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Interview with Gail Godwin about Grief Cottage

Started by Rob Neufeld in AC-T Book Reviews Aug 3, 2017.

Ellington in Asheville--a survey

Started by Rob Neufeld in Local History Oct 6, 2017.

Dave Minneman, heroic portrait

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Rob Neufeld posted a discussion

Let’s say every word is precious

Let’s say every word is precious (Part of Living Poem) Let’s say every word is precious.Say every word is precious.Every word is precious.Every word precious.Every word.Word.--Rob Neufeld, Oct. 16, 2018See More
Wednesday
Rob Neufeld posted discussions
Oct 12
Nancy Sutton replied to Rob Neufeld's discussion Metamorphoses
"Poignant in so many ways!   "
Oct 3
Rob Neufeld posted a discussion

Metamorphoses

Metamorphoses (Part of Living Poem)Hear audio: Metamorphoses%20181004_0192.MP3 So Apollo committed the first rape.He’d come back from exterminating Python,The Bane of Humanity, now his arrow-victim,And stopped to mock…See More
Oct 2
Joan Henehan replied to Joan Henehan's discussion on Reading Living Poem
"Fantastic, that will be very helpful."
Sep 22
Rob Neufeld posted a discussion

First Drumbeat

First Drumbeat(Part of Living Poem) The time has come.Call it a drum,Or a crumb,What’s left of life. I used to tell a jokeWhen my life was wide,And I was a stud,And not a dud—I knowI’m not a dud.  I’m a dude,A dad.  But everyone mustRebut the dud chargeAt summing up time. Oh yeah, the joke,A trademark one for meIn that it’s not funny. I used to say I’ll never retireFrom writingBecause if I’m ever…See More
Sep 22
Rob Neufeld replied to Joan Henehan's discussion on Reading Living Poem
"Thanks for the prompt, Joan!  I have attached the whole work in progress as a doc at the bottom of the table of contents page: http://thereadonwnc.ning.com/special/living-poem"
Sep 22
Joan Henehan replied to Joan Henehan's discussion on Reading Living Poem
"Is there a way from this website to print everything or might you send me such a document to bayjh@icloud.com?"
Sep 22
Julia Nunnally Duncan posted an event
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Julia Nunnally Duncan at Marion Branch McDowell County Public Library

October 24, 2018 from 4pm to 5pm
Julia Nunnally Duncan will be launching her new poetry collection A Neighborhood Changes (Finishing Line Press, 2018) at a book presentation and signing to be held at the McDowell County Public Library in Marion on October 24.See More
Sep 21
Rob Neufeld replied to Joan Henehan's discussion on Reading Living Poem
"This could be interesting--thanks!  I'm at 828-505-1973 (my home business office).  And RNeufeld@charter.net."
Sep 20
Joan Henehan replied to Joan Henehan's discussion on Reading Living Poem
"I'll ask the kids, Barb and Ethan, if they have any contacts who might have an interest in this as a unique topic for any performers they know. It might also be something that my friend Ruby Lerner could brainstorm about to her theatre…"
Sep 19
Rob Neufeld replied to Joan Henehan's discussion on Reading Living Poem
"Thanks much, Joan!  I'm trying to get some attention for these poems.  Triple Whammy is def in rap style.  And the beat goes on.  Hugs from me and Bev."
Sep 19
Joan Henehan posted a discussion

on Reading Living Poem

You might be the first ALS-subject-matter rapper. Add some beats and spread it. the time is now...See More
Sep 15
Rob Neufeld posted a discussion

More from the World of ALS

More from the World of ALS (Part of Living Poem)    Negotiating steps is like someone who seeksTo emulate a goat on mountain peaks. Crossing a threshold, limping inIs like the valley-walking of an Olympian. A cane and its grip make a fellow stopTo consider the physics of leans and drops. To know how a forefinger grabs and digsImagine your digits are chestnut twigs When a new drug trial notably…See More
Sep 6
Nancy Werking Poling posted a discussion

RANDALL KENAN SELECTS NANCY WERKING POLING WINNER OF THE 2018 ALEX ALBRIGHT CREATIVE NONFICTION PRIZE

RANDALL KENAN SELECTS NANCY WERKING POLING WINNER OF THE 2018 ALEX ALBRIGHT CREATIVE NONFICTION PRIZE(31 August 2018)Nancy Werking Poling of Black Mountain is the winner of the 2018 Alex Albright Creative Nonfiction Prize competition for "Leander’s Lies." Poling will receive $1000 from the North Carolina Literary Review, thanks to a generous NCLR reader’s donation that allowed this year’s honorarium to increase (from the previous award of $250). Her winning essay will be published in the North…See More
Sep 4
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Sep 4

Charles Baxter publishes Gryphon: New and Selected Stories

Shows of the imagination:

Charles Baxter, writer/teacher at Warren Wilson College, publishes his “best-of”

 (See interview)

 

 

by Rob Neufeld  

 

          Charles Baxter, one of the master writers who teaches within Warren Wilson College’s MFA Writing Program, furthers his reputation with “Gryphon: New and Selected Stories.”  The new book brings his short story collection total to five, matching the number of novels he’s published.

