Event Review: The West End Poetry Festival

October 23, 2014 by

West End Poetry Festival

This past weekend, TSHS went on a society outing to the West End Poetry Festival. One could not have bribed a higher power for a brighter and more pleasant October weekend.

Date: October 17-18, 2014
Cost: Free!
Location: Carrboro and Chapel Hill, NC
Participating Poets: Cathy Smith Bowers, James Applewhite, Laurence Avery, Pam Baggett, Charmaine Cadeau, Steve Cushman, Tyree Daye, Ann Deagon, Terri Kirby Erickson, Dave Manning, Joseph Mills, Sarah Rose Nordgren, Gary Phillips, David Roderick, Sacrificial Poets, Starr Seward, Alana Sherrill, Susan Spalt, Celisa Steele, Chris Tonelli, Kamaya Truitt-Martin, Ross White, and Sharon Nyree Williams.

Flyleaf Books

Friday night featured a welcome reception with hors d’oeuvres and wine at Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill (stay tuned for an upcoming Bookstore Spotlight). Roughly eighty audience members filled the seats in the reading room, and we were delighted to hear five poets read over the course of an hour. Carborro’s Poet Laureate, Celisa Steele deftly introduced each poet with the generosity and simplicity that moved each reading forward.

Dear Suburb,

Dear Suburb…

David Roderick, author of Blue Colonial (winner of APR’s first book prize, selected by former US Poet Laureate, Robert Pinsky), read selections from his second recently published book, The Americans. He acknowledged the risk of suburban poems as perhaps a “trap” that the contemporary poet must be wary of, yet guided us through three epistolary poems titled “Dear Suburb,” and proved that at least these poems can speak to what it means to be alive to “bright possibility/born again in drywall” in the “slinking empire twenty feet above/sea level”.

In contrast, Charmaine Cadeau confessed that “a great portion” of the poems in her book were written on Toni Morrisons’s former desk. Cadeau’s poetry resonated with her line “if only the heart had antennae.”

Bull City Press Executive Director, Ross White, said as he introduced his poem “Junk Drawer,” “I like to collect images and see if I can find new resonances for them,” which were apparent in his humor and acumen for litany.

Sarah Rose Nordgren, a Durham, NC native, read from her collection, Best Bones, and made us all fall in love with “Black Fly,” the tiny eponymous protagonist who is infatuated with something much larger—the famer in her field.

Finally, James Applewhite closed the reading with selections from Cosmos, from which a “crenulated” love of words, the natural world, abounded.

On Saturday at the Carrboro Century Center, Celisa Steele again opened the ceremonies—most graciously, and more importantly, on time (the entire weekend was punctual). Steele introduced Gary Phillips, who read a poem to open the day for the upcoming workshop.

In “Writing with the Net Up” former North Carolina Poet Laureate Cathy Smith Bowers focused on the generative power of writing in traditional forms. Author of five books, Bowers confessed to not even considering form for the first twenty years of writing. She asked the workshop to “think of a phrase that haunts you” – and encouraged a use of form as a means for exploring the most uncomfortable content. While writing free verse—can often shut down or clam up.   She encouraged the writers to share their “haunting phrases,” and relayed each one again on the microphone as it was contributed.

What was most valuable from the workshop was Bowers’s implication that forms can give the writing process energy and direction; a pantoum, once started, compels itself to replicate. A sestina revolves around how to get to the end of the line and back. A little distraction from the content can help loosen the brain to explore more interesting imagery, more “time to lose track of time,” as Bowers said.

Notable Features of the West End Poetry Festival:

  • Intergenerational: On Saturday they feature a workshop specifically geared towards middle school and high school writers. What a great way to develop community and encourage young poets!
  • Lots of readings: In just two days, over 20 established poets read their work or give craft talks.
  • Welcoming: There is an open mic (limit 1 poem ~3min per person), free coffee, and a dinner reception open for all participants.
  • It’s free! As a project connected to the Town of Carrboro, this event encourages all people from different socioeconomic, age, and cultural backgrounds to join in to learn about poetry.

In its ninth year, this small festival packs a strong punch.

