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Show Yourself Missouri

By Jason Offutt, author of Haunted Missouri & What Lurks Beyond

A few years ago, I got in my car and drove to Canada simply because I’d never been there. It was an amazing experience, and I discovered something on my trip: the inch and a quarter that my wall map said separated me from our friendly neighbors was 700 miles in real life. On that trip I also learned Midwest history, tried new food (if you go to Canada, eat the Poutine once. I think once is all a body can take), and got my feet wet in places like the source of the Mississippi River. Literally. The water there’s cold.

The next summer I tried England.

Yes, travel can get expensive, the vernacular can be a problem (Travel Tip 271: a draw of beer in Wisconsin is called a “tapper”), and there’s that inevitable house in the road. Seriously. On my way through Iowa, I got stuck behind a tractor-trailer pulling a house on a rural highway. You think getting behind a guy driving the speed limit in the passing lane is bad, try a house.

But travel, especially local travel, is also worth it. There are places right here in Missouri you can’t see anywhere else. If you’re thinking about taking a little drive, try these Ten Places to See in Missouri (in no particular order). You’ll notice I’ve left off sites like the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, and the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, but those are no-brainers. Some of my ten spots you may have never heard of.

Ten Places to See in Missouri
1. City Museum, St. Louis. If you have children, go here. Go here now. The City Museum is located inside, outside, and atop a 600,000-square-foot building that once housed the International Shoe Company. The tubes, slides, mazes, and toys (two built out of actual airplanes, and one out of a school bus) give this place a Willy Wonka feel. The Ferris wheel on the roof gives riders a terrific view of the city, but not if you’re afraid of heights.

2. Battle of Lexington State Historic Site, Lexington. Trenches, and the scars of war can still be seen over these 100-acres where a three-day Civil War battle raged in 1861. The Anderson House, fought over by Union and Confederate forces between Sept. 18 and 20, retains bullet marks and a hole where a cannon ball ripped through the attic. This is one of Missouri’s most well preserved Civil War battle sites.

3. Mizzou Botanical Gardens, Columbia. The campus of the University of Missouri contains an arboretum, butterfly garden, Asiatic and Oriental lily garden, a statue of Beetle Bailey (the cartoon’s creator Mort Walker went to Mizzou), Thomas Jefferson’s original tombstone, and a native Missouri tree collection. While you’re in Columbia, go downtown and enjoy Shakespeare’s Pizza. I said, “enjoy” because you don’t have any other choice. The pizza is that good.

4. Arrow Rock, Highways 87 and 187 in Saline County. This well-kept village is a National Historic Landmark because of its role in Westward Expansion. It was also the home of artist George Caleb Bingham and of Dr. John Sappington, who discovered quinine was effective in treating malaria. While there dine at a local restaurant, stay at one of the town’s many bed and breakfasts, visit the Arrow Rock State Historic Site Museum, and take in a show at the Lyceum Theatre.

5. Big Cedar Lodge, Ridgedale. Nestled in the heavily wooded hills of Southern Missouri, and overlooking the 43,000 acre Table Rock Lake, this 246-room lodge is not only beautiful, it owns a haunted history. The wife of one of the founders, Harry Worman, supposedly haunts the grounds. Guests have reported seeing a spectral woman in white walking though the grass at night, gazing out at the lake.

6. Rockcliffe Mansion, Hannibal. This beautiful, immaculately preserved 13,500-square-foot structure, built in 1898, was at the time regarded as one of the biggest private homes in Missouri. Now a bed and breakfast, its more than thirty rooms are also open for tours. In 1902, Mark Twain, a friend of owner and builder John Cruikshank, gave his good-bye speech to Hannibal inside the mansion to more than 300 people.

7. Arthur Bryant’s Barbeque, Kansas City. Arthur Bryant’s is what people mean when they talk about Kansas City-style barbecue. Don’t visit KC without trying the original restaurant at 1727 Brooklyn Avenue. You’re welcome.

8. Weston Brewing Company and O’Malley’s Pub, Weston. Reopened in 2005 after a bit of problem with Prohibition (yes, the brewery had been closed since 1919), the Weston Brewing Company produces 20,000 kegs of beer each year. The brewer is open for tours (the free sampling at the end was my favorite part). The brewery (part) and pub (all of it) are in the original limestone tunnels carved in 1842 to store beer.

