Notice: Recent Reviews and News Clippings Are Available on Individual Anaphora Author’s Pages
November 1, 2014 edition
THE FOOL RETURNS
Author: Tom Block
Review Issue Date: November 1, 2014
Online Publish Date: October 26, 2014
Publisher:Anaphora Literary Press
Price ( Paperback ): $20.00
Publication Date: December 15, 2014
ISBN ( Paperback ): 978-1-937536-85-5
Small Press Bookwatch: January 2012
James A. Cox, Editor-in-Chief
278 Orchard Dr., Oregon, WI 53575
The Poetry Shelf
Mathematics of Love
John Edwin Cowen
With multiple awards to his name, John Edwin Cowen brings readers his first dedicated volume of poetry with “Mathematics of Love.” Drawing on his heavy experience and presenting a combination of his published best and plenty of new work, “Mathematics of Love” is a choice pick for those who want a sample of a rising new voice in poetry, highly recommended. “POW WOW”: red willow–/bear berry, and//yerba Buena spearmint–//moving in/ancestral rhythms/of smoke rings // as wind–/clouds and/wild ponies gather:/–in native wisdom.
Reviewed by Trilla Pando
Posted on 08/31/2011
Carol Smallwood is a brave woman. In this book of varied poems she faces life, the good parts and the hard parts, squarely in the eye. While dividing her life into the “compartments” referenced in the title, she realizes and declares in her preface that no life can be completely compartmentalized. Nature will overlap into home, society, or femininity. Work will impinge on mortality, and the other way around.
The poems cover a wide range, not only in subject, but also in tone, ranging from the lightheartedness of a soaring dragonfly and a spider weaving the first curtain for the new white walls to the seriousness of life threatening disease. This is a great book for “dipping into.”
Naturally, some of the poems resonant more for me than others, although all have appeal. As a tiny girl, I too had a neighbor that the big kids convinced me was a witch. Today, I collect items for my grandchildren the way Smallwood accumulates stamps for hers. And, right at the beginning, I had to catch my breath when I read “A Green So Emerald”…
Phil Potempa’s daily entertainment news column
A fun, interesting, entertaining and intriguing new mystery novel written by one of our own regional notables hit booksellers last month.
Gloria McMillan, a research associate for the department of English at University of Arizona, may not be a name that sounds familiar to The Times readers. But her maiden name Gloria Ptacek from her region days likely rings a bell for many.
She was born in East Chicago and attended East Chicago Washington High School. But after 25 years in Northwest Indiana, she left to pursue her career. She still has family in Schererville and gets back this way from time to time, including when her stage mystery play “Pass the Ectoplasm,” about the art of the seance for connecting to the netherworld, was produced in Chicago following its opening in Tucson.
Her new book, “The Blue Maroon Murder” ($15 Anaphor Literary Press), is a 200-page paperback murder mystery novel imaginatively inspired by the English Department at University of Chicago.
Gloria had to ride the wave of some legal wranglings after some serious chats with who she calls the “U of C legal eagles” about her original intent to use the University of Chicago name in this fictional work.
“They could not positively swear that they would not sue for any damage to the U of C image and what having a murder mystery set there would do,” Gloria said. “So, alas, it is now called historic ‘Midway University,’ the home of the ‘Maroons’ in Hyde Park. I changed all building names and street names slightly, as well.”
Even the cover of her book, featuring a body cloaked in a white sheet has a unique story.
“Those feet on the front cover belong to my astronomer husband Bob McMillan, who is with the Spacewatch Asteroid Camera-Kitt Peak National Observatory,” she said.
“He graciously posed as the corpse, Andy Smitherman, of both Harvard and Midway University.”
As for the book plot, a famous campus figure is found blue in the face after some terrible accident or possible murder.
Dinah Cassidy, a 30-year-old literature grad student who recently lost her young husband in a fatal bicycle accident, is swept up in the clues.
Fellow grad student Jerry Mason tells her a mystery document has surfaced in the university’s rare books library and may prove a love affair between famed Chicago journalist Theodore Dreiser and social work pioneer Jane Addams.
But after an ambitious and womanizing literature professor has been found dead, signs point to an inside job.
City lawyer writes novel
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Charleston lawyer Lynn Clarke has written a first novel, “Evidence and Judgment,” published by Anaphora Literary Press.
According to the publisher, the novel follows the story of a young, divorced lawyer. “[T]his book explores one attorney’s search for what is really important in her life. With so many young professionals wrestling with issues of work/life balance and the ‘mancession,’ ‘Evidence and Judgment’ appeals not only as an engaging escape but as a way to start a vital conversation about quality of life after passing the bar,” notes the publisher’s news release.
Lynn, who has a law degree from Harvard University, is employed at the Bowles Rice McDavid Graff & Love law firm, in Charleston.
The book may be ordered online from Amazon and from Barnes & Noble.
Lynn Clarke’s “Evidence and Judgment,” will be listed in the “In Their Own Words” online alum book catalogue of the University of Chicago Magazine.
I stayed up late to finish reading this book. It was that good! I became very invested in these characters who were so cleverly developed and had to see how things ended for them. The story takes you along as Jane tries to figure out the next steps in her life. As she does this, the reader is introduced to some wonderfully colorful characters. There is also an element of suspense that keeps you reading page after page. To sum it up, it is a very satisfying read that holds your attention from beginning to end.
This book was a quick read. It tells the story of Jane, an attorney, who is found a turning point in her life. As she continues the challenges of her profession, she struggles with her past as her ex-husband, Jeff, continues to ask for favors. She is still so attracted to him and finds her ex’s charms hard to resist. He has hurt her by divorcing her and now with his ever scheming ploys, she must refuse to “help” his career. Meanwhile, she meets Roy, someone new, a relationship develops, or does it? Jane has a good sense of humor while describing her new boyfriend as Mr. Hot and Cold. All the while, another character in the background is falling in love with her. Jane’s happiest moments are in the discovery that she is finally going to have the baby she has been yearning for.
The story moves along quickly as I was eager to find out where her heart lies. The ending is quite unexpected.
March 1, 2011
“Lynn Clarke Writes First Novel: Book Signing Will Be March 29”
By: Julianne Kemp
March 21, 2011
By: Dr. Paul Kareem Tayyar
About: John Brantingham’s East of Los Angeles
“This is, simply put, one of the most gorgeously written collections of poems I have ever read. Brantingham’s plain-spoken accessibility is a genuine treasure, and his understated use of metaphor and allusion help turn the Los Angeles of his poetry into an almost-mythic place where daydreaming husbands, nearly deaf children, nameless carpenters and beautiful women are raised to a level of genuine grace. Wonderful. Simply wonderful.”–Paul Kareem Tayyar, Author of “Postmark Atlantis” (Level 4 Press), “Scenes From A Good Life” (Tebot Bach), and “Follow the Sun: Poems, Stories, and Reflections” (Aortic Books)
April 23, 2011
B’nai Jacob Art Expo Adds Authors to Lineup
By Sara Busse
W.Va. — Lynn Clarke is special counsel with Bowles Rice McDavid Graff &
Love LLP. She writes legal articles and lots of other nonfiction. But in
another life …
Clarke, of Charleston, recently published the novel “Evidence and Judgment.”
The story follows Jane Sidley, a 31-year-old moderately successful lawyer, from
the day she makes her last alimony payment to her rat of an ex-husband to the
day he becomes a hero, falling from a 10th-story window while trying to stop a
terrorist bomber, sacrificing his own life to save the lives of Jane and her
unborn child, whose paternity is uncertain. Jane survives the ordeal and learns
to love again.
The novel took more than a year to write, plus a number of edits from her
publisher, Anaphora Literary Press. But finishing the novel was bittersweet. “I
almost missed the characters when I was finished,” Clarke said. “I
had the general idea in my mind, of a young professional woman in the work
force, hitting the glass ceiling, dealing with the recession. I did a
broad-brush outline, with the plot of who does what, when,” the author
“But for the story, the characters talked to me. They would say, ‘That is not
Clarke has practiced law since 1985 and is the mother of two daughters.
The novel was published in December, and now Clarke is busy marketing her work.
She will be one of the featured authors at the Fourth Annual Art Expo and Sale,
presented by the Ladies’ Auxiliary of B’nai Jacob Synagogue, from 11 a.m. to 4
p.m. May 1 at 1599 Virginia St. E.
There will be individual and group exhibits, including authors, artists,
photographers, potters, designers, educators, weavers, woodworkers and jewelry
makers. Special exhibits and presentations for children will be held throughout
Some of the works included in the show are by Charleston artists Jeanne K. Cochran
and Traci Higginbotham, and there are woodworks by Stan Cook and Andy Sheetz.
Authors who will sell their books include Clarke, Steve Shaluta, Aila Accad, Ruth Lynn
Kirk, Roberto Kusminsky and others.
Lunch will be available for purchase, provided by the Shape Shop. Admission is $2 and
includes tickets for drawings at 3:30 p.m. Credit cards can be used, and gift
wrapping is available.
Reach Sara Busse at sara.bu…@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1249.
5 Star Reviews on Amazon for Marilyn Jaye Lewis’s Immortal
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
5.0 out of 5 stars A madly compelling novel,
April 29, 2011
This review is from: Twilight of the Immortal (Paperback)
Twilight of the Immortal is a madly compelling look at Hollywood during the golden era
of the 1920s. Marilyn Jaye Lewis is a smart, witty, and thoroughly enjoyable
guide as she takes you on a well-researched journey … historical, social,
emotional … through both the high lights and low lights of a unique and
amazing period in our history. At 600 pages this isn’t a quickie read. But
Lewis’s prose … sometimes ribald, sometimes profound … is deft and always
5.0 out of 5 stars A must read!, May 2, 2011
This review is from: Twilight of the Immortal (Paperback)
Twilight of the Immortal is a must read. The story had me at Chapter 1 and never let me
go. Marilyn Jaye Lewis paints a clear picture of life during the old Hollywood
era of the 1920’s. I honestly didn’t want to put the book down, however at 600
pages, I had no choice. That being said, I couldn’t wait to get back to this
amazing story. I found myself actually missing the characters when I finished
5.0 out of 5 stars Prepare to have your heart broken a little, May 2, 2011
This review is from: Twilight of the Immortal (Paperback)
Full disclosure: I have worked with the author on
prior literary projects. In my opinion, this is by far her most ambitious and
impressive achievement to date.
Lewis has chosen a fascinating period of American history in which to set her
tale, which begins in glittering, pre-WWI New York, then crosses the continent
(literally, via train) to land us in still-dusty Hollywood of the Roaring ’20s.
The research entailed in crafting a historically convincing “behind the
scenes” retelling of the mysterious Valentino legend is indeed daunting,
and Lewis succeeds admirably.
Do not be daunted by Immortal’s high page count, however, for it races by at a
lightning clip. Lewis’ writing is crisp — always frank, ever provocative. Her
characterization is stunning. The pages explode with complex, often surprising
personalities, each as large as life itself, individuals to the last.
I dare you to read this novel and not to feel a bit changed, not to see the
world through different eyes for a while afterward.
Easter Term, 2011, Issue 14
Adanna, a journal for women, about women
By: Christine Redman-Waldeyer, Founder & EditorA Review of Compartments by Carol Smallwood
If there is one thing that vexes a woman, it is her sewing box. Carol Smallwood is the sorter, a poet who can enter a poem and untangle thread. “The Sewing Box” is only one example of how Carol uses language and listing to empty and separate the compartments of our lives. Paying attention to detail she enters myth and the mundane with the same eye. Echoing in Carol’s poem, We Are Told, is “It is Beauty alone that remained in Pandora’s Box when she opened it—not Hope as we are told.” Both poet and practitioner of this understanding, Carol relocates
a spider from a gas station to Queen Anne’s lace in her backyard, considers ants and their inherent sense to venture out of their home, takes the risk of comparing the tiny creatures to Lewis and Clark and ventures herself into topics that question our femininity. She pushes back, wags her finger at women concerned with Avon or who have masked their voice as a man, revisits her childhood centering on women’s ability to gang up on one another, and enters the house behind the “white picket fence.” She flips our trained understanding of violence on women towards an understanding that cancer is just as violent. She never ceases to remind us of the ugliness that pervades society that keeps us from loving our neighbor and even seeps into our relationships with family. In A Need to Know Basis she puts a spotlight on our human instinct to look away. Carol can envy and love what is wild. She can shed light on what is cultivated and domestic where there is rain and gray sky. She does not disappoint and will keep your ear tuned to what is outside your window and what enters.
Compartments: Poems on Nature, Femininity and Other Realms
(Paper, $15, ISBN: 978-1-937-53600-8, LCCN: 2011912611, 146pp, 6×9, August 2011)
By: Aline Soules
In our modern world and complex lives, we live in “compartments”—home, school, town, nature—the kind of compartments and realms
Carol Smallwood explores, giving us what we know and questioning what we don’t. “The Morning Warbler” may be seen “if one walks the bogs,” she writes, “but does it sing in the morning?” What do we really know? Smallwood raises questions even as she leads us into a consideration of our own world with a direct, matter-of-fact approach. “Why Do Women Ask First … about their children / when meeting other / women?” or “After a / hysterectomy did they package your remains in a / paper sack like the gizzard, heart, liver, neck, / inside a roasting chicken?
Everything is delightfully jumbled, but beautifully detailed. “The Sewing Box,” just like Smallwood’s compartments, is filled with its own sub-compartments—thread bag, needle assortment, tray, and others—each, in turn, filled with its own details, whether a “myriad of spools,” “potholder loops,” or “a ring of white crocheted pineapples.” She ties these objects together in the poem and also from poem to poem. For example, she sews the ring of pineapples on a “new J. C. Penney’s case”; later, in the “Town” section, she gives us a poem called “J. C. Penney litany” with its “Flannel, Poplin, Wool, Cotton, Chambray, Chamois, Corduroy, Micro-suede” shirts and its “Amber, Indigo, Basil, Blue Abyss, Oatmeal, Olive, Espresso, Mushroom” colors, all in the “men’s section” with “not a man in sight.”
The joy of these compartments is that they are all linked: the women’s objects from “The Sewing Box” and the array in the men’s section of the “J.C. Penney Litany”; the ants and spiders from the “Nature” section and the “Black Holes” from the “Science” section; and the questions that range through the book from “What’d happened to the Chinese damask / robe Nicolet had worn greeting the Winnebago’s at Green Bay?” to all the answers the poet would “like to know”—“why snow’s white” or “Why we know more of / the surface of the / Moon than ourselves.”
Everything builds on her prologue—how we live between “the highest mountain / and the deepest ocean” and how we are all these compartments rolled into one. In this collection, the reader can experience a journey through our shared world, a journey beautifully
guided by this skilled and generous poet.
