I met with some of my fellow writers from the Yoknapatawpha Writers Group at our monthly critique session in Oxford on Friday. We usually meet on Saturdays, but we’re all fans of Beth Ann Fennelly, so we changed our meeting to Friday. And she did not disappoint.
When Beth Ann “reads” her poems like she did last night, it’s much more than a “reading.” It’s a performance. She takes you there… into those “unmentionable” places that she dares to go with her amazing poetry. (sorry the photo is fuzzy, I was several rows back, holding my camera in the air over my head!)
Like this one, that she read to us, her eager students, last June at the Yoknapatwpha Writing Workshop. Before it was published. She joked with us then that she might lose her job if it ever got published. I won’t quote the entire poem because, well, because I want you to buy her book. If you’re in Memphis, you can buy it at Burke’s Books, and hear her read and get an autographed copy on May 1. So, here’s the teaser, a few chosen lines from her poem, “First Warm Day in a College Town.”
Today is the day the first bare-chested
runners appear, coursing down College Hill
as I drive to campus to teach, hard
not to stare because it’s only February 15,
and though I now live in the South,
I spent my girlhood in frigid Illinois
so now it’s hard not to see these taut colts
as my reward, these yearlings testing the pasture,
hard as they come toward my Nissan
not to turn my head as they pound past,
hard not to angle the mirror
to watch them cruise down my shoulder,….
Want to read more? See you at Burke’s Books on May 1, between 5 and 6:30 p.m., or, of course you can order an autographed copy of the book from them online here.
Last night when Beth Ann opened with this poem, she looked over our heads out into the filled to over-flowing room at Off Square Books and said, “Oh, good evening Chancellor.” The room filled with laughter as she blushed like a school girl caught passing notes in class.
So, what’s the big to-do about Beth Ann Fennelly? As this article in the Oxford Town entertainment newpaper from this week says, she’s winner of the 2002 Kenyon Review Prize and the GLAC New Writers Award for “Open House” in 2002… and the 2997 Texas Review Breakthrough award for an earlier chapbook, “A Different Kind of Hunger.” And a Pushcart Prize winner, listed three times in The Best American Poetry Series. She even read her poetry at the Library of Congress at the invitation of the U.S. Poet Laureate!
All that’s big stuff, but it’s her soul that draws me. As she says, of “Unmentionables,”
These poems investigate the mystery of human relationships—between lovers, family members, individuals and society, ourselves and our perception of ourselves.
The book includes this great poem she wrote about the art of Berte Morisot, after touring the National Gallery in Washington, D.C. I was especially interested in this, since I’m both an artist and a writer. Fennelly says, of this experience:
While working on this poem, I was able to explore the decisions a female artist makes when balancing fulfillment in one’s personal life versus fulfillment in art.
Want to read it? You know what to do. (Buy the book!) Preferably at an independent book store. But if you must, you can order it here.
The poetry reading was especially yummy at the end of a day of critiquing with my writing group buddies. Tom submitted the next chapter of the novel he’s writing. Doug submitted a short fiction piece he wrote as an assignment for a class recently. Herman shared the essay he wrote that Rivers Jordan actually read during a pod cast recently, “Southern Intrusions,” which was really good.
With fear and trembling I exposed the Prologue and first chapter of Dressing the Part to these folks, who treated it with tenderness, thankfully. It’s almost ready to send in with the book proposal, so I really appreciate the fine-tuning from my fellow writers. We missed Patti, who couldn’t come this weekend. But it was very interesting to get feedback from three guys on my book, since the target audience is mainly women.
At the end of our critique session, just for fun, and because it’s National Poetry Month, several of us shared poems we’d written. Herman’s was amazing. It’s about New Orleans. I’m going there in a few weeks, and it made me hunger and thirst for its sights, sounds, smells and tastes.
Okay, I will unabashedly end with the words of encouragement that Beth Ann wrote inside my copy of Unmentionables. I’m very humbled by her kindness and I’m really too embarrassed to type the words for you, so I hope you can read them in the picture.
Inspirational? I’m spending the rest of this gorgeous Saturday afternoon inside editing the book proposal. Thanks, Beth Ann, Doug, Herman and Tom!