Sunday, December 20, 2009

Other guests. . .

My grandson, Nicholas, for whom I began writing annual poems when he was seven (and the first became the collection's title poem) came by to wish me well. So did his beautiful mom, my daughter, Teresa. My dear son Stephen slipped in and out so quickly that we didn't catch him on camera. Nor did we get Tommy who was holding court over coffee in the Crape Myrtle.

Here's a few more of Paul who was going to surprise his wife (and I hope she's not reading this) and Jimmy Carl Harris, fellow writer and board member of Alabama Writers'Conclave.

John Hornsby came by after seeing my sister-in-law Wanda and her hubby, Dr. George Smith, in the cafe!

Other beautiful Thompson women who showed up were Kathy, another sis-in-law, and her daughter, Rachel. Such family support! I am one lucky mug!

Too bad we didn't get a shot of our two photogs, Harry and Brian, and mom Lucy! They deserve the credit for adding another dimension to this description.

And I must add one more shot of Carolyn with that gorgeous sweater. It has a story. It stayed lost for twelve years, and the day Carolyn found it, she was so happy she wore it, dust, mothballs, and all! I think she's writing her own story about that.

Brian Bellenger was good support from the the church! Thanks to all the readers and cheerleaders!


Linda Busby Parker, editor, Excalibur Press, has once again given us a book to celebrate the season!

The signing yesterday at Little Professor Books & Cafe was all a good party should be--family, friends, book talk, laughs, and more than a little silliness. I'll be posting some pics as I get them downloaded. These first ones are compliments of Harry Jones who came to see his friend and my co-signer, Liz McCormick! Thanks to Harry and Lucy and their son Brian, "adopted" grandson of Liz, for dropping by to keep us company. Shown in this grouping will be Carolyn, my Fa Sol La singer-friend, and David, who was simply browsing when he stumbled upon two giggling women wearing Santa hats!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

You are invited. . .

I will be signing my story "Finding the Lord" which is included in Christmas is a Season!2009 at Little Professor Books & Cafe, Homewood, in Birmingham on Saturday, December 19, 2009. Come and bring a buddy!

Here's the introductory bio: KATHLEEN THOMPSON holds a BS from The University of Alabama and an MFA in Fiction/Poetry from Spalding University. A former teacher of high school English, she has an online editing and writing business with her son, Stephen. She also conducts writing workshops as a “Road Scholar” for the Alabama Humanities Foundation. Her poems, short stories, and essays have been published in various literary magazines. Searching for Ambergris was her first published chapbook of poetry. She now has two new books at once: The Nights, The Days won the 2008 Negative Capability Press Chapbook Series Award; and her full-length poetry collection from Coosa River Books is The Shortest Distance. Both books arrived in January within three days of each other.

“Finding The Lord,” is another of the linked stories I’m drafting. Clyde, I’ve discovered, is a character rife with story. The title is not meant to imply irreverence or humor, although the characters may embody those traits. On the contrary, the story is undergirded by the theological issue of free will which is often pondered by scholars. Do we have free will? Just how free is our free will? Paul Zahl (Grace in Practice) suggests that addiction, as well as depression, worry, and mourning, can strip us of our free will. My story explores an ancillary question: how can coincidence, or a single happenstance, shape/change a life?

The big SURPRISE: Editor Linda Busby Parker says this about nominating my story for the Pushcart Prize:
Kathleen Thompson’s short story, “Finding the Lord,” is a rich character study. Clyde is reminiscent of Ignatius J. Reilly in John Kennedy Toole A Confederacy of Dunces. Something is not quite right with Ignatius and something is not quite right with Clyde—the exact nature of each man’s mental/emotional problem(s) is not quite clear, but something is amiss. Both Toole and Thompson allow the reader to assess the situation and make their own judgment calls. In Thompson’s story there is the wonderful (almost miraculous) intervention of Preacherman. Is Preacherman real? Does Preacherman represent each of us? Are we our brother’s keepers—or in this case Clyde’s keeper? What responsibility do we have for those who are struggling as Clyde struggles? Thompson’s story asks all these questions—but with whispers rather than shouts.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Billy Collins is coming, Billy Collins is coming. . .

I first met Billy Collins in Charleston in the '90s when I was invited to have dinner ahead with some Poetry Society friends who had planned the reading: Denny Stiles, Susan Meyers, and Linda Ferguson. My good buddy from Savannah, Carolyn Watson, rode over to Charleston with me. That whole evening was such a memorable occasion, for one hysterical incident occurred. Billy was going to read the next day in Montgomery, AL. My son, Stephen, had a best friend, Trip, who was teaching high school history in Montgomery, so I thought it would be wonderful if Trip had a heads up about his visit, and hoped that perhaps Stephen might drive down from Tuscaloosa as well.

