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My 2017 Favorites

No preamble. Let’s get to my favorite reads in 2017:

This is also tied with his chapbook, Story Problems.

WHAT BOOKS WERE ON YOUR LIST OF FAVORITES FOR 2017?

Kin Types by Luanne Castle

Source: gift
Paperback, 30 pgs.
I am an Amazon Affiliate

Kin Types by Luanne Castle, which is touring with Poetic Book Tours, is more than poetry. It is a breathing history of ancestors and how their lives impact the present long after they have left the earth. The poet opens the collection with “Advice from My Forebears,” in which readers are greeted with much the same advice they probably heard from grandparents and others about not spending what you do not have, etc. And much of this is advice about risks we may encounter in life and it sets the tone for the collection. It demonstrates how the past can inform the present and even guide it toward better decisions, but it also calls to the rebels within us who want to go against even good advice.

Castle’s narrative poems leave the reader with a sense of the past, and through detailed accounts, she places us where she wants us to bear witness to the hard lives of these ancestors. Many of these people are immigrants leaving their homes for a better life, or at least what they believe will be a better life. But not all that befalls these men and women is good, and not all of it is bad.

From "New Life, New Music" (pg. 15)

The boy in knee pants didn't notice
the many wrinkles
or if he did they created that comfortable
space between his own raw starch
and her eyes and smile that were only his.

Like us, there are dreams held close by these ancestors. They may have a sense of loss that these dreams were not achieved or even lost, but they never let that stop them from living their lives. In “What Lies Inside,” Castle asks how well we really know our closest family members and speaks to the secrets we hold unto ourselves, as a self that we protect from the outside hardships of our lives. It is one of my favorite poems in the collection, with this haunting line: “If I don’t have this one space, where can I go to protect this self/kept inside only by my thin twitching skin?”

Kin Types by Luanne Castle is haunting and deeply emotional, allowing readers to wander off and discover their own ancestral stories. Perhaps they too will re-create the past and see how it mirrors the present or has shaped who they are.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Poet:

Winner of the 2015 New Mexico-Arizona Book Award, Doll God, Luanne Castle‘s first collection of poetry, was published by Aldrich Press. Luanne’s poetry and prose have appeared in Grist, Copper Nickel, River Teeth, Glass Poetry Press, Barnstorm Journal, Six Hens, Lunch Ticket, The Review Review, and many other journals. Published by Finishing Line Press, Kin Types was a semi-finalist in the Concrete Wolf chapbook contest.

Luanne has been a Fellow at the Center for Ideas and Society at the University of California, Riverside. She studied English and creative writing at the University of California, Riverside (Ph.D.); Western Michigan University (MFA); and the Stanford University writing certificate program. Her scholarly work has been published in academic journals, and she contributed to Twice-Told Children’s Tales: The Influence of Childhood Reading on Writers for Adults, edited by Betty Greenway. For fifteen years, she taught college English. She divides her time between California and Arizona, where she shares land with a herd of javelina. Visit her website.

Interview with Luanne Castle, Author of Doll God

Although today is technically the end of National Poetry Month, my poetry reviews for #NPM15 will continue into May because I read way more books than I thought for the month, thanks to the Dewey 24-hour read-a-thon!

To wrap up this year’s National Poetry Month tour, I’ve got a great interview with Luanne Castle, author of Doll God (my review).

“This emotional collection will take a toll on its readers, but the journey will leave them changed in terms of perspective and renewed in that they will want to live more fully and enjoy each moment in the moment.” — Savvy Verse & Wit

Please give her a warm welcome.

1.  Re-examining our childhood and our pasts is something that echoes throughout your collection, Doll God, and there is a deep sense of anxiety and loss tied to those reflections.  When did you first start examining your own childhood and past and how does anxiety and loss tie into that self-examination?

My childhood has always loomed over me, both for its anxieties and its imaginative qualities.  I also write and have published prose based on my childhood experiences. When I was a little girl my father built a bomb shelter in our basement. We were in the middle of the Cold War, and there was fear and tension in our lives because we thought “The Bomb” could drop at any moment.  So childhood has always crept into my poetry, although I didn’t start to examine it with purpose until about 6 or 7 years ago, which is when I began to spend more time writing.

2.  Dolls are prevalent throughout the collection.  Do you think dolls still play a pivotal role in young girl’s lives? And how do you think their role has changes with the evolution of technology?

Dolls are still important to society–and to many young girls. When I was a kid not all girls preferred dolls to other toys, and that is still true. Even I had as much fun with my cement mixer and “army men” as I did with my dolls at certain periods in my life. Actually, army men are really dolls, now that I think about it! But dolls have stayed close to the essence of my childhood. Boys also were given dolls when I was a kid. We were probably the first generation where boys like my brother were given G.I. Joe dolls. My brother had Chatty Cathy’s baby brother with a sweater and cap knitted by my grandmother. Since then, so many different dolls and doll-like figurines have been created for both boys and girls.