Bi Women: Boston Bisexual Women’s Network
Fall 2011: Volume 29, Number 4
Twilight of the Immortal [by Marilyn Jaye Lewis] Shines a Clear Light
Review by MaryBell Austin
Truth is often stranger than fiction – and sometimes more pleasing. If someone had told me a year ago that in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s women dominated the nascent movie industry, I would have suspected them of having a bad case of feminist historical revisionism. But then I read Women in Hollywood: from Vamp to Studio Head, a dense non-fiction work that catalogs the careers of dozens of women who dominated every aspect of the field, from screenwriting to directing and editing to running the studios. The facts astounded me; and I hungered for a taste of what that world was like.
Imagine, then, my delight to discover Marilyn Jaye Lewis’ novel, Twilight of the Immortal! By using fictional narrator Rosemary McKisco, Lewis immerses the reader in the day-to-day life of a host of real people from the era. Rosemary’s coming of age story begins in 1916 New York, where the early ‘flickers’ are scoffed at by serious theatre folk, and ends in 1927 Hollywood. In between, we meet celebrities like Rudolph Valentino and Alla Nazimova (the out Sapphist who ruled Broadway and the early film world).
The novel works brilliantly on three levels. As historical fiction, it is rich with detail and imagery, providing a strong ‘you were there’ experience for the reader. For early cinema buffs, the portraits of well-known and long-forgotten players, with mentions of their films’ releases and reviews, will more than satisfy. (And the brief biographical and bibliography appendices will lead to more reading.) Finally, as a feminist deconstruction of a time in American history when the life and career choices women enjoyed were constrained in so many ways, the clear voice of young, bi, Rosemary McKisco shines a light on the politics of gender and sexuality in a visceral way that non-fiction almost never achieves. For me, the only disappointing part of the reading experience was reaching the end.
Tuesday, October 11, 2011
Compartments: Poems on Nature, Femininity and Other Realms by Carol Smallwood (Paper, $15, ISBN: 978-1-937-53600-8, LCCN: 2011912611, 146 pp, 6×9, August 2011, Anaphora Literary Press)
Review by Dr. Christine Redman-Waldemeyer
If there is one thing that vexes a woman, it is her sewing box. Carol Smallwood is the sorter, a poet who can enter a poem and untangle thread. “The Sewing Box” is only one example of how Carol uses language and listing to empty and separate the compartments of our lives. Paying attention to detail she enters myth and the mundane with the same eye. Echoing in Carol’s poem, We Are Told, is “It is Beauty alone that remained in Pandora’s Box when she opened it-not Hope as we are told.” Both poet and practitioner of this understanding, Carol relocates a spider from a gas station to Queen Anne’s lace in her backyard, considers ants and their inherent sense to venture out of their home, takes the risk of comparing the tiny creatures to Lewis and Clark and ventures herself into topics that question our femininity. She pushes back, wags her finger at women concerned with Avon or who have masked their voice as a man, revisits her childhood centering on women’s ability to gang up on one another, and enters the house behind the “white picket fence.” She flips our trained understanding of violence on women towards an understanding that cancer is just as violent. She never ceases to remind us of the ugliness that pervades society that keeps us from loving our neighbor and even seeps into our relationships with family. In A Need to Know Basis she puts a spotlight on our human instinct to look away. Carol can envy and love what is wild. She can shed light on what is cultivated and domestic where there is rain and gray sky. She does not disappoint and will keep your ear tuned to what is outside your window and what enters.
Dr. Christine Redman-Waldemeyer, founder and editor of Adanna Literary Journal; author of two books of poetry with Muse-Pie Press
Sunday, December 4, 2011
Before I tell you the market information for that publisher and two others, I’d like to congratulate Carol and encourage you to buy her book of 89 poems, which are tantalizingly grouped under the headings of nature, femininity, society, science, home, school, town and mortality.
As Carol states in the preface:
I’ve always regarded writing poetry as beyond me until realizing I had nothing to lose by exploring this greatly admired world… Compartments is a serious and whimsical blend of free verse, phantoms, sestinas, triolets, villanelles, chinquapins, and other forms.
Most, she adds are short as in Prologue:
I Read That Between the highest mountain and the deepest ocean measures twelve miles
We, by volume 89-93% water, live in between
Carol can envy and love what is wild. She can shed light on what is cultivated and domestic where there is rain and gray sky. She does not disappoint and will keep your ear tuned to what is outside your window and what enters.
Promised Publishing Info
While helping Carol to spread her good news, I’ve just listed three new markets you can check out:
Anaphora Literary Press
This small publisher began as an academic press in 2009 when it published the Pennsylvania Literary Journal. Within the last year, Anaphora has published a dozen book-length works of fiction and nonfiction. The press is actively seeking book-length submissions in the following areas:
• short story collections
• nonfiction (academic, legal, business, journals, dissertations, biographies and memoirs)
The press splits the profits 50/50 with writers, who do not have to pay anything to have the book published, which is what it means to be published by an independent press, rather than to be self-published, in which case the author pays part or all of the publication costs. Interestingly enough, Anaphora uses Lightning Source and distributes books via Ingram.
For further details, check out the submissions guidelines.
The Joy of Carol Smallwood’s Compartments: Poems on Nature, Femininity and Other Realms
Aline SoulesIn our modern world and complex lives, we live in “compartments”-home, school, town, nature-the kind of compartments and realms Carol Smallwood explores, giving us what we know and questioning what we don’t. “The Morning Warbler” may be seen “if one walks the bogs,” she writes, “but does it sing in the morning?” What do we really know? Smallwood raises questions even as she leads us into a consideration of our own world with a direct, matter-of-fact approach. “Why Do Women Ask First about their children / when meeting other / women?” or “After a / hysterectomy did they package your remains in a / paper sack like the gizzard, heart, liver, neck, / inside a roasting chicken?
Everything is delightfully jumbled, but beautifully detailed. “The Sewing Box,” just like Smallwood’s compartments, is filled with its own sub-compartments-thread bag, needle assortment, tray, and others-each, in turn, filled with its own details, whether a “myriad of spools,” “potholder loops,” or “a ring of white crocheted pineapples.” She ties these objects together in the poem and also from poem to poem. For example, she sews the ring of pineapples on a “new J. C. Penney’s case”; later, in the “Town” section, she gives us a poem called “J. C. Penney litany” with its “Flannel, Poplin, Wool, Cotton, Chambray, Chamois, Corduroy, Micro-suede” shirts and its “Amber, Indigo, Basil, Blue Abyss, Oatmeal, Olive, Espresso, Mushroom” colors, all in the “men’s section” with “not a man in sight.”
The joy of these compartments is that they are all linked: the women’s objects from “The Sewing Box” and the array in the men’s section of the “J.C. Penney Litany”; the ants and spiders from the “Nature” section and the “Black Holes” from the “Science” section; and the questions that range through the book from “What’d happened to the Chinese damask / robe Nicolet had worn greeting the Winnebago’s at Green Bay?” to all the answers the poet would “like to know”–“why snow’s white” or “Why we know more of / the surface of the / Moon than ourselves.”
Everything builds on her prologue-how we live between “the highest mountain / and the deepest ocean” and how we are all these compartments rolled into one. In this collection, the reader can experience a journey through our shared world, a journey beautifully guided by this skilled and generous poet.
In his head and in his lab things aren’t always what they seem, and Professor Meyers, tormented by a shameful neurosis and a marriage in tatters, has to uncover the truth behind an unthinkable lie before the wrong person gets punished. Welcome Home, Sir, by Steve Caplan is a masterfully-written, tightly-wound story about a soldier who comes home from war without injuries, but with plenty of scars.
Steve your book features a hero with a condition that isn’t usually talked about—he’s a hypochondriac— but not in a comical Woody Allen way; on the contrary, it’s a condition that’s getting out of hand and threatens to destroy his marriage. I’m sure the first question readers ask is, do you have some personal experience with this?
Robin, interviews with you are more difficult than writing a novel! In the novel, I can pretend and simulate, invent and borrow, mix fact and fiction at will. But you are putting me on the spot! Have you ever been an investigative reporter?!
Well when you write that convincingly, Steve…! I absolutely felt like I was right in the guy’s head!
Well, I have been trying to dodge this one, but I think it’s fair to say that I certainly have experience with the issue of hypochondria, just as I am familiar with bipolar disorder (I did have a parent who suffered from this disorder). One of the fascinating things about hypochondria is that while many afflicted individuals (perhaps most) are oblivious of their condition, it may surprise people to know that other hypochondriacs—despite being fully aware of their tendencies—are nonetheless unable to control their negative thoughts. For those who watched the film “A Beautiful Mind,” this is similar to the depiction of Nobel laureate John Forbes Nash Jr., whose schizophrenia never dissipated, but he eventually learned to ignore the voices and hallucinatory personas that inhabited his mind.
I think that’s what was most devastating for your character… that he knew it was the disorder and not based in reality… but couldn’t get a handle on it… even though the stakes were so high!
I agree with you completely. The complete understanding of his own condition—but at the same time his inability to overcome it—really makes Ethan a tragic character. The biological and/or psychological bases of such an odd condition really fascinates me. I’ve often wondered if I should have chosen this field for my own research.
That does sound like something that would suit you! So, I’m sure the second question is always, Did you serve in the COI in the Golan Heights?
I did! I was an artillery crew commander and later served in the unit’s Combat Operations and Intelligence. I had moved to Israel in 1983, and by mid-1984, found that I had actually spent more time in Southern Lebanon than in Israel itself. Those were very rough years for me, but they did provide terrific fodder for writing.
Again, you do a great job of bringing the reader into each scene, but none of your scenes are typical… that’s maybe what I loved most about the book… I never ever knew what was coming… to be honest, by the end I was tearing through to see how it all played out!
I just have to address the fact that you violated one of the major rules in writing—your novel is in the first person but you had scenes that didn’t include the “I” character. A literary rebel! Any qualms about that?
I always have been a rebel, nonconformist and someone who goes against the grain. I’m also extremely informal (I don’t own a suit and was probably the only faculty position candidate who ever interviewed without a tie). In addition, I have never had any real training as a writer. At the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, where I was a student, biology majors only took science courses, so I was never exposed to literature or creative writing at the post high school level. So perhaps this was intuitively done in blissful ignorance of existing conventions.
Ha ha ha! Well, there’s something to be said for that! Another thing I liked was the way you compartmentalized your main character into three opposing identities—the respected professor, the terrified patient, and the unhappy husband. It was a good way to show via sessions with his therapist what he was going through, and the flashbacks worked well too.
Thank you, Robin! First person novels make it notoriously difficult to develop secondary characters. At the same time, I feel that they often allow a closer communion between the reader and the protagonist. But this necessitates the creation of a really well developed and complex protagonist—as I have tried to portray. The therapist and flashbacks to the military were vehicles that allowed more insight and identification with Dr. Ethan Meyer. Perhaps the bottom line was that I wasn’t willing to let Ethan Meyer become too remote from me, making a first-person character essential. At the same time, I felt it necessary to migrate to third person narrative to enhance the development of the secondary characters—and also allow a glimpse of Ethan from others’ perspectives.
Had this book been simmering in your head a long time before you wrote it and got it published?
I would say that individual scenes were simmering and waiting to come out for a very long time. It’s almost 30 years since I was drafted into the Israeli army, yet many of the scenarios feel like they occurred just this morning. But other parts of the novel began to take shape as I wrote.
Gotta love that fodder! What is your writing process like?
That’s a really interesting question. As a scientist, I do a tremendous amount of writing: grant applications, papers, etc. All of this is highly regimented and planned like a military operation. But with my creative writing, anything goes. For example, my first novel, Matter Over Mind, was born within a week of a lab accident that I had as a graduate student. Sick at home and missing work for the first time in my career, the urge to write a novel took over and spilled out in linear fashion so that a draft of the entire novel was done within a week. No advance planning—it just spewed out like lava from a volcano. It did, however, take 13 years to publish the novel!
On the other hand, Welcome Home, Sir was written during the course of over a year. In this instance, I wrote individual scenes that popped into my head, and the story began to take shape in a non-linear fashion. Eventually I was able to weave the scenes into the framework of a novel.
What was your experience with Anaphora Literary Press like?
To answer that, let me compare it with the publication of my first novel, Matter Over Mind. When I completed the novel in 1996, being a previously unknown and unpublished author in Jerusalem was akin to being at the north pole. The internet was still in its infancy, and I spent a proportionally large part of my graduate stipend on photocopying hundreds of pages to send overseas to agents and literary presses—most of which never even bothered to reply with the self-stamped envelope I provided. I even had to arrange for someone to send me US stamps to do this! Eventually I found an agent in Canada who put me through rigorous revisions in the plot and held the manuscript for two years before giving up. When I came to the US for post-doctoral studies, I made myself a promise that I would get the novel published as soon as I had tenure. That took another 10 years…
That’s great, I’m always so glad to hear success stories! Welcome Home, Sir is your second novel. Tell us about your first novel.
Matter Over Mind is the story of Dr. Steve Miller, a young scientific researcher at an academic institution who is struggling for tenure while trying to overcome a rather traumatic childhood with a parent who suffered from bipolar disorder. While the cast of characters in the lab and department range from quirky fundamentalist praise-the-Lord Christians to an Opera-loving Sikh researcher (nicknamed “Opera-Singh” of course), the protagonist is frequently drawn to reveries from his childhood that are simultaneously humorous and sad. Ultimately, Steve’s past catches up with his present life in a surprise ending that—I hope—leaves the reader breathless.
Just a coincidence that you’re both named Steve?
Detectives and writers will tell you that there are no coincidences—at least not ones that aren’t suspicious. I definitely set myself up to strongly identify as Dr. Steve Miller. But—I wrote this as a graduate student, prophesizing, if you will, what it might be like to run a lab. So I am really a combination of Neal the graduate student, and Dr. Steve Miller. Those who knew me as a student equate me with Neal, whereas those who met me later on claim that I am clearly Steve the principal investigator. People tend to see what they want to see. A woman who was a technician in my graduate lab and served in part to inspire the rather comical character “Opera Singh” in Matter Over Mind read the novel and did not pick herself out as this character (whew!) On the other hand, she nailed one of the people who partially served as an inspiration for the semi-evil Smithers character.
One more interesting point. Ethan in Hebrew is Eitan, which means “strong.” Coincidentally (note the word usage!), this is very close to the French Etienne, which is synonymous with Esteban (Spanish) and Steve. So Ethan/Eitan/Etienne from Welcome Home, Sir is really also the equivalent of Steve.