Join the conversation in the comments below, meet with us on twitter @TSHighsociety, or subscribe to the blog to be come a High Society Member. You’ll notified on great posts like upcoming Bookstore Spotlight: Flyleaf Books and interviews with Carrboro Poet Laureate, Celisa Steele, and Bull City Press Executive Director and poet, Ross White!


13 Classic Books and Stories to Celebrate All Hallows’ Eve

October 22, 2014 by

Mona Lisa PumpkinHalloween is next week and as autumn settles in, we at Tate Street High Society have been reaching for some of our favorite spooky tales. Enjoy those in the public domain online or head to your local bookstore/library for more contemporary works.

1. The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter: In this short story collection, Carter returns fairy tales to their former glory. Meaning bloody, dark, and downright disturbing. Personal favorites include “The Lady of the House of Love” and “The Tiger’s Bride.” Buy it here.

2. The Corn Maiden and Other Nightmares by Joyce Carol Oates: We know Oates best as one of the bastions of contemporary American literary fiction, but her forays into genre are equally fantastic. Hit up the title story and “A Hole in the Head” if you’re not terribly fond of sleeping. Buy it here.

3. Dracula by Bram Stoker: What Halloween list would complete without it? Read it here.

4. Everything’s Eventual by Stephen King: It’s true, we could have put any of King’s 55 novels on this list. But did you know the Master of Horror was also Master of the Short Story? Curl up with “The Man in the Black Suit” and “1408” (way better than the movie!). Buy it here.

5. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley: In an age of enormous technological and scientific advances, Shelley’s chilling tale remains as relevant as ever. Read it here. (And for bonus entertainment, check out PBS’s new webseries Frankenstein, MD.)

6. The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman: For younger readers or those interested in more of a mild fright than swooning terror, we suggest Gaiman’s Newbery-winning novel. Listen to it here.

7. The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson: On the other hand, if you’re looking for terror, Jackson basically defined the genre with this spine-tingling thriller. Buy it here.

8. The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka: “One morning, upon awakening from agitated dreams, Gregor Samsa found himself, in his bed, transformed into a monstrous vermin.” Need we say more? Buy it here.

9. Pretty Monsters by Kelly Link: The title and cover art alone would sell us on this beauty. But Link’s work is also wonderfully eerie. Read “The Specialist’s Hat” from Pretty Monsters.

10. Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury: Looking for a good evil carnival story? This is the oneRead an excerpt here.

11. The Turn of the Screw by Henry James: This reigns–in our estimation–as one of the greatest ghost stories of all time. Read it here.

12. Twice Told Tales by Nathaniel Hawthorne: You could hardly go wrong with any of Hawthorne’s stories. Happily, they are all available on Project Gutenberg. But consider starting with this collection and “The Minister’s Black Veil.” Read it here.

13. Vampires in the Lemon Grove by Karen Russell: Like Link and Oates, Russell is one of the modern virtuosos of the uncanny. If you like this book, do read her debut collection, St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves. Read “The Graveless Doll of Eric Mutis” from Vampires in the Lemon Grove.

Bonus: This list is sadly lacking in anything Poe-related! Never fear . . . for that. Listen to John de Lancie reading Poe’s “The Raven.”

This Week’s Tweeted Writing Prompts (October 12-18)

October 19, 2014 by

Each day, we tweet writing prompts to help writers get out of their shell for the creative process. Follow us on twitter (@TSHighSociety) to be inspired daily, or subscribe to the blog to get a digest of the prompts every Sunday!  

