Rob Carney’s poetry won Terrain.org’s 4th Annual Poetry Contest, judged by John Daniel. Here, he offers his reading recommendations, suggesting a few works that have helped shape his writing. As he says, “It’s not exactly that these titles influence me but that they encourage me and give me a sense of permission.”
Speaking Fire at Stones by William Carpenter, drawings by Robert Shetterly
Speaking Fire at Stones has the feeling of mythic voyaging, Odysseus-style, but is written in language less carved out of marble and more out of the thin air trapeze artists swing through. It isn’t just dazzle, though. The poems are as solemn and smart as they are plain cool. Here’s a link to a more recent poem of Bill’s called “Luke” from the 2009 issue of Redactions: Poetry & Poetics, which publisher Tom Holmes invited me to help with as Guest Editor: www.redactions.com/pushcart-poems.asp. It’s from issue 12, so you’ll have to scroll down about halfway. And here are some lines from “A Boy with His Final Dinosaur,” just one of the many great poems in Speaking Fire at Stones:
A dark storm cloud broods over the lost world.
Something has happened.
The wind of mutation is blowing the coconut palms. [. . . ]
Every hour we live, every minute,
becomes that much more difficult to believe.
The truth circles us pointlessly like an asteroid.
It was breakfast all day long for the great King
of the Dinosaurs, it was the Garden of Eden,
Lizard Heaven. Who
ever thought they’d all have to walk the plank?
The Watch by Rick Bass
Then there’s Rick Bass, whose work I first heard while driving from Spokane to Cheney, Washington. My friend Tod Marshall said, “Listen to this,” and started in. The story was “Cats and Students, Bubbles and Abysses” from Bass’s first collection of fiction, The Watch, so this was 1991 or ’92. Later, I got ahold of the Mississippi Review’s Special Rick Bass issue (22.1 & 2, 1993) and absolutely loved his long essay entitled “Beloit.” It’s about writing and teaching and turtles and boundaries and connections and reverence and more, and it’s such a great read that you’ll wonder where it’s been your whole life. Answer: Narrative magazine reprinted it under the title The Heart beneath the Heart, and it’s available through their online store.
I’m going to squeeze the next two together since both Richard Garcia and Scott Poole offer readers the laughing-sad wisdom-mix of Tricksters. Each is often a fabulist, or an inventor of new origin stories, and that’s what I try to be myself about half the time I write. For me, finding Scott Poole’s and Richard Garcia’s poems was like finding friends with a fiddle and accordion to go with the bodhran I’d been thumping already. Richard is the author of The Persistence of Objects (BOA 2006), Rancho Notorious (BOA 2001), and The Flying Garcias (U of Pittsburgh P 1993). Scott is the author of The Sliding Glass Door (Colonus Publishing 2011), Hiding from Salesmen (Lost Horse P 2003), and The Cheap Seats (Lost Horse P 1999). Richard’s “The Story of Keys,” from The Flying Garcias, is a good one to start with. And in Hiding from Salesmen, “The Way Water Wears on Us” gives you not just a sense of Scott’s work but also why I like it so much. In fact, I’ll let that poem have the final word:
A man walks with a waterfall
cascading down his back. He wears
a plastic suit and a hat with a pump.
Moss has grown over his coat.
In the winter he freezes up but keeps on
walking. If you ask him what he’s doing,
he says every town should have a waterfall.
He got beat up the other day.
Punks smashed his pump and threw
his soft slicker in the river.
The people who watched
said his tears were quite beautiful,
how they would not stop coming down.
Rob Carney is the author of three books and three chapbooks of poems, most recently Story Problems (Somondoco Press, 2011) and Home Appraisals (Plan B Press, 2012). His work has appeared in Cave Wall, Quarterly West, Redactions, Sugar House Review, and dozens of other journals, as well as the Norton anthology Flash Fiction Forward (2006). He is a Professor of English at Utah Valley University and lives in Salt Lake City.