Friday, December 2, 2011

Poetry Gift Guide 2011

THE POETRY GIFT GUIDE 2011

It’s that time again. I just watched the last leaf fall from the sugar maple in my backyard, so I know it’s time to start thinking about holiday gifts again. For me, and for so many like me, there could be no better gift than a book of poetry. Unfortunately, those who don’t read poetry themselves rarely know which book of poems to get for those who do, as can be evidenced by the Leonard Nimoy, Susan Polis Schultz, Jewel, and Treasured Verse books -- roughly the equivalent of holiday fruitcake -- on my shelves at home (please forgive me if you’re reading this and gave me one of those in the past). To help out those who know poetry-lovers but are not poetry-lovers themselves, every year I do a column suggesting certain titles from the year as ideal gift selections. I usually focus on the local and state level since there are other sources for broader selections.

This year I have two main recommendations. My favorite book of poems from 2011 is the very inexpensive anthology The Best of Poetry Hickory ($5, available at Taste Full Beans Coffeehouse in downtown Hickory). Yes, I am the Founder of Poetry Hickory, but I would want this book more than any other from this year even if I weren’t. This anthology contains numerous poems that are my personal favorites of some of my favorite poets -- poems that I believe will be further anthologized and read for years to come. Robert Abbate’s “Ecco Homo,” Rhett Trull’s “The End of the Hour,” Tony Abbott’s “Blood Red of Late October,” Richard Allen Taylor’s “Playing Catch,” Ron Moran’s “A Blessing,” and others in this collection are among the best poems I’ve read in the last decade.

The single author collection of poetry I deem to be the best from this year is John Lane’s Abandoned Quarry: New & Selected Poems (Mercer University Press). Lane is widely known as an environmental writer, and these poems will not disappoint the reader looking for such work, but as they encompass Lane’s career they also dynamically explore the nature of humanity and the development of the individual. I have said of this collection that “among the thousands of books of poems I own, there is not a single one I will more often take from the shelf to reread.”

Now, for my many poet-friends whose new books I didn’t name in my two primary recommendations, please note that I also didn’t include my own new book, Something Knows the Moment (available at Taste Full Beans or through Main Street Rag), which I like a great deal but don’t feel measures up to the anthology or Lane’s collection. In the event your poetry lover already owns those two books, and mine, here are some others from this year that I strongly recommend:
If Words Could Save Us, by Tony Abbott (Lorimer Press);
Spill, by Malaika King Albrecht (Main Street Rag);
How Language Is Lost, by Celisa Steele (Emrys Press);
The Jane Poems, by Ron Moran (Clemson University Press); and
An Innocent in the House of the Dead, by Joanna Catherine Scott (Main Street Rag).

If you need additional choices, check out the available titles on the websites for NC presses like Main Street Rag, Lorimer Press, Press 53, and Jacar Press.

Two New Books in 2012

I will have two new collections of poetry published in 2012. For One Who Knows How to Own Land, a collection of poems about growing up in rural South Carolina, was runner-up in the Future Cycle Press Book Competition and will be published by Future Cycle in March. Shadows Trail Them Home is a full-length version of the earlier collaboration with Pris Campbell, The Nature of Attraction. Shadows Trail Them Home more than doubles the size of Norman and Sara's story and creates what poet and critic Ron Moran calls a novel in poems. Shadows Trail Them Home will be published by Clemson University Press in October.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Review of Celisa Steele's "How Language Is Lost"

Review
by Scott Owens

HOW LANGUAGE IS LOST
Celisa Steele
Emrys Press, 2011
ISBN: 9780977351640

Sometimes funny, sometimes profound, the poems in Celisa Steele's debut collection, How Language Is Lost, are always full of surprises. Who, after all, would expect a villanelle on the words we use for men and women ("Consider the Chickens and Other Lessons on Sex and Sin"), or a prose poem on the creation of a national grammar police ("Sin Tax on Syntax Passes House by Narrow Margin"), or a metaphysical conceit that ends in either post-dinner or post-coital satiety ("She Loves the Sushi Chef Whose Name She Does Not Know"), or an ode comparing ping¬-pong to poetry: "most like a poem / this onomatopoetic game / with its spondaic name"?

Just as these poems demonstrate that Steele is comfortable and effective in both formal and free verse, they also demonstrate that she is equally comfortable with either humor or seriousness. In fact, she masterfully exhibits an insightful understanding of the coexistence of humor and gravity in many of the same situations, making it clear that vital truth often exists in the most mundane of human experiences, even those we primarily think of as funny. Such is the case in one of my favorite of these poems, "Al Considers the Fucking Holy Spirit," where the surprising (given the topic of consideration) profanity of the speaker belies the profundity of his thinking:

You got to go at it slant . . .
. . . It's like cursive, or some shit –
no block letters, can't be too plain or obvious,
got to trust your instincts,
your sub-fucking-conscious.

While this poem apparently deals with the quest for religious faith, the same lines could be written about poetry or love or luck. Anything worthwhile will always be somewhat ineffable.

Equally ineffable, or perhaps irreducible to any sort of simple statement, is the sense throughout these poems of the presence of loss and the importance of language in our daily lives. The brilliant title poem, for example, tells us of the indigenous Argentinean Abipon people who, succumbing to European/Christian influences and diseases "gave way to farming, kneeling in naves" and discovered "their own shamans couldn't shape shift anymore." And when the last speaker of the Abipon language lies dying, no one understands "her articulation of the world to come, / the world lost." Thus, Steele demonstrates that the tragedy of the death of a language, of lost words, is the loss of a perspective, the loss of an expression of an understanding of the world, which is finally what any language consists of.

The lost language this speaker mourns, however, is not just language of the cultural or anthropological sort. It is also the language that is lost when one loses a loved one, and the wasted or terminated opportunities for further meaningful emotional exchange that accompany such loss. This sort of lost language is addressed in "Emily Confesses, to the Pedicurist," in which the speaker, asked to cut her mother's nails, "quit", "failed. At the end, / just knelt beside her chair, too tired to pretend." And the sense of loss is further addressed in "Elegy for a Scarf Borrowed from a Mother Now Dead and Left on a Trolley Car in Budapest at Christmastime" and in "I Bought a New Car the Year My Mother Died."

Celisa Steele has indeed made a wonderful debut. These poems possess all of the qualities a reader could hope for in a book of poems: lyricism, humor, compression, depth of feeling and meaning, memorable imagery, precise language, and perhaps most importantly, one surprise after another. A very enjoyable read that leaves the reader wanting more.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Review of John Lane's "Abandoned Quarry"

Review
by Scott Owens
(first published in Wild Goose Poetry Review)

ABANDONED QUARRY: NEW AND SELECTED POEMS
by John Lane
Mercer University Press, 2010
ISBN: 9780881462418

You really can’t judge a book by its cover . . . front or back. All four blurbs on the back of John Lane’s Abandoned Quarry: New and Selected Poems mention “nature” or “landscape. So, of course, as I started reading these poems I was predisposed towards finding environmental themes. Now, I admire Gregory Orr, Ron Rash, Kate Daniels, and David Lee, the authors of those four blurbs, a great deal, and certainly nature plays a vital role in Lane’s poems, but it’s not exactly the primary thing I experienced or reflected upon as I read them. I may be splitting hairs to some degree, but they’re important hairs to me, and what comes out most strongly from Abandoned Quarry are revelations not about nature per se but rather about human nature and about the relationship of human nature and the larger concept of nature in general. The reader is introduced, for example, to a very empathetic and later ironic understanding of the human proclivity for destruction in “Quarries,” an early poem about what the speaker of Lane’s more mature poems might consider “childish” desires:

Even as a boy I begged to be drunk
on immense stretches of emptiness--
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
I longed to grow into a man and work
to quarry the emptiness outward
until all was level again.

Such revelations of human nature continue in what is, perhaps surprisingly given the early nature of these poems, the most memorable section of the book: “Early Uncollected Poems.” The poems in this section are uniquely sharp, each speaker’s perception wide open, uncalculated, unabashed, unrehearsed, and the tone is as much “in the moment” as any poems I’ve ever read. The effect, of course, is that wonderful transportation of the reader that only really good poems can manage, as in the Marxist “Sugar Cane”:

. . . You, the one with no shirt.
The one who shits where he works,
whose machete like a part of your arm
hacks the cane three times. It falls,
stripped of leaves and halved.
You move on. Again, the same motion.
And again the same. Then the gathering and loading.
This all day until the sun drops.
You’ve been at it since dawn.
For your work there is six dollars Belize.

An even more extreme transportation, one not just of place but also perspective, takes place in “Reptiles Teach Him About Hunting: Notes on Catching Crocodiles in Belize,” where the reader sees first from the perspective of the human hunter, “He fixes the croc’s red eyes in his lamp, / whispers, ‘It’s still up,” and then from that of the reptilean hunter:

. . . you
are the croc hunting for pond turtles.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
You spark red, stay up,
until the light in you blinks out as buck shot
cracks the tight bone of your skull.

Very different in subject matter, location, and technique, but equally about presence, in fact bringing conscious attention to our tendency to pretend or substitute presence through intellectualization and the denial of difference or uniqueness is “Along the Little Betsie”:

If you are somehow here, so full of joy to have lost
the Little Betsie, you have learned a new skill, to clear
things up, the difference between what is
and what is not, like the river, far from you
which in your indifference you have allowed to be.

Finally, in “Shopping,” the poem from this section that comes closest to fulfilling the expectations established by Orr and the others, Lane grieves the presence that is lost through our submission to the endless cycle of consumerism, the loss of natural man. Even here, though, it is not simply the loss of nature that is grieved, but also the loss of nature within us: “Every purchase a little wildness / goes out of us / and the world gets smaller.”

To some extent, the issue of presence becomes the central issue of the entire book. It shows up quite clearly, for example, in “Seeing Wild Horses”:

If only I could tell you how wildness shows
the space between us and the green world;
how an island is the same island with our
presence, but with that presence we lose
some hope of seeing . . . .

What are the consequences of human presence on the natural world and subsequently on human being? How can the needs of human nature and nature be reconciled? How can the human need for nature continue to be met without resulting in the destruction of nature and the eventual destruction of man? Absent from nature, man suffers. Present in nature, nature, and eventually man, suffer. After seeing a wild horse for the first time, the speaker continues,

. . . I fight
some need to call it from that animal world,
then lose it in the shock of its leaving;
I call this the greed of human caring,
and count all my losses among its history.

