Some Winners

I’ve got a bunch of winners to announce and congratulate from a recent set of giveaways.  For those of you who are looking for other book giveaways, please check out the right sidebar as always for giveaways on the blog and elsewhere on the Internet.

The winner of The Bedtime Book for Dogs by Bruce Littlefield and Illustrated by Paul S. Heath is #1 Rhapsody in Books, who said, ”

I love this line: ‘Normally, I’m not a children’s book reviewer..’ Serena, you are SO going to be one in no time at all! :–)

One of my favorite books to read to children is actually of book of children’s poetry, although I think it is out of print now. It is ‘Catch Me & Kiss Me & Say It Again’ (rhymes by Clyde Watson and pictures by Wendy Watson). It’s got a bunch of ‘interactive’ rhymes that you can act out with children, such as tickling them at the right moments, etc.”

Congrats to Jill.

The winner of The Decadent Lovely by Amy Pence is #13 Brittany Gale, who said, “Really enjoyed reading the second part of the interview. I love poetry and this seems to be the only site with poetry giveaways!”

Congrats to Brittany, and I hope the Canada Post stops striking soon.

The winner of the ARC of Dreams of Joy by Lisa See is #13 Reading Adventures, who said, “I can’t wait to read this book! As to my favourite Lisa See book, I think it is Peony in Love, although all of her historical fiction titles have been good. I wasn’t as keen on the mystery book I read by her.”

Congrats to Marg.

Finally, I had a giveaway for War & Watermelon by Rich Wallace, which is a great kids book for ages 10-12 that focuses on the home front aspects of the Vietnam War and growing up as a young boy.  The winner is #3 Wordy Evidence of the Fact, who said, “Finding solid books for young male readers can be a particular challenge…our award panels of late have definitely favored the female voice. Nancie Atwell’s school compiles gender-specific lists each year (created by the students) that are posted on their website http://www.c-t-l.org. It stays fresh and has some good classics too. Please consider me interested in this one. Thanks!”

Congrats Sara, and I hope you enjoy the book.

101st Virtual Poetry Circle

Welcome to the 101st Virtual Poetry Circle!

Remember, this is just for fun and is not meant to be stressful.

Keep in mind what Molly Peacock’s books suggested. Look at a line, a stanza, sentences, and images; describe what you like or don’t like; and offer an opinion. If you missed my review of her book, check it out here.

Also, sign up for the 2011 Fearless Poetry Reading Challenge because its simple; you only need to read 1 book of poetry.  Please contribute to the growing list of 2011 Indie Lit Award Poetry Suggestions, visit the stops on the National Poetry Month Blog Tour from April.

Today’s poem is from The Decadent Lovely by Amy Pence, which I reviewed earlier this month:

Life’s Dry Crushed Scorpion (page 25)

Had been there for some time, flattened
among the dust and fur, the cast-off
little girl toys under my daughter’s bed.
Had once reddened its claws to polish,
once wandered fractious and solitary —
red to signal the foxes, a trail
of bright delicious strawberries,
the red a slicked on waxy lipstick.
Stained red for every month
it will bleed its silent rust, will needle
her slender spine, will catch
her unawares in the hood she’s wandering
in. If she’d known it was there, she said,
she would have been afraid.

Let me know your thoughts, ideas, feelings, impressions. Let’s have a great discussion…pick a line, pick an image, pick a sentence.

I’ve you missed the other Virtual Poetry Circles. It’s never too late to join the discussion.

Interview With Poet Amy Pence, Part 2 & Giveaway

The Decadent Lovely, which I reviewed and is published by Main Street Rag, is a collection that strives to uncover the love beneath the grime, and Amy Pence‘s style ranges from the straight narrative to the more abstract.  If you missed part one of my interview with her, please head on over to learn more about her, the collection, and her obsessions.

Without further ado, we’ll take a look at her thoughts on writing, poetry’s accessibility, and more.

Do you see spoken word, performance, or written poetry as more powerful or powerful in different ways and why? Also, do you believe that writing can be an equalizer to help humanity become more tolerant or collaborative? Why or why not?

