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Southern (Ohio) Gothic: Donald Ray Pollock, April 25 at Augustana College PDF Print E-mail
News/Features - Literature
Written by Jeff Ignatius   
Friday, 08 March 2013 05:29

Donald Ray Pollock

Because there’s no rational response to a terminal cancer diagnosis, Willard Russell’s course of action following his wife’s death sentence doesn’t seem as strange as it should.

In Donald Ray Pollock’s novel The Devil All the Time, it’s a prayer log in the woods, “the remains of a big red oak that had fallen many years ago. A weathered cross, fitted together out of boards pried from the back of the ramshackle barn behind their farmhouse, leaned a little eastward in the soft ground a few yards below them.” Willard goes there every morning and evening “unless he had whiskey running through his veins,” Pollock writes, and he often takes his son Arvin.

Lest that sound peaceful and perfectly pious for a man who had little use for the church after what he’d seen in World War II, allow Pollock to set the scene as the condition of Willard’s wife deteriorates: “Maggots dripped from the trees and crosses like squirming drops of white fat. The ground along the log stayed muddy with blood.”

This is in Part One of The Devil All the Time. Out of desperation, Willard begins offering blood sacrifices at the prayer log – animals he killed or scraped off the roads. “But even he had to admit, they didn’t seem to working ... ,” Pollock writes. “There was one thing that he hadn’t tried yet. He couldn’t believe that he hadn’t thought of it earlier.” And that is when Willard decides to kill his landlord.

 
Inhabited by It: Novelist Peter Geye, November 29 at Augustana College PDF Print E-mail
News/Features - Literature
Written by Jeff Ignatius   
Monday, 19 November 2012 13:00

Peter Geye. Photo by Matt and Jenae Batt.

It happens in the second paragraph of the first chapter of his first book. Peter Geye’s 2010 debut, Safe from the Sea, concerns a father and son, but it quickly establishes another character: Minnesota’s North Shore, hanging over Lake Superior on its way to Canada.

The son, Noah, has just arrived in Duluth. Geye sets the scene: “Now he could see the lake, a dark and undulating line that rolled onto the shore. The concussions were met with a hiss as the water sieved back through the pebbled beach. The fog had a crystalline sharpness, and he could feel on his cheeks the drizzle carried by the wind. It all felt so familiar, and he thought, I resemble this place. And then, My father, he was inhabited by it.”

Both of those italicized statements could apply to Geye, who will be reading from his work November 29 as part of the River Readings at Augustana series. In a phone interview last week, the Minneapolis-based author discussed the importance of the North Shore and the wilderness above it as a place (to him) and a setting (for his two published novels and the one currently in progress). He said either he or his editor came up with the term “Northern Gothic” to describe his books – a descendant of the Southern Gothic of such writers as William Faulkner, Flannery O’Connor, and Cormac McCarthy.

 
Winners and Favorites from the 2012 Short-Fiction Contest PDF Print E-mail
News/Features - Literature
Written by Administrator   
Thursday, 27 September 2012 11:51

We received 69 entries in our fiction contest, and prize-winners and a selection of other favorites are published here.

To refresh your memory, we set a limit of 250 words per entry. (For future contests, a bit of advice: Count by hand – at least twice.) We also required each entry to conform to one of five prompts in genre (ghost story, romance, tall tale, noir, or biography), point-of-view character (inanimate object, child, polygamist, criminal, or nun), and conflict/action (betrayal, reunion, shame, obsolescence, or unrequited love). And for the brave and/or foolish, we offered the elective option of writing in the style of Dr. Seuss, Ernest Hemingway, William Shakespeare, William S. Burroughs, or Twitter. Who knew there were so many stories waiting to be told about longing objects, sensual nuns, and Seussian polygamists?

 
Life on the Mississippi – the Real Story: Author Lee Sandlin Creates a Patchwork History of the “Wicked River” PDF Print E-mail
News/Features - Literature
Written by Jeff Ignatius   
Thursday, 13 September 2012 05:33

“Many in the crowd got roaring drunk – and the drunks at their most extreme were hard to tell apart from the fallers and the jerkers and the howlers. Others gave in to the general mood of riot and began fighting and beating each other up over nothing. But what made the camp meetings truly infamous were the orgies.”

Lee SandlinThis is not the Mississippi River that most people remember from Mark Twain. This is the real deal in all its lurid detail.

Lee Sandlin, who will be speaking at the Bettendorf Public Library on September 27 and the Upper Mississippi River Conference on September 28, said in a recent phone interview that he aimed to re-create “the Mississippi River culture in the first half of the 19th Century” in his 2010 book Wicked River: The Mississippi When It Last Ran Wild. “Basically what I’m doing is trying to introduce people to that kind of very strange little world that had formed then around the river.”

“Very strange little world” is the gentle way of putting it.

 
Serious Fun: The Spectra Poetry-Reading Series, Opening September 15 at Rozz-Tox PDF Print E-mail
News/Features - Literature
Written by Jeff Ignatius   
Thursday, 06 September 2012 05:53

To grasp the concept of the Midwest Writing Center’s new Spectra poetry-reading series, we might start with the 1916 book of the same name. In its preface, Anne Knish explained that the “Spectric” school “speaks ... of that process of diffraction by which are disarticulated the several colored and other rays of which light is composed. It indicates our feeling that the theme of a poem is to be regarded as a prism, upon which the colorless white light of infinite existence falls and is broken up into glowing, beautiful, and intelligible hues.”

Before you flee this article, understand that Spectra was a satiric hoax created by Arthur Davison Ficke (a Davenport native writing as Knish) and Witter Bynner (writing as Emanuel Morgan). The pair gleefully mocked the abstruse pretensions of modern free verse, but several prominent poets – including Edgar Lee Masters and William Carlos Williams – actually embraced the work, not recognizing its intent. Poetry magazine Editor Harriet Monroe accepted a handful of Spectric works before the hoax was revealed by Bynner.

Although the poems were mostly nonsense, they were compellingly playful. One opens: “Her soul was freckled / Like the bald head / Of a jaundiced Jewish banker.” It concludes: “This demonstrates the futility of thinking.” One of the most charming starts: “If I were only dafter / I might be making hymns / To the liquor of your laughter / And the lacquer of your limbs.”

And they were occasionally incisive. In one about “my little house of glass,” Knish wrote: “Sometimes I’m terribly tempted / To throw the stones myself.”

Adam FellTo show how this relates to the new poetry-reading series (which begins September 15), allow me to note that one of the first two featured writers, Adam Fell, closes his poem “Summer Lovin Torture Party” with these oddly familiar lines: “I can feel it coming in the air tonight, oh lord. / I’ve been waiting for this moment all my life.”

 
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