Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Ivan Doig, author of 'The Bartender's Tale'

In Ivan Doig's eleventh novel, he writes a minor character who appeared in three of his previous novels into a stoic, but devoted, main character.

The Bartender's Tale is the story of a father and son left on their own in a shifting world — a tale in itself as old as kinship, but ever new in the way "the bachelor saloon keeper with a streak of frost in his black pompadour and the inquisitive 11-year-old boy who had been an accident between the sheets" go about life in the small Montana town of Gros Ventre in 1960.

Tom Harry, the nonpariel bartender and proprietor of the "nearly holy oasis," the Medicine Lodge, has a past he won't talk about and a habit of sudden disappearances for a few days, which plagues his impressionable son, Rusty, as does the unexplained absence of his mother ever since he was born. In their otherwise companionable bachelor life together, Rusty has free run of the saloon's fantastic back room. And in the momentous summer that is the heart of the novel, he shares this secret aperture into the often mystifying world of grownups with Zoe, the new girl down the street whose imagination outdoes even his own amid the wonders of the back of the saloon.

History, as it tends to do, arrives to these prime characters with gale force, first in the person of enthusiastic young oral historian Del Robertson and then in the shapely form of Proxy, an unforgettable taxi dancer in Tom's earlier fabled saloon in a Fort Peck dam boomtown. Proxy comes bearing life-changing news, of the sort that leaves Rusty and Zoe marveling at what grownups get themselves into. 

The tale unfolds in Rusty's richly reminiscent voice, leading to the climax where a catastrophe delivers them all trials of conscience. In sum, this is a warmhearted yet consequential family saga in the spirited storytelling tradition of William Faulkner's The Reivers and Isak Dinesen's Winter's Tales

Find out more about Ivan Doig and his books, and listen to the program, on the radio or online.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Monday Poem: "Deer Skull" -- by Susan Griffin


I keep placing my hands over
my face, the fingertips just
resting on the place where I feel
my eyebrows and the fine end
of a bone. My eyes are covered
with the blood of my hands, my
palms hold
my jaws. I do this at dinner.
My daughter asks
Are you all right?
and by a common miracle
when I smile
she knows I am.


I ask her what she will do
after we eat. Sleep she
tells me. But I will clean
the deer skull, wash it.


You gave me this skull in the woods
told me to bring it clean
and tell the story I had told you
before, about how the deer had
come to me, and I said I would.


And I put this skull on an old
newspaper, pulled the lower part
of the jaws free, touched it first
carefully, as if it would fall apart
in my hands, the bone paper-
thin, and then I saw I could
scrub, so brushed the surface with
steel and my fingers and more
and more this surface became
familiar to me.


I wanted to see the lines of it
what it would be if it had been
polished by the wind, the water,
and my hands, these agents making
the skull more itself.
Slowly I was not afraid at all
and my fingers went into the deepest
holes of this thing, not afraid
for myself or it, feeling
suddenly as if cleaning this
small fragment of earth away
from the crevices inside was
like loving.


But it was when I touched the place
where the eyes were that I knew
this was the shell of the deer that had
lived here, this was this deer
and not this deer, her home and
now empty of her, but not
empty of her, I knew also, not
empty of her, as my hands


And in that instant remembered you
had been in that body of
that deer dying, what
does it feel like to be a deer
dying, the death consumes
you like birth, you are
nowhere else but in the center.


Remembering those gentle deer
that watched me as I wept,
or the deer that leapt as if
out of my mind, when I saw
speaking there in that green place
the authority of the heart
and the deer of the woods where
my feet stood, stared at me until
I whispered to her and cried
at her presence.


And when I cleaned the skull
I washed myself and sat
my body half out of the water
and put my hands again over
my face, my fingers edging the
bone over my eyes, and I thought
how good this feels and this
is a gesture you make.


Tell this story of the deer's skull
you asked quietly and so I
came in my own time to put
these words carefully here
slowly listing each motion
on this thin paper
as fragile and as tough
as knowledge.

*     *     *     *     *

Susan Griffin is an eco-feminist poet, playwright, essayist and screenwriter. Her work includes the extended prose poem Women and Nature and A Chorus of Stones, a finalist for both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Award. 

Most recently, she served as editor of Transforming Terror: Remembering the Soul of the World, which includes selections from visionaries such as Desmond Tutu, Jack Kornfield and Terry Tempest Williams. The above poem is found in her poetry collection Bending Home (1998). 

