Thursday, October 28, 2010

A tale from Chico Country Day School has plenty of bounce


Phil Coppock teaches writing courses in the School of Social Work at Chico State University. In an email he writes that in May of 2009 he worked with students in a fourth grade class at Chico Country Day School to help them "learn to recognize and use figurative language."

The class developed a story idea "about a little boy who wakes up one morning to find that everything that can move in his world bounces when it moves. The teacher and I asked the children to imagine, talk about, then write about what that would be like if it happened in different areas of the school (classroom, library, cafeteria, etc). The project lasted several months, and the story grew into a book, with the students listed as co-authors. This spring I had a local artist do some drawings and a cover painting for it."

The book is "Rubber Tuesday" ($12.95 in paperback from Outskirts Press) by Phil Coppock and Mrs. Bower's 2008-2009 4th Grade Class. Illustrated by Peter W. Harris, "Rubber Tuesday" is available at local bookstores as well as online. He is scheduled to appear on Nancy's Bookshelf on Friday, November 19 at 10:00 a.m. on KCHO (Northstate Public Radio), 91.7 FM.

The twenty-six student contributors have let their imaginations soar and the resulting story of Jasper and his best friend Seth is just plain funny. "It all started on a Tuesday" when Jasper awakens to the sound of garbage trucks going "CRASHBOOM!!! CRASHBOOM!!! CRASHBOOM!!!" Jasper looked out the window; "what he saw was the garbage truck alright, slowly but surely bouncing its way down the street. Each hop was maybe ten to fifteen feet high, and each landing sounded like a five car collision."

It wasn't just garbage trucks bouncing around. Everything else was, too, including his dog Juno, zinging around the room then "toppling to the floor, a tangled mix of arms, legs, hands, paws, fur, and drooling, slobbery jowls." What had happened? "It was almost like somebody had reached inside the earth and turned gravity way, way down, or maybe gravity got bored."

When Jasper gets to school--well, this tumultuously hilarious book is great exercise for the trampoline of the mind.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Chico poet pushes the boundaries of language and meaning


Sarkis Shmavonian, publicity materials tell us, "grew up on a small alfalfa and cotton farm outside Madera in a multilingual setting: Armenian at home, English in town, French, Latin, and German classes at school, a bit of kitchen Tuscan with friends. In college, during the tenure of a Fulbright Fellowship to the USSR, he came to appreciate the power of poetry to sway minds."

His first book of verse is "Vortumna" ($30 in hardcover from Erkir Press, Chico). Wikipedia says that "Vortumna" refers to the goddess Fortuna, "she who revolves the year," who reveals the fickle nature of reality. The poems reveal the fickle nature of meaning, especially in their mixtures of languages (anthropologists call it "intrasentential code switching"). In one of the notes at the end of the book, Shmavonian writes that "The subject of the words is their own inwardness: they eschew direct statement through syntax for a tremulous connotedness through grammar." If meaning here seems just beyond reach, perhaps that's part of the meaning.

The author will be talking about his work at Lyon Books in Chico on Tuesday, October 26 at 7:00 p.m.

Shmavonian's poems are set off in blocks of left- and right-justified text, and at first the reader has the impression of adherence to an overiding formalism. But the words themselves are unexpected, as if they aim to derail any attempt at gleaning some ordinary meaning. The poet writes in "Ex Sybillae" that "The task of syntax is / to foreclose thought." The difficult meanings, the use of a few vulgar terms, and the playful swirl of languages, form a strange mirror in which "the logic of the mirror is to hide its own forms."

In "Gateway Sculpture, CSU-Chico," the poet writes: "To you this is a bronze torch with its flame. / To me this clearly shows a sounding whale, / a die balanced en pointe between its flukes. / Bad of me: once beheld, who can unsee that?"
His verses, Shmavonian writes, "halt, or rustle awhile, or gesture fitfully from a still-blank space which cannot of itself sound its own depth. The words in their stir are already being rent into texts before the scope of the poem has brought them to full reckoning."

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Women writers reclaiming their histories


"The Call: An Anthology of Women's Writing" ($15 in paperback from Dragonfly Press), edited by Calder Lowe, presents the work of almost twenty contributors including Lowe, Kathie Isaac-Luke, and local author Lara Gularte. In poetry and short story the book explores how one's history informs the present, and how sometimes that history must be brought kicking and screaming into the present.

