Thursday, December 11, 2008

Best Books of 2008

Ron Rash, author of Serena

St. Louis Today: Best Books of 2008
~~~ Best Books of 2008
Publisher's Weekly: Best Books of 2008
NPR: Best Books of 2008
Washington Post: Best Books of 2008
NYTimes: Best Books of 2008
The Ten Best Books I've Read in 2008 (not necessary published this year)

1. Jeanette Walls, The Glass Castle - an astonishing memoir of her upbringing by rootless, utterly unorthodox, and finally homeless parents
2. Jeffrey Toobin, The Nine - a fascinating account of the current Supreme Court justices
3. Anthony Swofford, Jarhead - an honest, searching memoir of a marine in the Gulf War
4. Tracy Kidder, Mountains Beyond Mountains - an admiring profile of the amazing Dr. Paul Farmer
5. Sheila Weller, Girls Like Us - life stories/careers of Joni Mitchell, Carole King, and Carly Simon
6. Ishmael Beah, A Long Way Gone - a harrowing memoir by a former boy soldier in war-torn Sierra Leone
7. Jennifer Finney Boylan, She's Not There - a memoir by an English prof. who underwent a sex-change operation
8. Natasha Trethewey, Native Guard - poems elegizing her mother and the Louisiana "Native Guard," a group of black soldiers during the Civil War
9. Philip Roth, Exit Ghost - apparently his final Nathan Zuckerman novel
10. Ron Rash, Serena - another masterful novel chronicling events in Western North Carolina

Monday, December 08, 2008

Christmas Card Collage

Holiday Greetings
(or, Have a Plaid Christmas)

from our family to yours

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Robert Service

Given the unseasonably cold weather we've had for the past week, I turn to Robert Hass and his December 7, 1997 commentary on Wallace Steven's 'The Snowman"--the first item in Now and Then, the great collection of poetry columns Hass wrote for The Washington Post 1997-98. Hass begins this column with an unlikely source: Joni Mitchell's "River" from her album, Blue. Hass contrasts Mitchell's impulse to skate away on a river (thereby escaping the Christmas blues) with Steven's perpetual call for immersion in the immediacy of the moment, bleak though it may be.

My favorite poet of snow and cold is Robert Service, whose poems my dad enjoyed and read while in the Navy in 1945, the year of my birth. I discovered Service's The Spell of the Yukon on Dad's bookshelf--the only volume of poetry to be found there other than A.E. Housman's A Shropshire Lad. I knew even then that Service was not a great poet, but I couldn't get enough of "The Shooting of Dan McGrew" or "The Cremation of Sam McGee," which begins with these haunting lines:

There are strange things done in the midnight sun
By the men who moil for gold;
The Arctic trails have their secret tales
That would make your blood run cold;
The Northern Lights have seen queer sights,
But the queerest they ever did see
Was that night on the marge of Lake Legarge
I cremated Sam McGee.

I loved the word "moil," which sounded so much more desperate than "toil"--and the word "marge" as a kind of combination between "margin" and "verge." Mostly, I just liked the grimness of story set against the rollicking rhythm and pitch-perfect rhyme. Doggerel, perhaps, but not bad. When I took a poetry course with James Dickey, I was pleased when he mentioned Service as one of his favorite "bad poets."

My first wife once gave me a first edition of The Spell of the Yukon (1907), which I still cherish. I see online that booksellers are getting upwards of $150 for those now. When my sister-in-law writes from Fairbanks that the temperature is 30 below, I'm glad I'm not there. I'll take my sub-zero weather in the form of Robert Service's verse.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Recent Sketches

Rauschenberg, Charles, Betancourt, Foote, Wilson, Cheever, Merwin, Snyder, Wrigley, Gladwell

(Click on sketch to enlarge)
Landscapes made out of food

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Fire, High Wire

First Fire of the Season

Sunflower Seeds

Peppers, Persimmon

I look forward to all the "Year's Best" lists that come around each December. Mid-November seems a little early to start in on that, but today's New York Times Magazine in "The Screens Issue," featured 12 writers, directors, and bloggers, each commenting on the most memorable visual moment of the year (clip, scene, show, movie, computer graphic, etc.). Ann Patchett chose Man on Wire, the superb documentary about Philippe Petit, who evaded authorities to string a cable between the twin towers and walk between them one memorable morning in 1974, shortly after they were completed. Having seen the film recently and marvelled at its quality--not to mention Petit's stunning, audacious high wire act itself--I would agree with Patchett's choice. She writes,

His art was exhilaration, fearlessness, a wild grab at life. The wire he and his friends strung at night between the two towers formed the intersection of recklessness and precision. And those buildings, those silent supporting actors, you can’t help marveling at how young they are. In August 1974, when Petit took his morning stroll, they were still raw on their upper floors, not completely finished. I would wish for those buildings that they could someday be remembered for how they began — with the felonious act of a young man who was madly in love with them, their height, their audacity, their doubled beauty — instead of how they ended. “Man on Wire” gives those towers back to us, at least for a little while. It also reminds us of all that art is capable of when what is risked is everything.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Richard Ford

Recently, I heard novelist Richard Ford speak at the University of South Carolina in the "Caught in the Creative Act" series organized by Janette Turner Hospital. Ford read an excerpt from The Lay of the Land and then spoke about the origins of that scene in a news item he once read. From there he launched into a pitch-perfect talk on the writer's life. In a self-deprecating note, he evoked Henry James, who said that for a writer to talk about himself is "to serve up the feast that starves the guests."

