Monday, January 30, 2012

Monday Poems: "Night Visit" - by Michael Earl Craig

I'm awakened at 3 a.m. to the sound of an owl.
It takes me a minute to find my glasses.
I press my face to the window.
A silver flash crosses the yard.
It settles into an owl shape on a nearby post.
My nose and eyes are stinging.
A stinging behind my face.
Like some kind of problem behind a billboard.
Why would a man look at an owl and start to cry?
My body is trying to reject something.
I have no idea what that is.
The owl is sitting in the moonlight.
The yard is completely still.

* * * * * *

Michael Earl Craig was born in Dayton, Ohio, in 1970. He earned degrees from the University of Montana and the University of Massachusetts. He is the author of Can you Relax In My House (Fence books, 2002) and Yes, Master (Fence Books, 2006). "Night Visit" was published in his 2010 collection titled, Thin Kimono (Wave Books). Craig is a certified journeyman farrier and lives near Livingston, Montana, where he shoes horses for a living.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Lynn Stegner and Russell Rowland

What does it mean to be a westerner? With all the mythology that has grown up about the American West, is it even possible to describe, Lynn Stegner asks, "how it was, how it is, here, in the West"? Starting with that challenge, Stegner and Russell Rowland invited several dozen members of the western literary tribe to write about living in the West and being a western writer in particular. West of 98: Living and Writing the New American West gathers sixty-six literary testimonies, in essays and poetry, from a stellar collection of writers who represent every state west of the 98th parallel -- a kind of Greek chorus of the most prominent voices in western literature today, who seek to "characterize the West as each of us grew to know it, and, equally important, the West that is still becoming."

In West of 98: Living and Writing the New American West, western writers speak to the ways in which the West imprints itself on the people who live there, as well as how the people of the West create the personality of the region. The writers explore the western landscape--how it has been revered and abused across centuries--and the inescapable limitations its aridity puts on all dreams of conquest and development. They dismantle the boosterism of manifest destiny and the cowboy and mountain man ethos of every-man-for-himself, and show instead how we must create new narratives of cooperation if we are to survive in this spare and beautiful country. The writers seek to define the essence of both actual and metaphoric wilderness as they journey toward a West that might honestly be called home.

A collective declaration not of our independence but of our interdependence with the land and with each other, West of 98 opens up a whole new panorama of the western experience.

Find out more about Lynn Stegner and Russell Rowland, and West of 98, when they talk about and read from the book during this week's program. You can listen to the program on the radio or online:

Monday, January 23, 2012

Monday Poems: "New Year's Lament, 1988" -- by Marilyn Chin

A star falls and another poet dies—
in Manila, a stone came down
on her head like manna from heaven.
The newspaper said,
“She was a bad housewife, and besides,
her poetry wasn’t lucid.”
And Ai Qing, sweet uncle,
is three years gone. He bears witness now
only in an unfinished translation
collecting dust on my desk
and a thin aerogram pinned,
flapping on the wall.
Saying, “Dear Disciple,
you must never forgive them.
They have wasted my life!”
As the third world shakes
her tin roofs into the sun,
and the moon devours our Western elderberry,
I sit here on the eve of the revolution
in my inexpensive camisole
(the one that Santa brought me).
The joke is sad and is on me.
I scrawl this invective to you,
“a certain American poet,”
who has licked so many donkeys
that your tongue stays salty.
I will not lay my body down yet.
So, my lutestrings are broken,
and a giant cloud gathers rain over my piano.
The world left fallow will not be tilled—
each blade has been devoured,
each mote enslaved. Those we wish dead
will thrive past a hundred, those we esteem
will be sullied by thirty-three.
And I, once Guanyin’s timid girlchild,
who teethed among the thieves
and suckled amidst the murderers—
I/we today are thirty-two.
As the rabbit sacrifices its tail
and escapes into the burrow,
the dragon appears, loud and sodden,
with a taste of cotton and thistle
in his ever lustful maw. And again,
he shall not have her!