Poetry is powerful in various ways and there’s a flavor for everyone, thankfully. For me, it’s the difference between poetry as a public performance with a strong social message and poetry as a private experience with the page about the interior event. I am personally most moved by the poem as artifact, as an involution of word, form, and sound. That was my first experience with poetry and the kind of poetry I am moved to write. I like familiarizing my students with poets and performance artists like Daniel Beaty and Patricia Smith to show and celebrate their successes, but the challenge as a teacher these days is to show that an Emily Dickinson poem (for instance) is not precious or flowery—it is a complex sonic creation that briefly but deeply can show us what it is to be human.

Poetry is often considered elitist or inaccessible by mainstream readers. Do poets have an obligation to dispel that myth and how do you think it could be accomplished?

I don’t think we have an obligation to dispel it (and it’s not always a myth). As I said, I like to bring my younger students into the world of poetry’s richness that they may have thought of as stuffy or inaccessible. Last night in class we lingered over Wallace Stevens’s “Thirteen Ways of Looking at Blackbird,” putting meaning aside to revel in the language and the modernist disjunctions. I don’t know if I inspired much rigorous thinking, but I try to do my small part in encouraging art appreciation as a value. It’s unfortunate that the word “elitist” has obscured what art can enact in the human.

Most writers will read inspirational/how-to manuals, take workshops, or belong to writing groups. Did you subscribe to any of these aids and if so which did you find most helpful? Please feel free to name any “writing” books you enjoyed most (i.e. Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott).

I mentioned leading a workshop, and beginning about a decade ago, I’ve met with a small group off and on in Atlanta (hats off to Kiki, Gelia, Marianne, Sam, Sandi & Sunny). I like to set up themes and then we read relevant texts, write in-class, and workshop their poems. They know that they are teaching me as much as I “teach” them, yet they have the grace and generosity to pay me (hardly seems right). Two stellar writing books I return to again and again: Jane Hirshfield’s Nine Gates: Entering the Mind of Poetry and Writing Poetry: Creative and Critical Approaches by Chad Davidson and Gregory Fraser (amazing poets and generous friends who teach here in Carrollton at the University of West Georgia).

In terms of friendships, have your friendships changed since you began focusing on writing? Are there more writers among your friends or have your relationships remained the same?

I have two very close friends from graduate school (fiction writer Sue Stauffacher and poet Val Martinez) who are writers and I know—even with our ups and downs—we will always be friends. And I’ve met so many wonderful writers at conferences, writing residencies and here in Carrollton. But it’s not a prerequisite, and the writers that I know typically don’t “talk” writing. I have to say I like Facebook for the way I’ve reconnected with friends from my MFA program in graduate school (University of Arizona) and to see what a vast network of poets are posting (but then, it’s very distracting). Their little obsessions and conundrums sometimes crop up, and I find that interesting. I admire so many writers and enjoyed interviewing Barbara Kingsolver, Li-Young Lee, and Paul Guest (published in past issues of Poets & Writers). I hope to do more because I learn so much from the process.

Please describe your writing space and how it would differ from your ideal writing space.

I’m extremely lucky to have my ideal writing space that I couldn’t have dreamed of a decade ago. But I dreamed it, and my husband sacrificed some beloved trees so we could add my writing space to his house when we married. I write in front of a large window that overlooks a hard wood forest of thousands of acres of rolling hills and creeks. I have a courtyard planted with my favorite flora (the fauna are the 2 dogs, 3 cats, and a dwarf bunny) in all seasons. My writing studio has windows on all four walls. Needless to say, I’d just sit here and write or just gaze into the distance if I could. But there’s that thing called a paycheck to pay for this fine mess.

What current projects are you working on and would you like to share some details with the readers?

That Emily Dickinson novel, as mentioned earlier. It may take a lifetime. I’m not sure whose.

Thanks, Amy, for answering my questions.

For the giveaway, I have 1 copy for a US/Canada reader:

To Enter, comment on this post with either a question for Amy or something you enjoyed about the interview.