Ford admiringly drew from F. R. Leavis's essay on D.H. Lawrence, asserting that literature is "the supreme means by which we undergo a renewal of sensuous and emotional life, and learn a new awareness." He said that literature provides a commentary on what convention has no response for. He also quoted Thoreau: "A wrtier is one who, having nothing to do, finds something."

Ford said a writer must honor the skeptical view hinted at by Thoreau and at the same time the Leavis contention that the word is magical/mysterious/enlightening. Good writers hold those opposites in mind, something that a liberal education should teach us to do. In the end, he said a novelist must believe that "life is worth the notice the novel gives it."
From an interview with poet Dana Levin in The Kenyon Review:

G.C. Waldrep: What, then, is the relationship between autobiography and imagination in your work?

Dana Levin: The interesting question here is: what constitutes autobiography? I think of the Prologue to Memories, Dreams and Reflections, Carl Jung’s autobiography (undertaken when he was 83 and a fascinating read, particularly in terms of autobiography as form). In it he says,

In the end the only events in my life worth telling are those when the imperishable world irrupted into this transitory one. That is why I speak chiefly of inner experiences, amongst which I include my dreams and visions. These form the prima materia of my scientific work. They were the fiery magma out of which the stone that had to be worked was crystallized.
For “scientific” let’s say “poetic.” And for autobiography’s “childhood” let’s say “psychic development.” And I mean psychic, which is not only psychological because it includes notions of soul, or whatever you want to call the non-egoic inhabiting spirit in each of us. The suspicion in which I held Confessionalism while in grad school was well-founded in terms of aesthetic concerns, but it was absurd in terms of being a student of the psyche. How can one advance one’s study of human experience without plumbing the depths of one’s memories, deepest feelings and dreams?
Other Kenyon Review Interviews with Writers: Ted Kooser, Rebecca McClanahan, Stanley Plumly, many others

Friday, November 21, 2008

Pee Dee Fiction and Poetry Festival

Our annual campus Fiction and Poetry Festival unfolded on a beautiful fall weekend, November 6-8. Tom Perrotta kicked things off on Thursday with a colloquium in the afternoon during which he discussed his novel, Election, an appropriate choice for this year and a book that a number of classes had read. Several classes, including my own composition sections, had read his story collection, Bad Haircut. Perrotta's work went over well, and students turned out in force for his reading and commentary. That night, he read from Little Children and talked about the writing life.

Over the next couple days, Ethan Canin, Valerie Martin, Sara Gran, Robert Wrigley, and Dorianne Laux held sway. Each did a reading/presentation, and each took part in at least one panel discussion or informal session. We combined the two poetry classes for a meeting with Wrigley and Laux, whose work we had read and who were captivating for students. They're good friends, and this was evident in their easy back and forth discussion. A great bonus for the weekend was the presence of Joe Millar, Laux's husband and a wonderful poet in his own right.

Tom Perrotta --- Ethan Canin

Valerie Martin --- Sara Gran
Robert Wrigley --- Dorianne Laux
Wrigley, Laux, and Millar
Finkel Poems from The Cortland Review

Wednesday, November 05, 2008


Yes, we can!
Election Speakers on Campus (2007-2008)
Commentaries on Obama's Election:

Monday, October 27, 2008

Back to the Blog

It's been 3.5 months since my last blog entry, over 100 days. I took a break because I was busy reading other blogs, because other projects intervened, and because of blogger's angst: not so much the lack of anything to write as an excess, the need to be selective--that and the sense that no one looks at this compendium of miscellany anyway. Not that I'm addressing an audience here. Some blogs seem calculated to start or perpetuate a conversation, but I've never quite seen this one in this way, though I welcome the few readers I have.