As all of these comments indicate, it is not at all the case that Abandoned Quarry’s blurb writers are wrong. They are, in fact, to a large extent quite correct in their characterization of the poems. After all, the environmental manifesto expressed in “Allegiance” is as unarguably clear as that of the Lorax: “I pledge allegiance to the trees-- / the green republic of roots, limbs, / and leaves under which I stand.” And in what may be my favorite of the poems collected here, “This Morning You Wake in the City,” the speaker reveals the animus of the natural world in the most urban of settings:

the city isn’t simply city but built-up resins
actions of enzymes, castings of human desire.
so you wake to streets running to water
(still water, mountains across the inlet (still stone).

the yellow taxis are easy to call coyotes.
the signs on tall buildings no more
than the raised tail of a mule deer.

The problem with the prominent and repeated use of terms like “landscape” and “nature” in each of the blurbs is that it invites limited perception of the poems, invites thinking in clichés, and these are not beautiful tree poems or magical-mystical nature poems. Rather, they are poems that look at our relationship with nature and with our own natures honestly, deeply, and complexly, challenging the easy answers to our lives which fail to admit the frequently contradictory, illogical, tragic and plainly ugly sides of human nature and existence. Like the boy in “My Dead Father’s Bypass,” these poems tell deeper, more complicated truths than clichés, platitudes, or generalizations could possibly convey. And on a very practical level, the marketing of these poems as nature poems, wilderness poems, or environmental poems insures that they will be read only by those who least need to read them, those who already find themselves struggling with the challenges of environmental concerns.

Besides, the simple truth is no review, much less a 40-word blurb, stands a chance in hell of fairly suggesting the range, depth, power, vitality, and importance of these poems. Because of those qualities, among the thousands of books of poems I own, there is not a single one I will more often take from the shelf to reread.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

100 Thousand Poets for Change

I just sent my poem "Conjugal Rites" to President Obama, Representative McHenry, Senators Burr and Hagan, State Senator Allran, State Representative Hollo, and Governor Perdue as part of today's 100 Thousand Poets for Change initiative. I have other poems I may send them in the coming days. Here is a link to the 100TPC homepage if you're interested: http://www.bigbridge.org/100thousandpoetsforchange/.

Here is the poem I sent them today:

Conjugal Rites

I was the first she wanted to marry.
No surprise there. Every dad
a daughter’s first love. But then
she felt bad about excluding her mom,
decided the three of us should tie the knot.
We had to tell her you only marry one
other person, at least you plan it that way
and mommy and I were already married
to each other. She moved on to first
one brother, then the other, both of whom said
you can’t marry your brother. So then
she tried her best friend, a girl, asked
to be clear if girls could marry each other.
Already thrice denied what could we say
to make sense to a four-year-old.
Yes, of course, but only in some places,
only where love is not prescribed by law.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Thursday, September 8, 2011

NC Writers' Network Fall Conference Open for Registration

NC Writers’ Network Fall Conference Open for Registration

One of NC’s largest annual writers’ events, the NC Writers’ Network Fall Conference, is now open for registration. The conference will take place this year November 18 through 20 at the Double Tree Hilton in Asheville, just a block from the entrance to Biltmore Estate.

The keynote address of this year’s conference will be given Friday night by award-winning novelist Silas House. Another highlight will be Saturday night’s performance by Asheville Poetry Review Founding Editor Keith Flynn and his band The Holy Men.

Master classes in poetry, fiction, and non-fiction will be offered by Sebastian Matthews, Tommy Hays, and Tony Abbott. Five workshop sessions, including 18 workshops in all spread across Saturday and Sunday, will feature instruction in poetry, fiction, non-fiction, and drama from such well-known writers as Asheville’s Katherine Soniat and Holly Iglesias, Appalachian State professor Joseph Bathanti, novelist Ellyn Bache, nature writer George Ellison, and poets Scott Owens and Nancy Simpson.

A Marketing Mart with publishers and booksellers, Laura Hope-Gill, Nicki Leone, Stacy Hope Jones, and Laine Cunningham, will provide writers with an opportunity to create or refine an effective plan to pitch, promote, and sell their current, upcoming, or proposed books. Thirty-minute critique sessions with Bache, Cunningham, Rosemary Royston, or Jan Parker will provide in-depth literary critiques of fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and screenplays. And the Manuscript Mart will allow authors to pitch their manuscripts and get feedback from publishers, editors, and agents from Algonquin Books, Press 53, FinePrint Literary Management, John F. Blair Publishers, or Judith Ehrlich Literary Management.

As always numerous exhibitor tables will give participants the chance to chat with publishers, literary journals, support organizations, and other friends of writers.

Registration material and more information on the conference faculty can be found at www.ncwriters.org. All workshops and classes have limited capacity, and the conference is typically attended by several hundred participants, so early registration is important.

Lots of News from the Poetry Council

LOTS OF NEWS FROM THE POETRY COUNCIL

The Poetry Council of NC is keeping quite busy these days, planning for its annual Poetry Day on October 1 in Salisbury while simultaneously starting up a new cycle of contests whose deadline for entry is November 21.

Poetry Day is a day-long celebration of poetry that will be held this year in the Crystal Peeler Lounge on the campus of Catawba College. Highlights of Poetry Day will include presentation of the 2011 Poetry Council contest winners, readings by those winners, the release of the council’s awards anthology titled Bay Leaves, and a live Poetry Slam competition. The event is open to anyone, and reservations may be made via the form found on the council’s website: www.poetrycouncilofnc.wordpress.com.

In 2012, the Council is moving Poetry Day from October to April to coincide with National Poetry Month. To facilitate this transition, the Council’s annual contests have already opened for submission and will close on November 21. The Council coordinates separate competitions for elementary, middle, and high school students, as well as adult competitions for free verse, traditional form poetry, light verse, and others. The Oscar Arnold Young Award is given to the best book of poems by a NC poet each year. Information on entering any of the contests is available on the Council’s website or by calling Ed Cockrell at 919-967-5834.

Entry in the youth contests is free, while most of the other categories have a $5 entry fee. First, second, and third place prizes ranging from $10 to $100 are given in most categories, and up to three honorable mentions are commonly named in each. All prizewinners and honorable mentions are published in Bay Leaves, and the poets are invited to read their poems at Poetry Day.

In 2012, Poetry Day will be held in Hickory, in the new Student Center on the campus of Catawba Valley Community College. Teachers interested in facilitating their students’ participation in the contests can contact Nancy Posey (nposey@embarqmail.com) for high school students or Michael Beadle (beadlepoet@yahoo.com) for elementary and middle school students. Local poet, Scott Owens, is available to visit classrooms to discuss these contests or coordinate workshops to get students started writing poetry. He can be reached at asowens1@yahoo.com.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Change in Venue for Hickory 100 Thousand Poets for Change Event

Our venue for the Hickory 100 Thousand Poets for Change event has changed. Minetta Lane has gone out of business, so we will convene instead at Taste Full Beans Coffeehouse, same date (9/24) and time (2:00-4:00).


We have 18 poets so far. Given 2 hours for reading, that should be about 2-4 poems per person, although you don't have to read any more than you want to (others will certainly fill in the blanks). We're going to do a "reading in the round." I'll start; then whoever has one that follows nicely can go next; and so on until we run out of time or poems.


Remember our themes are peace, sustainability, tolerance, diversity, civility, the arts, and education.


Remember to send me copies of the poems you read for a special NC 100 Thousand Poets issue of Wild Goose (due out 11/15). Previously published is okay for this special issue. I'll be collecting and selecting poems from across the state (perhaps as many as 150 poets), so I can't promise you acceptance until I see all the ones I get.


Remember also to send your poems to your legislators on 10/24. We want to flood their in-boxes with these ideas and with the presence of poetry. Here are the relevant addresses for the Hickory area:


President Barack Obama: contact form at http://whitehouse.gov

Representative Patrick McHenry: contact form at http://mchenry.house.gov

Senator Richard Burr: contact form at http://burr.senate.gov

Senator Kay Hagan: contact form at http://hagan.senate.gov

NC Senator Austin Allran: Austin.Allran@ncleg.net

NC Representative Mark Hollo: Mark.Hollo@ncleg.net


If there are other poets you want to invite to join us, ask them and if they say yes, let me know their names so I can get them "in the ring". Visit the 100 Thousand Poets website to see details on the other 499 events taking place on 9/24: http://www.bigbridge.org/100thousandpoetsforchange/

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Review of The Best of Poetry Hickory

Review
by Pris Campbell

The Best of Poetry Hickory Anthology

From my distant perch in Florida, I’ve long been convinced that something in the Carolina water breeds especially good poets. This anthology, packed with well-written, spell-binding poems, more than confirms my suspicions. These poems speak in an engaging voice to the reader rather than announcing ‘look at how good I am” by way of contrived metaphors or other poetic devices inserted simply for the sake of having them there. These poems are good. It’s not necessary for them to preen or crow to let us know it.

I like to read poems I can relate to, poems that move me, poems that give me a way of seeing the familiar in a new light. This book did all of that in spades.

I could easily quote lines from every poem but space allows only a few. Those chosen were a difficult call but they give an idea of the range of themes covered in the anthology.

Robert Abbate asks in “Ecce Homo”:

What would Jesus do
once he could be lured
to the place of the fractured
pistol-whipped skull
and once, in the freezing air
he could be lashed to a barbed
wire fence outside Laramie

Maureen Sherbondy continues the theme in a different way in “Praying at Coffee Shops in the South”:

What are those public interludes with God?
Two men at Starbucks holding hands
bent over in prayer leaning into the invisible

Tony Ricciardell brings us back home as he speaks to his now helpless father in “Sins of My Father”:

If I spoke to your mother the way you speak to your wife you would have crippled me, wouldn’t you? If I called your mother bitch or whore, if I curled curses at her the way you hurled curses at my mother, you would have kicked me down the stairs, wouldn’t you?


Malaika King Albrecht’s poem, “The Riddle Song” brings tears as she writes of her father singing “I gave my love a cherry’ as he massages her mother’s useless limbs, hoping her mother is able to hear him, hoping she is looking at him as he sings.

Ted Pope views family from the other direction in “Bright Child” as he watches his daughter move swiftly from infant to adulthood:

….bright child holy child child of all my hope and reverence I
saw her coming down 4th St again today and today would not
be like any other day oh no today I’m going to follow her to
see where she goes to get that glowing external primal essence…

And Joseph Bathanti offers a bawdier view of the South in “Peaches”:

On a roadhouse bathroom wall
in the peach town of Gaffney, South Carolina
a woman’s body laminates itself
across the face of a condom machine

These poems are jewels. If I could I would string them around my neck so I could reach up and feel their glow whenever I liked. Needless to say, I highly recommend this book.


