We realize that many of our members have had new books come out over the last six months and that many have had to cancel readings and tours. We'd like to help promote those publications as well as book reviews of the works of TWP members on our eblast. Book reviews may be written by members or about the work of a member. Please send us the information or link to how others can purchase your book, and we will try to highlight a few of those each week.
Literary Alchemist: The Writing Life of Evan S. Connell
A new biography by Steve Paul
Evan S. Connell (1924–2013) emerged from the American Midwest determined to become a writer. He eventually made his mark with attention-getting fiction and deep explorations into history. His linked novels Mrs. Bridge (1959) and Mr. Bridge (1969) paint a devastating portrait of the lives of a prosperous suburban family not unlike his own that, more than a half century later, continue to haunt readers with their minimalist elegance and muted satire. As an essayist and historian, Connell produced a wide range of work, including a sumptuous body of travel writing, a bestselling epic account of Custer at the Little Bighorn, and a singular series of meditations on history and the human tragedy. This first portrait and appraisal of an under-recognized American writer is based on personal accounts by friends, relatives, writers, and others who knew him; extensive correspondence in library archives; and insightful literary and cultural analysis of Connell's work and its context. It reveals a tender and multidimensional representation of a 20th-century literary master worthy of broader attention. “With his iconic Bridge novels, Evan S. Connell inspired a generation of writers and left an indelible mark on twentieth-century American literature. Steve Paul’s illuminating, highly readable biography paints a vivid portrait of a writer who eschewed fashion and maintained an almost monastic dedication to craft. Informed by a deep understanding of Connell’s work, Literary Alchemist is a satisfying exploration of the demands and pleasures of the writing life.”—Jennifer Haigh, author of the forthcoming book Mercy Street: A Novel.
After more than four decades as a Kansas City journalist, Steve Paul, longtime member and supporter of TWP, turned his research and writing efforts toward literary biography. Literary Alchemist: The Writing Life of Evan S. Connell (University of Missouri Press, December 2021) follows his biography debut, Hemingway at Eighteen (Chicago Review Press, 2017). Steve also is the editor of Kansas City Noir (Akashic, 2012), a collection of contemporary short fiction by 14 writers. A former winner of the Stanley Hanks Prize from the St. Louis Poetry Center, he has published poetry in New Letters, I-70 Review, the Jerry Jazz Musician website and elsewhere. He's currently at work researching a potential biography of the poet William Stafford. And he regularly writes cultural commentary for KC Studio, the bimonthly magazine and website.
Three A.M. at the Museum is Alarie Tennille’s third collection of poetry from Kelsay Books. It features a large selection of ekphrastic (inspired by art) poems with an introduction by Lorette C. Luzajic, Editor of The Ekphrastic Review.
I’ve never read a book quite like this. Three A.M. at the Museum becomes an exhilarating, multi-media exploration of the power of art to transform and enlarge us. In one poem, “Rothko,” Tennille praises the intrepid museum visitors who have stopped to look deeply into this perplexing mass of color and energy. “So what if you’re still confused,” she asks. “Something has shifted. / You’ve begun to talk back.” The moment recalls Rilke’s magisterial “Archaic Torso of Apollo,” with its timeless injunction that if you, the observer, are to rise to the challenge of great art, “you must change your life.” These are poems that delight, enthrall, and ultimately transform us. My idea of the perfect afternoon would be to stroll through a museum with Alarie Tennille, learning how to see.
George Bilgere, author of Blood Pages and Imperial
Alarie Tennille understands that sometimes we must inhabit another world in order to understand our own. Three A.M at the Museum is more invitation than book, just “waiting for someone like you / to visit.” Some of these poems are inspired by the poet’s life, some by iconic works of art, some by “the mist / between.” Don’t all of us enter another realm when we walk through a museum, when we lose ourselves in a book? This dreamy collection offers us the chance to do both. More than that, it offers us the chance to consider who we are and why we’re here.
Melissa Fite Johnson, author of Green
In Three A.M. at the Museum, Alarie Tennille asks us to walk with her through an art museum like the Nelson-Atkins, to stand undisturbed for as long as we wish before any painting we choose, even the security guards have made themselves invisible. She writes in the quiet hours after the noise has settled. Her poems, both ekphrastic and personal, are meditations, a stroke of the brush, a daub of color from the palette knife. They are as accessible as oil on canvas, as transparent as watercolor. A whisper in the long hall.
