Yearly Archives: 2007

Cherry by Mary Karr

Cherry (Thorndike Press, 2001) picks up where the author’s first memoir, The Liar’s Club, ended with her as a preteen. As one might guess from the not-so-subtle title, this centers around her coming of age in the Texas refinery town of Leechfield.

Karr’s prose is not quite as poetic as in the first installment. She has chosen to tell the story in the second person, which yields a more immediate read to events that, by today’s standards for publication (what outrageous secrets can you expose?), are more innocuous than the latest antics of Britney Spears though they happened in a less public time.

Karr neither portrays herself as victim or survivor but relays her experiences in an almost matter-of-fact tone. Unlike The Liar’s Club, her dysfunctional parents and perfect sister are only afforded cameo appearances though the textures of their personalities could have added dimension to Cherry, as did the appearance of Charlie (her mother) near the end of the book where Charlie’s own past influences the outcome of the younger Karr’s first arrest.

Still, her story is more interesting than my own, though it ends before mine begins. I suspect the telling of Karr’s tale is not yet complete and will happily read the next volume.


Blue Angel

Francine Prose’s novel Blue Angel (Harper Collins, 2000) is an interesting satire of undergraduate creative writing programs. It just happens to be set in Vermont. It just happens to center around a middle-aged male character named “Swenson” who just happens to be a somewhat sympathetic washed up novelist and professor. He just happens to end up in disgrace with everyone in his life and just happens to be grateful for the new life opportunity his disgrace brings him. Not so believable, at least not as compared to J. M. Coetzee’s Disgrace (Viking, 2000), which takes a larger, darker walk into total debasement and self-destruction.

Not that the two books can fairly be compared. While Prose’s novel is more satirical than Disgrace, it fails to make the same emotional connectivity, something I crave in any writing even if part of authorial intent. The protagonists in both novels have strained relationships with their daughters though Coetzee more succesfully carries that relationship into the meat of his larger plot which truly earns the book’s title.

Different authors, different continents, different outcomes. Perhaps the American reader prefers the melodrama of suburban soap operas to serious personal and cultural trauma. Perhaps Americans need a larger world-view, one that takes them out of sleepy college towns and onto the farms of another continent where the shockingly true aspects of human nature are more than sound bites on CNN.

Please feel free to leave your comments on either/both novels. I would appreciate your point of view.l


Just Poets Meeting 10/6/07

Many thanks to Gary Lisman, President of Just Poets, for leading all who attended in a haiku (or short poem, as each poet preferred) collaboration. The assignment was to spend a few minutes making observations with a random poet-partner then to write a short poem either together or individually. Some pairs did both. After sharing what each poet had written, a lively discussion on the nature of haiku in English took place. Gary is also a member of the Rochester Haiku Society and is well-informed on current issues related to this Japanese form, having recently attended the Haiku Society of America’s conference here in Rochester.

For more information on upcoming Just Poets events, visit


Recent Literary Food

Currently, there are 39 books on my “Must Read” list, most of which, you might guess, are poetry. In my post-MFA literary consumption to date, here are some of the highlights:

The Body of Poetry, Annie Finch
The Body of the Beloved, Gregory Orr
A Small and Remarkable Life, Nick DiChario (see previous post)
Loostrife, Stephen Dunn
The Liar’s Club, Mary Karr
Sinners Welcome, Mary Karr
Ishmael, Daniel Quinn
The Long Meadow, Vijay Seshadri
Please, Mr. Einstein, Jean-Claude Carriere
The Deepest Part of the River, Mekeel McBride
Magnetic North, Linda Gregerson
Poetry as Survival, Gregory Orr
The Last Fine Time, Verlin Klinkenborg
Various Orbits, Thom Ward
City of Lights, Lauren Belfer
Transformations, Anne Sexton
Facts About the Moon, Dorianne Laux
The Faith of a Writer, Joyce Carol Oates
What We Carry, Dorianne Laux


Best Book on Writing/Poetry: Poetry as Survival
Best Poetry Collection: Sinners Welcome
Best Memoir: The Last Fine Time (though The Liar’s Club is fabulous, I prefer not to choose it since I’ve already selected Karr’s poetry collection as a “Best.” )
Best Novel: A Small and Remarkable Life

I am currently reading Blue Angel by Francine Prose.

Perhaps you’ll notice a pattern in my selections above. If you’ve got a suggestion that might fit or rock that pattern, feel free to leave a comment. Please tell me why you think I should read what you suggest. I am especially interested in memoir/biography suggestions. I’d also be interested in reading your comments on any of the books mentioned, positive or negative.


Reflecting On the Death of Liam Rector

In the unsettled aftermath of Liam’s suicide, I am reminded of Kendra Tenecea’s January 2007 graduate lecture on the poetry of Ruth Stone and his comments on Stone’s inability to get over her husband’s suicide. Liam spoke with such negativity of Stone in this regard that his own suicide has come as more than a little shock to most of us in that graduating class.

