I’m very happy to have a new poem taken by New Verse News, a web site that posts daily poetry commentaries on national and international news.

My poem, “Now, Men Here,” went live this morning.

Most of my poems are not of political nature, but this is – sometimes the old newspaper editor and columnist in me likes to speak out, especially on social-justice issues.

***

Here is a plug for a new chapbook, “What It Means To Be A Man (And Other Poems Of Life And Death),” by John Lambremont Sr. John is the publisher of The Big River Poetry Review of Baton Rouge, LA., and a strong poet in his own right.

The chapbook costs $12 plus shipping and is published by Finishing Line Press.

 

I will be one of three authors taking part in the Read Local event from 4-7 p.m. Thursday, Aug., 14, in downtown Marshall, Minn.

Read Local is a new program, run through Marshall’s Fine Arts Center, and is providing both a new retail outlet for books by regional writers (at the center) and also opportunities for authors to make appearances to promote their books and the program.

I’m really grateful for the program and the showcase it has been providing.

On Aug. 14, I’ll be joined by novelist Forrest Peterson and memoirist Jeanette Lukowski.

We’ll sign books, be available to visit with readers and those who want to learn more about our books. I’m looking forward to being back in Marshall in general, seeing familiar faces, and hopefully new ones.

Forrest Peterson, who has long been known as Frosty, and I worked at the West Central Tribune newspaper in Willmar, Minn., together in the late 1990s. Frosty has written two novels, Good Ice, and, most recently, Buffalo Ridge. Good Ice is set in a small, rural Minnesota city in the 1950s — a coming-of-age story, but also a look at post-traumatic stress disorder’s effects on World War II veterans, and emerging race relations that have come to be a much bigger part of rural Minnesota’s life over the last two decades.

His Buffalo Ridge is a contemporary novel, set in a fictional version of southwest Minnesota’s Lincoln, Lyon and Lac qui Parle counties mostly. There is murder in it, drugs (meth, especially), small-town and small-business politics, a few anti-government/near-militia types, and a refreshing thread about the rise of organic farming and produce-growers. A very real thing in that part of Minnesota.

It’s a novel about a family’s efforts to avoid unraveling, but because it also is a novel laced with serious crimes, it is part of this fascinating and growing of crime novels set in the rural Midwest, written by people who grew up here, or have moved here.

There have been many prominent, and exceptional, authors — essayists, poets, novelists — who’ve celebrated or contemplated the sides of the rural prairie worth savoring. Its beauty, its good people. From the peaceful and yet revealing landscapes, grasslands and waters of the area to the hard labor of farm families plowing their way to success as early pioneers or grasping to survive the Great Depression, and more, the good people and good qualities of the Midwest have been the subjects of writers like Robert Bly, Bill Holm, Leo Dangel, Joe Amato, Paul Gruchow, Fred Manfred, and more in a very long list.

Yet, of course, some great Minnesota writers have not been fond in fiction of their home state. The Nobel laureate Sinclair Lewis comes most quickly to mind, as a severe critic of small-town Minnesota — the gossip, the politics, the hypocrisy. I don’t think Lewis ever got too deeply into the violent-crime aspect, though.

Yet, if you work in Minnesota newspapers long enough, as both Frosty and I did, and as many of my friends have, you learn there’s another hard underbelly to life in these parts. Hard crime, much of it fueled by drugs, much of it committed by the same circle of repeat offenders, but some of it maybe committed by or affecting people you know ‚ fellow employees, classmates, neighbors, or so many studies have shown.

Some of the crime is really gruesome, some of it heartbreakingly sad, such as the drug-fueled beating death of a man in Montevideo, Minn., a decade ago that led to the man’s body being tied to an axle and dumped into a gravel pit, or the strangulation and stabbing death of an elderly Willmar woman last year in which her own grandson was involved. As grisly a pair of murders as anything in a hard-boiled crime novel.

So maybe it’s not a huge surprise that a lot of quality crime fiction is coming from rural parts. And I know some o of the novelists.

Frosty is one.