I've been pondering the value of a blog, in the same way that for years of on-and-off journal keeping I've weighed the worth of notebooks, diaries, commonplace books, daybooks, whatever you call them. Do they energize the writer, furnish a stockpile of ideas, consitute a valuable record, provide a low-risk blank canvas to fill? Or do they sap the writer's energies, draw away from other more worthwhile projects, become self-indulgent?
Poet Marvin Bell writes, "Why a journal? Well, I like writing that spills over. I want to live as much as possible at the ends of my fingertips rather than, say, in the capillaries of the brain. I like it when the soup simmers, the kettle hisses. I want it, I require it, I trust it." Yusef Komunyakaa says, "For me, there has to be an absolute flexibility in maintaining a notebook. My notebooks are really scrapbooks--pieced together with fragments, phrases, sentences, paragraphs, long and short passages, magazine and newspaper clippings, postcards, etc. Thus, I attempt to avoid any kind of rote structure." And, according to Heather McHugh (also a poet), "The notebook is a site of insecurable premises: it's where a writer can turn and return to the unprefixed. The notes entered in a writer's notebook--unlike headnotes and footnotes--are not appendage; they depend from no foregone body of work." Writers give multiple reasons for keeping track of words and ideas in notebooks, and those reasons no doubt change from page to page.
But blogs are different. The are composed by computer, so the format gives them a facade of polish and formality, even if the writing is rough and tumble. There's the pretense of a public audience, which notebooks or journals don't have. Blogs allow more readily for smoothly interfaced visuals, esp. photos. And there's the public permanence of blogs. They're out there in the blogosphere until the writer eliminates them. They're both more permanent and more evanescent/more compact than bulky written notebooks or journals. They don't take up much space and memory, but they can expand to great dimensions.

Sunday, July 13, 2008


Tracy Kidder and Paul Farmer
For the past month, driving on the road and in town, I've been listening to the CD version of Tracy Kidder's Mountains Beyond Mountains. It's an extended profile of the incredible Paul Farmer, a Harvard M.D. who specializes in infectious diseases and has made a career out of combatting MDR (Multiple-Drug Resistant) TB and AIDS, problems that often co-exist, especially in the developing world. He spends much of his time at a clinic he founded on Haiti's central plateau, but Partners in Health (PIH), the organization he helped start up, has outposts in Peru, Siberia, Rwanda and other locations. Farmer's background in anthropology (an undergrad degree from Duke) and his abiding interest in the cultural roots of medical issues gives him a unique perspective on some of the world's most intractable health problems. It helps too that he has seemingly unlimited energy and a mind like a steel trap. It's hard to overstate the impact his ideas and practices have had on the world health scene. For the book, Kidder follows his usual modus operandi, shadowing his subject and engaging in what is often called "immersion research." This includes flying all over the world with Farmer, observing him in action in almost every conceivable venue, which takes in a lot; Farmer is in great demand as a consultant and speaker.
I've read every book Kidder has written since his Pulitzer Prize-winning Soul of a New Machine (1981), a fascinating account of the seemingly boring process of building a new computer. My favorite is House (1985), a detailed account of the contruction of a house in Massachusetts, with an emphasis on the builders, the owners, and the architect. Kidder's work, like that of John McPhee, suggests that nearly anything can be made interesting when it's given painstaking and creative attention. In the case of Mountains Beyond Mountains he was dealing with an inherently interesting subject, the amazing Paul Farmer, as well as others in his circle like Ophelia Dahl and Jim Yong Kim.