Al Ortolani, author of Hansel and Gretel Get the Word on the Street, Rattle Chapbook Prize winner
How Time Moves: New and Selected Poems brings together over 30 years of Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg's poetry on what it means to be human in a particular place, time, body, history, and storyHer book launch is happening virtually at 7 p.m., Nov. 11, sponsored by the Raven Bookstore and Lawrence Public Library. You can register for the reading and celebration here: https://www.crowdcast.io/e/howtimemoves/register
"She is our teacher speaking from the sky, from the field, from the heartland," writes Oregon Poet Laureate Kim Stafford. "Like William Blake’s 'doors of perception,' these pages lead readers inward and outward at once," Denise Low, past poet laureate of Kansas, says of the new poems. The collection also includes poetry from Mirriam-Goldberg's previous six collections: Following the Curve, Chasing Weather, Landed, Animals in the House, Reading the Body, and Lot's Wife.
"In How Time Moves, Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg offers us a magical gift: a compilation of new and selected poems, rich with memory and meaning. 'Expect to be startled,' the poet tells us. And we are," writes poet Joy Roulier Sawyer. Poet Patricia Traxler adds, "This is the real work of a poet--to see and speak the often-hidden truths of a human life in a way that enlightens and informs." Poet Diane Suess points out that "True to its title, time is a paramount issue in these poems—not simply its passing, but its potential, in complicity with imagination, to invent and resurrect the future."
The new poems include a special section on pandemic time, exploring how the nature of our hours, days, and months change during this unprecedented era in our lives.
Denise Low, winner of the Red Mountain Editor's Prize, 2018
Life Inside the Body sings like the ship's guy-wires in its opening poem, "Harbor," of the body of life and life in the world. These poems are so inevitable that it seems they must have always existed, helping us better engage with the beating heart of whatever life brings. Altogether, Life Inside the Body embodies both the daily and the mythological dimensions of life, tilting our view of the stories we live so that we can better align those stories and experiences with our truths.
Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg, Kansas Poet Laureate Emerita and author of Miriam's Well
Susan Whitmore's poems remind us that great poetry rings spiritually and, at times, elegiacally, like her porch chimes through an open window. Loss, as it happens, leads this poet to enormous generosity and an expansive life, where a lion can become the image of love, tearing us open. "Cover your transgressor with kisses," she writes. The exuberance of these poems grows out of immediacy yoked to myth, classical and biblical. The poet's lived experience is as joyful as pasta carbonara in bed after the lights go out. The poems resound with determination in a world where nothing can be considered ordinary.
Robert Stewart, author of Working Class, poems; and editor of New Letters magazine
Pat Lawson’s fine new collection, Odd Ducks, reminds us that engaging stories can be found anywhere, including the modest households of both Kansas Cities. Among her subjects are adolescents bemused by the odd rituals of their parents; school librarians beguiled by a charming student; and Latino fourth and fifth graders who show more imagination than their teachers. Then there are the well-meaning neighbors who learn the singular lesson—running like a leitmotif through the collection—that no good deed goes unpunished.
—Catherine Browder, Now We Can All Go Home
In this funny and touching book, Patricia Lawson takes the reader on a deceptively simple journey into the jagged minds and hearts of characters who struggle to be or at least seem other than they are.
Odd Ducks is alive with characters who endure, who persist. Yes, they are lonely and unsure, and yes, they are desperate for connections that will not come. And yes, they take many wrong turns. But their strengths are evident, their goodness and resolve never missing for long, and though their paths are not direct, they are true.
—Mary Troy, Beauties
Pat Lawson’s Odd Ducks is a quietly intense collection. The stories are especially profound in dealing with states of vulnerability—a middle-aged divorcee, recently out of the closet, stumbles to find a place for himself in a new neighborhood; a disadvantaged child begins to understand how the odds will be stacked against him; a young man catches a glimpse of a life he desires but can never have. Though the stories occur in the context of the urban Midwest, Lawson’s range of empathy will engage all readers. She gives us stories that feel true and stick to the bones.