Ai Qing: Chinese revolutionary and poet
Guanyin/Kuan Yin: The Goddess of Mercy

*     *     *     *    *
Poet Marilyn Chin was born in Hong Kong and grew up in Portland, Oregon. Her books are taught in classrooms internationally. They include: Rhapsody in Plain Yellow, The Phoenix Gone, the Terrace Empty and Dwarf Bamboo. She is also the author of a novel, Revenge of the Mooncake Vixen.

Chin has won numerous awards for her poetry, including ones from the Radcliffe Institute at Harvard, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts. In addition to writing poetry, she has translated poems by the modern Chinese poet Ai Qing and co-translated poems by the Japanese poet Gozo Yoshimasu. She co-directs the MFA program at San Diego State University.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Jonathan Evison, author of 'West of Here'

Set in the fictional town of Port Bonita (based on the actual town of Port Angeles), on Washington State’s rugged Pacific coast, West of Here is propelled by a story that both re-creates and celebrates the American experience. Jonathan Evison has divided his narration into two time periods: one focused on the town’s founders circa 1890, and another showing the lives of their descendants in 2006. The novel develops as a kind of conversation between two epochs, one rushing blindly toward the future and the other struggling to undo the damage of the past.

This novel does more than tell a story, however, it illustrates a sharp contrast between the attitudes and opportunities available to Americans 110 years ago and in the present time.

“An enjoyable, meaty read — a vision of a place told through the people who find themselves at the edge of America's idea of itself.” –Los Angeles Times

Hear Jonathan Evision, a lively and passionate writer and advocate, talk about West of Here and read two passages from the novel during this week's program.

You can listen to the program on the radio or online:

Monday, January 16, 2012

Monday Poems: "Beside the Road While Our Nation Is at War" -- by Kim Stafford

In our son's young hand,
borrowed from the ground in California,
five acorns glisten and roll.
"Dad! These could be bullets!
Will you help me make a gun?"

His eyes look up into mine.

"Or Dad! They could be magic
seeds! Will you help me make
a bag with a hole--so
they drop along the path
and grow?" I take his hand in mine.

"Little friend, we must decide."

*     *     *     *     *

Kim Stafford is the author of a dozen books of poetry and prose, including Having Everything Right: Essays of Place and The Muses Among Us: Eloquent Listening and Other Pleasures. He founded and teaches at the Northwest Writing Institute at Lewis and Clark College in Portland, Oregon.

This poem is printed in New Poets of the American West, Lowell Jaeger, ed.

Friday, January 13, 2012

A Reader's Response to WINTER, by Rick Bass

I went to a Rick Bass reading at the University of Montana the other night. His books were displayed on a table in the back, and I found one called Winter: Notes from Montana. It  just felt right in my hand. It was like a journal, with dated passages documenting his first winter in Montana. I bought it, took it with me to my seat, and became absorbed with the language and story.

The language was given a voice when Mr. Bass began reading. He grew up in the South so he has a slight accent. I enjoyed the sound of his quiet, story-telling voice. He read an essay he wrote called "Shy." In it, he describes shyness as feeling very far away from everything, and this description was so accurate that I decided, “I like this guy.” Afterward, I wanted to have him sign Winter for me but there were so many people, and I felt far away, so I scurried out the door.

I went home and read Winter. In it a younger Rick Bass and Elizabeth, his then girlfriend and current wife, drive through several western states looking for a private place in the wilderness where they can live and practice their art. They wind up in a place called Yaak in Montana near the Canadian border, a valley with no electricity or phones, and just a few year round residents. They become caretakers of a ranch, and spend their first harsh winter there. According to Bass, once he survives the winter he will become a “resident” and fit in better with the local loggers and ranchers.

A recurring theme in the book is Bass’ determination to secure enough firewood to last through the season.  He figures he needs thirty to forty cords. He’s gotten a late start so he doubles his efforts through the fall and into winter. He uses his Falcon since the transmission is out on his pickup. He humorously describes one trip where he had wood piled everywhere on the inside and strapped to the outside of his car, including on the dashboard and in the glove compartment.