9. The Hornet Spook Light, south of Joplin. Not so much of a specific place as it is any number of spots on a gravel road overlooking Oklahoma, Spook Light Road is said to be home to a ball of light that mysteriously travels up from the Sooner State, through your car, and disappears. Said to be the ghost of a local American Indian who died looking for his love, this light has been seen by the curious since the late 1800s. It’s creepy.

10. The James Brothers tour, lots of places. This is cheating, because it’s more than one location, but let’s just go with the theme here:
Jesse James Home, Kearney, the boyhood home of Frank and Jesse James.
Mt. Olivet Cemetery, Kearney, the final resting place of Jesse and his wife Zerelda.
Hill Park Cemetery, Independence, Frank James’ grave.
Jesse James Bank Museum, Liberty, the site of the first daylight bank robbery in the United States.
• The 1859 Old Jail and Marshal’s Home, Independence, Frank James’ home for six months. His cell was kept unlocked, and he often dined with the Marshal’s family.
Jesse James Home Museum, St. Joseph, where Jesse was assassinated by Bob Ford, a member of his gang.
Richmond Cemetery, Richmond, where Bob Ford is buried.
Mark Twain Cave, Hannibal, Jesse once used this cave as a hideout, and scrawled his name in the rocks to prove it.
Meramec Caverns, Sullivan, Jesse and Frank also once sought refuge in this cave system, escaping the law by squirming through an underground river.

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A Core Change in an Uncommon Way

by Sarah Andrews-Weiss

When I was first introduced to the new young readers’ series that Truman State University Press is publishing (Notable Missourians) at the beginning of my internship, all I really knew about it was that it would focus on successful Missouri residents, and that the series would “meet the Missouri Learning Standards.” As an English major who has shared more than a few classrooms with numerous teachers-to-be, this was when the ominous scary-movie music began to fill my ears.

“Fiction will be de-emphasized.” “Informational texts will be given the classrooms’ attention.” “Good literature will disappear from elementary assigned reading lists…” When it comes to criticism about the new Common Core State Standards, I’ve heard and read it all. So when confronted with this series, I couldn’t decide how to feel. On the one hand, as the books will meet the requirements teachers will be looking for, the series is likely to do well. On the other, it will be doing well by falling in line with a system many find problematic. Left feeling ambivalent with both sides, I did the only thing I could think of: I familiarized myself with the Notable Missourians series…and what I found surprised me.

The series is lovely. People like clowns, athletes, and frontier women are introduced with such fascinating stories that I was surprised they had never been introduced to me before. Eras such as the Great Depression and westward expansion are depicted using specific experiences to help the reader more fully understand how these time periods affected people on an individual level. And clear, understandable writing along with imagery (literary techniques that have been emphasized throughout all of my creative writing courses) are utilized. As I took all of this in, I wondered how a series that utilizes so many narrative elements could possibly comply with an educational change in favor of dull and lifeless “informational texts”?

Confused, I looked at the actual requirements of the core standards, and found that the Grade Level Expectations (or GLEs) for fourth through sixth grade social studies material expects a focus on “individuals from Missouri who have made contributions to our state and national heritage,” an ability to “locate and describe settlements in Missouri,” and information on the causes, effects, and events of the westward expansion… all of which are included within the individual stories in the series.

Instead of taking the new requirements asked for from the Missouri Learning Standards and creating dull accounts of overused historical figures, this series has managed to take these standards and create an end product both informational and enjoyable to read. If other book publishers take the Notable Missourians’ lead when it comes to these new educational guidelines, I am sure the quality of literature our children will be exposed to will be as high as it has always been.

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500 Years of History in 500 Words

by Rachel Goodwin

It’s easy to assume that books have always existed and that you could always pick a book off your shelf or download one onto your e-reader. Most people today take books for granted. Haven’t there always been libraries filled with shelves upon shelves, volumes upon volumes? Haven’t lawyers and scholars always had their offices lined with books or even stacked haphazardly?

