Sunday, April 29, 2012

Poetry Monday: Tracy K Smith's The Universe: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack

Tracy K Smith's Life on Mars won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry this year. I know all the controversy surrounding the prize (and prizes in general). As a fiction writer, I do feel sure that they could have done better with the shortlist, and found a winner among all the wonderful (finished) books published this year (I could suggest a few...), nevertheless, I'm prepared to forgive the Pulitzer committee anything for choosing this book: a book that unites an astronomical longing that I'm afraid has never left me since I was a child watching swirling galaxies at the Hayden Planetarium, with very human emotions like grief, loneliness, loss, and joy, and adds in a fun dose of kitsch, pop stars (one of whom I idolised for years when I was a teenage nerd), sci-fi, and streetwise current events. If I'd designed my ideal poetry read, I couldn't have described it better (and it is the terrain, to a certain extent, of Repulsion Thrust). I've yet to fully sink my teeth into Life on Mars, and of course a full review will follow, but for today, here's a little taste. The poem is titled "The Universe: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack", and note that little snap of a rhyme ending that hits you like a delicious wake-up smack in the face.  

The first track still almost swings. High hat and snare, even
A few bars of sax the stratosphere will sing-out soon enough.

Synthesized strings. Then something like cellophane
Breaking in as if snagged to a shoe. Crinkle and drag. White noise,

Black noise. What must be voices bob up, then drop, like metal shavings
In molasses. So much for us. So much for the flags we bored

Into planets dry as chalk, for the tin cans we filled with fire
And rode like cowboys into all we tried to tame. Listen:

The dark we've only ever imagined now audible, thrumming,
Marbled with static like gristly meat. A chorus of engines churns.

Silence taunts: a dare. Everything that disappears
Disappears as if returning somewhere.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Characters that insist on having their story finished

This week I had the pleasure of being interviewed by Barry "Storyheart" Eva on his radio show "A Book and A Chat".  Barry and I talked about many things during our half hour (which went rather fast!), but one of the more interesting things we talked about was the way in which a character will often assert his or herself during the writing process.  I don't think this is an unusual occurrence. Once you're deep into a character's life, what seems to work in the context of the happening - the conflict and events that your character is dealing with, might not be what you planned.  They take unexpected turns. And, as Barry so deftly put it, they often won't let you leave them alone in the half life of a short story or poem.  It isn't quite the scenerio (which we discussed) of the wonderfully acted and conceived Will Ferrell/Emma Thompson/Dustin Hoffman film Stranger Than Fiction. I've never had a character show up on my front door asking me to change my book's ending, but I have had them stick about, reminding me on a regular basis that I've left their story unfinished, and antagonising me with a reminder that I had more work to do. This is good I think. It means you've got something.  Here's the entire interview:

Listen to internet radio with A Book and a Chat on Blog Talk Radio

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Poetry Monday: Earth Day Poem

It's Earth Day today. I'm not usually a 'tree hugger' as such (though the bark on some of the eucalypts around my house is so smooth, it's tempting), but our Goldilocks planet is a pretty incredible place, and I've been doing some intense reading (and a little writing) on the current state of play, and thought that, for today, I'd provide an environmental poem from an upcoming collection I'm working on with my poetry partner Carolyn Howard-Johnson.  We were actually hoping to have the book ready to launch this year on Earth Day, but we since attracted the attention of an agent for our foodie poetry book (Persephone's Juicy Jewels - more on that soon), and have been focusing our poetic attention.  Nevertheless, Earth Day it is and environmental poetry you shall have. 

Tipping Point

From a stable equilibrium
hands outstretched
sunshine lights your hair
molten gold
melts to horizon
changing light to dark
day to night.

Your young eyes flash
warming the room
the house
the planet

with growth comes hunger
rumbling guts
gnaw your insides
you eat and eat through
four billion years of evolution
now held loosely
by one thread.

When our fingers touch
electricity crackles
static charge connection
in a moment's pause
between past and present
the highway
and the road
fork held high
paused, undetermined
a crossroad.

The future
waits impatiently
your decision.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Another BC Goodreads Giveaway

Last time we did a Black Cow Goodreads giveaway, there were 774 entries!  With such demand, I felt duty bound to run another giveaway (and you know I just love giving books away, even my own), so herewith, another giveaway. Please enter - I'd especially love one of my blog readers to win. It's just a press of a button, and winners get a lovely hard copy book posted anywhere in the world.  Good luck!

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Black Cow by Magdalena Ball

Black Cow

by Magdalena Ball

Giveaway ends May 18, 2012.
See the giveaway details at Goodreads.
Enter to win

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Poetry Monday: Free Emerald

It's almost Mother's Day (or Mothering Sunday if you're in the UK). Here in Australia, Mother's Day is Sunday the 13th of May. Since I'm both mother and daughter, I thought it appropriate that, for Poetry Monday this week, I provided my readers (yes, you) with a poetry gift suitable for any mother on your list.  From now through to May 14th (US time) you can grab a copy of She Wore Emerald Then from Smashwords for the smashing price of $0.00.  Just use Coupon code KT98C at checkout.  You can even use the code to 'gift' the book to someone. Following is a new review of Emerald by the great L.B. Sedlacek, published in this month's Poetry Markets Ezine. If you prefer a hard copy, you can get a copy at Amazon.  Happy Mother's Day to all you fantabulous mothers out there.


