Friday, August 18, 2017

Ghazals 1-59 and Other Poems by Shelia E. Murphy and Michelle Greenblatt



Ghazals 1-59 and Other Poems

By Sheila E. Murphy and Michelle Greenblatt

Published by Unlikely Books, New Orleans, Louisiana

Review by Judy Katz-Levine

In this astonishing collaboration by the living poet Sheila E. Murphy and the deceased poet Michelle Greenblatt who suffered from fibromyalgia, a disease which did not keep her from writing with great passion, the formal structure of the ghazal, a signature of Sufi poets such as Rumi, is reinvented and brought to a contemporary American understanding.

The ghazal form was is as structured as a sonnet, and was often written during the 13th to 16th centuries in the Timurid empire by Sufi mystics.Traditionally, it is known to be composed of couplets between 12 and 15 lines. Murphy and Greenblatt create an alternative form of fifteen couplets per ghazal. While the first two lines of a traditional ghazal end in the same word, every other subsequent line ending in the same word as well, Murphy and Greenblatt play on repetition by taking turns in writing inventive couplets, and therein lies their interplay of form and repetitiion. The similarity between the Sufi ghazals of poets such as Rumi, Hafiz and Navoiy and these experimental longer explorative ghazals by Sheila Murphy and Michelle Greenblatt is one of passion. While the ghazals of Navoiy for example focus on the depth of love for the beloved even when scorned, elevating that to a metaphor for the divine, Murphy and Greenblatt translate that love into a passion for language, the surprise turns of language and image, the light of cognitive play. While Rumi for example would be closer to Lorca in feeling, the cognitive light given to these seamlessly woven couplets of Murphy and Greenblatt do more often reflect the passion of Shakespeare for cognitive delight in the movement of human insight. One also thinks of contemporary avant garde classical music, such as the works of John Cage in “Ocean Of Sound” or the composition of Morton Subotnick, “Silver Apples Of The Moon”.

Here is an example of the astonishing delight and surprise turns of image and thought manifested in Ghazals 1-59:

This quote is from Ghazal Seventeen:

“Look for the wind to gather you from port to prominence;
Landscape’s a deception so keep your camera ready.

The handwriting still runs across the page as if
Electric shock were prompting lines from the beyond.

Staccato overtime remainders figs and salt
Scattered on the late the waves of song rise and fall.”

The sheer inventiveness in language manifested in these 59 ghazals is highly unusual in contemporary poetry, despite our love for non-rhymed forms and discursive narratives. Murphy and Greenblatt love the element of surprise especially in image, and the musicality of both poets is so matched one to another that the true love and passion must be, here, the working together of these two poets, their intense connection, as they devoted themselves to this major project of creative leaps. Here is another couplet which explores existence in contemporary America and illustrates the highly musical lines and imagistic surprises of this collaboration:

Here is an excerpt from Ghazal Thirty-Six

“I owned a mountain full of stony slopes
And descended to exhume its dark past.

Labor exponentially prepares love
For the stains of eyelight squared upon roses.

Your code was more elegant than your word,
More picturesque than ample and not true.

Scented branches are the first clue of brushfire
Raging through the vicissitude of woods.”

Themes of nature are woven with theme of connection with other humans, and human activities, and there is only an occasional reference to the problem of violence in contemporary life. References to Greenblatt’s experiences with synesthesia are somewhat rare but are manifested in the sensuality of surprise evident throughout this collection with its multilayered reliance on sight, hearing, taste, touch, human emotion and intuition.

This is from ghazal Fifty:

“Simpler than blue, more resonant than all within the human
Is a color of inexpressible beauty, of mankind.

Buried in my chest, a weight that humbles
Crafts unmeasured space, still lingering.

Premises vanilla as no foreseeable infection leans
Towards chocolate being a flavor which many people love,

Under the cropped sun, the horizon sinks
Into syllables parallel to sky.”

Sheila Murphy and Michelle Greenblatt can be seen as explorers to a new continent of poetic form, and inventors supreme of language that pushes the boundaries of our senses and cognitive lights. This book, a work of great dedication, which was completed despite the illness of Greenblatt and her battle with pain and death, is a monument to creative invention in its pure form. It gives us the ghazal in a reincarnated state that is an available leap for all who love poetry, ancient and contemporary and explorative.

