Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Message in a Blog

 About twenty Birmingham language arts teachers endured my holding forth yesterday in my current gig as a Road Scholar at Alabama Humanities Foundation, “Blogging: The New Personal Essay” This morning I read the Walter Hooper introduction to The Weight of Glory by theologian and teacher C.S. Lewis. This was on the heels of my reading the opening pages of Village Prodigies by poet and teacher Rodney Jones. In both these books the opening pages reek of memory and death; yet I’m drawn to read them simultaneously. Blogs. Sermons. Poems. 

I have my topic sentence: The story of my writing life. BTW, frag. lol

Friday, May 26, 2017

Neither Kith Nor Kin

Setting: Homecoming at Spalding University’s MFA in Writing
Time: May 2017
Title: Who Am I? Or, Neither Kith Nor Kin
Genre: Skit

Me:       Hello!

You:      So, you’re a writer? What do you write?

Me:       Words. Phrases. Clauses. Sentences. Poems. Short stories. Novels. Essays.                                                         

You:      Soooooooo, what then do you write?

Me:       Oh, you mean, what books have I published?

You:     Yeah, yeah. What books?

Me:       Well, I have two novels in manuscript—a middle grade novel and a mainstream.                                                

You:      But what do you write?

Me:        My first love is poetry.

You:       Oh, so you’re a poet.

Me:         My creative thesis for the MFA in Writing was a                                                   collection of short stories. I’ve had short stories published in journals; and I’ve had a regular creative nonfiction blog for some time; and I’ve attended a Creative Nonfiction workshop in Paris; and I’ve had a  few children’s poems published here and there; and I  write letters—I’m the official Corresponding Secretary for the Alabama Writers’ Conclave—and did I mention I’ve started a memoir?

You:       Ah, I see now. That’s it. You’re a poet

The End

Sunday, November 6, 2016

LONESOME DOVE ...trivia explained

 The Latin phrase, uva uvam vivendo varia fit, that appears on the Hat Creek Cattle Company is a corruption of the latin phrase uva uvam videndo varia fit from the scholia to Juvenal 2.81. It means, literally a grape changes color [i.e., ripens] when it sees [another] grape

( c.60– c.140), Roman satirist; Latin name Decimus Junius Juvenalis. He wrote 16-verse satires that savagely attacked the vices and follies of Roman society, chiefly during the reign of Domitian.

Domitian |dəˈmiSHən|

( ad 51–96), son of Vespasian; Roman emperor 81–96; full name Titus Flavius Domitianus.

Why? I watch the ending of the movie again. I rail with Woodrow as he beats off buzzards pecking on the flesh of Gus, and I cry with "Capitan" Call as he laments the days that are no more.Then I always have to look up the Latin phrase and ponder again its meaning.

What satires will result from the politics of 2016 and what will it matter in one hundred years?

Thursday, July 7, 2016

O, O, O... as in "O, Azaleas..."

Savannah is known for its azaleas about the second week in March. One spring in the 1990s our poetry society had a poet from Auburn, New York, visit to do a program. I remember his program on the haiku, but at this moment I don't remember his name nor the name of his book buried on my poetry shelves.

I do, however, remember clearly something he said and a subsequent poem I was moved to write called, "O, Azaleas." 

This poet, you see, was advocating the judicious use of "O" and other such poetry-society-sappy-purple prose-romantic poet- language in our poems. He said, "Each poet is allowed only two O's in a lifetime." 

I knew immediately what my first O would be used for, because I had longed for something that properly expressed my feeling about the head high azalea-lined streets like Washington, and those at Bonaventure Cemetery which lay just beyond the marsh behind us and beyond the Wilmington River. They were old and massive and the sheer color made you feel like wallowing about in the blossoms.

Using the second O has not been so easy. Once used, it would be gone. And, after all, much mushy lyricism subsides simply with age. So far, I've never been willing to give up the second O. This morning, however, as I reminisced at yet another frothy bed of white heads in my front yard, I thought I might consider the use of my second O:

Ah, the O!
O, Queen Anne's Lace! O, Pink Perfection! O, Plumbago! O, Lettye! O, Gerald! O, Arthur! O, Katonah! O, dear Carolyn! O, flowers of Savannah! Gone.  

Ah, Anthony Navarra! I have found both your books on my shelf--the one I bought when you and Mary visited the poetry society and I introduced you. Books jog the memory, especially when they hold the copy of a personal note from William Stafford who said, "Like the collie in your poem, I have been a drinker from the bottom tier; now I am glancing up and deep into what haiku can provide." I remember him and his wife in Charleston and my handing his wife my poem to him. "You must know," I said to her "that two women in Savannah, my friend Sara and I, are in love with your husband." "Just two?" she quipped with a smile.