Technology has slightly altered the doll-scape in two ways. We have many “throwaway dolls.” By that I mean that the discretionary income and low-cost overseas production has created an abundance of dolls found on the shelves of Target, Wal-Mart, and Toys R Us. Dolls are often $5-10 birthday presents for girls. Too many Barbies? Lose one at the grocery store, pull off the head of another. For many fortunate children, there will always be another Barbie. The other way technology has affected the doll industry is that dolls are produced to capitalize on the popularity of movies, television shows, and computer games. While this trend started 100 years ago, it has grown as technology has grown. Now a huge portion of dolls at the major store chains are related to these technologies.

3.  How much of your poetry is autobiographical?  How far does it stray from your own life?  In other words, where is the line between fact and fiction?

Sometimes a poem starts out autobiographical and strays into the fictional without me even realizing it. Other times a poem might begin as fiction, but by the time it’s completed, it has incorporated a lot of elements from my own life experiences.  A reader would be hard pressed to find the “line” between the two in my work. And I think that is as it should be–to read poetry as confessional is dangerous and limits the reader, the poem, and the poet.

4.  Do you still collect dolls?  How many are or were in your collection?

I didn’t begin an actual doll collection until my daughter grew out of her dolls. When she was no longer interested in them, I became fascinated and still have all of hers. As a child I had baby dolls, but that was because once I was given a doll I didn’t lose it or abuse it, so over time I had a fair number. But never a collection. We didn’t have the money for that. I didn’t  even own a real Barbie. My Barbie was a Miss Suzette by Uneeda. But I did have a Ken doll and a beautiful toddler-sized walking doll who may or may not have ended up in Doll God. My husband and I love antiquing and in the past ten years I’ve accumulated quite a few dolls. I have a decent collection of Asian dolls, including Japanese hakatas. I also collect Magic Attic Club, Madame Alexander, cowboy and cowgirl, Red Riding Hood, literary, and Broadway musicals.

5.  Writing is a solitary endeavor for many authors.  How do you maintain contact with the outside, and how does that differ from the experience of reading your work aloud for an audience?

I maintain contact by connecting with my writing peeps, both in person and through email and phone calls. Then blogging and social media are other ways I feel a part of the outside world. These are important for social reasons, but also for educational purposes. I learn a lot from my fellow writers.

I am not fond of being in large groups of people, but I do enjoy the act of reading my poetry, which is a performative experience. I recently was interviewed on a morning television show and was asked to read one of my poems. That was fun. I have also been known to read to rescue kitties at the shelter once a week. In the past I’ve read my poetry at various events, but since Doll God was published, I haven’t been able to read publicly. I hope to change that in the near future.

6.  Doll God is your first collection.  How long have you been writing poetry, and how long did it take you to create your first collection?  Are you planning a second?

I first wrote poetry when I was in about 5th grade. My first poem rhymed and was about an old woman in a rocking chair. Chair is a good rhyming word.  I took up writing poetry again in high school and wrote very melancholy poems. I turned in a poem for an English class assignment and received a B+ on it–my lowest English grade. That’s when I decided that teachers shouldn’t really be putting letter grades on students’ creative writing attempts. I have a whole philosophy about the teaching of poetry.

When I started college I was encouraged to look ahead to getting a job, so I set poetry aside until my husband and I adopted our first child from Korea. I wrote a poem about picking him up at the airport and the floodgates opened. Soon after, I applied to the MFA in creative writing program at our local university and began studying writing in earnest.

My current project involves “genealogy poems” based on research I’ve done on female ancestors. I’d like to create a chapbook from these poems.

Thank you so much for hosting me, Serena. I loved that Doll God could be part of your book tour.  These questions were great fun and really made me think in ways I haven’t before.

Doll God by Luanne Castle

Source: Poet Luanne Castle and Poetic Book Tours (my online tour company)
Paperback, 82 pages
I am an Amazon Affiliate

Doll God by Luanne Castle reflects on the passage of time and the impressions we leave behind.  Imagine the dolls you or your sisters or friends had as children and how much they were loved and cared for … imagine the stories that were created for them and the lives they shared.  Now, imagine what has become of those dolls, where are those talismans of hope and joy?  Are they buried in an attic or a closet, were they left behind in a field to become so much detritus?  Is that all they are?

from “Debris” (page 57)

And now, I can’t get the image
out of my mind:
dried paint chipping,
the spread of mold pockmarks,
velour paper edges fraying, canvas rips, a gradual
flaking into sand, then dust sifting down
to be layered over by debris
of another generation
always the shifting sand
like a dust storm

Castle asks these questions and more in her collection, seeking answers to how our pasts are shaping us even now and how those pasts have faded with the passage of time.  From large toddler dolls to doll gods, Castle evokes an adult sensibility within a child-like wonder, and the anxiety that raises up in the verse is tangible, just as the fear of time passing too quickly can hit us when we least expect it.  She causes us to reflect on our triumphs, our past joys and innocence, as well as to let it go into the ether to be rewritten by future generations.