The Best of Poetry Hickory is available at Taste Full Beans Coffee House or from Scott Owens (asowens1@yahoo.com) for just $5 -- All proceeds to Taste Full Beans in gratitude for hosting Poetry Hickory for four years. A reading from the anthology will take place on September 13, 5:30, at Taste Full Beans, and will feature 27 of the poets selected for the anthology.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Revised Upcoming Reading Schedule

REVISED UPCOMING READING SCHEDULE
Sorry about the confusion. I've had a couple of new requests to read and made a couple of mistakes in the previous listing. This one is about as up to date as I can make it. At most of these events, I will be reading from the new book, "Something Knows the Moment," but I will sometimes mix in some of my older favorites and a few newer ones. I still have copies of "The Fractured World," "Paternity," and "The Nature of Attraction" that I can sell at each event.

9/10, 7:00, Joe Milford Poetry Show, http://www.blogtalkradio.com/joe-milford-show
9/13, 5:30, "Something Knows the Moment" Release Party, Taste Full Beans Coffeeshop, Hickory, NC
9/15, 6:00, Lazy Lion Bookstore, Fuquay-Varina, NC
9/16, 7:00, Lincoln County Cultural Center, Lincolnton, NC
9/17, 1:00-4:00, Momentous Writing Workshop, Coastal Carolina University, Pawley's Island, SC
9/24, 2:00-4:00, 100 Thousand Poets for Change, Minetta Lane Center, Hickory, NC
9/25, 2:00, McIntyre's Fine Books, Pittsboro, NC
10/14, Writers’ Night Out, Mountain Perk, Hiwassee, GA
10/15, Perpetual Writing Prompts, The Writers' Circle, Hayesville, NC
10/16, 2:00, NetWest Annual Picnic, Location to be determined
11/3, 7:00, Royal Bean Coffeehouse, Raleigh, NC
11/6, 3:00, Malaprops, Asheville, NC
11/6, 5:00, WordPlay with Jeff Davis, http://www.ashevillefm.org/wordplay
11/18-19, NCWN Fall Conference, Asheville, NC
12/9, 6:30, Barnhills, Winston-Salem, NC

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

NC 100 Thousand Poets for Change Events

NORTH CAROLINA STATE-WIDE ACTIONS!

In North Carolina we’re using the Subtitle, Writers for Education. Our state just cut 13,000 teacher positions because the legislature didn’t want to extend a 3/4 of 1 percent sales tax. The UNC School of the Arts barely escaped closure due to the mandated 15% cut to the university system. The NC Arts Council has had to reduce programming and staff. To show our support for the arts in general, and writing in particular, we are offering a series of workshops and readings throughout the state.

RALEIGH- Renowned poet Betty Adcock (Slantwise, LSU Press) will be sitting on the sidewalk outside Quail Ridge Books from 11 – 1 offering free feedback on any poems people wish to bring by.She will be joined by Richard Krawiec (She Hands me the Razor, Press 53) and Tim McBride (The Manageable Cold, Triquarterly Books). Richard Krawiec will be teaching a free workshop – Where are you? Where are you going? – to the Raleigh Divorced Women’s Support Group, led by Caroline Huerta. Dorianne Laux (The Book of Men, W.W. Morrow) is going to involve her students in emailing poems to NC politicians who voted to cut spending for the arts.

In GREENSBORO- poet and fiction writer Valerie Nieman, who publishes with Press 53, will teach a workshop for children. It takes place from 1-4 at the Witherspoon Art Gallery, and is called Peeking Behind the Mask -Each day we go about our routine lives, but inside we are superheroes or explorers, pirates or rock stars, hiding our secret identities behind a mask of an unassuming face and daily clothes. With the backdrop of Witherspoon’s current exhibition, “Persona: A Body in Parts,” we’ll explore our own secret identities and “peek behind the mask” of famous folks (real or fictional) to imagine their thoughts and lives. One way to enter this secret world is to write a persona poem – persona meaning mask – in which we give a voice to that alternate identity. Join poet and novelist Valerie Nieman in the Witherspoon lobby for a drop-in poetry experience for all ages. In addition, use a variety of materials to create your own magnificent mask to wear. At 3:00 pm we’ll celebrate with live improvisational jazz and a spoken word sharing.

Also, Press 53, in WINSTON-SALEM, is going to ‘stock’ the tables at Wolfie’s on 4th Street with poems. So all the customers will have an assortment of poems to pursue as they down their Wolfie’s frozen custard and Krankie’s coffee

COLUMBIA- Here’s a bit of an unmapped activity. Gail Peck, a Charlotte poet, is driving to the beach on the 24th and plans to stop at one of her favorite restaurants, Tuscan Bio in Columbia, NC, along the way and see if she can read a poem to the kitchen staff. Then, at the beach, she’s going to read a poem to the marshland.

In CARRBORO- Maura High, a member of the Black Sox poetry group, will be gathering other guerilla poets, taking to the streets, stores, and cafes to give away poetry books, and also leave poems, homemade and dada, on unattended chairs throughout the city.

Beth Browne lives in rural CLAYTON, surrounded by farmland. She writes, “I’m thinking I’ll do something radical like put The Red Wheelbarrow on yard signs and post them along my road like the old shaving cream ads.”

CULLOWEHEE- In keeping with the North Carolina ‘theme’ of getting as much poetry out into the community as possible, former NC Poet Laureate Kathryn Stripling Byer (Southern Fictions, Jacar Press, Coming to Rest, Black Shawl, Catching Light – all from LSU Press) will be be passing out poems to the hundreds of attendees at the Mt. Heritage day at Western Carolina University in Cullowhee.

NC Poet Laureate Kathryn Stripling Byer, who publishes with LSU (and whose limited edition handmade book of sonnets (complete with a Confederate battle flag pulped into the cover paper), Southern Fictions, Jacar Press released, is going to organize an event in SYLVA.

Michael Beadle will be strolling Main St., WAYNESVILLE reading poems!

In the TRIANGLE AREA of North Carolina, Alice Osborn (Unfinished Projects) will be leading a flash mob that intends to visit as many coffee shops in the area as they can hit.

CHARLOTTE- Barbara Conrad has organized an open poetry reading and music at Atherton Farmers Market Saturday 9:30-11:30. Thanks Larry Sorkin. Tanja Bechtler, Richard Taylor and all poets!

In CHAPEL HILL- Paul Jones (ibiblio.org) is going to organize a program to tweet 100,000 poems (hopefully) on Sept. 24. Everyone can join in on that.

Grey Brown (What it Takes), and Stephanie Levin (Smoke of Her Body, Jacar Press) will be at Flyleaf Books from 11 – 1, sitting on the sidewalk to offer free feedback to all poets, children or adults, who wish to bring a poem by.

From Appalachian State University in BOONE- Joseph Bathanti (Land of Amnesia, Press 53) and Kathryn Kirkpatrick (Unaccountable Weather, Press 53 – out in Sept.) are co-organizing a program we’d like to encourage everyone to participate in. On Sept. 24 we will be encouraging all NC poets and poetry lovers to email poems to NC’s elected representatives. We are going to try to flood the email boxes with poetry. This is an activity everyone can participate in locally, and it only takes a few minutes. No haranguing, no pontificating, just email a poem. Or two or ten. Putting poetry into the inboxes of politicians, hopefully in such numbers they can’t ignore it.

DURHAM event is at The Regulator, Ninth Street, Durham. Get feedback on your poems, and have a poem written for you.
On Saturday Sept 24 from 11 – 1. Al Maginnes(Ghost Alphabet, White Pines Press) and Florence Nash (Crossing Water, Fish Music) will be available to offer feedback on their poems for all aspiring poets and poetry lovers – children or adults. Chris Vitiello (Irresponsibility, Ahsahta Press) will be dressed as the Poetry Fox, sitting at a card table with his typewriter to make custom poems on the spot for anyone.

ALSO, Fleur de Lisa, the award-winning (Best Original Song, Harmony Sweeps, D.C. 2009) women’s vocal group who write all original music using poetry as lyrics, will be doing a mini-flash mob on Sept. 24 as part of the 100,000 Poets for Change event. They will be showing up at various locations in the DURHAM area, including shelters for people and animal.

In HICKORY- poet Scott Owens will have a dozen or more poets “reading in the round” at Minetta Lane Center for Arts and Peace in downtown Hickory from 2:00 to 4:00. Participants include Bill Griffin, Tim Peeler, Rand Brandes, Tony Ricciardelli, Bud Caywood, and many more. Anyone who is interested should contact Scott at asowens1@yahoo.com or 828-234-4266.

Steve Roberts (Another Word for Home), Addy McCulllough, and others will take to the streets of WILMINGTON and write poems on the sidewalks in chalk.

Hillsborough Health Center, HILLSBOROUGH, on Sept. 24 at 3pm Debra Kaufman (The Next Moment, Jacar Press) will lead a free workshop on Write to Health.

ASHEVILLE- Laura Hope-Gill
of the Wordfest Festival will hold an event, details TBA.
www.ashevillewordfest.org.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Slight Change in Format for Poetry Hickory 4th Anniversary Celebration


The response from poets for the Poetry Hickory 4th Anniversary Celebration has been much greater than I anticipated. When I first planned on having this double book release party (my new book and The Best of Poetry Hickory anthology), I figured we would get between a half dozen and a dozen poets to come and read their one poem from the anthology, so I thought it would make sense to give the anthology a half hour and I would take an hour for mine. Then when we went over a dozen, I changed it to where we would split the time evenly. Now, we have 23 poets who will be there to read their poems from the anthology. So, I'm still having my book release party, but I'm going to do just a brief (10 minute) reading from "Something Knows the Moment" just as a "warm-up" for the anthology. We will split those readers in half and take a break in the middle so that people can buy books, get signatures and refresh their drinks.


I look forward to seeing you all at Taste Full Beans Coffeehouse in downtown Hickory on September 13. The readings will begin at 5:30 and should wrap up around 7:00. I will have plenty of copies of "Something Knows the Moment," which retails for $14.95, and the anthology, which sells for just $5. If you can't make it, but you want a book, let me know, and I will work out the shipping with you. And by the way, we will still have Writers' Night Out at 4:00.


Here is a complete list of the poets currently scheduled to read their poems from what is a truly wonderful collection:

Jeanne Ackley

Hazel Benau

Jessie Carty

Bud Caywood

Ann Chandonnet

M. Scott Douglass

Bill Griffin

Helen Losse

Dennis Lovelace

Doug MacHargue

Shane Manier

Ron Moran

Scott Owens

Tim Peeler

Julian Phelps

Ted Pope

Nancy Posey

David Poston

Tony Ricciardelli

Molly Rice

Donnie Smart

Kermit Turner

Devona Wyant

and maybe more


Should be quite the Poetry Party. Come for the anthology; come for my book; come for the poetry; come to meet some of these poets; come for the wine; just come for the good time!


