April 3, 2011

Day 2, Scissortail Creative Writing Festival, April 1 (the day sessions)

Day 2, & already so great that if I had gone home last night the trip would have been worth it -- but there is much more to come. But 2 concurrent sessions in the morning & 2 concurrent sessions in the afternoon are more than a single person can attend (some folks who are here as a couple actually split it up). I opted for the morning sessions in the Estep Auditorium, the first MC’ed by English professor Mindie Dieu (who was also helping out at the book table, where I first encountered her).

Dorothy Alexander read first. I had heard Dorothy read last year at a poetry reading that was part of the Oklahoma Labor Fest. Throughout the Scissortail Festival she wore a large silver peace symbol on a chain around her neck. She read 2 moving segments from a memoir about her son dying of AIDS, beautifully written as only a poet used to dealing in images could do.

The second author, Bayard Godsave, from Cameron University, also read a prose piece, this a grim science-fiction piece set in Paris after a global nuclear war, full of sickness & death.

The next reading session, introduced by ECU professor & novelist Jim Hunter, was less grim.

Carol Coffee Reposa, from San Antonio, Texas, read a series of poems that had “reading” in common. “One Night in a Cheap Hotel” referenced Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” even the title, while “How to Stop War” proposed using classical music (sounds good to me!), & “Song for New Orleans” was a “Katrina poem” that found Walt Whitman walking around the city.

Paul Austin was another of the New Yorkers I found at this festival; he is married to Rilla Askew & they spend part of their time in OK & part in the Catskills of New York State. He read poems set in Houston (“Rothko Chapel”), Boston (“Chet Baker’s Return”) & NYC (“A Not Famous Actor”). Perhaps because he is an actor himself, he gave one of the more spirited performances of the festival so far.

There was a schedule change for the mid-day featured reading when the scheduled writer had to cancel at the last minute, so Ken adroitly moved up a couple of the afternoon readers.

Melissa Morphew read mostly from her new collection Bluster, which she described as different from other work, this based on her life. “Mea Culpa” is about grade-school cruelty; “My Own Private Tennessee” (where she grew up) was an anaphoric compilation of her memories, each line beginning “Because…”

Joey Brown began with some poems from a new collection, mostly narrative, descriptive works, but “The Cleaning House List” was a funny piece about making lists, with every item “#1”. She also read from Oklahomagraphy, with a number of poems about driving, including “Ass-Kicking Red-Neck Bitch,” & the mix of poetry & flash fiction describing a small town moment in time, “July.”

After lunch at La Fiesta Mexican restaurant, 7 poets all talking at once, good food & cheap beer, back for the afternoon readings in the North Lounge.

The first reader was Elizabeth Raby. I had met Elizabeth & her husband Jim early on & we had just had lunch together. She was another of the transplanted New Yorkers, having gone to Vassar College. They now live in Sante Fe. There was a great variety to her poems, beginning with a “found poem” that she had overheard on a bus. There was a touching poem to her husband about how she didn’t want him to die first, while “January 25, 2011” celebrated her 70th birthday & the Egyptian revolution, while birds entered her poems on occasion.

Jason Roberts read a prose piece, “Donovan,” that he said was inspired by a song by the Ozark Mountain Daredevils; the story told by a young boy who catches his mother banging the title character.

High school teacher Jordan Jacobs poems, which he said were “mostly new,” were filled with longing & love, but with an often grim view, as in “I Like My Coffee Like I Like My Women: Barefoot & Pregnant,” or “A Thing Better” about a crush on a bartender. He’s young, he’ll get over it (or not), & hopefully continue to write poems.

Jim Hunter was doing the intros for the next session, also in the North Lounge. He is a novelist who I first met last year hanging out in a bar in Ada, also had lived in NYC (& New Jersey) & now teaches at ECU. He was also in the group that I ran into in the lobby of the hotel that ended up over beers & pizza at Papa Gjorjo’s (more on that later). Unfortunately, I missed his reading -- choices, choices.

Abigail Keegan is another poet I had met in Oklahoma last year, at the Coffey’s Café reading to kick off the Oklahoma Labor Fest; she also has poems in the anthology. She read from her new book just out Depending Upon the Weather. When we think of “Nature poems” we think of birds, of trees, but for Keegan “Nature” is big: as in “Oklahoma Salt Plains,” “The Mesa,” & the rugged geography of Scotland in “Immortality.”

Al Turner (also in the big anthology) combined memoir, poems & a (mock) sermon for a spirited, at times hilarious performance. His memoir was about being “The World’s Worst Paperboy.” His poems included a series of short, 4 - 6 line poems including one where he argues with poet Ron Wallace. But his “Brother Al’s Sermon” brought down the house. When he read his poems it was in his “Presbyterian” voice, but Brother Al spoke with a rich Okie accent, an unlearned, frontier preacher, preaching from “blind inspiration” (i. e., ignorance) on the text of Acts 2:40.

Phil Estes, a younger poet, was more edgy, with modern poems filled with free association, & he was loud. He included a series of short prose poems based on movie titles, but not necessarily about the movies themselves. His “Oklahoma poems” included one about a pit-bull tied outside a house in his neighborhood, & an attempt at a real nature poem, a pond near his home, “Oklahoma Larks, Phoenixes, Albatrosses.”

& then it was time for a break -- lots of words to process, a long table of books to peruse, & time for a beer.

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