Oh, okay. Interesting! Anyway, your writing falls into a new genre called Lablit, which are stories that take place in real time primarily in scientific labs. Any advice for other authors of Lablit?
Both my novels do fall under the category of Lablit, which was coined by scientist-author Dr. Jenny Rohn (see www.lablit.com). When I read Sinclair Lewis’ Arrowsmith years ago I didn’t realize that there would ever be such great interest in scientists as literary figures. However, in the mid 1980s, scientist Carl Djerassi began to write books and plays that depicted realistic scientists. He called this genre “science-in-fiction” (as opposed to science fiction). I think that the decision of an outstanding (and best-selling) author such as Allegra Goodman to take on Lablit (in her excellent novel, “Intuition”) really demonstrates the interest that there is for Lablit. So my advice for Lablit is authors is clear: keep writing!
Do you ever write short fiction or poetry?
Before undertaking a novel, I wrote some short fiction and managed to publish several stories on e-zines/online journals. One example is “The Recovery,” published in 256 Shades of Gray (http://www.mindspring.com/~blkgrnt/footlights/foot54.html). But I feel that novels, with their opportunity to develop characters and plot, work better for me. As for poetry, I’ve never tried my hand at that.
So what’s next for you, any projects in the works?
I’ve been toying with outlines for two new novels, and have been having a tough time deciding which to start with. As usual, though, with me the more serious topic seems to be winning out. Tentatively titled Let My People Go, my new project will deal with a female biomedical graduate student whose mentor abuses her by not allowing her to graduate, and the mysterious death of that mentor and the aftermath that follows. Moving into the realm of mystery, but addressing a serious issue for anyone in academia—the tricky relationships between mentors and students.
That sounds like a great story—I’ll watch for it! Hey, thanks so much for sitting down with me today, Steve, and good luck with your writing!
Thank you so much, Robin. I also look forward to seeing your upcoming novel In His Genes in press and a great new addition to the Lablit enterprise. I need to go now, I haven’t checked my blood pressure for a few hours…
Ha ha ha!
Dr. Steve Caplan received a Bachelor of Science degree and both masters and doctoral degrees from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Since 2003 he has been principal investigator and Associate Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha, Nebraska. He has won a number of prestigious awards for his research and mentorship and is the author of numerous peer-reviewed scientific papers. To visit him, go to: http://www.stevecaplan.net.
Writer in the Spotlight
Book Review–Private Hercules McGraw
My ongoing search for wisdom has led me to a welcome and important discovery. Meditation on Woman by Aline Soules is a book of poetic essays that represent some of the deepest wisdom and insight I have ever encountered. I first read these meditations in draft form as part of a critique group of professional writers. I knew right off that I was in the presence of a marvelous, deep-spirited writer. I also realized that I stood at the door of a human mystery that I would never fully comprehend. When Aline invited me to write a cover blurb for the book, I accepted the task with humility and great pleasure; also with a measure of self-doubt about my ability to put into words feelings that seemed to defy adequate expression. I’ve learned that unworthiness can slow my response, but rarely has it stopped me from plowing ahead. So I wrote: “Discovering Aline Soules’s Meditation on Woman is like chancing upon a long-hidden, primal road map for exploring the profound mystery that is the female spirit. How awesome it is to be invited into the raw complexity of woman’s aspirations, failures, and triumphs. Every man who cares about a woman at any level of relationship will come away enriched and grateful.” This is a beautiful book overflowing with joy, pain, and great compassion. Page after page from beginning to end, it speaks truth to the human spirit. I recommend it for all women, young and old–and for the men who love them.
The River Bends in Time
By: Glen A. Mazis
Publisher: Anaphora Literary Press
Publication Date: February 2012
Reviewed by: Eloise Michael
Review Date: April 3, 2012
Heraclitus famously said “Ever-newer waters flow on those who step into the same rivers,” which many remember as “You can’t step into the same river twice.” Thousands of years later many of us are familiar with this aphorism. The work of a philosopher is to find words that others will recognize as truth, a collection of words to name a feeling or suspicion that our language does not describe with a single one. If the philosopher can evoke a universal truth using only a handful of words, an image, or a metaphor, surely those words are poetry.
Author Glen A. Mazis, who teaches philosophy, explores the intersection between poetry and philosophy in his collection of poems entitled The River Bends in Time. He addresses Heraclitus directly in the poem, “Stepping into Different Waters,” bringing new symbols and depth to an old idea. The poem ends with this stanza: I think I’ll have to find another path if I want to return, not retracing the old one, since it slopes away into the river whose bed has changed several times like mine with seasonal floods of mud and old furniture. Yet, around the S-bend encircling the town often comes the same flock of great blue herons who have perfected their flapping, slow, dancing walk onto the waters– turning the river’s flow into one long dance floor. (pg. 19)
Mazis weaves philosophy into each piece in this collection, but without pretension. The poems are clear, and precise. They are accessible, while leaving room for readers to find truth and beauty on their own terms. Mazis’s work is well-crafted, clean, and economical; each word serves a purpose, and many words carry layers of meaning. The collection as a whole is cohesive. The poems are arranged, almost as a narrative, in chronological order and telling the story of the author’s life. The scenes fall together like pieces of a remembered dream, each poem being only a snapshot, and each snapshot a metaphor for something larger.
The River Bends in Time is worth reading from beginning to end, though the individual poems stand on their own as well. These are poems to read slowly and to reread. Mazis juxtaposes different metaphors for the same idea, connecting moments in time which, at first glance, might seem disparate, binding them with a single truth that runs through each. He finds meaning in the daily and mundane. His writing is personal, even intimate, without being self-indulgent. Even the most personal of Mazis’s poems reaches out to his readers, speaking to something universal.
A time line weaves through the book like a river, taking readers through the seasons of a small town in Pennsylvania and the seasons of a marriage. The author leaves this place for California and returns. Ultimately he is diagnosed with cancer. The third section of the book focuses on fear, loss, and death. In the poem, “The Asymptote of Loss,” Mazis writes:
On good days, I know we can’t lose those we love since time is a pool of light in which we
swim and the dead are stealthy shining columns who slip into the sunlight, offering
themselves to fire our vision, and add a warmth that not only surrounds us but also emerges
from within us. (pg. 79)
Even the poems about fear and death retain elements of hope and humor, however. The book ends with a section entitled, “Futures to Reawaken the Past,” which brings closure to the previous section and also a way forward.
1. You teach philosophy. Will you speak about the intersection between philosophy and poetry?
For thousands of years, since Plato spoke of the “quarrel between philosophy and poetry” and exiled poets from his ideal Republic proceeding all the way to Heidegger speaking of poets and philosophers as “neighbors closest together and furthest apart,” there has been this tension between the two endeavors. For me, however, there an interdependence and flowering between the two. What philosophy asks about, it can’t answer—no one can. No one can tell us what love is or what friendship is or what is the meaning of death, or any of the great philosophical questions. Philosophy can clear away all those silly answers that block true understanding and point us in the direction of where our key experiences of these dimensions are to be found. At this key moment, in that sacred place, the poet can twist language into new shapes, make new connections through metaphor, that bring us into the depth of our experienced sense of things, but only indirectly. Truth and deep meaning can’t be stated directly, only indirectly evoked, alluded to and shown in their shining. For me poetry and philosophy need each other or otherwise they both lack the depth and vitality they can have together.
2. Where do philosophy and poetry diverge?
Any poetry teacher starts their first instructions to their students with the exhortation to “show me with your words, don’t tell me.” On the other hand, the starting place in philosophy is to take any statement and ask “why?” and go deeper for what lies behind the obvious. Poetry shows us the face of things, the way they smile or frown or dance a pirouette. Philosophy tries to understand what motivated the dance or the frown, and where it might lead us. Reasons are uncovered by philosophy as blueprints to understand the underlying structure of what is happening and where we might want to go from here, but poetry paints the world to make us see all its hues, feel its rhythms, and notice the small details.
3. Who are the philosophers who have most influenced you?
My guiding inspiration for my whole career in philosophy has been the French philosopher of the first half of the twentieth century, Maurice Merleau-Ponty. He was the first and only Western philosopher to see that the true subject, the deepest Self, was the body, and its access to reality was through perception, not intellection. His idea of the body was that it was merged with the environment around it, not stopping at our skin boundaries, and that the sensual engagement with the world that gave us a sense of place and interconnection with other people and all the myriad things around us was also streaked with the imaginal, the dreamlike, the emotional, and the memorial deeper than mental recollection. He also saw how deeply we were embedded in nature and interwoven with the life of animals. His writing was the most poetic of any philosopher, because he knew only this use of language would indirectly evoke “the whisperings among things.” Other philosophers, who have been my teachers are Martin Heidegger, Friedrich Nietzsche, Soren Kierkegaard and Gaston Bachelard. I like some of the more recent philosophers like Derrida, Foucault, Deleuze and Levinas.
4. Who are your favorite poets?
My favorites tend to shift, but most recently I have been quite taken with Robert Hass, and the way he weaves memory, philosophy and metaphor. His lines weave in and out as if moving among differing levels of consciousness in a way I find fascinating. When I need to feel some quick uplift, I turn to Mary Oliver, for her love of the natural world and her ability to give it voice, as well for how she can use the simplest language and yet wring from it a depth that is often surprising. If I need to feel the power of the passion of love and the lilt of sensual joy, James Tipton has a way of sensuously flowing from the caress onto the page as if they were one gesture. I find hope in his writing and warmth. Stephen Dunn is a poet who makes me think and wonder. Li-Young Lee takes me to the edge of what I can understand discursively and then takes another step beyond that horizon. His words’ momentum take me with them to fathom something new. When I was an adolescent and younger adult, my three constant guides as poets were Dylan Thomas, W. H. Auden and W. B. Yeats. It is hard to stop, but I will.
5. This collection seems to span a number of years in your life. Did you write some of these poems years ago, or are they all recent work?
Actually, most of these poems are not my most recent work. I tend to keep my most recent poems sitting around for a while, since I find poetry writing is all about rewriting and no matter how good I think a recent poem is, I will find ways to make it better, if I wait for a while and keep it with me. After that, the poem will have to undergo a period of being sent out to journals. I have found that journal editors, despite being swamped with thousands of submissions, will often make a comment about a line or an aspect of the poem that could be better that I might not have realized on my own. Then, I go back to work and somehow the energy from the editor’s regard gets added to my own energy and the poem begins to move in a certain direction that it wouldn’t have without this extra push. The poems in this collection have mostly been published before in good literary journals, which means they have gone through that process. There are even a few poems that are several decades old and were worked and reworked, waiting for the muse to alight and add some more magic to them. That is exciting to me, for I have many other poems that are waiting to get out into the world and find their reader friends.
6. Can you describe your process for writing a poem?
It varies. I am a long distance runner, and sometimes a line or a number of lines will suddenly be whispered into my ear as I am running and I struggle to get home and not lose it. Sometimes, I wake up in the middle of the night with an idea for a poem, a certain scene, or with a few lines or images. Then, I have to be careful to get up and write them down, or they will have fled with the morning light like many creatures of the night. Sometimes, I get an idea for a kernel of a poem and then I wait until I have the time to work on it. My wife is a poet, too, and sometimes, we have “poetry workshop,” as we call it, where we devote a block of time to letting those old ideas or a line find out what it is trying to say, and we each work on our own poems, but in the same room, letting the poetic energy circulate. For me, whenever I work on my poetry, it feels like “magic time,” in which the air gets thinner, the time gets very deep and doesn’t flow the same way, but is a pool to swim within, and there is an electric energy pulsing through my body and mind that unites them more tightly. I am always playing with the words in the poem as they have come to be on the page after the first writing or even the tenth writing, looking for a fresher and more sonorous way to say something.
7. What advice would you give to aspiring poets?
Oh boy, I am not going to be able to be very original with my answer to this question, since all the old clichés are right. Read more poems. Rewrite, rewrite, and then rewrite. Look at the world. The poems are not about you, but are about the ten thousand things, as the Taoists say, the myriad beings of the world that depend on us to lend them their voices, so they can get their eloquent wisdom out among other beings. The poet is just the conduit and needs to get out of the way. Your feelings will be dragged into it anyway, but not as on display, but as expressed within the world’s dialogue with itself. Be thankful for all criticism, even though this is hard to do at first, but each bit of it is a gift that you will long for later in life. if you are thankful for the criticisms, they take on another aspect and instead of seeming to bark at you, they become shepherds leading you on.
8. Your poems “The Extinction of the Tall Tale” and “Cyberspace Theology” suggest your concern for the future of human communication. What do you believe we have lost as a culture in the age of the
I am not a Luddite. I welcome all the advances that the internet has brought us, like how I am doing this interview right now sitting at Cape May overlooking the beautiful bay, finally getting a weekend to rest and celebrate my birthday, and then when I finish, I will hit a button and voila, you will have it! My concern is with our addictive tendencies. When we can’t do without the internet and it becomes the locus of life, instead of a way to push us out back into the world to encounter the natural world, political events, personal challenges of all sorts, and our face to face friends, loves, mates, children and neighbors. I get worried when people start to substitute the internet easiness for the hard work of the face to face relationship. A “friend” on Facebook or the internet is not a “friend,” since friendship is a long, committed, energy intensive creative process with another human being that emerges from up’s and down’s, trials and joys of a shared presence together. The internet can never have the depth of presence that is the magic of the flesh. We are in danger of becoming a culture of ghosts and phantoms.
9. As a teacher, what do you hope to communicate to your students?
One of the philosophers who inspired me, Heidegger, quotes a poem from Holderlin that ends with the line, “who has thought most deeply, loves what is most alive.” There is no way I can say that better. I want my students to slow down and then stop. Stop like Socrates at the entrance to the banquet in Plato’s Symposium where he is lost in thought, communing with his spirit, his daimon. I want them to think critically about the day to day aspects of their lives and discover there is so much more possible meaning in their daily acts than they have realized. I want their thought to be a spur to wake them up to the full reality of our shared problems and our shared possibilities. I want them to become present, to be fully here, instead of zombies who are making their way through the days without feeling the wonder of each instant. I want them to see how unique each of them is and how they can transform themselves and the world into a fully vital happening. I want them to love what is most alive, which as Camus says, is to be able to stake one’s life for the cause of beauty.
Best of the Book Blogs
Meditation on Woman by Aline Soules
Anaphora Literary Press
Meditation on Woman is a collection of fifty-six prose poems to be read slowly, a few at a time, to fully appreciate their impact. Each, simply and economically written, begins with the two words, “A woman.”
