Friday, March 30, 2012

Random. Stray. Thoughts.

1.  As most of you know I m a teacher in a small town.  Not only that, but the town in which I teach is too small for a Wal-Mart.  The closest Wal-Mart is 120 miles away.  The town where I teach is a border town.  The town where I teach is a casino town.

When my students proclaim they are going to go out and conquer the world, just as in any school, all of the teachers know approximately 85-90% of them are going to do no such thing.  All teachers know a few essential truths, and unfortunately one of those truths is most of our students are going to lead very ordinary lives, regardless of their claims.  So what's the big deal?  In my town, an ordinary life means working at one of the casinos once you are old enough to do one of the following: work in one of the restaurants/buffets, deal blackjack, be a cocktail waitress, or house-keeping.

Occasionally we have students who simply do not make it to graduation before the outside world beckons to them.  Nevada has one of the worst graduation rates in the nation, and living in a town of itinerant (relatively speaking) workers, does not make the community's efforts of establishing a sense of value in education any easier.  A class of approximately 90-100 students will come to my school in the 7th grade, and by the time they are seniors we will have about 50-55 left who are on track to graduate.  That's what we are looking at this year.  If we are lucky, we will have about 55 students graduate.

Of those 55, I'd say 15-20 are going to be going straight to college.  This number includes vocational and technical schools.  The rest?  Most of the rest will settle into their lives right here in town.  Most already have jobs, and quite a few of them have already been working full time.  It's a matter of economics.

So where is all this talk leading?  Well, I will tell you.  There is an unspoken contract between teachers and former students who have dropped out or have failed to make good on their promise to conquer the world in a small town such as mine.  The teachers forget all about the heartache and frustration those students caused us, and they forget about all of our nagging and tirades.  It's part of the contract.  When a former student checks me at the buffet or at the grocery store, I thank him or her with a genuine thank-you.  They are in the so-called 'real world' now, and they are providing me a service.  It's part of the contract.  When they come to me and ask for advice about getting back into school, I give them honest advice hoping they are actually going to listen this time, even though I know the chances are minuscule at best.  They mollify me by pretending to listen,putting on their best listening act.  It's all part and parcel of the contract.

Right about now, Spring Break, I am once again gearing up for the latest round of how things work in my town.

2.  I just bought three books of poetry from The King's English Bookstore earlier today.  All of the books I bought were by authors with a Utah connection.

a.  Jacqueline Osherow's Whitethorn

b.  Danielle Cadena Deulen's Lovely Asunder

c.  Kimberly Johnson's a metaphorical god

I will try to review all three eventually, but I wanted to introduce them anyways.  I have heard of Osherow and I have heard about a metaphorical god, but Lovely Asunder is a new one for me.

I also bought Helen Losse's book, Mansion of Memory, and I am certain it's going to be a good read.  I will let you know about that, too.

3.  I am not going to be participating in Kelly Russell Agodon's Big Poetry Give Away.  I am not feeling it this year, and I would rather not get in the middle of all of that. Last year I had books which went unclaimed and books returned to me because no such address existed.  Is it really that hard to follow through when you sign up to get a free book?  I will not be entering my name, either, because it wouldn't be right for me to do that when I am not going to be giving anything away.

I am feeling a little selfish right now, and that has something to do with it.  I am struggling to get back into the swing of writing my latest manuscript, and I need to spend time writing it rather than doing a lot of worrying about National Poetry Month.  That means I probably won't be trying to do NaPoWriMo, either.  I don't mean I won't be writing poems.  I just mean I won't be taking the daily challenge.

I am also trying to figure out how to better market my latest chapbook, Friday in the Republic of Me.  And yes, I understand the irony of saying this mere seconds after I stated I will not be giving away a copy of the book this coming month.  Again, I am in a weird mood, and I am a little more than on edge about the poetry community right now.  Having said that, I will let your imaginations go to work, because I am not elaborating any further.


Today officially kicks off our Spring Break.  I don't know what that means for my blog.  I might get really hyper and post at every available moment, but I doubt it---that's what I have Facebook for these days.  However, I may still post a few times just to see what happens.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Book Review: Eduardo Corral's Slow Lightning

This review is more high praise than anything else.  I have said it before, but I refuse to waste my energy writing bad reviews.  I prefer to write reviews where I can heap on praise and admiration.  Here is yet another example.  I am certain this review will not influence many people to go buy the book.  In my own way of thinking, Slow Lightning by Eduardo Corral is probably the most anticipated book of poetry in the past several years, and rightly so.  We have all witnessed what talent and integrity amount to in the publication of this book, and that is just the way it is.  However, if you are on the fence about this book, know now I have nothing bad to say about it.  It is about as perfect a book can be, and in my humble estimation the very reason why the Yale Series of Younger Poet may still call itself relevant.