Ah, Tony. You read my poem and extended the number of O's I might use, citing Basho as an example: "How about Ah's? The great Basho put three Ah's in just 17 syllables.

Ah, Matsushima, 
Matsushima, Ah,
Ah, Matsushima"

Dear readers, if you are still here after such meandering, tell me, how did I come up with my title here"Ah, the O!" when I had absolutely zero recollection of Navarra's note and this comment about the use of Ah...

Ah, the mystery of writing. In looking for Navarra's work, I found a book Anne George had published of contemporary Alabama poets, A Baker's Dozen, 1988. In her essay, "A Momentary Peace," she writes and I have highlighted this: 

"I write because I need to, because life is so sad and ridiculously funny. And sometimes when I finish a poem, when I have captured a moment in the music of words, I almost think things make sense. A momentary peace. It is enough."

Anne George attended that same conference at the College of Charleston. It was there that she met an editor who sent her to an agent with her prose. I have not thought of Anne in some time, nor any of this detail: she was one of the first publishers of my poetry in her annual Oktoberfest competition in the 80's.

Ah, the synchronicity! I'm posting this now or I won't be able to believe it myself. Edit as you please, but this is a true story of my strange, strange life as a writer. 

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Farm to City...

Saturday July 2, 4:49 p.m.

Dear Diary...

This morning my daughter and I shopped for peaches, watermelon, and tomatoes, green beans, tomatoes, shelled lima beans and peas--all good for an upcoming Independence Day. A local farmers market, replete with live music, is new to our neighborhood, brought on, I suppose, by the current farm to table craze that everyone seems to have adopted.

I even tried a small garden myself this year; my brain had temporarily blocked out the markers of failure--the deer that prevail here, pesky squirrels and chipmunks, soil of clay and red clods, and cut worms as big as my thumb who like Big Beef tomato foliage as well as I like the fruit! There is still a smidge of hope if blooms are an indicator: I've added an aluminum pie pan and a flapping plastic bag which may get me kicked out of the neighborhood, along with a fence, alas, not fine enough to keep rabbits out; therefore, my singular Jubilee watermelon plant and the Heirloom cantaloupe are blooming like crazy all over the garden spot.

This day was to be all about shopping for happy weekend for grilling out and making ice cream by the gallon in a freezer. But I had my mother-in-law coming, so what would I serve for dinner tonight that would be simple after all the planning/shopping? The good old standard fruity chicken salad would be easy.

I've boiled the chicken breasts, bone-in, chopped that and the celery, halved the green grapes, toasted a few pecans, chopped those, drained mandarin oranges, mixed some sour cream, mayo, and Italian dressing mix--did I leave anything out? My initial taste said something was missing.

The chicken salad knows: I'm unhappy. A mother can only be as happy as her unhappiest child.

The chicken salad knows: I'm frustrated. My blogspot has been out of whack and I've had to add three upgrades to my computer, and this is the first effort at a post in months.

The chicken salad knows: I really wanted the taste of fresh veggies with warm cornbread tonight.

With a bit of luck, I may get this blog actually posted and available. And once the dressing has time to sink in, the chicken salad may be edible. And if that doesn't work, I'll slice that Jubilee II watermelon. "Whatever," I begged of the happy, if hot and weary seller of farm produce, "happened to the original Jubilee, the best-tasting watermelon in Alabama?"

Monday, February 1, 2016

Dear Mr. Eliot...

April is not the cruelest month. 

January 2016 has set a new record for me.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Trick or Treat!

But... beware if you plan to knock on the door of Kathleen Driskell. She lives next door to the dead and there’s no telling what trickery she and her neighbors will have stirred up for you.

            Often two genres lie bookmarked on my desk simultaneously. Less often do they have a connection. In this case I’ve been reading the work of two teachers of Creative Writing, Kathleen Driskell, and Charles Harper Webb. I was already reading Driskell’s collection of poems, Next Door to the Dead, when the September 2015 Writer’s Chronicle arrived.  Driskell is Professor of Creative Writing and Associate Director of the low-residency MFA in Writing Program at Spalding University in Louisville. Webb teaches at California State University, Long Beach. A subtitle of  an article  by Webb on the magazine cover, “In Defense of Less Difficult poetry” with the title, “The Limits of Indeterminacy” enticed me to flip to page 98.