Judy Katz-Levine

Sunday, August 13, 2017

"Sunday Salon at Sonia." Poetry, Writers and More... September 10, 3-6 pm



Location:  
Address: 10 Brookline St, Cambridge, MA 02139  Central Square




"Sunday Salon at Sonia."
September 10, 3-6 pm
An afternoon of musicians, poets, writers and more. Intermission includes refreshments and author book signings. Proceeds benefit
the Boston National Poetry Month Festival. Participants include:

Beth Bahia Cohen
(A master of bowed instruments from around the world, she has performed with Led Zeppelin, Itzhak Perelman, and Phillip Glass)

Kirk Etherton *
(Songwriter, poet, visual artist, free diver, etc., Kirk was recently featured on WGBH's "All Things Considered.")

Boyah J. Farah
(Somalian refugee-turned-writer, his work has been featured in The Guardian, Salon, National Public Radio, and elsewhere.)
Richard Hoffman
(Memoirist, fiction writer and poet, Richard teaches at Emerson and is former Chair of PEN New England.)

Lucy Holstedt *
(Berklee professor and leader of the Women Musicians Network concert; Lucy is also a poet, composer, and performer.)
Thea Hopkins
(An award-winning Americana singer-songwriter-guitarist, her song "Jesus is on the wire" was recorded by Peter, Paul & Mary.)

Daniel Hudon
(University lecturer in Astronomy and Mathematics, his latest book is "Brief Eulogies for Lost Animals: An Extinction Reader." )

Julian Meservey
(A gifted acoustic and electric guitarist, Julian is a graduate of Cornell and will enter Berklee this Fall.

Ada Ren
(Prolific creator of original and enduring things--from poetry and graphic design to clothing. She is currently at M.I.T.)
------------------------------------------

* On the board of the Boston National Poetry Month Festival.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

The Sunday Poet: Kristie Connolly



Kristie Connolly is the founder and organizer of the popular Bull Run Evening of Poetry. It is a gently scored, eclectic night of original poetry. She is a prolific poet.  Kristie is self-employed as a preservation carpenter with over twenty years of experience.




Self-love


The transformation of falling in love
With oneself
Is a magnificent process

It takes work.
The good kind.
It takes compassion and mindfulness

It takes Great care and encouragement
Wisdom

You must be real
You must be honest
You must accept yourself exactly the way that you are
And you must be gentle

It was not love at first sight
I had to realize it existed
I had to want it
I needed to sit with it
Then walk a little while
Then pause
And walk forward again when I was able

It is a lifelong practice

Things will arise
That inner voice that says you are not worthy of love
But there is another voice
One that we were taught a long time ago to ignore
One that has been waiting for you to listen
That voice is self-love

Opening up
Glowing from within
Watching the old parts fall away

It is the freedom to be your authentic self
It is the freedom to love your authentic self
It is magnificent!

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Endicott College Creative Writing Student Julia Cirignano Publishes White Wine and Marijuana

White Wine & Medical Marijuana is a book of poetry that explores themes such femininity, sexuality, weakness, strength, addiction, power, and profanity. It analyzes these themes, while keeping the language casual, simple, and accessible to all readers. Enjoy the power struggle between self criticism and self love, the raw life observations, and the relentless scrutinization of everyday life.


Available at Amazon.com

Interview with Poet Ben Berman: A Bard who goes beyond the immediate apparent

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Interview with Poet Ben Berman: A Bard who goes beyond the immediate apparent
Interview with Doug Holder

Recently I had the pleasure to interview poet Ben Berman. Berman is a thin, wiry man—who sports an amused smile and doesn't take himself to seriously. He has the look of a curious man. I can picture him closely examining a leaf or an ant with his children for an extended length of time.