For a second entry, spread the word about the interview on Twitter, your blog, and Facebook, and leave a link in the comments.

For a third chance to win, enter on yesterday’s interview.

Deadline June 22, 2011, at 11:59PM EST

Interview With Poet Amy Pence, Part 1 & Giveaway

Amy Pence, the author of The Decadent Lovely — which is published by Main Street Rag and which I reviewed last week — is a poet, fiction writer, essayist, and teacher.  She graduated from Denison University and from the University of Arizona with an MFA.  In addition to The Decadent Lovely, she has authored a chapbook, Skin’s Dark Night (2River Press), and her poetry, essays, and fiction have appeared in a number of literary journals and magazines.

Part one of our interview will introduce her more fully and explore why she chose certain text excerpts for her collection.  Part two of the interview will be available tomorrow, June 7, so stay tuned for that.

How would you introduce yourself to a crowded room eager to hang on your every word? Are you just a poet, what else should people know about you?

If there is a crowded room eager to hang onto my every word, I must be an impostor, channeling Jane Fonda or Roshi Joan Halifax (either would be cool), or I’m having a nightmare.  I do teach (no surprise: college English), but often not to a crowded room.  I think I’m good at leading small workshops and I’ve done so with a wonderful group in the Atlanta area over the years.  (More on that later).  I’m a mom to a fifteen-year-old, who is quite amazing…To talk more about myself in answer to this question reminds me of Don Draper in the episode of Mad Men when he tries to side-step the question (I’m from the Midwest; we don’t talk about these things) and then he comes off like an asshole in the article!

What was it about “Learning From Las Vegas” and “The Art of Loving” that prompted you to include excerpts from them in The Decadent Lovely?

Thank you for this question.  That The Decadent Lovely is my first published collection came as a surprise (it’s really my third poetry manuscript).  But for many years I’ve appreciated and reread the dense and interesting language and mulled over the preposterous premise of Learning from Las Vegas. Should architecture really look like Las Vegas casinos?  Let’s hope not.  I also knew that one day I would write a book about the one vaguely interesting thing about me: that I grew up in the New Orleans French Quarter and Las Vegas.  I didn’t know that the poems would come out as a kind of necessity during my mother’s illness with lung cancer and her death about eight months later.  The book, I realized, framed the poems.  While cleaning her house, I came across The Art of Loving and her marginalia in the book (when she wrote the notes and underlined the book I will never know).  I read it eight months after her death and it was frustrating and sad and an act of discovery.  I could mourn her and celebrate her and be angry with her and well, love her, as I wrote the last poem in the book.  When I completed it—in my courtyard garden—a hummingbird—meaningful to my mother and me—hovered close to my face.  Thanks, mom, I said to that little whirring thing.

Do you have any obsessions that you would like to share?

Well, see, I’ve already mentioned Emily Dickinson (because I’m obsessed!) and I’ve written a couple of essays, many ED-inspired poems and am working on a novel about her. She’s obsession-material for me and many, many others, as I’ve found. I tend to burrow into a person’s life story; I used to read bios on film stars such as Bette Davis and Louise Brooks because there’s such a public/personal split that I find fascinating. Currently, I am very into Jane Fonda. Other obsessions seem to just crop up in my poems and well, we don’t really want to ferret those out, do we?

How do you stay fit and healthy as a writer?

I run, but there are so many triathletes and marathoners out there that my 5k to 10k jaunts sound paltry—I run fast to get it over with.

Do you have any favorite foods or foods that you find keep you inspired? What are the ways in which you pump yourself up to keep writing and overcome writer’s block?

I seldom have writer’s block because of my writing space (see the next answer), but I suffer from writer’s distraction (see previous answer). Puttering around in the garden and house can be fruitful or just a time suck. Often I have to turn the internet off or I’ve ended up web-surfing so far away from my original search that it’s head-spinning (huh? how did I get here?). In terms of pumping myself up and a quasi-food that keeps me inspired: copious amounts of coffee with cream. I’m ashamed to say how much—except to use the word “copious.”

