Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Book Review: Sandy Longhorn's The Girlhood Book of Prairie Myths

The Girlhood Book of Prairie Myths
Sandy Longhorn
70 pp., Jacar Press
ISBN: 978-0-9897952-0-3

Sandy Longhorn, in her second collection of poetry, The Girlhood Book of Prairie Myths, continues to focus her poetry on America’s Midwest.   As the title suggests, this time around Longhorn addresses how stories and myths enter our consciousness, specifically those relating to the feminine.  What is important to note here is the care Longhorn places in the structure of the book as well as the structure of each poem.  This book is not merely a collection of like-minded poems; it is a carefully made book, sewn from the cloth of Midwestern psyche which seems to color the collective American identity.
Caution is at the top of Longhorn’s priorities, mixing contemporary stories which inform with those which warn the reader of what has come before and what lies ahead.  Poems not only explain how myths are created, they take on the physical appearances of the things they discuss.  In the early poem, “Midwest Nursery Tales” we read how myth is created, how it is structured and institutionalized into our very awareness.  It does not matter if we accept the story as fact because we all have heard a version of the story.  The revelation comes in the shared, almost instant recognition of such stories and the incredibly stark and beautiful manner Longhorn is able to write it.  Only two pages later in “Naming the Storm,” then again with “The Once-Winged Saint,” Longhorn mimics on the page with ease the patterned destruction of a storm and then the patterned beating of wings.  This care brings a physical elegance to the poems contained within these pages.
The high points of this book are the wide range of cautionary tales set before the reader, and Longhorn is able to sustain these moments throughout the book.  There seems to be a cautionary story, tale, or myth for every occasion and rightly so.  The reader will marvel at the completeness of this book, how varied and far reaching the poems can be.  One need not be from the Midwest, not even a woman to feel a connection somewhere in these poems. For me, it began a long time ago when I first read the poem, “Fairy Tale for Girls in Love with Fire.”  The poem begins:

It began in a year of drought. The horizon
caught fire and the eldest girl fell
for the smell of smoke, craved the heat
of flame and ember. Every adult tried
to hold her back from running toward

the leaping fervor. Every adult prayed
she’d tire of fighting her way through
the parched corn stalks, the ears now dry
in their flaking husks, prayed her throat
would fill with smoke and she’d turn back
to douse herself with water.

As many of the poems in this book do, this poem allows the reader to believe in what is familiar, only to move in an entirely original direction, as is literally done here between the first and second stanzas. 
            While this book is primarily concerned with the mythology of the feminine, it would be a mistake to say the book succeeds on this point alone.  In the final section of the book, Longhorn takes the reader on a detour, relates a personal narrative occasionally alluded to in the previous sections.  She is, herself as it turns out,  both author of this book and one of the tales.  The experiences she brings forth in the final section are the culmination of everything that has come before, everything she has learned by hearing those tales.  Here we see how the stories end, the solemnity of observance, and the finality of becoming an integral portion of the prairie.
            My admiration for Sandy Longhorn’s poetry is no secret, and I am certain I am not alone in my praise.  Longhorn’s poetry is, as I stated earlier, elegant and clearly expressed.  It takes a lot of effort and talent to make poems such as these, poems which are vivid, precise expressions from within a brilliant mind regarding a world which will be entirely new after having read them.  You owe it to yourself to go out and purchase this book of poems.  I can hardly think of any other conclusion than you falling in love with this wonderful book and thereby planting the seeds of anticipation for more of this kind of myth.   

One More Tidbit . . . And another

My good friend, Jeff Newberry, reminded me of a missed little highlight. 

A few weeks back I was interviewed for Hoof Prints, the blog for Pegasus, the Student Literary Journal for Abraham Baldwin Agriculture College.

In the interview you can read about my research process and other such sundries for my book, Hobble Creek Almanac.  I also take the time to offer words of advice regarding the process by which one should go about getting a book published.  Of course I talk about walking away from the contest model and the value of getting on with the people you work with as opposed to trying to find a press name which carries a connotation.  After all, beyond poets, who is going to know the difference between presses?

* * *

If I hadn't made it clear with the absence from this blog, I am on an official sabbatical from writing poetry.  I will be clearing house with Sailing This Nameless Ship, but then I am out the door, so to speak.

I know this is contrary to the normal model---poets should take breaks from their day jobs so they can write.  However, with the work I have been putting into getting my books published (one chapbook and three full length collections in three years) I have spent all of my creative energy.  I have nothing left in the tank, and it's time I simply not worry about this part of my life.  I haven't written a poem worth keeping in over a year (an understatement if anything) and I don't have the faintest idea what I might even want to write about poem by poem, let alone have any idea what I want my next project to be.  As such, I am intentionally not taking up my pen or typewriter to try and write any poetry.  You may see more of me here because of that, but don't expect good writing.  Don't trust it.  Just keep walking as if nothing has happened. 

Good enough.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The Catch-Up

Quite a bit as happened since I last posted here in early August.  Since that time I have moved along to bigger and better things, stumbled my way through being obsessed with political discussions on Facebook, and discovered my new keyboard (courtesy of a new computer from the school) is not nearly as responsive to my typing touch as the last one I had, causing innumerable typing errors.  In fact I just now swapped out my new keyboard and mouse in an attempt to save my very sanity.  And I think it is working.  Many of the keys on that new board simply wouldn't register my touch/strike and I would spend a lot of time going back and filling in errant letters after completing each of my sentences. It's nice to see my old typos back and to be rid of the ones created because of a faulty tension setting on a new board.

Noe that I have that old gripe off my chest, I will stick to the positives which have happened as a  result of  these past several months.

1.  My book, Hobble Creek Almanac has six reviews up on Amazon.  That's pretty good.  I have been very fortunate to have some really good friends read my book and go the extra step in writing a review for it.  I am also slotted to speak to the Springville Historical Society in February.  I am going to fashion it into a reading of sorts, talking about how I purposefully blended fact and fiction to write the best possible poems for the book.  I might even sell a few copies. It will be my first official reading of the book, unless anyone out there invites me to read on their own.  Utah is a strange animal, and poets are even more bizarre.  I have been in contact with a lot of Utah writers and poets, but because I do not hold any academic sway, I will probably never get invited into the college classroom or to very many readings.  I have nothing to offer.  I've said it before, so that is enough of that.

2.  I received a Jackpot Grant from the state of Nevada to assist in the publication of my latest book, Sailing This Nameless Ship, coming out from BlazeVOX.  It wasn't a tremendous amount, but it will hopefully ensure that I will be able to send out a lot of review copies and perhaps get a few reviews seen and thereby sell some copies.  I plan to do that, possibly pay for a few advertisements, and the like.  I doubt I will ever write another book like it, and I don't want it to disappear entirely without at least a few people reading it.  If there is anyone out there willing to write a review and publish that review on a blog or submit it to a journal of some kind, I would like you to contact me.  I will put you on a list, and I will do my best to make sure you get a review copy of the book.

3.  I went to the Cliffs Notes Writer's workshop, where I was able to work with some great writers, chief among them Eleanor Wilner.  She led two workshops through close readings of some very diverse poems. It was really great to be led through that process by such an incredible mind.  It made me really examine the line between conscious and unconscious composition.

That about does it.  Oh, other things have happened---school has started and I have a pretty good group of honors students, but I really don't want to write all that much more.  You know, I gotta try and get you all to come back and read again.  All the best, and stay classy, interwebs, stay classy!