Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Next Big Thing Self-Interview Thingee

I was tagged by the awesome and talented Melanie Moro-Huber to do this self-interview thing that's going around in which writers tag other writers to post self-interviews on Wednesdays. The questions are the same for everyone.

1. What is the working title of the book?


2. Where did the idea come from for the book?

The title was my wife's idea -- Riceland is the name of a rice distributor. The poems deal with experiences I had growing up on a rice (soybeans, cattle, catfish, buffalo fish, etc.) farm in Eastern Arkansas, in the Mississippi River Delta, one of the poorest places in the country. They also address my mother's fight with Huntington's Disease, my father's alcoholism, race and class issues, the education system in Arkansas (which was 49th in the country when I was growing up) and all sorts of fun stuff. It's actually got a lot of humor in it.

But the real impetus for the book began in a creative writing workshop taught by the inaugural poet Miller Williams. Fairly quickly into the term, I realized that most of us were writing real crap -- poems about how 'I went to Paris one time' or how '(even though my parents pay all my bills) I'm independent now' and just utterly self-absorbed, pointless drivel. We thought poetry was supposed to be about these inane topics. Mine as well. I was really frustrated and disgruntled. I wrote a poem called Roaches from an experience I'd had as a kid. I remember it not being particularly well received in the class, but I could tell that I was onto something. I wrote a handful of other "farming" poems for the class, which were the only ones I wrote worth mentioning. Up until that point, I'd avoided writing about my childhood, rural life, or anything like that out of embarrassment.

3. What genre does your book fall under?


4. What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

The collection is actually a pretty cohesive narrative, so a film version could work.  It covers a lot of ground, so it's a question of whether characters would be depicted at various ages. I'm going to take some liberties and use dead actors/actresses.

Jeff Nichols (Shotgun Stories, Take Shelter, Mud) would direct it. Shotgun Stories is the best depiction of rural Arkansas life I've seen. And I hope I could somehow get Lucero to do the soundtrack. They've cemented themselves as a Memphis band, but I remember Ben Nichols' Red 40 days over in Little Rock.

My father would have to be played by Robert Duvall. It would be best if we could have him play the young version of my father as well through some creative makeup. (My father, as a young man, more resembled Ronald Reagan, but we'd need a better actor than that.)

My mother resembled Grace Kelly, though she wasn't as self-confident.

My brother is a tough one. I'll say Pruitt Taylor Vince, a personal favorite of mine who starred in the film Heavy. Vince started out as a comedian, which works for my brother.  

My sister: maybe a less-out-there Mary Louise Parker? (I asked her and she said Eliza Dushku. I will simply state this and avoid comment.)

It's tough for me to pick an actor to play me, obviously. I'm thinking Tyler Labine or Seth Rogan. I mean I'm THINKING Johnny Depp, but I'm being honest...

5. What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?

An amazingly awesome collection of wish-granting brilliance. Actually, I'm going to cheat and use a blurb by one of my favorite poets, Jo McDougall:

"In Riceland, Bledsoe is unswerving in his depiction of the beauty, despair, and bludgeoning cruelty of life on an Arkansas farm. Be prepared—stark and startlingly revealing, these poems will sear your soul."

--Jo McDougall, author of Dirt, Satisfied With Havoc, and Daddy’s Money

  6. How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

I wrote the first poem, "Roaches,"  as an undergrad. at the University of Arkansas, back in 2000 or 2001, I think. I just added a couple poems to the final manuscript, so it took me a solid decade to write Riceland.

7. Who or what inspired you to write this book?

As I mentioned above, I found focusing on myself boring, so I wanted to focus on my father, my mother, and the disappearing lifestyle I had actually left at that point. Of course, I came back to writing about myself as the collection progressed. (And "Roaches" is really about me.)

8. What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

It's funny. It's gritty. It's real.

9. Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

Unbound Content is publishing it.

My tagged writers for next Wednesday are:

Jillian Bledsoe
J. Bradley
Kurt Baumeister

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Review of John Bryan's Love Has Been Liquidated

Love Has Been Liquidated, poems by John Bryan. Northeast Ohio: HobGob Press, 2012.