 Berman’s first book, Strange Borderlands (Able Muse Press, 2012), won the Peace Corps Award for Best Book of Poetry and was a finalist for the Massachusetts Book Awards. His second book is Figuring in the Figure, forthcoming from Able Muse Press in 2017. He has received awards from the New England Poetry Club and fellowships from the Massachusetts Cultural Council and Somerville Arts Council. He is the poetry editor at Solstice Literary Magazine and teaches in the Boston area, where he lives with his wife and daughters Doug Holder interviewed Berman on his Poet to Poet Writer to Writer TV show on Somerville Community Media TV






Doug Holder: Ben—you defected from Somerville to the environs of Newton, Mass. Why?

Ben Berman: My wife lived in Somerville for 10 years. We dated for four years, and lived together in Somerville. We lived in Teele Square for a while. After we got married and had our daughter we moved to Newton.

DH:Is Somerville a good place to reside for a poet?

BB Somerville is a great place to be a poet. There is such creative energy. The Somerville Arts Council is such a good organization. It is very supportive. The city is very diverse.

DH: In your new collection “Figuring in the Figure” you explore the facade of the immediately apparent. In the suburbs—where you live now-- behind the broad and manicured lawns—lurks the rawness—the unruly entanglements of the world.

BB: I think of this book as a follow up to my other book, “Strange Borderlands.” It is based around my experience with the Peace Corps in Zimbabwe and what it was like being a stranger in a strange land.
“Figuring....” deals with a very different place—the small—local life-- but the rawness exists in this seemingly placid environment.

DH: Some say you have to be a wild—Charles Bukowski- like figure to be a poet—how does domesticity suit you?

BB: In some ways it helps—in terms of giving me some routines and rituals to keep me writing. There are many complexities—entanglements being a father and a husband. Small moments of domestic life are entry ways into broader ideas.



DH: It has been said we detach ourselves to feel more fully. Do you detach yourself when writing?

BB: Writing requires detachment to feel the experience fully and write about it.

DH: How have your children affected your writing? Does their sense of wonder ignite yours?

BB: Entirely. My kids see the world entirely differently. They could spend a hour just looking at an ant. I try to see through my kids eyes. It gets me out of the “routine” of seeing.

DH: Tell me about your involvement with Solstice Literacy Magazine.

BB: It is an online magazine that has been around for 8 or 9 years. Lee Hope started it. It was connected to Pine Manor College. We produced two print anthologies. It is a wonderful journal. On staff we have folks like Regie Gibson, Richard Hoffman, Danielle Georges, and many others.

DH: Why do you write poetry?

BB: It is a centering practice. It is a ritual I need to engage in or I won't feel right. It allows me to slow down and connect with my life. I love to play with language, and find meaning in the world. I get up around 3AM every morning—check the Web, have a cup of coffee, and free write. I go where it directs me.

DH: You teach at Brookline High, in Brookline, MA. It is a help or hindrance?

BB: To teach is very demanding—so it sort of makes me make time for my writing. I am lucky to have bright and creative kids in my classes. I love to introduce kids to reading—and they introduce me to new writers—that can only help.


THE UNDERSIDE
My friend confides in me how his wife cheated—
well, not cheated, but sent racy photos
of herself to other men—how she created
some online profile with a phony
name—Lady Falcon—and how he stumbled
upon this one day when he used her phone
to order a pizza. They’d been so stable,
he tells me, maybe they needed this breach
to save their marriage from growing stale.
In front of us, a hawk’s perched on a branch,
calmly pecking at a squirrel’s entrails.
We’re sitting side-by-side on the bench
but see different things through the tangled
crosscutting of limbs in front of us. My friend
mentions that he’ll hide some of the details
from his analyst because the man can find
subtext even when they chat about sports—
which makes me feel bad about my own feigned
attention—how my mind spirals and spurts
like a squirrel getting chased up a tree,
then scrambles to piece together the excerpts—
it’s just that I’m tired of the puppetry…
my friend says …some childhood desire…
he adds …while residing on my property—
but what an impotent word—resides
just hearing it makes me long for nude
photos of his wife. On the underside
of the branch, now—directly under
the hawk—is another squirrel, his floppy
tail pointed stiff—this must be duende,
I think—ready to spring at the slightest flap
of a wing. How should I have reacted?
my friend asks, as the squirrel fixes to flip.