In the opening work, “The Third Eye”, woman catches the cycles of her garden on video-winter cracks the lens, spring splinters it as the cycles continue. “In the end, the lens cracks again, into many parts, facing down, angling up, fractured. New shoots. The gardener’s boots. Ants. Blooms. All splinter, like a kaleidoscope. Her eye captures fragments of brown, green, blue, pink, the blinding yellow-white of the summer sun.”
Making one’s own world is also reflected in “A Question of Balance” where a woman “owns the river, owns every bird that skims.” In the surprising poem about a woman being roasted on a fire: “And as she turns, her eyes shimmer in tune with the heat and see in every direction. The earth, all motion, spins with her and she with it.”
Readers can easily relate to: “A woman is good at guilt. Palpable and breathing, it lives in her house. It lies down and sleeps in her spare bed” and understand the mixed feelings the duality in relationships: “The woman looks at her sister. She loves her and hates her as much as ever.”
In each poem the poet is seeing herself and in the process, the universal-an activity so simple and yet complex, full of surprises and reflections of wonder. I’m looking forward to her next collection to savor, open my eyes, enjoy the company of a uniquely gifted poet
Carol Smallwood, www.smallpressreviews.wordpress.com
By reviewer Barbara McIntyre
Book talk: Wooster-like town is setting of mystery; book explains religious art symbols
Published: April 15, 2012 – 12:49 AM
Book talk: Wooster-like town is setting of mystery; book explains religious art symbols April 15, 2012 04:49 AM GMTBeacon Journal Publishing Co. Copyright � 2012 Beacon Journal Publishing Co. Inc and Black Press. All Rights Reserved. Any copying, redistribution or retransmission of any of the contents of this service without the express written consent of the Akron Beacon Journal is expressly prohibited.
The tattoo on the murder victim’s arm in Eloquent Tattoo, Audrey Lavin’s new literary mystery, isn’t a real tattoo. It might be a clue, though, and Mary Beth Goldberg is determined to find out who killed her friend Austin the antique dealer, just the way she solved cases in Eloquent Blood and Eloquent Corpse, Lavin’s previous books in the series.
Mary Beth is a professor at fictional Midfield College, which is identical to Wooster in nearly every way. As usual, she relies on her beau, Tony, to help her, but she’s reticent this time because she hasn’t figured out how to tell him she’s been chatting online with another man.
Mary Beth is teaching a class called American Romantics, and it occurs to her that she can use the method Edgar Allan Poe’s fictional detective C. Auguste Dupin used to solve the case of The Purloined Letter. Unfortunately, some of the suspects also have read the works of the master, including a quartet of peculiar students who can’t seem to stay away from the crime scene.
Eloquent Tattoo (161 pages, softcover) costs $15 from Anaphora Literary Press. Lavin lives in Canton.
Excerpted from a review of Eloquent Tattoo by Dr. Audrey Lavin
The reality that “Austin wasn’t going to wake up – ever” hit her. Thus begins a murder mystery that readers will become absorbed in until its conclusion.
A variety of personalities makes up the characters of this story, centered on Midfield Campus College in Midfield, Ohio, each with their own personality traits and story. Abby McKenzie, a college M.D., is Mary Beth’s friend. Celeste, Eleanor, Liz, and Robby are students, while Ted Ruppy is a Chemistry professor. Seth Yoder is Sheriff, with Sylvester Morse his deputy. Simone Westlake is Austin’s sister in Akron. Tony Bartlett and Gabe James are Mary Beth’s two boyfriends.
Conversation is realistic, moving the story along, with a minor observation that Sheriff Seth Yoder’s identifying line of “Just call me Seth” may have been repeated a bit too often.
Readers will relate to Mary Beth, drawn into her conflicts, of her profession and of her personal relationships, trumped by her involvement in searching for the murderer of her friend.
This reviewer found this an interesting mystery to follow that led to resolutions of both the murder and her personal relationships. Without lapsing into a spoiler of this mystery, suffice to say this reviewer was very satisfied with the conclusion to the murder mystery. Taken from the web site: Angie Mangino Looks at Books.
April List of Recommended Books: Pop Culture
By: Steve Brock
Interviews with Brooklyn Film Festival Winners: Pennsylvania Literary Journal: Volume III, Issue 2 by Anna Faktorovich (Anaphora, $40.00 – The Brooklyn Film Festival invites regional, national and international submissions. Faktorovich conducted interviews with the directors, producers, script writers and other creative people, who won awards at the BFF in various categories. This issue should be very helpful for those who hope to build a filmmaking career. Antonio Piazza talks about transitioning from being a working Italian writer to creating a short film that has been shown in nearly 100 film festivals. Stephan Wassmann relates the dangers and adventures of filming bomb metal scrappers during war-time on the Mexican border. Ivaylo Getov describes how one can turn their senior NYU Tisch film school project into an award-winning venture. Massimiliano Verdesca covers special effects on a low-budget and techniques to use when working with actors. Yonah Lewis and Calvin Thomas chat about the frustrations of youth and the film industry inCanada. Damian Harper touches on the causes and ways to prevent gang-violence inBrooklynand elsewhere. Joel Fendelman talks about theology and filming locations. Marina Mello boasts about filming inBrazil)
Small Press Bookwatch: May 2012
By: James A. Cox, Editor-in-Chief
The Fiction Shelf
The House of ORder by John Paul Jaramillo
“The stories we see growing up only continue as we raise our own. ‘The House of Order’ is a collection of short stories from John Paul Jaramillo, associate professor English, as he reflects on family and childhood and growning up and striving to get something better for ourselves as well as our future, and reflections on his unique uncle ‘The House of Order’ is an enticing read that shouldn’t be overlooked for those looking for a down to earth short fiction collection.”
I grew out of the feminist movement of the 1960s and the effort to pass the ERA in the 1970s. I’ve not lost that internal fire to draw attention to the nature of women and to women’s rights, which I think are in danger of slipping backwards these days. The obvious aspects of anyone’s rights are easier to pursue than the discrimination that’s more subtle. The glass ceiling, for example, is much harder to define than a specific right that’s quantifiable, despite the struggles our forebears experienced as they sought the vote or fought for the ERA. This may seem quite removed from my book, but for me, it’s part of ensuring that the complexity of women and their many struggles with our societal norms and our human condition are brought into focus.
Meditation on Woman
by Aline Soules
Anaphora Literary Press, 2011. ISBN 978-1-937-53613-8.
Reviewed by Doris Anne Roop-Benner
Posted on 06/01/2012
Meditation on Woman is filled with poetry that makes you think about the reality of being a woman. Soules writes about possessions and how we should clear them away; learn how to balance our days to clear a path for our lives; and turn off our brains so we can rest and lighten ourselves in the present.
Women also long to know their roots—she studies, explores, dives deep to find out where she comes from. She wants her descendants to know what she is all about. Her life is filled with memories from the past.
Soules tells about women who plant and nurture their gardens and dream of travelling in the future.
Women sacrifice for everyone—husbands, children, parents, friends—but most of all themselves. And then there’s the guilt. When women don’t feel that they’ve sacrificed enough, they feel guilty.
The topics in Meditation on Woman are varied, but the theme is clear—women are complex beings. Read them and see if you relate to any of them.
Department of English Newsletter
Interview with Audrey Lavin (’84)
CWRU: You’re an academic, author of Aspects of the Novelist (1995) and numerous journal articles. How did you come to write mysteries as well?
Lavin: I was pleased with the reception of my book, and I enjoyed academic writing. I was good enough at it to have my work published in numerous journals in the U.S., plus in Spain, Chile, the Ukraine, and Russia, where my latest article was published in May of this year.
I have also been anthologized, plagiarized, and had my books stolen from the library. I had arrived.
So I did what many of us do, wondered: is this all? Can I break through the restrictions of academic writing and write something different? Other writers havehad the same thought and are willing to take the same risks. I heard John Grisham interviewed. Here’s an author whose work has been translated into thirty-nine languages. He wondered if he could write anything except legal thrillers. And he recently did.
Not many people compare me with Usher, but basically I’m following his philosophy of “evolve or evaporate.”
I’m also a life-long reader of murder mysteries. Nothing relaxes me at bedtime more than reading a puzzle about a little (preferably, a lot of) blood and gore. It guarantees a good eight hours of sleep. I’ve read so many mysteries that I decided, “I can write one of these, too.” Surprise! It’s not so easy. But my mysteries have been very rewarding and well received. I continue to set the bar higher with each one. If you read my three novels, you will see that each one is more complex than the one preceding it. A good introduction to them can be found on my web page <audreylavin.com>.
Lavin Interview continued
“When I was writing my first murder mystery, then untitled, I asked the Wednesday Writers Workshop for suggestions for a title. I was in favor of Thesis Interruptis.”
1. You’re an academic, author of Aspects of the Novelist (1995) and numerous journal articles. How did you come to write mysteries as well?
I was pleased with the reception of my book, and I enjoyed academic writing. I was good enough at it to have my work published in numerous journals in the U.S., plus in Spain, Chile, the Ukraine, and Russia, where my latest article was published in May of this year.
I have also been anthologized, plagiarized, and had my books stolen from the library. I had arrived.
So I did what many of us do, wondered: is this all? Can I break through the restrictions of academic writing and write something different? Other writers havehad the same thought and are willing to take the same risks. I heard John Grisham interviewed. Here’s an author whose work has been translated into thirty-nine languages. He wondered if he could write anything except legal thrillers. And he recently did.
Not many people compare me with Usher, but basically I’m following his philosophy of “evolve or evaporate.”
2. Why is your series called the “Eloquent” series? Is it because of the quotations with which this book is replete–in epigraphs, in student conversations, as little jokes among the characters? Could you talk about your use of quotations? In your acknowledgments you mention several writers groups. How have these groups been useful to you?
Readers tell me they like my quotations used as chapter headings. The quotes often become part of the puzzle themselves. I can’t help the puns and other word-play you mention. C’mon, Susan, I’m an English major, an English professor. I love words.
The “eloquent” in my titles, however, is not derived from that predilection (maybe subconsciously?) but I’m glad you asked the question, because it gives me a chance to talk about writing groups and my blog, which is now on four platforms, http://bit.ly/OhAudrey . Check it out.
I’ve belonged to three different critique groups. They are the Wednesday Writers Workshop, now meeting in Canton; the Akron Manuscript club, meeting in Akron; and the Walsh University writing group, now defunct. All have helped my writing. Both the Akron and Canton groups welcome new members or drop ins. If you are at all interested, please contact me.
When I was writing my first murder mystery, then untitled, I asked the Wednesday Writers Workshop for suggestions for a title. I was in favor of Thesis Interruptis. I still like it for a campus murder mystery. We brainstormed. Eloquent Blood was the favorite. I respected the group’s choice. Hey, they represented my future readers.
When I wrote the second novel, I wanted to make an instant connection to the first: Eloquent Corpse is the result.
I was going to title book#3 That Young Man Eloquent and wrote about it in my blog. A stranger posted a comment, “That’s the worst title I’ve ever heard of.” He signed his name Reg Keeland. I googled him. He turned out to be the translator of Steig Larsson’s trilogy (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, etc.). I figured he knew a little more about titles and merchandising than I did. With his permission, I incorporated the word “tattoo” into the title. After all, it’s a tip of my authorial hat to him. We now have my newest novel Eloquent Tattoo.
3. You’ve taught outside the U.S. a great deal. Do you have a preference for it? If so, why? Are you thinking of locating a mystery outside of the country, outside of your fictional Midfield? Is Midfield based on a real college town?
Teaching outside of the United States has been a grand adventure. It has given me the opportunity to make contributions to pedagogy in general and to students and faculty in specific instances that I never would have deemed possible.
I cannot count correctly: have I worked in fifteen countries in seventeen years or seventeen countries in fifteen years? I have taught undergraduate students, graduate students, and my professorial colleagues. I’ve organized conferences (I was told my two-day feminist conference was the first ever in Spain) and edited journals. By lecture and by example, I taught American Studies and American pedagogy. European pedagogy, followed by most of the world, is quite different with its rigid lecture-and-regurgitation of information regimen. I’ll give one example: After I lectured on “The Sexual Revolution–Who Won?” at the university in Novogorod, Russia, a faculty member took me aside to tell me that this was the first time “sex” had been mentioned at the university since before the dark (and puritanical) days of the Soviet Union.
I haven’t set any of my novels in any of the countries I’ve visited, though I have used scenes from Russia, Turkey, and Zambia in them. I’ve also had published a number of creative non-fiction pieces about some of my adventures in Russia and in Moldova.
As to Midfield, Ohio, it is a complete invention or rather combination of many campuses and many small towns (for example, every brick of the clock tower on campus is from Hudson). My novels are murder mysteries +. The + is the academic satire each one contains. Some of my targets are still around. For safety’s sake I wouldn’t want any campuses or any English departments to be identifiable.
4. Is there something about your time at Case that made this project possible?
Yes, of course. First of all, my Ph.D. opened doors for me. I would not have been a two-time Fulbright professor to Spain if I had not completed my doctorate. I loved my students in Spain, my work, my colleagues, even the horrible feuds between departments. I was asked to stay on permanently, but could not. Later, when my husband worked as a volunteer consultant in other countries, I could take the temporary appointments I mentioned earlier.
The excellent teachers I had at CWRU have made a difference. Theirs are not usually direct influences, though I can say that if Bob Ornstein had not been such an excellent dissertation director, I never would have had the books on E. M. Forster published. Gary Stonum and Dr. Callender from the anthropology department were on my dissertation committee, too. Gary wrote to me that I had the best comprehensives he’d heard and Dr. Callender wrote that mine was the best dissertation he had ever read. Believe me, at a time I needed encouragement, they boosted my self-confidence.
Other teachers who have meant something to me and my work are Lou Gianetti (helped teach me to see) and P. K. Saha (support). Bill Siebenschuh came in as director of composition while I was at CWRU. I don’t know if he still takes the time to write clever memos, but in doing so, he taught me that every word counts and, by golly, if nothing else, I am told over and over again what pithy, funny memos I write. And Mary Grimm, a well-known writer, was not at CWRU when I was but has continued to show me genuine support as one writer to another.
I’m glad I have this chance to thank Bob, P. K., Lou, Bill, Gary, and Mary. I very much appreciate all they have done for me, all I have learned from them.
I give many book chats, give programs for any group that will invite me (Mensa, Rotary, College Club, you name it). It’s all a part of peddling my wares. I hope that I encourage and support the writers and would-be writers who come to hear me in the same way that the CWRU English department has supported me.