In the poem that gives the book its title, Lowe hears a train whistle, a moment when "Time is restructured . . . . Count back / one, two, three centuries. / Train whistles, bugles, church bells // thread through clouds." The poet's "ancestors blow glass / in the Black Forest of Germany. . . .  Glass glows in the Von Eberhardt furnaces. / Some of the goblets flower, some crack."

Gularte writes, in "Saving Myself," that "My ancestors are stones of the river. / They sparkle, / their quartz veins / glisten in granite. // . . . Braced against current / and slippery bank / I lose my step, / fall into the cold stream. . . . I rise from the current, / find shallow water, / and sit among the stones. / In a mountain pool / where a trout darts, / I bless my reflection."

A reception is set for Lyon Books in Chico this Saturday at 7:00 p.m.; scheduled presenters include Lowe, Gularte (who will also be reading her short story, "Snowball"), and Isaac-Luke.

Lowe is a writer, editor and director of a university Writing Lab; Gularte has been nominated by Bitter Oleander Press to "Best New Poets 2010"; and Isaac-Luke edits a San Jose-based literary journal. Her short story, "The Collection" (included in "The Call") was nominated for a 2010 Pushcart Prize.

According to a news release the book "is dedicated to Maria Isabel Vasquez Jimenez, a pregnant 17-year-old who died while laboring in the fields, and who represents the countless marginalized women in society today. The writers bear witness to lives of all women: daughters, granddaughters, mothers, lovers, sisters who celebrate life."

There is life in the strangest places. In "Death Valley," Isaac-Luke writes: "It is misnamed, this desert shelter / to cactus and coyote the color of sand. // . . . On the Western side of the Sierras / are wild springs and complacent / meadows. The desert waits-- / it knows its time will come again. // It is here I want my ashes scattered. . . ."

Thursday, October 07, 2010

An allegorical journey through cancer


In the fairytale, Hansel and Gretel managed to find their way back from the unfamiliar woods after resourceful Hansel secretly dropped little stones along the path. Paradise writer Jan Hasak uses a fairytale motif to tell the story of her own journey though breast cancer and lymphedema. Pointing out ten stones as she finds her way back, she finds each stone opening the door to poetic reflection, sometimes humorous, sometimes deeply moving.

"The Pebble Path: Returning Home From a Forest of Shadows" ($11.95 in paperback from is the heartening story of how cancer can turn life upside-down but then transform life, enrich it. Through the author's Christian faith and her spouse's unfailing good humor. the story unfolds of "a lass named Fanciful" and her Prince Charming, Farcical ("zany and hip"), and their children, Fine, Dandy, and Ending.

"Buzzing about her hive making money, Fanciful busied herself with work, jogging, church, and parenthood. In the midst of this hubbub, when Ending was almost four, Fanciful found a lump in her breast. A mysterious pebble-sized mass. Her whole world crashed. Can there be life happily ever after at the end of such a story?"

Hasak will be signing her book this Saturday from 11:00 a.m. - 1:00 p.m. at Lighthouse on the Ridge bookstore, 5913 F Clark Road in Paradise (inside the James Square Shopping Center).

She is also scheduled to be interviewed on Nancy's Bookshelf with Nancy Wiegman on Friday, October 29 at 10:00 a.m. on KCHO (Northstate Public Radio, 91.7 FM).

Hasak's Fanciful journeys from the first pebble, "the Gnome of Diagnosis," through "Goldilocks and the Three Chemo Bears," "Facing the Radiation Hag," on into "Fairying Beyond Remission."

From "Lone Rangers": "When in heaven I behold / Those who gave me chemo / Tributes many shall unfold / Nurses reign supremo." And from "Chemo Makeover": "Beauty is but fleeting short / Though we laser mole and wart / Witty comebacks healing bring / Humor melting frost to spring."

In "Double Gourd Lamp" the poem reflects Hasak's new body shape: "A most surprising gift / to me? Double gourd lamps back in / vogue, basic dispellers of / shadows, spelling / hope for my own restoration, a lovely / lamp reflecting wonders of what my Lord has done."