 -- Ben Berman

Steve Glines wins the Kathleen Spivack Generosity Award

Steve Glines


 Steve Glines wins the Kathleen Spivack Generosity Award

By Doug Holder



Longtime Ibbetson Street Press designer, and founder of the Wilderness House Press--Steve Glines-- has won the Kathleen Spivack Generosity Award....

Kathleen Spivack has been a visiting professor of American Literature/Creative Writing (one semester annually) in France since 1990. She has held posts at the University of Paris VII-VIII, the University of Francoise Rabelais, Tours, the University of Versailles, and at the Ecole Superieure (Polytechnique). She was a Fulbright Senior Artist/Professor in Creative Writing in France (1993-95). Her poetry has been featured at festivals in France and in the U.S. She reads and performs in theatres, and she also works with composers. Her song cycles and longer pieces have been performed worldwide.
She has received grants from the National Endowment for the Arts; Bunting Institute; two Radcliffe Institute fellowships; Massachusetts Council for the Arts and Humanities; the Fulbright Commission and others. A Discovery winner, she has held residencies at Yaddo, MacDowell, Ragdale, Karolyi, and the American Academy in Rome. Some recent prizes include: Allen Ginsberg Poetry Award 2010, the 2010 Erica Mumford Award, the 2010 Paumanok Award, Solas/Best Travel Writing Awards, and others. An international writing coach, Kathleen Spivack directs the Advanced Writing Workshop, originally created through the NEA, an intensive program for professional writers. She has taught in the Bahamas, Puerto Rico, Barbados, in Greece, at the Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center in its early days, and for the Holland America Line. She also teaches in Santa Fe, Taos, Aspen, IWWG/ Skidmore, Brown and other programs throughout the United States and abroad.

Here is a letter from Kathleen:

Dearest Steve
      I came into a very little bit of money very late in life,  and from that and my earnings from teaching & coaching and writing have set up a very small fund to recognize people who have been extremely generous in facilitating writing and the arts in our community. I do not advertise, nor solicit applications or nominations. It is very small and personal. It recognizes generous people within my sphere.
    This small award is for the unsung and often unpaid heroes who have given writers a forum over time.. It stands for quiet appreciation and Thank You.
     This is not for the artists and writers themselves: nor for their body of work, there are plenty of competitive moneys around for the work itself. This award is for those who support the work of other writers.
       It recognizes individuals in our community who, from my point of view, long standing and over time, work behind the scenes to contribute to and promote so many writers’ work right here among us.  I try to take into account factors such as timing, encouragement, need, and when this small recognition might make a difference. There are lots of people in our lives who qualify. Te amount varies.  Last year the individual recipients were Elizabeth Doran and Harris Gardner.
    This little award acknowledge for instance, book designers ,independent booksellers, publishers, printers, readings organizers: the resources for the community such as yourself, Steve
      You are one of our most precious resources, dear Steve: your knowledge, competence, unstinting willingness to share your expertise, your selflessness, your kindness. You are so important to us all.
      Please accept this check for $ with all my esteem in recognition of your generous service to writers in the Boston area and for your continued work, your advice and expertise,  

       love.
       Kathleen
And Joe Murray too of course….

 

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Doug Holder interviews Poet Kate Hanson Foster about her collection Mid ...

Slow Transit: Stories by Michael C. Keith







Slow Transit: Stories by Michael C. Keith
Červená Barva Press, 2017
ISBN 978-0-9984253-6-8
226 pp., $18.00

Reviewed by David P. Miller

Prolific author and scholar Michael C. Keith presents Slow Transit, the most recent of a dozen short story collections. Recently retired from Boston College, Keith has also written many books on mass communication, as well as a memoir and a novel for young adults. The present collection consists of eighty-two stories (if my count is right), ranging in length from brief paragraphs of flash fiction to a half dozen or more pages. Many are two to three pages. There’s a lot to choose from here, a lot to sample as one might a basket of treats. These stories are typically infused with ironic humor, a love of surprise, even reveling in uncertainty. Most impressive is Keith’s seemingly unquenchable facility for uncovering the outlandish in the everyday. I’ll describe a handful of the stories that stand out for me (there are many more), and attempt not to give much away – not easily done.

