I wrote this graphic review of Stray City, by Chelsea Johnson, for the clever literary subscription service Manzanita Papers.
I am honored and thrilled to be included in the inaugural issue of a very special literary magazine, Plant-Human Quarterly: Talking and Listening to Plants
Published four times per year on the solstices and equinoxes, PHQ explores the
myriad ways writers make manifest their relationship to the botanical world, attempting to
communicate across boundaries and possibly approach a plant’s-eye-view of the world.
PHQ Issue No. 1 includes poems and essays by Ellen Bass, Sally Bliumis-Dunn, Frances
Cannon (yours truly) , Stephen Cramer, Alison Hawthorne Deming, Chard deNiord, Hannah Fries, Forrest Gander, Jody Gladding, Kimiko Hahn, Brenda Hillman, Jane Hirshfield, Robin Wall Kimmerer, Sydney Lea, Cleopatra Mathis, Jim Moore, Pattiann Rogers, Scott Russell Sanders, Derek Sheffield, Michael Simms, Arthur Sze, J.P. White, Tony Whedon, and Patricia Zylius.
|Here is the announcement that Sundog Poetry shared this week, and here is their website if you would like to learn more about the organization. |
Welcoming our New Managing Director, Frances Cannon!
Sundog Poetry Center is pleased to announce its new managing director, Frances Cannon. Our search committee was impressed by so many of the applications we received for the managing director position, but Frances Cannon’s combination of skills as writer and visual artist, editor and teacher, grant-writer and website designer, as well as her commitment to cultivating new and under-represented voices in the Vermont literary community, made our final choice easy.
“We’re thrilled,” says Sundog Poetry’s Board President, Neil Shepard, “to have Frances Cannon leading us as we move forward into the post-pandemic arts world of Vermont.”
Cannon says of her recent appointment as Sundog Poetry’s new Managing Director, “The past year has been chaotic and difficult for many, myself included, and this new opportunity to work as Sundog’s Managing Director rose up out of the fog as a beacon; what a relief to find a group of like-minded literary friends, who happen to be kind, enthusiastic, and dedicated to the mission of sharing poetry across the state of Vermont. I look forward to joining the Sundog team, and I hope that my background in visual arts, creative writing, and teaching can bring some new ideas to an already thriving organization.”
She goes on to say, “I am so grateful to have found this job and to be shepherded into the position by the former director-poet, Sarah Audsley. I will strive to be a worthy and capable Managing Director, who can support and celebrate all manner of writers in Vermont: from established scholars to budding student-poets; all ages, all genders, all ethnicities, writers from marginalized communities—I will keep my arms and eyes open to the diverse and vibrant pulse of poetry in Vermont.”
After a two week training period in June, Frances Cannon will take the helm beginning July 1st.
Welcome aboard, Frances!
There are many reasons why I enjoyed reading Melanie Finn’s new novel, The Hare, or to be more accurate, why I tore through it like a hiker devouring a sandwich after hiking in the Green Mountains of Vermont. I’ll start there, in Vermont, where most of the book takes place, specifically in the Northeast Kingdom, where I grew up, and where the author currently calls home. She renders all of the historical, cultural, and natural details of the region as only a Vermont inhabitant could—the beauty and decay; the wealth and poverty; the mixed-up politics, the backwoods crimes; the chicken shit and roadkill; the tools and skills that the protagonist, Rosie Monroe, a young, single mother, would need to survive after her lying older boyfriend abandons her and their infant in a drifty cabin in the middle of nowhere. Fortunately, the nearest neighbor, a toothless, boozy old lesbian named Billy Mix, saves Rosie’s life by teaching her how to hunt deer, how to forage for wild edibles such as ramps, fiddleheads, and morel mushrooms; and most importantly, how to light a fire in the woodstove to stay warm throughout the long, hard winters.
