DBF Post-Post Mortems

I mentioned a few blog posts ago that I decided to forego reading any poems from my manuscript at the Decatur Book Festival, because it’s really hard to excerpt pieces from a narrative–let’s be honest, the book is a verse novel, and so many of the poems are interdependent (except maybe the Moon Poems in it), that even reading sevearal in narrative-arc-order wouldn’t make much sense. How do you get invested in characters without hearing the WHOLE THING?  I don’t think it’s possible. (I suppose, if I ever get it published, I will really have to figure out how to present the poems in a way that makes sense for poetry readings.  But that’s just not an issue right now, so it’s clearly on the back burner.)

Anyway, at DBF, I read a handful of prose poems as I planned to.  I’ve been writing a number of them in the last year or so, along with the pieces of flash fiction and flash nonfiction.  (Actually, writing the prose poems might have been the catalyst for getting serious about fiction and nonfiction, now that I think about it.)

I’m not sure why prose poems are resonating with me so much–when I read them, I respond to their “quirky sensibility,” and the fact that they tend often towards absurdity and repetition (as well as the other things we expect in poetry, like sound and image and metaphor), and I like when I can write with a little bit of abandon, and try to tap into writing on the lighter (nuttier?) side.  Maybe that’s just my state of mind in the last year or so!  I’ve certainly gone out of my way to read a lot of prose poetry this past year, and I like what happens when I try writing it.

As promised…the Set List!  (You can find links to many of these on my Online Poems & Writing Page.)

  1. Nocturne
  2. This Is Not a Poem About a Blank Page
  3. Oceanic
  4. Weed ’em and Reap
  5. How to Mend a Broken Heart
  6. When the Wolf Bit Off the Fingers of My Left Hand
  7. Prosecco
  8. Piccioni
  9. Chiuso

Regarding readings, I was once described (by someone with excellent poetic delivery) as being a “diffident wise-ass,” and told that my performance tended to be sly and snarky between my poems, undercutting the presentation of the poems themselves.  I personally don’t mind being considered a diffident wise-ass–despite the fact that a body could argue that the definitions of both words would seem to cancel each other out–because it’s an accurate critique of my whole personality, and anyway, I’m nothing if not a contradiction.

But since he said that to me, I’ve tried to give  my poems the gravitas they deserve, and not be so snarky in my delivery.  I think I mostly succeeded this past Saturday at the DBF, but I’m sure I said a few snarky asides.  No one’s perfect…and anyway, I can’t help myself.  No one would recognize me if I was perfectly serious.

Finally…as for the photos… well, I forgot to bring my camera and had to settle with using the phone, and I often  get blurry pics on it.  I apologize to the photo subjects, who are all much more beautiful than they appear here!

Here are Tammy Foster Brewer, Robert Lee Brewer, and Andrea Jurjević (and Bob Wood in the foreground of Andrea’s photo).

Tammy Photo 1  Robert Photo 1  Andrea Photo 1

Here are Kodac Harrison, Dan Veach, and Rupert Fike (listening to Andrea’s poetry with rapt attention).

Kodac Photo 1  Dan Veach Photo 1  Rupert Fike Photo 1

Last, but not least, may I present “Still Life with Bob’s Hand.”  😉  Here he’s guarding his stack of copies of The Awkward Poses of Others, which, if you haven’t read, get thee to Amazon immediately and purchase a copy–especially if you like movies and art and ekphrastic poetry.

Bob's hand photo 1

And with that, I’ve no more to say about the Decatur Book Festival.  Until next September, that is.

If Not Talking Back to the Muse, At Least Listening to Her a Little More

I’ve  been reading a lot lately, and realizing how much in the last year since Chris and I have lived together that that hasn’t been the case.  When I was single, I read about hour before bed every night–it could be poetry, it could be history or some other non-fiction, it could be memoir, or a murder mystery.  Sometimes I’d read all day on a Saturday, and even if I hadn’t gotten the laundry done, I’d feel like I had accomplished something valuable.  But especially before bed, it was good to do because it has a sedative effect–and the lack of reading plus the incessant snoring (I’m sorry, honey, but you snore really bad) this past year has really frazzled me.  I’m stressed out a lot.

So I’ve been making a concerted effort to read.  And this is also helpful, because in my last post, I mentioned I was starting to stagnate and needed some fresh inspiration.  I’ve read some articles on Shreveport history, including the State Fair and Holiday-in-Dixie, and I also read Goodloe Stuck’s really fantastic (but unfortunately, not academically documented) biography of Annie McCune, who was an Irish immigrant who followed the Confederate soldiers from New Orleans up north to Shreveport, settled, and opened her own bordello.  He writes with humor, and a lot of the research is anonymous quotations from the men who used to go down to the Red Light District and see her or her girls, and some of it’s really funny.

