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Rachel Fayne Gruskin
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Frank McCourt and Me [By Rachel Fayne Gruskin]
With every book I read, a veritable film is created within. Pupils retract and widen; my fingers can’t move rapidly enough through pages as I see these words and somewhere inside me, images of this reality are created and the film reel of the book progresses. The most internal movie is being made as I imagine what these words really mean. Everything is there. I can see each character; I try to sense idiosyncrasies within them; I conjure up the places they live; there’s an attempt to see everything, and often, I’m imagining it. That’s ok. But what if I didn’t have to? A thirst for reading combined with a primal love for adventure and travel sparked a passion for going to those places I’ve read about in books and experiencing a tangible film reel--something I can touch and don’t have to dream up within my imagination. Brazenly colored buildings line the streets Pretty psyched to be in Ireland The best place I’ve ever seen is Ireland. But I knew that before I visited. My father trekked through the country years ago; he brought back a bodhran, a necklace he’d been given by someone who picked him up while hitchhiking, and a map of the country. I’d traced the lines of the map hanging on my father’s wall so many times, but I’d also read Angela’s Ashes. Frank McCourt’s brutal accounts of poverty and hardship in 1930’s/1940’s Limerick didn’t necessarily stir in me a desire to glorify or relish in the grit of the city. It did, however, have me wondering what it might be like to retrace McCourt’s steps. For those not familiar with the book, Frank McCourt recounts his impoverished childhood as he moves from Brooklyn to Limerick and details all the trials that came with it. The Location of Leamy’s National School, Now Called Leamy House I came to Limerick not needing to see McCourt’s Limerick necessarily, but to create my own, and to assimilate it into a more personal Angela’s Ashes. McCourt describes Leamy’s National School, for example, as a seemingly gray place where teachers doled out corporate punishment and students were warned not to cry. Today, the mid-sized brick building still stands, and it seems implausible that this--this spot where you lean and rest your back on the cool iron gates and finger the short stone columns that stand before the building--this is where Frank McCourt saw the things that made him who he was and subsequently earned him a Pulitzer. I stand where he stood. The Current Storefront of South’s Bar Much of McCourt’s Limerick has been glorified so, and what was once poverty stricken have subsequently become museums, luxury hotels, and other signs of booming industry. There’s even an Angela’s Ashes walking tour. Not everything still stands, but some things do. South’s Pub does. It’s the pub that serves as a vehicle for McCourt’s father to drink up the family’s savings in the book. It’s also the place where McCourt’s uncle bought him...
Posted Dec 5, 2014 at
The Best American Poetry
Remembering Strand [By Rachel Fayne Gruskin]
The entirety of the literary community and fans of his work are all grieving the loss of Mark Strand this week. The faulty area at school was abuzz with memories and stories of the iconic poet. Professor Deborah DeNicola, my colleague at Broward College, celebrates Strand in a poem she had published in Nimrod a few years ago. Loving Mark Strand It’s as if he knows how close he’s always been to Spirit. As if your hand might pass through the numen of his voice and a little shadow shiver on the auditorium wall. If you asked I bet he’d glance away with a half smile and husky whisper . . . Everything ages . . . We get old . . . Everyone disappears . . . and this with a hissing sigh: . . . Love fades . . . But his eyes would twinkle like wild dice and you’d know underneath that haunting still lives a romantic, why else would he strike us so humble, so droll? One could do worse than scribble ethereal sighs while years slip by as pages lifted by wind. Maybe he sees something we can’t imagine beyond this earthly timeline. Always his quavery moans purr like a couple of mongrels, wounded but playful. Oh Strand! Oh handsome Strand! Your towering gaze taught us tricks that held out mystery, ships made of words, lifelines we almost grasp as we read poems built of vowels, poems mocking themselves, poems so pleased to be poems, bemused at the range of their pain, consumed with their own toiling well into twilight— elusive, mewing poems whose feet never touch ground. And here in the pin-drop quiet, ten deep in the standing-room-only of his vapory breath, we’re almost splay-legged in rapture while there at the podium, he’s merely mouthing the syllables of light and air and glass in the perfectly stitched font of The New Yorker. We could sail the rictus of cryptic grin, its crescent aisle, while we cling to his piper’s cape and flow from the building up a Bread Loaf embankment where wind blows color out of the gloaming and the smoky poems dissolve, deliquescent as rain beclouding the synchronous rise of birds. And Strand, with the bittersweet smile, glad to have touched our lives, never giving a hoot who mimicked him . . . he just keeps moving, holy over the fields, an Aquarian Orpheus, one with his head intact, toes dangling over the edge of our good green planet into the mythic skies of poetry history, taking his place beside Homer, Virgil . . . Demosthenes’ stones under his tongue, back to the first bicameral tribe, the blue mother cave where he first dreamed in the silence the tender language of the born. -Deborah DeNicola, published in Nimrod
Posted Dec 4, 2014 at
The Best American Poetry
Sharon Olds and Ferguson [By Rachel Fayne Gruskin]
