April 10, 2015

Scissortail Creative Writing Festival - Morning Sessions & Feature, April 3

I had to get up early enough (& have my sausage gravy & biscuits) to get to the North Lounge at ECU to hear Sally Rhoades read — what a thrill to see another Albany poet here in Oklahoma (at one point Ken Hada referred to “the Albany poets” & said he feared an invasion since there was also someone from Albany at ECU interviewing for a job). Sally began with a poem written yesterday (“Lilacs in Blossom,” a memory of her mother) inspired by what she heard read here, then read “A Silence” that was inspired after attending last year’s Scissortail Festival — poetry breeds poetry. Among the other poems she read were the self-affirming “I Want to be Swathed in Beauty” & “Searching for Sally” in which she talks about her “work” dealing with a harsh childhood filled with abuse — powerful stuff.

Clarence Wolfshohl was more in the professorial vein, tending to long introductions to short poems. After a brief poem on pyrotechnics at a Country Music show, he read “Due Cultivation,” from correspondence with Larry Thomas, a descriptive piece about his property in the part of Missouri called “little Dixie.” Other pieces were a poem about a cantankerous Missouri sign-painter, another about a ghost town & a poem for students a the Missouri School for Deaf where he had read.

Maureen Durant introduced herself as “3rd generation Oklahoma,” & her poems came across exactly like that, loaded with funny, down-home images, that seemed as natural as the red dirt. “Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire” was about how to spot the liars around us, “Family Ties” about a visiting her aunts that sparked family memories, & “Chemistry Lesson” was about growing up an “Army brat.” She even read 2 sonnets, one about the original Siamese Twins museum (“Mayberry USA”), & ended with “Matter in Motion” about watching a road-runner catch & kill a mouse. Real Oklahoma stuff.

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I had missed the deadline to submit poems to be a reader, but Ken Hada emailed me that there had been a cancellation & asked me to fill in — which of course I was most pleased to do. So back to the Estep Auditorium to the 2nd morning session, where I had the great thrill to be on the program with Paul Austin & Ron Wallace.

Joshua Grasso from the ECU English Department introduced the readers.

Paul Austin read poems both political & personal, beginning with a piece titled “Jackson Pollack on V.J. Day.” His untitled poem about Joy Harjo reading in Israel was about artists & the use of cultural exchanges to bring peace. He also read 3 pieces, like acts in a short play, about a boy visiting his mother, & the drama the meeting, & the memory of their lives, inspired, apparently from a longer series he is working on. He ended with a another political commentary, this titled “For Those who Govern.” Paul is not only a poet & a playwright, but an actor in the world of New York City theater & his reading was done in the best under-stated professional style.

I used my time reading to promote my chapbooks, first reading poems from Poeming the Prompt (A.P.D., 2011), “Poeming,” “Looking for Cougars,” “What Really Happened,” & “The Lesson.” Then one poem from my newest chapbook, Coyote: poems of Suburban Living. Then the 2 recent poems, “McDonalds with Love” complete with a bag from McDonalds new “Lovin’ it” campaign, & the poem from an afternoon at the bar with Sally & Ken, “Didn’t We Do this in Saratoga?”  (The photo of me reading was taken by Sally Rhoades.)

The final reader in this session, Ron Wallace,  is another of the stars in my list of Oklahoma poets. We share a love of baseball (Ron is a Yankees fan!), words & radical politics. He read from his latest collection of poems Of Hawks & Horses (and the World in Between), with a marvelous self-deprecating story about the title & cover design. & speaking of Yankees, he read his poem “Hank Bower in Winter,” a monologue by the now-gone right fielder, & “The Death of a Left Fielder.” One of the best poems of the Festival was his “Revelation” for his son Matthew (who, if he had been in the audience, would not have let his father read it). Other poems were “Fly Fishing on the Blue River,” “Old Roads,” & “On Jackson Square” (a confrontation with a homeless guy in New Orleans — Ron’s advice: “don’t wear cowboy boots in New Orleans”).

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The morning was capped off by a Featured Reading by Steven Schroeder, poet, book-artist, translator, philosopher, who has become somewhat of a fixture, certainly a welcomed one, here at Scissortail. He set the stage for his reading by quoting Paul Klee about drawing as “taking a line for a walk,” in this case the “line” refers to lines of poetry. I liked the mix of City poems (Chicago) such as “#55 Garfield Sunday” (characters on a bus), “Never Tell a Theologian Not to Dig,” & “The Truth is Out There” where he often was literally taking his lines for a walk in the city. He also included some poems for an art exhibit opening this weekend in Canyon, Texas, some poems from a new collection he is working on (yes, Steven, it should be published), & some of his translations from The Daodejing: a New Interpretation (Lamar University Press), that he has done with David Breeden & Wally Swist. The reading was neatly tied together at the end with 2 poems for different holidays from different cultures for this season: “Clara Texas, Ching Ming 2012” (Ching Ming is the Chinese tomb-sweeping day) & “Good Friday.”

(A brief public note of Thanks! to Phil Morgan & Katie for inviting me & a number of other writers to their house a few blocks from ECU for a delicious lunch that included some golden light cornbread & a luscious, rich cole slaw with a nice bite of hot peppers. Poetry & food bringing people together.)

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