April 1, 2011

Scissortail Creative Writing Festival, March 31

Day 1, at East Central University, Ada, Oklahoma.

I'm just a newby here at this 6th Annual gathering, but damn am I having a great time! It's not just the readings, but the "hang-time" with anyone you want to meet, & a poetry table that will keep you busy for the next year.

The first reading was in the Estep Auditorium at the campus center, with Ken Hada doing the intros (Ken is the head-waters of this festival, the god-father, the shaman, the head honcho, i.e., he makes it happen). The first poet up was Shirley Hall reading from her book, Listen, with direct, social action poems inspired by news stories that she includes as citations before & after each poem, on issues like the death penalty ("Judicial Homiside"), the homeless & their right to vote, & missionaries who give out Bibles instead of food to starving people. What a great way to start!

George McCormick read a prose narrative, "The Mexican," in the voice of a young boy, loading ice into boxcars, then the lying version of the tale the boy tells his children.

Ken Hada gave a relaxed reading of his poems with images drawn from the natural world around him, birds & fish, but also the human observer, & with a touch of humor. "Leveling" is a fine poem
(that can be found in the anthology Ain't Nobody that Can Sing Like Me: New Oklahoma Writing (Mongrel Empire Press, 2010), edited by Jeanetta Calhoun Mish) about the mixing of everybody at a blues festival in Bricktown in Oklahoma City. He also included a poem that is a favorite of Larry Thomas, the Poet Laureate of Texas, (about whom more later) "Hands."

After a break, the next session was introduced by Joshua Grasso, a professor of 19th century literature, who regretted that his field did not give him the luxury of inviting Jane Austen to read at such literary festivals as this. He introduced Alan Berecka who grew up north of Utica, NY, but now lives in Corpus Christi, TX. Alan was just the first of former/part-time New Yorkers I was surprised to meet here in the middle of the country. He read from his book, Remembering the Body. His poems often used humor, often about religion (like “McDemption” & the title poem), with some touching poems about his relationship with his father, & with his children. He paid tribute to the Texas Poet Laureate, Larry Thomas (again), with "The Texas Poet’s Lariat.”

Another partial New York, but native Oklahoman, novelist Rilla Askew read the first chapter of novel-in-progress, untitled so far, set in the recent past, told from the viewpoint of a 10 year-old boy, visiting his Grandpa in jail for smuggling Mexicans.

I had met Jim Spurr last year when I was last in Oklahoma & found out that he also runs an open mic on the Third Thursday of the month, in Shawnee, OK. He read poems about growing up in both halves of the 1940’s, the war part & the peace part. His poems are mostly working class narratives, tinged with humor. I particularly enjoyed “Curmudgeons Always Win” (about telling friend he was a published poet). He ended with ironic poem on the end of World War II, “The New Life,” a powerful anti-war poem.

After lunch we had the unfortunate prospect of choosing between competing sessions, either in the Estep Auditorium or the North Lounge. I stayed at the Auditorium to hear a young poet I met last year who read powerful, moving & graphic poems about serving in Iraq in 2003 in the early days of the invasion. Jason Poudrier read from his chapbook, In the Rubble at Our Feet, which has a blurb from me on the back cover, from my comments on his reading last year. He also included poems of his from the anthology, Ain’t Nobody That Can Sing Like Me, as well as others from a forthcoming book; I particularly liked “Iraqis” with it’s image of children on the streets as soldiers drive by with guns sticking out the window.

J. Don Cook is a journalist & photographer who read an essay about his experience in covering the famine in Ethiopia in the 1980s, as well as a couple poems.

Ben Myers read poems from his book, Elegy for Trains, about memory & the past, such as the humorous “Poets with Happy Childhoods,” as well as poems about his home state, “Bury Me in Oklahoma” & “The City Dump.”

I chose to attend the second afternoon reading that included 3 poets from the anthology (& got them to sign my copy). Jane Vincent Taylor read one of her “sonnets from childhood” other poems about teaching, about superstitions (“Everyday Beliefs”), about her writing friends, & a dream about her union-member father.

Jeanne Dunbar-Green read a short story, “Since It’s You and All” that I had just read the night before in the anthology. Nice to hear it in her country accent.

Arn Henderson read in a slow, careful, undramatic manner that didn’t detract from his vivid poems, such as the one about a woman who made a quilt from her dead husband’s clothes, and actually worked quite well with his spare descriptions of Oklahoma places in “Base Line & Meridian,” based on surveys that form the grid that is Oklahoma.

The long-range planning that such a festival entails is fraught with changes. The featured reader for this first night was a late fill-in when the writer originally scheduled had to back out. Susan Parabo was an excellent choice nonetheless, reading “Treasure,” a short story she wrote 5 or 6 years ago, but appearing now in a new collection of her short stories. It is a tale of high-school/teenage love, that she read well. And the question & answer period after included some insightful questions on her method & writing habits.

The festival was off to a fantastic start & I was already glad I made the trip.

No comments: