Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Poetry Book Discussion Change of Date

We are rescheduling our January book discussion for Mon. 9 Jan., 7:00, Lemon Grove. Join us in a pre-semester cup of Irish coffee and an excellent book, Robert Miltner's Hotel Utopia. We apologize for the one-time change in schedule. Hope to see you there.

Friday, December 23, 2011


I recently listened to an interview with attorney Michelle Alexander on Sherry Linkon’s local NPR  program. I couldn’t make Alexander’s talk “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness,” but I can’t stop thinking about the interview. You can listen to it here.

We all know the high rates of incarceration for black men, but I didn’t know drug laws specifically targeted the black community. I don’t mean unintended consequences: there’s a paper trail, and that was the plan. Alexander explains that the rates of drug use are the same in all segments of society. But blacks are pursued by increasing police intrusion, and laws are skewed so that blacks have a higher penalty rate. Furthermore, it’s nearly impossible for a released felon to be re-integrated into society. We all break the law, Alexander points out – under-age drinking, speeding, smoking pot. But most of us go on to be productive citizens. However one segment of us is singled out, and forced to pay for those mistakes for the rest of their lives.

I get some insights from my students; YSU is one of the most integrated settings in Youngstown. One of my black students wrote that her father and all of her uncles have been to prison. She is struggling to conceptualize family and her expectation of a future partner and co-parent.

During one of our discussions, a white student commented that instead of government assistance, people should “get a job.” A few black students spoke about how they’ve tried for years. The jobs are in the suburbs, and employers pick people who went to their high school or who are kids of their friends. That’s just human nature, right?

Sure, except that when you add up all the factors, it’s devastating. I live in a neighborhood built in the 1920s. Gorgeous, sturdy houses with lots of brick and beautiful arches and wide porches. These areas were sold off by whites in the 1950s in white flight to the suburbs. The blacks who bought them took wonderful care of them – there were plenty of good paying jobs, and these old houses are money pits. But when the steel mills went down and we lost half our population, the blacks were disproportionately affected. And that was before the predatory lending/mortgage crisis. Falling real estate values and massive cuts to education on all levels leaves city schools with the lowest paid teachers and a high turnover. Our students at YSU are sometimes the first in their family to attend college. Many arrive without skills or context, and have a high dropout rate. And those who succeed and want to start a business in the black neighborhoods have a harder time getting loans and support. If they move into a neighborhood with good schools so their kids have a better chance, they are harassed. One of my students, in the nursing program, saved and saved to move into a white neighborhood so her son could have a good education. She and her visitors were pulled over by police so often, she felt more afraid, and moved back.

One of my white students wrote about his black roommate this semester. He admitted that when he learned his roommate was black, he was really angry. He was from a small town and had heard a lot of things. But although he’d already realized his roommate was a good guy, he was surprised to learn through the interview that they had a lot in common.

I teared up when I read the paper. But let’s be clear: that’s one small step for man, but no giant leap for mankind. My black students were thrilled when Obama was elected, but they feel betrayed, and why wouldn’t they? Obama can’t even talk about race. And Obama is genetically half white and culturally all white, so even the way we talk about his race doesn’t parse. What is our problem? We’ve been living together 400 years. And let’s not forget the ancestors of many blacks came in chains. The Germans are on their knees over their ancestors’ treatment of the Jews. My student’s great-grandfather, who was a slave, kept running away, so his foot was cut off. We’re not on our knees over any of it – rather we blame people for being in the trap we made for them. My father once explained to me, “Well, honey, you have to understand: people like to live near other people who are like them.” He was a kind man, and certainly a product of his time, but that so neatly explains away any of our responsibility. And the fact that for-profit prisons mean that some individuals are becoming incredibly wealthy, and some struggling communities rely on prisons to off-set shuttered business and falling wages, adds more dark and complicated elements.

 We use the national rhetoric of freedom and equality. We should strive to live up to that. We are the most diverse nation on earth. We should be so proud of that.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Call for Papers: College English Association of Ohio Spring Conference

I'm an at-large board member this year, and wanted to share this call for papers. Should be an engaging conference in a lovely corner of our lovely state.

2012 College English Association of Ohio Spring Conference
Ohio Northern University, Ada, OH, May 4, 2012

Changing Landscapes: New Directions in Literature, Writing, and Rhetoric

Keynote Speaker:  Susan Oldrieve, Professor of English, Baldwin-Wallace College

There is always a danger of exaggerating the extent to which practices have changed in our profession.  Yet there can be little doubt that we are experiencing some dramatic new directions in English studies.  The explosion of technological venues and tools for pedagogy and scholarship; the pressures of a tight academic job market; new directives from college administrators to produce more with fewer resources; and the growth of community college, for-profit institutions, and large public universities are just a few indications of a changing landscape.  Please join us as we discuss how to advance our profession while also addressing these opportunities and challenges.
Possible topics might include:
·         Changing pedagogical practices in literature, composition, creative writing, and linguistics courses;
·         New ways of reading, writing, and teaching different genres, such as novels, short stories, poems, non-fiction, and online texts (blogs, wikis, etc);
·         Visions of the future for universities, colleges, and community colleges;
·         New landscapes of and for college teaching;
·         New methods implemented by literature, composition, creative writing, professional writing/journalism, and linguistics departments/programs to handle issues related to staffing and scheduling, course curriculum, textbook costs, training of new faculty, assessment, and budgetary issues;
·         Innovative practices for engaging students in the community, the university/college, and the classroom through civic engagement, service learning, and other outreach opportunities;
·         New professional development opportunities;
·         Approaches to addressing the national movement towards Common Core Standards and other changes advocated by state governments.

CEAO welcomes proposals for individual 15-20 minute sessions or 60 minute panel sessions from full-time faculty, graduate students, adjunct and part-time instructors, as well as individuals living/working both inside and outside Ohio.

Send proposals of 300 words or fewer by Friday, March 16, 2012 to: All proposals submitted by the deadline will be considered.  In addition, include your name, academic rank, university affiliation, and a short 100-150 word biography in the email message.  Please indicate if you will need technology for your presentation.
Please visit for additional information.  Presenters must be registered for the conference by the deadline.   

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Apples to Apples

My CSA share included apples many weeks in a row this fall. You know the kind - so fresh, so crunchy. I ate them alone, with cheddar and with peanutbutter, made them into pies and cakes and cobblers. Then my mom and I went to a local orchard and bought a giant bag of Cameos. Manoman, they're incredible. And because they're not bred to pick green and ship and store, they have to be consumed right away. But I'd give up apples all the dark year to have apples in season. I made this pie and bread in the last couple days, and the recipes are well worth sharing.

I've made custard or creamy fruit pies before, and generally the custard lies in a layer and holds its own. This is more like a whisper, so first you get the taste of apple, and then a hint of this lovely creamy mapleness. The Cameos stayed so ivory, and there's no cinnamon so it doesn't look caramelized. This is a delicate pie, and the sugared crust is a delight. I clipped the recipe from a magazine long ago, which attributed the recipe to Richard Caudill of BroadRipple Pie Co. in Indianapolis. If you know Richard, please thank him for me. You'll also notice this recipe is a snap. The apple pie I took to Thanksgiving dinner took half the day - one of those recipes that should begin with: Take out every piece of kitchen equipment you own. And it wasn't half as good.

Apple Maple Cream Pie

Pastry for 9" double crust pie

1/3 c. sugar
3 T. cornstarch
1/4 tsp. salt
6 c. sliced, peeled apples
1/2 c. maple syrup (I used real, local syrup)
1/4 c. whipping cream (I used half and half)
1/2 tsp. vanilla

In large bowl, stir together sugar, cornstarch and salt. Add apples and gently toss. In small bowl, stir together syrup, cream and vanilla. Pour over apples. Fold until combined. Transfer to pastry-lined pie plate. Even out and cover with top crust. Cut vents. Brush with milk and sprinkle with sugar (I used large crystal sugar). Bake 375 for 55 min.

I thank my Aunt Kit for sharing this recipe with me. She is famous in our family for her baking, and I know any recipe that comes from her will be amazing. Again I used the Cameos, which made a gorgeous, golden applesauce. I like it on the chunky side, and that left a nice texture in the bread too. This batter is well spiced, and that sets off the apples, dates and walnuts.