This poetry book is split into two sections: "The Genetic Code" (Ball) and "Dandelions in Autumn" (Howard-Johnson) with each section title page perfectly accompanied by one of Lattanzio's pictures.

In "Coil of Life," Ball punctuates her "The Genetic Code" section with a jolting look at creation. "Take a single cell/tinier than the tip of a pencil/in its nucleus the DNA blueprint/six billion pairs of nucleotides." The poem continues further on with "Binary fission/mitosis and cytokinesis/the cervix thins and dilates/the dreaming and waking cerebral cortex/already perfect signals uterine contractions/the Big Bang." Each poem weaves vivid layers (somewhat of a verbal voltage) of life and existence. From "The Fading": "eyelids closed tightly
against life/you create your own shadow/the steel bars/of your deviant past/shatter the illusion of freedom." Ball writes with a punch -- you won't fast forget her words.

The "Dandelions in Autumn" section (Howard-Johnson) is more focused on the later years of motherhood and/or mothers themselves. In "Mother and Daughter, The Thing I Learned from Depends and Other Events," Howard-Johnson's poem deals with a daughter taking care of an elderly mother "... she cannot find/her words or the beans/on her plate. Now merely a leafhusk,/I cannot find the strength/to place her head upon a pillow./I pre-order stew with chunks/chopped to the size of peas."  Each poem seems to pull from days gone by capturing a daughter's journey from child to caretaker of one's mother. The visuals - "offers us her favorite dish, whipped/cream, crusted Heath bars, melted/Marshmallows (without the rum Mother/would have added)" from "Across the Hall from Mother" - are stunning and leverage accordingly within each line.

Lattanzio's pictures add a blast of scenic flavor to the book. They are chosen and placed at just the right spots.

She Wore Emerald Then is a tribute to mothers everywhere.

L.B. Sedlacek's poems have most recently appeared in "Ginosko," "Pure Francis," and "Testing the Waters" poetry anthology.  L.B.'s latest chapbook is "I Am My Neighborhood Watch."

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Desert Island Books

This week I had a good interview with Talitha McEachin on her Book Reads radio show, and one of the questions she asked me was which three books I'd take with me onto a desert island.  I floundered with the question just a bit. Of course I don't live on a desert island - books are abundant in my life and always have been, almost, perhaps, to the point where I take them just a bit for granted.  I was reminded of this not long ago when I donated several boxes to a fantastic project that provides books for the school children of Viwa Island, Fiji. Sometimes I read several books at once picking and choosing based on my mood. In the end it came down to a question of re-readability. The three books I chose might not be my ultimate desert island list if I had time to give it lots more thought, but they are all books I've already read several times and could easily re-read them a dozen more. Assuming I don't get to bring a Kindle to my island and that there's no wi-fi connection, I'd want books that engage me again and again in different ways and perhaps that also stimulate my writing, since I'd probably be scratching out a lot of my own work too, even if it was just a stylus on palm leaf.  I chose James Joyce's Ulysses (no surprise there - my husband thinks I should have grown out of that book by now, but I don't think I ever will - instead I find I'm growing into it), Richard Flanagan's Gould's Book of Fish (and I might be using the same kinds of inks as the protagonist if I were on the island long enough), and Julian Barnes' A History of the World in 10½ Chapters (which puts me in mind of a shipwreck). Don't hold me to the list - I might just change my mind by the time I'm truly called upon to choose only three books to take with me.  The full interview is below.  After you check it out, maybe you could share your own desert island books.

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Monday, April 9, 2012

Poetry Monday: Billy Collins

I love the notion of a Poet Laureate. The concept dates right back to ancient Greece with the awarding of crowned laurels in recognition of great skill in rhetoric, grammar and language. We don't have one in Australia, mores the pity (Julia? Can I table this?), but over a dozen other countries do, including the UK, where poet Carol Ann Duffy gets to hold the position for a decade, and the US, where the post is for one year only. The current US Poet Laureate is Philip Levine, who I may feature some other Monday. The job of the Poet Laureate is to raise the national consciousness to a greater appreciation of the reading and writing of poetry - a wonderful job that is often done with great skill.  One of the more well known US laureates is Billy Collins, who held the position from 2001 to 2003. I think that one of the reasons for Collins' success is his absolute accessibility - his poems are rich with the details of everyday life, with recognisable referents, and impact that any reader will get. He is also, often, very funny. Here is one of his poems not published in a collection - one that, I think, encompasses the simultaneous humor and beauty of Collins' work.