I hope to see you there.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Send a Poem to Your Legislators on 9/24

Here is a letter from Joseph Bathanti and Kathryn Kirkpatrick about how we can send poems to our legislators on 9/24 as participants in the 100 Thousand Poets for Change initiative. Here in Hickory, we will have 16 (or more) poets reading "in the round" from 2:00-4:00 at Minetta Lane.

Dear NC Poets:



As part of a global initiative called 100,000 Poets for Change http://www.bigbridge.org/100thousandpoetsforchange/), we are inviting you to participate in an action on September 24. On that day, please e-mail your county representative in our state legislature and our state representatives in the Congress in D.C. a poem of your choice. We are hoping to fill the inboxes of our elected officials with poetry as a way of registering our desire for a saner democracy.



Please use the poem’s title for the subject line, and place the poem itself in the body of the email, with your name and the town you live in at the bottom of it. No additional message should be inserted. Our aim is for the poems themselves to be the message. The poem you elect to send does not have to be political, per se, though it can be argued that all poems are political. Of course the subject matter remains solely your choice. We request, however, that this action be one that underscores our dignity as poets and the integrity of our art. Our intention is not to shout at our politicians, or in any way insult them, but to present a powerful united advocacy for change – and to alert them to our constituency.



You should use a personal email account, rather than a business or government account.



You can download spreadsheets for both the State Senate and House on the General Assembly Website - www.ncleg.net. For your representative’s address in the House in D.C., visit http://www.house.gov/ and enter your zip code. For Richard Burr’s Senate e-mail address, go to http://burr.senate.gov/public/index.cfm?FuseAction=Contact.ContactForm and for Kay Hagan’s contact address, go to http://hagan.senate.gov/contact/



When you send your poems, would you also please copy us – joseph.bathanti@gmail.com and kjkirkpatrick57@gmail.com – so that we can keep a record of this action?



Thanks very much for being involved in this important initiative.



Very best wishes,



Joseph Bathanti and Kathryn Kirkpatrick

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Best of Poetry Hickory News

I proofread the Best of Poetry Hickory manuscript today, and I am nearly overwhelmed by the quality of work it includes. So many of the poems are ones that I could easily call my favorite of the year, my favorite by a particular author, in many cases one of my all-time favorites. Here is a short list of poems in the anthology that I just can’t stop reading.

Rob Abbate’s “Ecco Homo”

Maureen Sherbondy’s “Praying at Coffee Shops in the South”

Rhett Trull’s “The End of the Hour”

Tony Ricciardelli’s “Sins of My Father”

Tony Abbott’s “Blood Red of Late October”

Malaika Albrecht’s “The Riddle Song”

Richard Allen Taylor’s “Playing Catch”

And there are many, many more. Main Street Rag is printing 250 copies of The Best of Poetry Hickory. 84 of those copies will go to contributors, and a dozen or so to libraries, collectors, etc. That will leave only about 150 for “public consumption.” They will be on sale for just $5 each at Taste Full Beans Coffeehouse in downtown Hickory starting Sep 13 until they sell out. If you can’t get there but really want one, let me know, and we’ll work out the shipping.

Thanks to all of the wonderful poets who have come to Hickory and shared their work with us this year. And thanks to Scott Douglass and Main Street Rag for supporting Poetry Hickory and for this generous contribution to the series.

Here is an excerpt from Robert Abbate’s “Ecco Homo” just to give you a taste of what’s coming:

The religiously
intolerant would not see
the Crucified in disguise.
They would not hear
the gentle spirit’s refrain:
Forgive them even when
they know fully what they do.

Posted in Uncategorized | Edit | Leave a Comment »
Best of Poetry Hickory Anthology
August 18, 2011 by wildgoosepoetryreview

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Contents of Wild Goose Poetry Review Summer 2011

Read it all at www.wildgoosepoetryreview.com

Contents
Katherine June Abrams, Links
Katherine June Abrams, My Grandmother’s Confession
Celisa Steele, The Feeder
Celisa Steele, Pie at 3 AM
Joseph Milford, Janitor Moonlighting
Joseph Milford, Jekyll Island Afternoon
Joseph Milford, Domestic Dispute After Reading Some Stephen Crane Poems
Susan Rooke, How Do You Like Me Now
Diane Webster, Funeral
Diane Webster, Home Alone
John Stanizzi, Kayak
John Stanizzi, The Hat
Doug McHargue, The Color of My Room
Maren Mitchell, Submission Requirements
Maren Mitchell, Why We Want to Fly and Swim
Ron Moran, Suppose the Return of Christ
Tim Peeler, Faith CLXIV
Steve Roberts, Inundation
Steve Roberts, The Fractal Tide
Rosemary Royston, Reasons Not to Wear Pantyhose
Rosemary Royston, Brief Encounter on Stairwell
Larry Schug, Green Heron in Rain
Helen Losse, Flowers Along the Railway: A NC Triptych
Aaron Poller, The Chicken Slaughterhouse of Dobson

Reviews
John Lane, Review of Abandoned Quarry
Celisa Steele, Review of How Language Is Lost
Ron Rash, Review of Waking
John Thomas York, Review of Naming the Constellations
Corey Cook, Review of What to Do with a Dying Parakeet

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Corrections

My previous post left off a reading at Barnhill's in Winston-Salem at 6:30 on December 9.

And the Lincolnton reading will actually be at 7:00 on 9/16.

So, the whole, accurate schedule looks like this:

9/10, 7:00, Joe Milford Poetry Show, http://www.blogtalkradio.com/joe-milford-show
9/13, 5:30, "Something Knows the Moment" Release Party, Taste Full Beans Coffeeshop, Hickory, NC
9/16, 7:00, Lincoln County Cultural Center, Lincolnton, NC
9/17, 1:00-4:00, Momentous Writing Workshop, Coastal Carolina University, Pawley's Island, SC
9/22, 5:00, Cellar 101, Fuquay-Varina, NC
9/25, 2:00, McIntyre's Fine Books, Pittsboro, NC
10/14, Young Harris College, Young Harris, GA
10/15, Perpetual Writing Prompts, The Writers' Circle, Hayesville, NC
11/3, 7:00, Royal Bean Coffeehouse, Raleigh, NC
11/6, 3:00, Malaprops, Asheville, NC
11/6, 5:00, WordPlay with Jeff Davis, http://www.ashevillefm.org/wordplay
11/18-19, NCWN Fall Conference, Asheville, NC
12/9, 6:30, Barnhills, Winston-Salem, NC

"Something Knows the Moment" is Out


My new book of poems, Something Knows the Moment, is out. I got my copies yesterday. If you pre-ordered, yours should be arriving soon. If you haven't ordered yet, you can still get them from Main Street Rag or if you want a signed one, send me a check for $17, and I'll get one out to you, or you could come to the Book Release Party on September 13 at 5:30 at Taste Full Beans Coffeehouse in downtown Hickory.

Other scheduled readings include:
9/17 Coastal Carolina University, Pawley's Island, SC, 1:00
9/22 Cellar 101, Fuquay-Varina, NC, 5:00
9/25 McIntyre's, Pittsboro, NC, 2:00
10/4 Lincoln County Cultural Center, Lincolnton, NC
10/14 Young Harris College, Young Harris, GA
11/3 Royal Bean Coffeehouse, Raleigh, NC, 7:00
11/6 Malaprops, Asheville, NC, 3:00

I will also be teaching workshops at the NCWN Fall Conference in Asheville 11/18-19 and at The Writers' Circle in Hayesville 10/14 and will be on the Joe Milford Poetry Show 9/10 and WordPlay with Jeff Davis on 11/6

Monday, August 1, 2011

Review of Solo Cafe 8 & 9: Teachers & Students

Review
by Scott Owens

SOLO CAFÉ, 8 & 9: TEACHERS & STUDENTS
Edited by Lenard Moore, et. al.
Solo Press, 2011
ISBN: 0941490505

I have never written a review of a magazine. It’s not the sort of thing I usually set out to do as most magazines don’t cohere tightly enough to be written about as a single piece. But I have written reviews of anthologies, and when I came across the 2011 issue of the annual journal Solo Café, it was clear that this was as much an anthology as it was a journal, and the subject of this journal/anthology, “Teachers & Students,” was of particular interest to me.

The various poetry and prose pieces found in this anthology are just the sort that bring great joy, contemplation, and insight to teachers, students and poets, and perhaps most of all to teacher-poets or poet-teachers, however one with such dual “citizenship” might identify oneself. One will find here a full range of learning and teaching situations, including “students writing their fierce and luminous poems” in Laura Boss’s “Workshop at the Great Falls, Paterson,” where “William Carlos Williams . . . looked / at these same falls so many decades ago” and both prose and poetic tributes to specific teachers, like Earl Sherman Braggs’s “Mrs. Davis,” who “farm plowed and pushed a field full / of books . . . . / taught Shakespeare till Shakespeare, / himself, shook / the classroom walls . . . . /” and made clear that in the world of her students, the world of ongoing race war, “’To be or not to be’ was never a question” but rather an existential imperative.

As Braggs’s poem suggests, learning is not always a simple matter of X’s and O’s. When things go smoothly, as presented in Sally Buckner’s “Teacher,” learning is a fine balance of knowledge and passion that meet as they might nowhere more powerfully than in a classroom:

I will fill your plate as full as you will let me. //
I’ll bring the bread,
and you -- with yearning green in your young heart
and eyes that can see newly each new moment --
You bring the wine.

On the other hand, sometimes learning is a struggle between creativity and correctness, between autonomous vision and received knowledge or expectations of obedience, as in Randy Pait’s “Boy in a Classroom” or Susan Meyers’ “First Grade,” where a young student, having excitedly colored “a bold yellow sun” belatedly discovers “Words her other hand, / . . . / has hidden from her: / Color the pretty ball red.”

Just so, this anthology provides what at times seems an exhaustive variety of educable opportunities, demonstrating learning from history (Kelly Cherry’s “War and Peace: Cliff Notes”), and philosophy (George Burns’s “Partly Heliotropic”), from art (Ray Gonzalez’s “The Long Library”), and books (Michael Harper’s “Negritude: a Poem Written When Everything Else Fails to Translate”), from teachers (Kevin Lucia’s “Physics”) and observation (Terre Ouwehand’s “Vital Signs”). Similarly, the selections here cover every level of education: first lessons (Shayla Hawkins’s “The Seed”), grade school (Lenard Moore’s “The Art of Living”), middle school (Lamont Steptoe’s “Instructions”), high school (Nancy Simpson’s “In Room Nine”), college (Ray Gonzalez’s “Fear of Dying”) and adulthood (Teddy Macker’s “Teacher”).