One difference between this and Kidder's previous journalsm is the author's stance. Kidder makes himself a character, something he avoided in previous books, so that we are aware of his struggle to keep up with the tireless Farmer as he treks up a mountain to visit a patient. Kidder followed this 2003 book with a memoir, My Detachment, an account of his service in Vietnam--and there too he obviously revealed much of himself. According to this recent interview, Kidder is still in touch with Farmer and is pleased that his book has played a role in publicizing the doctor's work.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Ishmael Beah's A LONG WAY GONE

Ishmael Beah's A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier is a gripping, harrowing account of the author's coming of age as a teenage military recruit in war-torn Sierra Leone. He tells about how he and several friends left home at age 12 to visit the village of Mattru Jong 16 miles away. While there, word comes that Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels have attacked their hometown, killing many people. When they attempt to return, they see people fleeing the area and are first exposed to the brutality directed toward civilians. Beah never again sees his family members, and this marks the beginning of a long ordeal. Eventually, he and his friends are forced to fight with the Sierra Leone army. They go through a grueling whirlwind training and are issued AK-47s. A couple of the boys aren't even strong enough to hold their weapons up to fire them. Beah is lucky enough to survive in the catastrophic environment, and he reports his own implication in acts of extreme violence and cruelty. The soldiers are given drugs to desensitize them and are in other ways enured to the brutality that surrounds them. Finally, he is fortunate enough to be saved by a United Nations group that is in Sierra Leone trying to prevent the recruitment of underaged fighters. He is flown to New York to speak at the UN about his life, and ultimately he's able to return to the U.S. where he eventually attends Oberlin College. He now lives in New York and speaks on behalf of children affected by war.

His book (begun under the guidance of Oberlin professor Dan Chaon) is engagingly written, containing an astonishing amount of detail about events in Sierra Leone. Occasionally, there is a sort of sophomoric naivete in the language, which actually seems to fit the voice of the former boy soldier. Here's a typical passage:

The villages that we captured and turned into our bases as we went along and the forests that we slept in became my home. My squad was my family, my gun was my provider and protector, and my rule was to kill or be killed. The extent of my thoughts didn't go much beyond that. We had been fighting for over two years, and killing had become a daily activity. I felt no pity for anyone. My childhood had gone by without my knowing, and it seemed as if my heart had frozen.

The leanness, even bluntness, of the writing serves well to convey the life he lived, despite the cliches ("as if my heart had frozen") that sometimes creep in. The language suggests a tension between boyish wonder or matter-of-factness and the horrors that he experiences.

There were certain passages, such as when he is shot three times in the same foot, that raise for me some questions about credibility. So I was not surprised to find that others have questioned various elements of his story. No one doubts that he was a boy soldier and experienced extreme horrors. But a group of reporters from The Australian (a Rupert Murdoch publication) have called into question some aspects of his tale, as Gabriel Sherman reports in SLATE. There is some evidence that he was a soldier only two months, not the two years that he mentions above. The factual questions have created a vitriolic debate between the publisher (Farrar Strauss and Giroux) and the reporters. Even Beah's English prof from Oberlin has entered the fray. None of this is to minimize the impact of his story. There is no doubt that he directly experienced war in a way that few can imagine. And at least the book doesn't raise the more severe sorts of credibility issues that have come up with James Frey's A Million Little Pieces or, more recently Margaret Seltzer's concocted "memoir" of gang life in L.A.

A Long Way Gone comes out in paperback in August, so I'm tempted to make it a last-minute choice for my Literary Nonfiction class in the fall.
Judith Thurman writes in The New Yorker about prehistoric cave art
L.A. Times review of Mark Bauerlein's The Dumbest Generation
On Poetry Daily, two poems by David Wagoner that make me want to buy his latest book

Friday, July 04, 2008

Achebe, teaching, violinists, poetry, music

Chinua Achebe, winner of the 2007 Man Booker International Prize
Beginning to think about and plan for my fall courses, I returned the other day to Ken Bain's study of outstanding college and university teachers, What the Best College Teachers Do, published by Harvard University Press. In a nutshell, the best teachers maintain an intellectual interest in their subjects and convey that interest to their students, inviting them to join a professional conversation. They plan their courses based upon what student outcomes they want to produce, so in a sense they begin at the imagined end of the course. Whatever method they use in teaching (lecture, discussion, workshop, etc.), they establish a "natural critical learning environment", urging students to continuously ask questions and construct meaning for themselves, rather than being handed knowledge on a platter to be digested and forgotten. Good teachers assess student mental models and preconceptions and attempt to improve on those models, making them more accurate. They convey facts, but always in relation to problems, issues, larger concerns. They engender instrinsic motivation for learning, not extrinsic. They observe and think carefully about student learning types/modes and try to accomodate to those. Finally, they maintain high, though not unreasonable, expectations for students. Much of this is good common sense, but it's easy to lose track of these principles.

Yesterday I had lunch with my friend Claudia, former newspaperwoman and now an English/journalism teacher at a local college. I gave her a copy of Bain's book--a meager repayment for all the review copies of books she's given me over the years.


