My book The Right Place will continue to be available at Marshall’s downtown arts center, after it was chosen yesterday to be among the books offered for the second session of the Read Local Southwest Minnesota program.

I’ve written about the program before, and it’s a good one — important and filling a vital hole in Marshall and the area, where there is no longer a retail book store. Through Read Local, books by regional authors can be purchased at the MAFAC arts center, which is filling a role similar to a retailer’s. The hard work behind the program is being done by Steve Linstrom, an author, home-beer-brewer, former Schwan Food Co. exec, who is a whirl of commitment to seeing local authors reach a local audience.

My book The Right Place was published in 2010 by Ellis Press. It is a collection of essays and poems, mostly about people or issues in southwest Minnesota or the rural Midwest. I also wrote short essays or profiles on a handful of authors from the area: Howard Mohr, Bill Holm, Adrian Louis and Cy Molitor, who compiled a book and digital library of every grave in Lyon County, Minnesota. There are few personal essays in The Right Place, as well, including one of the favorite pieces I’ve ever written, titled “Faith in Nothing: Corporate Casualty.”

The books of several other area authors will also be available at the arts center in session two of Read Local, including James Zarzana, Joel Minett, Joe Amato, Linstrom himself, and the terrific poet from Morris, Minn., Athena Kildegaard.

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Hemingway speaks

Posted: October 18, 2014 in Archived Blogs, Blogs
Tags: , ,

I’ve always liked this audio recording of Hemingway’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech. His voice and his diction have an odd affectation to them, but the words themselves are somewhat like a “Gettysburg Address” for writers — a short speech, precisely and effectively compressing much of the essence of Hemingway’s philosophy of what a writer must do to write.

Click here to listen.

It never hurts to read books to learn something, to be entertained, to be taken away to a different place or time, or thrust into the middle of someone’s intense conversation.

Sometimes, though, it also never hurts to stop and pull out a pen and draw big circles around or stars next to passages of writing so striking and memorable that they are worth remembering not for the riddle they solve or the adventure they sweep us into — but because they are beautiful.

Beautiful writing, whether prose or poetry, fiction or nonfiction.

Beautiful writing, paragraphs or stanzas you go back and read again, and maybe again, sounding out the words, marveling at the art, the mastery.

Here’s a collection of some beautiful passages I’ve read in recent days.

  • The first is from Virginia Woolf’s 1925 essay, “A Room of One’s Own,” the groundbreaking piece of feminist literary criticism.

In this section, she’s using food or a meal as metaphor for writing, for women being given (or giving themselves) a stronger voice in what is written and how it’s viewed. The churches and dining halls at Oxford and Cambridge were men-only when she wrote this in the 1920s, so she compares them to literature, with women being denied a substantial role. The result is a men-only meal, but, thus, a really dingy, plain and often ugly meal. Who can live on that, she says.

This comes after an awful dinner in a great hall at Cambridge: a plain gravy soup, homely potatoes and greens, the sprouts curled and yellowed at the edge. Prunes and custard followed. Biscuits and cheese, with a water jug passed around because the biscuits were dry. “That was all…” She’s miffed that these people could have “denied themselves wine and warmth for eighty years and not yet given to the poor.”

“…The meal was over. Everybody scraped their chairs back; the swing-doors swung violently to and fro; soon the ball was emptied of every sign of food and made ready no doubt for breakfast next morning. Down corridors and up staircases the youth of England went banging and singing. And it was for a guest, a stranger (for I had no more right here in Fernham than in Trinity or Somerville or Girton or Newnham or Christchurch, to say, “The dinner was not good,” or to say (we were now, Mary Seton and I, in her sitting-room), “Could we not have dined up here alone?” for if I had said anything of the kind I should have been prying and searching into the secret economies of a house which to the stranger wears so fine a front of gaiety and courage. No, one could say nothing of the sort. Indeed, conversation for a moment flagged. The human frame being what it is, heart, body, and brain all mixed together, and not contained in separate compartments as they will be no doubt in another million years, a good dinner is of great importance to good talk. One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well. The lamp in the spine does not light on beef and prunes. We are all probably going to heaven, and [the painter] Vandyck is, we hope, to meet us round the next corner—that is the dubious and qualifying state of mind that beef and prunes at the end of the day’s work breed between them. Happily my friend, who taught science, had a cupboard where there was a squat bottle and little glasses—(but there should have been sole and partridge to begin with)—so that we were able to draw up to the fire and repair some of the damage of the day’s living.”