 * * *

Slow Lightning
Eduardo C. Corral
76 pp.,  Yale University Press
forward by Carl Phillips
ISBN: 978-0-300-17893-7

I am probably the quintessential fool for telling any of you about how wonderful Eduardo Corral’s poetry is.  After all, most any of you who are reading this review have known this for years, and we have all been anticipating this book for quite some time.  However, I am going to put effort into something which should need no effort:  Convince you to buy Eduardo’s book, Slow Lightning.  Before starting, I must say my knowledge of Eduardo the poet is far greater than my knowledge of Eduardo’s poetry.  Prior to reading this book, I had only seen a handful of his poems in various on-line journals.  In this telling I can assure you there is something synergistic about reading his book as opposed to reading one or two poems catch-as-catch-can.

My first look at Slow Lightning was sporadic.  I usually thumb through a book before I start reading it seriously.  It gives me a sense of what I am going to be able to expect.  I stopped on occasion, read a poem or two, and then would look at how individual poems are structured.  Normally this gives me a good sense, like I said before, but with Corral’s book, it was no preparation at all.  Oh, I knew his poems were going to slip between English and Spanish, and I knew some poems for formatting were printed on their sides, but those things, if you will allow, are cosmetic.  Important in the final analysis, yes, but cosmetic.  What I am talking about here is language.  I am talking about Corral’s ability to be expansive and terse; formal and informal; elegiac and joyous. 

I wish I could avoid talking about contradictions in this quasi-review.  I wish I could give you a straightforward analysis of the poems and structure of the book, but my saying expansive and terse, elegiac an joyous are only a beginning at best.  I hesitate to say something superficial such as confessional, but these poems are so intimate and personal I find it difficult to ignore their immense presence as I think back on them.  Corral finds the most apt places in his poems to divulge this information, and much of what he reveals is hidden in the context of narration, which belies its significance until you are right on top of it.  By then it is too late.  You can do nothing to prepare yourself and you cannot deflect any of the impact.

On the other end of the spectrum is Corral’s ability to create grand moments of language.  He directly references Frida Kahlo in the title of one poem, but it is in another I see what I take to be connective tissue between Kahlo and Corral’s work.  In the closing lines of “Temple in a Teapot (aqui esta el detalle)” I found this:

Canaries flit from branch to branch in a pear tree

wing bones knitting the blood inside their bodies

into ruby handkerchiefs in the breast pockets

of the handsome men who shoulder her coffin

Corral is not referring directly to Kahlo, but I feel a transcendence of sorts, a transference from the woman in his poem to Frida Kahlo.  I would at least like to believe these lines have some otherworldly connection to the paintings of Kahlo and perhaps, Diego Rivera.

Slow Lightning tells stories, offers powerful imagery, and is supremely confident in its construction and tone.  Part of that must be due to Corral having lived with the manuscript so long, but as far as first books go, there is a maturity which goes far beyond time.  Every page and poem is evidence; each makes the reader more aware of why this book was selected for the Yale Series of Younger Poets.  Looking back, now having read the book in its entirety, I not only see a book worthy of reading again, I also see the announcement of a new voice to be reckoned with within the poetry community.  Having known Eduardo Corral as a poet and now knowing his poetry on a much better level, I look forward to more of that voice with great anticipation.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Book Review: Paisley Rekdal's Animal Eye

Animal Eye
Paisley Rekdal
86 pp., University of Pittsburgh Press
ISBN: 978-00-8229-6179-6

This is the first book I have purchased written by Paisley Rekdal, but I can assure you it won’t be the last.  From the beautiful, startling first line of the first poem, “Why Some Girls Love Horses,” through the dizzying splendor that is contained in the long poems “Wax” and “Easter in Lisbon,” I have been captivated by the sheer confidence and energy of Animal Eye, and I want more.  Set partially in the context of questions, Rekdal moves quietly along to satisfy her own curiosity while sparking that of the reader. Coming along for the ride is her wonderfully unique phrasing and diction, which is a pleasure all on its own.