            The title story, “Gryphon,” is a Roald Dahl kind of shout-out that says: even though it’s sometimes dangerous, it’s great to let the imagination roam.  The same philosophy applies to fabulous beasts and daring concepts.

            “Miss Ferenczi!” calls out a fourth grader in the “Gryphon” story.  “John said that six times eleven is sixty-eight and you said he was right!”      

            “In higher mathematics,” Ferenczi, a substitute teacher, responds, “six times eleven can be considered to be sixty-eight.”

            “Think of six times eleven equals sixty-eight as a substitute fact,” she advises.  “When your teacher, Mr. Hibler returns, six times eleven will be sixty-six again…And it will be that way for the rest of your lives in Five Oaks.”

 

On beyond Five Oaks

 

            Conformist Midwestern suburbs are one of the familiar types of environment in Baxter’s collection.  There are also the northern woods, big cities, and universities.  In the story, “Harmony of the World,” Baxter imagines a small Ohio town in which the narrator’s family members were solid, mediocre, and cheerful.  People played the piano, “but not too well, since excellent playing would have been faintly antisocial.”

            Yet, a local genius—the narrator, Peter Jenkins—had emerged from this burg, having been applauded and revered by his fellows.  As it turns out, Peter has a tragic flaw—a lack of craziness, which dooms him to a fate of undistinguished limbo.  As described by Dante, Baxter notes, this state consists of a lot of sighing.

            Baxter’s literary, musical, art, and pop culture references create a stream of cultural commentary throughout his fiction.  Even when the references are what pop culture would call high culture, they are illustrated so well, they come off as great stories.  “Harmony of the World” presents the story of Paul Hindemith, the music-of-the-spheres composer whose reputation declined after his death; and the lyrics of “Nine Epitaphs” by Theodore Chanler.

            I want to go hear “Nine Epitaphs” now.

            In “The Winner,” the final story in “Gryphon,” Baxter turns his myth-making lens on a Gatsby-type setting.  Feature writer Jerry Krumholtz is on his way to interview reclusive billionaire James Mallard for the magazine, “Success.” 

            Lost in northern Minnesota, Krumholtz gets directions from a gas station attendant, whose landmarks are Señor Big Cheese and On Spec! Glasses.  When Krumholtz finally arrives at the Mallard castle, he experiences a fairy tale, with the Olympian owner claiming many women, walking around naked at times, and demonstrating how to butcher a deer.

            Angered by rich people’s monopoly on happiness, Krumholtz spins a ghastly (fictional) tale about his own misfortunes.  He gets the Mallards to cry and their home-schooled children to be struck dumb with shock.

 

Masterful techniques

 

            Baxter knows how to do ghastly.  His relationship with the being that some of his characters call God involves developing a response to the accidents of life.  Baxter welcomes such visitations, questions their meanings, and wraps them in stage clothes.

A mysterious allegorical stalker in the story, “Ghosts,” actually goes by the name of Augenblick—German for “blink of an eye.”  Baxter likes to play—sometimes too capriciously, as in “Ghosts” and “Westland.” 

Most of the time, Baxter’s pilgrim’s journeys and tragi-comic tales plumb the depths of psychology and faith.  Poe and Kafka get a modern realist’s brush.

“Surprised by Joy” contains Thurberesque humor—a husband coming home to his wife who has suddenly taken to standing on her head with her legs crossed.   But, as it turns out, both partners are suffering a horrendous haunting.  Their daughter, who died at age three in a freak accident, comes to both of them in dreams, showing signs of growing up and saying that her new world is okay but she misses her parents.

There is a fierceness in Baxter’s realistic scenes of calamity that weds feeling with technique.  But do not dismiss the value of great technique, something that Baxter got to hone as a teacher in Warren Wilson College’s MFA Program for Writers.

The program involves January and July residencies, characterized by team-taught workshops and combined with independent study.  Baxter has taught, written, and read at many of the residencies since 1985. 

One year, he related in an interview with the Citizen-Times, he lectured on “Unheard Melodies”—“the ways that people don’t listen.”   He suggested to students that “one way to make dialogue come alive is to make the characters not listen to each other.”

            Baxter exemplifies how entertainment and enlightenment come together in good fiction.  Yes, we can be both fun-loving and deep.

            That is why, at the beginning of his book’s first story, “The Would-be Father,” Baxter puts an odd vision in front of his hero, a man who has suddenly become the guardian of his niece.   The face of the man’s elderly neighbor, Mrs. Schultz, appears in his kitchen window.  She’d like a drink of water.  The daft crone becomes a Zen-like guide through his misadventures.

            Then there’s the fun of naming someone Augenblick.   “I’ve been reading the letters of Eudora Welty,” Baxter related in response to the matter of name-making.  “In one of her stories, someone is named Dill Pickle.”

           

BOOK REVIEWED

Gryphon: New and Selected Stories by Charles Baxter (Pantheon hardcover, Jan. 11, 2011, 408 pages, $27.95)

 

LEARN MORE

Read interview (soon to be posted)

 

ATTEND THE PROGRAMS

The Warren Wilson College MFA Program for Writers presents daily readings and lectures by students and instructors, Jan. 3 – 12.  Check the schedule.

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