Wednesday, September 26, 2012

David Abrams, author of FOBBIT

In the satirical tradition of Catch-22 and M*A*S*H, Fobbit takes us into the chaotic world of Baghdad’s Forward Operating Base Triumph. The Forward Operating base, or FOB, is like the back-office of the battlefield – where people eat and sleep, and where a lot of soldiers have what looks suspiciously like an office job. Male and female soldiers are trying to find an empty Porta Potty in which to get acquainted, grunts are playing Xbox and watching NASCAR between missions, and a lot of the senior staff are more concerned about getting to the chow hall in time for the Friday night all-you-can-eat seafood special than worrying about little things like military strategy. Of all the fobbits stationed at Baghdad’s Forward Operating Base Triumph, Staff Sergeant Chance Gooding is the fobbitiest. His M-16 is collecting dust, he reads Dickens and Cervantes instead of watching NASCAR with the grunts, and the only piece of Army intelligence he really shows an interest in is the mess hall menu. Gooding works in the base’s public affairs office, furiously tapping out press releases that put a positive slant on the latest roadside bombing or strategic blunder before CNN can break the real story. Another soldier who would spend every day at the FOB if he could is Captain Abe Shrinkle, but unfortunately for him he’s a front-line officer, in charge of a platoon of troops. Abe trembles at any encounter with the enemy and hoards hundreds of care packages, brimming over with baby wipes, foot powder, and erotic letters from bored housewives. When Shrinkle makes a series of ill-judged tactical decisions, he ends up in front of his commanding officers, and Gooding has his work cut out trying to make everything smell like roses--and that’s just the start of the bad news

Find out more about David Abrams and listen to the program, on the radio or online.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Monday Poems: "Mean" -- by Colette Labouff Atkinson

Wife two was a stripper. And sweet, as well. He traded her in for me. To people I don't know, I say she was a dancer. I watch them, puzzled, wonder how anyone could not love a ballerina. And you have to question a guy like that: trading in a sweet stripper for me. Not a homemaker. Not home much at all. Not sweet. More like my grandfather, Jimmy Grieco. Mean. My mother likes to describe the blue-sky day when she bought me a helium balloon and I let it go. I was six. I begged for another. She said, okay, but, if you let this one go, I’m really going to be mad. I nodded, took the string in my hand, held tight, and then opened my hand flat so the balloon lifted and its string slipped up and away. You were never sweet, my mother says.


In Vegas, a few weeks ago, Jimmy and I sorted photographs in his double-wide just off Boulder Highway. My mother stood on the sidelines. She hates how I ask Jimmy for the hard stories. Tell me about the moonshine. Tell me about the dead kids. Tell me how your mother saved the family by burning down the farm. Jimmy’s crooked finger points to a picture of the family. That was Leonard. He was deaf and dumb. Died at twelve. That was Vincent. The baby who fell off the staircase without a rail. Dead at two. Then there's his mother, surrounded by her children. She was tough, he says. Tough. When Chicago’s Black Hand demanded ten thousand dollars, she stuffed five grand in her apron, grabbed my grandfather—then five—and took him to deliver the money. That's all you'll ever get, she said, and don’t touch my kids or I’ll kill you.


My grandfather never asks about the first or second wife. I don’t have to tell him that ballerina-fable. He knows I’m three and mean. He knows it for his whole life. His first, my grandmother, was like sugar. He burned her, abandoned her in LA, raced to Mexico, paved road turning to dirt; he ate prickly pear, maybe, on the way to his quick divorce. And, though he won’t tell this story, his own father lived, first, with a sweet woman on a wheat farm, far south in Craco, Italy. He boarded a ship, told his wife he’d send for her, and then fled to New York. And in an apartment on Mulberry Street, he met up with the new girlfriend and they disappeared into their new world. She wasn’t pretty. She was tough. She got busted twice for making moonshine. Her sons loved her. She was mean.

 *     *     *     *     *

Colette Labouff Atkinson is the associate director of the International Center for Writing and Translation at the University of California, Irvine, and poetry editor of Zocalo Public Square. 

The above prose-poem is published in her collection Mean (2008).