Poetry Writing Prompts

  • Sunday: Lists can be stressful or formative; what strange lists do you keep?
  • Monday: What smells are unique in memory or imagination?
  • Tuesday: Work on an Ekphrastic poem, like XJ Kennedy’s “Nude Descending a Staircase” based on the famous, yet originally “outrageous” impressionist/cubist painting by Marcel Duchamp.
  • Wednesday: Modernized persona poem from the point of view of Browning’s Last Duchess, if she survived.
  • Thursday: Write a poem that includes the words J-Pop, slink, and placemat.
  • Friday: Write a 30-line poem——then cut every 3rd line.
  • Saturday: Think of a phrase that haunts you. Repeat that phrase 5 times throughout. 20 lines. (Inspired by poet Cathy Smith Bowers)

Fiction Writing Prompts

  • Sunday: 100 word flash story in 35 minutes. And….go!
  • Monday: Start with a cramped space and how it changes characters as they inhabit the setting: 500 words+
  • Tuesday: Write a short story that takes place in a single answering machine message.
  • Wednesday: Rewrite a tragic story as a comedy: 250 words.
  • Thursday: Write a dialogue in which a character is trying to convince herself not to do something, and then rewrite her convincing herself to do exactly that thing. 300 words each.
  • Friday: Detailed sketching. Look up, write down 5 specific details about the place you are in that make it utterly unique. Relate all of those items to a character, and create a conflict with one of them. 427 words.
  • Saturday: Write the paragraph /before/ a character finds a dead body. (prompt appropriated from John Gardner’s craft book, The Art of Fiction.
Turtle Power!

Sometimes starting writing can feel like this.

How did it go this week?  Which prompt was most generative?  We’d love to know! Tell us in the comments below.

Grand Prizes

October 16, 2014 by

Prizes. Honors. Awards. Writers don’t write to be acknowledged for their skill, originality, and talent, but no one would deny the warm and fuzzy feeling such acknowledgement provides, the validation that I am not only a writer, but a damn good one because look what I just won—the prize!

I avoid thinking about literary competition because I’ve always been uncomfortable with an “I’m in it to win” attitude. Sure, I’m in it for the long haul (is there another choice as a writer?), but to win? Every time I stare at a blank page I am playing against myself and that’s enough competition for me. Yet when I saw the short list in The New Yorker for the Man Booker Prize, I downloaded all the samples available on my nook, and as I began to read Karen Fowler’s, We Are All Totally Beside Ourselves, I thought: 1) This is fantastic. I need to buy this book. And then 2) Wouldn’t it be grand to win an award like the Man Booker Prize.

October is filled with the kind of grand literary competitions that can change the lives of the winners and nominees, and inspire those of us quietly working at our desks, in cafes, or wherever it is we write, to take a moment to imagine what it must be like to receive such accolades, until we lower our heads to the page again and keep writing.

Take a look below if you’re looking for a good book to read or just want to find out a little more about the prestigious literary awards in October.

The Nobel Prize in Literature:

  • Established 1901; awarded annually
  • An International award, all authors are welcome. Their body of work is considered, not just a single book.
  • Nominations are submitted by members of the Royal Swedish Academy, members of literature academies and societies, professors of literature and language, former Nobel literature laureates, and the presidents of writers’ organizations are all allowed to nominate a candidate
  • Candidates for the prize can only be revealed 50 years after their initial nomination. This year the candidates from 1964 should be made available.
  • The Award: a gold medal, a diploma bearing a citation, and a approximately $1,100,000.
  • 2014 Nobel Laureate: Patrick Modiano “for the art of memory with which he has evoked the most ungraspable human destinies and uncovered the life-world of the occupation”.

The Man Booker Prize

  • Established 1968; awarded annually
  • The objective is “to promote the finest in fiction by rewarding the very best book of the year. The prize is the world’s most important literary award and has the power to transform the fortunes of authors and publishers.”
  • The Prize: £50,000 and, like all the shortlisted authors, a check for £2,500 and a designer bound copy of their book.
  • The Man Booker Prize, traditionally only open to citizens of the British Commonwealth and Ireland who published their book in the UK, as of 2014 has opened to “all novels written published in the English language.” Submission Rules.
  • The Shortlist: Joshua Ferris, To Rise Again at a Decent Hour; Karen Joy Fowler, We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves; Howard Jacobson, J; Neel Mukherjee , The Lives of Others; Ali Smith, How to be Both
  • The Winner is: Richard Flanagan, The Narrow Road to the Deep North