The simple answer is no. Books have not always existed. For centuries, information was stored on the clay tablets of Mesopotamia or the painted hieroglyphs of ancient Egypt or the scrolls of ancient China. Fast forward several centuries and we see European monks laboring by hand in scriptoriums to painstakingly create beautifully illuminated manuscript books on calfskin called vellum. (Yes, this means that even the earliest books weren’t on paper!)

So how did books become what they are today? It wasn’t an easy process. The first movable type printing press appeared in the Western world in 1439. This was the first major change in the development of the book. The printing press allowed more books to be printed at a faster rate. Scribes could make mistakes as they tried to copy books in dim candlelight, and type-setters would make the same mistakes as they set the layout for the books in the same dim conditions. But in the time it took a scribe to copy a single book, thousands could be printed by the hand press.

The Industrial Revolution of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries brought another major change. Steam power meant that presses could crank out more pages than by hand. Cheaper paper meant that book costs would decrease but the quality of the books also decreased because the paper was so poor quality. As a result of the cheaper paper, publishers started to offer binding on their books. (Yes, this meant that books previously weren’t nicely bound. If you wanted your book to be bound with a cover and spine, you had to pay for someone to do it for you!)

The mid-1940s brought yet another change to book publishing: the paperback. Now books were even cheaper because the binding didn’t have to be the cloth over cardboard hardback editions. Paperbacks were cheaper to produce and buy. But this didn’t mean that hardbacks disappeared, just like manuscripts didn’t disappear immediately after the printing press made its debut.

The new millennium brought even more new changes to book publishing. Books had started going through a more rigorous process to being published so that formatting and errors were caught before the book was even printed. As technology and the Internet appeared on the market (also at a more affordable price) books began to appear on the computers. E-books and e-readers have gained popularity for the convenience of carrying a lot of books in one small tablet and for being a lot cheaper than hard copies (since they don’t have to be printed at all!)

So here ends our (roughly) 500 years of history in 500 words. We have seen books go from being hand-copied and expensive to printed and expensive to printed on paper and less expensive to hundreds available on your brightly lit digital screen. Over these 500 years, books have become more accessible to more people. What will the future of the book be? Will the dream of every student come true? Will we someday be able to put a book (in whatever form it takes) under our pillow at night and in the morning have all the information in our brain ready to go? Who knows? We will just have to wait and see what the future holds in store for the book and for us.

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“See You in the Gumbo”: Mona Lisa Saloy’s Second Line Home

by Kirk Schlueter

It seems odd at first to realize that the best word to describe Mona Lisa Saloy’s Second Line Home is “thanksgiving.” Saloy’s work is, after all, poems written in the wake of (and about) Hurricane Katrina’s devastation of her beloved New Orleans. Nevertheless, in the Crescent City’s survival and resurgence in the aftermath of the storm, Saloy finds plenty to give thanks for.

The book’s title comes from the New Orleans tradition of “two lines” at funerals: the first line, where the mourners carry the body in a grieving, dirge-singing procession to the cemetery, and the second line, where the mourners return from the graveyard singing loudly, celebrating a life well lived, and the ascent of the deceased. It is easy to see the connection to Saloy’s beautiful book of poems, whose sections loosely follow this tradition, first mourning the devastated post-Katrina New Orleans, and then moving to the survival of the people and their attempts to rebuild.

Saloy’s style prizes music; her lines often lack traditional punctuation, but neither the poem nor the reader care. Instead, the eye (and ear) are drawn to the cadence and beauty. It is a unique style, and helps capture the vitality and uniqueness of New Orleans. I know of no other book of poems quite like it. Saloy’s emotion and passion are fluid on the page, and contagious. After even a few poems, you begin to think of New Orleans as your city too.

In the introduction to Paul Auster’s New York Trilogy, Luc Sante writes, “Auster has the key to the city … like the key to dreams or the key to the highway. It … allows him to see through walls and around corners, that permits him entry to corridors and substrata and sealed houses nobody else notices. …” The same could easily be said about Saloy and New Orleans, and the Black Creole culture she inhabits. Her manner is always familiar, always inviting, always warm as she shows readers the city she knows and loves, a city with “more churches than bars.” Especially for an outsider to both New Orleans and Black Creole culture, Saloy’s open manner is comforting, and makes for a beautiful and friendly introduction. I won’t say I was able to stand in Saloy’s shoes, but I was certainly able to look right over her shoulder. You couldn’t ask for a better tour guide.