Monday, June 02, 2008

Two Movies

A week or so ago, J and I went to see Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. The lukewarm reviews didn't deter us. We were just eager to see Harrison Ford with whip and fedora after a long layoff. Our critical antennae are cranked way down for the likes of such fare. Just as the critics pointed out, the plot is puzzling and sometimes seems a set of events to build a few good chase scenes around. The blatant anti-Russian stereotyping was a throwback to the anti-Nazism of the very first Indiana Jones romp. Cate Blanchett's cartoonish accent and demeanor were playfully wicked or wickedly playful. And the young fellow who comes on like Brando in The Wild Ones and then latches onto Indie like a wise-ass barnacle is himself a caricature, but worth watching, if for no other reason than the surprise that he embodies. There's a bunch of trap doors, water-filled caves, corny special skull effects and mystical hocus-pocus. And a very sweet ending. Good guys and bad guys. A bunch of killing, but nobody really gets hurt. As a summer action movie, it's not bad.

Then, Saturday night we joined a handful of middle-agers and oldsters in the theatre to see The Visitor. This one isn't exactly a blockbuster, but for my money it was much more engaging than the histrionics of Indiana Jones. A burnt-out, apparently depressed college economics professor (Richard Jenkins) has to travel from his Connecticut home to his little-used apartment in Greenwich Village to deliver a boring paper at a conference. He discovers a couple has moved into his apartment; someone has rented it to them in a scam, knowing it was seldom-used. They are unmarried and in the U.S. illegally, he from Syria and she from Senegal. In the unlikeliest turn in the movie, the introverted prof befriends them, neglecting his teaching to take up the cause of the young Syrian interloper when he is arrested and jailed as an illegal alien. This relationship, and his introduction to drumming (taught by the Syrian), bring the widower to life. The plot becomes more interesting when the young man's mother suddenly arrives from Michigan. The whole story is restrained, understated, and achingly human, with a strong political message thrown in. Excellent.

Obit for writer George Garrett, 78, who taught for a time at the University of South Carolina
1001 books to read before you die

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Island Cemetery

Daufuskie Island Cemetery
In moss-draped oaks
near the marina
souls hover
above sand
and sawgrass,
then return
on the wind
to Africa.
The stones
rest lightly
on the dead,
drowned in cotton and indigo.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Daufuskie Island

Hilton Head - Daufuskie Island Ferry
One of many gorgeous live oaks on Daufuskie Island

First Union African Baptist Church - 1882

Mary Fields Elementary School (1930) , where Pat Conroy taught

I've spent the past three days in and around Hilton Head. The occasion was the annual meeting of representatives from the 11 universities in the Peach Belt Athletic Conference. It took place at the Crowne Plaza Resort. I was one of four reps from my fine institution. I had little expertise to bring to the discussions of athletic scheduling, conference expansion, annual budget, and so on. But I found the deliberations interesting and early next week will pass my notes along to our president (whom I was sitting in for). Plus, the food and accomodations weren't bad.
Because the fun didn't really commence until the Wednesday evening reception and dinner, I decided to leave home early that day and make time for an afternoon excursion to Daufuskie Island, just across Calibogue Sound from Hilton Head's Harbor Town. I've been interested in the island and its history since reading Pat Conroy's first book, The Water is Wide, shortly after it came out in 1972. It tells the story of the year he spent as a teacher in the two-room schoolhouse on the island (which for some reason he calls "Yamacraw"). It's a fine book that yielded a mediocre movie, Conrack, starring Jon Voight. For years it was nearly impossible to get to Daufuskie without a private boat. (There's no bridge to the island.) But now there's a regular boat service for $23 round trip aboard the Captain Eulice. It takes an hour, and the ride over and back alone is worth the fare.
Upon arrival at the marina, most visitors rent gas-powered golf carts to motor around to the 13 points of interest shown on the laminated map available at the general store. I chose to rent a thick-tired bicycle, which provided me with a superb three-hour workout as I pedaled over the partly paved, partly dirt (or sand) roads winding around the island. The dimensions are about 5 miles by two miles, although parts of the island are private and off-limits. Of greatest interest to me was the old schoolhouse where Conroy taught at about the same time I was teaching in even more primitive conditions as a Peace Corps volunteer in Ghana. Also worth the pedaling were the various cemeteries, the beautiful old Baptist Church, the pristine, almost-empty beach, the miniscule Silver Dew Winery, and a massive eagle's nest (with no eagles in sight).
