The Main Event
I wanted to start writing some reviews of my favorite books from 2014. Here's the first installment.
Render – Collin Kelley
Sibling Rivalry Press, Alexander, Arkansas
Did you ever, early in a friendship or romance, take out a shoebox of old photographs, dump them on the floor, then commence to narrating your life using snapshots and the stories behind, or between them? That is akin to the experience of reading Collin Kelley’s book of poems Render. From the first poem, with its glimpse at an ancestor’s face blacked out, perhaps “the ruin of the family”, the reader is invited into the poet’s life story. In this case the deletions tell as much as the details.
The images that follow will be familiar to any child of the ‘70s; the Bicentennial, Wonder Woman, feathered hair, the Magic 8 Ball. Each pop culture artifact pointing, with archeological specificity, to a particular where and when. But a child of any time will recognize the themes of adolescent longing and loss, the caste system of high school, a family in decline, and the hunger for love.
Kelley artfully builds tension both within the individual poems and throughout the arc of the collection. In “After Adultery” the Mother in the poems “marches down the long driveway, / kicks up dust like the Tasmanian Devil” but instead of cartoon havoc, leaves a “crazed shadow.” While the mother succumbs to paranoia and illness, female nurturance and inspiration are found in Farrah’s hair and Pam Grier’s strength.
The objects of affection or lust, the “you” or “he” of many of the poems receive some of the most poignant lines in the book.
“I become device and vessel….
…would lie to your face
if I ever saw it….
Like those long, sleepover conversations, the stories come. The secrets, the heartbreaks, all of it surrounding each brightly colored or washed out paper image. Render is a raw and beautiful delineation of one poet’s growing up.
Render has received the following acclaim:
*Selected for American Library Association's 2014 Over the Rainbow List
*2013 Best Book of the Year selection by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Split This Rock, The Scrapper Poet and Rattle Readers' Favorites.
This was the homecoming reading at Athens Word of Mouth. My third feature at what I think of as my home church. My heart.
Oh, my accent is something else on this. I hope it's not too chewy to hear around properly. Thanks for putting in the effort if you do. Hope you enjoy it. There's drought sex, Big Bird, Popeye, a talking skull, traded cigarettes, Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, Eve talking to Cain, a Neverplace, vinyl, a S'Ain't, and a good night from a 3-year-old.
Athens Word of Mouth - Sept. 3, 2014
It is nearing the year mark since the release of Dissecting the Angel. In that time, I've have the great pleasure of reading to folks in Cincinnati, Philadelphia, Warren, Arkansas, and a handful of places in north Georgia. There are still some dream dates on my "Slowest Book Tour" bucket list...Austin, TX, Asheville, NC, New Orleans... Maybe for another time, another book.
In the meantime, I get to do a sort of homecoming. Next month on September 3rd, I'll be the featured reader for Athens Word of Mouth. If you are within driving range on any first Wednesday of the month, you should come. Handsome Director calls it a "mix tape of humanity," which is an apt description. Each poem is like a piece of glass in a stained glass window, each a bright small prism into human experience. Individually, beautiful, but taken as a whole, another thing entirely. Themes emerge and thread through the evening. Come play your listening ears with us some night.
There are still some seats available in "The Made Thing" if you'd like to join me and some other brave souls in the class at OCAF. I think of it not as much a class as a workshop and less a workshop in the traditional literary workshop sense and more like a woodworker's shop. A wordworkers shop. Come sling some ink!
Please share with any beginner poets or those who've drifted from poetry writing practice who would like some support and structure to get back elbow-deep in crafting poems.
Day / Dates: Thursdays, September 11 through October 23, 2014 Times: 6:00pm to 8:00pm
Length of Class: 6 Sessions / 2 Hours each Session + Open Reading for final Oct 23 session
Class Fee: OCAF Members - $120.00 Non-members - $130.00
Materials List: Bring your favorite poem to the first class and writing materials / an attitude of curiosity to all classes. This class, for beginning adult writers, is aimed at providing a place to generate poems, gather poem-making tools, and learn how to sharpen one’s work.
“Poem” means, at root, “a made thing.” This class is an introduction into the practice of crafting poetry, using language and the writer’s own experiences of the world. Together we will look at examples of different ways to trigger poems then draft, edit, share and present our “made things.”