  • This is from Dostoyevsky’s novel The Brothers Karamazov. Dmitri Karamazov is in jail, awaiting the start of his murder trial. Most of the evidence is stacked against him, but he says he no longer fears his fate, telling his visiting brother Alexey:

“You wouldn’t believe, Alexey, how I want to live now, what a thirst for existence and consciousness has sprung up in me within these peeling walls. … And what is suffering? I’m not afraid of it, even if it were beyond reckoning. I am not afraid of it now. I was afraid of it before. … And I seem to have such strength in me now, that I think I could withstand any suffering, only to be able to say and to repeat to myself every moment, ‘I exist.’ In thousands of agonies—I exist! I see the sun, and if I don’t see the sun, I know its there. And there’s a whole life in knowing that the sun is there.”

  • This is from Philip Dacey’s poem, “Butterly: Upon Mistyping ‘Butterfly’”

I love you butterly, butterly woman,

who melts in my mouth.

My margarine life is over, thanks to you.

And from Dacey’s ‘Lifeboats,” where he describes what it’s like for him – a longtime professor – to sit in on a college philosophy class taught by his son Austin.

Now Austin’s talking ethical choices,

as prisoner either kill one fellow prisoner

and save the rest or refuse to kill any,

though all will then, by design of the captors, die.

Bentham says kill the one, the end is good;

Kant none, our acts are us, and nothing else.

 

Soon I am weeping, not, I think for any prisoners

who might die, or for one faced

with an impossible, a killing choice

guaranteed to leave the chooser’s

peace of mind dead either way

and choice suddenly no choice at all,

 

but for something I can only guess at, the loss

of the child my son once was

or the beauty of the man he has become,

heroic in this time and place, facing

the most benign of enemies, youth

not fully awakened to the world.

(Both Dacey poems appear in his new book Church of the Adagio)

 

  • From Joel Dias-Porter, and his poem “Elegy Indigo”

“Finally, finally, I believe in loss as a way of knowing.”

 

  • Adam Zagajewski’s entire poem “Auto Mirror”

“In the rear-view mirror suddenly

I saw the bulk of the Beauvais Cathedral;

great things dwell in small ones

for a moment.”

 

  • The former U.S. Poet Laureate Ted Kooser wrote a beautiful small book of prose, published in 2010, called “Lights on a Ground of Darkness.” The simplicity of its language and description, his way of seeing the everyday, has as much beauty as an elaborate cathedral. Maybe more.

“Summer, 1949. Above the Mississippi, the noon sun bleaches the blue from a cloudless midsummer sky. So high in their flight that they might be no more than tiny motes afloat on the surface of the eye, a few cliff swallows dive and roll. At the base of the shadowy bluffs a highway weaves through the valley, its surface shimmering like a field of wheat; to the south, a semi loaded with squealing hogs shifts down for the slow crawl up out of the bottoms and into the bright, flat cornfields of eastern Iowa. The bitter odor of exhaust clings like spider webs to the long grass lining the shoulders of the road. Toward the top of the grade the sound of the engine levels out into a brash and steady saxophone note that rattles back through the cut, and then, with a fading whine, the truck is gone, leaving the hot road shining empty down the length of the valley.”

Alixa Doom’s new poetry book

Posted: September 7, 2014 in Archived Blogs, Blogs

My review of Marshall native Alixa Doom’s new poetry collection, A Slow Dissolve of Egrets, appeared in the Saturday, September 6, 2014, edition of the Marshall Independent. This is adapted from that review:

 

After the second stanza of her poem “Sunday Fishing,” Alixa Doom changes the shape of the poem — breaking from lines of verse into a paragraph of prose poetry:

“Here in the plains where the land trudges back and forth across itself forever there is a need somehow on Sunday to seek out the lake that opens out of the land like an eye of the earth, where you can catch the earth dreaming.”