Keith prefaces many of his stories with epigraphs, and Cézanne’s remark at the head of the story “Acceptance” is particularly appropriate: “We live in a rainbow of chaos.” The urban dwellers of this story resort to calling the police, due to their neighbors’ bizarre sleep-destroying behavior. But is this activity truly unlawful, or merely random? Out of bounds, or just a band of the rainbow?

Although titles are essential literary elements, in a collection of often very short stories titles make up a significant part of the word count and do proportionately more work than usual. The title of “The Pictures on Dorian’s Computer” almost, but not quite, gives away the story. A deft contemporary riff on Oscar Wilde, it’s chilling as was the original, although of course much briefer at four pages. In keeping with Keith’s writing world, the end twist diverges from Wilde’s, heading off in a direction maybe more shudder-full. You might think that the title “Indescribable: A Totally Unsatisfying Short Story” would excuse you from actually reading the story. But instead, so forewarned, you could instead enjoy how its single paragraph empties itself out as you read, self-undermined just in time for the classically center-justified “The End.” And it’s the title that especially frames the humor of “2047.” Yes, suffering is eternal and the cure can be as bad as the disease, as people say. Apparently, we’ll keep saying it into the far future, as the less there is to complain about, the louder the complaints are.

The surprise of “A Second Opinion” comes from a kind of thickening of its situation instead of a contradiction. Elliott, concerned about his erratic heartbeat, conducts a strenuous internal monologue in the process of consulting a cardiologist. We expect the outcome will take place in a medical office, but Elliott suddenly blurts what we need to know in front of his TV. This one-page story is stuffed full of red herring. (Hard work this, avoiding spoilers.)

Funny as hell, “Exceptional Service” is a narcissist’s nightmare – or should be. For Trumplings convinced that it’s all about me, this one’s yours. Some sorcerer’s apprentice has unleashed, not brooms, but delivery trucks at the door. Satisfied yet, narcissist? In the title story, “Slow Transit,” the inexplicable is literally uncovered, beneath the ordinary soil of a backyard garden. In three paragraphs, we move from bucolic tale to horror story to a clash of two worlds, each of which remains perfectly itself.

The reader might come to expect a steady stream of inversions and ironies, but Keith creates further species of surprise within the form of surprise itself. For example, while “Something in Reserve” reveals a superhuman power possessed by two middle-aged hikers, the twist gently nudges this half-page tale toward a hinted other dimension. There’s even practical advice in “The Major Benefit of Passing,” a brief meditation on one’s death that is not only wry, but oddly comforting.

A memoir, “Sarge” is possibly the most unexpected in this gaggle of unexpecteds. As a supply room clerk in a Korean missile base in 1962, Keith has as superior officer one Sergeant Brennan, a lifer, hard drinker and survivor of duty in two wars. In one sense, there’s nothing outstanding about Sarge. He’s in bad health, worn, and doggedly stuck with the only life he knows how to have. But Keith renders this forgotten man’s particularity with such heart that his loss is palpable. I found myself pausing in silence, embarrassed to have passed by many such people without a thought.

Michael Keith has been a nominee for the Pen/O. Henry Award, in addition to other nominations. And while that’s simply logical given his sensibility, it’s too easy to stick every surprise conclusion with the “O. Henry ending” label. But at least one story in this collection qualifies: “It’s the Gift That Counts.” Like Henry’s “The Gift of the Magi,” it’s a Christmas tale, but in place of a poor young couple, here are older parents receiving a surprise from their newly prosperous son. They are, in fact, surprised twice: the twist arises, not from karma gone off the rails or benignly aimless Kismet, but from the situation’s own quietly implicit dynamics.

I’d like to be able to quote all two sentences of “God Is Just,” one of the collection’s extremely brief gems. Instead, I’ll say that retribution and revelation are sometimes simultaneous, sudden, and sweet. Another two-sentence work, “Pro-Dactive,” made me laugh out loud (I won’t give even you a clue). Other hilarious items include “The Intransitive” (also too brief to even hint at) and “Oops!!”, one of the most over-the-top tales of disastrous marriage ever.