The island has far fewer year-round inhabitants than back in the 19th century when slaves worked the plantations to produce fine quality Sea Island Cotton. After the boll weevil did in the cotton, and indigo and lumber were no longer big crops, the population dwindled even more. Now, there are only a few hundred residents, some of them Gullah descendants of slaves. But upscale resorts, condominiums, and houses are now encroaching on the now-undeveloped expanses of palmetto/live oak/pine woodlands and the attractive island beaches. No doubt, it's just a matter of time before Daufuskie, like Hilton Head itself, will become essentially a densely populated gated community where only the well-heeled are welcome. It would be a shame and a disgrace to lose the wild acreage and the reminders of the rich history (sometimes violent and often oppressive) that give the island its character.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Writers' Obsessions

I've been reading Li-Young Lee's Book of My Nights (See also my March 30 entry). These poems, published in 2001 by Boa Editions, mine a relatively narrow range of elemental topics, though their forms and effects vary widely. Again and again these poems refer to mother, father, the seasons, night, the sky, death, and birds. A selection of opening lines suggests these concerns:

Who lay down at evening
and woke at night
a stranger to himself?
In the dark, a child might ask,
I never claimed night father me.
Say night is a house you inherit,
and in the room in which you hear the sea
declare its countless and successive deaths,
tolling the dimensions of your dying.
Another word for father is worry.
The birds don't alter space.
They reveal it.
Someone's thinking about his mother tonight.

The effect of this uniformity of interlocking themes and motifs is powerful and cumulative (even obsessive if not excessive) through the book. Lee's other work shows that he ranges far beyond these concerns, but the concentration here makes the the volume read almost like one continuous poem. I'd like to get that sort of intensity into my own work, which to me seems sprawling, unfocused, all over the map. Maybe others could see in my poems a uniformity that isn't evident to me. Certainly, I've found that others' comments and suggestions can be startlingly perceptive, teasing out threads or problems I don't initially see.

Some writers seem to return to a set of obsessions repeatedly, in work after work. I think of Ron Rash's frequent returning to Lake Jocasee and how when it was formed it covered over a number of rural communities and forced the disruption of a culture. His first novel, One Foot in Eden, addresses this in part, as do some of his poems and stories. Most recently, in Chemistry, his stories nominated for Pen Faulkner Award, the story "Not Waving but Drowning" returns to that theme. To sustain a novel or even to cultivate a successful body of work in any genre, a writer needs to confront and make use of obsessions.
Today, Kathleen Parker's column addresses the issue of a "boys' crisis" or a "girls' crisis" in schools
In the May 26 New Yorker, Ian Frazier writes about his experiences teaching writing once a week at the biggest soup kitchen in New York, located in the Church of the Holy Apostles, at the corner of 28th St. and 9th Ave. He writes, "... I am one of the teachers of a writers' workshop that meets there after lunch on Wednesdays in the spring. I started the workshop fourteen years ago, with the help of a grant. I wanted to do something with the soup kitchen because I admired the people there and the way it is run and the whole idea of it. There are so many hungers out there; the soup kitchen deals, efficiently and satisfyingly, with the most basic kind. I consider it, in its own fashion, a work of art." Frazier discusses this work in a 14-minute on-line interview.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Mom's Birthday

Max, Nell, Trey, Mom

My Mother’s 90th Birthday

She never gets out of bed.
Her lifeless left side
keeps her there at the mercy
of her daughter and her nurse,
providers of food, drink,
cleanliness, fresh bedclothes.

But this one afternoon
she stirs and seems to hover
in the air, suspended,
as a parade of visitors
comes bearing cards
and good wishes: for comfort?
a long life? the year ahead?
She asks, “Aren’t we lucky?”

I photograph the guests
entering in clusters. She never tires
of posing with them,
her good right side smiling
to spite her passive left.
For once, her appetite is enormous.
South Carolina Poetry Initiative Online Chapbooks

Monday, May 05, 2008

Dargan's Pond

To celebrate the almost-end of the semester, Lynn (also a native of Auburn, AL), and I went kayaking on Dargan's Pond, about 15 minutes from campus. As shown in the above photo taken by Lynn, one end of the pond contains a maze of tupelo and cypress trees. Paddling among them was like gliding soundlessly in an old forest. One section was noisy with the calls of nesting great blue herons. It was a bit windy but otherwise idyllic, balmy but too early for mosquitoes. In addition to the herons, we saw nesting ospreys who wheeled and cried out shrilly when we approached. Best of all, Lynn directed my attention to two bald eagles perched in a tall tree. One of them pushed off and glided for several minutes over our heads. No alligators.

News photo of the week from Newsweek: a man stacking rice bags, illustrating an article on rising food prices
Katrina Vandenberg's Mix Tape on Organizing a Poetry Collection