(just nominated for the Pushcart)
By: Carol Hawkins
Compartments: Poems on Nature, Femininity and Other Realms by Carol Smallwood (Paper, $15, ISBN: 978-1-937-53600-8, LCCN: 2011912611, 146 pp, 6×9, August 2011, Anaphora Literary Press Anaphora Literary Press, 163 Lucas Rd., # I-2, Cochran, GA 31014) http://www.amazon.com/Compartments-Poems-Nature-Femininity-Realms/dp/1937536009/ref=sr
Carol Smallwood’s poetry exposes the active inner life of a curious observer. In her collection, “Compartments,” she reveals the mind and heart of a poet who knows how to unravel mysteries with sensory details and probing questions. Structured forms, like the villanelle and the triolet, frame fluid topics. Smallwood invites visitors to share her vision of her thoughts. Elements of time and place ground the reader to a particular setting that allows access to the poems. This poet likes to grasp at ordinary things, turning them around in her mind and then translating her ideas into strict lines that reveal truths about unknowable things. This poet desires to know all, and to share her intimate vision with her readers.
For example, in the poem, “By the Barb Wire Fence,” Smallwood takes on the villanelle to corral the passing of time. Lily, the protagonist, seeks refuge among the birds and bees, but not in some silly romantic sense. On the contrary, she hides her tears, weakened by some weight of memory and regret, perhaps a gripping need for something permanent, but the recognition that nature doesn’t hold still. One dominant image in the poem, a stone foundation, reveals a mystery. The poet writes:
Lily went where bees made blossoms fall,
near a stone foundation too old to recall.
Even the stone foundation shifts from an assumed place of permanence to a place unknown, an inner mystery, the awareness that nothing is fixed, not even our desires or intentions. No one knows what the foundation once held up. Yet, this place of decay holds life: “bees make blossoms fall,” and “birds built nests without trepidation,” shifting scenes that allow the narrator to turn inward, to seek further refuge, near “the barbed wire fence.”
The triplets within the villanelle create a context from which to describe the natural world, while the reframe and conclusion in the closing quatrain leave the reader in a setting of peace. The center line in each triplet begins to reveal a conflict: the narrator’s need to break from “obligation” and seek out an old tree in a quiet spot to “linger as the sun sank.”
The rhythm of the poem echoes the rhythm of life, always moving but seeking pause. “The Barbed Wire Fence” opens up a Pandora’s Box, a bundle of different meanings, each dependent on the reader’s own associations. This reader sees a narrator, who appears trapped, yet the fence is down, she can run if she chooses, a breach in the enclosure allows her to leave, but she stays, and settles for a pause. Why? “Family obligations” that make her wonder how it all turned out this way? Did she ever really have a choice?
The poet writes:
Lily wiped her tears as the kids still small
returned from a game of interrogation
Explicit tears for implicit reasons, except for her close reference to “kids” as they come back from a game of questions that must seem difficult to answer. Lily’s mission, “to see the oldest tree of all,” opens and closes the poem, as she resonates with her surroundings:
Lily went where bees made blossoms fall
and birds built nests without trepidation
near a stone foundation too old to recall.
Another concrete scene, this time “A Vision Triolet,” contains a doctor, a stain, a reality check, and a photo. Again, the impermanence of life, the passing of time, aging. More lines of tight rhyme, eight lines per stanza, the repetition of entire lines, like the villanelle. The length of lines matter, tetrameter, ABaAab, as in “quick, case, photographic; quick, Geographic, space,” followed by AB, “quick, case.”
A Vision Triolet
A digital fundus photo is quick,
recommended for anyone just in case–
each eye must stare till photographic;
a digital fundus photo is quick,
the results rival a National Geographic
glossy spectacular of outer space.
The digital fundus photo is quick
recommended for anyone just in case.
The optometrist pointed to murky stains
“Due to common aging,” he explained
fed by vessels deep in my brain.
The optometrist pointed to murky stains
foreign as a NASA Mars terrain–
the exposure, dull red, self-contained.
The optometrist pointed to murky stains
“due to common aging,” he explained.
Just in case of what? Those questionable “murky stains” may “be due to common aging” but what does that say about life ahead . . . a red stain, a void, a “dull red, self-contained.” The poet found the whole scene strange, although the image seemed quite familiar to the optometrist. The poet’s confused. Isn’t the poet’s job to make the strange . . . familiar?
This tricky triolet, a quirky form meant to grasp what is slipping away, the poet’s most valuable tool, sight. The repetition of “stains” in the second stanza work well to drive home the point of over exposure, in this case, to time, “the dull red” left behind. A moment of vision, indeed, of the mystical kind, and the repetition of the line: “the digital fundus photo is quick” liking the sound of these words and the image of National Geographic, the “result rival” a lyrical quality with tight rhyme—“glossy spectacular.” The artist works here, in and among these forms, such as the villanelle and the triolet, to craft common themes, like aging and regret, in mirroring reframes.
Many poems, like the earliest triolets in English, were written as prayers. This collection of Compartments could hold the same intention, like chants of extreme repetition, limited rhyme, limited lines that allow the structure to disappear, even though it dominates. These qualities of form, combined with the simplicity of content, convey a shared understanding, to make Compartments a good read. The personal becomes universal through images and sounds, and meaning moves closer, with each carefully constructed line.
Small Press Bookwatch: July 2012
James A. Cox, Editor-in-Chief
The Fiction Shelf
The Third Law of Motion by Meg Files
It isn’t so easy to run away from what’s bad for you. “The Third Law of Motion” is a novel set in 1960s Michigan, following the struggles of Dulcie White, who wants to avoid getting in trouble, suffering quietly under her boyfriend and possible husband. Touching on the tragic and the struggles to break free, “The Third Law of Motion” is a riveting and much recommended pick for general fiction collections focusing on the struggles of women and battered wives.
MBR Bookwatch: July 2012
James A. Cox, Editor-in-Chief
By: Harriet Klausner, Senior Reviewer
The Seventh Messenger by Carol Costa
Naomi was born in the House of David religious community in Benton Harbor, Michigan. Now, as an adult, with her always emotionally distant mom dying, she has returned to learn whether the founder Benjamin Franklin Purnell was her father. She demands Benjamin’s widow Mary to tell her the truth with no omissions or deceptions.
Mary begins her story back five decades ago to the turn of the century when Benjamin said the Spirit of the Lord told him that he was the Seventh Messenger while their convicted leader of the Holy Rollers Michael Mills was false. He became King Benjamin and she Queen Mary of the House of David religious commune. In 1903 they moved to Benton Harbor where they created a place to live, an amusement park, an orchestra, a zoo, and a baseball team with a park, etc. Sex was prohibited even between married couples. The only exception to the rule was King David and his Inner Circle of girls under the age of sixteen who needed purification. One Inner Circle girl became pregnant and planned to destroy the reign of King Benjamin.
This is an exciting insightful novelization of the creation and twenty plus years (up to the trial and death of Benjamin) of the House of David. Mary is a terrific narrator who understood her late husband’s strengths as a charismatic leader who got people to believe and his serpent in Eden endeavors as she tells Naomi what happened to him and her mom hoping to bring some sunshine into the younger woman’s life. Character driven to include the commune, Carol Costa provides a deep twentieth century historical in which Mary’s salvation of the ruins of Eden and the City of David, still thrives.
Aline Soules, Meditation on Woman, Anaphora Literary Press, 2012
by Carol Smallwood
Meditation on Woman is a collection of fifty-six prose poems to be read slowly, a few at a time, to fully appreciate their impact. Each, simply and economically written, begins with the two words, “A woman.” Some of the journals that have published a version of a few of these reflective poems by this California State University, East Bay faculty member are the Kenyon Review, The Binnacle, and Poetry Midwest.
A recent Poets & Writers featured six articles in a special section in the magazine from leading writers about inspiration: the importance of slowing down, making room for contemplation, and the possibilities for discovery for the creative writer. Meditation on Woman supplies readers with examples of this in abundance as this poetry collection turns the ordinary upside down, leaving the reader, man or woman, to look at things differently.
In the opening work, “The Third Eye”, woman catches the cycles of her garden:
A woman sets up her video camera, focusing it to chronicle the cycles of the garden.
A gardener turns over the winter ground. The loosened clods glisten in the sun, the damp evaporates through the day, and the earth pales to medium brown.
Green shoots push up, jagged leaves unfold, and tight buds emerge. Ants crawl over the green fists and chew their sweetness so that the peony flowers can erupt in white and pink and deeper pink, heads so heavy they drag on the ground.
“Nature” addresses the distance between pristine and artificial nature; and the suburban attitudes in “Weeds” drives a woman into the city.
“Evolution” recalls the magical-realism of Gabriel García Márquez and Isabel Allende, the blending of what is real and unreal:
A woman grows a tail. At first, it’s just a nub at the end of her spine. Doctors think it’s a bone growth, nothing to worry about. They remove it, but it grows back. The more often they remove it, the faster it returns, so she decides to live with it. When it’s a foot long, she tucks it between her legs to hide it. When it grows to four feet, she wraps it round her left leg and conceals it in wide-legged pants.
As she gets used to it, she stops hiding it. People whisper and avoid her, but eventually come to accept it. Strangers still stare or whisper, children jeer and point, but she ignores them.
A woman’s connection to the world recurs in “Far and Near.” One woman “gazes out a plane window at fields quilting the landscape thirty-five thousand feet below,” while the other “hikes a woodland trail and stares into the underbrush.”
The first sees the world at a distance: “The roads make squares and rectangles around the fields. Lakes are thumbprints pressed into the land. Rivers squiggle and canals angle in thin blue lines. Tree patches are dark and fuzzy. Little towns clump together; house roofs glint in the sun.”
The second sees it in close detail. “She picks a Queen Anne’s lace to take home. It’s umbel is so perfect, the white lace fans out in a curve that fits in her cupped hand, and the tiny black floret draws the gaze of her eye to the center of its lacy snow, like a single jet against a sky full of clouds.”
Making one’s own world is also reflected in “A Question of Balance” where a woman “owns the river, owns every bird that skims.” In the surprising poem about a woman being roasted on a fire: “And as she turns, her eyes shimmer in tune with the heat and see in every direction. The earth, all motion, spins with her and she with it.”
Readers can easily relate to: “A woman is good at guilt. Palpable and breathing, it lives in her house. It lies down and sleeps in her spare bed” and understand the mixed feelings in relationships: “The woman looks at her sister. She loves her and hates her as much as ever.”
The familiar scene of waiting for an x-ray, the description of hospital gowns, the gowns spilling over in bins, the closed doors marked with signs, makes the 134 words in “Horizon” especially memorable:
A woman sits on a wooden bench, waiting to be called for an x-ray. There is no window, only walls of lockers, changing cubicles, and benches where she can wait.
She hangs her clothes in a locker and puts on a hospital gown. Sprinkled with pale blue cornflowers faded from washing, it is too short and too narrow to cover her naked body. Discarded gowns spill over the top of a bin onto the floor, waiting for someone to take them to the laundry.
The room is warm, like a sauna. Even in her naked state, she grows hotter and hotter. She leans against the wall, her skull hard against wooden slats.
She sees three closed doors, each marked by a sign:
Wait until called
Door to the outside world
In each poem the poet is seeing herself and in the process, the universal: an activity so simple and yet complex, full of surprises and reflections of wonder. I’m looking forward to her next collection to savor, open my eyes, enjoy the company of a uniquely gifted poet. She clearly is familiar with Doris Lessing’s advice: “Have you found a space, that empty space, which should surround you when you write?” Women will especially relate to this contemplative collection by Aline Soules, but they are so universal that men will appreciate them and be awed as well.
Carol Smallwood co-edited Women on Poetry: Tips on Writing, Teaching and Publishing by Successful Women Poets (McFarland, 2012). Her poetry received a 2011 Pushcart nomination. Women Writing on Family: Tips on Writing, Teaching and Publishing, is from Key Publishing House, 2012.
‘Eloquent Tattoo’: Audrey Lavin’s latest ‘whodunit’ hits stores
by Gary Brown
“Eloquent is the title, elegant and murderously amusing is this academic mystery,” writes Rhys Bowen, an Agatha prize winning author in review of “Eloquent Tattoo,” a murder mystery by Canton author Audrey Lavin.
The book is the third in Lavin’s “Eloquent” mystery series. The other mysteries in the series are “Eloquent Blood,” published in 2004, and “Eloquent Corpse,” published in 2007.
The “Eloquent Blood” title for her first book was derived from brainstorming done by the Wednesday Writers Workshop, she said in an interview published online by Case Western Reserve University in its Alumni News.
“When I wrote the second novel, I wanted to make an instant connection to the first,” she said in that interview. That “Eloquent” title has continued.
Long a writer of scholarly articles and academic manuscripts, the educator’s literary journey into fiction was an outgrowth of her own interest in reading murder mysteries. But, the scholar in her continues to emerge in her books, notes her publisher, Anaphora Literary Press,
“She has taught in 17 countries and brings some of her international adventures to her whodunits,” said the publisher, noting that she serves up “witty dissections of U.S. college life in her humorous series of eloquent murder mysteries.”
Another writer, Akiko Busch, author of “Nine Ways to Cross a River” and “Patience: Taking Time in an Age of Acceleration,” said Lavin combines the ordinary with uncommon creativity.
“Lap swimming, the work of Edgar Allan Poe, and a simmering romance are amateur sleuth Mary Beth Goldberg’s unlikely but invaluable tools as she confronts her latest mystery in ‘Eloquent Tattoo,’” Busch reviews. “Her native ingenuity figures in as well, and when author Audrey Lavin throws in a few slices of pizza and a handful of eccentric college students, these all add up to become the ingredients for irresistible storytelling!”
The book, set on Midfield Campus College in Midfield, Ohio, centers on students and professors from the school. Midfield is “a complete invention or rather combination of many campuses and many small towns,” the author notes.
“Readers will relate to Mary Beth, drawn into her conflicts, of her profession and of her personal relationships,” writes online book reviewer Angie Mangino, “trumped by her involvement in searching for the murderer of her friend.”
The softcover book is 161 pages and lists at $15. It is available online at Amazon.com and the websites of Books-A-Million and Barnes & Noble. It also can be purchased through those chains’ bookstores. It is carried in Canton at the gift shops at Lazar’s Art Gallery & Creative Framing, Cyrus Framers, and Tony’s Hair Design. The other two books in the series also remain available.
Other books by Lavin include “Made in Ohio” and “Aspects of the Novelist: E.M. Forster’s Pattern and Rhythm.”
She maintains an online blog on writing mysteries at http://bit.ly/OhAudrey. More information on Lavin and her books can be obtained at audreylavin.com.
