Wednesday, October 29, 2008
CD Collins: A Somerville writer with Kentucky stories
C.D. Collins crosses many genres. She is an accomplished short story writer, vocalist, poet and consummate performance artist. She has performed at such venues as as the Charles Playhouse, Club Passim, as well as academic institutions across the country. This Somerville resident, originally from Kentucky, has had her work published in such journals as: “Story Quarterly,” “Salamander,” “Ibbetson Street,” and many others. She has received grants from the Somerville Arts Council for music and literature. She won a Cambridge Poetry Award, and her latest CD is “Subtracting Down”, a compilation of post-modern mountain storytelling. She is a member of the “Writer’s Room” in Boston, and has a new book of poetry coming out with the Ibbetson Street Press: “Self-Portrait With A Severed Head.” I talked with her on my Somerville Community Access TV Show: “Poet to Poet:Writer to Writer” on Somerville Community Access TV.
Doug Holder: You are from Kentucky, but you moved to Somerville in the mid 80’s. How would your life been different if you stayed in Kentucky?
CD Collins: I probably would be dead, or really depressed. I wanted to leave Kentucky to become a writer. I needed to be in the company of other writers. When I was teaching high school in Kentucky I had a cute little student who told me:” Go, be a writer.” So I left. I moved to the Fenway section of Boston with a friend and I was mugged the first week, and my car was stolen…welcome to Boston! I now divide my time between Kentucky and Somerville. Both places compliment each other.
DH: You straddle so many genres…what do you define yourself as?
CD: Let’s say writer. And the definition of a writer is that you write. You can’t be a writer if you are not writing. I have an M.A. in English Literature.
DH: Tell me about your involvement with poetry and music?
CD:I had these friends that I met who were in a band called “Miss Bliss” They eventually wanted me to head them up. They wanted a poet up there on stage. So I started doing poetry and music. I was one of the first to do it again during its resurgence—the Jeff Robinson Trio was also doing it. The new band that came out of this was “Pin Curl.” It was an all-female chamber rock band. And now my band is called: “Rock-a-Betty.” I like to work with musicians. It puts me in front of an audience. It gives this beautiful palette of music behind it and it gets me performing. So basically I say I am a writer and a spoken word artist.
DH: You describe your cd “Subtracting Down” as “post modern mountain” storytelling. Define that.
CD: I would say it is like this. I believe we all should read the literary canon. We should know what we are so we can understand “post modern” I am taking the styles, the tropes, the Southern Gothic style, Blue Grass and Gospel and using it in my work. I am a Buddhist Baptist, and a lesbian. I take my culture and I lovingly hang it inside out, and upside down. I can write a song about gay marriage, the Gay Pride parade to a simple country tune. I am merging my thoughts and ideas from the New South.
DH: You write that as a transplanted Southerner, and long-time Somerville resident you are aware of the “cultural intersection” and “divide” of the two. Well… what are they?
CD: Well, God love ya, as a dyed-in-the-wool New Englander. I spent the summer in Kentucky—and then came back to Somerville. And I always have what I call that “Yankee moment.” It’s usually in Pennsylvania or New York State. When I am driving back to Somerville, there are more people, more traffic, everything is faster. I’ll be cut off, people are rude, I’ll smile at someone, and they won’t smile back. It hurts. And if I take someone down South they may feel a little exposed. People down there look at each other. Southerners actually look in cars. But it is a community that takes care of you. So when I come back here it is a little painful for me. So I can be offended when someone is being their natural city self. But I have all the things here that I wouldn’t have in Kentucky. I came here to be a writer, and I have a group of writers, excellent people, who are helping me.
DH: Word has it you are starting an artist retreat in Kentucky?
CD: I’m lucky. I have a farm in Kentucky, and it has 56 acres. I have a little Victorian cottage on it, and it has 4 bedrooms. After I got the hell raisers out, I took it over. I worked with this guy Ray, and we restored it. I want writers, poets, and musicians to come.
DH: You have a new book of stories coming out “Blue Land.” It deals with a lot of sexual abuse, and drug abuse. Is this to some extent autobiographical?
CD: My writing is not strictly autobiographical. It can be taken from any source including myself.