Anthony Neil Smith, the chairman of the English Department at Southwest Minnesota State University, is another — the author of many novels that are brutal in their depictions of crime, full of some very awful characters: bad criminals, even a few nasty cops or ex-cops. It’s not for the faint, but Smith’s novels have given him a lot of attention in the U.S. and abroad, and one of his novels is on its way to becoming a movie. While the language and violence are harsh, Smith is not after more than the gratuitous. He’s exploring the darkness in all of us, and pondering whether even the worst of us is redeemable. This is so in his crime fiction, but also in a series about Somali immigrants to Minnesota, some of who get caught up in the civil war back in their homeland. The opening book of that series, All The Young Warriors, is a powerful work.

Where I live now, in Forest City, Iowa, another crime novelist is bursting on to the national scene. Jamie Lee Scott, who co-owns the A&W Restaurant here, was a USA Today best-seller last year. Now, she has announced that she and New York Times best-selling author Diana Capri, and five other authors, are partnering on a series of small-town murder novellas, which will come out this fall.

Jamie is prolific, funny, hard-working and is building a solid national following. Sometimes, she admits, she creates characters she doesn’t like very much. But if that is the case, the good thing is, she says, she can always kill them off!

I love the writing of Bill Holm. I read and re-read Leo Dangel’s new collection of poems, Saving Singletrees, earlier this year. Writers like Kathleen Norris, Robert Bly, Carol Bly, Gruchow, Amato search for and often find new truths about the area, often in beautifully realized ways.

But there’s also truth about the area in crime stories. Flip through a newspaper’s court records, go the Marshall Police Department’s “most wanted” list, or the current Lyon County jail roster (many arrested for drug charges, one on a felony weapons charge, another for a jail escape), and you’ll see it’s so.

So, again, between the actual crimes that take place in the area and the huge appetite Americans have for crime stories (novels, reality TV shows, police and suspense TV shows even on PBS), I am not surprised at the development of rural Midwest crime fiction. I am impressed, though, by the quality of it from the work of people like Neil Smith, Jamie Lee Scott, Frosty Peterson, Bartenn Mills, and a lot of others.

•••

Again, a reminder of the Read Local event from 4-7 p.m., Thursday, Aug. 14, at the Marshall Fine Arts Center.

Memoirist Jeanette Lukowski, Forrest Peterson, and me.

Forest City’s annual, and wonderfully named, summer festival, Puckerbrush Days, starts Thursday and runs through Sunday.

For the first time, the festival includes an event to showcase some of the city’s many authors. A meet and greet is planned for 5-7 p.m. Thursday at the Forest City Public Library. Eight authors will be there, and you can visit with them about their books, about writing in general, or (hopefully!) buy some of their books, too, and have them signed. I will be one of the eight authors at the library.

Here is a list of the authors who are scheduled to attend. After that, there’s another list, of other authors from Forest City or with Forest City connections.

I’ve been fortunate to live in two areas rich in writing talent, with authors of national reputation — novelists, poets, essayists, historians. Along with authors just starting their careers, and authors who have something personal to say that may influence your own lives. A wide and good range. The first place I lived, for most of my life, in fact, was southwest Minnesota, home to a deep pool of quality writers. And now here, Forest City.

Writers are remarkable resources for and in any area, of course, people of talent and passion and intellect. Some regions neglect or take their artists for granted. It’s very nice to see Forest City embracing its.

Forest City Authors: Books & Websites

 

Jamie Dierks (Jamie Lee Scott): www.jamieleescott.com

USA Today best-selling author. Known for: The Gotcha Detective Agency Series (Let Us Pray, Textual Relations, Death of a Sales Rep, and What a Meth). Coming soon in the series: (B)adVice. Also the author of a new adult rodeo romance series!

About Let Us Prey: “Mimi Capurro, owner of Gotcha Detective Agency, has been hired to protect New York Times bestselling author, Lauren Silke, who was recently assaulted in the bathroom at a paranormal conference. Though Mimi is hired to act as bodyguard for Lauren’s upcoming book tour, plans change when Lauren’s assistant is murdered and the slaying is a replica of a scene from Lauren’s newest novel. A novel that hit bookstores the same day as the killing.”

