April 11, 2015

Scissortail Creative Writing Festival - Afternoon Sessions, Evening Feature, April 3

Sunnie Smith from the English Department here at ECU was the moderator for the first afternoon session in the North Lounge, & the first reader up was Jason Poudrier.

I’ve been following Jason’s work since first introduced to it, & him, in 2011. He is an Army veteran, who had been deployed to Iraq in 2003 & awarded the Purple Heart after being wounded in action. He published poems about his experience, first in the chapbook In the Rubble at Our Feet (Rose Rock Press, 2011), then expanded to the full-length collection Red Fields: Poems from Iraq (Mongrel Empire Press, 2012). The poems stand shoulder to shoulder with the finest of poetry by soldiers (Brian Turner’s Here Bullet comes immediately to mind). Today he read from an as-yet-untitled novel-in-progress set in wartime Iraq. The episodes he read were grim (a soldier keeps an insurgent’s severed finger as a souvenir) & funny (as he & his buddies discuss what to do with it), reminding me of Joseph Heller’s Catch-22, even of the absurd banter I overheard in the barracks oh so many years ago. I’ll be first in line to buy it when it is published. (Note: Jason is also the Event Director of the Second National Military Experience & the Arts Symposium to be held May 14 - 17 at Cameron University, Lawton, OK, bringing together veterans & artists in all genres — check it out at www.militaryexperience.org)

Michelle Hartman came out swinging & didn’t stop until she had broken the skulls of any politician, especially Republicans, in her sights (fortunately there were none in the room). She began with poems from her earlier book Disenchanted & Disgruntled (Lamar University Press, 2013), with poems like “8 Tweets from Washington” commenting on the new members of Congress, with clever, silly hashtags, & another poem about dragons dining on the 1%, showing no mercy to even to Democrats. She then turned to poems from her new book Irony & Irreverence (Lamar University Press, 2015) which she described as “just bitter.” One poem compared Ted Cruz to the legendary cryptid Chupacabra, another (“Perspective #14”) took on Republican poetry (?!), while “W.S. Merwin Has to Die” was commentary on the call for entries for literary journals. “Outrageous” is a good word to describe her work, but somehow not quite strong enough.

Johnie “Catfish” Mahan continued the edgy poetry (was this the theme of this session, “edginess”?) in a less political vein, & just as much fun. He read the title poem from his apparently self-published chapbook Living Posthumously, & other poems, some dealing with facing Death, such as “On the Last Sunday” (“… of my life”) & “Utter Suburbia.” Catfish’s poems were in the tradition of Beat street poetry, with poems about thoughts while having a drink (“Sunset Sabbatical”) & a poem titled “Degrees of Buddha.” But Oklahoma was what Catfish is about, with a poem (“Yellow”) on Woody Guthrie’s yellow crayon, then a pastiche of “This Land is Your Land” as a combination of Woody & Dr. Suess’ love-child.

As Groucho Marx once said, “I love my cigar, too, but sometimes I take it out of my mouth.” I love this poetry, these poets & writers, but at this point I had to take a little break before the evening feature & found a quiet place to nap, then sit quietly. Ahh.

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I returned later to the Estep Auditorium, where we enjoyed songs & pickin’ by the duo “Rowdy Folk” as we settled in for the evening’s Featured reader, Darrell Bourque. His reading was as much a history lesson on Acadie as it was  poems.  He began with poems from his collection Megan’s Guitar and Other Poems from Acadie (UL Press, 2013). He read from the 3 sections of the book, including poems about contemporary Acadie in Louisiana, such as “Sunday Afternoons Behind Ti Maurice’s Dance Hall,” & “The Wash House” (his grandmother washing her hair), & poems about songs that cling to us, “Church Point Breakdown” & the touching piece about his mother singing as she was dying “Holding the Notes.” He also read some of the sonnets from a sequence about historical figures such as Evangeline & Beausoleil. Then he moved on to a newer project from the chapbook if you abandon me, comment je vas faire (Yellow Flag Press), sonnets about the life of the Creole musician Amédé Ardoin (1898 - 1942), some in persona poems.  The title poem is a sonnet composed of lines from Amédé’s songs. Acadie is not just Longfellow.

So, to again cite Uncle Wiggly, if poetry world back here in Albany doesn’t overwhelm me with readings & events, I will be back again to tell you more stories about the Scissortail Creative Writing Festival & the wonderful writers I heard.

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