Friday, September 21, 2012

New Grants Support The Write Question

Montana Public Radio has received a $20,000 grant from the Steele-Reese Foundation and a $6,000 grant from Humanities Montana. Both grants will support production of “The Write Question,” a weekly literary program that features writers from the western U.S.
The funds will allow producer Chérie Newman to build new relationships with Native American writers and rural communities throughout Montana.
The Steele-Reese Foundation was founded by Emmet and Eleanor Reese and provides grants in rural Kentucky, Idaho and Montana. Humanities Montana is Montana’s independent, nonprofit affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities.
Since 2007, “The Write Question” has featured writers such as James Lee Burke, Thomas McGuane, Maile Meloy, Rick Bass, Kim Barnes, Barry Lopez, Mary Blew, Karl Marlantas, Judy Blunt, William Kittredge and dozens of poets, including Montana’s poet laureates.
The program presents a mix of fiction, nonfiction and poetry for adults and occasionally young readers. Through social networking, a blog and live presentations, the program is also a networking and education tool that connects regional writers with new readers, students and a worldwide audience.
“The Write Question” broadcasts each week on Montana’s two public radio stations: Montana Public Radio in Missoula and Yellowstone Public Radio in Billings. Program is also are archived online on this blog and The podcast is available at

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Tami Haaland, author of 'When We Wake in the Night'

In When We Wake in the Night, Tami Haaland's poems are deft sketches of memory and experience.

 "'Life, it appears, is simple,' Tami Haaland says toward the end of this book. Her poetry captures the complicated feelings of parents and children, men and women, boys and girls, as they enact their family dramas. At the heart of this collection is an account of a unique and unbearable loss, the kind which makes life anything but simple. Yet Haaland writes with such clarity and sanity and fluent formal skill that she does make life appear simple, even as she shows us again and again it is not. When We Wake in the Night is a remarkable achievement."
- Mark Jarman
The Kiss

My friend and I circle "The Kiss," Rodin's
tribute to the lovers who were left, then caught
and killed for their failure to fail in
love. Look at the way they nearly resist
the embrace: their left arms not quite engaged,
her arm raised to encircle his shoulder and
his hand around but not resting, almost freed
from her hip. They sit close so ribs expanded
in breath must have let each body lean
to the other, and when breath began to coincide,
then each slipping to the space between
must have caused this kiss, my friend and I decide.
He stands on one side and I on the other.
Separate ends, a perfect diameter.

Find out more about Tami Haaland and listen to the program, on the radio or online.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Monday Poems: "Camouflage" -- by Henry Carlile

On the door it says what to do to survive
But we were not born to survive
Only to live
—W. S. Merwin

So many piles of leaves are walking about these days
disguised as humans it must give pause.
Originally we meant only to fool ducks, dupe deer
into posing like St. Sebastian, but now it looks
like we are hiding from other heaps that mean harm,
that mean to steal us from our families and lovers
or steel us against the unhappy prospect of quaking
like so many aspens in the arms of winter.

Or is it simply that we mean to advertise a sincere
wish to become one with nature and quietly disappear
toting our taped and silenced M-16’s and Mini-14’s
and other automatic acronyms of extreme prejudice?
There is big business in camouflage these days.
We can be anything we want to be at last!
A summer wood, an autumn wood, a big beige desert.
We can even be dead grass, we can be snow.
And let me not fail to mention our latest fashion,
Night. Night is very popular these days.

What we do not want to be is colorful, color is
suspect, a thing of the past, except for a week or
maybe two weeks in spring, during the spring offensives,
when even the desert forgets itself and laughs floridly.
Then it is safe to be a field of poppies.

But we must never forget the latest heat-seeking
technologies that have kept pace with our trade.
Telescopes so powerful they are capable of detecting,
at incredible distances in the coldest environments,
the smallest trembling heart of a mouse, o soldiers of
fortune and misfortune, they mean to find us out,
to discover in our iciest resolve a spot of warmth.

*     *     *     *     *

Henry Carlile has lived his life in the Pacific Northwest and his poetry is often set here. His collections include The Rough-Hewn Table (1971), winner of the Devins Award; Running Lights(1981); and Rain (1994).

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Pauls Toutonghi, author of 'Evel Knievel Days'

Khosi Saqr has always felt a bit out of place in Butte, Montana, hometown of motorcycle daredevil Evel Knievel.  Half-Egyptian, full of nervous habits, raised by a single mother, owner of a name that no one can pronounce -- Khosi has never quite managed to fit in. But when a mysterious stranger arrives in town (and Khosi's longtime love uses Butte's annual festival, Evel Knievel Days, as a time to announce her impending marriage to someone else), Khosi takes his first daredevil like risk, and travels to Egypt to find his father -- and a connection to his heritage.

What he discovers, in Cairo, is much more startling than he'd imagined it could be. The city is a thrilling mix of contradictions -- and locating his father turns out to be the easy part. Through mistaken identity, delicious food, and near tragedy, Khosi and his parents rediscover what it means to be connected to each other, to a family, and to a culture.

The timely story of a young man searching for his roots, and along the way finding his identity, Evel Knievel Days is Khosi’s charming and funny journey to learn where he came from, and who he is.