 

Joy Newcomjoymnewcom.com

Known for: Involuntary Joy, her candid memoir of the birth of her first child, a son born with spina bifida and other birth defects.

About Involuntary Joy: “Involuntary Joy describes the thoughts and feelings that went unshared after the birth of Joy Newcome’s first child 20 years ago. As his day-to-day realities became her own, she experienced an involuntary transformation, eventually leaving a career she loved to become a stay-at-home mom who worked part-time.”

 

KEVIN THORSHEIM: http://www.amazon.com/Ten-Tall-Tales-Old-West/dp/0738803707

Known For: Ten Tall Tales of the Old West

Valerie Lackore: Facebook.com/trialstotriumphs and www.christianpublish.com

Known for: Trials to Triumphs, the true story of the Lackore family whose son, Justin, endured more than 50 laser surgeries on his throat. Many times the situation they faced seemed hopeless, filled with many questions & despair in the seven-year trial.

Barb Mills (Bartenn Mills): bartenmills.com

Known for: Fiction writing, including the short stories “Chicken Lady” and “Hooked.”

 

Dana Yostdanayost.wordpress.com

Known for: The full-length poetry collection “Grace,” the essay-and-poetry books “The Right Place,” and “Good Shepherds,” and the regional-and-sports history book “A Higher Level: Southwest State Women’s Tennis 1979-1992.”

About Grace: “Grace traces the journey from a wish for peace in the first poem to struggles against mental murk to a calm communion with the moon in the last. But Yost’s writing throughout is anything but murky; he writes clearly and affectingly of his various subjects, with the sharp images and American diction of a midwestern William Carlos Williams.”

 

Greg Flugumwww.amazon.com/Greg-Flugum/e/B00CBF9HGK

Known for: The non-fiction books At Coffee, and It Can’t Be My Heart.

About At Coffee: “What are the benefits of belonging to an elderly peer group? Especially a peer group of old retired men telling stories and tall tales. This book, written in humorous form, will enlighten you with those very benefits as well as the oddities that occur within a peer group. Just try to keep a straight face reading the section called ‘Believable Stories – Honest!’”

 

Kyle Torke: www.amazon.com/Kyle-David-Torke/e/B00FFCWLNW/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_1

Known for: Sunshine Falls, a collection of essays; Archeology of Bones; Dead Triathletes Speak, Tanning Season, and Still in Soil.

About Sunshine Falls: “Sunshine Falls is Kyle Torke’s beautiful, elegiac account of living in a world rich with mystery and impermanence. In crisp, sparkling prose through twenty far-reaching, story-driven essays, we follow the author from his first love in sixth grade to the demise of his marriage thirty years later, experiencing the full potency, confusion, and promise of human interaction, loss, and triumph.”

 

 

Other authors with Forest City connections:

 

Tim Bascom, director of creative writing at Waldorf College. Author of the memoir Chameleon Days. http://www.waldorf.edu/Residential/About-Us/Directory/Bascom

 

David Bolstorff, former longtime Waldorf College football coach and chaplain, author of Reflections from the Sideline, and with his wife Donna, of God’s Voice Around Us, and Rising from the Spirit.

 

Eric Brunsvold, author of Gardening with Grandma. (illustrated by Miranda R. Mueller) http://www.amazon.com/gp/search?index=books&linkCode=qs&keywords=9780615389448

Gina Hanson Hanson, author of The Hanson Heritage.

Scott Mathiasen, blogger, writer of inspirational and religious works. http://fourfeetsixinches.wordpress.com/about/

Barb Ruiter and Cindy Ruiter, author of the children’s book Pink is Perfect for Pigs. (illustrated by Andy Sinnwell) http://www.amazon.com/Pink-Perfect-Pigs-Barbara-Ruiter/dp/156883019X

Brad Steiger, author of more than 180 books, including biographies of Judy Garland, Jim Thorpe, Greta Garbo; books of inspiration; books on true crime; and books on the phenomenal and paranormal. Writes frequently with his wife Sherry. http://www.bradandsherry.com

Joe Wilkins, former director of creative writing at Waldorf College, author of the memoir The Mountains and the Fathers, and the poetry collections Killing the Murnion Dogs and Notes from the Journey Westwardjoewilkins.org

Mike VanAuken, author of the children’s book Tom’s Thumbs. (illustrated by Katy Hemberger).