By: James A. Cox, Editor-in-Chief
The Literary Studies Shelf
Michael Connelly by Stan Schatt
Building a considerable fanbase, the mysteries and novels of Michael Connelly may seem a bit daunting to a first time reader. “Michael Connelly: A Reader’s Guide” is an introduction to the man’s works as Stan Schatt covers his work and presents a comprehensive introduction to the common themes throughout Connelly’s work to help first time readers gain a more complete appreciation of it all. “Michael Connelly” is a must for those just starting out his work.
Vernon poet brings Civil War to life in new book
S. Thomas Summers presented a poetic reading of his new book “Private Hercules McGraw: Poems of the American Civil War” at the Vernon Senior Center on Sunday afternoon, Aug. 26. The program was sponsored by the Vernon Historical Society.
Published by Anaphora Literary Press, the collection of original free verse poems chronicled the life of a fictitious southern youth who joins the Confederate army along with his boyhood friends Willie and Nate.
Summers, who spent a year writing the book, shared with a small group, how each poem combines together to reveal the story of Hercules McGraw, who joins the army to simply impress his girlfriend Martha by hopefully purchasing a slave.
A teacher at Wayne Hills High School and an adjunct professor at Passaic Community College, Summers informed the group that S. Thomas Summers is his pen name. He shares his actual name Scott Summers with a comic book hero.
“So when you Google that name, I don’t show up,” he chuckled. “S. Thomas Summers reminds me of F. Scott Fitzgerald, it makes me sound smart,” the poet joked.
With school in summer recess, Summers was able to devote his time off traveling from Massachusetts to Baltimore, reading and discussing his thought provoking, vivid poems.
Collectively the poems form a story and according to Summers describe things that could have occurred. One poem entitled “A Note Nailed to the Door” is how Hercules informed his parents of joining the army. The reader then vividly experiences Hercules’ first battle in the poem called “Shiloh Church.”
Guns barking and both sides screaming for Jesus or their mothers, Hercules kills his first enemy and begins to have a change in attitude or a maturing. Coming to realize the horrors of the war, another poem titled “A Bowl of Spillt Soup” explains and equates the death of friend Nate, as his eyes were eerily fixed on something in the air.
A line from the poem states, “Death ain’t something one shakes off soon,” follows Hercules as he makes his way north to destination Gettysburg.
The poems are haunting and extremely descriptive and reflective and must be personally experienced.
“Private Hercules McGraw: Poems of the American Civil War” is available on Amazon.com. Summers is currently working on another collection of poems that also form a story titled “The Journals of Lt. Arthur Kendall Everly.” This new book will cite the Civil War life of a fictitious teacher who joins the Union army as an officer.
The second book when completed and Summers’ already completed book of poems seem to superbly celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Battles of Gettysburg beginning in 2013.
A Tale of Abuse
Meg Files’ domestic-violence novel examines the push and pull of a bad marriage
by Jarret Keene
Good literary novels tend to work in one of two ways: Either they push into emotionally unfamiliar territory that causes the reader to shake his or her head with wonder, or they pull the reader into such deeply familiar and highly dysfunctional scenarios that the reader can’t help but nod.
Even as kids, we easily identify a relationship forged in hell. Some of us may have experienced unhealthy bonds ourselves. So when we read a novel that perfectly captures the evil essence of something like domestic abuse, we cringe in recognition as we turn to the next page. And then the next, eager to see how the protagonist will extricate himself or herself, if at all.
Meg Files’ The Third Law of Motion is a cringe-worthy fictional account of a couple doomed to fail. Set in ’60s Michigan, the novel focuses on the inner lives of two characters—Dulcie White, a bright college student with a love of Tchaikovsky, a knack for writing and a bright future; and Lonnie Saxbe, a deranged yet handsome athlete with nothing but a shoe-selling job on his dim horizon.
What brings them together? The social mores of pre-feminist Midwestern America, when getting pregnant left no option. Of course, in the view of today’s hard-right shitheads like Missouri Rep. Todd “Legitimate Rape” Akin, getting knocked up by a violent ex-track-star head-case like Saxbe is what God prescribes for women. Some ideas—and people—never evolve.
But what’s truly indelible and incredible about Files’ novel is how much empathy she generates on behalf of Dulcie’s abuser. In many ways, Motion is about the infinite despair of untreated mental illness. Saxbe suffers the kind of paranoia and suspicion that we’ve all briefly known, but hopefully have never allowed to consume us. Here, for instance, is Saxbe discovering his now-wife’s makeup bag:
He uncapped the red pencil. The lead was soft brown. He wrote Dulcie on the mirror. He put a brown heart around it. With the lipstick he wrote Lonnie inside the brown heart, too. He dumped the mess of her makeup back into the bag and zipped it up. He dropped the bag on the bathroom floor and stepped on it. He heard something plastic go. He put a sock on, and his right cordovan and stomped on the dirty bag until it was flat and pink goop was coming out of the zipper.
As much as I loathed the character and his vicious insanities, I still wished he would find help, or that Dulcie might seek treatment on his behalf. More important, I urged Dulcie, sometimes out loud and much to my wife’s concern, to escape and never look back. Indeed, the way Files ratchets up the tension in each chapter, even while oscillating between points of view (those of Dulcie and Lonnie), is worthy of any thriller, and at least an appearance on Oprah’s book club. The tension derives from the way Files eloquently depicts the mindset of a person who refuses to acknowledge abuse. For example, this passage, in which Dulcie examines herself in the mirror after being slugged, stabbed me in the heart:
In the mirror I saw my red cheeks and my split lip and dried blood at the corner of my mouth. I was glad it showed, for an instant righteous the way I was as a child when the handprints showed after a spanking, and then glad for the evidence of our change and our intimacy.
“You know what, let’s do something,” he said. “Go get something to eat and go see a movie. Comb your hair and get your coat. I’ll get the car warmed up for you.”
The color purple as a badge of marital closeness? Ugh. I won’t give away the end of the novel, except to say that this is a harrowing yet absorbing account of abuse, and how it is in some cases, sadly, made possible by two people. Files suggests that Saxbe’s aggression requires Dulcie’s passivity. It is a horrible thing to come to terms with, and only a novelist of Files’ caliber could extend such symbolism in fictional form.
Files, who directs the Pima Writers’ Workshop and is a creative writing prof at Pima Community College, has written a taught, disturbing novel. It’s a book that deserves an audience, and given its easygoing yet haunting prose, it should have no problem securing one.
RINGWOOD — Of the thousands upon thousands of books written about the Civil War, there are but a few that, instead of relying on battle maps, lists of dates, and casualty rolls to tell a black-and-white history, seek to illustrate the conflict’s sanguine horrors by peering through the eyes of those who fought — and fewer still that abandon flowery prose and adapt the terse, sheer style of poetry in order to do it.
But that’s exactly what Vernon poet S. Thomas Summers has done in his new book, entitled “Private Hercules McGraw: Poems of the American Civil War,” which he will be reading from at the Ringwood Public Library on Oct. 20.
The book, published by Anaphora Literary Press and written from the perspective of a southern everyman named Hercules McGraw, uses poetry to follow this “uneducated, rural, pig-farmer kinda guy” through America’s greatest tragedy as he fights for the South only to learn that “the cause” was not quite what he thought it to be.
Summers, 43, teaches English literature at Wayne Hills High School and at Passaic County Community College, and said that his character’s motivation stems from a hope to one day have enough money to purchase a slave (which he considers the ultimate status symbol) in order to impress his girl, Martha Lane. Should slavery be abolished, he reasons, that will never happen.
But as so often happens, the horrors of war bring out both the best and worst in men — and although McGraw is himself an active participant in creating some of those horrors, he also witnesses the bravery of the former slaves who have put on the blue uniform to fight against their oppressors.
In the end, said Summers, he realizes that they are no different than he.
“He gains a huge respect for them because of what they’ve been through as a persecuted race, and he sees that they’ve fought as hard he has,” he said.
The epiphany leads McGraw to lose interest in both Lane and the southern cause, and his metamorphosis is completed when, upon returning home, he helps a slave escape on the underground railroad. Although Summers acknowledges that at first glance, he appears to have little in common with his simple farmer, writing through McGraw’s eyes gave him a deep understanding of what the man might have gone through, especially as he explores the parts of history that “fall into the cracks, that the historians can’t see.”
“As I wrote, I kind of became my character… in the back of my head I was bleeding, I was scared, I was crying, I was doing everything that he was,” he said. “It’s why at readings, when I read certain poems I sometimes tear up because it’s become so personal to me.”
There’s also the larger narrative, Summers said, in which McGraw could be any man, in any war, that gazes into the Medusa-like eye of combat and suffers the consequences of witnessing that which is “not for humans to see” — even the juxtaposition of “Hercules” and “McGraw,” with its demigod lead followed by a routine Irish surname, reflects the God-like power of giving and taking life the common man possesses during battle.
“The things that these guys see and experience… it messes (soldiers) up, because they’re not supposed to see this, they’re not supposed to decide who lives and who dies,” he said. “I thought that was meant for the gods.”
But, Summers said, much of the writing process was not so dark, and he enjoyed experimenting with the unfamiliar southern dialect to create phrases that his character might actually have uttered.
“I liked the way they talked, I liked the metaphors they used, it was fun for me as someone who has grown up in the North, who doesn’t talk like that, to make that voice authentic was the fun part,” he said.
He’s now in the process of writing a sister book, which will speak on the Civil War from the point of view of an educated northern English teacher who, although he is a pacifist, enlists due to a feeling of being obligated to protect his students, many of whom had signed up to fight. But that story may not have such an upbeat ending, the writer said, as the former pacifist discovers a darkness within him that he never knew existed and finds out that he is indeed quite good at killing. The projects are certainly keeping Summers, who has been writing poetry since college, busy; although his first works weren’t quite up to par, he joked, he has honed his craft over the past 20 years, and has since had works published in The Atlantic, Loch Raven Review, and Literary Bohemian. His interest in the Civil War has been more recent, however, and stems from his first reading of the famous novel-turned-movie “Cold Mountain.” Initially, he said, he picked it up because its construction mirrors the Greek epic “The Odyssey,” which he often teaches to high school students, but he was soon enveloped in the drama.
“I thought it would be interesting to read the book…but that reflection stirred my passion; it was no longer just dates and battles, it was people and blood and heartache and victory,” he said. After a few visits the fields where the violent fights took place, there’s been no turning back.
“It’s been pretty much all I’ve written about since,” he said.
Summers will be reading at 1 p.m. at the library, which is located at 30 Cannici Drive, along with poet David Vincenti, who will offer a “view of the life of astronomer Galileo Galilei.” Vincenti’s poems have appeared in the Paterson Literary Review, the Edison Literary Review, and The Journal of New Jersey Poets, and have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. For more information, call the library at 973-962-6256.
December 4, 2012
Thank you for inviting me to interview with you in the Spotlight.
Congratulations on the release of your new poetry collection, Battle for Athens, let’s start there… does everyone ask you what made you come up with the idea for poems about subject?
I perform meticulous research not only for my academic books, but also for creative projects. In this case, I was doing a final edit on my Rebellion as Genre in the Novels of Scott, Dickens and Stevenson book that’s forthcoming this Spring 2013 with McFarland, when I had a sudden urge to attempt writing in the rebellion genre to put my theories to a practical test. I knew I had a quick prose-poetry writing speed from the Improvisational Arguments collection that I published in 2011 with Fomite, so I decided to experiment with a short poetry book, rather than trying a novel, which would have been a full-time job for many months. Thus, I knew I wanted to write a poetry book, and one that centers on the plot of a specific historical rebellion. To follow Scott’s structural rules, I chose a rebellion that occurred around 60 years ago, and in my home country, United States. When I looked over the history of rebellions from 1940-1955, there was really only one significant rebellion that happened in the US and this was the Battle of Athens (TN) shortly after the end of WWII. Since I was thinking about the upcoming presidential election, and was personally concerned with the growth of corruption in US politics, and judiciary, this was the perfect historical event for the book. I found several online sources that recounted the events—since the plot was all there, I finished the book very quickly and had a lot of great materials to dramatize and turn into interesting poems.
I was especially concerned about corruption in the US because I’ve filed numerous complaints with various police departments across the US and have faced unbelievable corruption in the officers’ unwillingness to fight crime in their neighborhoods. I’ve also seen corruption from regional judges, police chiefs, and local and even state and national officials. It’s possible that I’ve never met a US politician, police officer etc. that was not corrupt. I speak from various perspectives, as I’ve also done half-a-dozen internships with national and local politicians.
We always think of how the Civil War divided the country, but “Two Faced Dealings” describes how a single county was divided: twelve units to the Union and eight to the Confederate army… such a haunting thing to think about, and the last line really nailed the horror.
A few decades later, the Civil War Descended on McMinn County And split it in two ideological halves. It sent twelve units to the Union And eight to the Confederate army. When they talk about brother Fighting brother in that war, They probably have McMinn in mind. There must’ve been several brothers Firing handguns and rifles, And throwing grenades at each other. Imagine if you’d killed your brother With a grenade and then had to come home To tell your ol’ ma and pa about it…This poem sets up the atmosphere and history of McMinn County where the Battle took place. The polarization that was there before the Civil War remained until after WWII and in-part caused the events. If there weren’t too campus—rich and poor, black and white, veterans and non-veterans —there would not have been enough ammunition to kindle a fire that exploded in the Battle of Athens. This historical reality would have been a bit too cliché for my taste without a specific example in the ending. Yes, the example is grotesque and horrifying, and it wouldn’t be appropriate for the occasion if it wasn’t.
Tell us about Vestal, who stars in so many of these poems.
Vestal is the real name of one of the main veterans that fought in the Battle of Athens. His name is frequently mentioned in historical records, and most of the information I provide about him is factual. In “Thirty Months in WWII” we learn that Vestal went to WWII:
Because he was eighteen and drafted For a term up to six months after the date when The long war ended or he turned thirty-eight. He joined in the hot August of forty-three, Two years after Pearl Harbor. After a brief stint in a training camp, He joined the invasion of French North Africa, Winning it for the Allied Forces. The rest of his time in the marines was split In battles between Japan and the Philippines. It was five months after Hitler’s suicide That he witnessed the signing of Japan’s surrender On his USS Missouri battleship in September of forty-five. Then, he joined the liberating troops and worked to Reconstruct fallen European cities for six months, Helping to identify and bury the dead, Clearly their bones from under the crumbled stones. Despite his mostly engineering duties, he was shot twice. This was the man who returned to Athens in March of forty-six.Later in the story, Vestal became offended when his mother was kicked out and barred from observing the voting when she objected to a black man being shot for voting. Vestal and a couple of his veteran friends complained and attempted to observe the vote themselves, but were also escorted out, and as they were leaving with the deputies’ guns pointing at their backs, the crowd outside became enraged and the events that led to the later violence started to unravel.