Find out more about Pauls Toutonghi and listen to the program, on the radio or online.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Monday Poems: "Elk at Tomales Bay" -- by Tess Taylor

Nimble, preserved together,
milkweed-white rears upturned,

female tule elk
bowed into rustling foxtails.

Males muscled over the slopes,
jostling mantles, marking terrain.

Their antlers clambered wide,
steep as the gorges. 

As they fed, those branches twitched,
sensory, delicate,

yet when one buck reared
squaring to look at us

his antlers and his gaze
held suddenly motionless.

               Further out, the skeleton.

The tar paper it seemed to lie on
was hide.

               Vertebrae like redwood stumps—
an uneven heart-shaped cavern   

               where a coccyx curled to its tip.
Ribs fanned open

hollow, emptied of organs.
In the bushes its skull.

Sockets and sinuses, mandible,
its few small teeth. 

All bare now except 
that fur the red-brown color

of a young boy’s head and also
of wild iris stalks in winter

still clung to the drying scalp.
Below the eye’s rim sagged

               flat as a bicycle tire.

The form was sinking away.

The skin loosened, becoming other,
shedding the mask that hides

but must also reveal a creature.
Off amid cliffs and hills

some unfleshed force roamed free.
In the wind, I felt

the half-life I watched watch me.
Elk, I said, I see

               you abandon this life, this earth—

I stood for a time with the bones.

*     *     *     *     *

Tess Taylor grew up in El Cerrito, California. Her chapbook The Misremembered World was selected by Eavan Boland for the Poetry Society of America, and her work has appeared in the Atlantic Monthly, the Boston Review, The Times Literary Supplement, and The New Yorker. She was the 2010-2011 Amy Clampitt Resident in Lenox, MA. Her book The Forage House is due out in 2013 from Red Hen Press.  She currently lives in El Cerrito, California.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Miah Arnold, author of 'Sweet Land of Bigamy'

Sweet Land of Bigamy
Helen marries Larry, an older man, when she's a teenager. She loves him, but wants children and they can't seem to have any. Then Larry loses all his money in the stock market and decides, against her wishes, to make it back by going to work as a contractor in Iraq.

So, Helen is left alone and angry. But is that any excuse to marry a second husband?

When Helen Motes finds herself on a Utah mountaintop getting married to a besotted young Indian poet, she can't quite figure out how she became a bigamist, and she certainly doesn't want to be one. Helen worked hard to create the stable middle-class life her childhood denied her, so sabotaging her first (and decidedly still legal) marriage wasn't part of her life plan. Yet with her original husband away in Iraq, and her new husband ready to agree to everything she ever wanted, deciding which husband to keep proves to be torture.

How Helen's life led her to this point--and what she plans to do with these two "keepers"--are the driving questions behind Miah Arnold's heartfelt debut about an unlikely bigamist and her circle of family, friends, and husbands. Weaving in multiple continents and unforgettable characters, Sweet Land of Bigamy is a funny and surprisingly touching exploration of what marriage can be.

Find out more about Miah Arnold and listen to the program, on the radio or online.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Monday Poems: "What work is" -- by Philip Levine

We stand in the rain in a long line
waiting at Ford Highland Park. For work.
You know what work is—if you’re
old enough to read this you know what
work is, although you may not do it.
Forget you. This is about waiting,
shifting from one foot to another.
Feeling the light rain falling like mist
into your hair, blurring your vision
until you think you see your own brother
ahead of you, maybe ten places.
You rub your glasses with your fingers,
and of course it’s someone else’s brother,
narrower across the shoulders than
yours but with the same sad slouch, the grin
that does not hide the stubbornness,
the sad refusal to give in to
rain, to the hours of wasted waiting,
to the knowledge that somewhere ahead
a man is waiting who will say, “No,
we’re not hiring today,” for any
reason he wants. You love your brother,
now suddenly you can hardly stand
the love flooding you for your brother,
who’s not beside you or behind or
ahead because he’s home trying to  
sleep off a miserable night shift
at Cadillac so he can get up
before noon to study his German.
Works eight hours a night so he can sing
Wagner, the opera you hate most,
the worst music ever invented.
How long has it been since you told him
you loved him, held his wide shoulders,
opened your eyes wide and said those words,
and maybe kissed his cheek? You’ve never
done something so simple, so obvious,
not because you’re too young or too dumb,
not because you’re jealous or even mean
or incapable of crying in
the presence of another man, no,  
just because you don’t know what work is.

*     *     *     *     *

Philip Levine is a Pulitzer-Prize winning poet of dozens of poetry collections, including News of the World (2009), Breath (2004) and What Work Is (1992). He taught English for over 30 years at California State University, Fresno, and was appointed as Poet Laureate of the U.S. from 2011-2012.