By showing her readers the city through her eyes, Saloy shows without ever directly telling the damage and trauma the survivors of Hurricane Katrina went through. “New Orleans,” she writes, “is everybody’s business,” and her joy at finally returning home shines through every poem in the collection, even those dealing with grief and mourning. I very quickly lost track of how many poems in the book ended with some variation of either giving thanks or praise, because Second Line is replete with those phrases. The poems sing their joy straight off the page.

For Saloy, it is clear, New Orleans is heaven. For those who think New Orleans drowned in August 2005, Second Line Home shows it is rising again, and still singing, still dancing. Second Line Home is not your average book about disaster. It’s a work about death in which resurrection takes center stage. It’s a book about loss and grief in which more time is spent on joy. In Saloy’s eyes, the Crescent City is not Atlantis. It is New Orleans—a city easy to recognize, hard to define, and impossible not to love.

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Expanding the Parameters of Literary Nonfiction

by Monica Barron, Book Series Editor, Contemporary Nonfiction Series

The first publication in the Contemporary Nonfiction Series, Trout Streams of the Heart by Chad Hanson, was published in April. It is a lovely collection of narrative essays with a first-person narrator and an ecocritical bent. The second volume, Bodies, of the Holocene by Christopher Cokinos, is due out this October, and pushes the boundaries of the essay firmly into the lyric essay category and affiliates even with prose poems. Over time the books in this series will define the series. But we are pleased that the initial books in the series suggest the broad territory we are interested in: traditional literary essays, researched nonfiction, memoir if it is firmly situated in a cultural/literary/social context, and lyric essays.

A few months ago at the AWP (Associated Writing Programs) Conference in Boston I attended a session hosted by AGNI journal, “Options of the I: The Post-Memoir Memoir.” I went to that session because I feel AGNI and The Seneca Review have done incalculably valuable work to enlarge our conception of literary nonfiction, creative nonfiction, and to expand the parameters of the lyric essay. Panelist Lia Purpura spoke of the palette of gestures she drew from in the “atmosphere of lyric permissiveness” necessary for her work. It seems to me she’s pointing at not just the work she’s done in her life to make writing possible, but also the work editors do to enlarge or define the literary territory their magazines and presses inhabit.

As I sit down this summer to read manuscripts for this fledgling series, contact writers, or arrange upcoming visits with writers, all of it is in the service of finding manuscripts that contain what at least one of those AWP panelists referred to as “new configurations of the contemplative and narrative self.” I know there are writers out there ambitious to situate their work in magazines with a track record of publishing the full range of nonfiction. If you are building a collection of such work, please see the author guidelines for our Nonfiction Series and send us your book proposal.

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E-books: A Promise, Not a Threat

by Liz Fifer

E-books are a gimmicky, inferior alternative to traditionally paperbound books. They will make bookstores and mass-market paperbacks to be novelties of the past.

That was my fear, at least.

I was as skeptical as anyone else when e-books first hit the market. Reading from a computer-like monitor seemed so unappealing. I didn’t want my favorite local bookstores, rich with personality, to be replaced by online, impersonal booksellers. The next generation would never cozy up and escape with a good book—they would be forever distracted by their email on their tablets.

But working as an intern at TSUP, I had more exposure to them. TSUP produces and distributes their e-books to various vendors (Amazon, Barnes & Noble’s, iTunes, etc), and their profits have benefited from the new-found market. I worked with assigning styles to manuscripts to be turned into e-books and witnessed the intensive preparation a manuscript undergoes in the transformation to an e-book. It garnered my respect, and I began to reconsider e-books.

I found that e-reader monitors had changed and bright screens no longer strain my eyes. New advances in technology allow them to resemble paper and are easier to read under sunlight. And while I thought that the price of e-readers and tablets weren’t reasonable comparative to real books, their prices have fallen and e-books are generally cheaper than their hardback or paperback versions. With online marketplaces, it is also convenient and simple to buy books.

But my most important discovery was that e-books are revolutionizing the industry of publishing. Because of the appeal of e-readers and tablets, readers are enticed to read and buy more books—as books have become easier to transport and acquire. While hardbacks and paperbacks are still the huge majority of sales for publishers, e-books provide additional revenue and are boosting the industry. They’re also a foolproof use of resources. Publishers don’t have to worry about overprinting electronic copies of their books.