Griffin lives and teaches in Berkley, California.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Ellaraine Lockie

Wild as in Familiar is Ellaraine Lockie's ninth chapbook of poetry. She has also published two nonfiction books and contributed sections and essays to other books.

"Ellaraine Lockie's chapbook, Wild as in Familiar, takes us on a journey that is in itself, both wild and familiar: Stephen King, Cananova, earthworms, rose bushes, butterflies, crows, hummingbirds, childhood spiders, frong rain, prairie fire, Africa, Taos, Sonoran desert, Mexico, Montana. These are wide-ranging poems, but poems grouned in seriousness and imagination, grouned in thought and reflection. Readers who are familiar with Ms. Lockie's poetry will want to place this book on the shelf with her other works. Those who are new to her words will want to make sure there's a little room on the shelf next to this one."

-- Michael Czarnecki, poet, oral memoirist and founder of FootHills Publishing

Lockie is active in public poetry readings and travels the world, appearing at events as a writer and professional papermaker.

Find out more about Ellaraine Lockie and listen to the program, on the radio or online.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Monday Poems: "Sustenance" -- by Chris Dombrowski

I tracked it through the one mind of  the woods.
Its hoofprints pressed in snow were smallish hearts.
Buck fawn: he let me come so near, take aim.
Crouched against a fir, I was anything.
Bush, stump, doe in estrus he could rut.
Not his maimer, though, not his final thought.
He stared me down until I shot him: low.
Then the forest forgot he’d ever been.
Nascent, there were signs: bonechip, spoor, frail hair.
But no memory, wounded, wants to die.
He hid in the dark timber, twice crossed the creek.
Finally he lay heaving out last breaths.
Dusk-cast shadow, he died where he was made.
A bite of  heart sustains but is not him.

*     *     *     *     *

Chris Dombrowski received his MFA from the University of Montana, where he also taught. He has won the Associated Writing Programs Intro Award and Alligator Juniper’s National Poetry Prize. His collection By Cold Water was published in 2009.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

William J. Cobb, author of 'The Bird Saviors'

When a dust storm engulfs her Colorado town and pink snow blankets the streets, a heartbreaking decision faces Ruby Cole, a girl who counts birds: She must abandon her baby or give in to her father, whom she nicknames Lord God, and marry a man more than twice her age who already has two wives. She chooses to run, which sets in motion an interlocking series of actions and reactions, upending the lives of an equestrian police officer, pawnshop riffraff, a disabled war vet, Nuisance Animal destroyers, and a grieving ornithologist--a field biologist studies the decline of bird populations. All the while, a growing criminal enterprise moves from cattle rustling to kidnapping to hijacking fuel tankers and murder as events spin out of control,.

Set in a time of economic turmoil, virus fears, climate change, fundamentalist cults and illegal immigrant hardship, The Bird Saviors is a visionary story of defiance, anger, and compassion, in which a young woman ultimately struggles to free herself from her domineering father, to raise her daughter in the chaos of the New West, and to become something greater herself.

Find out more about William J. Cobb and listen to the program, on the radio or online.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Monday Poems: "October" -- by Bill Berkson


It’s odd to have a separate month. It
escapes the year, it is not only cold, it is warm
and loving like a death grip on a willing knee. The
Indians have a name for it, they call it:
“Summer!” The tepees shake in the blast like roosters
at dawn. Everything is special to them,
the colorful ones.


Somehow the housewife does not seem gentle.
Is she angry because her husband likes October?
Is it snow bleeds softly from her shoes?
The nest eggs have captured her,
but April rises from her bed.


“The beggars are upon us!” cried Chester.

Three strangers appeared at the door, demanding ribbons.

The October wind . . . nests


Why do I think October is beautiful?
It is not, is not beautiful.
                                                  But then
what is there to hold one’s interest
between the various drifts of a day’s
work, but to search out the differences
                                          the window and grate—
but it is not, is not


I think your face is beautiful, the way it is
close to my face, and I think you are the real
October with your transparence and the stone
of your words as they pass, as I do not hear them.

*    *     *     *     *

Poet and teacher Bill Berkson is professor emeritus at the San Francisco Art Institute, where he taught art history, art writing and poetry. He is the author of more than a dozen books of poetry, including Our Friends Will Pass Among You Silently (2007), Goods and Services (2008) and Portrait and Dream: New & Selected Poems (2009), in which the above poem appears. 

He has won numerous prizes, including the 2008 Goldie for Literature from the San Francisco Bay Guardian and awards from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Fund for Poetry, the Poets Foundation. Portrait and Dream won the 2010 Balcones Prize for Best Book of Poetry.