In addition to the poems, a selection of reviews and essays further examine the influences particular teachers have had upon their students who have become writers. Of particular note in these prose selections is the frequency with which the word “generosity” is mentioned in regards to a poet-teacher. It is there in Mary Ann Cain and George Kalamaras’s reflections on Judith Johnson and Muriel Rukeyser, in Karen McKinnon’s recollection of George Sidney, in Shelby Stephenson’s discussion of Guy Owen, and in John Tritica’s homage to Mary Rising Higgins and Gene Frumkin.

If I had known about this journal before it went to press, I would have certainly submitted a poem of my own, and so I add it here to those in Solo Café 8 & 9 not because I think it is as good as those in the journal but because I think it expresses what every teacher-poet knows and one of the things the wonderful writers collected here would like us all to remember. I include it as tribute to the spirit of the poet-teachers this volume celebrates and includes and as tribute to the poet-teachers that have been so instrumental in my own life: Galway Kinnell, Robert Waters Grey, Paul Nelson, Tim Peeler, Ann Carver, Hepzhibah Roskelly, Stuart Dischell, Fred Chappell, and many others:

All There Is to Say

If it happens that you find yourself
at the front of a room full of people
younger than you
listening to all you have to say
about what you think you know
and suddenly you hear
from an open window
you hadn’t even noticed was open
the voice of a mockingbird
as clear as the voice of God
singing in every language at once
you owe it to yourself
to stop in the almost silence
and say out loud, Listen

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Joining the Conversation: A Review of David Rigsbee's "The Pilot House"

Joining the Conversation
A Review of David Rigsbee’s The Pilot House (Black Lawrence, 2011)

(First published in "The Pilot" newspaper)

If you read enough poetry you come to realize that most, if not all, poets are involved in a dialogue that enriches each poem. Sometimes the involvement is a conscious one. You read a poem, put the book down and begin one of your own related to what you just read. Sometimes it is unconscious. Without realizing it, you carry a bit of a poem around in your head for weeks, months, years, and then write what you think is singularly yours, but others may recognize the relation to Whitman, Williams, Neruda. And sometimes it is something even less than (or perhaps more than) unconscious. You write from “something in the air,” out of the time, the world, in which you exist intellectually, emotionally, or physically. You respond unconsciously to a moment that other poets have likewise responded to or are simultaneously responding to. In that process a number of poets separately create a dialogue that is further joined by every reader who in their turn puts words to paper.

When I picked up David Rigsbee’s new book of poems, The Pilot House, and read the first poem, “After Reading,” I felt as if he and I must be writing from much the same experience, as if he had joined a lengthy, ongoing debate I was involved in and had been writing about for some time. The crux of that debate is summarized in Rigsbee’s brilliant opening lines:

I put down the book thinking
how purity is a curse, how it
puts us off the human
for whom it better fits
to turn away from the shore
in favor of the garbage and the grief.

To turn away from the safe, secure “shore” of “purity” and wade or swim into “the garbage and the grief” of human existence is indeed an unnerving venture, one that demands courage and unblinking honesty, but Rigsbee achieves this undertaking with admirable aplomb and sensitivity by using the familiar as a touchstone for the more disturbing. Thus, each poem resonates with previously unconsidered connections: Cary Grant hanging from Lincoln’s Mt. Rushmore nose and transcendence; Latin poetry and the mutability of what passes as even basic human knowledge; yoga and the inevitable passing of every human endeavor.

These are not poems to be taken or undertaken lightly. A brother’s suicide, a friend’s mastectomy, contemplations of one’s own mortality, a father’s death from cancer and the manic, last-minute struggle for his soul that precedes it, these are poems that readily admit the seriousness of life, and that look unflinchingly into the faces of fear, uncertainty, loss and hope all the while refusing the easy sedative of oversimplified explanations like faith, chance, or biology. These are poems that insist we examine the whole human experience, the good, the bad, the illimitably ineffable, and the hopeless and hopeful ways in which we react to it and try to create meaning from it.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Review of Ron Moran's "The Jane Poems"

REVIEW
by Scott Owens
(first published in Wild Goose Poetry Review)

THE JANE POEMS
by Ronald Moran
Clemson University Digital Press (2011)
ISBN: 9780984259854

Simply put, this is a beautiful book! Anyone who has ever loved someone and lost them, anyone who has known love or loss, anyone who loves memorable, well-crafted, emotionally powerful poetry, will love this book, which reminds us of the vital lesson Galway Kinnell gave us thirty years ago in his best poem, “Little Sleep’s Head Sprouting Hair in the Moonlight:”

learn,
as you stand
at this end of the bridge which arcs,
from love, you think, into enduring love,
learn to reach deeper
into the sorrows
to come – to touch
the almost imaginary bones
under the face, to hear under the laughter
the wind crying across the black stones. Kiss
the mouth
which tells you, here,
here is the world. This mouth. This laughter. These temple bones.

The still undanced cadence of vanishing.

These poems begin at the beginning of the speaker’s relationship with the title character, Moran’s late wife, Jane. In “The Courtship,” Moran charmingly tells us how he, as a young man, took off his tee shirt and mowed “the same // patch of lawn over and over” “on a chance she’d be riding // in a car down the hill that day”, “an offering of my unrehearsed // goods in early summer.” He follows this with poems of tender intimacy that show the relationship between the speaker and Jane growing over the years. In “Double Passage in Mid-Life,” he says to Jane, “I turn to fit the contour of your life.” In “Weddings,” he comments, “No surprise that we’re // getting into each other’s / dreams.” And in “Room by Room,” he fashions a wonderful analogy for how a marriage is constructed: “Room by room we are taming / this house built sideways / and close to a narrow street.” In poem after poem, Moran conveys the depth of this relationship through fresh, effective and vital imagery.

The second section of poems tells the story of how the speaker spent the last years of his 50-year relationship with Jane living with her illness and with all the feelings commensurate with such experience: stubborn optimism, fear, dread, sorrow, uncertainty. We first discover the illness along with the speaker in “Mirrors,” where he sits in the doctor’s waiting room trying to “flash” his “new smile” as if he “could // do something to face up to this . . . news now slowly coming to light / in pictures at the end of the hall.” Moran takes us through the various stages of emotion one faced with the illness of a loved one will inevitably experience. In “Tic Tacs,” he muses, “What will I do / if your heart closes up / like a sundrop after dark?” In “Jane” and “Foreplay” he answers the more important question of what he must do now, expressing empathy for Jane and accepting the responsibility of caring for her. At several points in this book, Moran thanks Jane for “saving his life.” In “The Breakdown” we see one of those points when we hear Jane helping him learn what to make of their experience with illness:

as we held
each other, I said “What am I going to do
when you die?”

and she responded, as if she would never die,
and that, hey,
we still had each other, and let’s make the best
of it now.

The emotional process the speaker goes through in accepting inevitable loss as well as the responsibility of caring for another and learning to make the most of every experience we have culminates in “A Blessing,” perhaps the book’s most powerful poem:

I cup her hand leisurely in mine, closing
it slowly, feeling her tremors until my hand

calms hers, and I whisper, “Time to sleep”;
and as she does, I count interludes between
breaths, longer than ever before but steady,
then release her, knowing how blessed I am.

The final section of poems deals with Jane’s death and the speaker’s life afterwards. The first poem in the section, “Lines of Demarcation,” describes the speaker’s discovery of Jane shortly after her passing. It is one of the most powerful poems I have ever read:

she was on her back, her mouth
wide open
as before, but her thin and bruised body
did not twitch.

She was still, like a figure in a photograph,
not gasping
for breath as when I left her room.
I tried to close
her right eye, barely open, but it would not
stay shut.

The nurse said, “Do you want a few minutes
alone with her?”
I said I’m OK, which I was not, but I only knew
later
how much I was not OK and never would be
again.

The remaining poems take the reader through a second process: the process of grieving, remembering, and coming to terms with being alone. The poems describe the journey with remarkable honesty, admitting all the complexity, depth, and difficulty of grief without trivializing it with oversimplified platitudes, concluding only with a measured joy that might best be called, appreciation:

I keep thinking of E.M. Forster’s “Only connect,”
and all I want

is to rerun my life with Jane, beginning in June, where
under
an oak in Walnut Hill Park, we both asked, “Can it work?”
Yes, it did.

Ultimately, this book about love and loss becomes a celebration and an expression of gratitude. No more stirring tribute to the power of another in our life, to a relationship, to love, has been written. Nor has there been anything more helpful for any who face the prospect of living with a loved one’s dying. Moran has achieved those most poetic of ambitions, catharsis and relevance, transforming his life into art that is transformative for the rest of us.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Thinking About the Next Big Bang

(first published in Outlook)


Thinking about the Next Big Bang in the Galaxy at the Edge of Town

In the Galaxy at the edge of town
there is still plenty of fresh air,
space is abundant, light
is spread evenly everywhere.

Children keep rattling wheels
moving forward, the machinery
of produce continues,
seven languages are spoken.

A homeless man seeks shelter,
jacket pulled tight around him,
orbs of eyes concealed
beneath rings of his hat’s brim.

Stockboys wait for beauty
to descend and need them, they dream
constellations in their hands,
spin cans to face the front.

Potentialities, polarities, cosmic
design are all worked out
in the commerce of heavenly bodies.
Everything moves in perpetual orbit.

A man walking between rows
wonders at the infinity of choice
spread out before him, thinks
one day decisions won’t matter.

At closing time they walk
towards the black hole
of windows, afraid of no
gravity but their own.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

3 July Events

3 July Events

July is typically a pretty quiet month for poetry in the Hickory area, but this month I'm involved in three big events.

Poetry Hickory featuring Helen Losse and John York, July 12, 6:30 - 8:00, Taste Full Beans Coffeehouse. Open Mic readers are Kim Teague and Brooke Johnson (1 10-minute slot open -- call me (828-234-4266) or email me (asowens1@yahoo.com) if you want it. Writers' Night Out 5:00-6:30.

Poetry Lincolnton featuring myself, M. Scott Douglass, Jonathan K. Rice, Helen Losse, Devona Wyant, Shane Manier, and Morgan DePue, July 15, 7:00, Lincoln Cultural Center (403 East Main St., Lincolnton, NC)

Greatest Writing Prompt Ever, 3-Day Creative Writing Workshop with Scott Owens, at Minetta Lane Center for the Arts and Peace, July 21, 28, and August 4, 270 Union Square, downtown Hickory. This workshop will get you writing and keep you writing for years to come. Appropriate for all genres. Revision and publication will also be discussed. Cost is $75. Email michael.minettalane@gmail.com or call 828-446-4451 to register. For more information, visit http://minettalanecenter.org/events_calendar/

Friday, July 8, 2011

Review of Nancy Posey's "Let the Lady Speak"

Review
by Scott Owens

LET THE LADY SPEAK
by Nancy Posey
Highland Creek Books, 2010
ISBN: 9780982085820

So what makes a writer put into words all the joyous, difficult, embarrassing, sad truths of one’s life? Hunger. A hunger unlike that known by animals, a hunger that cannot be named but can be endlessly described. The same hunger that Nancy Posey knowingly saves for the last poem in her new collection Let the Lady Speak. Ironically, the summative hunger, the hunger of all humanity, she captures in the poem “Hungry” is the first hunger of humanity: Eve’s hunger to be, fully, to partake of existence consciously, to experience and speak truly. In the poem, Eve says, “Who could have blamed me if I had said, when asked / why, I was just so hungry, and the fruit looked so good.”