The happenings in Ferguson have had us all reading articles, thinking a little deeper, and maybe looking for answers. I definitely was. In between feeling articled out and strung out on news sources, I kept coming back to On the Subway by Sharon Olds. Much of the chatter I’ve heard about race relations in that section of Missouri has been about the balance of power. The majority of the police force is white, which doesn’t reflect the bulk of Ferguson’s racial makeup. On the Subway is certainly topical, and it touches on a power we all give each other (earned or not) based solely on things that have nothing do with earning it. ON THE SUBWAY, BY SHARON OLDS The young man and I face each other. His feet are huge, in black sneakers laced with white in a complex pattern like a set of intentional scars. We are stuck on opposite sides of the car, a couple of molecules stuck in a rod of energy rapidly moving through darkness. He has or my white eye imagines he has the casual cold look of a mugger, alert under lowered eyelids. He is wearing red, like the inside of the body exposed. I am wearing old fur, the whole skin of an animal taken and used. I look at his unknown face, he looks at my grandmother’s coat, and I don’t know if I am in his power — he could take my coat so easily, my briefcase, my life — or if he is in my power, the way I am living off his life, eating the steak he may not be eating, as if I am taking the food from his mouth. And he is black and I am white, and without meaning or trying to I must profit from our history, the way he absorbs the murderous beams of the nation’s heart, as black cotton absorbs the heat of the sun and holds it. There is no way to know how easy this white skin makes my life, this he could break so easily, the way I think his own back is being broken, the rod of his soul that at birth was dark and fluid, rich as the heart of a seedling ready to thrust up into any available light. -Sharon Olds from The Gold Cell
Posted Dec 3, 2014 at
The Best American Poetry
Let's All Love Jenny Zhang Together! [By Rachel Fayne Gruskin]
I discovered Jenny Zhang about a year ago because her book had just been published by one of my favorite small independent presses, Octopus Books. That book, Dear Jenny, We Are All Find is like a fart joke camouflaged as a refreshing example of modern poetry. I’m not the first to say that some modern poetry is praised purely for being subversive. (flarf, anyone?) However, Zhang’s work is truly revolutionary, but not just for the sake of being so. Zhang lets everything go in a way that made me feel like I was up to her ear and being fed secrets in the most deliciously impish way. She’s a poet’s poet and touches on everything from the kind of tangible jealousy we can almost taste in our mouths to a virtually comic-book style use of onomatopoeia. The exaggerated line breaks and seemingly simplistic colloquial tone are without doubt characteristic of many modern poets and can be found here, in I Ate Marigolds. I Ate Marigolds I ate Marigolds for attention no one noticed I was forced to go public people watching themselves as long- er limbed creatures they have um no beauty -By Jenny Zhang, from Dear Jenny, We Are All Find Here’s another favorite: Anything your tinny hands are inside tins I grow as I finish fourth each de grade action is a great thing I feel like a great thing great things are called things and this thing is not inside time which is as tinny as sorry mom I wasted dishwater again I feel feelings this is touchable Some kids died rollerblading It’s very touchable my mother spoons me and in kissing my lips she says she wants to stay like this forever me too and I also want to be my own mom and kiss myself -By Jenny Zhang, from Dear Jenny, We Are All Find
Posted Dec 2, 2014 at
The Best American Poetry
Why Would a Graphic Designer Ever be on Letterman? [By Rachel Fayne Gruskin]
I work in an industry where everyone wants to be famous. Not only do they want to be famous, but success is measured by what degree of notoriety you have. I do two things. I host a show on local TV about books called Beyond the Book. For the show, I interview touring authors, talk about what’s happening in the local libraries, and (my favorite) visit and discuss local places that have been mentioned in books. More than almost anything, I’d really like the show to grow and be successful. I also teach College English, something I get equally enthusiastic and zealously passionate about. I have opportunities to read the beginnings of a could-be novel and at the same time, make sure students know their way around a comma splice. Geeky, right? It’s pretty awesome. Working on Beyond the Book for the last few years has absolutely had me thinking about a next step. Could I bring the show to a larger network? Do I think it could ever be national? What would happen then? What would it be like to be famous? Fame. Walking down the street and someone recognizing your face. What would that be like? Walking into school every day feels like someone just gave me a license to have meaningful input in what our next generation is learning. I can’t believe I get to be here, giving these people what was given to me in school and telling them things I wish I would have known a few years ago. In the classes I teach, I often require a paper, a script, a poem, or a short story, among other things. There have been a few times that a first draft has been so good-so inspiring and hopeful, that I read it and it’s hard to breathe. Teaching itself is beautiful, but anyone who teaches knows the politics that come with it. Working under a Dean, dealing with HR, and trying to work within or teetering between often pointless politics can suck the life out of you. Reading such a paper can jolt you back to life. It can make you want to reach through the lines of the page and hug the person who filled them with such untainted literary bricks of gold. It happened recently. A student handed me a poem that wasn’t perfect, but it had some perfect pieces, and it had heart. We sat down and I began to tell him how taken I was with what he wrote. Maybe the next step could be working towards publication. This student is in school studying graphic design, but my interest in his work sparked some excitement. Ms. G, do you think I could get all my poems together and write a book of poetry? I also have some short stories. Maybe I could get them all published. I could do comical essays like David Sedaris. Did you know he was on Letterman? I could definitely imagine myself being famous. Why would a graphic...
Posted Dec 1, 2014 at
The Best American Poetry
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