Tuesday, May 27, 2008

In Memoriam Dallas Wiebe (1930-2008)

Lee Chapman of First Intensity Press has brought to my attention the passing of Dallas Wiebe, born and raised in Newton, Kansas. I recall conversations with him during this 1988 Kansas writers conference in Wichita, as well as a few other meetings in the years after that. I took these photographs of Wiebe and his wife Virginia in 1988. The obituary in the Cincinnati paper is at this link: http://news.enquirer.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20080512/NEWS0104/805120329/1060/COL02

Wiebe founded the Cincinnati Poetry Review and edited the first twenty-four issues; he also founded and anchored the creative writing program at the University of Cincinnati. I remember the devotion of his students and colleagues. Most of all, though, I remember Wiebe's ingenious, profoundly ironic--even twisted--writings, mostly published by Burning Deck Press. "Night Flight to Stockholm" is about a careerist writer who has sacrificed his quota of body parts to win the ultimate literary prize; all that remains of his body is a torso (Going to the Mountain, Providence: Burning Deck Press, 1988).

Wiebe and I once talked about the way some small Kansas towns have developed an industry for caring for terminally ill folks--insurance form experts, health care, and so forth. This is background for the story "Elegy," where an assisted care facility is "Howdy Doody Villa." Doug Bolling in American Book Review wrote of this book: "Wiebe takes us beyond Joycean, modernist pieties into a somewhat different game, one in which the text works to liberate us from both our bondings to the general culture and our more or less uncritical, undeconstructed, moiling around in high culture (literary), heavy-handedness. The effort succeeds for the most part because of the fine balance of the style, the modulations of irony and intensity, and the sheer inventiveness" (July-Aug. 1989).

Wiebe's best known book of poetry is the chapbook The Kansas Poems (Cincinnati Poetry Review Press, 1987; reprinted in No 5, 2006). He also published Skyblue's Essays (Providence, Burning Deck Press, 1995); Skyblue the Badass (a novel, New York: Doubleday-Paris Review Editions, 1969); The Transparent Eye-Ball (Providence: Burning Deck Press, 1982); Our Asian Journey (Waterloo, Ontario: mlr Editions Canada, 1997); The Vox Populi Street Stories; and On the Cross (poems, Cascadia Press, 2005). In 2004 he began a series of self-published chapbooks: The Saying of Abraham Nofziger: A Guide for the Perplexed (2004); The Nofziger Letters (with Pamela Baillargeon, 2005); The Nofziger Letters II (2006); and The Sayings of Abraham Nofziger II: An Enchiridion for the Pious (2007).

Wiebe included Christmas letters with his mailings of these last chapbooks, and his last one, 2007, included this comment:

I'm currently in my old age, aet.77, learning a new trick. I've become an expert in deterioration. It's not exactly an exciting pastime. But it's attractive and inviting because it requires no equipment, no guidebooks, no effort and no cost, except when you have to go to see a doctor. You can practice it anytime and all the time. You just sit around and do it. It's something to do in your old age when your activities are so restricted. It's the easiest skill I've ever learned. I encourage you to give it a try. As Abraham Nofziger says, "Old age and deterioration are figments of the mind that one day become real."

Photographs copyright Denise Low, 2008

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Jan Beatty Publishes New Collection

Follow this link to a review of a new book by Jan Beatty, a Pittsburgh, Penn. poet. The review is by Jane Ciabattari, president of National Book Critic's Circle.


Iowa Poet Lauareate Reads Poem Online

You may listen to 2 pieces by Robert Dana at the Boundoff literary site:
http://boundoff.com/. Bravo!

Robert Dana's most recent books of poetry are The Morning of the Red Admirals (Anhinga Press, 2004) and Summer (Anhinga Press, 2000). He also edited A Community of Writers: Paul Engle and the Iowa Writers' Workshop (University of Iowa Press, 1999); and Against the Grain: Interviews With Maverick American Publishers (University of Iowa Press, 1986.) Dana graduated in 1954 from the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop where he studied with Robert Lowell and John Berryman. He has served as Distinguished Visiting Writer at universities in the US and abroad; and after 40 years of teaching at Cornell College he retired in 1994 as Professor of English and Poet-in-Residence. His work was awarded National Endowment fellowships in 1985 and 1993, the Delmore Schwartz Memorial Poetry Award in 1989, and a Pushcart Prize in 1996. He is currently the Poet Laureate of Iowa.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

John Mark Eberhart's New Book Recognized on National Book Critics Circle Blog

Jeffrey Ann Goudie begins her comment about Eberhart's new book:

"In the poetry category, John Mark Eberhart's "Broken Time," Mid-America Press. The second collection from Kansas City Star Books Editor Eberhart sends a love letter to music and musicians . . . ." See this link to continue:


Riding Shotgun: Women Write about Their Mothers interview on KCUR

Please join Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg, Judith Roitman, and myself as we read literary works about our mothers--from more of a cubist perspective than narrative. This is 3 p.m. Sun May 11 at the Writers Place in Kansas City.

