Last Thursday, the RCAH Center for Poetry hosted its annual book sale. We would like to say a very big “thank you” to all of the folks who stopped by and supported the Center. We were lucky enough to raise more than $1,400, which will go toward our programming. Your support is much-appreciated, and we hope to see you back at the sale next year!
Whosever room this is should be ashamed!
His underwear is hanging on the lamp.
His raincoat is there in the overstuffed chair,
And the chair is becoming quite mucky and damp.
His workbook is wedged in the window,
His sweater’s been thrown on the floor.
His scarf and one ski are beneath the TV,
And his pants have been carelessly hung on the door.
His books are all jammed in the closet,
His vest has been left in the hall.
A lizard named Ed is asleep in his bed,
And his smelly old sock has been stuck to the wall.
Whosever room this is should be ashamed!
Donald or Robert or Willie or–
Huh? You say it’s mine? Oh, dear,
I knew it looked familiar!
Calling all bibliophiles! The day you’ve waited for is finally here! The annual Poetry Center book sale is happening tomorrow! We’ll be out on the grass near the corner of Farm Lane and North Shaw Lane on MSU’s campus from 9 am – 5 pm with bins of books for sale. We’ll have poetry books, cookbooks, history books, novels, and everything in between – all for as little as $.50 per book! Hope to see you there!
“It’s a shared experience,” Memoirist Jane Congdon mentioned during her visit to the Residential College in the Arts and Humanities last week. “I’ve been a visiting writer before, but I’ve never been an artist in conversation.”
The RCAH welcomed Congdon back in November 2011 to discuss her first memoir entitled, It Started with Dracula: The Count, My Mother, and Me.
This time around, Congdon joined the RCAH as an Artist in Conversation. She attended Professor Anita Skeen’s senior seminar, “Geographies, Journeys, and Maps,” and told the class about her plans to hike the Appalachian Trail. The West Virginia native says she’s spent months reading books, going on practice hikes, and gathering materials for her journey.
“I think it’ll be hard. It’s not a vacation,” she said. “I never thought it was something I would do in the beginning, and I found myself in stores buying gear and I thought, ‘What are you buying this gear for, Jane?’”
Cold temperatures and wild animals top the list of Congdon’s fears on the trail. “The things you can’t control – weather, lighting storms … There’s some things Mother Nature is going to do what Mother Nature is going to do. It’s not a case of you conquering anything. You’re the one that has to adapt. The trail is not going to adapt for you, it’s indifferent,” she said. “I hope I don’t slink off in shame.”
When it’s all over, the retired English teacher and editor said she hopes to end up with another book.
Thursday afternoon, the RCAH Center for Poetry sponsored a conversation with Congdon about the writing of memoir and her newest book, Mr. Joe: Tales from a Haunted Life. Congdon co-wrote the book with her brother, Joseph Barnett.
“When we began the project, we had been strangers for most of the last 40 years,” Congdon said of writing Mr. Joe. The siblings had gone their separate ways and “really just weren’t very interested in one another,” until the day Jane received a phone call.
“He called me one evening and he left a message. I hardly ever heard from him, and it said, ‘This is Joe, call me,’ and I thought, ‘What in the world?’ I didn’t call him back for a couple days. I just didn’t get that there was anything urgent,” Congdon said. “We were reunited by a brain tumor.”
Jane said she took her brother into the hospital the day of his surgery. The tumor was not malignant, but Joe recovered well, and after that, the siblings had a chance to become friends.
“We would just go to the movies or meet for lunch and we started discovering things about each other,” Congdon said. “We learned we were a lot alike and that we had assumptions about each other that were not true. Did we really know each other at all?”
According to Congdon, Barnett was the one who originally came up with the idea for a book. She said they would be out at a movie or dinner when Joe would start telling a story.
“He was a night custodian in a school and he started telling me stories about his work. He really loved his work … In the process, we’re getting to know each other better, and I said, ‘I know the name of that book already; it’s Mr. Joe.’ That’s what the kids called him,” Congdon said.
Somewhere along the line, Joe mentioned ghosts. That shifted the whole focus of the book, Congdon said.
“That was a surprise,” Congdon said. “His whole life was a surprise because I hadn’t been there … Writing a memoir can be quite emotional, and not always in good ways. In the process of writing it, Joe had to relive some very dark times talking about them for the book, so it was difficult for him.”
On the other side of things, Congdon was struggling with something a bit different.
“When I wrote my first book, I could just pretty well do whatever I wanted to. I made my own decisions, set my own schedule,” she said. “All of a sudden, in this other situation, the idea of it was great but it was a lot of work. We had to work out a writing process. All of a sudden, there were two opinions to consider, two voices, somebody whose story was being told but they didn’t want to write it themselves.”
At times, Congdon said, both of them doubted whether or not the book would happen. When they reached a point where they felt they needed another opinion, Jane printed off copies of the text to hand out to friends. That was a turning point for Joe, she said, and not in a good way.
“He didn’t think we’d really write a book,” Congdon said. “So when we printed this draft, guess what? There it was! What he said was some of the things he told me, he didn’t realize would end up in the book, but I paid attention. When he saw it, not only did he realize, ‘Yes, there could be a book,’ but he felt betrayed because he thought he had told me some of that off the record, but I didn’t know that.”
Congdon said Barnett was concerned about a variety of things in the book, but mostly he was worried about what others would think about the ghosts.