            If Webb’s subtitle baited me, it was the accompanying artwork on the opposite page, two side-by-side mazes, that had the magnetism of a checkout counter magazine that guarantees losing five dress sizes in six weeks. In spite of that mouthful of indeterminacy, the two juxtaposed mazes  made the gist of the article immediately plain: the left maze was dense and dark, but the other one had  more white space, making it doable even for one who isn’t going to waste much of her valuable time with a maze of any stripe. And as soon as I read Webb’s quote on the first page “...poets have replaced traditional development of subjects with non sequiturs, and orchestration-of-effects with randomness,” I knew that I would read Driskell’s book with an eye to the veracity of that comment. I am one, given the choice of a less difficult maze and a simpler one, who would always choose the simpler maze.

            (BTW, LeslieLearns@awpwriter favorited my tweet about these mazes.)

            I am also one who likes to know.

            Turns out, so does Kathleen Driskell. In her latest book she writes epitaphs for folks she never knew. When asked what might her neighbors lying dead in the cemetery write as an epitaph for her, Driskell replies, “Now she knows.”

            What is it Driskell now knows?

            Seed Across Snow had already planted the notion that much about her poetry is Emily-esque with its even lines and tidy stanzas. One tiny poem consists of eighteen words, twenty-five syllables. In her comparison of this book with the new one, Driskell herself says, “I have to admit that unlike many of today’s writers who are taking on more global subjects, I seem to be completely obsessed with a mere square mile around my home...the buzz that our church-home is haunted comes mainly from our proximity to graveyard and the train trestle where the famous Goat Man of Pope Lick is said to lurk. I dismissed that matter as silly but in a period of a few years, our neighbor was struck by a car when coming across the road to her mailbox which sat right next to ours, two teen-aged boys were drowned in nearby Floyd’s Fork, other neighbors discovered a young woman who was nearly mortally wounded and thrown from a car into a ditch, a nearby house burned to the ground and on and on...and Next Door to the Death, if anything, seems to narrow my real estate.”

            This limited milieu and other Dickinson-like details of Kathleen Driskell’s  Next Door to the Dead swarm about as warm and  fuzzy as the occasional hummingbirds sipping on Ginger Lilies and Bleeding Hearts outside my window. Brevity, irony, humor and more: it’s all here in Driskell’s newest collection from the The University Press of Kentucky. 
            After reading the Webb article I was impressed with the idea of how much “less difficult” poems appeal to me. I like reading Driskell’s poems set in this simple cemetery because that setting holds an entire community of varied individuals with their twisted, or haloed, or ordinary lives. Each reader will have his own set of imagery and symbolism to add to whatever I feel.
            I emailed Driskell a few questions to include this one:
KT: Name at least one well-known poet whom you consider difficult and one whom you consider less difficult. Which poet would you choose to emulate? Why?
KD: This changes for me as I read through my life but I can say that I still have trouble with Wallace Stevens. I feel I understand a number of his poems—and they are important to me, such as “Sunday Morning” and “The Emperor of Ice Cream,” those early poems, but most do not connect with me. I did study Stevens during my MFA at Greensboro, and I understand the main thought-currents of his writing, still...a goal of mine is to immerse myself in poems, biography, criticism of Stevens’ one summer...
On the flip side, though I would never say he is an easy poet, Robert Frost has always been extremely important to me. His poems are accessible to most, at least on the surface, but there are also undercurrents and cave rivers running discovered with subsequent readings... that’s the sort of poem [“Fences”] I usually want to make—not one that deceives, but a poem that can be read and understood on the surface, then intrigues enough to call for revisiting, and once revisited rewards the reader with something new.
            Several such poems populate Driskell’s Next Door to the Dead. Any time I say/read the word cemetery, my mind pictures the hillside in the northwest county of Alabama where my daddy was known as the area’s best gravedigger. I was told after his death that he could always get the ledge for the casket carved out of that red dirt perfectly straight and level, his only instrument, a shovel. A black and white snapshot in Mama’s pictures has her kneeling at a short grave with an overcoat on and her square head scarf tied under the chin in the manner of European women. Daddy is standing at her side with his overalls and work boots on, which I’m nearly certain he wore to dig the grave. He dug four graves for their babies. The pain on both their faces is gut-wrenching.
            I languish with Driskell over the exacting boot of her gravedigger in “Grave of the Mathematician.” Webb points out in his article that the “difficult poem” is often easier to write, easier to make sound new, and may also shield the poet’s psyche. I like Driskell’s true voice in her “less difficult” poems. This poem soars from the specificity of the mathematical details and signs to the ethereal: the metaphor of a grieving man as a slash against the wind; and the tracks of a wagon carrying an infant, an equals mark.
            And for the first time ever as I revisit Driskell’s poem to write this blog, I consider the digging of the graves of my mama and daddy, by  machines. Oh, sweet duplicity of progress and poetry.
Treat yourself to Driskell’s new book for Halloween! And, do remember that I like to know. What is your fave and why?  

Easy-peasy. Order through these links:


Message in a Blog

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