According to the introduction, "Love Has Been Liquidated I is part of John Bryan's five-part autobiographical masterwork: a choose-your-own-adventure role-playing prose poem." The poems address the reader (identified as "Love") and, according to the reader's reaction to the poem, the reader moves through the collection, trying to get to the end. But there are dangers: the reader can be "liquidated." Each section is also named after streets in Canberra, Australia.

Examples of prompts for reactions are, from the first poem, "Chelmno":

If you wish to play your part in making this poem and have decided to invoke the colours that we cannot see, the theoretical colours, as metaphors, as invoking the spirit of the recently deceased, as invoked from an illustration from Ebenezer Sibly's 'Astrology' 1806 Edition, then I shall meet you at Isabella Dr.

Get ready to tell people they can read "whatever they want" into our role playing poem. That it "lives its own life" and can "mean many things." - If you do not wish to play yor part, but wish to return to that body farm brothel from which your spirit floated, and from where your remains are pimped out for forensic research, then I shall meet you at Limestone Ave.

Bryan's collection is fun and engaging, while maintaining depth and relevance. He connects spiritual meaning and emotion to place, which grounds the collection in realism, while the interactive approach quickly draws the reader into the reality of the collection.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Rupert Wondolowski's Mattress in an Alley, Raft Upon the Sea

Mattress in an Alley, Raft Upon the Sea, poems by Rupert Wondolowski. New Orleans: Fell Swoop, 2012.

Wondolowski's zine-format collection begins with "1963," a snapshot of the year Kennedy died, which sets a bittersweet tone for the collection. In "Sometimes," he continues with sardonic humor: I grew up next door
to a friend with a former
Miss North Carolina pageant
winner for a mom
who always left the door
open using the bathroom.
Plus I went to Catholic School.
I never had a chance.      (lines 7-14).

Wondolowski's world is surreal and dangerous. "Anything Pointed, Edged, Angled or Blunted" describes:
...a gang in the remote
Peruivian jungle
[which] kills people for their fat
-keeping the liquid in little vials hanging from their belts.      (lines 16-21).
What can one do to guard against something like this? "...there's no way/to walk the/night streets/without your fat." He says (lines 33-36). This is so horrifying, it can't be real, right? But reality is darker than anything one could dream up. "Before Work" demonstrates this. It describes a visit to the doctor. "This is not where the shit goes down, this is/where we find out if you can take the shit/coming down." (lines 18-20).

But there are moments of joy. Wondolowski looks back to Superbowl Halftime commercials, old toys from childhood, pills. "Spring Makes Me Small," is one of the more upbeat poems, despite itself:

I am not as cheerful
as my shirt would indicate
or as horrified
as my hair

in between the seething
fur can be futile
and jackals make good dads

tumbleme this yoga mat
a sun rises from my
ribcage into my esophagus and
there just isn't room for it.

What stands out throughout the collection, of course, is Wondolowski's wit and cunning observations. There are many standout poems. "Some Late Night Thoughts of Mortality While Staring Glassy-Eyed at Karen Black," I mean, how could that not be a great poem? There's an underlying joie de vivre in these poems that I'm thankful to Wondolowski for sharing. In the final poem, "For Everly," he sums it up: "Drop the feeling nto a river and watch it spread/in far reaching ripples." (lines 7-8).

* * *
-CL Bledsoe

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Review of Edward Mullany's If I Falter at the Gallows

If I Falter at the Gallows, poems by Edward Mullany. Baltimore: Publishing Genius Press, 2011.

The first thing that stands out about Mullany’s poems is that they tend to be very short and spare, never longer than a page, rarely as long as half a page, with similarly short lines. There are exceptions, of course; he’s included a handful of prose poems. These brief poems tend to be scenes that also tend to be somewhat inexplicable at first glance, though they resonate emotionally. The opening poem, “Silence in the Milky Way,” for example, has a title longer than any of its lines. The poem includes 11 words, describing a scene of a dissonant marriage. What does this have to do with the Milky Way? It requires some thought. I believe Mullany, at times, isn’t trying to spell out obvious hit-you-over-the-head messages; he’s often implying emotional meaning. This theme of being at odds, with a world, with others, etc., is prevalent throughout the collection. And the approach Mullany has – of mostly brief depictions of scenes – instantly differentiates his poems from the bulk of poetry out there, not only as they appear on the page, but as a read. Despite their brevity, these are difficult poems to skim; they demand attention simply because Mullany’s writing is quite powerful and because the scenes resonate.

