This week takes me to Pulaski Technical College, where I’ll be reading with Sandy Longhorn. We’ll be on the Main Campus in the Campus Center on Tuesday, November 3, at 6 p.m., the finale for the year in the Big Rock Reading Series. Thanks to Werner Trieschmann for the invitation and his work on organizing and promoting this event.
Sandy is reading in celebration of her latest book, The Alchemy of our Mortal Form, winner of the Louise Bogan Award from Trio House Press. This is her third book, after The Girlhood Book of Prairie Myths, winner of the Jacar Press Full Length Book Contest, and Blood Almanac, winner of the Anhinga Prize for Poetry. She teaches at the University of Central Arkansas now as part of their Arkansas Writers MFA Program.
Sandy and I met when I was the chair of the English Department at PTC and she was looking for a position that would enable her to move to Little Rock. We’ve worked on more campus initiatives than I can count and encouraged each other as writers. The Arkansas Arts Council awarded us individual artist fellowships at the same time. She kept my children when I went into labor with my youngest. Just as there’s no way to do justice to her many accomplishments, there’s no way to encapsulate a friendship in a paragraph. My life is richer because she’s in it.
It’s equally impossible to describe how much my thirteen-year career at PTC meant to me. What was a department when I started is a multifaceted division now. Being part of that from the beginning is too much to explain. We had so many hopes and dreams. The best times were when we worked together.
I’m thankful to have been asked to return to PTC to read with a friend one more time.
These past two weeks, I’ve had the honor of reading at two community colleges. National Park College is in the Ouachitas, and Arkansas State University-Mountain Home is in the Ozarks–two mountain ranges, both in the state that’s now my home. When I visited Arkansas as a kid looking at colleges, I felt drawn here. The fun, kind people at these two campuses in such beautiful places remind me why I stayed.
Now I will have a lull in book events as my attention turns to the Arkansas Community College annual conference. This year’s theme, Mission Possible.
Meanwhile, to tempt you to pick up a copy of Underwater Panther, I’m sharing links to five poems in the book from the places where they were first published. And with the first poem listed, I’ll tell you a story.
Amy Baldwin and I used to teach at a community college together. Near the end of her World Lit class, her students analyzed recently published poems based on the characteristics of the different periods of literature. What in this poem demonstrates Romanticism? Realism? etc. Great assignment.
The poem that she used of mine was “Inheriting Pressure,” first published in Crab Orchard Review. When I got the comments back from Amy’s class with subsequent discussion, it was like I was seeing the poem for the first time. Suddenly this poem set the entire pattern for the book that followed.
I was born and raised in southern Illinois. I live in Arkansas now. But it doesn’t matter where you come from. This poem and the book that developed from it are about what we inherit from a place without even knowing.
Next up I’ll be reading at Arkansas State University – Mountain Home on Tuesday. I’ve never been to this campus before, but it doesn’t take much time searching online to find that this school is a vibrant place. Concerts, lectures, they have it going on.
Here’s a shot they shared with me of the announcement that’s running on the screens on campus. At this event, I’ll be reading from Underwater Panther in the Gaston Lobby of Roller Hall, which I’ve been told is an impressive building.
It means a lot to me that my first two readings for this book are at community colleges. Community college has made all the difference in my life. This started with my father. His first class there, composition — a challenge for a first-generation American who graduated from a high school that emphasized technology — set him on a path that led him to become an educator. Because of the foundation he got there, he was able to be a powerful positive force not only my life, but in the lives of hundreds of thousands of students. Community colleges do vital work with minimal resources. My father always said that he learned more from his students than they learned from him, and I never understood what he meant until I began teaching at community college. With the shooting at the community college in Oregon last week, I find my thoughts focused on my community college students and colleagues.