—Brian Shawver, Aftermath
Patricia Lawson’s work has appeared in Pleiades, Dalhousie Review, New Letters, and elsewhere. She taught for many years at Kansas City Kansas Community College and was an associate editor of The Same. She is a Riverfront Readings committee member at the Writers Place in Kansas City and a graduate of the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Odd Ducks is her solo fiction debut.
Many artists have imagined Jesus transposed to their day, shopping where we shop, working where we work. “Just a slob, like one of us,” as songwriter Joan Osborne famously crooned.
Walter Bargen’s latest poetry collection explodes this concept, ushering a cast of Biblical proportions into a moment that harbors remnants of the past, proceeds in the present tense and might easily be read as a dystopian future.
The title, “Pole Dancing in the Night Club of God” (Red Mountain Press), might set some readers back on their heels. But understand the phrase in context: In the poem “Drought,” Missouri’s first poet laureate looks in on Moses, who “stands watching / from the glass cage of a window as if he’s still pole dancing in the night / club of God. / He wants to reach out, but the panes won’t part.”
The collection is shot through with the light of recognition: we are all naked, or most of the way there, and living coram Deo — in the presence of God. This sense, of exposure craving consolation, animates the way Bargen’s characters move through each verse.
Bargen opens the book with characteristic parched wit — “Thumbing Through the Book of Days” is quite literally an ode to the poet’s thumbs:
... not overly long nor out of proportion / with the rest of my hand, though longer fingers might have helped, / if I’d ever followed through on racing up and down the neck of a guitar, / stretching for impossible chords, or the reaching down into a warm / moist cleft for that other music.
The poet puts readers on notice: For the next 90-plus pages, I am your spiritual guide, he seems to say. Take my psalms and proverbs with a grain of salt from the side of Lot’s wife.
From there, we follow Bargen into an overgrown Eden, populated by Adam, Eve and the weeds growing through the concrete cracks of their life together. The poet elides the contours of their existence into the present. “Adam stands, his lungs a fully exposed page from / Gray’s Anatomy. The bars of his ribs are all that keeps him from / exploding on stage. In the ceiling fan, a heart-shaped helium balloon rips / apart its letters of L-O-V-E” (“Global Warming on a Friday Night”).
Eve chafes against her own vulnerability: “Forget the fig leaf, Eve hasn’t really tried on anything yet, and probably / won’t, but she’s shopping around for the right disease” (“Stylish”). Later, the first couple “sit across from each other, arguing all night: her / sensations versus his rationality, her Spinoza against his Hume” (“Hound Dog Philosophers”).
Much of Bargen’s best work here revolves around Moses. “God’s Juice” finds him scribbling his own ideas down, trying to have a single, solitary thought apart from divine inspiration. In “Mowing,” he does just that, spending the Sabbath “converting his / push mower into a self-propelled believer.” “Dinner Party” presents a touching scene, as Moses commiserates with a leaky and understandably depressive water heater.
“Rusting Place” follows Moses as he walks his weary body toward retirement. He bequeaths beloved spiritual possessions to others, who fail to handle them with care. Bargen writes:
He’s flying to Utah. Plans to live rent-free in Moab at a friend’s house / who is gone most of the year, chasing the sun like a pharaoh in a fifty- / six-foot-long RV.
Elsewhere, we ride shotgun with Mother Mary as she criss-crosses America in a car, listening to the Beatles and Allman Brothers (“Lost Music”); keep company with the gospel writers as they sort geographic and historical markers (“Confounded World,” “Buying the Commute”); and witness Judas’ disgust at tales of wartime valor (“Post Post”).
The novelty of Bargen’s storytelling would mean little without lyricism and a grounded sense of perception. Both abound here. Certain images reach out to caress — or suckerpunch the reader into a confrontation:
“At winter’s end the lake loses its white wings and grows black legs.” (“Evolution of Morning Coffee”)
“The steering wheel wants to set its own course, turning right, turning left, / trying to center on three roads or no road at all as Paul begins to cry for / the median.” (“Sigmund Road”)
“Open suitcase, a tent in the soot-stained snow drift. Forever unlocked, / but not broken. / ... Why worry, theft so common it’s natural. So natural, everyone carries a / handful of dirty snow in their left hand.” (“Blind Mice Travel Troubles”)
The real soul of Bargen’s work reveals itself as he places us as close to these characters as our faces come to morning mirrors. When God, or at least some of his famous children, are one of us, their stories shrink and ours expand in equal measure. We are all living Biblically, whether we like it or not. We might as well shake what our maker gave us.