In short, a not-entirely-random preview of the entertainment and wit of Slow Transit and the imaginative world of Michael C. Keith. It’s a world that borders, or lurks just behind our own. Or perhaps it’s what our world thinks about when it’s up with insomnia. Or maybe it simply is our world, and we just need to give in and admit it.

Monday, August 07, 2017

LIVE at THE ALGONQUIN in NYC Susan Tepper Interviews Stephanie Dickinson


Stephanie Dickinson--Left   Susan Tepper--Right






LIVE at THE ALGONQUIN in NYC
Susan Tepper Interviews Stephanie Dickinson





Stephanie Dickinson was raised on an Iowa farm, then lived in Texas, Louisiana, and now New York City, a state unto itself.  Her novels are Half Girl, and Love Highway which is based on the 2006 Jennifer Moore murder.  Heat: An Interview with Jean Seberg was released by New Michigan Press. Dickinson's work has received multiple distinguished story citations in the Pushcart Anthology, Best American Short Stories, and Best American Mysteries.  She is the editor of Rain Mountain Press.




Susan Tepper: Let me start by saying you are an incredibly prolific writer. I believe I’ve read all your books. There are plenty of writers out there churning out several titles a year, but few produce such a wide variety of subject matter, and penned in the most pristine manner of story telling.  Your two recent books, The Emily Fables and Flashlight Girls Run, couldn’t be more different one from the other.
You’ve called The Emily Fables a ‘hybrid’ while Flashlight Girls Run is a structured story collection in three parts. How do you do it? What makes Stephanie Emily Dickinson run?


Stephanie Emily Dickinson: In a letter to Maria Huxley, D.H. Lawrence writes:
 “I think myself it’s rather nice to be busy and practical on the outside—and daydreams, as you call it, inside. The things one care about are all inside, like seeds in the ground in winter. But one has to attend to the things one only half cares about. And so life passes away.”

The more structured stories in Flashlight Girls Run were written over a period of six years and perhaps reflect a more settled, less frantic time. While the flash fiction/prose poems that make up The Emily Fables were written recently and in a more compressed, chaotic period. Like others, I’ve experienced a furious speeding up of time, the breathlessness inherent in our multi-tasking, digital brave new world, so much coming in—the multitude of voices, the media clamor, the flood of words, and the tsunami of images. As a writer with one brain and one sadly fragmented attention span, I attempt to absorb what will be an evolutionary uphill battle.



I work a day-job marked by deadlines and although my work is routinized and low-status it is one of ever-increasing pressure. The working-world asks much of its wage laborers and longer days are de rigor. I know fellow employees who studied art and literature and dance but who no longer paint or write or dance. I find that tragic. It steels me in my determination to not give up “the things one cares about.”



Ps-- I was profoundly injured in a long ago violence and I want my survival to count for something beyond my daily bread. I am in love with literature; I love the written word.  To be a reader is to give a gift and to be read is to receive a gift. No matter the vagaries of recognition, no matter the dark politics of our divided America, I hope to stay open, to laugh, to shepherd spirit and energy, to explore, to be conscious of the miracle of life that pulses in me.

ST: In a back cover blurb on your book Flashlight Girls Run, author Susan O’Neill said: “Stephanie Dickinson writes with the beauty of a wounded angel.”
You mention you survived violence. I can feel that undertow in every story and book you write. There is always some thing, or person, or situation, that threatens the protagonist.
Most of your protagonists are women, but for a few, such as your male character Jamer in a story titled Between the Cold Hearts and the Blue Dudes. You have made Jamer a decent man, despite other men in your other stories ranging from mean, crazy, to downright psychopathic. What stimulated the creation of Jamer? Why did you cut him a break and make him quite decent and caring?

SED: For me it was more frightening and challenging to write in a softer tone than to write in an edgier, more fiercely intense one. I am still trying to work my way toward a more varicolored palate, which Jamer represents. I see “the undertow” you mention as a virtue but also a failing in my world view and my work—too easily casting characters in roles of prey and predator. I recognize that all humans are fraught with complexity and ambiguity, and even the most devilish among us have some angelic qualities. It’s the writer’s work to reveal those qualities.

