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Friday, April 17, 2009

POET OF THE WEEK: SCOTT OWENS



(Photo by Damien Blankenship)

Scott Owens is the 2008 Visiting Writer at Catawba Valley Community College and coordinator of the Poetry Alive reading series in Hickory, NC. His first book of poetry, The Persistence of Faith, was published in 1995 by Sandstone Press. He has received awards for his work from the Academy of American Poets and the North Carolina Writer's Network. Recent work has appeared in North American Review, Main Street Rag, Pedestal, Georgia Review, Chattahoochee Review, and Cream City Review among others. Born in Greenwood, SC, he has lived in North Carolina, where he completed his MFA from UNCG, for over 20 years.




by Scott Owens
ISBN 13: 978-1-59948-120-3
88 pages, poetry, $14
Main Street Rag
http://www.mainstreetrag.com/store/NewReleases.php


I met Scott Owens years ago when I spent a few days at UNCG, working with the MFA poetry students. I've watched his growth as a poet ever since. Even so, nothing prepared me for the immediacy and yet intimacy of the poems in Fractured World. Nor the intensely painful revelations about our woundedness and vulnerability, not to mention our despair at being turned into empty vessels by the "game" of a world divided into sides always at war with each other. The irony in these often bruising poems is that the winner in this game becomes the lost one, the numbed and empty one who moves through his world either enraged or numbed. Scott has pushed his poetry to a new level of intensity.

Fates Worse Than Death

One said dying slowly.
Another said living
and barely cracked a smile.
Many said extreme pain,
torture, in all its varieties:
burning, drowning, beating, crushing, starving,
cutting the body away in small pieces,
breaking down the mind bit by bit.
Others said insanity, loneliness, paralysis,
catatonia, coma, blindness,
isolation, deprivation.
One said watching others
be tortured,
family, friends, total strangers.

In a dry white season
they tried to teach us
the reach of human cruelty--
a bloody face turned upward,
the body suspended by elbows,
electrodes on nose, nipples...
A young guard walked in,
unsuspecting, unknowing.

Imagine having to live
with the knowledge.
Imagine how he sees people now
from the corners of his eyes,
how he hurries home each day,
squeezes the handle,
cracks the door.
Imagine how he holds his wife,
his children,
afraid of what his own hands might do.
--------------------

Saving the Earth

Collect a variety of soils:
red clay from river banks,
black dirt from under rocks,
white sand from beaches.
Use milk jugs, coffee cans,
oil drums sealed tight.

Cover mounds of good earth
with plastic tarps, sheets
of tin. Bury the edges
with fallen things,
trees and fences,
houses and walls.

Store it in cellars
and bathrooms, closets
and stairwells.
Bury it in coffins,
carefully marked
for resurrection.

Pack it in snuff cans
to make it compact
and portable. Stack them
along the walls. Pile them
in windows. Carry
what remains in plastic bags.

---------------------------



Taking the Field

And this is the way
you play the game
the only way
to win.
And this is the man
with the huge right hand
and the black shining boots
and the pounding gullet
who calls you boy
and tells you
you are nothing
unless you win,
you are nothing
and stands above you
and stands before you
and draws a line
and tells you
whoever stands
across that line
is your enemy
your enemy
and you must hit him
and you must beat him
until he falls
and if he gets up
you must hit him again
and if he gets up
you must take him down.

And these are the hands
and these the feet
and this the body
you give up for the game.
And these are the clothes
you wear, these
the bold numbers, these
and draws a line
and tells you
whoever stands
across that line
is your enemy
your enemy
and you must hit him
and you must beat him
until he falls
and if he gets up
you must hit him again
and if he gets up
you must take him down.

And these are the hands
and these the feet
and this the body
you give up for the game.
And these are the clothes
you wear, these
the bold numbers, these
the bright colors, this
the iron mask.
And this is the map
that shows you the way
and these the people
who cheer you on
and tell you to go
And you go
to play the game
the only way
to win.
---------------------


On the Days I Am Not My Father

I don’t yell. I don’t hold inside
the day’s supply of frustrations.
My hands stay open all day.
I don’t wake tired and sore,
dazed from senseless, panicking
dreams. On the days I am not
my father I hold my son
when he cries, let him touch my face
without flinching, lie down with him
until he falls asleep, realize
that just because he has a sharp tongue,
just because he’s sometimes mean,
just because he is smarter than me
doesn’t mean he’ll become my father.

On the days I am not my father
holding you is enough until
holding you is no longer enough
for either of us. I listen well.
I let things go unfinished,
in an order I didn’t plan.
My mouth is relaxed. My teeth
don’t hurt. My face stays
a healthy shade of pink all day.
On the days I am not my father
I don’t fill the silence with my own
irrational rants. I don’t resent
the voices of others. I don’t make fun
of you to make myself feel better.

On the days I am not my father
I don’t care who wins
or loses. The news can’t ruin
my day. I water plants.
I cook. I laugh at myself.
I can imagine living without
my beard, with my hair cut,
without the fear of looking
too much like my father. On the days
I am not my father I romp
and play, I don’t compare myself
with everyone else, the night
is always long enough, I like
how much I am like my father.
----------------------------------

Love and the Daughter

There is little you’d take as truth from him,
but this pounding death seems impossible
to imagine even from one who dreams voices
into walls, eyes in every pane of glass.

In the season of dogwoods and Judas trees
your father calls to tell you Stuart is dead --
a heart attack brought on by morphine
taken to treat the phantom pains of a lost leg.

The ghost of your image moves mourning
before the door, spring’s tender green
turning in panic behind you. Your anger,
inconsolable, will not unknit itself.

What you mourn is not the loss of life,
but a world of childhoods, your own, your brother’s
strapped to his iron chair, your mother’s innocence
sacrificed to angers that would not go away.

I want to prick the howls from your tongue,
bring down your fists on these faces
looking up from memory’s dark pools,
open your eyes to spring’s season of crying.

At night, in the mirror, sometimes you see
his face, unsoothed, your own, clenched tight,
my half-wanted hands easing you back to me,
spooning away anger like tears unwilling to cry.

3 comments:

Scott Owens said...

Thank you again, Kay, for posting this. It was a joy to see you again this weekend in Morganton. I'm very happy to know you're going to continue your blogging. It has become a valuable online resource for me and I'm sure for many others as well.

Kathryn Stripling Byer said...

Thanks, Scott. I'm glad we were able to get together in Morganton. (that post coming in a day or two) I hope to see you again soon.

Debra said...

These poems are tough and lean and honest and heartbreaking and deep.