 

Link  —  Posted: July 14, 2014 in Uncategorized

Here is a story from Friday’s Marshall Independent about the Read Local program, a terrific program that is making books by 20 authors with southwest Minnesota ties available for retail purchase at the Marshall Area Fine Arts Center.

This is an important thing. Marshall’s independent book store closed a few years ago, leaving no commercial retail outlet in town for readers to buy local authors’ books. (Some local books are available at the bookstore at Southwest Minnesota State University). The Read Local program offers a big variety of types of books from a variety of excellent, award-winning authors.

Two of my books are available: the essay and poetry collection The Right Place and my regional-sports-cultural history book A Higher Level, about the Southwest State women’s tennis program rise to national prominence.

 

The latest themed issue from Kind of a Hurricane Press was released today, with a new poem of mine in it. The issue is called Tic Toc, based on the theme of “time.”

My poem, “Variations on Isolation,” is a little different for me — longer, in five main sections, each in a different setting, often with a different tone or voice. I wrote it that way partly to see if I could, and also with the hope that the different parts will, through exploring different experiences of isolation, add up to a larger-picture understanding or experience of it.

See what you think.

The poem itself follows, but first I encourage you to download the complete Kind of a Hurricane issue — the PDF is free. Or, better yet, to support a really quality small and independent press, buy the hard copy through Amazon for $9.50.

 

Variations on Isolation

Dana Yost

 

“Pour over me. Pour over me. Let your rain flood this thirsty soul.” — Stuart Townend

 

“I see the words on a rocking horse of time. I see birds in the rain.” — Pearl Jam

 

 

I. Night

In bed, but unasleep,

watching the red display

of the clock like a bug.

1:16 becomes 1:17.

I gather two pillows,

head to the living room floor,

and sleep face down,

gilded by the reflected gleam

of lush frost on the trees outside:

clean and lavishly white

like jewelry of the rich,

a woman, perhaps, wearing

it on bare throat,

long wrist,

to a party

where she’s

meeting

a man.

 

II. Speck

Billions of stars,

billions of galaxies.

We look up, a speck, an erasable

bit of pencil scratch.

 

Some say this makes us tiny,

insignificant, and they pout their way

to oblivion.

I say: why not celebrate

communion with something large

and alive, where even a speck

can see another speck’s twinkle

across the black, noiseless sea,

and in the morning have toast and tea

and dance in the sunlight

to a waltz on the radio.

 

 

 

 

 

III. Asteroid

In a big city, alone among hundreds of thousands:

I am an asteroid amid the planets and moons and comets:

space dirt and gouged-away flanks of metal,

brutishly shaped, a drunk-wandering spin

through the place.

 

Yet, there is solace in this kind of solitude:

a peace without judgment, a meal without interjections.

I see a movie I want to see — Notorious at the Uptown,

and eat rainbow trout, fried and lemon-seasoned.

 

The next day, I’m early for the ballgame,

so I linger on the outdoor concourse through

a cooling October afternoon. I blurt

the name of a Hall-of-Famer walking past me

in high-priced-and-shiny black suit —

say his name with such shameless, familiar ease

it embarrasses him: does he know me

from somewhere?

I’m matter-of-fact, Jack, kicking back, and I rap a hard set of knuckles

on the painted-blue iron pipe of a railing: Like that.

 

What is this thing that possesses us,

the desire to be alone and savor it?

To not be lonely, but free,

and to find the solitude of anonymity

in the city to be as comforting

as a bird-watching stroll

in the woods in autumn?

 

I know the apogee of the loneliness orbit,

of course: to be so alone you cry for a warm hand

on your shoulder, that you linger in a café raking

in waitress gossip as if it were casino change.