He cut, hauled and split all of the wood himself. This was a cold, silent winter with no television or other entertainment. Being where he was, in the mountains above Whitefish and Libby, I like to think he had access to some Rob Quist music to get him through.That would have been perfect. What better way to calm the chemical stirrings in the back of the brain that he calls the “winter blahs.”

I think the white quietness of the mountains would get the better of me, and I’ve lived in Montana my entire life. Mr. Bass makes it, proves to himself and the locals that he is a survivor, and finds a new home.

I highly recommend this book.
Robert Taylor graduated from the University of Montana in 1996 with a degree in Sociology. He currently studies Creative Writing at UM and works full-time for Coca Cola.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Bonnie Jo Campbell, author of "Once Upon a River'

After the violent death of her father, sixteen-year-old Margo Crane launches her grandfather's rowboat onto the Stark River and sets off to find her mother. But the river, Margo's childhood paradise, is a dangerous place for a beautiful young woman traveling alone. She must be strong and vigilant to survive, using her knowledge of the natural world and her ability to look unsparingly into the hearts of those around her.

Margo's river odyssey through rural Michigan becomes a defining journey, one that leads her beyond self-preservation and to deciding what price she is willing to pay for her choices.

In Once Upon A River, Bonnie Jo Campbell's writing is penetrating and powerful, and she joins the ranks of America's most poignant novelists. About the novel, Washington Post reviewer Ron Charles wrote, "Without sacrificing any of its originality, this story comes bearing the saw marks of classic American literature, the rough-hewn sister of The Leatherstocking Tales, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and Walden."

During this week's program, Campbell talks about Margo Crane's odyssey and reads from Once Upon A River.

You can hear the program on the radio or online:

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Monday Poems: "A Coal Fire in Winter" -- by Thomas McGrath

Something old and tyrannical burning there,
(Not like a wood fire which is only
The end of summer, or a life)
But something of darkness, heat
From the time before there was fire
And I have come here
To warn that blackness into forms of light,
To set free a captive prince
From the sunken kingdom of the father coal.

A warming company of the cold-blooded--
These carbon serpents of bituminous gardens,
These inflammable tunnels of dead song from the black pit,
This sparkling end of the great beasts, these blazing
Stone flowers diamond fire incandescent fruit.
And out of all that death, now,
At midnight, my love and I are riding
Down the old high roads of inexhaustible light.

*     *     *     *    *

Born and raised on a North Dakota farm, poet Thomas McGrath (1916-1990) has been described as “as close to Whitman as anyone since Whitman himself,” by Terrence Des Pres in TriQuarterly. As another critic writes, McGrathdepicts the life and struggle of working people who face the necessity of remaking themselves within capitalist society.” 

In addition to poetry, McGrath wrote novels, children's books and documentary film scripts. His most famous work, Letter to an Imaginary Friend, is a book-length "revolutionary poem of the American heartland." It was written after McGrath was blacklisted in 1953 from teaching by Joseph McCarthy for testifying as an unfriendly witness before the House Committee on UnAmerican Activities. A complete edition of Letter was reprinted in 1997including all four parts of the epic and making use of the poet's previously unavailable drafts and notes.  

Some of McGrath's poetry can be found in the collection Timber Bonds, a reproduction of a pre-1923 collection.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Shann Ray, author of 'American Masculine'

The American West has long been a place where myth and legend have flourished. Where men stood tall and lived rough. But that West is no more. In its place Shann Ray finds washedup basketball players, businessmen hiding addictions, and women fighting the inexplicable violence that wells up in these men. A son struggles to accept his father’s apologies after surviving a childhood of beatings. Two men seek empty basketball hoops on a snowy night, hoping to relive past glory. A bull rider skips town and rides herd on an unruly mob of passengers as he searches for a thief on a train threading through Montana’s Rocky Mountains.

