Posts Tagged ‘Walter Anderson’

Poetry as Creative Nonfiction

This past weekend, I had a wonderful opportunity to read poems as the keynote speaker at the Mississippi Philological Association annual conference held at Mississippi Valley State University. For those who are unfamiliar with this fine organization, it is a group of English and Languages faculty and students (graduates and undergraduates) from Mississippi, Alabama, and Arkansas, as well as a few who come from further afield (Illinois and Missouri were represented this year) to read creative work and scholarship on language and literature.

My talk was a reading from Barrier Island Suite and new poems from my fourth collection. It was fun to read what I’ve been working on recently with the poems on Walter Inglis Anderson from BIS and explore some of the cross-fertilization that went on. After all, while researching and writing the poems for BIS, I was also writing poems that would end up in Time Capsules and in my fourth book (title still to be determined, though I have a couple of working titles). The poems I read are newer, but I can still see the connections in theme that grew out of the work on Anderson.

That’s what got me thinking about poetry as creative nonfiction. Well, that did, along working on my creative writing textbook, A Writer’s CraftIn the textbook, the chapter on creative nonfiction was one of the harder ones to write until I realized that I write nonfiction all the time: I just format it as poetry. I discuss the fact that nonfiction is a misnomer; it could as easily been called non-poetry (thanks to Jocelyn Bartkevicius for making this argument in The Fourth Genre).

Barrier Island Suite is my book that is most obviously like creative nonfiction. I researched Walter Anderson’s life, read his Horn Island Logs, read his wife Agnes Grinstead Anderson’s Approaching the Magic Hour, viewed his art and read art criticism on his work. All of this informed the poems, which were definitely not poems about me, but  poems on a subject. They move away from biography by functioning as poems. Though the annotiations bring some of that biography back in, the poems focus on a moment, on an emotion, on one kernel of his life without attempting to put the whole picture together in a narrative. They function as lyric, though the collection as a whole provides glimpses into the narrative, and I hope it provides a deeper understanding than biography could.

Barrier Island Suite is also filled with references to me and my own concerns. As much as it is about Walter Anderson, I also weave in references from my experience, such as allusions to Sumerian and Chinese literature that I have no way of knowing whether Anderson was aware of, and others that he refers to in his logs that are also favorites of mine. In this way, and by incorporating some of Anderson’s language from the logs into the poems, I felt that the collection became a conversation with Anderson across distance and across time.

That conversation continues in the next collection, though there are no poems on Walter Anderson. Instead they are largely poems drawn from my own experience, meditative poems like the sequence “Tombigbee River Haiku” or observations like the poems about our family’s maple tree that had to be cut down after it lost some big branches in a storm. Hardly confessional, these are poems that are both personal and about something beyond the writer. I’m interested in the same relationships between the human and the natural world as I was in Barrier Island Suite, and I’m interested in the life cycle and the cycles of the seasons as metaphor. These themes could just as easily be worked out in an essay (or blog post), but my chosen form is poetry. If creative nonfiction can have the lyric essay, it is time to recognize that poetry can have the essay-poem. There are many ways that poetry and creative nonfiction overlap and cross-polinate, as there are many hypbrids between all the genres of creative writing.

I might have said more of this on Friday night, but dinner was ready and smelled delicious, so I mostly read poems and let them do the talking.

Isle of Caprice

2-24-700x460This morning, I ran across an interesting article about the Isle of Caprice, which included this postcard and 5 historic pictures from the island, which was cut in half by a hurricane and eventually washed away entirely. I was glad to hear confirmation of the story I first heard from Christopher Mauer, when he came to The Eudora Welty Writers’ Symposium to talk about Walter Inglis Anderson. That story led to the poem, “Isle of Caprice,” which started my on my journey into the life and art of Walter Anderson. Though I knew of Anderson’s art when I heard the story, the image of the artist drinking fresh water from a pipe rising out of the waves of the gulf inspired me to explore his artistic vision further and led to my book, Barrier Island Suite.

Here are a couple of interesting facts, I learned from the article today:

The original name of the island was Dog Keys. Walter Anderson speaks of Dog Keys Pass in his logs (I titled another poem after it), and I’d never been able to identify which island or keys it referred to. Now I know that he was referring to the place where Isle of Caprice was located.

The article also confirms that name of the island during its heyday as a resort as Isle of Caprice — some have questioned whether it was Isle of Capris or some other spelling. I’m glad to know that detail is historically accurate!

The article also confirms what I’d always suspected, that the island was just outside of federal jurisdiction, so it was legal during prohibition to sell alcohol there. Unfortunately, the resort only existed for about 3 years before the Great Depression hit and tourism was dramatically reduced.

For more details and especially to see photographs of the island that once thrived off the coast of Mississippi, go to Only In Your State

The Joys of Signing

CewDC4BWEAAyGYYSomeone at yesterday’s book launch for Barrier Island Suite asked me what the pay-off is for publishing a book of poetry. I didn’t have to think about that much! My first thought was “events like this.” Writing a book in isolation is one thing, getting poems in magazines and working with your publisher to put the book together is another, but having a reason to get together with friends and colleagues — even strangers — is the best part. It is what keeps you going through all the other stages.