-- Doug Holder
for more info go to http:/www./cdcollins.com
O my New Englanders,
O You fib, you tell tall tales, you make myths.
O why do you lie about the weather?
In a way this habit is touching, like a belief in Easter Bunny or the tooth fairy, teaching grade-schoolers to depict the seasons with construction-paper cut-outs of April showers followed by May flowers as if one resided in Camelot.
Spring is just around the corner
As though a few green tongues slicing up through semi-frozen soil,
or iron-hard buds poking out like thumbs,
trying to hitchhike their way south,
were signs of spring.
They are not.
Pasty-legged fraternity chums in Bermuda shorts
suffering from hangovers and chilblains
oohing and aahing around a single crocus
were spring itself.
It is not.
(……the reason I prefer New England to Los Angeles, Reykjavik, Acapulco, etc. is that……)
We have four seasons.
This is not true.
We have two seasons.
an 8 month period lasting from November through June
Followed by a raw stretch of
….morning showers tapering off to snow squalls in the afternoon,
…scattered thunderstorms moving through to make way for steady rain,
…and for the weekend a cold snap with brisk sleet showers.
this unpredictable medley is punctuated by
the blossoming of a lone weeping cherry tree,
it sweet pink confetti tumbling across the parking lot,
random 90 degree sunny days.
Call these blessings, my friends,
but do not call them spring.
a concretized stretch of weeks characterized by
superheated atmospheric inversions
and jackhammer dust,
a time of desolation in the metropolis
when the students leave for Europe,
or go off sailing to the Cape & the Islands,
those wearing hardhats and earplugs,
And scruffy, displaced artists
who have sublet apartments here
because they cannot afford summer rent in their own apartments
in Rockport and Provincetown
the Artist Colonies…
Which leads us to
We have an Ocean.
Ok, technically this is true,
But it is not for sissies.
On Saturday morning you must rise at 5 a.m.
drive for two hours
for the opportunity of waiting in line
to pay $20 before the parking lot fills up,
splash on Skin So Soft
to repel vampirish green heads
which, like invisible air-borne barracudas,
gnaw chunks of exposed human flesh.
While lugging your beach chair and cooler along the sandy path,
You will read signs
admonishing you to
from the dunes, the grass, the trees or any living plants,
to wear long sleeved white clothing and long white pants
tucked into white socks inside white tennis shoes.
to continually scan
for moving freckles
And, obviously, to burn your clothing the moment you return home.
These signs have a scolding tone,
as do the Pollution Indexes warning us to stay inside.
Which seem to shift the blame onto us,
We have foliage.
No, that one is true.
We do have foliage and it is spectacular, but you must be quick.
because the appearance of the first flaming maple leaf in Boston,
signals that branches are bare in Vermont, Maine, & New Hampshire,
It’s all cornflakes on the ground now, my sweets,
And covered in a foot of snow.
Spring is just around the corner.
When I first moved to Boston,
I waited along with you
But became enraged as each promised season failed to materialize,
I swore at leafless trees,
and heirloom furniture parked on the streets between colossal snow drifts
But now I am at peace.
Because O my New England
I have learned that the hand gestures and facial expressions
At rotaries and stop lights
the horns honking and taxi drivers jumping out of their cars.
Are native forms of celebrations,
The flipping over of out-of-state vehicles by sports’ fans
Is a type of communal theater,
Hello, I wave back, smiling.
Go Sox, Go Patriots, I yell, honking in unison.
We live in New England!
where wind fingers icily under our collars.
where the red line screeches from Central into Harvard Station.
I disembark into the acrid electric scent of subway’s back draft,
sprint up the metal stairs of the out-of-order escalator,
and stride onto the gray pavement
polka-dotted with historical chewing gum,
And I am glad.
When I hear your minor myths:
Boston wears an emerald necklace,
Boston is a very livable city,
We can just hop on 93 and be there in no time…
Hope is cruel
thus I have deserted it.
I love you New England,
I love your peoples and your libraries,
I love your cappuccinos and your concerts,
Your artists and your architecture,
Your tabernacles and your theaters,
Your rowdy fans and your rivers.
Oh my New England, my Boston, my Cambridge, my Somerville, my Medford, my Worcester
You awaken spring in my Southern heart.
© CD Collins