The poems in Let the Lady Speak seek to express, with a particularly feminine quality, that hunger for conscious, autonomous existence, and in expressing it to, at least temporarily and partially, satisfy it. James Agee’s classic book of Southern culture is called Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, a title taken from the ancient Hebrew text, Ecclesiasticus. Posey’s title could just as easily be Let Us Now Praise Famous Women, as the poems juxtapose the voices of Scarlet O’Hara, Guenevere, Amelia Earhart, Hamlet’s Gertrude, Eve, and Penelope with the voices of the poet, the poet’s mother, the poet’s daughter, etc. But Posey’s actual title hearkens back to a tradition just as old as that invoked by Agee, namely that of patriarchy and misogyny. Most of us have little difficulty remembering a time when women often had to be given such permission as the title implies in order to speak or at least be listened to, and so the hunger expressed in these poems is not just the human hunger to experience the world and speak of it but a somewhat more frustrated and still sometimes denied feminine hunger.

The wonderful thing about these poems is that this deep feminist subtext is just that, a subtext. The surface of the poems is much less serious, much more readily accessible, even playful, such that any reader, feminist or otherwise, philosopher or pleasure-reader, can find enjoyment in them. Take these lines, for example, from “Or Maybe the Day after That,” spoken by Scarlet O’Hara:

Right now I have no plans
to make plans. Instead,
I’m going to sit right here
at the foot of the stairs
and have a good cry,
and I don’t care if anyone
gives a damn or not.
Maybe tomorrow my thoughts
will come clearer — or
maybe the day after that.

Certainly there is a great deal about life and our approach to it for the literary critic, the hermeneutist, the philosopher to consider in these lines, but most of us, regardless of how “deeply” we want to read, would enjoy the playfulness of hearing Scarlet’s most famous line revisited and playfully combined with Rhett’s.

A similar playfulness appears in “unvoiced” poems like the wonderfully titled “Hippopotomonstosesquippedaliophobia,” which according to the epigraph means “fear of big words.” The speaker of this surprising and tender love poem begins, “Shunning Latinate constructions, I choose / instead the simple Anglo-Saxon / monosyllabic words.” Then, true to her word, she concludes with the monosyllabic proclamation, “We will share one sweet kiss.”

A considerably less playful revisitation of familiar perspectives is offered in several poems, including “Guenevere,” where the title character grows cynical and impatient with the limitations of traditional roles and expectations. She knows, as always, that she will “be set / free before” she bursts “into flames” and that “the one / who makes the move / will certainly expect” her “gratitude to burn / hotter than this fire,” but she has become disenchanted with this cat and mouse game in which she is always the object and never the subject, always the acted upon and never the actor. She confesses, “I now feel / cold as a winter cave, / surrounded but alone.”

Whether playful or serious, familiar or exotic, what arises from all of the voices of these poems is the singular voice of a contemporary woman full of the complexities such identity would imply. Sincere, accessible, insightful, and charming, ultimately, the poems in Nancy Posey’s Let the Lady Speak are in a voice we can all enjoy . . . and learn from.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Review of Gary McDowell's American Amen

REVIEW
by Scott Owens
(first published in Pirene's Fountain

AMERICAN AMEN
by Gary L. McDowell
Dream Horse Press, 2010
ISBN: 9781935716044

“Between dawn and dusk / is purgatorial,” says Gary McDowell in “Forever Falling Off or Out,” a poem in his stimulating new collection, American Amen. Night, that time of the unconscious, these lines imply, may be heaven or hell, but either way it is beyond our powers to control. Thus, the proper concern of mankind is that time between, that time of striving, of committing sins and making amends, of doing what we can to make the best of our conscious existence.

In keeping with this existential positioning, the best of these poems explore the coexistent contraries of human nature--the selfish and selfless, the savage and loving--and the thin veil of comfort that separates these polar inclinations. The speaker of “Winter” tells us:

I am not that far removed
from cracking bones
to put food in my stomach
. . . . . . . . . .
---------------------------------
I am not that far removed
from eating only what I catch
---------------------------------
I am not that far removed
from being afraid of waking
to find my family vanished.

Part of what we do to fend off our own savagery in this purgatorial existence is embodied by this book of poems, by any art, by any objectification of our psyche. In “Too Damn Perfect,” the speaker tells us “I’m trying to translate my misgivings into precipitation.” The line makes a fair statement about the artist’s purpose--translating misgivings into that which moves things forward--and perhaps just as fair a statement of what we all should be doing.

No one should think, however, that such an examination of life will be inevitably and invariably somber. One of the joys of this collection, in fact, is the sense of humor and humility frequently exhibited by the poems. In “Weather, Weather,” for example, the speaker lists his “greatest moments: eight hours of consecutive sleep, / four cheeseburgers in ten minutes, two women in my lifetime.” And later in the same poem he acknowledges, “I know that my greatest moment will one day be clogged in glaciers” and “I sometimes / wish I had more to record.” Similarly, and perhaps ultimately, he acknowledges in “Back Home” that “it’s impossible to get this right.” Fortunately, for those of us who manage to find these poems, none of these humbling facts about human endeavor has kept McDowell to “get this right.” And I hope, as I suspect McDowell does, that all of us will take up the same challenge of making meaning where uncertainty is the only thing granted.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Poet Publishes Seven

Here is an article about my forthcoming book from Barbara Burns at Outlook

Poet Publishes Seven
(first published in Outlook, 23 June 2011)


“These poems are necessary,” writes former NC Poet Laureate Fred Chappell about Hickory poet Scott Owens’s soon-to-be-released new collection of poems, Something Knows the Moment.

According to Chappell, Owens’s seventh book is “about the nature of God, the nature of faith, of doubt, of trust and distrust, disillusion and resignation.” And he adds, “Occasionally the subject of hope is addressed.”

Joe Milford, host of the Joe Milford Poetry Show, says of Owens that he “stares steadfastly into the unrelenting zero as if trying to pierce the other side of being itself with laser-like intensity.” He states that Owens “forces the reader to ponder his own nature and humanity,” and Milford concludes “there is a tenderness in this book that might shame you.”

Scott Owens is the founder of Poetry Hickory, editor of Wild Goose Poetry Review, vice-president of the Poetry Council of NC, and an instructor of English and creative writing at CVCC.

His more than 800 published poems have received awards from the Academy of American Poets, the NC Writers Network, the Poetry Society of SC, the Pushcart Prize Anthology, and the NC Poetry Society.

Having read at hundreds of schools, libraries, bookstores and coffee shops, Owens describes himself as an activist for and through poetry. His articles on poetry can be read regularly in Outlook and on his blog at www.scottowensmusings.blogspot.com.

Something Knows the Moment will be released by Main Street Rag Publishing Company on August 2. Copies can be ordered now at an advance order discount of just $9 through July 19 at www.mainstreetrag.com.

Sample poems from the book as well as three other recent books by Owens can also be found at this website.

A book launch party and reading will be held at Taste Full Beans Coffeehouse in downtown Hickory on Tuesday, September 13, at 6:30.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The Death of Poetry Revisited

The Death of Poetry Revisited

Not quite a year ago, I wrote a column titled “The Reports of Poetry’s Death Have Been Greatly Exaggerated,” in which I suggested the vibrant poetic community in the small town of Lincolnton, NC, was evidence of poetry’s continued vitality. I’ve just wrapped up accepting submissions to the annual Oscar Arnold Young Contest for an outstanding book of poems written in the previous year by a NC poet. As a result I have new information to support my claim countering the common supposition that nobody reads, writes, buys, or cares about poetry anymore.

The Poetry Council of NC received 25 submissions to the contest. That means there were at least 25 books of poetry published by NC writers in 2010 alone. Actually, from subsequent conversations with other writers, I know of 5 others that weren’t submitted. So, at least 30 books of poetry were published by NC writers in 2010, and I suspect there were even more than that. Regardless of the exact number, that is a lot of poetry for something “no one is doing or reading anymore.” I doubt there were that many novels by NC writers published in the same year.

The books came from both well-established poets like David Rigsbee, Joseph Bathanti and Stephen Smith and first-time book publishers like Malaika King Albrecht and Jodi Barnes. There were a lot from the Raleigh area, 9 in fact, but they also came from Pinehurst, Gastonia, Wilmington, and even Hickory. And they came from established presses like Main Street Rag, Finishing Line and New South Books, as well as newer presses like Jacar and Big Table.

The selection of one of these books as the outstanding book of poetry from last year will not be an easy task. There is a great deal of quality work represented here. I have written favorable reviews of 10 of them myself, and 1 of them was published after my recommendation. If I were the judge, I think I would have to draw straws to choose among my half dozen favorites. Fortunately for my own sanity I’m not the judge who has to make that selection.

The results of the contest will be released later this summer. The winner, second place finisher, and a couple of honorable mentions will be given the opportunity to read from their winning works at Poetry Day to be held at Catawba College in Salisbury on October 1. The winner and second place finisher will also have a selection of their work published in the Poetry Council’s annual anthology of contest winners, Bay Leaves. For more information, visit www.poetrycouncilofnc.wordpress.com or contact me at asowens1@yahoo.com or by phone at 828-234-4266.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Poetic Response to "The Gravedigger's Roots"

A Poetic Response to “The Gravedigger’s Roots”
(first published in Wild Goose Poetry Review)

I don’t usually publish my own poems in my column, but a while back I did publish my poetic response to Jessie Carty’s book “Paper House” because the poem served as a sort of “review” of her book. I did the same thing after reading Tony Abbott’s “New and Selected Poems.”

The fact that a book prompts me to write a poem of my own says a great deal about the impact the book has on me. Writing a poem, after all, is not an easy thing to do. It would be easier just to move on to the next book. Some books, however, “move in” once you read them. They take up residence in your psyche -- the place where most poems are born.

