Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Audio Roulette

As picky as I am when choosing books, I can't afford to be when settling for audio. Unless I'm willing to fork over thirty-five or forty bucks for a one-time listen--and I'm usually not--I often have to rely on the library's selection (far too many Danielle Steel and Nicholas Sparks for my taste) or what I can find at outlets. Recently, I've gone through a mixed bag. Of the last three I've gone through, I honestly can only remember two titles. One, London Is the Greatest City in America, I honestly bought because of the title (and the price), and it certainly proves the old adage, don't judge a book by its cover. I thought it was simple figurative.

I honestly considered a one-line review: I just finished London Is the Greatest City in America. You shouldn't even start it. I suspect the author thought of the (somewhat) clever title and managed to try to build a novel around it (which had almost nothing to do with London, by the way). The narrator was annoying at best, and she seemed to come from a family people with commitment issues. Enough said.

My last book, though, was certainly memorable: Josh Bazell's Beat the Reaper is certainly not my usual cup of tea, but I couldn't quit listening. The main character is a former mob hit man, now a doctor, an intern, in the witness protection program. The story could easily be an airplane book, the language was salty, to say the least, but the edgy humor kept me going. The story moves back and forth between the present day, when he finds himself at risk again when one of the patients on his rounds ends up being a mobster who recognizes him and leaves orders to have him killed in the event of his (imminent and unavoidable) death, and the flashbacks, when his entrance to the mob follows his discovery of the grandparents who are raising him as the victims of a hit, probably by a mobster wannabe being "made."

I particularly found the lurid details of the medical world interesting, so I was glad I didn't his "eject" as the music started up to signal the end. I listened halfway through the credits and heard the disclaimer, warning not to take any of the medical information as factual. Now I have to wonder--which was true and which wasn't? I don't ever plan to follow the process outlined in the novel for removing one's own femur to use as a knife, but I wonder about some of the facts about how much insurance money goes toward patients who only technically live, in the absence of a DNR--do not resuscitate--order.

This is the time of year when I get more of my book fix through audio, since my sitting on the couch time at night requires massive essay grading, but my drive time is all my own. Fortunately, in just over a couple of weeks, I'll have the whole summer ahead of me--and I have a big stack of books just waiting.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Practice What You [T]each

During the final unit of my literature course this semester, I have asked my students to keep a record of poetry they are reading outside of that specifically assigned on the syllabus. Their motivation to do so (other than because I said so) is to find a modern poet (ideally, a living poet) on whom to base their research essay. For that assignment, I ask them to read at least eight poems by the poet they select, then narrow to three poems for their analysis of style. They will also complete a shorter, more informal essay, an idea I took from Carol Jago, her "Goldilocks" assignment: find one poem that is too hard for you, one that is too easy, and one that is just right. To set a good example (and because I love it anyway), I am recording my own reading (though I'll admit some slip by uncharted. I'm listening to Garrison Keillor's Writers Almanac every morning, receiving emails from Your Daily Poem and from Poem a Day, attending readings, and perusing the April Poetry magazine, for which we are planning a book club-type discussion at the end of the month. Since I'm participating, as usual, in Poetic Asides's poem-a-day challenge, I'm not only writing my own, but reading dozens every day. By now, lots of these poets have become friends--a few I've met face-to-face, but most only through cyberspace. This time of year, when I am overloaded with "nondiscretionary reading" (i.e. essays for grading), what a pleasure to be able to grab a quick read, a poem or two, sandwiched between my other duties and chores. If time allows, I like to pass them on.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Five Days In...

My teaching job offers me such wonderful opportunities to indulge my love for poetry--and my odd desire to talk about it. Talk about a wonderful way to kick off National Poetry Month: Caldwell Community College and Technical Institute has a 23-year history of putting on a Writers Symposium and bringing in some top-notch writers. Some garnered much fame after they visited our campus; some were already well-established. The plaque in E Building that holds the list of their names, and it's impressive.

This spring, we chose a poetry focus and it's lasting all month. We kicked off, though, with current NC poet laureate Cathy Smith Bowers and her friend and predecessor in the post, Kathryn Stripling Byer. In order to entice our students to attend, I'm using as a supplementary text The Language They Speak Is Things to Eat, edited by UNC's Michael McFee. Not only are Byer's poems included but Fred Chappell, James Applewhite, Robert Morgan, Heather Ross Miller, the late Reynolds Price and more, all NC poets.

My students are assigned to keep a chart of the poems they read during this unit in Lit, with an eye toward a formal essay on the works of one living poet (or only recently deceased) and an informal paper, one Carol Jago shared, her Goldilocks project--Find one poem that's too easy for you, one that's too hard, and one that's just right. I'm keeping my own chart and finding so many great poems. I've also read Tim Peeler's Checking Out, a collection of poems set in and around a local hotel where he once worked the night shift. Great character development!

I'm reading Bowers' Like Shining from Shook Foil, her latest poetry collection, which includes two poems I especially love, "Syntax" and "The Napkin."

The best part of the NPM celebration at school is the increased likelihood that others will have read the poems I have--or have heard them read by the poet.

Another exciting part of the celebration for me has been the chance to encourage others to write. I've visited the Early College high school located on our campus and presented poetry-writing workshops, and I've also taken part in a similar workshop for any of our college students interested in writing poetry.

I'm most pleased that after lots of years of talking about poetry, I'm right in the middle of a whirlwind of poets and readers, practicing what we preach.