Applesauce Loaf

1/2 c. butter
1 c. sugar
1 egg
1 1/2 c. flour
1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. cinnamon
3/4 tsp. nutmeg
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. cloves
1 1/4. c. applesauce
1/2 c. each chopped dates and walnuts

Beat butter and sugar, add egg. Stir together dry ingredients, blend in. Gently add applesauce, dates and walnuts. Bake greased loaf pan 1 hr. at 350.

Monday, December 12, 2011

My New Definition of Terrorism: Fracking

Are you on this map?

My friends have been talking about the documentary Gasland by Josh Fox for some time now, so we finally bumped it to the top of our Netflix queue and watched it last night. If you haven't seen it, get thee to it.

I'd seen the clips of tap water igniting, filling the sink with flames, but that's just a small part of it. People tell me that fracking will be safe here in northeast Ohio because our ground water is so shallow. That's ridiculous logic right there, but even so, that's just part of it.

Each well requires thousands of semi trips, which chews up roads. The fracking fluid contains over 500 chemicals, and some of the worst we have. It goes into the ground with millions of gallons of fresh water. Half of this toxic drink stays in the ground. Half of it comes back up and sits in evaporation pits where chemicals like benzene and toluene go airborne. Then it's sent to local wastewater plants, or pumped back into the ground at injection wells.

On every level this is terrifying, and wherever Fox goes, he hears about wild, domestic and farm animals sick and dead, and adults and children with cancer, brain damage and a host of horrors. Ground water is forever poisoned, but often residents don't know until they've been drinking it and have gotten very sick. Imagine this: your family has lived on that farm for generations, and now you can't use your water for anything, ever again. What will you do: sell the place?

You think flaming tap water is graphic - wait until you see the clip of the well that explodes. It's a biblical hell. Here in Ohio we're fracking in the rural areas, but also right up against communities, too. And now we've had a series of earthquakes linked to an injection site.

I know why Dick Cheney brokered the 'Halliburton loophole' - the law that exempts fracking from the Clean Water Act, Clear Air Act and a host of regulations designed to keep arsenic out of ground water. Because, as someone noted to my friend, Dick Cheney understands that some people want to be very, very rich.

But why we in Ohio would sell our water and our children's water and our children's health for money is something I can't swallow. What are future generations going to say, that they understand why we signed, because we needed jobs? That we didn't know about climate change? That there was no sun, no wind, no insulation, no public transportation, no other way?

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Interview with H.L. Hix up at AGNI

There are so many interesting people in our world, and I foster a wish to take them home and ask them all the questions. So you can imagine how happy I was to be able to do this with H.L. Hix - the question-asking, anyway. I've long loved Hix's poetry, and after I read God Bless in a class on the poetry project (poetry books arranged around a central theme or idea), I thought of interviewing him to fulfill a course assignment. After his first answer, I knew I'd want to keep asking way after the class was over, and in fact we were still talking after graduation and then some. It's a long interview (it won't take a year to read it, but do get into your comfortable chair).

Thanks very much to H.L. for these thoughtful and poetic answers. I aim to read the books and articles noted in the interview, as well. And thanks to AGNI for publishing our conversation. We're in such good company there.

Here it is: AGNI.

Poetry Book Discussion: Robert Miltner's Hotel Utopia

Come out of the insulting January cold to discuss Hotel Utopia by Robert Miltner. We'll meet over steaming mugs of organic coffee at the Lemon Grove on 3 Jan. at 7:00. Robert is an Ohio author and all-around good guy and friend to many of us. We're thrilled to celebrate his first full-length collection. If you can't get a copy from the poet, himself, you can order it from New Rivers Press.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Smoke (1995) dir. Wayne Wang, written by Paul Auster

Sure - it would be impossible not to love a film whose actors include Harvey Keitel, William Hurt, Forest Whitaker and Stockard Channing. But it's the writing, too. The characters push against their stereotypes, and are good - they are - and the movie's about that. How to be generous and good within life's weirdness. The storyline is compelling and unpredictable.

The advertisement makes it look like a screwball comedy. There are some light moments, but they have a real humanity, and the dark moments do too.

I'm late to the party on this one, but I bet it's a film that reveals something on each viewing. I'm putting it on my watch-in-a-decade list.