In these stories, Ray grapples with the terrible hurt we inflict on those we love, and finds that reconciliation, if far off, is at least possible. The debut of a writer who is out to redefine the contours of the American West, American Masculine is a deeply felt and fiercely written ode to the country we left behind.
“Shann Ray writes about small western towns and their residents in tough, poetic, and beautiful ways. I recognize many of these people, and that’s good, but I’m also surprised and stunned by many others, which is great. Buy the book and read it tonight. You’ll love it, too.”
—Sherman Alexie

“Ray’s stories resonate hard and clear, very much word images reflecting the Montana setting of the collection. . . . Almost every story is set under the great blue steel dome of the Montana sky. Almost every story follows a hard man who cannot understand where hardness should end. Almost every story watches as a lonely woman attempts to love such a man without understanding the anger, the hurt and the loneliness beneath the iron. Think Hemingway or Jim Harrison, and know that Ray's collection is the deserving winner of the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference Bakeless Prize.”

—Kirkus Reviews, starred review

During this week's program,Shann Ray will talk about writing, men, and forgiveness. He'll also read from American Masculine, his collection of stories that won the 2010 Bakeless Prize for Fiction.
You can hear the program on the radio or online:

Monday, January 2, 2012

Monday Poems: "Kicking the Habit" — by Lawson Fusao Inada

Late last night, I decided to
stop using English.
I had been using it all day—

talking all day,
listening all day,
thinking all day,
reading all day,
remembering all day,
feeling all day,

and even driving all day,
in English—

when finally I decided to

So I pulled off the main highway
onto a dark country road
and kept on going and going
until I emerged in another nation and . . .

There, the insects
inspected my passport, the frogs
investigated my baggage, and the trees
pointed out lights in the sky,

and I, of course, replied.
After all, I was a foreigner,
and had to comply . . .

Now don’t get me wrong:
There’s nothing “wrong”
with English,

and I’m not complaining
about the language
which is my native tongue.
I make my living with the lingo;
I was even in England once.
So you might say I’m actually
addicted to it;
yes, I’m an Angloholic,
and I can’t get along without the stuff:
It controls my life.

Until last night, that is.
Yes, I had had it
with the habit.

I was exhausted,
burned out,
by the habit.
And I decided to
kick the habit,
cold turkey,
right then and there
on the spot!

And, in so doing, I kicked
open the door of a cage
and stepped out from confinement
into the greater world.

Tentatively, I uttered,

“Chemawa?     Chinook?”

and the pines said

“Clackamas, Siskiyou.”

And before long, everything else
chimed in with their two cents’ worth
and we had a fluid and fluent
conversation going,

communicating, expressing,
echoing whatever we needed to
know, know, know . . .

What was it like?
Well, just listen:

Ah, the exquisite seasonings
of syllables, the consummate consonants, the vigorous
vowels of varied vocabularies

clicking, ticking, humming,
growling, throbbing, strumming—

coming from all parts of orifices, surfaces,
in creative combinations, orchestrations,
resonating in rhythm with the atmosphere!

I could have remained there
forever—as I did, a will.
And when I resumed my way,
my stay could no longer be


as they say,
as we say, in English.

For on the road of life,
in the code of life,

there’s much more to red than


there’s much more to green than


and there’s much, much more to yellow than


for as the yellow
sun clearly enunciated to me this morning:

“Fusao. Inada.”

 *     *     *     *     *

Lawson Fusao Inada is an emeritus professor of writing at Southern Oregon University in Ashland and was the fifth poet laureate of the state of Oregon, serving from 2006-2010.

Inada's work has been recognized with fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts,  the American Book Award, the Oregon Book Award and the Pushcart Prize.

He is the author of three collections of poetry—Legends from Camp, Before the War and Drawing the Line, in which the above poem is included. He is also the coeditor of two ground-breaking anthologies of Chinese American and Japanese American Literature: The Big Aiiieeeee!: An Anthology of Chinese American and Japanese American Literature and Only What We Could Carry: The Japanese American Internment Experience.