Long days, days of bruised soul and sob-chafed

throat, and I have lived them.

 

But I crave the perigee now:

the asteroid broken from its pack,

pin-wheeling, jagged chunk

—   mere speck, yes, of the cosmic whole:

single pair of feet, not quite the bumpers and axles of I-35 —

but on a free ride,

no tether,

no other,

no deadline.

After the ballgame,

pizza from a shop

where it’s home-made,

and a lazy rest on a bench

at Lake Calhoun, watching the stars,

looking to see

what burns.

 

IV. Brick

Soldiers under a stone bridge in Algeria,

1943, bone breaking, blood streaming:

mortars have caught them against the stone,

shrapnel smacks like sluggers’ flailing fists,

blades taped to the knuckles.

 

An alley behind a small-town ballroom,

1979, bone breaking, blood streaming:

a seventeen-year-old boy, drunk, desperate,

punches his fists into the brick exterior

of the ballroom, wails the name of a girl

 

who has rejected him. Stumbles, spits,

sags into the pea-rock gravel of the alley.

It’s all gone quiet: the rock band inside

is on break between sets. He screams

the girl’s name again. A braying

 

that punctures the brick, ricochets

off black-cased speakers, beer pitchers

emptied and spun sideways on steel tables.

The girl hears, and runs to the restroom,

locking the drab-green door of the stall,

 

but her name chases after her, a bleating

now, puddles of failure, the boy — hands gone white bone

and graveled-up flesh — slapping away the offers

of friends trying to lift him, blood like spittle

on their faces. Algeria, 1943: the dead begin to swell,

 

float off in the dirty river. There is no chaplain to pray,

and the living clutch holes in the earth, all of life untended,

names wailed, then lost, fists into brick,

the dead and the lost, a mire the stars cannot clear.

 

 

V. Beggar

Old women doing gossip

over their clothes lines are disgusted

when they see me: a beggar licking

at dust, so starved and ragged.

 

They spit, and so do I,

although mine is dry, a cough of air

that hasn’t the strength to land,

is hauled away by the growled breath

of a basset tethered to the clothes line post.

 

I can’t tell you anything,

can’t tell myself, either,

can’t ask it, so disgusted of the turns

in my life I live among the wretches.

 

The old women know, and in their foreign language

they wrap my name in profanities.

I reach for the light bulb, wanting to screw

it out of place, but the socket bobs away

from reach, and my hand lands in the hound’s

 

sloppy mouth, and the women spit.

School children sing on a hill, at recess among junipers

and chocolate bars. I’ll never see them,

but maybe someone will bury me

in that lullaby.

 

•••

 

Harpoon, sword

and a deep breath of dust.

I am a desperate wanderer.

Rocking horse in the burn barrel,

it cannot gallop home.

 

 

Aside  —  Posted: June 23, 2014 in Archived Blogs, Blogs
Tags: , , , , , , ,

The details are not complete, but there will be an authors-showcase event during Forest City’s annual Puckerbrush Days festival on Thursday night, July 17. The event, sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce, will be from 5-7 p.m. at the Public Library. I will be one of the authors there, with books available, and also just to visit and talk writing or reading. About a half-dozen other local authors also have said they will attend, including murder-mystery writer Jamie Lee Scott. Last year, Scott’s novel Let Us Pray broke into USA Today’s best-sellers list. Among other local writers who’ve said they will attend are Barb Mills and Joy Newcom.

•••

Two days ago, I finished reading the latest novel by Anthony Neil Smith, the chairman of the English Department at Southwest Minnesota State University.

It’s not for kids, but it’s a helluva read — entertaining, and thought-provoking.

The novel, Once A Warrior, is a solid sequel to Smith’s terrific All The Young Warriors, and stands up well as a novel of its own, as well. Fast-paced, with almost every page fraught with danger – depicted violently, and with genuine consequence, including death in rapid order and gruesome means. And the few pages which aren’t are actually danger-filled are, to me, among the best in the book — pages where the opposite of death is considered: the purpose of life, and how to live a meaningful one. The two core plot lines may seem a stretch, but only because a father and son – not much differently than fictional super-spies – somehow survive a relentless series of grim, bloody and violent incidents and attacks. It may be a stretch that so many incidents happen to the same two people, but it’s not a stretch to say that these kinds of incidents happen at all. They do. And often. And all over the world.