Yes, Jamer represents a new direction in my work and the beginning of an exploration of the male psyche and point-of-view. I am naturally drawn to the traumatized young female in the midst of making one of those fatal decisions that lead to disaster. I needed to stretch and have been exploring various modes of thinking since. Currently, I’m working on a collection of hybrid flash fictions from the point of view of the Austrian Expressionistic poet Georg Trakl. (1887-1914). Considered one of most influential lyric poets of the early 20th century, he’s a tormented, androgynous figure who embraces the male and female or is neither, uncomfortable with both. His short life was marked by depression, drug use, and an incestuous attraction to his younger sister, Grete, the piano prodigy. In spite of it all he produced a poetry of genius.

ST:  I’m also very fond of writing male protagonists.  I believe it’s my way of trying to understand what makes men tick.


SED:  Jamer also represents my desire for readers. I hope to invite readers into my work, to a place they might find pleasure and delight in. Readers, who do take the plunge into my writings, often tell me they have to put the book down, and then pick it up again. They find the denseness of the prose and the intensity of the situation too concentrated. I’ve also heard the word “sadness” in relation to my books. That bothers me. Sadness is the mood we want to avoid at any cost. I grew up with an often cross mother who wanted to avoid sadness through the more active emotion of anger. I love dark literature and yet I met a book that challenged me. The book so brutally extreme that I couldn’t read for long stretches is Eimear McBride’s A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing. Brilliant, even genius as The Guardian suggests, but hellish to read. Yet I’m glad I did read it and see the play based on the book—unforgettable, raw, lyrical.

ST: All the stories are incredibly powerful in this collection Flashlight Girls Run. I want to talk about the Honeylet stories, which you have bound together under the title The Papoose House. They deal with the true-life situation of children placed into ‘care homes’ which were actually orphanages, of dubious pedigree, and how devastating that turned out for most of the children, as history has recorded those events. This story opens in 1961 and flash forwards to 2010, repeatedly, back and forth, until its conclusion in 2010.
It’s a very interesting structure in that it created a lot of power and intimacy because it gave a lot of exposure to the reader for both time periods.

SED: I think we’re in an exciting literary period when an emphasis on multiculturalism has opened doors that hitherto have been closed. Now we have a world music alive in literature and narratives from all over the globe being published.  In America writing is no longer dominated by the white male* and much has been illuminated about the dark underside of our country’s history and presented by writers of color.  Once we get past the swagger about our exceptionalism we find the gut-wrenching stories.  I don’t want to be guilty of cultural appropriation but the need to give voice to the voiceless is too great, too pressing.  A new literature is being created and every writer’s work seeks importance.

I’ve long been aware that the Indian boarding schools of the late 19th century and 20th century were a blight, schools that lasted in this country until the 1970s. A few years ago I happened to read an article about the tearing down of a Native American boarding school in South Dakota.  A Lakota woman graduate/survivor had been interviewed and gave hair-raising witness to conditions: withholding of food, excessive physical labor, beatings, low teacher standards, little medical care, sexual abuse, and homicide.  I began to write The Papoose House.

I went to undergrad school at Southwest State University in Southwestern Minnesota, not far from the South Dakota border. At that time the Wounded Knee standoff was going on not that many miles distant and activist professors were organizing food and supply drop-offs. Students were smuggling themselves into Wounded Knee to join the struggle. 200 Lakota Sioux Native Americas, all AIM members, had taken hostages and occupied the town of Wounded Knee on the Pine Ridge Reservation.  It stemmed from a protest over the devastating Pine Ridge conditions and BIA corruption. (I just checked the statistics and the Pine Ridge unemployment rate is 80-95% with mean income of $4,000. Can this be possible in a country that calls itself Land of the Free and Brave? Treatment past and present of Native Americans is so heartbreaking I find it difficult even to research. The Lakota are truly a forgotten people. The beaten, the colonized. And so Honeylet’s story of all that history and how its effects are inter-generation could best be served by breaking the narrative into two time sequences, two chronological streams that ultimately intersect.  I’ve gone on to write two more Honeylet stories that explore the culture of the boarding schools and of the Church that governs them.
In The Papoose House, Honeylet considers language. “Mamaroneck, Massapequa. Syllable after rich syllable, the true native speech. The first human voices this land knew. That land can not be owned. Dakota. Mississippi. Omaha, Winnebago. Biloxi. Iowa. Yankton. Wichita. The most beautiful sounds to hold in your mouth.”
There is a debt owed here.