Such was the case with both Carty’s and Abbott’s books and now with Robert King’s “The Gravedigger’s Roots.” This 2009 collection from Shared Roads Press consists of 51 poems written from the perspective of a persona whose significant role in the world is that of a gravedigger. While such a perspective might lead some to assume the poems are inherently macabre, what the reader finds instead is poetry with a wide range of emotional and philosophical contexts all connected by the ever-looming presence and awareness of that ultimate human reality, mortality. I personally found the poems to be refreshingly Romantic in their dealing with that common inevitability. The underlying message of these poems certainly echoes the work of both Whitman and Emerson, but the styles, language and imagery have all been updated to make the reading more immediately relevant and enjoyable.

Readers interested in ordering their own copy of “The Gravedigger’s Roots” can do so at www.sharedroads.net. Now here is my poetic response to the book. The italicized line is stolen from one of Kings’ poems.

The Keeper
after Robert S. King

Heel on shoulder,
hands gripping the shaft,
shift weight forward,
press down,
thin roots popping as the blade moves through,
lean back,
lift.

A hole the only thing it makes,
absence, empty space,
and yet without it, nothing grows,
necessity the smallest understand.

Most come here not to die
but simply to be dead.
Precious few come to live
and do the work
of keeping things going.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Annual Issue of Catawba Released

Celebrating Catawba’s 2nd (or 14th) Year

Depending on your perspective, the new issue of Catawba, CVCC’s annual literary and arts journal released May 27, is either the 2nd or 14th issue of the journal. Not many magazines can claim such an uncertain history, but such is the fate of many things dependent upon changing annual budgets and the work of volunteers.

What is now Catawba began as Synaesthesia in 1987 as the brainchild of CVCC instructors Tim Peeler and Tricia Hayes. For four years Synaesthesia published art and literature by both CVCC students and artists and writers from around the country. When Hayes left CVCC, the magazine went into dormancy, only to be revived 7 years later by Peeler and Nancy Risch with the title Sanctuary.

Sanctuary, which focused more on student work, was published for 7 years before falling victim to budgetary belt-tightening. One more issue entitled Sanctuary was published as an online journal in 2009 under the guidance of Peeler, Jerry Sain, and CVCC photography instructor, Clayton Joe Young.

Then, in 2010, the format was once again changed to a print journal focusing exclusively on CVCC student work. The journal was renamed Catawba, and edited by CVCC instructors Peeler, Young, Scott Owens, Brian Morris, Kevin Keck, and Robert Canipe. The second issue in this format was released at a launch party at CVCC on May 27 with the assistance of Anne Williams and Linda Lutz.

At the launch party students whose photos had been selected were displayed while those whose poems and stories had been chosen read from their work. Featured student photographers included Weston Bethancourt, Joy Barr, Amy Frady, Micah Harshbarger, Todd Money, Ashley Mosteller, Tennille Mullery, Jessica Prieto, Lana Ruffini, Stephanie Turner, Tiffany Ward (Student Editor), and Chris Wood. Student poets were Bethea Buchanan, Jeni Conklin (Student Editor), Carol Howard, Spencer Huffman, Kaitlin Leathers, Dennis Lovelace, and Kim Teague. Short stories were published by Stephanie Jo Young and Micah Harshbarger.

Copies of this year’s Catawba can be picked up in the CVCC library or by contacting Tim Peeler at tpeeler@cvcc.edu. Here is a poem by Dennis Lovelace to serve as a sample of the journal’s contents.

Fatherhood by Proxy
by Dennis Lovelace

Standing at the bottom of the staircase,
“Girls, I’m going to work. Come and give
me a hug and a kiss.”
A herd of elephants descending
with you in the lead,
raven tresses surrounding your features,
head down, brown eyes peeking
up at me, “Can I have one too?”
Leaning down, your tiny arms encircle my neck
tightly squeezing, a peck on my cheek.
I feel the chink in my armor
as you slip past into my heart.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Rosemary Royston Blogs on The Nature of Attraction

Wonderful Georgia poet, Rosemary Royston, whom I spent some time with this weekend at the Blue Ridge Book Festival in Flat Rock, NC, has written a blog entry on The Nature of Attraction. Here is a link to her blog: http://theluxuryoftrees.wordpress.com/2011/05/23/the-nature-of-attraction/

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Last Things

I don't usually post my own poems here, but I wrote this today after hearing the latest Apocalyptic prediction, and since it's all going to end on Saturday, I figured this might be my last chance for it to be read.

Poem for This Saturday's Apocalypse
May 18, 2011
by Scott Owens

Put your things in order.
Say your last farewells.
Make contrition, complete penance.
Say your prayers. Wait.

The signs are unmistakable:
earthquakes, Japanese tsunamis,
Mississippi floods, tornadoes
in the mountains of Tennessee.

The world ends again
this Saturday, the 12th time
in my lifetime. Of course,
the math might be faulty.

The numbers might not add up
and the words -- who can say
what they really say
until the end of days?

One thing only is certain:
one of these days
if we just keep guessing,
someone is bound to be right.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Six Degrees of Collaboration

Six Degrees of Collaboration:
An Essay on the Creative Process in the Second Person
by Scott Owens

(first published in Pirene's Fountain)

You decide to write a poem. You’ve read plenty of poetry, so you have some idea of what you’re doing. You figure you don’t need anyone’s help to do this. You certainly don’t need to collaborate with anyone. Nevertheless, as soon as you use the first word, in fact, as soon as you decide to write a poem, you enter into what I’ll call FIRST DEGREE COLLABORATION or UNCONSCIOUS UNILATERAL COLLABORATION. Everyone does it. It is, in fact, inescapable. Any use of language is influenced by every use of language we have encountered. Any attempt to write a poem is influenced by every poem we’ve encountered, even by the idea of certain arrangements of words constituting this thing we’ve learned from others to call a poem. It’s Frost’s line from “The Tuft of Flowers:” “Men work together, I told him from the heart / whether they work together or apart.”

With a finished draft in front of you, you realize that the poem echoes something else you’ve read, maybe something by Frost or Williams, Whitman or Dickinson, or maybe something more recent that you’ve read online, and you decide that the poem would gain texture and depth through intertextuality, by playing up that connection with another poem. So you find the piece being initially unintentionally imitated, and you make the imitation intentional, purposeful. You’ve just committed SECOND DEGREE COLLABORATION or CONSCIOUS UNILATERAL COLLABORATION. Not all poets do this, and I would guess that no poet does it all the time, but most good poets become at some point aware of their influences and utilize them on a conscious level. It remains a unilateral collaboration because the poem or poet being imitated played no active role in deciding to be imitated.

So you finish the poem, not really thinking that you’ve collaborated with anyone in an active way, but you decide, as so many poets do, that you’re proud of your creation and you want to show it to someone, someone, perhaps, whose work you admire, presuming that your admiration means they would appreciate your work as well. When you do, your audience is suitably impressed; however, they suggest that it might be stronger if you did something a little differently. Upon reflection you realize that they’re right, and you make the recommended change. Now you’re guilty of THIRD DEGREE COLLABORATION or CONSCIOUS BILATERAL COLLABORATION. Obviously, you intentionally, consciously, even pre-meditatedly accepted someone else’s help in this creation. Granted, it wasn’t an equitable bilateral collaboration. Your critiquer didn’t wield as much power in the final decision as you did, but nonetheless there were two conscious minds at work on the same product.

As you think about what you’ve just done, you come to the conclusion that you liked it. You surmise that most poets do it this way, and that since, to borrow a line from Frost again, “What worked for them might work for you,” you decide to do it again, only this time consciously so from the very beginning. You commit one or both variations of FOURTH DEGREE COLLABORATION: SERIAL CONSCIOUS UNILATERAL COLLABORATION, where you continue to imitate the style of a certain poem or poet; and SERIAL CONSCIOUS BILATERAL COLLABORATION, where you continue to seek the input of a particular audience. Perhaps, since the poems often derive from the same imitated source or are revised under the guidance of the same advisory source, they begin to cohere as poems with a related voice, perspective, or story.

And that’s when you dare go where few have gone before, into the dubious realm of FIFTH DEGREE COLLABORATION, a rarely visited place where even the word “collaboration” is no longer adequate to describe your actions. You realize as you hammer out the final details of a poem that it has been reworked to such a degree by the commentary of your critical audience that it has become as much his or hers as it is yours, that you have, perhaps unintentionally, taken the leap into SINGULAR COAUTHORSHIP. And in a moment of epiphany you also realize the ultimate irony of Frost’s “Mending Wall,” namely that the seemingly Cro-Magnon neighbor was in fact right, that “Good fences [do] make good neighbors,” albeit not because they separate, but rather because in maintaining them, we are brought together.

Having deviated thus far from the path of individual integrity, you finally give in completely to the dissolvent temptations of collaboration. You’ve come to learn that by surrendering absolute control, individual authorship, things do not, as Yeats feared, “fall apart,” but rather, perhaps, fall together. And so, you approach your collaborator with the idea of repeating this process not just on individual poems but on a sequence of poems, each consciously writing poems in response to poems written by the other, and each working together to revise poems begun by either of you, and determining together the nature of the poems that remain to be written to complete, or better, continue, the sequence. And since you are no longer certain which of you is responsible for any given poem, or line, or even word, you know you can only call this SERIAL COAUTHORSHIP, which must certainly constitute that most seditious, most subversive, and most insidious SIXTH DEGREE of COLLABORATION.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Review of Sara Claytor's "Memory Bones"

REVIEW
by Scott Owens

MEMORY BONES
by Sara Claytor
Big Table, 2011, 32 pages, $12
ISBN: 9780984573356

Sara Claytor is simply a joy to read, although her poems are neither simple nor naively always joyful. Rather, Claytor’s work consistently demonstrates that she knows what makes poetry a pleasure to read. One of the most enjoyable characteristics of a good book of poetry is a strong and clear sense of place that involves the capturing of idiosyncratic language, regional details of landscape, material, manners, and means, as well as characteristic tensions, issues, and concerns.

Nearly all of these elements of a deeply engaging sense of place are illustrated with just 9 lines from “Julia’s Soul Food,” the first poem in her new collection, Memory Bones:

You childs have to pray, praise, pardon.
the white mother taught me
a Southern woman needs stability,
depends on men, the family King Lears.
My black mother Julia
taught me when the ground turns,
trees cast no shadows,
all young childs be
a gift from God.

The use of the Southern Black idiom in dialogue; the subtly suggested issues of racism, tradition, women’s roles, and religion; and the tensions inherent in the contrast of the white patriarchy’s demands for propriety and the more forgiving nature of Southern Black spirituality born from generations of enforced failure and frustration, all establish a sure and authentic sense of time and place. This sense of place is further established in subsequent poems through greater physical detail, as in these lines from “Motor Moseying:”

. . . We’d ride down
main thoroughfares, turn on badly paved country roads
which turned into red dirt roads where sad, tin-roof shacks
punctuated farmlands with fields of dried cotton stems,
leaning gray barns, horse lots, hog pens, henhouses,
thin-ribbed dogs barking beside woodpiles.

