Archive for June, 2013

Summer Hiatus

Charly and Summer Hiatus

Somehow, I lost June.  And there’s no use looking for it.  I won’t find it again until next year.

I’m taking a blog break until the end of July.  Don’t worry — you can still reach me by email or by phone.  I’m not wandering away into the wilderness. So far, in spite of the heat and the sudden, pop up thunderstorms, it hasn’t felt much like summer.  My schedule has been so full, that I’m a bit stressed out — and summer is supposed to be a time to unwind. (Like Charly is doing in this picture) Thus, I’m taking some time off blogging to work on my own writing, something I haven’t been doing in a long time.

See you at the end of July!

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June Poetry Pick: Afterimage

Afterimage

My mother loved photographs.  She carefully labeled them, organized them, and then stored them in photograph albums.  Obviously, she is not the only one who did this, but today, it seems, outside of those who keep photographs in their scrapbooks, photographs are stored on computers, cell phones, and digital cameras.  Benjamin Vogt’s collection of poems, Afterimage, reminds me of the time before digital pictures were the norm.  Using family photographs to trace personal history, Afterimage explores how we define personal identity.

Vogt begins his collection with a poem titled “Three Photos That Define Me” which contains three stanzas.  The first stanza describes a section of Interstate 40 between Oklahoma City and Weatherford where the El Reno prison is located.  The poet doesn’t focus on the prison itself, but rather the landscape where “a sign warns that hitchhiker may be/escaping convicts” and where “a gray shirt lies flattened/on the white line of the highway.”  In the second stanza, the poet writes a miniature portrait of a little girl who comes walking in from a field where “cows have been grazing on the bent/stalks of butter-colored wheat.”  Finally, in the third stanza, we see what we will come to believe is the poet himself: “One child wears a Pepsi sweater, leans away/from grandma’s goodbye kisses.”  These brief stanzas provide a perfect prologue to this collection that serves as an elegy to a Midwest of the past and to the people who lived there.  Indeed, the poems that follow will incorporate people in worn landscapes, in a hardscrabble world where determination, or perhaps just plain stubbornness, guides their daily lives.

The poems weave in and out of the past.  Often, these poems tell stories, so much so that I forgot that I was reading a collection based on photographs.  For instance, in “High School Mixer” we read about a young boy’s adventure at a dance where “he’s clearly used to something else — not girls/that’s brutally clear.”  Other poems are poetic profiles of people.   For instance, in “Uncle with Landscape — Kansas, 1954” the poet offers a portrait of a small boy standing in a farmhouse yard where “spades and rusted buckets lean/against a toppled silo.”  In yet another poem,  “Mildred, Two Fords, and Her Friends at 16 — 1938” a work plucked from another time period, we see the story of more than one girl in a single poem, but mostly clearly hear the voice of the narrator who states, “But it’s just a blur–/who I was, the girls, the sudden stir/of dust-filled shadows on these roads.”

There are also poems of lyrical moments, often told from a narrator who seems to be in deep meditation with the natural world around him.  “Fishing,” for instance, serves as a love poem of sorts:  “I’ll cast your soul out over the lily pads in June/skip it along the smooth evening surface/hit the pink reflections of the sunset behind/my hapless expressions.” In another work, “July, Just Outside Columbus” the poet catalogs the sexual tension of the landscape through the insect world — indeed, the language is so gentle and rich that the reader will forget that the poem is about insects (or is it?).  The lines are visually striking, and we see that “fireflies are hovering over corn” and that “Beetle bodies pulse/bright chemicals like breath released/into the body light the ground ahead.”  My favorite lines start the second stanza:  “Males are calling, their incandescent lust/an impatient spark, the female’s waiting glow/a calm amongst this storm that binds desire to action.”

Those who read this collection wanting a clear chronological narrative arc will not find it.  These poems bounce back and forth through time, carefully cataloging individual moments in history and the present.  Readers will find stories, stories of grandparents, uncles and aunts, fathers and mothers — people of the past and fading landscapes, and hopeful glimpses of the future.

For more information about Afterimage and poet Benjamin Vogt, visit his website.

Earth’s Eye

Penn State Behrend is once again hosting Earth’s Eye: A Festival of Writing, an event I attended last year (and had a blast even though the weather was a bit crazy).  This year’s festival is on Saturday, September 7 and the featured guest is writer Lia Purpura.  Consider pre-registering for the event at the great low price of $36!  (I’m trying not to sound like an infomercial.) Check out the website for more information.

CFS: Women and Nature

The Fourth River has announced a special themed issue titled Women and Nature.  According to the journal’s website, “We are looking for poetry and creative nonfiction, written by women, inspired by the natural world or addressing environmental concerns.  Although we will accept lined poems and traditional essays, we are most interested in seeing prose poetry or lyric essays.”  And guess what?  They are accepting submissions now! (Yes, during the summer!)  Take a look at the guidelines for more information and deadlines.