What I felt was so powerful about this concept was that “The Veterans Return” is about soldiers coming home from WWII and finding no jobs could have been written about America’s current situation.
Three thousand veterans returned to the county In nineteen forty-six, when their contracts ran out. In the first three months after their return, They grouped together and celebrated their victory. When their glasses ran empty, they looked around for work. Local mills were full, and with few other jobs in the county, Getting by on their pensions was about as tough as welfare. So, having no employment, they socialized some more, Remembering old friends who didn’t return, Talking about what they fought for, And drinking to make up for the sobering years at war.Yes, without a description of the type of uniforms and clothing the veterans are wearing or the type of weapons they were using, the situation is nearly identical to the current crisis of veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan to a continuing recession and a growing debt-crisis. Many of them are struggling to find civilian work just like the veterans did after WWII. While US as a whole eventually recovered and became a world super-power, those individual veterans didn’t feel this change, and instead faced numerous problems with adjusting. They might have obtained a high military rank at war, but suddenly they were being told that military skills were not of practical use in peace-time employment. When this was coupled with incompetence and corruption among the local law enforcement officers and politicians, the veterans’ anger spilled out. But, there haven’t been any similar unified outbursts of violence among the veterans today.
There are some comical moments too, as in “The Night Before the Ballot,” but overall, it’s pretty grim… was this a fun project?
Weeks earlier, Cantrell met with Mansfield. “I handed over the Sheriff ’s seat to you for two terms, “What are you going to do now to help me win?” “All fifty of my deputies are fully committed.” “Fifty? That’s not enough. We’ll need two hundred.” “They would still be outnumbered against the vets.” “This is not a war; it’s politics. We just need to intimidate.” After that talk, Mansfield rallied his deputies, “Go out there, arrest and give fines to anything that moves. “If somebody looks like they can’t afford it, “Offer to deputize them instead.” The fifty deputies spread across the county And set traps along the roads, or went into pubs And made arrests, deputizing over a hundred. One of these was Fred West, who was handed a gun Instead of a speeding ticket, to his surprise and delight.The above details are historically accurate. I just made up the details of what exactly the various characters said, and specifically what they did. These details like the rest of the poems in this book are a dark satire that occasionally gives up on humor and just recounts the horror of the events. I could have exaggerated the events, stretching the truth, to make the book more comical, but I preferred to depict the events honestly because I believe that this type of election fraud and intimidation must be stopped. Yes, I’ll admit that I laughed a lot while I was writing this book, and I did not put in many of the things I was thinking as I was laughing, as I was recalling incidents that I witnessed myself, and they didn’t fit with the story. It’s likely that some readers will see the humor in these poems, while others will be frightened into realizing some of the types of corruption they probably see on a daily basis but haven’t understood what they were seeing before. My goal was to satisfy both of these groups of readers, while also thinking through the serious political details of the events and laughing at their ridiculous nature myself.
How do you feel about the election that just took place, and is there some relevance to the Battle of Athens that took place in 1946?
I’m writing these replies from Shantou University in China, where I’m working as an Associate Professor. I’ll be teaching at Pima College in AZ in the Spring, when I will shortly return to the US. I didn’t vote in this election, and if I was in the US, I still wouldn’t have voted. The election results for the last 4 or so elections have been identical—always at around 52-48% splits. It is statistically impossible that the American people are split down the middle on all issues. Most people in the US are poor, especially with the ongoing recession, in theory they want more social benefits that democrats offer (even if they fail to meet these offers once they are in office). If the numbers showed this obviously in the middle of the elective cycle, republicans wouldn’t spend hundreds of millions on advertising. I worked for major US banks before, and the pattern I’m seeing in US elections, over the last couple of decades, looks like cooked books to me. We’ll stay in a recession, and will continue to see unprecedented crime, and multiplying bankruptcies in the US until somebody fires the book cookers. Things might be bad here in China, and things might have been bad in the USSR where I grew up, but I might have to migrate elsewhere if things in the US keep getting steadily worst for two more decades.
The Battle of Athens happened at the point when the US suddenly emerged as an economic and political world leader. The veterans didn’t know this at the time, as they just knew they couldn’t find work. The vets also knew from personal experience that their local deputies and officials were corrupt, and took actions to resolve this local problem. What we are all watching today is the beginning of the end of the US as a world leader unless electoral corruption stops. Because corruption has steadily spread since WWII, it is not something a few veterans could solve with equivalent means today.
Here’s the link to purchase The Battles of Athens at Amazon.
Okay, let’s talk some more about the other Anna Faktorovich… tell us about Anaphora Literary Press.
I started Anaphora when I started my Ph.D. in English studies back in 2009, and it has been steadily growing out of a scholarly journal, Pennsylvania Literary Journal (tri-annual, available on EBSCO, ProQuest, and in print), to over 50 books in print, including textbooks, poetry books, fiction, and reference books. Many of the writers have received glowing reviews, have been featured in local newspapers, have done readings and signings, and otherwise are successfully published. I have had over a dozen interns per semester working with me over the last year. One of these interns, Catherine Griffin, has an MS in journalism from Columbia University, and is currently doing an interview with Cinda Williams Chima, a New York Times best-selling YA fantasy author of the Heir chronicles, for my PLJ journal. The editorial board of this journal includes Davis Bunn, a novelist that has sold over 7 million copies.
I hope to grow Anaphora over the upcoming decades until it also has some best-sellers under its belt. For now, I’m working on at least three different jobs simultaneously to feed this goal. I teach college English full-time, publish critical and creative books and do freelance writing and editing, and work as the Director of Anaphora. These jobs sponsor my regular conference trips to the MLA, Tucson Festival of Books, etc. and mean that I focus on finding the best works in the market rather than solely looking out for profits with Anaphora. Many potential employers ask me why I feel compelled to do all three jobs simultaneously—well, it’s a tough market out there and the way to stay ahead of the competition is to have many safety nets. All of these three projects feed each other—to become a better writer I obtained a Ph.D., and to become a better professor I have to publish, and to become a better publisher I have to understand the business from a writer’s point of view. I have fun when I’m busy working. Those who are interested in starting an independent press should take a look at my Book Production Guide.
Here’s a link to the website: Anaphora Literary
Can you tell us about your other book projects?
As I mentioned earlier, McFarland is about to release my Rebellion as Genre in the Novels of Scott, Dickens and Stevenson academic book, www.mcfarlandpub.com. I’ve done several public workshops and lectures with the two editions of my Book Production Guide, which I initially wrote to explain my editing policies to my interns. In August 2011, I published my first poetry collection, Improvisational Arguments (Fomite Press), audiences were rolling with laughter when I read from it during my book tour in LA and Atlanta last year. I’ve also written the introductions and conducted interviews for around 10 issues of my Pennsylvania Literary Journal.
And what’s next for you? Got the next thing in mind yet?
Your Bostonian readers can meet me in person during a “Chat with an Editor” session I’m doing on Saturday, January 5, at 11am, at the MLA at the Sheraton in downtown Boston. This will be a session when I’ll give advice to writers and editors about different policies, guidelines etc. that are a part of my job as the Editor-in-Chief of Anaphora. If anybody plans to attend the Tucson Book Festival in March, 2013, I will be presenting in a panel on publishing, editing and writing.
I have a few publications that I’m working on this year. I’m under contract to publish a new book on current popular fiction with them, Formulaic Writing within Genres, next year; it covers genres like fantasy, science fiction, mystery, and romance. I have had some interest from Focus Publishing in my proposal, Creative Composition, a unique textbook for introductory composition classes.
I have written many novels, screenplays and other creative projects before that haven’t yet found a publisher. But, they are a bit dusty by now, so I plan on writing a new novel for a popular audience in the coming years; I might start it later this semester, if I have a moment between my other obligations. I hope to find a tenure-track academic job for next year that would allow me more time to focus on fun projects like this Battle for Athens poetry book.
Thanks so much for taking time out of what looks like a very busy schedule to talk to us!!
It has been a pleasure. I hope to speak with you again when my next creative project is released.
Small Press Bookwatch: December 2012
The Poetry Shelf
By: James A. Cox, Editor-in-Chief
Battle for Athens by Anna Faktorovich
“What we left behind is not always what we return to. ‘Battle for Athens’ is a collection of poetry from Anna Faktorovich, who uses her poetry to tell the story of World War II veterans returning to Athens, Tennessee, to a city run by a corrupted government. Telling of the veterans rising up politically, then arming themselves violently, ‘Battle for Athens’ is a riveting twist of poetry with an enticing premise, much recommended…”
On “Battle for Athens” by Anna Faktorovich
Review by: Aline Soules
In the long tradition of narrative poetry, this work will stand out as a worthy addition. The story is clear: In Athens, Tennessee, in 1946, having fought long and hard in World War II, American GIs found themselves once again in battle, this time at home, fighting against political corruption and election fraud. The triumphant part of this story is that in Athens, the veterans succeeded in establishing a fair election. In other cities across the nation, this was not the case.
Writing historical narrative poetry requires a challenging combination of dispassion in the story telling and passion in the stance that the story takes. Faktorovich achieves both. Each poem can be read as a unique element; together, they create the full story and indict the power that corrupts. Further, Faktorovich implies a strong analogy to the processes in
which we engage today, questioning our country’s motives and encouraging the reader to think.
Poetically, this work is dense, telling in carefully crafted and pithy sentences the story and its implications. Historical black and white photographs enhance the poetry with images of the time, but the most memorable are those with close-ups of people where the reader can see the intensity in their faces. The combination of poetry and image presents a stark
and unvarnished view of this story and forces the reader to think long and hard about where we have been and where we are going.
Aline Soules’ work has appeared in numerous journals and anthologies. Poems from Evening Sun have appeared in Kaleidowhirl, Reed, and Houston Literary Review. Prose poems from Meditation on Woman have appeared in Poetry Midwest, Newport Review, and Kenyon Review.
Interview author of Elvis Presley’s Hips & Mick Jagger’s Lips, poet Susana H. Case
Susana H. Case is the rock n roll poet behind a good number of poetry collections, including Salem In Seance, The Cost of Heat, and the upcoming Elvis Presley’s Hips & Mick Jagger’s Lips. Her poetry has been published through Nostrovia! Poetry and Anaphora Literary Press, along with a variety of journals. You can read Nano Elvis, a Nano Poem Collection, online, free.
Here’s a poem, and an interview I recently had with her. [Poem at bottom]
1) What are you currently up to?
I’m well into two projects. One series of poems is a continuation of my interest in poetry related in some way to, or inspired by, rock n roll, a sort of second volume to the forthcoming Elvis Presley’s Hips & Mick Jagger’s Lips. The other series is a continuation of my interest in using history in poetry. I’m working on a series related to labor history and copper mining. Most of what I currently write falls into one or another of these bins, though there are exceptions.
2) Salem In Séance looks pretty unique. What attracted you to writing about witchcraft and witch trials?
The Salem witchcraft trials is one of those subjects that is always going to be fodder for poetry, novels, plays, nonfiction. It’s easy to find a connection between events then and events now.
It’s like when Arthur Miller wrote his play, The Crucible, in the nineteen-fifties. The United States was in the middle of McCarthyism. Miller could see a connection between the past and the nineteen-fifties in the misuse of political power. So could I when I began working on Salem in Séance. The political extremism of this country’s right wing, the religious fundamentalism, the targeting of women all caused me to draw parallels between then and now.
3) You’re the poet behind Nostrovia! Poetry’s 2nd Nano Poem Collection, Nano Elvis. Among your poems, you have quite a collection regarding music and rock n roll (like Things Called Love). What inspired you to start writing about music?
Because rock n roll (and rhythm and blues also to some extent) is the music I grew up with, every significant experience in my life is somehow connected to a song or a collection of rock songs. When I remember events from my biography, there’s a soundtrack attached.
So, in a way, rock music is always on my mind and I wanted to do something with that. I enjoyed—and continue to enjoy—the process of using the music in the songs to inform the music I strive to hear in my poems. It’s just fun, thinking about rock in this way too, as a device, not solely as a part of my history.
4) When you begin a collection, do you have a theme in your head before you start writing, or does the premise slowly evolve over time?
Sometimes when I start writing, I do variations on the theme, and if I do enough variations, I begin to think about a collection. Usually, whatever I do starts as an individual poem. Several different things can then happen; I’m done, I’ve got more I want to play with, I’ve got A LOT more I want to do.
With historical poetry, I generally know there will be a series because I can see how much note- taking I’m doing in my research. With the rock n roll poems, there isn’t the same kind of research because I lived it. I wrote some rock poems here and there, and after a while, I realized I had a large number of them. There wasn’t the same conscious creation of a narrative trajectory to begin with. That came later when I organized the poems into a book.
5) What’s your writing process like?
It’s fairly structured.
I can be completely in outer space before I have a basic framework down. Once I have that, then I can go work with my students, go out to a movie, do other things, and come back to flesh out the poem, but I like to have something in my head to start hanging my thoughts on.
The rewriting process is more brutal. Sometimes, there’s little to preserve from the early drafts. I think of it as Revision Hell because that’s what it feels like. Sometimes it feels good to physically tear a poem file up and put the file into the trash bin on my desktop–a total obliteration.
6) Preferred writing tool? Pen, pencil, or computer?
If I have really good notes–usually done by pen–of where I want to go, I can sit down at a keyboard and see the poem begin to take form. Otherwise, I start with a pen and when the page gets so marked up that I’m afraid I won’t be able to read my own line and word rearrangements and other changes, I keyboard it in and then start marking the page up by pen again. I don’t think I own a pencil.
7) Who are your favorite writers? Who would be considered your main source of inspiration?
This varies weekly. I admire the way Sharon Olds writes about her personal life, in particular an older poem of hers, “I Go Back to May 1937.” I enjoy David Kirby for his hyper-drive narrative style. Philip Levine too.
But the writer who convinced me in high school that I wanted to write was Langston Hughes. Now he’s someone who was skilled at incorporating a sense of music into his poems!
Other early favorites were Kenneth Rexroth, Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Allen Ginsberg. I wanted to be a beatnik, but I was born too late. There were hardly any left.
8) I’m a fan of the Beat generation myself. Ginsberg’s Kaddish was especially moving. What exactly spurred you into writing?
I wrote poetry in college, and before that. My father had been a writer before he became an English teacher. I thought this was what everybody did, although I don’t understand how I thought that when no other teenager I knew was doing it.
It’s one of the reasons I’m intrigued by Nostrovia! Poetry because it seems to offer a community to young writers. I could have used that; I probably would have felt less alienated.
I stopped writing poetry for a time because I needed to write academic works to help develop my career, but when my academic writing ceased to be satisfying, I returned to poetry. By then, it was easier to find other poets.
