Friday, October 31, 2008

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Some Musing and Some Discussion of Carolyn Chute

Boy. It's been a while. Sorry about that, all of you who keep faithfully coming back to check out the blank pages. I've been taking a class in poetry (going well, thanks for asking) teaching, dealing with the necessary complications of three children, deaths in the family, and so on.

I want to talk briefly about one of the main inspirations for beginning this blogazine. I've read many books written about rural America, and nearly every one exists in a political vacuum. I don't know if it's because rural folk, especially the rural poor, have been taken advantage of so many times that discussing politics seems only to fuel the fires of indignance and to reenforce the quasi-libertarian views many rural folk have, or what, but most of these books don't provide characters that look to the larger scheme of things. Rural folks are generally concerned with food, shelter and procreation and the work they do to provide those things , like everyone else. Maybe they can't spare a thought for the big picture because the big picture has traditionally never included them. They're engaged politically insofar as it affects them directly--local politics especially--but so deep in the day-to-day grind that the politics of the larger picture seems a luxury to be engaged in when everything else is taken care of, and 'everything else' is rarely taken care of completely. In my opinion, just to mention one big-picture item, most folks would buy local, avoid Wal-Mart, shun other big businesses for their daily needs, if they were given an opportunity to do so cheaply. Wal-Mart is cheap and accessible; ergo there's one near every community. There are many fewer local options now, and that lack forces the small-town inhabitant to travel to that ugly-ass strip mall and lay out the cash where they can make it work for them best.

The point is, Carolyn Chute, well-known writer and activist, does not shy away from politics. In her last book, Snow Man, she dove directly into controversial waters, and nearly drowned. Snow Man is about a member of a Maine militia, Robert Drummond, who has had enough--the 'why' of this becomes clear immediately-- and travels to Boston to assassinate some senators, succeeds in one attempt, and runs, wounded, bleeding and nearly passed out onto Beacon Hill and into the home of another senator. In the first nearly absurd moment of a book with plenty of absurd moments, the senator's daughter and wife hide him in a spare bedroom, while the whole world is looking for him. Given that premise, you might avoid the book, which would be amistake. Snow Man deals with politics in a way that might surprise you as it entertains you. Chute sees activism and support for at every angle, and breaks away from the main narrative to share the talk of people in bars and churches who support Drummond, much in the manner of a Greek chorus. I found myself nodding sympathetically and wincing somewhat at the sheer aggressive tone, not quite buuying the premise, but hooked nonetheless; I feel, in many ways, just like her people: fed up, pissed off, and ready to act.

Reviewers complained about cardboard characters, atypical politics, unwieldy plot, and the sheer anger of Chute and her stand-in Drummond. I found little of that to be accurate, even when I re-read it this week in the cold light of a few years perspective. It's first a good, entertaining book. While not a great book per se, it's also not an exegesis of the politics of militias and rural residents of Maine, as some have claimed. The book claims none of that: Drummond's heroes are Nestor Cerpa and Subcomandante Marcos, unlikely heroes for a rural, quasi-conservative guy from Maine. But that's the beauty of it. You can see the opposing forces of the book set up so clearly, and poor Drummond is doomed from the get-go. As literature, it probably fails, as polemic, it's wonderful to read.

Chute's new book is in my hands, The School on Heart's Content Road. She's been working on it for years, even as her literary reputation sunk a bit with the cool reception of Snow Man. I've been waiting for it, not because of The Beans of Egypt Maine, lovely book though it is. I've been waiting to see what's next for her because of Snow Man.

I hope you read one of her books; all of them deserve a wider audience.

Carolyn Chute's Wicked Good Militia

Audio interview with Don Swaim

Carolyn Chute Goes Back to Egypt Maine

Monday, October 6, 2008

Sister Hayes Takes Up a Serpent by Rosanne Griffeth

Sister Hayes, she lifts her eyes up to the Lord so hard they roll back. She sings sacred songs and dances, quick-stepping and jerking as the anointing descends.

It descends like a tree a'falling. It falls like a wall of water. It walls up all fear of darkness. It fears no man or serpent.

Sister Hayes, she has the gift of tongues. She speaks them as she dances, hands held high and waving. She shakes so hard she bites her tongue. That, she says, is what happens when the anointing descends.

It descends like tear drops falling. It drops like a cloak of shadows. It shadows out the light of evil. It lights the darkest heart.

Sister Hayes, she wears her hair down. The Spirit rocks her hard. She twists and moans, "Oh Dear Lord, Sweet Jesus!" She can feel Him coming through her fingertips. And this how the anointing descends.

It descends like a bolt of lightning. It bolts the locks of Hell. It locks the box of sins. It boxes the devil's gifts.

Sister Hayes, she takes up a serpent. She fears no deadly thing. Her Lord holds her and she can feel Him quickening. She lifts up the rattlesnake, wears it like a crown.

Sister Hayes, she rolls her eyes up, serpents slither in her hair.

Sister Hayes, she tilts her head back, breathless for a holy kiss.

Rosanne Griffeth's work has been published or accepted by Night Train, Keyhole Magazine, Smokelong Quarterly, Pank, The Angler, Insolent Rudder, Thieves Jargon and Six Little Things among other places. She lives on the verge of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and spends her time writing, milking goats and documenting Appalachian culture. She is the blogger behind The Smokey Mountain Breakdown.

New Content Coming

I swear it. Just hang tight, and check out some of the links if you haven't yet. You'll find good reading material there.