“The thing he held onto for 50 years was the ghosts, but the first time he ever told anybody was when he told me for that book,” Congdon said. “He was haunted by his personal life, because he had such hardships, he was a single dad. And some of his memories were he thought he had failed – and he really hadn’t at all – so he was haunted by his own life and also haunted by ghosts and it just sort of emerged.”
“He said, ‘I don’t care if we throw it in the fireplace when we’re done. The important thing for me was that we were really working together,’” Congdon said. She confessed her brother’s concerns made her apprehensive.
“That turned me into thinking he was going to chicken out,” Congdon said.
After that, the two worked out a system in which Joe would sign off on the pages.
Despite the challenges of co-writing a memoir, Congdon said, “It was a blast.”
“It helped us to bond,” she said. “We met in person and it was very important to us to have a safe work environment, and that contributed to the fact that it was, overall, a really good experience.”
A Certain Kind of Eden
It seems like you could, but
you can’t go back and pull
the roots and runners and replant.
It’s all too deep for that.
You’ve overprized intention,
have mistaken any bent you’re given
for control. You thought you chose
the bean and chose the soil.
You even thought you abandoned
one or two gardens. But those things
keep growing where we put them—
if we put them at all.
A certain kind of Eden holds us thrall.
Even the one vine that tendrils out alone
in time turns on its own impulse,
twisting back down its upward course
a strong and then a stronger rope,
the greenest saddest strongest
kind of hope.
That’s what you’ll be if you don’t come to Jane Congdon’s conversation tomorrow at 4 pm in Snyder C304. Congdon will be visiting the RCAH tomorrow, popping into classes and discussing her newest book “Mr. Joe: Tales from a Haunted Life,” which was published last year.
The memoir details the life Joseph Barnett, Congdon’s brother and a school custodian. Throughout his life, Barnett was haunted by spirits along with the ghosts of his past. Congdon will be discussing the story as well as the writing of it, including the challenges that come with telling another person’s tale.
Check us out on Facebook or visit poetry.rcah.msu.edu for more information!
Let Nothing Lie Dormant
At the farmer’s market in Rosarito, Mexico,
a man touched my arm.
He sat on a stool at a wooden table,
and in the center,
a blue pitcher of water beaded under the sun.
Hunkered over his lap,
he worked with a gouge on a block of walnut,
and he blew at the dust,
and the dust swirled in the breeze.
Done stripping the sapwood vulnerable to rot,
the man held the heart of the wood,
a purple wood hard against
the chisel’s cutting edge.
He looked up from his work,
and his gray eyes told me I must listen.
“This wood must be strong
or the heart cracks before the real work is done.
See this?” he asked softly,
and he lifted a mallet carved
from a branch of apple, “Strong wood,” he said.
“It wanted to be more than a tree.”
He rubbed fresh walnut dust between his palms.
We drank glasses of ice water,
talked about life in general,
and he used the pitcher,
billowed and wet like the sail of a boat,
to cool his neck.
Later, through the soft meat of an avocado,
I felt the pit longing to be free.
Call to readers!
We at the RCAH Center for Poetry are very interested in our followers. We want to hear from you! Don’t hesitate to write us on Facebook, tweet at us, send us an email at email@example.com or comment on this post below to let us know where you’re from, what you like, what you don’t like, and what you would like to see that we aren’t already providing.
We would also like to take a minute to thank all of you! We’ve published a total of 74 posts so far, and our readership has grown exponentially since the beginning. We’ve had viewers from nearly every continent, and a fairly steady following in North America, Europe, and Australia. It’s amazing! We only ask that you continue to spread the word about our Center and, of course, the importance of poetry in your community.
The RCAH Center for Poetry Team
The Appeal of Antiques
By Allan Peterson
The intriguing comfort of an imagined past
is entered through objects
the same way we continue the present
but without nostalgia
Parents so long for happiness they say
one life is not enough
and live through their children
But children also live backwards through past candles
crank telephones carriages
the ascendant animals that lived not in imagination
but in Kansas and before
there was an Oklahoma with its spotted sun
In those days a metaphor for Hell was the corn sheller
field corn shriven shooting out cobs
the grindstone razor strop even the ladder of progress
from which Les Westfield slipped
on a mossy rung though his son held the ladder
and fell two stories:
one the feudal structure of the family two the harmonic
of almost fatal necessity
as the maple stump entered his hip along with the difficult
remission of breath itself
an antique whose furious elaborations mimicked the rose
by Thomas Lux
Video courtesy TheCreelyFoundation
More like a vault — you pull the handle out
and on the shelves: not a lot,
and what there is (a boiled potato
in a bag, a chicken carcass
under foil) looking dispirited,
drained, mugged. This is not
a place to go in hope or hunger.
But, just to the right of the middle
of the middle door shelf, on fire, a lit-from-within red,
heart red, sexual red, wet neon red,
shining red in their liquid, exotic,
in such company: a jar
of maraschino cherries. Three-quarters
full, fiery globes, like strippers
at a church social. Maraschino cherries, maraschino,
the only foreign word I knew. Not once
did I see these cherries employed: not
in a drink, nor on top
of a glob of ice cream,
or just pop one in your mouth. Not once.
The same jar there through an entire
childhood of dull dinners — bald meat,
pocked peas and, see above,
boiled potatoes. Maybe
they came over from the old country,
family heirlooms, or were status symbols
bought with a piece of the first paycheck
from a sweatshop,
which beat the pig farm in Bohemia,
handed down from my grandparents
to my parents
to be someday mine,
then my child’s?
They were beautiful
and, if I never ate one,
it was because I knew it might be missed
or because I knew it would not be replaced
and because you do not eat
that which rips your heart with joy.