Saturday, November 5, 2016

Coffee with June Cleaver

Last night I dreamed I was talking with June Cleaver about American civility. I was telling her I had just finished re-reading The Garden of the World by Lawrence Coates, the next selection of Lit Youngstown’s food-themed book club.

This historic novel, circling the family of a French immigrant vintner in Prohibition-era California, unveils plenty of provincial meanness. When a young man returns home from trench warfare deeply scarred, he is both gawked at and avoided. The orchards and vineyards in this fertile landscape hire teams of fruit pickers, favoring white locals, who, even then, are increasingly hard to find. Mexican migrants get worse work for less money, and even though the growers absolutely need the harvesters, the migrants live under continuous fear of deportation, and caution their kids, American citizens by birth, not to have any aspirations. The local newspaper editor is careful to portray his town as an idealized place, filling the social pages with uplift, ignoring much of the gritty truth.

I didn’t stay in the dream long enough to hear June Cleaver’s response. I was too young to watch this white, 1950s t.v. mom in her show Leave it to Beaver in prime time, but caught up with her later, in afternoon syndication. I can’t say it meant much to me. My fantasy family was The Waltons; many tearful appeals were unsuccessful in turning my warts-and-all household into anything like them. In fact, I was not even able, myself, to rise above my squabbling, slothful, brooding soul and be like one of the Walton kids, altruistic, ambitious, and scrappy. But years later, when I watched The Simpsons with my own kids, I felt something missing, the role models that allowed us to measure our failures. We were just like the Simpsons: well-intentioned, mostly, but each week stepping in it, with some new twist.

I love it when my dreams are vignettes, little scenes staging my waking mental dramas. Presidential elections really get me ticking. One of the topics this year among my kind friends is notion that, as a people, Americans are mean as spit. They lament this change of national heart! Yet really, there’s no time when America was nice, through and through. 

Still, in The Garden of the World, Mrs. Clever will also find the good strength of community and family, people forgiving and assuming the best of others. We as a nation are that, too; sometimes we listen to our better angels. The writing is vivid and well-informed, and as I drove past the vineyards of Lake Erie's shore on a recent trip to Buffalo, I was pulled back into the scenes of testing sun-warm grapes for sugar and acidity, listening to the gurgling of fermenting wine in large tanks, leafing through notebooks written in the hand of several generations of vintners. It is a fine book, deserving of its praise.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

For the birds

Local steel sculptor Tony Armeni loves animals, and he calls his series of original, sculpted bird baths For the Birds.

Lit Youngstown is raffling this sweet piece of art and we’ll split the proceeds with Tony. To buy a ticket ($3.00 for one, $5.00 for two), visit us at the July 1 reading in our First Wednesday Reading Series featuring Larry Smith and Paul Gentile.

Larry Smith, editor of Bottom Dog Press, will accompany himself on guitar as he reads new work, and also poems from his collection Lake Winds. Larry Smith is an Ohio institution, and we’re lucky to have him. 

Bottom Dog Press published several books this year, including one by our second featured reader Paul Gentile. Salvatore and Maria: Finding Paradise is a well-researched working-class immigrant family story. 

The readings will be followed with an open mic, emceed by Youngstown author Carmen Leone.

We will draw the winning raffle ticket the afternoon of Sun. July 12 at the Summer Festival of the Arts at our Lit Youngstown booth, where you’ll find the winning poem of our ekphrasis contest (writing from art!), “Disco,” by Cleveland poet Dianne Borsenik. We’ve printed Dianne’s gorgeous poem on a reusable tote and will give them away at our booth. We will also have writing activities and readings. It will all be amazing. Hope to see you there! For more information, visit Lit Youngstown.

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Thursday, June 4, 2015

Thank you, editors

I’ve long admired these journals, so I’m particularly pleased to have my work included. 

Diode Poetry Journal, edited by the amazing Patty Paine, accepted these five poems for the anniversary issue. This is my third time in Diode, and I’m a big admirer of the spare layout and the aesthetic range. I also like the way I can scroll down and read multiple poems by the same poet. Bob Hickock also has several poems in this issue, and while I’m blown down by any one, the force of all of them in one reading is tremendous.

I’m a big fan of Waccamaw, and grateful my poem “Code Violations” found a good home.

My first creative non-fiction came out in PoetsArtists. I’ve lived in many places and was messing around with a list one day, and realized I’ve defined much of my experience in living with animals. Thanks to guest editor Nin Andrews.

And my first short story was published by Ragazine, a terrific journal produced by talented editors in Binghamton, NY. I like writing fiction—all that space!—and plan to do more of it, so I appreciate the encouragement that comes with seeing this story in print, or e-print, so to speak.