The two lead characters, Mustafa and his son Adem, are Somali immigrants who live in Minnesota. That is most definitely not a stretch: Somalis have become a major immigrant presence in the state in real-life, and some young men, as happened in All The Young Warriors, were tricked, forced, or went on their own accord back to Somalia and its violence and terrorism.

In the new novel, Smith shows us some horrible stuff. But we need to see it. The novel takes on some of the most urgent social justice issues of our times: sex-trafficking (making young girls into slave-prostitutes, to be blunt), drug and gang violence, Somali pirates, the disillusionment of unwelcome immigrants, the chaos and despair that comes in the blend of terrorism and ungoverned Middle East/African nations and territories.

While there is an abundance of gunplay, profanity and sickening torture, Smith layers in — sometimes openly, sometimes simply through the depiction of a scene that leaves readers to decide — several vital questions. Can a very bad man have some good in him? Or, the reverse: can a good man still be a good man if he does something awful? Can people in the pursuit of good and decency resort to bad, and indeed, hideous, actions to achieve that good? Or do they sell out their morality in doing what they do? And who is permitted to do those things and who isn’t — government agencies and others who fight terrorists and criminals or criminals themselves? Or is the behavior so evil no one should be? I don’t have answers to those questions, and I’m not sure Smith does, either. But he raises the questions, and that may be the more important thing.

The novel is both a thrill-ride and a work with meaty ethical dilemmas. The best of two worlds, if you will. Kind of like what Mustafa and Adem prove to be.

What do I mean by that? Well, that is simply another reason you ought to read this book: so you can find out!

•••

My friend Hugh Curtler posted a blog today about another novelist, one of the very best of all time, the Russian writer Fyodor Dostoevsky. Curtler writes specifically about Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov, and about the importance of serious literature as an art form, and as force for triggering and improving critical thinking.

Hugh’s take, as always, is insightful and intelligent. Worth the look.

I feel like a vendor at a ballgame today. But I’m not hawking peanuts, frosty malts or $9 bottles of beer.

Some new books are on the way, and you should read them. Two of them are from people I know, and the other is a best-of-the-year anthology that includes two of my own poems from 2013.

• First, Phil Dacey, the retired former director of creative writing at Southwest Minnesota State University, has a new poetry collection on the way, Church of the Adagio. You can order it now from the publisher, Rain Mountain Press, for $15. There are links to four of the poems on the web site, and, as is usual with Dacey, the work seems laced with energy, inventiveness, surprise and wonderful wordplay (for instance, an “abyss” leads to a grumpy “abbess”). But Dacey, who just turned 75, hits us with darts of wisdom amid the fun: “Mobility’s a dream. / Wake up.  Go to, be, where you’re at.”

He continues to be an exceptional poet. A three-time Pushcart winner, a man who one critic says should be the “Poet Laureate of the Midwest,” Dacey is another SMSU professor who only seems to be getting more prolific in retirement.

• Another SMSU professor, still very much on staff, Anthony Neil Smith, also has a new work coming. Smith, who is also a former director of creative writing at SMSU and is now the English Department chairman, writes hard-edged/hard-boiled crime fiction. Noir, where almost everyone lives and dies within the shadows of life, the shadows of good and bad. His new book is a sequel to perhaps my favorite of his novels, All The Young Warriors. This one is titled Once A Warrior, and is available in e-book form from Blasted Heath for only 99 cents. The novel continues the story of two Minnesota Somalis — a father and son who found hope and redemption at the end of All The Young Warriors. In the first book, they survived a sort of Captain Phillips-like perilous series of situations that sent them winging between Minnesota and Somalia. From the notes on the publisher’s web site, it does not sound like life will get easier for the two in the new book: gang warfare, sex-trafficking empire, and the CIA on their tail.