I Ask You

What scene would I want to be enveloped in
more than this one,
an ordinary night at the kitchen table,
floral wallpaper pressing in,
white cabinets full of glass,
the telephone silent,
a pen tilted back in my hand?

It gives me time to think
about all that is going on outside--
leaves gathering in corners,
lichen greening the high grey rocks,
while over the dunes the world sails on,
huge, ocean-going, history bubbling in its wake.

But beyond this table
there is nothing that I need,
not even a job that would allow me to row to work,
or a coffee-colored Aston Martin DB4
with cracked green leather seats.

No, it's all here,
the clear ovals of a glass of water,
a small crate of oranges, a book on Stalin,
not to mention the odd snarling fish
in a frame on the wall,
and the way these three candles--
each a different height--
are singing in perfect harmony.

So forgive me
if I lower my head now and listen
to the short bass candle as he takes a solo
while my heart
thrums under my shirt--
frog at the edge of a pond--
and my thoughts fly off to a province
made of one enormous sky
and about a million empty branches.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Winners of the Black Cow Blog Tour giveaway

It wasn't easy.  I had to troll through Facebook, Twitter, and every blog post comment, but I've now got 5 winners of the Black Cow Blog Tour giveaways.  The winners of a gift pack including autographed copies of Black Cow and Sleep Before Evening (with some fun extras like magnets and bookmarks) are:

Anne Dugand and Mayra Calvani (tied for the most comments, retweets and shares)

The three winners of electronic copies of Black Cow and Sleep Before Evening are: Nancy Carti Lepri, Margot Finke, and Heidi M Thomas.  Congratulations everyone!  I'll be in touch shortly to organise delivery of prizes.  Thanks for all your wonderful participation. If you missed any stops on the tour and would like to revisit it, just go here and have fun working through the many articles, interviews, readings, reviews, advice and more.  I know I had fun doing them. There will, of course be a few more stops, including a reading this Monday at A Live Book Reading, and a visit later in the month to Barry Eva's Across the Pond

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Black Cow Book Blog Tour day 20 (last day!): Writing Regional Fiction for an International Audience

This is the last day of my blog tour for Black Cow.  I've been all over the world and met loads of people - just like a physical tour, but without jetlag.  On this, my last day, I'm in France with Lorraine Mace, author of The Writer's ABC Checklist, guest blogging on writing regional fiction for an international audience.  "For me, writing as an expat American in an Australian environment for a global audience can raise issues around regional versus international writing, at least in my own mind.  Do I use a vernacular? Do I follow the linguistic conventions of the story's setting, changing, like a chamelion, to suit my characters and their environment? Or should I stick to the conventions of the country I'm writing in and about?" Drop by Lorraine's blog and say hello and get one last entry in our blog tour comp - I'll be choosing winners tomorrow after I go through the massive tabulation process.  

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Poetry Monday: Jan Owen

Today's featured poet is Jan Owen, author of some ten poetry books and participator in countless journals, anthologies, and publications. Jan's work is utterly feminine, rich with family and the details of daily life, quiet observations, and nature, and yet no less giant in its scope for all the beautiful, recognisable minutiae. There are fireworks everywhere, but subtle, understated. The following poem is taken, in its entirety, from the collection titled simply Poems Jan Owen: 1980-2008, published by John Leonard Press in 2008.  This poem, "Port Lincoln" is only seemingly simple. It bears multiple readings, each time moving deeper in that delicate double-helix twist between the personal and universal.

Port Lincoln

The endless white ah-ah-ing of the sea
is the sound of forgetting
and the touch of it too:
the sea-line laps our footprints back
to the clear broth of first being,
the littoral of find and lose that is
the moment remembering itself and letting go.

Here, in six clear feet of water below the dock,
starfish dozens, such kindergarten creatures,
stud the sand with random rivets,
anchor earth itself with gravity clamps,
imaging their element as blue-gold heaven.
Each pliant clutch spreads wide its private pink.
That one – so fixed! And yet it moves.

Its flow is a sort of flight,
a placid hydraulics with every direction forward
following any cosmic compass point
it signifies and is – five fingery feet
fringing a mouth in search of the other,
a ruthless purity that stretches and contracts,
elongates to a manikin secreted in a crack,

or pulls food in to centre’s firm conviction.
Somewhere right now someone may be
sliding a thin soup under glass,
tracing this cell stuff to an essence
recalling tomorrow as genome,
the future tense of space:
a circular shortcut, like the sea’s
great mirror of hope, star looking back at star.
Symmetry seems safe – like question and response,
the way that axon leans to axon,
coaxing metaphysics by caress.
Lucky the atom has its own world view,
so a starfish is at finest resolution
electrostatic No respecting difference.

As I watched Lachlan watch one on his palm
it stretched and curled
and struck a questioning pose –
was his hand sea or sky or sand?
Later, rolling plasticene to five-armed orange blobs,
he sank so starfish-deep within himself,
the making remembered him.