As important as a strong sense of place is for providing the reader with a firm footing from which to experience a book of poems, perhaps an even better book will have just as strong a sense of gender and voice. While the opening poem makes it clear that one of the thematic concerns of the book will be the “place” of women, subsequent poems trace the speaker’s attempts at defining that place for herself. Poems like “Fractured Film Negative” and “All That Jazz at the Empire Theatre” demonstrate the speaker’s earliest frustrations with how girls and women are viewed. “Youth’s Dumb Dreams” illustrates the limited range of options that result from such views:

. . . Janie and I would
giggle of what’s to come. We would become actresses
with lots of lovers, smoking Viceroys in emerald holders.
. . . . . . . . . .
Meanwhile, Anne Louise tagged along,
first to get her driver’s license,
never jealous of our dreams, she had hers.
Her mother taught her well.
Learn to arrange roses in crystal vases; cashmere is chic.
You can love a rich man as easy as a poor man.

And “Saturday Night Yesterday” reveals that even years later those learned limitations are not easily dispensed with.

Only in the final third of the book does the reader begin to feel that the speaker has wrested control of her own life and identity from the tyranny of culture and the phantoms of her past. In “Tricked,” we hear her resistance developing as she says

rubbing my knees
with your free hand
like I’d sit patiently
an obedient pet
panting quietly
in my yellow-orange kitchen
awaiting
your whistle
quivering

Then, in “Artistic Conceptions 1 & 2,” we feel the speaker’s self-actualization achieved through creativity and expressed in this remarkable contrast of artistic and biological creation:

my doctor unfolds the placenta
crimsons, lapis blues
swirling through his fingers
like wet jewels

And finally, in “little girl on the street,” we understand the speaker’s desire to use what she has learned through this process of self-actualization to help others as well as the mature acceptance of her own limitations and the subsequent ability to protect herself. Here she encounters a former student of hers who has run away from home:

she presses my arms
a faint smell of beer, cigarettes
I want to take her home
cocoon her
. . . . . . . . . .
moving away my husband whispers
You can’t save them all.
I look over my shoulder
she wiggles a jig at the curb
blonde ponytail fluttering
like frizzy feathers
yells an obscenity at
a passing car
. . . . . . . . . .
her high-pitched voice
lifting like a bit of
tissue paper
carried by the wind

This strong sense of place and gender makes Memory Bones unmistakably, uniquely, impressively, and transcendently the story of a Southern woman raised in the rural South of the 40s and 50s with all the appeal and universal relevance such a designation should entail. From childbirth to different relationships to a high school reunion to killing a dog on a Mississippi highway, these poems have everything a reader needs to make them meaningful and memorable.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Minetta Lane Center for Arts and Peace Fundraiser

Local artisans helping to raise funds for new nonprofit



Hickory, N.C. – The Minetta Lane Center for Arts and Peace will be hosting an evening of music, artist exhibitions, poetry reading and light refreshments on Wednesday, May 11, at Taste Full Beans, 29 2nd St NW, in downtown Hickory. The event begins at 6 p.m. Consistent with the mission of The Center to be a gathering place for artisans, several local artists and writers will be on hand to help raise funds for the new nonprofit. A suggested donation of $25 will be collected at the door.



Hickory poet, editor, columnist, and college instructor, Scott Owens, will be reading from his various works. He will be teaching a creative writing workshop this summer at the Center, which is scheduled to open on May 27. Owens is the author of seven collections of poetry, over 800 published poems, and more than 500 published prose pieces. He is the recipient of awards from the Academy of American Poets, the Pushcart Prize Anthology, the NC Writers’ Network, the NC Poetry Society, and the Poetry Society of SC, among others. He is the editor of “Wild Goose Poetry Society” and “Room 234” and Vice President of the Poetry Council of NC. He has been a teacher for more than 20 years and has conducted readings and workshops at hundreds of schools, libraries, bookstores, and coffee shops across the South.



Also appearing will be Granite Falls native Michael Miller of the group Leaving Venus. One observer of the Charlotte-based group has written, “Considered by some as Indie Rock’s premier ‘underdogs’... Leaving Venus has quickly become a formidable presence, picking up a mantle that many critics say couldn’t be picked up again.”



Ellen Ball, a board member of the Center, will be on hand with her renowned collection of custom designed jewelry. Also, co-founders Michael Barrick and Heather Deckelnick will be present to answer questions about their plans for one of Hickory’s most historic buildings; and, Barrick will be reading from his most recent book, Exceptional Care, a Century Strong: A Mission of Mercy and Healing. Additionally, photographer Jon Eckard and writer Carmen Eckard will be present to briefly discuss their crafts.



Door prizes will be raffled to those that donate, and include gifts from Larry’s Music and Sound, Ella Blu, Gym Dance Cheer, Thad & Louise, “Say Cheese” Photography by Diane Whelton, and O My Soap, as well as Scott Owens.



The Minetta Lane Center for Arts and Peace exists to promote civility, understanding and peace through the arts. The Center is committed to reaching out with as many artistic expressions as possible to all segments of the community. It is the goal of The Center to empower staff, visiting artists, and patrons to utilize their talents fully in the promotion of peace locally, regionally, and globally. For the latest information, please visit the Minetta Lane Center website at: www.minettalanecenter.org.


_____________
Michael Barrick
The Minetta Lane Center for Arts and Peace
"Igniting the Spirit of Peace through the Arts"

270 Union Square
Hickory, NC
http://minettalanecenter.org/

Thursday, May 5, 2011

New Online Non-fiction Journal

I have started a new online non-fiction journal called "234." You can find it at www.234journal.com. This will be a blog-style journal which will publish continuously, i.e. as soon as we get an essay we like, we'll put it online. Our first post is called "Dealing with Death" by Charles Aguilar. My co-editors in this venture are Tim Peeler and Jerry Sain. Guidelines for submission are on the site. I hope you'll take a look and enjoy what we put up.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Essay on The Fractured World

Here is an essay written about one of my books.

The Fractured World
by Chaz Aguilar
The Fractured World (Main Street Rag, 2008) is a collection of poems broken down into three sections: “The Fractured World,” “Suite Norman,” and, “Smoke Dissolving in Wind.” Scott Owens, the author, speaks openly about his experience with child abuse and how that experience affected his view of mankind. I do not have much experience in poetry, but this book resonates with me as an abused child myself. Loneliness and abuse are emotions that most people know about but do not understand fully. This book walks the reader through some of the author’s tough times and can give some perspective to those who want to understand, comfort for those who have experienced abuse personally, and insight to those who see abusive potential in themselves.

Tim Peeler, a NC poet and educator, referring to the first section of the book in his review says, “Poetry should disturb us; it should create an uneasy feeling in our stomachs” (1). I believe the author accomplishes this; for instance, in the first poem, “Fates Worse than Death,” the author takes a look at some of the possibilities in life that are worse than dying: blindness, isolation, and torture. The poem “Sunday Afternoon, Atlanta Fulton County Stadium” is about a man who surrounds himself with other people but never takes any action to make contact with the world around him. This anonymous man sits alone in total isolation. One of my personal favorites, “The Man in the Bottle” shows a man contorting himself into a bottle, seemingly desiring to be isolated and alone, cut off from his surroundings. Loneliness, isolation, and death are frequent in everyday life, and though the subject may be dark, the theme is familiar to most.

Scott Owens said in an interview, talking about themes in his book, “In The Fractured World it was the gnawing sense that until we understand the relationships between poverty, abuse, and powerlessness, we would only continue to create them” (2). This theme is most powerful in the second section of his book, “Suite Norman.” These poems are a narrative of Norman, a father, an abuser, and drinker, who is coming to grips with his weaknesses and the person he is becoming. The character is a compilation of people Mr. Owens knew, his father, his stepfathers, and a little of himself. In “Norman Learns How Not to Cry”, Norman tries to contain his emotions because it is unacceptable to show them; it is not how a man acts. Norman has to come up with excuses when he breaks that rule. In “Self-Awareness,” Norman is older and abusive to his family, but he is fully aware that they enjoy, even look forward to, the time he is not around.

“Norman in the Window, His Eyes Like Shattered Glass” is the turn for the worse for Norman. This is when he first acts out in rage. Norman always knew the anger was in him, but is very surprised when the anger comes out. All he could do is stand motionless and watch his family leave, his children crying and his wife’s face swollen. Abuse is never to be taken lightly, and in The Fractured World, this fact has not been overlooked. Reading these passages, I could feel the abuse the author was enduring: the pain, suffering, and fear that come with abuse. Having written over 800 published poems, the author’s experience, both as a writer and abuse victim, really comes out on the page (3).

In the third section, “Smoke Dissolving in Wind,” Owens’ book gets a bit lighter in tone. In “The Days I am not My Father,” the author realizes the joy in not repeating his father’s mistakes. His son is happy to spend time with him, without fear of repercussions. “Foundings” shows how it felt the first time he was close to his step-son. The apprehension within him is revealed when consoling a child that is not his own when the child’s mother is out.

Even with my own experiences with abuse and loss, I have not been through everything the author experienced, but he paints a perfect picture with words, describing in detail his feelings and experiences. I recognize myself in some of the situations and some of my reactions. I can see what he went through; feel those moments that I would not be able put into words. The words of the author seem to me to be a brave act, reliving those memories for others to learn from and change their perspective on life with abuse.

Generally, I agree with the author; this book is about loneliness, being powerless, poverty, and death. Just because the subject is dark, it should not deter others from reading this collection. The stories are powerful because they are true; the theme is painful because life itself is, and the book should be read by everyone. The concepts are familiar to everyone because life is not simple; in fact, the painful areas are easy to understand because abuse, poverty, and death are everywhere and are completely connected to everyone’s life.

In an interview, Mr. Owens said, “I think writing poetry has simply become one way in which I engage with the world” (4). I have changed my point of view on poetry itself. Creative expression does not have to revolve around butterflies and leaves, but can be powerful. Most importantly for me, I now recognize that I am not alone in my experiences with abuse as a child. Others have been through the same experiences I have been through. I recommend this collection for everyone, but highly recommend this book for anyone who has been through the same so they know that they are not alone. I would say to Mr. Owens to keep on engaging the world, for these are the painful subjects that need to be discussed, for myself and for all of the abuse victims in the world.

Notes
1. Peeler, Tim. redroom.com. Summer 2008. 2 April 2011. .
2. Diskin, Bill. redroom.com. 25 June 2010. 2 April 2011. .
3. "Scott Owens." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 28 Mar. 2011. Web. 8 Apr. 2011. .
4. Benitez, Sandy Sue. Flutter. 2010. 2 April 2011. .