My initial reaction to this book is to its immensity, its dense language, how each poem asks the reader to immediately go deeper than one might imagine or think necessary.  For example, in the poem “Nightingale,” Rekdal wastes no time in setting the scene.   There is a boy at a window at night waiting for a bird and the next moment we are waiting with the boy as the poet makes allusions to Odysseus.  That isn’t to say Rekdal ignores the precise and new image in favor of transporting the reader.  Read how she describes the bird, folding the specific imagery into the poem as a whole:

        I can sense its gold eye,
the throat encrusted with glass.
I can hear the water slapping
the white sides of the shore.

In other places Rekdal employs, as the title of the book suggests, animals (and specifically the eyes and how they might see the world).  However, she is mindful not to belabor the point, only using the imagery when it is best.  For example, in the poem “Voyeurs,” which discusses a thoroughbred, I cannot help but see the large black, glassy eye of a horse, though no such image is used in the poem.  It is as if Rekdal knows what we will see on our own and knows when she does not need to take us directly to an image.

Travel is obviously part of Rekdal’s vocabulary as a poet.  Two of the poems, those mentioned above, constitute entire sections of the book, and while they are not by any means traditional narratives, the reader should immediately sense important stories (and questions) are being shared.  The poem “Wax” begins in ekfrasis, a reaction/discussion of the wax figure of Jean-Paul Marat created by Madam Toussad just after his assassination, but according to Rekdal’s formula, the poem quickly moves into a much deeper contemplation while still holding to the narrative as a guide for the reader. 

For too many reasons to mention, my favorite poem in this book is “The Orchard.”  I admire most everything about it.  It is about family, it is about honesty, it is about the culture clash evident between the generations, and it is about memory.

                                      My grandfather was good,
I remember, at fixing bicycles and shelves,
he could replace a car clutch and once
devoted an entire basement wall to a series
of aquaria he’d built himself and stocked.
None of these interests did he pass on to his children.
He sat instead quietly through dinner,
fingering his dish of salt plums, slipping each
from its waxed wrapper to suck the meat to a pulp
full of the brined tart juice of summer.

Coming away from these poems, this book, I am pleased there is more than enough reason to return again.  One reading is certainly not enough to fathom the wonderful depth here, and I would put it to you to commit yourself to knowing this before you start.  These poems will demand of you something more than a lot of what is newly available in the poetry world.  Still, you should not fear that commitment because Animal Eyes will welcome you, treat you as a worthy participant in the genuine curiosity and wonder expressed here.  The real question will be which, if any answers you come to, and if in turn you are willing to share.  You should get a copy of this marvelous book and see for yourself.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Friday in the Republic of Me: Eight Steps to Happiness!

Hey Everyone!

How is your work week going for you so far?  Do you want a little excitement to break the monotony that is your working life?  Well if you do, I have a great plan to make that happen!

Step One:

Buy My book, Friday in the Republic of Me.

Step Two:

Take a picture of yourself with my book after it arrives.

Step Three:

e-mail me the picture, along with your mailing address.

Step Four:


Step Five:

Receive your signed copy of my book in the mail.

Step Six:

Give away your un-signed copy of Friday in the Republic of Me to some unsuspecting friend or neighbor.  Be sure to document your subversion by taking lots of pictures.

Step Seven:  

Post the pictures to your blog and to Facebook.

Step Eight:

Let the hilarity ensue!

Friday, March 9, 2012

Review Number 3: Finding a way out

The Sounding Machine
Patty Paine
72pp., Accents Publishing
ISBN 978-1-936628-11-7

When I purchased The Sounding Machine a few weeks ago, I really had no idea what I was going to get.  Before reading the book I had little experience with Patty Paine’s poetry.  I primarily knew her work as an editor.  When I receive the book and started to thumb through its pages, I was pleased to find a wide range of the types of poems I saw.  I saw poetry which immediately intrigued me, made me look for a structure which might lend itself to the reading. What I found, as I started reading, was quite unexpected and quite lovely.

Patty Paine begins her collection simply enough, with an ars poetica poem which only later reveals itself as hallmark to the heavy lifting the reader is about to undertake in the pages which follow.  “Arse Poetica” warns us we are not going to get everything we want.  It tells us there will be subject matter not to be toyed with or taken lightly, that in fact:

                      there are days

when language is heavy
furniture you push around

a house made of nothing
but hallways.

Shortly after, Paine gives us entry into the description of her difficult childhood.  A series of prose poems cuts the issue to the bone, describing the clash of two cultures, sickness, divorce, abuse, alienation, and the need for escape.  In those brief prose poems lies the entire summation of an all too common experience with the culture shock which accompanies war time marriages.  In these prose poems the concept of the vow is visited several times.  Paine takes the reader on a difficult ride in just a few pages, but those pages are an essential history.  As readers, we need to know that history in order to make sense of what comes next.