Barbara Loots has published poems for fifty years in literary journals, online magazines, textbooks, and anthologies. Her collections, published by Kelsay Books, are Road Trip (2014), Windshift (2018)--3rd place finalist for the Thorpe Menn Award for Literary Excellence--and The Beekeeper and other love poems (2020). Retired since 2008 from a long career as writer for Hallmark Cards, Barbara volunteers as a docent at the renowned Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, Missouri, where she resides in the historic Hyde Park neighborhood with her husband, Bill Dickinson, and Bob the Cat.
About Beekeeper, Vera Ignatowitsch, Editor-in-Chief of Better Than Starbucks, writes: "Barbara Loots wields language with the delicacy of a surgeon wielding a scalpel. Here she evokes life's essence in a delightful panorama, and the resulting worldview is entirely captivating."
The Beekeeper and other love poems can be purchased at Kelsaybooks.com or Amazon.
Tania: The Revolutionary, a short novel by Michael Pritchett (2020), 81 pages.
Article by Robert Stewart
Michael Pritchett’s style here is intense to the point of poetry. He uses historical events and characters, e.g., Patty Hearst, aka Tania, the American war in Vietnam, and more from the late 1960s and early ‘70s, to re-engage the complex and—I add from experience—unsettling swirl of those times. Yes, that includes the explicitly bloody murder of actress Sharon Tate by the maniac Charles Manson and his women. As main character, Judy, says to her mom in this novel, “Calamities tend to cluster around certain dates.”
“It’s called bad intersection,” Mom replies to her daughter. We tend to forget, or I do, not so much the events of history but the hollowing out of hope and love and compassion when such calamities eat at our civilization. As in a good poem, the details that Michael Pritchett brings to this novel revive other details in the mind of the reader. Pritchett mentions the My Lai massacre and does not need to mention all the other outrages, such as President Johnson’s defense secretary Robert McNamara, who helped orchestrate, obfuscate and lie about the expansion of the war.
The novel’s mastery comes in creating the very effect of these many events on the individual psyche, on a single character, Judy, her family and then her marriage. Judy’s husband, Terry, who rarely sleeps for his own unsettled life, has had enough of Judy’s obsession with the violence of the Manson murders. “You need to stop this,” he says to her over coffee at 4 a.m. “It happened okay are you gonna go nuts yourself trying to act like this isn’t really about what happened to you—?”
There it is, what this is really about: the same emotional captivity and violence to the human psyche many of us are experiencing now, in 2020, under a compassionless political system, children separated from their parents, ineptness in managing the pandemic, and so on. It is, indeed, happening to you, and sometimes only through novels of the highest order do we see ourselves, presently, in our past. The job of a great novelist, a great novel, stretches outside of plot.
The separation of the character Judy from her own dad is the psychic hole in the world through which everything else becomes personal. All she has left of him are his books, and she reads them all, quoting from them in her attempt to cope in that world we, even now, under sell compared to the traumas of 2020. Don’t be duped. Judy and her family live with us today and will, if the reader allows, comfort us with insight. I remember Judy’s world well and needed to revisit it, faced, as we all are now, with events that cluster around these times.
The Big Quiet—One Woman’s Horseback Ride Home by Lisa D. Stewart, Prairie Village, launched from Meadowlark Books June 6th and is available everywhere books are sold, including Lisa’s website, www.lisadstewart.com.
At 54, Lisa Stewart set out to regain the fearless girl she once had been, riding her horse, Chief, 500 miles home. Hot, homeless, and horseback, she snapped back into every original cell. On a homegoing longed for since she was a girl, Lisa exhausted herself, faced her past, trusted strangers, and stayed in the middle of her frightened horse to document the truth and beauty of modern rural America—its people, animals, and land.
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