That’s Alright Mama 2 by Susana H. Case
Rock music can inspire many things: dreams, adoration and very often creativity. In my interview with author Susana H. Case on March 24, 2013, we discussed her new book of poetry that pays homage to rock music and its artists, Elvis Presley‘s Hips & Mick Jagger‘s Lips, released by Anaphora Literary Press on April 1, 2013.
Q: What gave you the idea to do a book of poems about rock music?
A: I grew up with rock music, so when I think about significant events in my life, there’s frequently a soundtrack attached, and it’s always a soundtrack of rock songs. Rock songs tell so many stories, not only my own. I’ve been writing music-inspired poems since about 2007 and at one point, I realized I had enough of them to be thinking about a cohesive series.
Q: As a poet, do you often hear pop song lyrics that you think could compare with the world’s finest poetry?
A: Maybe not the world’s finest poetry, because the structure is different, but poetic—yes, definitely. Song lyrics tend to be simpler. The repetitions are also simpler. But I don’t want to over-generalize. Both poets and lyricists are interested in some of the same things: meter, sound, condensed meaning. And some rock songs do have rather complex lyrics. Amy Winehouse’s “Back to Black,” for example is a pretty complex song.
Q: Why do you think people become so emotionally attached to rock stars?
A: That I can’t answer. The whole cult of celebrity confuses me. Maybe we all want to actually be rock stars. I address the theme of fandom only in one poem, “The Crowd That Was Sedated,” and that poem, about the Ramones, who went to the same high school as I did, is really more about my attempt to align my own life’s trajectory to the symbols of success in front of me. But maybe that’s all the emotional attachment is about anyway.
Q: Do you think rock music can be a good source of inspiration for writers in general? If so is there a particular artist you would recommend?
A: I think Leonard Cohen is one of the more poetic song writers. Bob Dylan as well. In my collection, there’s a poem about Dylan’s switching from a strictly folk sound to electric and the way it paralleled the break up of my first marriage. I haven’t written a Leonard Cohen poem yet. But really, he writes his own.
Q: Do you think it’s a struggle for artists to create songs that have both the potential for commercial success and artistic merit?
A: I think it’s a struggle to create either, therefore, it’s a bigger struggle to create both at the same time. But there are more opportunities now than there were historically. In the early history of rock music, songs recorded by rhythm and blues groups were “covered” by white groups. The original recordings were almost always artistically superior, but the white groups got more airplay. This changed once music began to cross over socially-constructed racial boundaries.
Q: What are your future writing plans?
A: I’m working on two series: one is a continuation of my rock and roll poems. I have too many to fit into one book, and I continue to write them, so there will be a second collection. The other project that I’m working on is labor history-based. I’m interested in using history to inform my poetry and I’ve been working on a series about copper mining and the early history of attempts to unionize the copper miners, a history fraught with much drama and tragedy. Two very different projects, but there is drama and tragedy in both!
In my interview with Case, we discussed her book and her writing process.
Q: Would you say that you’re a fan of all the artists who inspired Elvis Presley’s Hips & Mick Jagger’s Lips?
A: Some more than others. And there’s music I love very much which never ended up being a source of inspiration for the poems in the book. For example, Blondie and Queen didn’t make it into this collection, yet they are both inspirational to me in my work. They will be in my next volume of rock poems, I’m pretty sure.
Q: Which part of Elvis Presley’s Hips & Mick Jagger’s Lips did you enjoy working on the most?
A: That’s a hard question. I’m not sure. The book is divided into three sections. I didn’t want to call the sections “Sex,” “Drugs,” and “Rock and Roll,” because those labels are trite by now. But they mirror those themes to some degree. I decided instead on “The Honey Thing,” “Mood Alteration,” and “Do a Song About It.” “Mood Alteration” also incorporates emotional shifts and “Do a Song About It” contains a lot of thematic content about the music business. Some of my favorites are in each section. But I wanted to write about musicians and the business, and not just write about myself. So I enjoyed going back and forth between poems with the pronoun, “I,” and those that were constructed differently.
Q: What was the most challenging thing about writing Elvis Presley’s Hips & Mick Jagger’s Lips?
A: The challenge is always to whip disparate poems into a narrative that tells a story of some sort. When I was growing up, I wanted for a period of time to be a songwriter. It was important for me to remind myself while I was organizing the book that I was not that songwriter, but—someone entirely different—a poet. I also had to get past the notion that every favorite musician of mine had to be in the book. I had to go with what worked for the narrative. There will be other books.
Q: Who do you see as your audience for Elvis Presley’s Hips & Mick Jagger’s Lips?
A: The audience for poetry is usually other poets, but I’m always looking for ways to expand my audience and I think that those interested in rock and roll would also be interested in this book. I think it can be instructive also, as a sort of ekphrastic work, to see the way in which the music becomes the muse, if not always what is directly addressed as the subject of the poem.
Q: What do you hope readers take away from this book?
A: I hope they are entertained by the funny parts, that they think about the other parts, and that it stimulates more poetry based upon music—all kinds of music—which I’m a big fan of. I think there’s also a lot of information embedded in the poems, about what life was like in the seventies, as well as other decades, about the trajectories of various musical careers, about the way in which early rock music emerged from rhythm and blues, for example.
Q: Do you think there is a real difference between a poet and a lyricist or do you see them working at essentially the same craft?
A: The requirements are different, though both work at condensing. But the ways line and sound and rhythm are used are different in both, though there is overlap in what is paid attention to. I think some of my lines could be parts of songs. And I think there are lines of songs that could easily be poems. Pink Floyd comes to mind here. Think about the lines of “Brain Damage,” for example. Those lines contain more rhyme than most contemporary poetry, but “Brain Damage” is a very poetic song.
Published on March 25, 2013 08:14
Susana H. Case participated in the Next Big Thing Blog Hop to discuss her new Anaphora Literary Press book, Elvis Presley’s Hips & Mick Jagger’s Lips. March, 2013.
What is the working title of your book?
My second book of poems will be officially released on April 1st by Anaphora Literary Press. It’s called Elvis Presley’s Hips & Mick Jagger’s Lips. Can you guess the subject matter of the poems?
Where did the idea come from for the book?
I grew up with rock and roll as background music to every significant event of my life. There’s a running soundtrack to my memories, though I don’t think I ever thought to use rock music in a poem until about 2007. Rock songs for me are like writing prompts. I can think about one or listen to one and there will be some associative action in my brain that will lead to a poem. Maybe the poem will be explicitly inspired by the song, or maybe it’s just a series of hypertext links in my thoughts that lead to a seemingly unrelated idea. When I get stuck, I just pull out some music.
What genre does your book fall under?
Poetry. There are several prose poems in this book as well.
Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
They would have to be actors that could sing, preferably actors that had also been rockers. Of course, there’s Elvis, but he’s dead now and the dying wasn’t pretty. I definitely would choose actors more glam. Maybe Courtney Love, not for the glam, but because she surprised people in “The People Vs. Larry Flynt” by being able to act and for her ability to survive. Maybe Deborah Harry, but she played a sadomasochistic psychiatrist the last time I saw her in a film and well, that’s just not me. Mick Jagger’s in the book and he can be in my movie rendition any time he wants.
What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
Sex, drugs, and rock and roll, mixed in with a little psychological and social unraveling, but that’s a little too trite for my taste, so I don’t call it any of those things.
Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
Neither. My book was published by a small literary press whose director is Anna Faktorovich. They publish poetry, novels and short stories, plus a few other categories.
How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
Though I’d been writing rock and roll poems since 2007, I didn’t think about a manuscript until 2011. So I could say it took about a year. I could also say it took decades of experience. Between the time I wrote the first rock and roll poem and the time I had a draft, I published chapbooks and also a full-length poetry book on completely different subjects. I also put together another manuscript, which got slated for a later publication date (in 2014 by Mayapple Press). So the sequence was not a linear one.
What other books would you compare this book to within your genre?
Well, I’m not sure it’s for me to say, but when I started to realize a manuscript was going to cohere, the first thing I did was to re-read Cornelius Eady’s The Autobiography of a Jukebox and Victims of the Latest Dance Craze to re-familiarize myself with what he had done.
Who or what inspired you to write this book?
My poems were screaming to be included in a book. And I have enough rock and roll poems that aren’t in the book for another book, which is my next project. So it was getting noisy in my file cabinet and also in my head. It’s a way of writing about my experience, but also getting away from myself and writing about musicians. I don’t always like to write poems with the pronoun “I” in them, so this book enabled me to do both.
What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
Well, if the reader gets bored (heaven forbid) with the poems, he or she can always play the game of trying to identify all the images on the front and back of the cover. It’s seriously difficult and I am still not sure who that is in the marijuana-leaf-design stole over near the right-hand border of the front of the cover, so if anyone reading this does know, please email me, okay?
Friday, May 10, 2013
ELVIS PRESLEY’S HIPS & MICK JAGGER’S LIPS
Poetry book inspired by people, places encountered in travel
Oxford professor publishes book of poetry inspired by travels abroad
Oxford College professor Lucas Carpenter recently published, “The Way Things Go and Other Poems.” (Special Photo)
Oxford College English professor Lucas Carpenter has written in many forms, from short story to biography, but poetry is unique in that it forces him to process the human condition through both his imagination and reality.
“I really find poetry to be the most challenging genre to work with. I started writing poetry while I was in college and I’ve been publishing poetry steadily through,” Carpenter, 66, said from his Newton County home. “I just really feel that is the appropriate means by which I can address those things of genuine concern to me.”
In April, Carpenter published “The Way Things Go and Other Poems,” through Anaphora Literary Press, a set of 56 poems that he’s written over the last decade.
A third of the book, titled “Unholy Land,” is devoted to poems inspired by a recent trip he took to Israel. Carpenter said that section is the “centerpiece” of the book.
One of his favorite poems in that section is the “Jerusalem Syndrome,” named after a psychosis developed by some people who visit the Holy Land. They wrap themselves in sheets from their hotel and walk through the streets as they imagine themselves as a biblical character, like John the Baptist, the Virgin Mary and even Jesus.
“Both the Israeli and the Palestinian police know about it and know how to respond to it,” said Carpenter, who added that the disturbed people are sent to a hospital, provided with medication and typically calm down.
Poems such as “Checkpoint” and “At the Assassination Spot” highlight the violence can erupt in the Holy Land and commentaries on the commercialization of the Holy Land come through in poems like, “Stations of the Cross.”
“The poems are very ambivalent about the whole nature of Israel but they are also reflections on the places that figure so prominently in Western history and Judaism and Christianity and Islam,” Carpenter said.
Another favorite of Carpenter’s is “The Way Things Go,” a portrait of a man who plans to shoot his neighbor’s dog for killing his cat. The poem won an honorable mention from the W.B. Yeats Society of New York in its 2011 poetry competition.
Other poems include observations of trips he took to the Ukraine, presenting visions of stark poverty, violence and Communist rule.
The poem “Babi Yar” discusses the slaughter of men, women and children gunned down and thrown into a pit by Nazi soldiers during WWII. About 34,000 died over a period of two days, shot in groups of 10, the poem says. Carpenter said they kept the soldiers drunk to do the job, but that only worked for so long.
“They could spend about 30 minutes shooting the machine guns, before they cracked up,” Carpenter said.
Another poem references Amsterdam, where he stayed in a hotel room in which Adolf Hitler had stayed, inspiring the poem, “Rooming with Adolf.”
“As soon as I’m in the room, I’m thinking ‘Good God, I’m sharing the same space as Hitler did during the war,’” said Carpenter, whose poem talks about the nightmare he has while sleeping in the room.
Other poems touch on the Vietnam War, in which he fought from 1969 to 1970, and the Holocaust.
“It still frightens me … that it doesn’t take much to get people to do this,” Carpenter said of the Holocaust.
“A native of Elberton and a professor at Oxford since 1985, Carpenter holds a bachelor’s degree from the College of Charleston, a master’s degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a Ph.D. from the State University of New York at Stony Brook.
“He is the author of “John Gould Fletcher and Southern Modernism,” and general editor of a seven-volume series devoted to Fletcher. He’s also written books of poetry, “A Year for the Spider,” about his experiences in Vietnam, and “Perils of the Affect.”
“Carpenter, who has lived in Newton County for 29 years, teaches English and creative writing at Oxford College of Emory University. He plans on donating the proceeds from “The Way Things Go” to a scholarship fund for students at the college. The book sells for $15 and can be purchased through Amazon.
“He said poetry is a distillation of all of his experiences in life and he is enlightened by the process and the final product every time.
“Each time you create a work of art, you learn something about yourself,” Carpenter said.
14 August 2013, 10:28
[Following is the official OnlineBookClub.org review of “The Journals of Lt. Kendall Everly: A Story of the American Civil War” by S. Thomas Summers.]
Wow. This compelling book follows Lt. Kendall Everly from his classroom to the Civil War battle lines. Since this book is written as a series of free-verse poetry journal entries, we get a first person view of Everly’s physical and mental journey from a classroom teacher to a Lieutenant in the Union Army. The Journals of Lt. Kendall Everly: A Story of the American Civil War by S. Thomas Summers is an amazing read for everyone. I rate this book 4 out of 4 stars.
I have never read a Civil War tale that moved me the way that this one did. I have never read a Civil War tale that was written as a series of free-verse poetry journal entries. The journal is broken into five sections. A letter is included at the end. This structure gets the reader emotionally involved with Everly’s external and internal struggles.
The journal begins on April 1, 1861. This section is called “The Pacifist”. Kendal Everly and his students are safe in his classroom. His students are excited about the war, but they have no idea exactly what this war is going to give and take away from them. Then he decides to enlist in the Union army. His decision makes him think of the innocent way his children mimic the soldiers they admire.
As he dons his Union uniform, the reader enters the “In the Blue Suit” section of his journal. His first journal entry, after he enters the army, is dated May 25, 1861. Summers brings in allusions to adventurers and Greek gods. The sword he carries on his hip becomes Zeus’ lightning bolt and the gold buttons on his suit are the eyes of Ares. On their down time, the students ask Everly to tell them tales of Robin Hood and The Musketeers. He hopes that they will be as victorious as the heroes in stories he tells.
This book would be a wonderful addition to a Civil War collection or on the shelves of a classroom. So much knowledge can be farmed from this work of literature. Besides the knowledge, the emotional conversation you can have this text is one worth having. I rate this book 3 out of 4 stars.
Review by: Valeria A.
Earth And Below by Susana H. Case. Anaphora Literary Press. 103 pgs.
This is an incredibly important book about organizing labor and copper workers. Its illustrations could make up a history course. Its writing could change a world view of inequities.