The National Book Award

  • Established in 1950; awarded annually
  • Four categories: Fiction, Nonfiction, Poetry, and Young People’s Literature (all nominees announced in Oct)
  • For outstanding Literary work by U.S. citizens and published by an American publisher; “awards by writers to writers”;
  • Book is nominated by its publisher
  • The Prize: $10,000 ($1,000 to the finalists)
  • The Fiction Short List ; Rabih Alameddine, An Unnecessary Woman; Anthony Doerr, All the Light We Cannot See; Phil Klay, Redeployment; Emily St. John Mandel, Station Eleven; Marilynne Robinson, Lila
  • Poetry Short List: Louise Glück, Faithful and Virtuous Night; Fanny Howe, Second Childhood; Maureen N. McLane, This Blue; Fred Moten, The Feel Trio; Claudia Rankine, Citizen: An American Lyric
  • Winners: To be announced November 19, 2014


Unusual Calls for Submissions: October Edition

October 9, 2014 by

October is here, which means a number of your favorite lit mags have opened submissions for the spooky, the strange, and the downright pumpkin-spiced. Have a look at this month’s most unusual calls for submissions.

1. The Pinch “Feast or Famine” Audio Contest (prose, deadline unspecified): “For this contest, we are looking for audio prose pieces that are either fiction or creative nonfiction, and that somehow work with the theme of feast and/or famine. Pieces should be read and should not be longer than four minutes. The winner will receive a year’s subscription, three back issues of his or her choosing, and be immortalized on the Internets forever.”

2. 7×20 “Halloween Week” (fiction & poetry, deadline unspecified): “Fiction and poetry which fits in a tweet (140 characters or fewer). Literary and speculative work. We like haiku and get plenty of it. We like and don’t get enough American sentences, cinquains, gogyohka, senryu or prose poems. We also don’t get enough fiction.”

3. Masters Review “October Scarefest” (fiction, deadline October 15, $13 entry fee): “To put it simply, creep us out. Make our palms sweat. Scare us with the unsettling, the horrible, the surprising, and the terrible. Make the hair on the back of our necks stand up. We want to think twice before turning out the lights.”

4. Saraba “Survival” issue (all genres, deadline October 23): “A word from the 1590s, ‘survival’ implies the ‘act of surviving,’ of ‘continuation after some event.’ To ‘survive”’suggests to outlive, and to continue in existence after the death of another. From Latin supervivere, ‘live beyond, live longer than'; from super ‘over, beyond’ + vivere ‘to live.’ We expect submissions that respond to the possibilities of living beyond, in spite of, within.”

5. Bartleby Snopes “Everything October” issue (fiction, October 25): “We mean if it relates to October (Fall, October, Walpurgisnacht, Halloween), then we want to read it.”

6. The Golden Key “Things That Float” issue (fiction & poetry, deadline October 31): “We want things that are buoyant, things that are unmoored and drifting, things that rise up into the ether when their strings are cut. We want hot air balloons blown off course and helium balloons clutched tightly in hand. We want swimming lessons and messages in bottles. We want zero-g. Take us to Aoelia, Laputa, Perelandra. Give us sailing ships and airships and space ships. Make us feel weightless. Build castles in the air, leave us with the bends.”

7. Unlikely Story “The Journal of Unlikely Coulrophobia” (flash, deadline November 1): “Officially, Coulrophobia is the fear of clowns, but we don’t want to just just get rehashes of It. So the issue is open to anything involving clowns in some significant way. Think Stephen King’s Pennywise and Danny Kaye’s Jacamo in The Court Jester, think Sacred Clowns and Holy Fools. Horror, humor, existential angst, and tears of, we’re open to all that and more, in any combination. Heck, why not see how many different genres you can fit into a piece of flash fiction?”

Poetry Sounds: Charles Wright, “Together”

October 1, 2014 by

Poetry Sounds is a segment at Tate Street High Society that features poets reading their work aloud.

Charles Wright, selected earlier this summer as United States Poet Laureate, reads “Together” for an interview with PBS News Hour (2011).  This poem felt just right as summer draws to a close.

Of his poetry he says, “It’s been a way of sustaining my questions about life and mortality and all those things that we don’t like to talk about, but they’re always there, you know, knocking on the window.”