Thanks to a generous friend, all registrants will receive a signed copy of Dissecting the Angel and Other Poems.
I was fortunate to get a return engagement in the City of Brotherly Love at the Moonstone Poetry Series at Fergie's pub. It felt very similar, physically, to the Athens Word of Mouth reading at The Globe. Both pubs, both hosting their poetry mid-week in the upstairs room.
Every reading has a personality, a palpable energy. Like music, they have different volumes and tempos. There seems to be archtypal poets that show up no matter what. I'll refrain from naming them in case that seems like parody. I only mean some poets resonate like Major Arcana; they are loaded, symbolic, essential.
The folks at Fergie's listened so hard I mistook it for not-listening it was so quiet at first. But they were hard at work. Try attending, for any length of time, to another's voice and you'll know the effort it takes.
And what a treat to read alongside Grant Clauser and Sean Webb. I hope you'll seek out and support their work. Both wrote with such clarity, wit, and intelligence and covered ground from fatherhood to sobriety to tarot cards and escape artists. I am one grateful gal to have been a part.
I also got to be a bit of a tourist. My fascination with miniatures and books was sated at The Library Company with the "Small Wonders" miniature books exhibit. Some of them were barely bigger than a thumbnail and the craftsmanship was incredible!
The Library Company also had an exhibit called "That's So Gay: Outing Early America."
Between the limericks about girls in breeches and photographs of Civil War era "companions" was a lovely edition of Leaves of Grass and dear Walt's bearded, beautiful face. A trip to the Morris Arboretum completed an entirely inspiring trip. Philly, I hope to see you again soon!
There are more photos on my Facebook page (look for MichelleCastleberryWriter) if you want to see more Philly wonderment.
So Wednesday I drive back to Arkansas, the Homeplace. While I'm there, amid trying to find and devour the juiciest, ripe (hopefully Bradley County Pink) tomato, I'll do a reading at the local library. I'm a bit nervous but hopeful it will be a chance to share poetry with a crowd unlike any before. It's true - there's a strange comfort in reading in dimly lit bars with the crowd noise and anonymous circle of light. It feels a great deal like playing music once did. Stand up, take a big breath, and go. When the lights are up and everybody's sober as a deacon (Hi, Daddy!), it's a little riskier. We'll make a running go of it with whomever assembles.
After Arkansas, I have a little day-jaunt at Kennesaw State University at the Georgia Author of the Year Authors event where people can hear finalists and winners discuss their works and read from them.
In mid-August I'll head back up to Philadelphia for a reading at the Moonstone Arts Center. Details to come.
One more thing, contact me if you live in the Athens/Watkinsville, GA area and if you would be interested in a six-week beginner's poetry class. I am trying to gauge interest and would need at least 6 participants. Thanks and have a wonderful summer!
Here's a poem written exactly one year ago inspired by amazing human and musician, Carl Lindberg. If you go to the "Watch" tab on this site, you can see him in action in the "Circular Breathing" video. This goes out to any artistic folk. Keep doing your thang, lovelies.
For Carl Lindberg
Pedestal’s too high.
One gets dizzy
head-achy from squinting
to make out the faces below.
A saint, I ain’t.
I like to know
and be known
is better adagio.
I am a fallen ladder
made of mud and music.
I need a lift
and a downbeat.
Oh brothers and sisters,
my dark side shows
and the light part glows.
Here we all are
part devil, part star.
Can we say
with gentle eyes?
Take me down
from your shoulders.
Even that height’s too high.
Besides, it makes it hard
to reach my bass.
Makes it hard to look
into your face.
And I need to see your eyes
to get a lift
and a downbeat.
Half the fun of travel is the aesthetic of lostness - Ray Bradbury
Pack the bag and double-check it. Did I get the camera already? What about the phone charger, the computer cord? How many books can we fit in the car and still have room for clothes? Handsome Producer-Director is in charge of the GPS and downloading new podcasts and road tunes. I love a road trip.
So Philadelphia, here I come! To Big Blue Marble Bookstore to read along with Hila Ratzabi. To new streets, an old friend, the same sky over a different city. I look forward to losing the routine for a bit and gaining some perspective.
Let's get lost.