McCune was a real entrepreneur as far as building business; she sold beer for instance, and was in good with the cops so never got harrassed, and she was quite the philanthropist, giving all kinds of monies to charities.  Her house on 900 Fannin Street was one of the three most elegant/ top tier places in the District, and she regularly got her girls checked for “venereal disease.”  Their health was McCune’s priority; men knew they could go there without worry of carrying something home to their wives.

Apparently Shreveport’s District was the largest in the country for a city its size–it was several blocks, and contained all manner of vice, from shotgun shack quickie whorehouses, to saloons, to places to get cocaine and other drugs, to the more palatial bordellos.  It was huge tourist attraction, with people coming in from all over the Ark-La-Tex–kind of, I suppose, the way the riverboats are now, which I wholeheartedly disapprove of.  (Of course, what does it say about me that I feel affection for a Red Light District where women are selling themselves for $3/ trick?  That seems very counter my women’s studies background…)

Shreveport Madam came out in 1981, and it was kind of fun to read the acknowledgments, especially because I knew several of the people in the LSUS Archives Stuck thanked for help.  As I said, I enjoyed it–it was really engaging and interesting, and I could tell that Stuck had a real affinity for McCune.  I just wish that it had demonstrated academic rigor, beyond a few mentions, in passing, of newspaper articles–although it did have some maps and photographs.  Of course, one of Stuck’s points was that there really isn’t much known about her, so he had to rely on eye-witness accounts.  But when there’s no name attached to a quote, it kind of mitigates the authority and veracity of the account.  At least, it does for me.

I actually think we have a copy of Shreveport Madam at our house back home; I want to say that I’ve seen it in my sister’s bedroom, although I can’t imagine how it got there.  I’m sure she’s never read it, and I wouldn’t have either, except that the Archives had multiple copies and sent it (and other books, like Chronicles of Shreveport [which had a print run in the 1890’s of 500, and mine is #470ish], Glimpses of Shreveport, Caddo 1000, and Caddo Was…) to assist me in my Sibley Sisters poems.  Anyway, I’m not sure how I will work Annie McCune or the Shreveport’s Red Light District into the poems, but it’s definitely good background.

And speaking (round-aboutly) of inspiration, tonight is PoetryAtlanta’s program, Talking Back to the Muse, in which poets are invited to read a favorite poem, and then read a response/ answer/ reflection/ something else poem we’ve written so the two, in proximity, can “dialogue.”  There will be a ton of poets there tonight–Karen, Bob, Collin Kelley, Christine Swint, Rupert Fike, Robin Kemp, Megan Volpert, Dan Veech,  Cleo Creech, Kodac Harrison, Ginger Murchison, many others.  And me, of course.  I’ll be reading a poem that was sparked by Jane Kenyon, who has always been one of my favorite poets.

I like to read Jane Kenyon because she is reflective and sees beauty in the smallest things; even though I have no point of reference for the farm life of New England, something about that way of life, as she presents it, comforts me and resonates with me…  I’ve also been reading good ol’ Anne Sexton, whose poems are the antithesis of Jane Kenyon–they burn me, skin me alive.  But I don’t read a lot of her work at one time–she wears me out.

Anyway… if you need something to do tonight at 8 p.m., come out to the Composition Gallery and enjoy poetry, wine, and good company:  1388 McClendon Avenue, Atlanta, 30307, not far from L5P.   Call them for details:  678 982-9764.

Decatur Book Fest Recap

I was going to write about the amazing reading at Java Monkey during the Decatur Book Festival–everyone’s, not just mine, heheh :-)–but then somehow I got distracted and the week got away from me.

And now it’s 9 days later, and everyone else has written about it in their blogs–and let’s be honest here, we’re all reading the same blogs, so I don’t know if it’s worth going into, but for the benefit of those who didn’t attend, and don’t read the same blogs I do, let me hit some highlights.

First of all, let me just say, Christine Swint is a born reader of poetry.   She mentioned that the DBF was her first-ever public reading, but I simply refuse to believe it.  She was so good–perfect pitch and delivery, her words smooth and even, and of course, wonderful.   It was a pleasure to hear her, and to be exposed to more of her poetry, which I am only a little familiar with.  I predict great things for her!  And I look forward to attending more of her readings, because I know there will be many, many.

Bob Wood was next.   He read poems from his Gorizia Notebook, and his explanations about the poems were as delightful as the poems themselves.  I was especially fond of his discussion surrounding “Night Train from Venice,” where he discussed how fascistic the train conductors are–who, as he describes in the poem, embody the “ghost of Mussolini.”