This Week With Jo McDougall

Today is the official start of the Chautauqua summer, and during this upcoming week, I will be taking a workshop with poet/memoirist Jo McDougall, whose work I discovered years ago.  If minimalist writing was associated with poetry, this is how I would categorize McDougall’s work.  Using sparse lines and stark images, McDougall is able to capture both a sense of place and true human emotion in tight, precise poems.  She is from the Arkansas Delta but now lives in Kansas, and it’s apparent from her poetry that she is inspired by both her physical surroundings and the everyday person — especially those who come from working-class backgrounds.  I tend to go overboard with details in my drafts of poems (I just hate to let a good image go!), so I think it will be interesting to work with a poet who is known for her tight lines and images.

In other news, I will also be teaching a craft of fiction class at our local library.  I was planning on posting an announcement/invitation on this blog to invite local students, but the class filled up weeks ago!  I have spent the weekend putting the finishing touches on my lesson plans, so now I am ready to go.

Welcome, Ally!

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It’s been a busy few weeks! And to add to the summer fun, a new cat has joined the Weyant-Patalano household!  Her name is Ally and she is about 14 months old.  She is a very busy cat and most of the pictures I have taken of her have turned into white and gray blur shots, but here is one where she is still.  How is Charly handling the new addition?  For a few days, there was a lot of hissing, but they have entered into some kind of uneasy peace treaty.  The problem is that Ally wants Charly to play and Charly has no patience for a frisky cat! (Charly is more of a snuggler).

It looks like we will continue to negotiate peace treaties  in the next few months.

Working Class Roundup!

I’m back home, recovering from a wonderful, but exhausting, conference.  I’ve been to many of the conferences hosted by the Working Class Studies Association, and I always feel empowered, but a bit overwhelmed, when I get home.  And this year’s conference was no exception.

Because this is a multi-disciplinary conference, I got to meet a lot of people from a variety of fields and careers.  Yes, there are professors who attend, but there are also veterans, nurses, electricians, union leaders, writers, human service workers, journalists, actors, musicians, artists and mechanics.   They come from all over the country.  What is the one thing they have in common?  They are concerned about class issues in the United States.  When I attend different panels and lectures, I learn so much, but I am also overwhelmed by what I don’t know.  Indeed, it’s hard to formulate the abstract thoughts that are running through my head right now, so I will move forward to talk about the poetry world of the Working Class Studies Conference.

I was sad to hear that Jeanetta Calhoun Mish could not make it to our poetry panel, but was excited to present with poet Sandee Gertz Umbach!  I thought our panel was well received, even though we had a sleepy 8:45 am time slot.  I was also excited to meet up with Nick Coles, who moderated our panel.  Nick doesn’t know this, but he’s partly responsible for my venture into working-class poetry.  When I was 18, I had a class with poet Judy Vollmer who used a book edited by Nick (along with Peter Oresick) titled Working Classics: Poems on Industrial Life.  This is where I was first introduced to the very idea that working class/blue collar life could be part of poetry.

I also sold many copies of both Stealing Dust and Wearing Heels in the Rust Belt ––  note to self: my work appeals more to a working class audience than a general poetry audience.  I need to remember this!

So, now I’m facing another busy week.  For someone who started off the summer with few plans, my days are filling up quickly.

Off to Wisconsin

The last few days have been a blur of last minute preparations for the Working Class Studies Conference which will be held in Madison, Wisconsin. Both conference papers are finished and somehow, I also found time to work on a more scholarly paper about creative writing pedagogy that I sent off for possible publication.

In Madison, I’m so looking forward to presenting with poets Sandee Gertz Umbach and Jeanetta Calhoun Mish. So not looking forward to the plane ride  (many of you may not know this, but I’m petrified of flying.  And don’t tell me that statistics suggest that it’s more dangerous to drive.  I know this.  It does not help with my fears,)

When I get back, I will be immersed in other summer projects including taking two workshops at Chautauqua and teaching a creative writing class at our local library.  It looks like summer is in full swing!

CFS: HCR’s Special Issue on Pop Culture

The Hobble Creek Review wants your poems about pop culture!  The submission period for the fall issue that will host this theme starts on June 15 and runs to August 1. Poet Collin Kelley will be the guest editor.  According to the website, “The poems you submit should be inspired by or include references to literature, film, television, comics, historical events, sports, or moments from the news headlines.”  Check out the full guidelines here and then get your poems ready to submit!

WCSA Awards

Each year, the Working-Class Studies Association awards exemplary works in its field.  Nick Coles has briefly reviewed these works on the Working-Class Perspectives Blog.  There’s some great work here, and I have Paola Corso’s newest poetry collection, The Laundress Catches Her Breath, (which won the Tillie Olsen Award in Creative Writing) sitting on my nightstand just waiting to be read!  What the post doesn’t note, but I will mention here, is that The Pattern Maker’s Daughter by Sandee Gertz Umbach came in second for this award! I talk a bit about this book here. So, consider adding these works to your summer reading list.

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