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:

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"

by Scott Owens

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
your whistle

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:

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

270 Union Square
Hickory, NC

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 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.

1. Peeler, Tim. Summer 2008. 2 April 2011. .
2. Diskin, Bill. 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. .