In order to not spoil any of the juicy plot, and yes—it is a nail-biter, replete with murders, deceit, drug trafficking, gender transformations, lust, and other literary thrills—I’ll skip over the story of that lousy boyfriend, Bennett, and focus on Rosie, who carries several layers of trauma from childhood and adolescence, but somehow, time and time again, takes control of the ghosts of her past and forges ahead with grit and determination. Rosie starts off with a full ride to Parsons, studying art, before Bennett ruins everything. While she’s still enrolled, she glimpses a possible future in her art mentor, “Ida smells of paint and turpentine. The coffee shop smelled of coffee and onions. It was fantastic. What if you could draw a smell?” This daydream dissipates when she meets Bennet, a charming man twice her age, while perusing the art at the MoMa. He charms her, takes her out for tea, and whisks her away for a summer in his friend’s boathouse, where she becomes accidentally pregnant. From the start, Bennett’s life story is hazy at best, and I’ll leave it that way in this review; Rosie is the more compelling character throughout.
The other truly captivating characters in the book are also women, ranging from the enigmatic Billy Mix, to a female cop who investigates various crimes against women, including a series of murders along the Vermont-New Hampshire border, as well as the possible predation of minors committed by Rosie’s boss, a chicken farmer. As this cop states in blunt terms to Rosie, she’s trying to solve various “incidents of male dickery.” These moments speak to the novel’s ever-present themes of female autonomy and strength in contrast to male ideocracy, greed, and ineptitude. One chapter that complicates this binary in a positive and intriguing way is an unexpected reunion with Rosie’s first love, who has since transitioned from male to female. I wish Finn had expanded this section of the book, in order to give Christianne proper room to breathe as a nuanced character.
Another character that I enjoyed is an inanimate object which Rosie regards first with fear, then with acceptance, and finally with enormous gratitude: the woodstove. She even writes a love letter to the stove, for teaching her “to value the steady.”
My favorite section of the book takes place later in Rosie’s life—mid menopause—how many books can you name which place a badass menopausal heroine at the helm? My other favorite aspect of the book are all of the chapters which reveal Rosie’s, and the author’s, deep knowledge about Vermont: its seasons, mud season in particular, its wildlife, its cultural contradictions, its geography. We learn about wild edibles that can be foraged in early spring, summer, and fall, and how to incorporate them into a meal,
“A hunk of back strap in the skillet, the blood oozing from the tissue. Wild onions Billy gave her, a basket of dried boletes… a week later, Billy brought them a hare, already skinned and butchered. It seemed so rudely naked. She set it in a broth of dandelion greens, ramps, and potatoes.”
The bogs, time-worn mountains, snowshoe trails, old cemeteries decaying in the woods; this is the landscape of my youth, and through Finn’s novel, I was able to relive my childhood in lyrical and precise detail. Thank you, Melanie Finn and the editors and publishers at Two Dollar Radio, for creating this book! I recommend it, particularly if you’re a feminist or feminism-inclined, and if you live in New England, although these are not imperative for enjoying the well-rendered characters and dramatic plot.
JUNE 13, 2:00-5:00 PM (PST)
I will be teaching this online workshop, hosted by Northwind Art, is for anyone with an interest in both art and science, outdoor exploration, wild flowers and edible mushrooms, cataloguing and sketching the natural world. In this live online workshop series with artist, writer, and amateur naturalist Frances Cannon, you will learn how to create your own naturalist’s notebook with sketches and written notes about your observations of nature—field notes of the flora and fauna that capture your attention and give you a sense of wonder. The format for these notebooks can vary from pen and ink, to watercolor, or any 2-D medium of your choosing. They can be personal and experimental, although your instructor will give you tips and resources for grounding these field notes in observation and science. All levels welcome.
Sign up here:
The Iowa Review has published my graphic book review of Guantanamo Voices: Sarah Mirk’s masterpiece (editor, writer, comic). It’s a must-read for 2021 if you haven’t already picked up a copy! Here you can find my review: The Iowa Review
Over the span of three days, I painted a mural of Vermont bird species on the wall of the wood-fired pizza oven in the soon-to-open Woodbelly restaurant in Montpelier, Vermont. The process was thrilling, from the initial stages of sketching and planning to the finishing touches of brushwork on the wall. I wanted to keep the color palette simple, three colors at the most, so I selected birds whose plumage naturally display black, red, and yellow. This triple color combination actually generated a long list of birds, so I narrowed it down to the loon, red-winged blackbird, saw-whet owl, yellow warbler, crossbill, cedar waxwing, cardinal, crow, pileated woodpecker, and chickadee. And, on the last day, I painted a few quirky robots in the corner to decorate the electric panel. I can’t wait for the restaurant to open to sit at the bar with a pizza and a beer and see my mural as the backdrop to culinary action.