ST:  There is a big debt owed.   I’d like to segue here into your other new book “The Emily Fables.”   Where did this title come from?

SED:  That book is dedicated to my grandmother, Emily Amelia Buresh, who mostly raised me.  She was a farm woman who came from what was then called Czechoslovakia. Growing up, she told me a lot about her early life on the farm.

ST:  Her farm life must have been extremely difficult, based on what you’ve written in this book, though the character doesn’t complain because it’s all the life she knows.  The linked stories begin in 1887 and continue through 1948.  It’s a whole life.  You open with a type of ‘fable’ regarding the main character Emily and her birth:

“1887. Someone left me in the orchard, my father said, and since it was January when they waded through the new snow beneath the apple tree, the one that had always favored us with red fruit, their boot prints iced solid.  My father was carrying water to the old ewes… it was below zero when my father spied a black-haired baby – such a full head of hair, coiled as if the fleece of a dark sheep.  I would have frozen, had not the old ewes crouched next to me, one on either side, their names Libbie and Esther, their pink eyes dimming as if cherries slowly sinking in cream.”

Quite an astounding opening.  Throughout Emily’s story, you pull up words and images that create a lush picture for the reader.

SED:  It’s a type of farm language I grew up hearing:  stony, anvil, hunyak (a lazy-bag person), forenoon (mid-morning), lye kettle, for example.  During the Depression they made their own soap in a black, cast-iron kettle using marrow, lard, water – boiled and stirred with sticks.  Then poured into metal containers called Wedding Cakes of Lye Soap, kept in the coolest, darkest room of the cellar.  A harsh soap, brown and tallowy. 

ST:  Fascinating.

SED:  There was no garbage pickup on the farm, just a compost of food scraps that we gave to the animals in winter and to the garden in summer. Our moody donkey, Jack, favored apple cores and bruised fruits while the chickens (three of whom roosted on his back in the coldest months) enjoyed potato peelings. The cans we collected in a burning barrel in the back pasture, where it was all burned then buried. 
ST:  People back then lived and acted according to necessity.  The second story, lush in descriptive language, as they all are, moves ahead to 1894.  That’s seven years later in Emily’s life, and is titled Emily and the Earthworm.   

“1894.  Knowing it was the day when my father would put down the plow and pick up his fishing pole, we entered the field, walking past the cow patties, thistle-thorned, grey and flaking, past the windmill and lye kettle where he dug with his three-pronged shovel.  Thrusting it into the ground, he forked up long segmented creatures.”

SED:  As a child I walked the fields and the land and got to know the horse chestnuts from the black walnuts, the bugs and the ditches, how quill feathers differed from pin feathers on a chicken.  My grandmother slaughtered and gutted chickens for our meals.  The feathers were used to fill pillows, and make pastry brushes.  During the slaughter, I recall seeing the magic life spirit lifting out of the animal. 

ST:  Most people don’t see that in their lifetime.

SED:  True.  The animation force is a sacred thing. It is amazing to see the moments before death and the moments immediately after. You experience the breath of life leaving the animal or person and, instantaneously, what is left seems little more than a carcass.  How I wish I could marvel more at the essence. Once again I return to D.H. Lawrence who certainly understood the magic life force. 


The things one care about are all inside, like seeds…”



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Susan Tepper is the author of five published books of fiction and a chapbook of poetry.  Monte Carlo Days & Nights, her new Novella, will be released in the fall.  Tepper has received multiple awards and honors for her writing.  She is the founder/host of FIZZ a reading series at KGB Bar, NYC, running sporadically these past 10 years.