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, February 17, 2008

Cars, Culture, and Contemporary Poetry

This week I have been reminded how the automobile has become one of America’s most important icons during the last century. As one who considers the artfully designed contours of a car’s body to be equivalent to carefully brushed strokes on a canvas, I have been following a pair of annual events during recent days. Nearby, the Chicago Auto Show, regarded as North America’s largest and most significant consumer exposition, marked its 100th edition, the first auto show to reach that milestone. Attendance at the Chicago Auto Show will again exceed 300,000 for the week, as car lovers examine more than 1,000 new autos spread across the McCormick Place convention center’s 850,000 square feet of exhibitors’ space.

The Chicago Auto Show includes the NASCAR Pavilion, where the motor sport’s organization exhibits its historic racecars, including Dale Earnhardt’s familiar number 3 on its black background, perhaps the show’s primary examples of speed and power. Coincidentally, NASCAR has been celebrating the opening week of its season, known as “Speed Week,” with a series of qualifying runs, practice sessions, and races at Daytona International Speedway, this year culminating with Sunday’s 50th running of the Daytona 500. NASCAR’s premier race, often characterized as the sport’s Super Bowl, began in 1959 as a local event and has grown into an internationally televised extravaganza drawing millions of viewers. Track attendance for the spectacle will once more approach 250,000, with nearly 170,000 in the grandstands and another 80,000 watching from the vast infield area.

As an admirer of automobiles and an avid NASCAR fan, I usually consider these two February events—along with the arrival in Florida or Arizona of major league pitchers and catchers for first practices—as the initial happy signals that spring is on the horizon after months of bad weather. Indeed, like many Americans, I frequently link different emotions and memories to the image of the automobile. Anyone who watches television or has viewed movies over the decades will recognize the numerous associations our culture has created with automobiles.

Even readers of fiction will identify various ways characters are defined or their futures determined by driving cars, whether recalling the dramatic scene sealing a tragic fate in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby or remembering the symbolic travels described in Jack Kerouac’s On the Road. Automobiles often represent the very movement down the road of life toward one’s destiny, providing power and freedom yet sometimes signifying potential disaster when their speed results in a loss of control that causes a crash. In fact, one can connect cars to the deaths of a number of cultural icons: James Dean, Grace Kelly, Jackson Pollock, Frank O’Hara, Princess Diana, etc.

Cars also allow a sense of independence, especially for young drivers, and in some stories or poems supply a location for sexual initiation. For instance, readers perhaps will note the couples in cars during Robert Lowell’s scene along lover’s lane in “Skunk Hour.” Additionally, many of us may have socialized as teens by cruising in cars on summer evenings, as shown in movies like American Graffiti. Pop songs have long been filled with images of teens driving in cars. Television commercials suggest stylish automobiles even can hint at one’s material success and convey personal confidence or sophistication.

Not surprisingly, the act of driving a car has had a presence in a fair amount of contemporary poetry. Kurt Brown edited an anthology of such poems, Drive, They Said: Poems about Americans and Their Cars, for Milkweed Editions in 1994. The volume included approximately 200 examples, such as Richard Hugo’s “Driving Montana,” Jonathan Holden’s “Cutting Loose on an August Night,” Donald Finkel’s “Hitting the Road,” William Matthews’ “Driving All Night,” William Stafford’s “Travelling through the Dark,” Linda Hogan’s “Driving at Night,” John Balaban’s “Riding Westward,” Ted Kooser’s “Highway 30,” and Theodore Roethke’s “Highway: Michigan,” just to name a few.

I have written some poems of my own about experiences driving interstates across the country or occasionally dangerously climbing up narrow mountainside roads, and I have even written about my fascination with the beauty and grace of stock cars or the great risks of racing, particularly the peculiar nature of a sport in which the participants literally place their lives on the line each time they start their engines, forty-three cars speeding side by side up to 200 miles an hour. (I’m sometimes surprised, myself, when I look at the “favorite channels” saved on my TiVo, and I see Ovation’s arts channel offerings alongside the Speed Channel’s racing programs, but then I am reminded of the cars painted by artists like Lichtenstein or Warhol and the two worlds combine again.)

A famous quote, usually falsely attributed to Ernest Hemingway though apparently spoken by another writer from the same time, claims danger separates sports from games: “Auto racing, bullfighting, and mountain climbing are the only real sports . . . all others are games.” Indeed, when watching auto racing with my young son I’m always aware I may have to explain why his favorite driver that he has been cheering to the lead in a race has suddenly died in front of his eyes, just as many parents found themselves doing in the 2001 Daytona 500 when Dale Earnhardt was killed in a crash on the last lap. Watching auto racing one always must be prepared to witness a transformation from a perceived beauty of power and speed to the unexpected tragedy of destruction and death.

Just such a quick transition from a time of fun to a moment of death filled the front pages of newspapers Saturday morning as articles reported an incident the night before in Maryland along Route 210, where eight spectators lined on an isolated highway to observe an illegal drag-race were killed by an unsuspecting driver who did not see the individuals in the dark stretch of road and plowed over them. As I read the news story, I thought of all these events happening on the same weekend, and I went back to a fabulous book of poetry by B.H. Fairchild, The Arrival of the Future, that includes one of my favorite poems about automobiles. This piece seems most appropriate today:


They were our bright lights.
At night we were stars
coming out, amazing main
street with our fluid bodies,
liquid under light, seven
coats of finish streaming by
in candy-apple red, green
flaked with gold, or
blue in six shades from
midnight to metallic.

Inside, our songs said life
was sad except for love,
which was everywhere,
like pain. Love hard
and die young, one sang,
so we pulled our women
closer and drove fast
to a river with a moon,
an arch of cottonwoods,
and the cicada’s harsh
complaint. Flesh was easy,
but death was distant
as the spaces mirrored
in our laminated hoods.

When late that summer night
we pulled Jimmy Deeds
from his crumpled heap
on Highway 54,
we looked up at the red
light swooping through the trees
and saw how metal lay
in moonlight like sequins.
We spoke no more of love
or the other thing. And I
remember in the almost quiet
night the sudden strangeness
of our sleek and singing cars.

[For my extended essay on some of B.H. Fairchild’s poetry, readers are invited to examine an article included in the Spring/Summer 2006 issue of Valparaiso Poetry Review.]


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Anonymous said...

Who is this poem by? B.H. Fairchild?

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