This emotional collection will take a toll on its readers, but the journey will leave them changed in terms of perspective and renewed in that they will want to live more fully and enjoy each moment in the moment.  Reading these poems once will reflect one meaning, but upon subsequent readings, the poems leave readers to ruminate on their own lives.  Doll God by Luanne Castle is multi-layered, with bright spots in the darkness of loss.  Castle has a wide range and more great things are sure to come from this poet.

About the Poet:

Luanne Castle has been a Fellow at the Center for Ideas and Society at the University of California, Riverside. She studied English and Creative Writing at the University of California, Riverside; Western Michigan University; and Stanford University. Her poetry and creative nonfiction have appeared in Barnstorm Journal, Grist, The Antigonish Review, Ducts, TAB, River Teeth, Lunch Ticket, Wisconsin Review, The MacGuffin, and other journals. She contributed to Twice-Told Children’s Tales: The Influence of Childhood Reading on Writers for Adults, edited by Betty Greenway. Luanne divides her time between California and Arizona, where she shares land with a herd of javelina.  Follow her on Twitter.

 

 

 

 

Mailbox Monday #307

Mailbox Monday, created by Marcia at To Be Continued, formerly The Printed Page, has a permanent home at its own blog.

To check out what everyone has received over the last week, visit the blog and check out the links.  Leave yours too.

Also, each week, Leslie, Vicki, and I will share the Books that Caught Our Eye from everyone’s weekly links.

Here’s what I received:

1.  Puckster’s Christmas Hockey Tournament by Lorna Schultz Nicholson, Illustrated by Kelly Findley for review from LibraryThing Early Reviewers.

In Puckster’s Christmas Hockey Tournament, it is Christmas Eve and Puckster is nervously watching the heavy snowfall gather on the ground and in the trees. It is his first Christmas away from home and though he is excited to be with Team Canada at the World Junior Hockey Tournament, he is afraid that the winter storm will prevent his family and friends from traveling to the remote arena and arrive in time for Christmas morning.

But there is another traveler that Puckster and the players are excited to see this Christmas. Santa! When the heavy snow forces the closure of the roads, only Santa and his team of reindeer can help. Will everyone be together for Christmas? In this magical story of friendship, young hockey fans learn the true meaning of the holidays. Puckster’s Christmas Hockey Tournament is destined to be a holiday classic.

2. The World Is On Fire: Scrap, Treasure, and Songs of the Apocalypse by Joni Tevis, a surprise from Milkweed Editions.

Marked by the end-times sermons of her Southern youth, Joni Tevis has spent her life both haunted by and drawn to visions of apocalypse: Nuclear fallout, economic collapse, personal tragedy. This collection follows the pilgrimage she undertook to put her childhood dread to rest. Standing at Buddy Holly’s memorial in the middle of a farmer’s field recalls Doom Town—the model American suburb built in the Nevada desert to measure the devastation of a nuclear bomb. Wandering the abandoned shop floors of shuttered factories in her hometown conjures landscapes submerged by flooding. And her visceral experience of remote Alaskan wilderness merges into a meditation on the sublime instinctual joy, as well as the unutterable sorrow, that can result from a woman carrying a child in her body.

3. Stella Rose by Tammy Flanders Hetrick, a surprise from Caitlin Hamilton Marketing.

Before her death, Stella Rose asks her best friend, Abby, to take care of her sixteen-year-old daughter, and Abby does the only thing she can: she says yes. After Stella s death, Abby moves to Stella s house in rural Vermont and struggles to connect with Olivia, who immediately begins to engage in disturbing behavior starting with ditching her old group of friends for a crowd of dubious characters. As the fog of grief lifts, Abby reconnects with old friends, enlists the aid of Olivia s school guidance counselor, and partners with Betsy, another single mom, in an effort to keep tabs on the headstrong teenager she s suddenly found herself responsible for but despite her best efforts, she is unable to keep Olivia from self-destruction. As Abby s journey unfolds, she grapples with raising a grieving teenager, realizes she didn’t know Stella as well as she thought, falls in love twice and discovers just how far she will go to save the most precious thing in her life.”

4. Doll God by Luanne Castle for my first Poetic Book Tours blog tour.

Luanne Castle’s new collection, Doll God, is sublime. The manner of these poems—that they embrace the doll and bring to it humanity and divinity—is something to behold. The voice in these poems is tender, visceral, and wonderfully human. Ms. Castle has forged a vision that feels like something you want to dance with, dress up, talk to like a child, but with an adult’s sensibility. I love these poems with my whole heart because they make me feel both childlike and grown, simultaneously. Doll mistresses, primordial conches, Barbies, infuse these poems with tremendous humanity, and they delight with purpose, sadness and joy, and an incredible range that will leave you breathless.
—Matthew Lippman, author of American Chew

What did you receive?