April 12, 2015

Scissortail Creative Writing Festival - Final Morning Sessions, April 4

Sunny Smith moderated the 1st morning session, of this, the last day of Scissortail.

 Rob Roensch was the first reader with a short story “The Second Most Improved Shoegaze Band in Edmond, Oklahoma” about traveling with the band around Oklahoma, filled with humorous situations, conversations among the band members, outrageous metaphors with an undercurrent of tenderness. Having traveled around with the poetry performance group 3 Guys from Albany, albeit somewhat more aging & greying poets, rather than 20-something rockers, I recognized a lot of the banter, the late night discussions. A very entertaining piece of writing.

Interestingly enough, the next reader, LeAnne Howe, was born in Edmond, Oklahoma; she is a member of the Choctaw Nation. Her work mostly deals with the experiences of Native people. Today she read from a new collection of poems in novel form “Savage Conversations,” based on the 1875 mental health records of Mary Todd Lincoln. It is set in the mental hospital & peopled by figures in her hallucinations, a “savage Indian” & a “wandering Jew” whom Mary Todd accuses of stealing her money. Also worked in are images from the President’s murder, often in conversation with her hallucinations.

Jerry Bradley's work was considerably lighter with poems as stories, often funny narratives. Two main themes that emerged were school poems (“Fire Prevention Week, “Burning Love” in the 5th grade, & “Primer” about falling in love with his 3rd grade teacher), & poems about relationships (“First Marriage” on Freudian slips, a fight with his wife ”In My Place,” & “Divining with Love”). There were also poems re-telling fairy tales (Cinderella & Rumplestilskins), & a moving piece at the “Chemo Ward at Texas Children’s Hospital.”

Leslie Ullman was perhaps the most “serious” reader of the Festival, beginning with the quiet “Undertow” & the pensive/descriptive “Water Music.” At one point the poet told us we should not clap, but then muddied the issue by saying it was OK if we wanted to, then dissipated into indifference. The audiences here have been uneven & inconsistent about clapping after each poem & I suspect it had to do with the make up of the listeners; from my experience I have found that in general listeners at “academic” readings tend not to clap after each poem, while those at community readings tend to clap after each poem. Anyway, her poems inclined to the more quietly philosophical, such as “Consider Desire” & the series of daily poems “A Crown of Speculation” for which there was a more quiet audience reaction.

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Ken Hada, Scissortail’s head honcho & shaman was the moderator for the final reading session (before the last featured reader & conclusion of what Ken called “a listening Festival,” as indeed it is). This was a lively & engaging set of poets to bring it on home, as they say at blues concert.

Speaking of the Blues, Donald Levering gave a reading of poems all linked to music. In fact he could have walked off after his first poem, “Before the Blues Blues,” a stunning rich stew of musical history linked by repeated phrases & lines, which he followed up by more of the same kind of expansive musical history list in “Barrelhouses.” There was a poem on John Coltrane, another on old time/country music, a poem about the old piano in his house, another on the movie “The Man With the Golden Arm” (a great jazz soundtrack), & another, “The Sounding,” about a woman composer, & the sounds of whales.

Carol Coffee Reposa followed with a rich & varied set of poems, from sonnets about the English Tudors, to the lovely “Serenade” which is a love poem to her grandparents. She included poems for her son Adam (“Tattoo”) & another for her daughter (“Mother Arm”), but blew me away with a piece remembering a beloved uncle, mixing images of him in his casket with going to a baseball game & fancy dinners: “My Uncle’s Song,” incorporating lyrics to “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” it brought tears to my eyes.

Larry Thomas, another of the Texas Poet Laureates, has been a (welcome) perennial here, described as "a buffalo" by Ken in his introduction.  He read selections from 2 poetry collections. The Goatherd (Mouthfeel Press, 2014) is a series of poems inspired by an actual goatherd & meditates on “Billy,” “Nanny,” lush & sensuous “Goat Cheese,” even on the “Munificence” of their udders, their flesh & skin, their guts used for the strings of violins. He also read from Art Museums (Blue Horse Press, 2014), which is a tour of the light & architecture & paintings in museums ranging from Houston, Texas to Boston, New York City, Baltimore, Fort Worth & Chicago, with a marvelous photo on the cover by his wife.

I first met Dorothy Alexander when I visited Oklahoma for the first time, at a poetry reading & open mic held in conjunction with the Oklahoma Labor Fest in 2010. In addition to being an exuberant poet she is a practicing attorney & social justice activist. Her 2014 poetry chapbook Fractured Earth: A Prophecy (Village Books Press, Cheyenne, OK) is an indictment of the practice of fracking. It was hugely appropriate that she was the last reader in the Festival, before the final Feature. She said Scissortail was her "Christmas time," with Ken Hada as Santa Claus, & Professor Eril Hughes (who coordinated the book table & volunteers & more) as Chief Elf (Ken & Eril can be seen in the background of the photo of Dorothy). Dorothy’s poems commented on this spirit, about struggling against fear (“Whistling in the Dark”), then a poem that she described as her Ars Poetica on those things that inspire her, then a moving workplace poem in which she describes how she finds solace in her work as an attorney, & a love poem to her partner Devey, concluding, as we began back on Thursday morning, with a poem for Jim Spurr who has indeed been our Spirit Guide here these last few days, “Poets After Life.” Thank you Dorothy.

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