My own thoughts go to Tree Swenson and his daughter Victoria as they process his decision over time. One can only suppose how Swenson’s future poetry will be impacted, even as those poems begin to be written within her being, if not on paper, in the now.

While we process this active passing in our various ways–writing poems of our own, celebrating Liam’s life, remembering the complex man who dominated every room where he was present, watching (or swearing never again to watch) that “brass balls” scene from Glengarry Glen Ross)–we cannot help but wonder about the future of the Writing Seminars at Bennington College.

The January and June 2007 graduating classes are Rector’s final legacy. How will that legacy be lived out into the future?

To view his obituary, click on


Canandaigua Poetry Marathon

I have been invited to read as part of the second annual Canandaigua Poetry Marathon organized by Marie Starr. The first marathon, held last September, drew publicity from Poets & Writers magazine, This is a major finger lakes event in our little but literary-rich corner of the north east. Poets John Roche, Anita J. Augesen and Pat Schwartz will also be reading in addition to many others. It is a marathon, after all!

Readings will be ongoing from noon until 6:30 pm on Saturday, September 8, 2007. A musical open mic will follow the poetry marathon. For more information, check out the festival web site at


Benefit Reading for RochesterInk

A Poetry Chain reading to benefit the RochesterInk Poetry Festival,, and Writers & Books will be held at Writers & Books at 7:00pm Wednesday, September 5, 2007. The Poetry Chain, as well as RochesterInk itself, is the brainchild of Wanda Schubmehl. In the Poetry Chain, seed poems are sent out to participants who then respond to those poems or write poems inspired by them. The resulting poems are then forwarded to other participants, forming a poetic chain. Wanda has overseen this process in the past, much to the delight of the participants, escpecially with the surprising results. I am one of the many poet participants who will be reading. I hope to see you there!



is the title of poet-friend Sal Parlato’s reminiscences of his Catholic college experiences in the 1950s. Sal’s usual wit and wordplay are prominent in this quick read.

I first met Sal back in 2002 and learned that we have a common past: we both come from the Buffalo area originally. We have both also taught English as a second language right here in the Rochester area, though in different programs.

Sal’s led a busy life. To see what he’s been up to check out his web site at


Artworks & Poetwords Reprise

The Artworks & Poetwords collaborative project has finally come to fruition. The display will be on exhibit every weekend in May, with artist and poet talks as well as readings highlighting the collaborative process.

The exhibit will be held at the Dome Arena in the Glass Lounge, immediately to the left after entering the main building. An opening reception will be held there on Friday, May 4 from 5:00pm until 8:00pm. Several poets will be reading their work to the background accompaniment of Len Messeneo and Blue Cloud. Refreshments will be provided. There will also be a cash bar.

My collaboration with abstract expressionist Antoni Ooto resulted in a print of his painting alongside my poem “Talus.” You’ll have to attend the exhibit to see for yourself how both the art and the poetry complement each other.

For more information on the exhibit, visit the web site for the Rochester Art Club at


AWP Atlanta 2007

Having family in the Atlanta area and also having just begun a poetry submission service,, it made sense to attend the annual AWP conference this year to do a little networking. It was fantastic to get out of the Arctic Circle for a little while at least.

Day one conference highlights included a panel on crossing genres to non-fiction which quickly digressed into a lively discussion on how to make money as a writer (writing children’s books seems to be a solid source of revenue).

Day two’s best panel dealt with experimental poetry and the workshop, where one view compared the workshop to a group of people deciding on restaurant options–no one can ever seem to agree. Timothy Liu offered a wine analogy where poems may be considered types of wine. Tim asked us to consider “how” the poem means as more revelatory than “what” the poem means. I would ask those of you with whom I share work to remember this the next time I bring along a “language” poem.

Day two ended with a fine reading by Terrance Hayes. Charles Wright followed. The two very different reading and poetry styles didn’t quite mix well.

Day three began with a panel on our elegaic age which had me thinking of M. J. Iuppa and her research on the elegy. Successful elegies were described as remaining in the “now” with the speaker’s voice implicating itself through tone. Would M. J. agree with that assessment?

A mostly “Bennington” panel on the contemporary “I” provided few surprises. Liam Rector sees the “I” as an “other” while Timothy Liu sees the “I” as “me” qualified as a lie. In other words, “I” is me except when it isn’t. Don’t we all add a little cumin to spice up those confessions for impact?

The book fair was as expected: very tired and sometimes hung-over editors waiting for someone to turn the air conditioning on (they finally did the last day). Most representatives offered chocolates if not free copies of their journals. I have to say that I am very pleased with the high quality of journals and magazines represented. Beautiful covers, strong work in-between.

It was good to visit with Garner Powell and Suzannah Simpson, who will both be graduating with their MFAs from Bennington College in June. Suzannah has work forthcoming in Nimrod. Gardner has interviewed Donald Hall, which I’m sure we’ll see in print very soon.

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