Most poets don’t expect to make a fortune selling books, though I was thrilled yesterday that we sold quite a few and I signed for over an hour straight, except for when I was reading. But even that thrill is less about the financial rewards than it is about getting the book in the hands of others. Poetry lives and breathes when it is read aloud in public. It thrives when books pass from one hand to another, when it sparks discussions, when someone reads it late at night or early in the morning. A book is never finished until it is read. Writing a book is that long process of honing language until it is ready to go out in the world. Publishing a book is the long process of making a product that can do the job of taking those poems out into the world. Both are rewarding. But the pay-off is when the poems are in the ears and hands of others. Talking to people and signing their books as you pass the poems on is the greatest reward.

Oh yes, and if you’re lucky there’s also cake…CewDC4lWIAAYWRF

Free Books!

To celebrate the launch of Barrier Island Suite, I’m trying the giveaway feature on Goodreads. 5 lucky winners will each receive a copy free — but it will take you longer to get yours, so why not buy one today! Books have started shipping from Texas A&M University Press Consortium.

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Barrier Island Suite by Kendall Dunkelberg

Barrier Island Suite

by Kendall Dunkelberg

Giveaway ends May 04, 2016.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter Giveaway

 

Barrier Island Suite Arrives

imageYesterday, I received advance copies of my new book, Barrier Island Suite: poems inspired by the life and art of Walter Inglis Anderson. What I nice thing to discover on my return from spring break in Chicago. While we were there, I read a couple of poems at the Green Mill Lounge, and talked to Marc Smith and Cin Salach about possibly coming back for the 30 year poetry slam reunion Marc is planning this summer. At the Mill, I could only read from my typed manuscript, but having hard copies of the book is just that much more satisfying!

While I was waiting for it to arrive, I’ve been busy planning a few events to celebrate its arrival. March 29, we will mark the official book launch on campus with a reading and signing in Puckett House from 5:00-6:30, and on April 1 (no fool), I will join alumnae authors at The W’s Homecoming Author Garden Party in the patio behind The W Room of Hogarth. I also have bookstore appearances lined up for Bay Books on April 9 and Square Books on April 25. See my new Calendar page for details on these and other events as I confirm those arrangements!

 

New Year’s Resolution: A New Book of Poems

This title is a little misleading. Last year one of my resolutions was to finish a book of poems on the Mississippi artist Walter Anderson. As is so often the case, it didn’t quite work out the way I planned. It worked out better.

While I didn’t finish the manuscript of “Barrier Island Suite,” I did make some good progress on planning and writing some of the poems that would go in the added sections, on researching the biographical details I would need to complete those sections, on making initial contacts with the family, and finally on working out an agreement with my publisher, Texas Review Press. Paul Ruffin and I started talking about the project in November. He asked to see the manuscript, and in January, he wrote to say he was interested in publishing the collection in 2016 and was on board with the additions that I had outlined in my proposal. Now I’m hard at work and making good progress on those poems I’ve been working on for the past year, and I need to get back in touch with Anderson’s family to work out the details of the book, since we’d like to use some of the artwork, along with the poems.

For those who don’t know Walter Anderson, he lived in the first half of the 20th century in Ocean Springs, MS. He’s best known for his watercolors of the flora and fauna on the Mississippi gulf barrier islands, though he also did numerous drawings and sketches, sculptures, block prints, and three major murals — two that were in public spaces (the Ocean Springs high school and community center) and one that was very private (in his cottage) but is now on display at the Walter Anderson Museum in Ocean Springs. He also wrote logs of his travels to the islands and elsewhere, some of which were published as The Horn Island Logs of Walter Inglis Anderson.

I originally began these poems as a single poem, inspired by a talk given by Christopher Mauer at the Eudora Welty Writers’ Symposium. Mauer had written Fortune’s Favorite Child, a biography of Anderson, and it won our Welty Prize. I knew a little of Anderson’s work and was taken by his story, his bouts with mental illness and his many long visits to the islands that inspired him and seemed to help him manage his mental state. That poem led to a couple more on the barrier islands themselves, and I thought I ought to write some more. So I got a copy of the logs and started reading (while on sabbatical). A couple more turned into twenty, and I knew I had something, but wasn’t sure if it was a chapbook, a section of a book, or a book on its own.

Gradually over the years, I came to the decision that these poems were too different from my others to be part of a collection, and that they were a little too much for a chapbook, but not quite enough for a full-length collection. My initial idea for the book had been to focus only on the time on the barrier islands, not on the time on shore, but as I’ve considered expanding it, I’ve realized that some of the shore life needed to be included. So that is where I’m working now. Those poems will take different forms than the island sections, giving the suite a more varied tempo, and they will provide contrast and increase the tension in the work as a whole. At least that is the goal.

It’s exciting to return to this material, and it’s exciting to have something a little more concrete than a New Year’s resolution to keep me going.

Book Review: Approaching the Magic Hour by Anges Grinstead Anderson

Approaching the Magic Hour: Memories of Walter AndersonApproaching the Magic Hour: Memories of Walter Anderson by Agnes Grinstead Anderson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A fascinating memoir for fans of Walter Anderson’s art from the perspective of his wife, this book tells the story of their marriage, his struggles with mental illness, and the times and places that inform his paintings, drawings, and pottery. Though clearly a loving and sympathetic portrayal, this account does not shy away from discussing the challenges they faced together.

View all my reviews