In addition to publishers making more money, authors find it easier to self-publish and make some money too. It is relatively easy for an author to self-publish electronically. While they certainly won’t hit the New York Times Bestseller List with self-publishing alone, they can still make money for low production costs. Readers can connect with these authors and quickly get the next book in a series. Most significantly, the author can retain their independence and promote the spirit of writing without relying on big publishing houses to do so.

E-books, I have realized, aren’t a replacement for a book in hand—they are a supplement. It isn’t the medium of storytelling that is important. It is that we are still communicating stories. While I thought the newfangled technology was threatening my traditional paper-turning ways, I have reconsidered. E-books are another avenue for publishers, authors, and readers. For storytelling, they are promising for the future.

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The Lure of Missouri Noodling

by Cody Anthony

Noodling has been gaining much media interest in recent years as a curious tradition of rural Southern United States. The sport, which consists of men and women plunging barehanded into submerged river holes to pull out catfish, has been featured on popular TV programs such as Discovery Channel’s Dirty Jobs, History Channel’s Mudcats, and in its own Animal Planet series named Hillbilly Handfishin’. Noodling is fascinating for its high stakes as an extreme sport; not only must the participant battle strong currents and hidden dangers below the water, but in states like Missouri one must also do this as an outlaw because noodling is banned for its unknown effects on catfish populations.

So who are the noodlers exactly?

Mary Grigsby, an intrigued University of Missouri researcher of rural sociology, explores this question in her book Noodlers in Missouri: Fishing for Identity in a Rural Subculture. Grisby interviewed 20 men and 10 women noodlers in order to hear what the activity means to them.

In an interview with The Maneater, Grigsby said she started with the questions, “Why had people persisted in doing this from 1919 to 2005 when it was illegal? Why do they keep going in a river, going under water, using their hand as a lure to get chomped and bleed? What would make someone really want to do this, even though it is illegal? I think my book answered that.”

The penalty for noodling in Missouri is no small sum either. A noodler who was active in Noodlers Anonymous told Grigsby about the legal issues noodlers must face. “If you’ve never been caught before you can’t understand the feeling that I have when I go because I was caught in ’91 by the conservation agent. Cost me $500 and the maximum is 1,030 days in jail. If I get caught again that’s where I’m going, probably to jail. Whoever gets caught with me is going to face the same penalties and I don’t want to be responsible for that” (90).

With the threat of legal action constant, noodlers are motivated by more than just the fish they catch. Grigsby found in her research that the noodling subculture is quite different than the images portrayed by the generalized culture in popular media. “For people involved in noodling, the activity transcends the realm of sport. The intimacy with members of the group, the immersion into the natural environment, and the ‘primitive’ closeness that noodlers experience with their prey are parts of a web of cultural meanings and values that illuminates what noodling means in the noodling subculture and why it has persisted despite its illegality” (8).

Most noodlers see noodling as an important opportunity to spend time with families and to teach their children important cultural values such as teamwork, trust, respect for the environment, and overcoming difficult adversity in daily life. Grigsby said the noodling tradition is part of a cultural identity that defines noodlers as a unique group of hardworking, rural people and establishes their worthiness in the face of a dominant culture that grants higher worth to middle class suburban and urban values.

For these reasons, Noodlers Anonymous continues to lobby for legalization of noodling in Missouri. Primarily through their efforts, noodling was legalized in 2005 as part of a 5-year experimental study, but was halted in 2007 after the Missouri Department of Conservation stated that the catfish population was under duress. Of the 646 tagged catfish caught that season, only one had been captured by noodling.

“They’re all about the money” Connie, an avid noodler, told Grigsby. “And they can’t make money off a hand-fisherman because there’s nothing that a hand-fisherman needs but a rope. That’s it” (84).

There is no evidence that noodling will become legalized in Missouri again in the near future. But for devout noodlers these obstacles have not dampened their spirits. “It’s like I told the UPS man the other day, it’s the challenge,” Howard Ramsey told The New York Times. “Anybody can throw a trout line in the river and hang a perch on it. But very few people are going get in the river, and wade around and look for a hole in the bank, stick your hand in there, and hope it’s a catfish.”

