April 11, 2017

Scissortail Creative Writing Festival, Thursday, April 6 — Morning

Actually, I’m starting with Wednesday evening, the night before this festival that ran through Saturday, in Ada, Oklahoma at East Central University.

Albany poet Sally Rhoades & I flew down to this fantastic annual event that we both have attended for a number of years. After arriving on Wednesday evening at our respective hotels, we drove over to Polo, a Mexican restaurant on West Main St., to join festival Jefe Dr. Ken Hada & a grand cluster of poets & writers for a loud, convivial meal. We were joined by one of the festival’s featured writers, Patricia Hampl. Many of the attendees had been here previously, know each other, perhaps have traveled together, & so the meal was full of good-humor, teasing, faux (& perhaps real) insults, & just plain ole camaraderie, as well as the pleasure of making new friends.

Dr. Ken Hada (r.) & sign language interpreter
So the next morning we all gathered at the Estep Auditorium on the campus of ECU for the start of 2 1/2 days of readings by a variety of readings by writers of prose & poetry, for the 12th year of this annual festival. Some folks have asked me "why Oklahoma?"  I was drawn here when 3 Guys from Albany went to Albany, Oklahoma & were invited to be part of the Oklahoma Labor Fest in 2010, brought here by Jeanetta Calhoun Mish, who was recently named as the Oklahoma Poet Laureate. Through Jeanetta we met poet Ken Hada, as well as raft of Okie poets such as Ron Wallace, Dorothy Alexander, Johnie Catfish Mahan, & the late Jim Spurr.  I took the leapt to Ada, OK the following year — & I’ve never regretted it for nano-second. I’ve been here on the odd-numbered years since.

The first poet up, was Brady Peterson from Belton, TX. He began with a description of his home in a poem titled “Sand Creek Fault Lines.” Place, the great American theme of Whitman, Hart Crane, Charles Olson, & so many others, was just as pervasive here. He also read ekphrastic poems about French Impressionists, about punctuation & tequila, family memories & the marvelous poems “Chant” repeating the word soffit.

Rebecca Hatcher Travis is a proud citizen of the Chickasaw Nation, who read her poems in honor of her mother. She began from her book Picked Apart the Bones (Chickasaw Press, 2008), poems from studying the genealogy of her family. “Legacy” was about the land to pass on, “Seven Sisters Hill” about her mother, her aunts, & ”Remember This” about her people’s forced removable from the deep South to Oklahoma. She also read from a forthcoming collection Constant Fires, other poems about standing on Native ground, on Native wisdom & thought. Another new Oklahoma friend.

Michael Dooley read a prose memoir of his father & his grandmother, a family story of a fire & the origin of family strife, “Mary Mother Of…”

After a break we were back in the Estep Auditorium for three more readers. Various members of the ECU faculty serve as MCs for the sessions, this one by the wonderfully effusive Josh Grasso. First up was another of the Scissortail favorites, Elizabeth Raby, who read from her new book A Matter of Time. The poems included memories of her mother (“Multi-flora”), her earlier time in Burlington, VT (“Battery St.”) & a series of stories about her family, children & ex-husband. “My Hearing Aids” was a funny take on what is an all-too-common experience with many I saw in the audience.

Paul Bowers began with poems from his book, The Lone, Cautious, Animal Life (Purple Flag Press, 2016), poems that included swallows, horses, his daughter, even the Wildebeast. His new poems included one titled “An Oklahoma Poem that Makes No Mention of Tornados,” & one from newspaper headlines, “State Flu Deaths Double in a Week.”

Dorothy Alexander is one of the Oklahoma poets that I most look forward to seeing again when I come to the Scissortail Festival. In fact, I had first met her back in 2010. She is an attorney & social justice & environmental activist with as much feisty energy as women (or men) half her age. She read from her new, limited-edition chapbook, Leaving My Father’s House (Chapeau Rouge Editions, 2017). Many of her poems were own variation on the Haibun, a short prose piece followed by a short poem, in her case not necessarily a haiku, such as “Barnyard Misogyny,” & a couple about traveling through the Soviet Union in 1986. “Blurred Lines” was about drinking, gambling & the lives of hookers, while “Chimayo Springtime” was a tender love poem. She also included an old poem, “State of the Arts in a Red State.”

Time for lunch, but as I said to Ken Hada it was already worth the trip.

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