I'll read from a personal essay recently published in a collection Riding Shotgun, with 20 other fine Midwest writers, including Jonis Agee, Heid Erdrich, Diane Glancy, Sunsan Power, Wang Ping--edited by Kathryn Kysar. Copies of Riding Shotgun, which is a best seller in the twin cities again this week, will be available for sale at a discount.

Angela Elam interviewed me about poet laureate-ness and this anthology on KCUR Friday.


Saturday, May 10, 2008

Ralph Salisbury on Jazz in the Midwest

I received this commentary on the Pete Fairchild poem below from compadre Ralph Salisbury, who has a new book out, Blind Pumper at the Well (SALT, 2008). Denise Low
My first ny publication was a photo I took of Duke Ellington, published in Downbeat magazine. The Duke couldn't get a hotel room in Cedar Falls, Iowa, and the college I attended had to make space for his entire band in the basement of our dormitory--where they improvized until about four in the morning. Great experience for me, just out of the segregated air force and looking for ways to perfect the world.

Sunday, May 4, 2008


B.F. (Pete) FAIRCHILD (1942 - )

One of the most successful poets from Kansas is B.H. Fairchild. He grew up in Liberal, Kansas, the far southwestern edge of the state. Early mapmakers once labeled this region the Great American Desert. His poetry evokes the isolated small-town landscape, including Main Street buildings and the wild edges of town. He also conjures the emotional landscape of those who dream and survive the arid Great Plains. Here, a literary imagination is not a frill, but rather a tool of endurance. Fairchild mythologizes Kansas by enlarging it in his personal memory. Also, he shows how European traditions lie alongside those of mid-continent America. He is a complex American poet.

Fairchild’s “desert” is a busy crossroads. In another poem, “The Big Bands: Liberal, Kansas, the Summer of 1955,” the poet explains how swing bands toured the region after their popularity faded elsewhere. The poem “Hearing Parker the First Time,” about Charlie Parker, shows how radio airwaves also cross this flyover region. In the poem, “Eleusinian mysteries” are ecstatic Greek rites. Coleman Hawkins and Lester Young are saxophone players with ties to Kansas and Kansas City. And “Ornithology” is the title of one of Parker’s albums (he was known as Bird). This poem is an homage to jazz as understood by a poet who first learned to play the saxophone and then the instrument of American language.


The blue notes spiraling up from the transistor radio
tuned to WNOE, New Orleans, lifted me out of bed
in Seward County, Kansas, where the plains wind riffed
telephone wires in tones less strange than the bird songs

of Charlie Parker. I played high school tenor sax the way,
I thought, Coleman Hawkins and Lester Young might have
if they were, like me, untalented and white, but Ornithology
came winding up from the dark delta of blues and Dixieland

into my room on the treeless and hymn-ridden high plains
like a dust devil spinning me into the Eleusinian mysteries
of the jazz gods though later I would learn that his long
apprenticeship in Kansas City and an eremite’s devotion

to the hard rule of craft gave him the hands that held
the reins of the white horse that carried him to New York
and 52nd Street, farther from wheat fields and dry creek beds
than I would ever travel, and then carried him away.

Education: B.H. Fairchild, born in Houston, attended Liberal, Kansas, public schools and the University of Kansas (M.A., English 1968). His Ph.D. is from University of Tulsa (1973).
Career: Fairchild’s books of poetry are Early Memory Systems of the Lower Midwest (National Book Critics Circle Award, Norton 2003); Local Knowledge (Quarterly Review of Literature 1991); The Art of the Lathe (Alice James 1998); and The Arrival of the Future (Swallow’s Tale 1985). He taught at California State University-San Bernardino from 1976 to 2005. He has won numerous awards.
_______________________________________________________________________ © 2008 Denise Low, AAPP15. © 2003 B.H. Fairchild, “Hearing Parker the First Time” in Early Occult Memory Systems of the Lower Midwest, W.W. Norton. © 2007 Denise Low, photograph.