Click Image to Visit the Pecan Grove Press Web Page for Poetry from Paradise Valley


Poetry From Paradise Valley

Pecan Grove Press has released an anthology of poems, a sampling of works published in Valparaiso Poetry Review during its first decade, from the original 1999-2000 volume to the 2009-2010 volume.

Poetry from Paradise Valley includes a stellar roster of 50 poets. Among the contributors are a former Poet Laureate of the United States, a winner of the Griffin International Prize, two Pulitzer Prize winners, two National Book Award winners, two National Book Critics Circle winners, six finalists for the National Book Award, four finalists for the National Book Critics Circle Award, two finalists for the Pulitzer Prize, and a few dozen recipients of other honors, such as fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, etc.

Readers are encouraged to visit the Poetry from Paradise Valley page at the publisher's web site, where ordering information about the book can be found.

Best Books of Indiana 2011: Finalist. Judges' Citation: "Poetry from Paradise Valley is an excellent anthology that features world-class poetry, including the work of many artists from the Midwest, such as Jared Carter, Annie Finch, David Baker, and Allison Joseph. It’s an eclectic and always interesting collection where poems on similar themes flow into each other. It showcases the highest caliber of U. S. poetry."
—Indiana Center for the Book, Indiana State Library

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Gary Gildner: "First Practice"

Last week Gary Gildner visited campus for a reading and meetings with my poetry writing class as well as other students in the creative writing program. Gildner has been to Valparaiso University in the past, and once again his relaxed conversational style of discussing the writing process appeared appealing. During his meetings with students, he emphasized how his poetry often includes narrative or implied narrative. Likely, this approach results from his beginnings as a journalist and fiction writer. Indeed, in addition to his numerous volumes of poetry, among his nearly twenty books Gildner has written two collections of short stories, a novel, and two books of memoirs.

Gildner also promoted the importance of voice in his works of poetry, whether that of the poet as narrator or of a persona within the poem. Commenting upon the way he writes, Gildner revealed how his natural and informal voice frequently commands his poetry. Nevertheless, he also noted how he occasionally enjoys introducing personae into his poetry, much the way characters come and go in his prose pieces. In these poems the personalities of the individuals allow alternate perspectives or serve as examples of differing attitudes toward subjects treated in Gildner’s works.

While providing background information about himself, Gildner spoke to students of his original intentions as a young man whose first endeavors included athletics, initially as a high school pitcher who threw a no-hitter in his debut game and was scouted by major league teams until he damaged his arm by throwing too many curveballs, and then as a university scholarship basketball player in the Big Ten conference. One of Gildner’s nonfiction books, The Warsaw Sparks, concerns time he spent as a baseball coach in Poland in the 1980s.

Gildner related the excitement and the pressure felt by young athletes, especially when engaged in dramatic experiences that could be crucial to future opportunities for success, and how they often are prodded by coaches, fans, or family members who expect so much from the young players. These issues surely have supplied plots for a number of popular movies over the years about all sorts of sports, but especially in football with films ranging from All the Right Moves to Saturday Night Lights.

“First Practice,” the title poem of Gildner’s premiere collection of poetry released in 1979 and still one of his best-known poems, seems to display some of what Gildner discusses in his conversations about poetry. This may be the finest poem about high school football since James Wright’s wonderful “Autumn Begins in Martins Ferry, Ohio,” in which the “sons grow suicidally beautiful / At the beginning of October / And gallop terribly against each other’s bodies.” (Listen to James Wright reading the poem.) In fact, I thought of Gildner’s poem again over the weekend as the local high school football season moved toward its most significant stretch and the region’s newspapers were filled with long accounts of Friday night’s contests. Indeed, the extended section of Saturday’s newspaper devoted to prep football even crowded out major league baseball playoffs and filled more pages than the national news.

The coach’s voice in Gildner’s poem rings true to the memories of many men remembering their high school days of playing sports. My high school coach was a former military man who demanded much from his players and ran practices as if he were still a drill instructor. Although I attended a Catholic prep school that already required conservative dress in a jacket and tie, as well as short groomed hair, my coach also insisted that all who made the team must get a boot camp buzz cut to symbolize the military mentality.

Gildner’s poem sounds simple and straightforward; however, closer examination uncovers ways the narrator characterizes and cleverly casts aspersions on Clifford Hill. The poem’s overtones of war and violence suggest a theme lurking beneath the surface that is more notable than school sports or adolescent initiation. One wonders if this first practice even serves as an introduction into aspects of later life as much as it is simply the opening act of an athletic season. Certainly, a vast gap opens between the first stanza’s ending with the word “now” and its appearance as the final shouted command of the second stanza.


After the doctor checked to see
we weren't ruptured,
the man with the short cigar took us
under the grade school,
where we went in case of attack
or storm, and said
he was Clifford Hill, he was
a man who believed dogs
ate dogs, he had once killed
for his country, and if
there were any girls present
for them to leave now.

No one
left. OK, he said, he said I take
that to mean you are hungry
men who hate to lose as much
as I do. OK. Then
he made two lines of us
facing each other,
and across the way, he said,
is the man you hate most
in the world,
and if we are to win
that title I want to see how.
But I don't want to see
any marks when you're dressed,
he said. He said, Now.

I suggest readers visit the Michigan Writers Series web page to hear an interview of Gary Gildner and a full presentation of his work.

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