Blake Leland‘s poems were all bug-related.  He has what Bob calls the “voice of God,” and it’s true (if God were male, but everyone knows I believe in Goddess)–a basso profondo voice that makes every word resonate with import.  He read this one poem called “The Cicadas” which was a definite crowd-pleaser because it has a kind of James Brown-esque motif that punctuates the poem.  The audience loved it.  Even clapped mid-way (because it seemed as if the poem were over), but then when Blake actually finished it, it got a huge round of applause.

I was next–I read relatively recent poems, including several from the APPF.  Here’s the set list (although not in order, and not necessarily all of them, as I can’t find the pages where I had them written down):

  • Of a Diferent Color
  • You Never Listen
  • Horse Sense
  • St. Sebastian
  • St. Sebastian II
  • Ex Somnium
  • Breakup
  • Dystopic Love Poem
  • Besame Mucho

Several people came up to me afterward to talk about those Sebastian poems–among the comments I got was that they were “sly,” “sexy,” and “really cool.”  This amused me, and I was pleased.

I’ve been thinking of maybe doing a third St. Sebastian poem–one of the poems I need to write in the near future is a persona poem, which is not a form I’ve done in a while, so maybe I could write as him.  (Why do I need to write a persona poem, you may ask?  Because I will be attending the 3rd Annual Chattahoochee Valley Writer’s Conference, and that was Nick Norwood’s–who has 12 Hotness chilis on Rate My Professor–assignment.) 

I only read 11 minutes, according to Chris.  I guess I’m a poor judge of time, but I will say, I’m a firm believer in the “leave ’em wanting more” school of thought.  Better to end early than to bore people.

After me came Julie Bloemeke, who, like Christine, I hadn’t met in person before.  She read poems about derelict houses which were very interesting to me because I actually have a fondness for derelict buildings in general.  (I have often thought, if I had a lick of photographic talent, that I would like to shoot all the abandoned barns around Louisiana and make a book.)  I’m curious to hear more of her work–I should look online for it.

Karen Head read from Sassing, of course, and is always entertaining–quite the Southern raconteuse, but I confess to wishing she had read something newer.  And I know that she feels compelled to read “May Day Sermon,” which is a fine poem–don’t get me wrong, but I guess I’ve heard it so many times I just wish she’d give some of her other really solid, good poems a reading too.  She told me that she wasn’t planning on reading it, but I guess when your fans demand it… Not that I would understand these things, fanless as I am…

Finally Collin Kelley read the Preface to his novel, Conquering Venus (which I am currently reading, and am slightly in love with Irène Laureaux).  Listening to him read was amazing because you could swoon in the lyric quality of the words.  It was a pleasure hearing him, and I will have to make an effort to attend one of his readings so that I can hear him.  What is it about fiction always being more enjoyable when it is read to you?

There were others at the Java Monkey Stage I wish I had gone to hear–Kodac Harrison, Cleo Creech, Memye Curtis Tucker, Megan Volpert, Rupert Fike (who sent me one of my favorite APPF poems that I received), Robin Kemp (who signed her book This Pagan Heaven for me, but I haven’t read it yet, despite Collin’s superior review in his blog–I need to read it soon, by the way), and Ginger Murchison… Though several of them I’ve heard before, it would have been nice to hear them again.  Next year, I promise that I’ll spend more time at the DBF.  It’s just usually so hot, and parking is an issue, and I’m a crabby old curmudgeon, that 4 hours, plus a MARTA trip, is about my limit.

In other news, oh, never mind.  That can wait for another post.

“Monumental”

“Monumental” is the name of the Exquisite Corpse poem that Karen Head put together on the 4th Plinth today from lines by Christine Swint, Ivy Alvarez, Collin Kelley,  David Matthew Barnes, Rupert Fike, and me, and she read poems by several of us as well as Bob Wood, Jo Hemmant, and Julie Bloemeke.

It was amazing.  At first, it didn’t look like Karen was doing much–just sitting in a chair with her Mac on her lap, but then the Twittering started, and it was fast and furious.  Sometimes she’d call out to the audience to ask for a line, and I couldn’t help wondering what those people in Trafalgar Square were thinking.  

It was hard to keep up with the feed, because you couldn’t see everyone’s posts, and people would be trying to come up with the next line, but couldn’t see what the line before was.  So it was crazy!  I know I tweeted 30 times in one hour–which I’ve never done before.  It was like almost being likes a sportscaster making blow-by-blow comments on the situation–except there were all these other people doing it at the same time.

I loved it.  And the poem she came up with is fantastic.  I can’t wait to read it on the page.  

If you missed her performance, or you’d like to see it, go here.