Sunday, April 4, 2010

Sandra Beasley

Sandra Beasley is the author of I Was the Jukebox, winner of the 2009 Barnard Women Poets Prize, selected by Joy Harjo and published by W. W. Norton. Her first collection, Theories of Falling, won the 2007 New Issues Poetry Prize.

Her nonfiction has been featured in the Washington Post Magazine and she is working on Don’t Kill the Birthday Girl: Tales from an Allergic Life, forthcoming from Crown. Beasley lives in Washington, D.C.

Recently I asked her what she was reading. Her reply:
The last book I finished was Kathleen Rooney's essay collection, For You, For You I Am Trilling These Songs. Rooney's voice is damningly funny and redemptively articulate; during one essay, on the epidemic of student plagiarism (and how easily it is identified by their professors), I nodded along so vigorously that the bartender asked if everything was okay. Rooney's subject matter shears close to the skin, both personal and political. One of her strongest pieces, "However Measured or Far Away," is about a cousin's decision to join a convent, while "Fast Anchor'd, Eternal, O Love!" is a daring look at emotionally-charged relationships within a Chicago senator's office. Rooney is a writer of multiple interests--I have also enjoyed her Live Nude Girl (on being an art model) and her poetry collection Oneiromance. But this is a particularly intimate and lovely book.

My "oatmeal book"--the book I regularly pick up and put down, often while making breakfast--is The United States of Arugula, by David Kamp. Because I'm working on Don't Kill the Birthday Girl, a book about allergies, I need to read from the larger constellation of popular books about food and food culture. I'm enjoying Kamp's meticulous style; it's not easy to relate anecdote after anecdote in a way that is properly (and enjoyably) gossipy, without seeming judgmental. Hard to say whether there will be a substantive intersection between his cast of characters and my topic, whether explicit or extrapolated, but even that is useful information: it amazes me that an industry so thoroughly invested in fine dining could be so utterly removed from awareness of those with dietary restrictions.

Just a few weeks back I attended the Split This Rock poetry festival, here in DC, and was blown away by an afternoon reading by some of the Affrilachian poets that included Mitchell L.H. Douglass, Frank X Walker, and Ellen Hagan . These poets of color offer voices that bound far beyond any Beverly-Hillbilly stereotype of Appalachian culture. One standout was Walker, who is an associate professor at the University of Kenucky; I bought his poetry collection, When Winter Come: The Ascension of York, and I'm working my way through it now. The collection re-imagines the Lewis and Clark expedition from the perspective of York, a slave (acknowledged in Lewis and Clark's original journals) who aptly questions the terms of "heroism" and "homecoming" in the context of their explorations. Walker writes with a graceful, authentic, and heart-wrenching sense of line and form.
Learn more about Sandra Beasley and her work at her website and her blog, Chicks Dig Poetry. Listen to the poet read selections from I Was the Jukebox.

Writers Read: Sandra Beasley (February 2008).

--Marshal Zeringue