As long as challenges persist, noodlers don’t see noodling dying out anytime soon.

 

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Preserving a Native Language

by Ashley Butner

Within the span of the next fourteen days, one language will die. If this rate continues, then by the year 2100, nearly half of the world’s seven thousand languages will disappear (Rymer 60).

With every language forgotten our culture sphere shrinks. And in an increasingly homogenized world, what we risk losing is far greater than words. We relinquish songs, delineations of seasons, myths, terms of endearment, names for animals (and on and on) into a black hole of terminal silence. What hangs in the balance are priceless facets of living heritage that not only endow native speakers to name their own part in existence, but enrich the global community as well. For with each language removed from our comprehensive lexicon, we forfeit a unique and essential square in the quilt of human experience. When mother tongues become homeless we sacrifice diverse worldviews.

Ahtna, a group of people surrounded by the Chugach, St. Elias, and Wrangell Mountains, amidst the valleys of the Copper River in southeast Alaska, is one such perspective. The place Ahtna calls home—much like the language itself—is remote and enduringly beautiful. As one of less than twenty remaining speakers of this Athabaskan Indian language, Dr. John Smelcer’s bilingual book, Beautiful Words / Kasuundze’ Kenaege’: The Complete Ahtna Poems, is a linguistic and creative landmark. To understand why, we must first examine Ahtna’s (relatively brief) history as a written language. In the poet’s own words:

“The first Ahtna word ever written down was ‘naa-taakie,’ most certainly nadaexi, the Ahtna word for snow. That was in 1787. A few others were written down by Russian explorers over the next few years and decades. But, largely, our language remained hidden from the Western world. Little by little, word by word, over two hundred years, our language was partially documented by Russian, French, German, and American explorers, miners, missionaries, and, eventually, by trained linguists. Serious work didn’t really begin until the 1970s.”

As the past so often begs for serious and immediate responsibility, “The Poet / C’etsesen” (4–5) brings us up to speed with Smelcer’s present role.

I am beginning to write in our language,
but it is difficult.

Only elders speak our words,
and they are forgetting.

There are not many words anyhow.

Dahwdezeldiin’ koht’aene kenaege’
ukesdezt’aet.

Yaane’ koht’aene yaen’,
nekenaege’ nadahdelna.

While most of Ahtna is documented now—including James Kari’s impressive list of place names—Smelcer comments on the comparative scarcity of his language to other major languages such as English, Spanish, or Chinese:

“When a high school or college student buys a popular English dictionary, the cover will often boast, ‘Includes over 30,000 words!’ Indeed, the English language contains many times that number. In contrast, the entire Ahtna lexicon contains a fraction of the entries in one of those cheap paperback versions; I’d go so far as to say less than ten percent, which makes translating from Ahtna into English very difficult. For me, I have to think of a poem in Ahtna first, because the lexicon is so restrictive. Imagine colors, for instance; Ahtna really only counts a handful of basic and primary colors. Even then, brown and green are confused, almost as if Ahtna didn’t really see much of a difference between the two. Words fundamental to any poet worth their salt, such as love, does not exist in Ahtna, yet, quite understandably, we have numerous words for the various conditions of snowfall or, say, for the names of the parts of a snowshoe or a dogsled.”

While the lexicon is sparse in many areas, the ones in which it is abundant deserve to be remembered, to be written and passed down. Until these bits of culture are lastingly sewn into the fabric of our consciousness, then generations lose access to their own unique context and position in the world. For it is these special points of emphasis that customize cultural and geographic experience, and in doing so, add color and distinct patterns to our greater quilt. As Ahtna is rooted to its own landscape, the poems that emerge from it are tinged both with mourning and joy “A salmon weeps in a fish trap / Luk’ae tsagh yii tiz’aani (19); The earth laughs in flowers / Nen’ dlok’ tah c’et’aan ‘unetniigi (31).”

In this collection, Smelcer has pieced together a map of Ahtna culture and history that is a signpost to the present as well as the past. By interspersing poems about current problems such as “A Polar Bear Tries to Adapt (to Global Warming) / Tsaane’ Ggay Dzes Cu’ts’endze’” (22) and “Soda Pop Song / Tuu Nelnesi C’eliis” (67) between works about trickster and creator Raven, Owl, Fox, and Mouse, Smelcer emphasizes that cultural pride and rejuvenation are the first step toward progress. What is lost in translation is everything.