What follows is nothing short of astonishing.  Paine proceeds, in a seemingly effortless transition between poems of memory and observation.  At times, the poems appear airy and light, contradicting in appearance the gravitas of important issues.  However, one should not be fooled into thinking this means some of the poetry in this book lacks purpose.  Every poem stays on point, never letting you forget what is being discussed.  In “Dogs,” one might be tempted to believe there might be a short rest from the path the poet has carved for herself, but that misconception fades when one reads:

Sometimes I feel

like a child with holes
in my pockets, every day losing

some small stone of myself.

While reading these poems there were moments I felt I was on some kind of Orphic journey where I was learning how to escape from the prison of a dysfunctional family. Of course, Paine is leading the way, but instead of the insecurity of Orpheus, Paine shows remarkable strength and dexterity, forging ahead to a place she knows without question, is indeed safe.

Ultimately, this is a book of healing, and there is much healed and much yet to be healed.  For my part as a reader, the specificity of these poems, their clear voice makes me feel as if I have been given the gift of trust.  Paine brings in the reader, gives over these revelations almost saying there now exists a record, but it’s more than that.  She is saying I trust you enough to know these things about me and This is how I know all of us can survive.  Having read these poems I have found some courage to perhaps re-tell some parts of my own history which I have avoided telling up to this point.  I suspect you will come to some of these same conclusions when you read The Sounding Machine, and that is a good thing.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Book Review Two: My Own Private Walden

Vine River Hermitage
F. Daniel Rzicznek
36 pp., Cooper Dillon Books
ISBN: 978-0-9841928-6-1

If any of you are familiar with Dan Rzicznek’s book, Neck of the World, you can expect to see a deeper, more personal meditation with Vine River Hermitage, but if you are not, then this slim book is a fine place to be introduced to his work.  For disclosure I will tell you I have long been a great admirer of Dan’s poetry.  It was him I turned to when I needed a final crucible for my own book, and as such you are entitled to know before you proceed with this review.  However, I hope you will see things the other way around.  The reason I went to Dan and asked him to read my manuscript was because of his immense talent.  If my reading of Vine River Hermitage was the only thing I knew of Dan’s work, I would be saying much the same as I am now.

When I first walked into this book, I was immediately struck with the singular expression of solitude.  Not any ordinary loneliness, but one built with care and complete awareness.  The narrator of these poems has chosen a solitary existence and renews this conscious decision with every step, image, and breath.  Something else, too.  I may be off when I say this, but I cannot help but to recall the story of Justin Vernon, hiding himself away for nine months and recording the Bon Iver album, For Emma, Forever Ago.  As I read these poems, I became more certain Dan was presenting something very similar, presents his narrator escaping something immense for the safety of an almost Walden like existence in order to compose something necessary, something vital.

In this book, the seasons, beginning with Spring, are set forth as cornerstones to the other poems.  Where the set structure of each of these poems (4 ten line stanzas which remind me of some hybrid of the glossa) might get lost in a larger collection, in this chapbook is heightened, signaling a quiet, collective meditation. 

At every turn, the narrator speaks of a need to heal himself, make himself whole again.  In the second poem of the book, “Springline,” the narrator speaks to an unknown reader, evoking the tone of an aubade and invoking the feminine.  Rzicznek ends the poem with a haunting final image best left for you to discover.  In the next poem, “Kingbird,” Rzicznek’s narrator admits something has failed.  Throughout the poems, lines such as these strike definite chords:

My royalty couldn’t command a cattail
to bow to the breeze, couldn’t muster
a rabbit from a flooding rabbit hole.

. . .

Between us, the ruins of my empire

. . .

Sorrow for me was a half-fancied
legend before today, as if the dawn had
a mote in its eye and it was her.

. . .

Throughout the book, Rzicznek pays homage to the natural world.  In “Great Barrier Reef” he creates a division between the natural world of his hermitage and the city from which he finds escape.  The poem begins:

The first royal thing: moss growing
In the sidewalk’s lunar cracks.
The big doors open when pressed.

later in the poem:

a city block of wreckage the news
drags through a sunlit morning
toward ragged oblivion and back.

