April 7, 2013

Scissortail Creative Writing Festival, April 4, Morning Readings

This festival has been held on the campus of East Central University in Ada, Oklahoma for 8 years now, & I first attended it 2 years ago. It is more than just a "festival," it is a community of writers -- of fiction, non-fiction, children's book, & of course poetry. The writers come from all over the country, but with a concentration of writers from the Oklahoma, Texas & around the Southwest. There are no workshops, just readings -- writers reading to writers, & a marvelous book table run efficiently & pleasantly by staff & students from the school. The event is run each year by Ken Hada, whom Albany folks will remember from his reading last summer at Caffè Lena.

Both morning readings today were in the Estep Auditorium of the Cole University Center. The first reader was Jason Poudrier, an Iraq war veteran who is now a high school teacher, & whose work I first heard some years back at the Oklahoma Labor Fest. His book Red Fields (Mongrel Empire Press, 2012) is a favorite of mine. His poems mix his military experience ("Subject of Merriment," "Dream Song Delta 139," "The Bet," etc.) with being back home in Oklahoma & memories ("Off Road Cab-Over Camper"), even a poem titled "Modern Art."

John Yozzo, another Oklahoma poet, began with a funny, up-beat introduction, then on to a somber poem written here 6 years ago, "Saugers," for a dead friend. He read love poems, such as "Nuptials," "Evaluations," & "Marry Me" (which he called a "tumbler poem" since he doesn't use punctuation & the words just tumble down the page), & middle-age poems, such as "Seeking Wisdom" & "Death Before Dishonor, or Dying Before Retirement," as well as poems mixing the 2 themes.

Mary Kay Zuravlett read from her second novel, The Bowl is Already Broken, involving a woman who works in a museum in Washington, D.C. on illuminations in ancient manuscripts of Rumi's poetry. The section she read was about the woman's family & their dinner, touched with humor & mild satire of affluent life.

The 2nd session of the morning was introduced by Steve Benton who puts up the Scissortail Blog.

The first reader was novelist & short story writer Andrew Geyer. He read from a new, unpublished story cycle, the last story "Lament for a Larcenist" about an uncle & his money & life of crime, contrasted to the narrator's fathers' sweat & dirt work ethic. Good writing springing from from life & the experiences of growing up poor & working hard.

I had heard Ben Myers read here 2 years ago & a poem he read read today, "The City Dump," was one I remember him reading then. He read from his just published collection Lapse Americana (NYQ Books, 2013). The poems were of memory ("Speak House," "Trampoline") & growing up,  of being with his daughter at the county fair, even a sonnet, "Wanderlust." I especially liked his poem "Pep Talk," about writing, vision & being -- & I bought the book.

I had also met Rilla Askew (& her husband Paul Austin, who also read in the Festival), 2 years ago here, & about couple weeks ago at Sylvia Barnard's book-signing at the Book House I saw a prominent display of Rilla's latest novel, Kind of Kin (Ecco/HarperCollins). She & Paul spend several months a year (in the Summer, of course) in Woodstock, NY. Today she read a section of the novel, a rural courtroom scene. The novel is set in 2008 & deals with the issue of undocumented workers in the Southwest.

Then off to take a break for lunch, shop the book table, hang out with the readers & writers.

Full bios of the authors can be found here at the Scissortail Creative Writing Festival Blog.

[Note: this is a first of a series of a number of articles on the Scissortail Festival. Keep checking back periodically for further reports.]

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