Well, I carefully wrote Trip's name down on the back of my card and Billy tucked it into his inside coat pocket. Trouble was, I thought Trip taught at Montgomery Academy where Billy was speaking when indeed he was teaching at St. James. This was pointed out to me (did I hear I note of "Oh , no, mother, you've done it again) in no uncertain terms by Stephen when I called him on the way home to suggest that he might need to drive down to hear Billy as well.

Now, at the time Amazon had a deal going online with a millenium poem. Reminiscent of the pen pal poems where each poet contributes an alternate line, or going even farther back in time, of the Japanese renga which was composed of any number poets alternately. Well-known and well-published poets were being asked to be a part of this group of poets. Billy had just been asked, so when I got home, I immediately went to Amazon to see what this millenium poem looked like.

I'm sorry I can't drag up from my files a hard copy of that poem. Recently I assembled a group of poems which might be occasional verse rather than poetry. The working title is CHALK TALK AND HEN SCRATCH, since it is all about poets and teachers I've encountered. For this project I did dredge up the poem (using the term loosely) I wrote and sent to Billy Collins, regarding the blunder I had made about his seeing Trip in Montgomery.

Close, But No Cigar: What I Would Write If I Were A Billy Collins

I would not write of calendars
or snow or foul winds that blow
away hats and people, not sonnets or haikus
or villaparadelles but this disease I have,
congenital, foot-in-mouth, faux pas’s, very plural—
those I would write over, make funny if I could.

I would have eaten my first short story, its green
pastoral setting as bland as the shepherd’s promises,
instead of sending it out to the New Yorker.
I probably could laugh about that blind date;
I would not say to Jane Smith that he kissed
like a cow at the drive-in. I would check
for a recorder under the seat, all around,
everywhere; I would strain harder to think
of something more glib to say to William Styron
than his quote about the wings of madness.

I could laugh about jotting down a name
for Collins, so sure of myself,
about where Trip taught school, so smug
that I, myself might have been mistaken as the visiting
poet that day rubbing elbows at Zebo’s, secure
that mine was the tangiest balsamic vinaigrette,
one my lesser could only hope to taste.

I might double over
at what Collins must have thought
when he fingered inside the left pocket of his jacket,
you know the one, for my card, proclaiming who I am,
to hear him read from its back, in my eloquent hand,
Trip Franklin at Montgomery Academy,
whom the headmaster had never heard of
but one whom the librarian guessed might teach
at their near-unspeakable rival, Trinity Presbyterian.
(I try to placate myself. Trip was in the same town.)

Given the chance,
I’d rather run, hellbent like some hyena,
relentless bloodhound, streaking
through a pasture of cow piles,
fresh ones, then scrape my soles
onto my pristine carpet, grinding the smell
into its weft and woof—
that to admit—
like stepping on hot coals,
that I have once again tripped,
red-faced, about this Trip
and his whereabouts.

Will it matter at all, though, I muse—
by the time the new millennium poem is finished?
I wish a word were dead when it is said
and what it might purport, for such an epic
as life hardly merits a footnote about fools,
and I wish I were going west in a box
with Joe Priskulnick who probably killed himself
(before Eavan Boland could in the poem)
deeming stupidity of such magnitude,
like mine, truly terminal.

My next encounter with this poetry phenomenon was in Louisville, KY, in the early years of the new millenium. Billy was reading at Bellarmine College and many of us studying for the MFA in Writing at Spalding University went to hear him. I brought a couple of my books for him to sign that I hadn't had earlier. By now he had become Poet Laureate, (2001-03)and all things were different. Instead of the smallish intimate group of listeners in Charleston, I was one among hundreds standing in line to get his signature, and as much as I wanted to remind him of that fun evening in Charleston, his eyes were truly glazed over a bit at the emormity of the crowds facing him, each, like me, hoping for a little personal word, a little spark of the magic, a bonding to a kindred soul. I surmised that by the end of that evening, he would have no recollection of any face he saw there unless he truly is the genius we all think he is.

Billy will be here on February 19. As late as last Thursday, December 3, I used a power point presentation for a group at LAMP high school during a poetry workshop which included his poem "Introduction to Poetry." It turned out that the teacher, Leah Stoudenmier, loved this particular poem. I find that students, too, love the metaphor of tying a poem to chair and beating the meaning out of it. Next to that one I posted "Turtle" by Kay Ryan, our current Poet Laureate of the U.S. She was well known in the low country area before our recent fame, and Billy Collins chose this poem of hers as one of his daily poems for schools.

Who would be a turtle who could help it? asks the poet, Kay Ryan.

I say, who would be a poet who could help it?

Billy will be reading at Hoover Public Library on February 19. I'll be on the front row--or very close. That way I can watch his feet as he reads--for he does have that unique little dance as he performs!

By the way one of my brand new friends, River Jordan, with whom I sat on a panel at the Dahlonega Writers' Festival will be participating on Saturday, February 20, at the same author conference!! River lives just up the road in Nashville.

Message in a Blog

  About twenty Birmingham language arts teachers endured my holding forth yesterday in my current gig as a Road Scholar ...