When writing poetry, prose, essays, and other works do you listen to music, do you have a particular playlist for each genre you work in or does the playlist stay the same? What are the top 5 songs on that playlist? If you don’t listen to music while writing, do you have any other routines or habits?

Right now I’m listening to the Philip Glass Radio on Pandora. Chamber music (with lots of cellos) is also good. I have to be wary of Philip Glass though—I’ll be writing and suddenly I feel like Nicole Kidman wearing her Virginia Woolf nose in The Hours. And then it’s all stream-of-consciousness. (Just kidding).

Thanks for answering these questions, Amy. You’ll have to come back tomorrow to hear what Amy says about poetry’s “elitism,” friendships, writing spaces, and her current projects.

For the giveaway, I have 1 copy for a US/Canada reader:

To Enter, comment on this post with either a question for Amy or something you enjoyed about the interview.

For a second entry, blog, tweet, or Facebook this interview and leave a link in the comments.

For a third chance to win, enter on tomorrow’s interview (link is not live until June 7).

Deadline June 22, 2011, at 11:59PM EST

The Decadent Lovely by Amy Pence

The Decadent Lovely by Amy Pence, published by Main Street Rag, is a collection lush in mystery as it is in setting and pulsating with dramatic domesticity.  Broken into seven parts, Pence begins the collection with the “ugly and the ordinary” and moves to the end of the collection with the infinitesimal.  Her images call attention to the darkness of the narrator’s family as they witness the drunken stupors, like in “Landing Space, 1970” (page 5-6), “Cutting too:/the eyes of the sunflowers/the swell of them, pulpy,/like my stepfather’s,/roused too soon//from an alcoholic stupor/for the graveyard shift.  Was it too much/what they saw or not enough? . . . ”

Like the pleasant and the darker aspects of the family, Pence juxtaposes the landscape of New Orleans to that of Las Vegas, with the darker elements of family life up in neon lights.  But there is darkness in New Orleans, a past that cannot be escaped and a past that can be touched only through the voodoo of memory and self-assessment.  In “The Waiting Room” (page 40), “Maybe/she’ll talk of a version of her self/decades before the cancer:  the Rose Bowl court in the 50s/or her years in New Orleans, to relate, she’d say/to the woman waiting.  In that/hazy B&W film, my mother/was one of the Golddust Twins,/the flashier one, running headlong out of Ohio, constantly/misunderstood by husbands, children, lovers./Maybe the black woman would begin/to resent my mother as most did, would/see her as merely another shipwreck in Vegas,/unmade by her own addictions.  . . . ”  Readers will find the new perspective on these mundane scenes fresh and captivating, as the narrator reveals the truth behind the surface interactions of women in a waiting room.  Pence has a number of these moments in her poems.  However, there are poems that will require more time, reading them several times and greater reflection for each image and line — a process that could bog down some new readers of poetry.  That being said, the collection is worth the effort.

Put Muse Here (page 22)

Dalí renders Dante’s Beatrice with
his beloved’s form, face obscured. Uses

grisaille, a netting & rivulet to dress her
ginger-crisp: a locust shell split. Then

there’s me: putting another face where the Dark
should be, like dreaming (an Emma Bovary),

of punctuation. The colon: two face one-upon-
one, the lock in the door, a figment well-oiled.

In the slash / my avarice: cut (an Emily Brontë)
window across which I rub my wrist.

Then there’s the period — the body’s
rush to an ending. The Thee (an Emily Dickinson)

through which the self moves —
finds the mouth, fills the face, enters in.

Sometimes cryptic, sometimes plain spoken, Pence crafts an inside look at family (those are her parents on the cover) and the happy dysfunction that can occur and often does.  Beyond that, she draws parallels between that dysfunction and the human condition, which we often attempt to control and fail to control.  The Decadent Lovely is a self indulgence worth wallowing in, if not to examine one’s own life but to understand that humans tend to be self-indulgent even though they espouse the shedding of ego.


This is my 15th book for the Fearless Poetry Exploration Reading Challenge.


This is my 23rd book for the 2011 New Authors Reading Challenge.