Leaving Clean

When I decided to attend graduate school at the University of North Texas in the fall of 2003, I don’t think I really anticipated how challenging the entire experience was going to be. I didn’t know anything about Texas. I also didn’t know anyone in Texas. In retrospect, it’s kind of amazing that I talked myself into going at all. However, I was lucky in many ways while I was at UNT but I think I was most lucky in all the amazing writers I met and became friends with through classes and workshops.

One of my dear friends from those days in Denton, Natalie Giarratano, is the winner of the 2013 Liam Rector First Book Prize for her debut collection Leaving Clean.

Leaving Clean is filled with thick, grit that is both beautiful and haunting. At times, the poems stand up, address the audience candidly, almost daring the reader to continue through a less than hospitable landscape. Other times the poems are quieter, asking you to lean in and listen carefully. These are poems that you return to and that you linger over long after you’ve closed the book.

One of my favorite poems, “Trophy: Photo of a Dead Boy” comes near the end of the first section in the collection. The opening of the poem immediately grounds the reader in the real world, but there is something unsettling just beneath all those concise details: “I was thirteen when I saw your photograph/in my uncle’s study: he told me/you should have been mounted on the wall,/his taxidermist’s masterpiece.” As the poem unravels, the images build and the feeling of unease intensifies to the point where I want to break away from the poem. Away from the photograph. But I can’t. And I’m glad that I don’t when I reach the ending lines “You look strangely fierce with eyes open/staring through my wholeness.”

Leaving Clean is fuimgresll of poems that pull the reader in close, force an intimacy is both uncomfortable and revelatory at the same time. “Armenia at the Dinner Table” is an example of this intimate lens as we find a woman whose hair “had it not been knotted up on her/square head to work the grid of farmland” and “…Her face/is just lazy from the sun and soy beans/ and eight babies, a few who couldn’t outlive her.”

I could keep going about all there is to admire in this collection. I’ve read it a half dozen times and every time I return to it, I find something new to think about. I’m proud to know Natalie and beyond excited that her collection is out in world for people to read and appreciate. I can’t wait to share her poems with my students and I encourage you to go out and buy Leaving Clean. There’s a rumor going around that Natalie will even sign it for you if you.

The Poetry of Sunken Ships

Today’s poetry post begins with more good news on the publication front. My poem “Wake” will appear in the Fall 2013 issue of Scapegoat Review and my other poem, “Starling,” will appear in the Winter 2013 issue of The New Plains Review. I’m very pleased that these poems found homes in these fine publications.

I completed MFA at Murray State University in 2009 and this past week Murray made the news. Currently Murray’s low-residency program is ranked seventh in the nation by Poets & Writers Magazine. My time at Murray was an incredibly positive and valuable experience for me as a writer, a student and a professor. I meant talented, dedicated and hard working writers who I’ve had the pleasure of keeping in touch with long after I stopped making my twice annual treks to Kentucky.

Speaking of talented poets, my good friend Natalie Giarrantano recently released her debut collection of poetry, Leaving Clean. The poems in this book are haunting, unsettlingly memorable to the point where the lines linger in your heart long after the poem is finished and you’ve moved on out into the world. I plan to write more about this book in a later post, but you should buy it. It’s beautiful work.

In the past few weeks the Costa Concordia has been back in the news. When the cruise ship originally wrecked off the Italian coast in January, there was talk of blasting it apart with dynamite. However, instead the authorities elected to leave her on her side until recently when they righted her giant white body in a 19 hour process called parbuckling. I began writing a poem about the ship when the story originally broke last winter, but then the draft sat quiet for several months. This week I took it out again and started to revise. It’s basically turned into an elegy, which isn’t particularly surprising. Many of my poems are elegies of sorts. I seem to gravitate towards them. I don’t think I’ve quite figured the structure of the poem yet, but these are the opening lines I’m currently working with: “When she punctured her smooth, white belly on the sharp/reef, I was driving to the pool hearing that Concordialay trapped/in the Tyrrhenian, soon to be drained and blown to pieces.”

I’m going to keep working on it. We’ll see where it goes.