The subject matter is timely, but the issues in the first book, All The Young Warriors, were also universal and elemental: father-and-son reconciliation, self-sacrifice for the good of others, power and hubris. Check this out.

• And, finally, I invite you to check out Storm Cycle, the best-of-the-year poetry anthology published by Kind of A Hurricane Press. It was released today in both e-book and hard-copy forms. Kind of A Hurricane Press publishes four online poetry journals, as well as a handful of print anthologies throughout each year. The best-of-the-year selections are taken from work that was published in the online journals and the print anthologies.

I have two poems in the collection (below). But I’d recommend the whole anthology as worth your time. There are poems in it from Pushcart Prize winners (Phil Dacey, in fact, has a poem in it), Pushcart nominees, someone who studied under Raymond Carver, a guy who wrote for Disney Comics and Harvey Comics and (my sister will love this: for New Kids on the Block comics), the editor of Poetry Quarterly, etc. You get the idea. Some good writers doing good work. They come from around the country and around the globe, so there is also a huge range of experiences and perspectives.

The e-book version is free. The hard-copy version is $16.61 through Amazon.

Here are my two poems in the anthology:

A Light of Their Own

Dana Yost

Pale yellow butterflies,

wings like worn cloth,

aloft,

in a light

of their own,

a light made candescent

by misguided

dreams,

slights dragged

so deeply into spirit

they bruise the flesh,

small fears worried

into large, heavy knots.

They should be fluttering

above the aster and the bluestem,

lightly and unburdened.

But we find them in raftered

shadow,

swinging,

wings flattened,

light doused,

and even more pale.

 

Ah, why not wish

for a world gone mute?

Butterflies wounded,

dead,

and I ask for this.

 

The Lonely Stalk Their Front-Room Windows at Night

Dana Yost

The lonely stalk their front-room windows at night,

watching snowflakes fall in streetlight shadows,

silent, a robe over their shoulders,

rolling prayers and pleas through the folds of their minds,

standing until weary legs say “please, please.”

Eventually day, night, light, dark become the same,

days are lost, holidays missed,

the front-room window a smear of old dreams,

vanished conversation.

Feral cats slash by,

indifferent

to the fingertip tap on the glass,

pausing only to piss yellow

into the cold white snow.

 

Ellis Press of Granite Falls, Minn., which has published three of my books, has two new books featured for sale on its web site.

They’re both poetry works.

The first is a chapbook, Four Seasons West of the 95th Meridian by the Texas poet Nathaniel Lee Hansen. (28 pages, $3.50). Another author has compared his work to that of Robert Frost and Ted Kooser. Nice company to be in.

The second is Buoyancies: A Ballast Master’s Log, by Joe Amato, the very prominent historian from Marshall, Minn. Amato is a retired history professor at Southwest Minnesota State University, a historian of national and international reputation, who has been a pioneer in the field of local history. And in retirement, he is certainly not slowing down as an author. Buoyancies is one of three books he’s coming out with over a two-year period from 2013 to early 2015.

While Amato has written a lot, this is his first poetry book. It’s published jointly through Ellis Press and Amato’s own Crossings Press. I edited many of the poems in it, and read all of them before the book came out — often for simple enjoyment. Just like his history books, Amato’s poetry collection is a fascinating ride through Amato’s mind in a lot of ways. There’s his relentless curiosity, his affection for family and ancestors, his deep knowledge of the Greek and Roman classics, his interest in Europe, and in southwest Minnesota. There’s a maritime theme to many of the poems, which explains his ship- and water-themed title. But the ballast master perhaps is also a symbol for God, for the passing of time, for Death — any of those big topics, and the way we measure ourselves against them.

Amato’s grabs detail and word — sometimes truly great, rarely used words — and makes strong poetic use of them. And he also brings through a recurring image of birds, especially big birds of prey, swooping downward from buildings or rock, often to interesting effect.

Give the books a try. Ellis Press is an independent publisher, committed to bringing out quality books. The kind of works that serious readers often say they want more of. Here you go.

