Wednesday, April 16, 2014

When poets and writers gather for a weekend of readings and fellowship, the mutual appreciation and inspiration are almost visible floating in the air. On April 11 and 12, the Fairmont State University Department of Language and Literature hosted such a group in celebration of Issue 31 of Kestrel: A Journal of Literature and Art.

“Kestrel 31 explores the complex nature of memory, its pains, pleasures and dangers,” said Dr. Suzanne Heagy, Associate Professor of English and one of the three editors of Kestrel. “My hope is that the poems, essays, stories and art in this issue allow readers to imaginatively inhabit worlds they might not otherwise encounter and remember—London; Cap Negre, 1909; present day New Jersey; Iran via Facebook; the world of circus dogs. Reading can take us to unknown worlds and make them memorable.”

Dr. Donna J. Long, Professor of English, and Dr. Elizabeth Savage, Professor of English, also served as editors for the journal and, along with Heagy, hosted the visiting writers who traveled to campus from as far away as California and Washington State. Velicia Darquenne, English major and Kestrel intern, also assisted with the issue and events.

On Friday afternoon, nine Kestrel contributing writers—Tim Armentrout from southern West Virginia, Barbara Crooker from Fogelsburg, Pa.; Cathy Barber from San Francisco; Ellen McGrath Smith from Pittsburgh; Bob Kunzinger from Virginia; Matt Zambito from Spokane, Wash.; Ethel Rackin from Philadelphia; Greg Weiss from Ohio; and Ace Boggess from Charleston—joined in a panel discussion with about 40 students and community members about truth, facts and the role of memory in writing.

“If you don’t say what you feel, then you feel what you don’t say forever,” Armentrout said.

Nonfiction writer Kunzinger stated that to him the facts are not as important as the truth, pointing out the difference between people remembering details differently and someone getting the facts wrong; people still need to agree on the truth of the conversation.

Of fiction, nonfiction, poetry and drama—poet Matt Zambito said, “The goal of all four genres is to tell little ‘t’ truths to lead to big ‘T’ Truth, even if that means telling little white lies to get there.”

On Friday evening, Crooker, Kunzinger, Rackin, McGrath Smith and Zambito read their work during a community event at the Frank and Jane Gabor West Virginia Folklife Center.

Rackin shared her “Ode to Friends”:

“So kind their intelligence

regarding birds of prey—

osprey, kites, true hawks—

regardless, they pray

for wellbeing

of all kinds!”

Kunzinger read flash nonfiction about how an injury from a scythe during yard work ended up saving his life. McGrath Smith told “The Cry Room,” a story filled with loss and a mother’s expression of grief. Zambito entertained with a witty poem about facial hair, among others, and Crooker with a poem about why she does not like milk chocolate. The audience was stirred from thoughtful reflection, to tears, to laughter and back.

The gathering met on Saturday at Heston Farm for a sunny afternoon outdoors filled with food, drinks and poetry readings. Armentrout began with poems about an uncle’s funeral, a mine disaster and prescription drug abuse, among other topics. Barber followed with poetry about going to the grocery store, her friend Jane finding a man, women being comfortable with their bodies, the laugh-provoking “Porn Star Name” and a persona poem about Bigfoot. Weiss then shared his words, including a poem called “Algebra,” which included more about life than math. The final readings came from Ace Boggess who read from his book, “The Prisoners,” including a poem from an inmate perspective called “Can They Do That?” and another poem featuring the memorable line: “…many within have sin enough to purify the world with their absence.”

To conclude the weekend’s activities, Long thanked the visiting writers for “sharing your demons and your dreams.”

Copies of Kestrel 31 are available for purchase through the Department of Language & Literature. For more information, contact Long at (304) 367-4180 or e-mail Kestrel at kestrel@fairmontstate.edu. The cost for a single issue is $12; a two-issue subscription is $20. Checks may be made payable to Kestrel and mailed to Kestrel, Department of Language & Literature, Fairmont State University, 1201 Locust Ave., Fairmont, WV 26554.