Another thing that stands out is Mullany’s subject matter. I was quite surprised, very early on in the collection, to read descriptions of farming, fatherhood: nary a poem about 20-somethings hanging out at coffee shops or complaining about how hard their lives are now that they have to pay their own bills. (YOU KIDS GET OFF MY LAWN!!!!). Mullany is diving for the center of things. Meaningful things.

Normally, I would quote various poems to stress these points, but I’d like to do something a little different and quote some of the lines that really stand out to me from poems I'll select ramdomly. From, “On the Movement of Light Through the Universe”:

The slow

fog of dawn lifts, and a farmer
wearing boots his own

father wore appears with his
cows on the next hill.

I’m biased, having worn my father’s boots, so to speak. But it's evident how Mullany's approach is almost haiku-like. Here’s a line from, “The Abolition Man”:

Where we live, there is more gray
than earth.

The bathtub overflows.
The bathtub sprouts legs, and leaves

the house, and returns at night, drunk.

Mullany is equally comfortable with surreal imagery and realistic imagery. Here’s a link to the very nice “American Gothic.”

How about (the entire poem) "Dishes,"

When I asked my mother what fear
and trembling was, she stopped

what she was doing, and looked at me
funny. I was a high

school sophomore, and she was forty-six.

I could really go on quoting lines, or whole poems, because I haven't even scratched the surface of this collection. What gives poems like "Dishes" their power is Mullany's restraint. He manages to stress the emotional undercurrent of the situation without actually commenting on it. Jo McDougall is a natural comparison, though Mullany lacks the Southern angle. This is one of the few books I've read in the past year that I can envision myself returning to, which is the highest compliment I can pay it.

-CL Bledsoe

Thursday, January 03, 2013

Review of Barry Graham's This Isn't Who We Are

This Isn’t Who We Are, stories by Barry Graham. Ypsilanti, MI: Achilles Chapbooks, 2012. $8.

Barry Graham has established himself as a bard of the working class. His stories deal with poor and working class people who lack direction, either because of lack of opportunities or lack of hope. These characters live in dark worlds, where morality makes you a sucker, and nobody really cares about anyone, not even themselves. Often, in fact, caring about someone other than oneself leads to the downfall of the character. In his latest short story collection, Graham’s abilities as a writer have sharpened. His characters are well-developed and interesting. His approaches to structure are inventive and work perfectly for his stories. Also, they're so damn good stories.

The book opens with “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Roadtrip,” a story in vignettes focusing on a troubled narrator musing on the darker moments of his life. The story begins, “I killed a woman when I was ten years old. Me; kicking rocks in the middle of the road. Her: taking the blind curve much too quickly.” This innocent but doomed action colors the narrator’s entire life. He, understandably, becomes obsessed with her. This theme of innocence destroying itself through naiveté is prevalent throughout the collection.

“X-Factor” tells the story of a group of divorcees who take up video gaming, specifically “Street Fighter.” The story follows the disintegration of the group as they try to win national competitions. One might expect Graham to focus solely on male characters, but he writes women well throughout. The collection also includes several flash pieces, some with very well-rendered female narrators.

Graham is at his best when he tells hard-luck stories; to clarify, many of Graham’s characters drink, but these aren’t bar stories. “The Same Story: cold war” is a flash piece about a character haunted by his childhood. His torment is focused on a chicken hatchery and an unspecified abuse which leads him, later, to burn down a different hatchery. But the real story is the hidden one; what happened in the closet the narrator refers to but doesn’t explain. “Beauty Forever” is narrated by a brain damaged little girl whose father rescued her from her mother’s suicide/murder attempt. It’s a heart-breaking story, though Graham manages it sans melodrama.

Though it’s a brief collection, Graham reveals a lot of range as a writer in these stories. He touches on magical realism, at times, and has plenty of good, solid, storytelling. If you’ve read and enjoyed his earlier work, you’ll love this one; if you’re new to Graham, this is a great entre. Graham is a writer who’s just climbing to the height of his powers. I can’t wait to see when he gets there.
  -CL Bledsoe