April 16, 2017

Scissortail Creative Writing Festival, Friday, April 7 — Afternoon Sessions

One way to get around the conflict of competing sessions of readers is to split the difference — go to part of one, then part of another. This is made easier by the printed program of the readings that lists the authors in the order that they are reading. So, after the lunch break that is exactly what Sally & I did.  We started out in the Estep Auditorium.

I first met Alan Berecka at my first Scissortail Festival & found out he grew up in Utica, NY (he is now the Poet Laureate of Corpus Christi, Texas) & invited him to read at Poets in the Park in Albany when he was back in the Northeast for a family wedding. Today’s reading was from a forth-coming collection of poems, The Hamlet of Spillville, which he explained was a sign that suddenly appeared in his small town in upstate New York. He began with some poems on the art of writing poetry, “Blind Faith,” “The Point of No Return” (on the infinite monkeys with infinite typewriters writing the work of Shakespeare), & “The Catholic Conundrum” with the monkeys again making angels with the ringing of the typewriter bell. “Spurred on to Poetry” was about gambling with the late (& beloved) poet Jim Spurr &, another Scissortail reference, “Science & Bliss” another poem for Ken Hada (cf. the poems by Sally Rhoades & Paul Austin). I really like it when Alan takes on religion as does in the poem titled “The Perils of Harold Bloom,” & “A Matter of Faith: Why Matter Might Matter.”

Then Sally & I had to sneak out & go across the way to the North Lounge. We got in just as Terri L. Cummings was beginning her reading of poems with the theme, “The Nature of … beginning with the nature of childhood, a poem about being in love with her cousin, the nature of love, the nature of war, the natured of loss (a poem on the death of her son), the nature of Time, & finally on the nature of writing, 2 or 3 poems on each theme.

Ron Wallace is another perennial favorite, not just because he is a Yankee fan & one of the few “liberals” in Durant, OK. He began with a poem about his failure to be a pacifist “Anger Management,” then a philosophical poem about finding a bus ticket in a second-hand copy of Robinson Jeffers’ poems. Several poems were on the topic of the passage of Time, such as “How the Hell Did I Get Here?” with the marvelous line about preachers “beating Bibles into bayonets.” Baseball is a frequent topic in his poems; “A Curveball in the Dirt” answered the question “how are we supposed to live?” with the examples of different types of pitches. There was plenty of philosophical ponderings & humor & irreverence, such as when he takes on Billy Collins in his poem “Cicadas.”

At this point I had to stay in the North Lounge for the next session since I led it off as the other poet from Albany, New York. My program was titled “Where is the nearest ocean?” with most of the poems from my FootHills Publishing chapbook Gloucester Notes. The nearest ocean is about 500 miles South of Ada, the Gulf of Mexico. I ended by reading #14 in my series titled “What Makes America Great” this one about a couple who bought my lunch after seeing me at a peace vigil outside the Mall.

Also in this session was Jennifer Luckenbill from Oklahoma City who read from a series of poems on her mother’s death. The poems included one titled “The Heart of the Galaxy” about her mother’s long suffering from PTSD from serving as a nurse in Viet Nam & her struggle to receive treatment. “Wash Your Hands” was on the frequent command, particularly from a mother who was a nurse. “Death Certificates” was about finding many copies of that grim document in her files. The poems were powerful in their plain, direct language, with the simple images of everyday life & of a daughter’s love for her mother.

Lyman Grant was the last reader in this session. He began by recalling the “Men’s Movement” in the 1980s & read from his mss. titled “Old Men on Tuesday Mornings,” the title poem about guys hanging out, talking which is mostly about their fears. “Small Birds” brought together noisy birds, a hawk & reading Thomas Merton. A poem about teaching titled “Humanities” had the unforgettable phrase “circus acts we call universities.” He read several poems about relationships & his wife, including “Little Storm,” “From What Planet?”, & “Cooking.” There were poems about his father & his father-in-law, & he concluded with “To Those Who Would Say He is Unhappy.”

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