 

 

The literary quarterly The JMWW Review of Baltimore published its Spring 2014 issue today. I have three poems in it — “Grubout,” “Behind a Grove,” and “Crows Overhead.” Two of the poems, “Grubout,” and “Behind a Grove,” have connections to family, but also explore themes of work, death — and, in different ways — the way death can sometimes quickly remove a presence from the world. They are then, of course, about how we think of our dead, the importance of remembering, but also letting go, a balance that is always so hard to achieve in our lives.

“Behind a Grove,” is largely about a pioneer cemetery that fell into long disrepair before being restored in recent years. There are mass graves, unmarked graves, crumbling grave stones. The family story is that the grove where the cemetery is located is what remains of the farm site where my grandmother — my mother’s mom — grew up. I never saw the place as a kid, and there are no traces of buildings now. Just the cemetery, where some of my grandmother’s ancestors — some of whom would have been just a few years older than her — are buried.

Give JMWW a look. It’s a quality quarterly. The spring issue has a big group of poems, along with fiction, flash fiction and an interview with the terrific short-story writer Robin Black.

I want to recommend, strongly, three poetry collections I have been reading lately.

The first is Saving Singletrees by the great Leo Dangel, the retired Southwest Minnesota State University creative writing professor. It is classic Dangel in many ways — straightforward and plainspoken language that holds so many truths and conceals, and then reveals, a great wisdom. Leo writes about rural life, but, as he ages and now lives in a nursing home, he’s also writing about aging, infirmity and even death, but with his usual grace, humor and perception. He is one of the best who has ever come out of the Midwest, and Saving Singletrees proves it on every page.

The second is They Say This is How Death Came into the World, a collection of prose poems by the Omaha author Paul Dickey. He read a week ago at Waldorf College here in Forest City, and his work is inventive, thoughtful, muses — both with humor and seriousness — about religion, philosophy, the poet Pablo Neruda and more. Dickey is an interesting case. He went to school for philosophy and writing, but ended up working in private business for a long time, and said he didn’t write a poem from 1980 until he retired from work a few years ago. He’s already out with two full collections. He also writes and edits the Facebook page The Liberal Limerick.

The third book is Whirling Round the Sun by the New York poet Suzanne Noguere. It was actually published in 1996, but I recently got it and have been reading it the past few weeks. There is formal verse in it, and also some blockbuster free verse poetry. It’s really attentive and sensitive work, and if all you do is read the opening poem “Ear Training for Poets,” you’ll come away enriched. A local note: Suzanne is copy editing a forthcoming history book by Marshall, Minn.,’s Joe Amato, The Book of Twos. I read early drafts of the book over the winter. It’s going to end up being an important book, I think, one that takes global views of history, religion and philosophy and runs them through Joe’s endlessly curious mind and, in a sense, although Joe didn’t start out to do so, devises a new system for thinking about these major strains of thought. But that’s for later. For now, Whirling Round the Sun is worth your reading.

Today’s news about the missing Malaysian airliner reminded me of one of my favorite poems by the late Bill Holm: the powerful “The Sea Eats What It Pleases.” The poem was published in Bill’s book Playing the Black Piano (Milkweed, 2004).

In case you haven’t heard, Malaysia’s prime minister declared today that the plane’s flight “ended” in a remote part of the Indian Ocean, and said there are no survivors. The declaration is based on more analysis of satellite data of the flight of the plane, which has been missing now for nearly three weeks. There were 239 people on board. There’s no answer for why the plane crashed.

Here is Bill’s poem:

                     The Sea Eats What It Pleases

If you turn your back to the ocean
Do you think the tide will not find you
If it decides to rise a little higher
Than usual, to swallow an extra helping
Of gravel, to suck on your bones to clean
Its palate? The sea eats what it pleases
Whether you face it or give it your back.
No use having opinions about this.
But the sea does not hate you, or imagine
That you have wounded it with your avarice.
You cannot blaspheme the honor of water
Or insult the tide for tasting of salt.
Only humans, so newly risen from fish,
Imagine drowning each other for reasons.