If you prefer, you can read along as you listen to Wright conveniently here.


National Poetry Month: Putting more Verse in the Universe!

April 11, 2014 by

Ah, April!  I imagine the origins of National Poetry Month stem from the hope that an abundance of poetry might encourage an early arrival of spring.  At our Co-Op in North Carolina, the doilied dogwoods, pink cherry trees, puffy bradford pears, and red tulips are blooming; the bright trumpets of daffodils have faded into their stalks, and azaleas are on the horizon.

Here are 10 ways we’ve decided to celebrate poetry this April, and we encourage you to do so too!

Poetry Month Revelry: Putting more “Verse” in the Universe!

And of course, you can always share this post, or email/comment love to the editors at Tate Street High Society!  What are you doing to celebrate poetry this April?



Short Story Reverence: Nancy Reisman’s “Illumination”

January 24, 2014 by

Teaching short stories for the university setting is one of my favorite Lucia's Dress?aspects of my profession, and in preparation for this spring, I happened upon Nancy Reisman’s “Illumination.” Set in Buffalo, NY, 1933, what struck me about this piece is how the main character, Jo, is trapped by her body; trapped in a way that circuitously wraps itself into her actions and the way in which she sees her life through metaphor.  Reisman has a fantastic sense for creating tension with intimacy and distance; the writing, too, so closely knit, is difficult to cut even a  piece to examine without feeling uncomfortable.  Her first paragraph:

Lucia Mazzano is a loaf of bread.  Black hair pinned into a tight rosette, black lashes, olive neck, olive fingers, tapered, small, her dress a long flute, yellow of forsythia, yellow of butter.

“Illumination” was first published in Tin House, and can be found in The Best American Short Stories (2001), edited by Barbara Kingsolver.

Poetry Sounds: Robert Pinsky, “The Shirt”

July 28, 2013 by

Poetry Sounds is a new segment at Tate Street High Society that features poets reading aloud their work.  Sometimes, as readers, we forget that poetry is an intensely visceral form, one that began with ancient storytelling and song in which bards interpreted and communicated the  heroics of the time. Former poet laureate Robert Pinsky reminds us of the importance of listening to the genre of poetry in this fascinating interview with the Paris Review:

…the medium of poetry is the column of breath rising from the diaphragm to be shaped into meaning sounds inside the mouth. That is, poetry’s medium is the individual chest and throat and mouth of whoever undertakes to say the poem—a body, and not necessarily the body of the artist or an expert as in dance.

In homage, we’ll start with one of Pinsky’s  poems, “The Shirt,” in which the sound imagery and cadence underlie the power of the astounding narrative that he develops.

What are your favorite poems to read aloud?

Sophocles’ Antigone, Modernized

July 3, 2013 by

Burial at Thebes CoverSeamus Heaney brings his skill of translation to the ancient Greek tragedy, “Antigone,” first written by dramatist Sophocles in the 4th century BC.  Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 79 pages.

While Heaney’s “The Burial at Thebes” play translation was published in 2004, the crispness of the controlling pentameter he offers Creon and the lilting rhythm of Antigone borrowed from 18th century Irish lament Caoineadh Airt Uí Laoghaire create a sense of modernity and honesty within the meter. Of the latter, Heaney says this:

I remembered the opening lines of Eihbhlin Dhubh NiChonaill’s lament, an outburst of grief and anger from a woman whose husband had been cut down and left bleeding on the roadside in County Cork, in much the same way as Polyneices was left outside the walls of Thebes, unburied, desecrated, picked by the crows.  But it was the drive and pitch of the Irish verse that clinched it: in the three-beat line of Eibhlin Dhubh’s keen I heard a note that the stricken Antigone might sound in the speedy haunted opening moment of the play…

And, with Seamus Heaney’s empathetic and technical brilliance, “The Burial at Thebes” maintains the honor and emotional tenor necessary to give voice to a young woman fighting for dignity of the dead, and the strained loneliness of a King trying desperately to hold on to power.

A cooling summer read for nostalgia, defiance, and historical significance.


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