Dan Rzicznek is a master of the line and the line break.  Each line feels solid, pure, an event of its very own, and his breaks are so natural one can’t help but be propelled through every poem.  He has certainly done his work with this book.  I read somewhere some of what Rzicznek said about this particular book.  He stated the poems are thematically and structurally diverse, and span a great amount of time.  I do not feel that when I read  them together.  This book is certainly more than the sum of its parts and I would like to believe the synergy ( I hope that is not a bad word to use in conjunction with poetry) one experiences with Vine River Hermitage is a matter of craft and not coincidence.

I would offer to you this parting thought:  The time spent with this book has the potential to serve as a break from your everyday life.  It can be a sabbatical for you without you being forced to leave the comfort of your home.  Better still, however, these poems might inspire you to reconnect with the natural world, inspire you to create your own hermitage, and return to your world knowing a little more about yourself for making that experience.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Book Reviews: Number one in a Series

Over the past few weeks it has been a real pleasure to buy books.  I have been extremely fortunate in my purchasing choices, and I want to share my good fortune with you by telling you about four of the books I have bought.  For some of you the names will be quite familiar, and maybe a name or two will be new, but I can say with all confidence, all four of these books are worth your money and time.

The four books are (in the order I read them):

Wearing Heals in the Rust Belt, by Karen J. Weyant
Vine River Hermitage, by F. Daniel Rzciznek
The Sounding Machine, by Patty Paine
Animal Eye, by Paisley Rekdal
Because I want to give each review the spotlight, I will be writing and publishing each new review every few days.  I feel if I bury them together, not enough focus will be placed on these books and none will receive the attention they deserve.

* * *

Wearing Heels in the Rust Belt
Karen J. Weyant
40pp., Main Street Rag
ISBN 978-1-59948-343-6

In Karen Weyant’s fine chapbook, the reader is treated to a kind of landscape poetry which is at its best, a hybrid combining the very real world of the title-implied rust belt and the emotional landscape of the author’s youth.  Weyant pulled me in with descriptions of a world caught somewhere between the rural and the urban.  The poems describe a town small enough to find itself on the cusp of losing some essential part of its identity.  In fact, this book, helps give me a better definition of the Rust Belt: A rural community or sensibility trapped within an industrialized landscape, still adolescent, still unsure of its urban identity.

Karen proclaims herself a country girl, and at each turn, these poems reveal she is confronted with learning something new about her world.  In the poem "Blood Moon” she learns about religious hyperbole.  In “Buck Season” she encounters the hunt and through her sister vicariously touches death. In “Why I stopped collecting Bees” she discovers puberty and begins a process of growth.

Taking this theme of discovery, Weyant talks of experiences before she can define them.  In the poem, “Landscape with Cold Scarecrow,” she talks of the, subliminal danger of unrequited love.  Speaking of a would-be suitor to her friend, Weyant states:

                        But we weren't afraid.
We were country girls who carried penknives
in our pockets for protection, kept
our fingernails long.  Stalking, we
would call it now, But back  then,
we wouldn’t have known that word.

Over and again, the poems in this collection mark the exact moments when a young girl becomes aware of new truths.  One by one, these stories are recounted and the reader ends up learning from the poems not only how to define the idea of 'Rust Belt' but also to use the poems to reawaken the touchstones of his or her own growth.

I can recommend these poems not just because they define place.  That is part of American poetry and any good poet takes time to do that.  What drives me to say good things about these poems is Wyeant’s ability to make me care about the people in her poems.  Whether it is the narrator, or those who seem to be antagonists, I care deeply about the people of the poet’s world.  Every poem makes me want to linger and start conversations with them, ask for their side of the story.

I admire the precision of these poems.  Every poem contributes a necessary picture, an essential fragment to the narrative. If there is something missing in this book, I certainly do not feel its absence.  In Wearing Heels in the Rust Belt, Weyant does the reader justice and serves the corm of the chapbook a great service.  There is specific purpose in these poems,unity, and because of them I am able to see and ultimately feel even more of the world.  I know these poems can do the same for you if you give them a chance.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Book Contest: Friday in the Republic of Me

I have decided to have a book give-away contest of sorts.  Here's how it works:

1.  For the first 10 people who buy a copy of my chapbook from Foothills Press and then send me a picture of themselves with my book in hand, I will give a free"signed copy" of the book.  Include your mailing address with your e-mail and I will send a free signed copy as soon as I can.

2.  What good is that you ask?  Well, you keep the signed copy and subversively give away the other copy you bought to some unsuspecting individual and/or organization.

3.  Tell me where the chapbook went, and I will post it her and on Facebook then send you a little bit of swag for your efforts.

4.  Let the hilarity ensue.

* * *

If you order by the 5th of March, you will get free shipping.  Oh what fun we can have!