world.  Writing has definitely taken a backseat to life, and instead of working on more formal pieces, I have been doing a lot of journaling.  Still, my final grades are in, and writing, whether it’s for the world (a few small part of the world)or for me, does give me a sense of peace.

I spent this morning reviewing my poetry drafts from 2013, and it’s true, I haven’t written a lot — but I did find 13 poems worth keeping.  I want to work on these poems and try to find summer markets that are open.  I also want to work on my full length manuscript.   Finally, I want to finish a few book reviews and dabble a bit more in other genres.

Lofty dreams indeed, especially when the warm weather  is beckoning me outside and a messy house is scolding me.  Hopefully, I will find a nice balance, soon!

May Poetry Pick: Unexplained Fevers

unexplained-fevers    In her newest poetry collection, Unexplained Fevers,  Jeannine Hall Gailey returns to the fairy tale world — a world where Sleeping Beauty has an insomniac twin, where women turn into birds, where Red Riding Hood tries to flirt her way into a bargain at a car dealership.

From the very first poem, we know that we are going to read a collection where traditional stories are broken into pieces.  In “Once Upon Time” an unnamed narrator starts her tale: “Once upon a time he left me. I left him. It was winter, the white sun is what I remember most. When he called, I cut my hair. When I swayed, he swore. I wore a white dress and promised. He promised me. We chopped wood and parsley.”  The narrator goes on to explain that “Once upon a time we broke our crowns.  The tumbling came after”  and that “we paid in gold and heartache. We stood there in the winter sunlight, white as ghosts. It was the end of the road. It didn’t have a fairy tale ending. We couldn’t keep our stories straight. It wasn’t as they had told us.”

And it seems that indeed, in this collection, nothing is “as they had told us.”  In some poems,  we hear the parts of stories left out of our favorite stories.  For instance, in “Rapunzel, After” the story explains, “When he left, he took/with him the long rope of her hair/and her memories. There were scratches/on his face. Someone said later/it was thorns, briars grown over the tower.”  In another poem, “A True Princess Bruises” we read about the injuries left by a  pea: “blood pooled on thigh and stomach, the white back/marred with thumbprints.”  Still, in other poems, the narrators want to set the story straight.  In “The Mermaid Loses Her Voice,” for example, the narrator begins her tale by clarifying the truth: “I don’t know what they told you, but it wasn’t for love.”

This is Gailey’s third collection, and in many ways, she is returning to the stories she started in her first book, Becoming the Villainess.  Indeed, her poetic heroines have grown stronger through the years.  Where there once was hesitancy with her narrators, there is now more self-assurance.  Her female characters don’t pretend to be perfect — they only want to be human.

Unexplained Fevers is published by New Binary Press. For more information about this book and other work by Gailey, visit her website.

A Summer Reading List

I know that summer is not quite here — but it feels like it will be soon.  This week, I will be buried under final classes, final papers, and final tests.  And after all these “finals”?  I want to attack the big box of unread books in my spare bedroom.  (Plus, I want to read all the unread books that are piling up in my Kindle!)

Every spring, my school compiles a fun reading list for the summer, and below I have listed my recommendations.  Alas, I don’t usually include poetry books (maybe I should!), but even poetry lovers/readers need to devour something besides verse!

The Age of Miracles Karen Thomas Walker

Part apocalyptic tale, part coming of age story, Walker’s novel follows a young girl named Julia, who with the rest of her family, awakens to the news that the rotation of the earth has suddenly begun to slow – days and nights grow longer and the natural environment is thrown into chaos.  In the middle of this world, Julia learns to navigate the normal blunders of everyday life, including cracks in her parents’ marriage, the bizarre behavior of family members and friends and the heartbreak of first love.  The Age of Miracles is both a disturbing and beautiful read – and the best novel I read last year.

Midnight Assassin: A Murder in America’s Heartland by Patricia Bryan and Thomas Wolf

On a winter night in 1900, a Midwestern farmer was murdered in his bed, killed by two blows of an axe.  Four days later, his wife was arrested for the crime.  Midnight Assassin is based on the popular play by Susan Glaspell, and this book not only presented the investigation of the case, but gave a lot of information about the bleak lives of women during this time period.

The Bottoms by Joe R. Lansdale

In this novel, the narrator, Harry Collins, takes the reader back to his childhood days during the Great Depression.  Set in rural Texas in 1933, young Harry’s world changes forever when he discovers the body of a young black woman.  A disturbing story of race and class relations, The Bottoms is a great read.  Warning: This book does contain many scenes that are very violent, so if you do not want to read about violence, you may want to skip this novel.

Wild by Cheryl Strayed

At twenty-two, Cheryl Strayed believed that she had lost nearly everything in her life.  Struggling to survive her mother’s death and a broken marriage, she makes the impulsive decision to hike the Pacific Crest Trail from the Mojave Desert to Washington state.  This book chronicles that journey in beautiful and thoughtful prose.

The Day After the Day After by Steven Church

At first, it’s hard to imagine that Steven Church and I would have anything in common, starting with the simple fact that he grew up in Lawrence, Kansas and I grew up in rural Pennsylvania – but we do.  We both grew up in the last days of the Cold War.  We also grew up with what he terms as “Atomic Anxiety.”  One of my first memories was the Three Mile Island meltdown in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania; and Church also catalogs man memories dealing with the Nuclear Age.  His childhood was marked by the fear of Nuclear War and the Stress of Reagan’s America – these fears come to ahead when filming begins of The Day After in his hometown.  In spite of poor special effects and melodramatic plotlines, The Day After is still considered one of the most watched TV movies in history.   Church explores the meaning of Cold War fears along with their influences on his generation.

The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb by Melanie Benjamin

While not a real “autobiography,”  Melanie Benjamin’s fun novel explores the life of Mercy Lavinia “Vinnie” Warren Bump, (aka Mrs. Tom Thumb) through a first person point of view narrative.  Only two feet, eight inches tall, Vinnie struggled to make her way America’s Gilded Age, eventually finding fame when she took part in P.T. Barnum’s shows and married Tom Thumb.

In a few weeks, I will post my Summer Reading List for Poetry Lovers! Besides poetry, do you have any great books you have read lately?  I would love to add more titles to my own list!

The Big Poetry Giveaway!

And the winners of this year’s Big Poetry Giveaway are….

Susan Rich, the fearless leader of this year’s Big Poetry Giveaway, will recieve a copy of my chapbook Wearing Heels in the Rust Belt!

Diane Kendig will receive a copy of Rust or Go Missing by Lily Brown!

I have a busy day ahead of me, but I will be contacting both winners soon.  Thanks to all who stopped by and entered their names in my drawing.  May poetry play an important part in your life, always.