It is beautiful writing, the work of attentive and elegant poetry. But it also draws on an experience common to most of us in southwest Minnesota — a weekend day at the lake, and the pleasures that come with it.

Southwest Minnesota has a long and formidable line of poets who have been able to combine the two — rich writing and a close, true understanding of the land and people of the prairie.

Doom, a Marshall native who now lives in Minneapolis, joins that line with her first full-length book of poetry, A Slow Dissolve of Egrets, out now from Red Dragonfly Press ($15).

The book possesses a quiet — yet controlled and assured — voice, which claims the ground at the heart of Minnesota’s literary heritage: nature, weather, a healthy kind of solitude, and, importantly, time and room to think about memory, our relationships, our ever-evolving place in our own lives.

That’s a gift, of course:  to put readers into a sense of place — the lake on a Sunday, a grove of cedars, or alone in her home after a divorce — and do it in a way that reveals truths about ourselves and an uncommon wisdom about life.

The best poets hone and perfect such a gift with work, patience and care. When that happens, you can get phrases like this, from Doom’s book: “the egret casts a lantern / of solitude across the darkness.”

It’s not that Doom writes only about the area. She doesn’t. The book has poems set in the Caribbean, Iowa, Canada. And it’s not only that she’s from the area. It’s that she gets it, and that southwest Minnesota infuses her voice throughout the book.

Sometimes I felt as if I were reading the poems in a big farm house, at night in the summer with the windows open, wind blowing the curtains lightly and the only light coming from the moon or farm lights. It’s a sensation that’s hard to describe, other than to say it was both relaxing, and, as I read poems about her family, her mother, her daughter, perhaps brought me back to my own grandmother’s farm place. It was a place I wanted to be.

Yet, to have that quiet voice doesn’t mean giving up an authoritative one, and Doom doesn’t. She’s got some wonderful insights and revelations, and strong flexing of poetic muscle in her images and metaphors. Sometimes the metaphors go beyond making a comparison — well beyond — into a sort of shape-shifting effect that is magical.

Here are a couple of examples:

“in town monarchs tumble / like blossoms through a rush of traffic.” The huge shoulders of a bear are “pouring like water,” as it reacts to a caravan of cars. And, in poem with memories of her mother, she writes: “The front porch murmur / of my mother and visitors / blur back into the weather / of old photographs.”

There’s immense sadness in instances, and some lines that sound like southwest Minnesota’s late Bill Holm (“the dead don’t need turn signals.” “The dead have the best view.”). Yet there is also playfulness, delight in words of sound (in one poem, she makes a list of the sounds of a boat in the water: “creak, creak,” “spank,” “slap and splash”).

The second stanza of the poem “Drum” has a tremendous musical feel to it. The last stanza of the same poem describes the act of seeing or understanding nature freshly or anew. It’s interesting that “Drum” follows a poem about Lasik surgery, making for a well-paired set of poems about seeing in new ways, and the discovery it brings.

Some of her poems set in nature carry a strong sense of spiritual healing. Doom pulls deep wisdom from nature, too, as in this case of self-realization: “I begin to feel larger / walking around inside cedars.”

One of the most powerful examples of that is in a poem about the birth of her daughter, and thinking about her growing up: “I wept with exhaustion and the thought / of all I could not protect her from. / Still, I did not know then / the darkest place she must cross, / that wilderness of mother and daughter.”

I’ve underlined so many lines and stanzas and words in the book, starred so many places. Some reward re-reading with more insight. Some you simply celebrate because the writing is beautiful.

Consider this description of migrating swans:

“Their cries to each other petal the air. / Arcs of white necks exchanging places, / they drift from shore to shore / bearing the body / as if it were the soul.”

It’s a wonderful book. It should stand for a long time.

 

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.