“Aside from my own writing, no other literature has ever been produced in the Ahtna language,” Smelcer said. “There are no models. No teachers. So, when asked to provide specific passages that were difficult to translate, my reply is that every line of bilingual poetry I write is difficult. And sometimes, I simply discard a poem after realizing it simply can’t be translated effectively.”

In this way, the poem, “The Indian Prophet / Uni’di C’ilaenen” (3) expresses the grave and undeniably lonely position of the speaker of an endangered language, “Almost no one remembers. / I am sick and lonely / and weak from crying. / K’aagu kenaege’ niic kole. / Ts’iye ‘est’aat ‘el sneyaa / ‘el stiye’ kole tsagh. But, as if in acknowledgment of his own contribution, “The Poet / C’etsesen (4–5) reminds us that there is hope, too, “I do not speak like an Ahtna elder, / but I hear the voice of a spirit, / hear it at a distance / speaking quietly to me. / Sii ‘e koht’aene k’e kenaes, / Sii ndahwdel’en, / dandiil‘en / s’dayn’tnel’en.

When a language disappears from our collective lexicon, so do the idiosyncrasies of our world. The opportunity for linguistic variety both authenticates and elevates our ability to render our own universe. And without this opportunity we will find that at times, silence can be deafeningly louder than words.

John Smelcer reading “Heart”:

[jwplayer config=”myplayer” file=”http://media.truman.edu/media/trutube/1612.mp3″ height=”24″]

NOTE: Because of font limitations, some special characters may not display properly in this work.

Works Cited

Smelcer, John. Beautiful Words / Kasuundze’ Kenaege’: The Complete Ahtna Poems. Kirksville, MO: Truman State University Press, 2011. Print.

Rymer, Russ. “Vanishing Voices.” National Geographic July 2012: 60-93. Print.

 

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The Dibbuk Box: Jason Haxton on Writing His Story

by Jeff Denight

Jason Haxton writes in his journal daily, and has for the last twenty-two years, yet he has never considered himself a writer. Even now, after the publication of his book, The Dibbuk Box, a wild and fantastic telling of his real-life experiences with a haunted Jewish wine cabinet, Haxton doesn’t regularly think of himself as an author. This may seem strange that someone who is a member of the Author’s Guild and has a major motion picture based on his book wouldn’t consider himself an author. Yet, Haxton’s experiences with writing are collaborative, and he attributes his success to not only himself, but to everyone who helped him along the way.

When Haxton first had the idea for his book, he had no intention of writing it himself. He felt that if he provided the story and the material, then someone else might do a better job. After contracting with Truman State University Press to publish his story, Haxton originally took his idea to a writer recommended by the Press. But when this author began experiencing the strange effects of the box, he backed out.

Next, Haxton took his idea to Giles Fowler, author of Deaths on Pleasant Street, published by TSUP. Though Fowler was excited about the new project, he was unwilling to write it for Haxton.

“Giles agreed to edit my book,” Haxton said. “I wouldn’t have considered myself a writer then—I just have these journals—so when I sent in my first fifteen pages, I got three of them back. They were just bleeding with red ink.”

It was clear to both Fowler and Haxton that their system could be a bit more efficient. Haxton began sending a few pages at a time to Fowler, and this began a constant flow of new pages to Fowler, edits back to Haxton, revisions back to Fowler; each writer working in collaboration to craft a better book. Fowler was so dedicated to the book that he continued to edit it until they finished, which ended up being a few months later than he agreed to.

“The writing process took about nine months,” Haxton said. “Though Giles originally agreed to help for seven, he stayed on the project until we were finished.”

Haxton said he’s glad that he decided to work with Fowler in the way he did, instead of continuing his search for an author for his book. For the book, Haxton kept it true to life, and he said if someone else were to have written it, “It would have still been my story, but it wouldn’t have been my story. It would have become their interpretation of the story.”

With Fowler’s help, Haxton was able to keep a personal connection attached to the book, the reason he believes the book has been such a success. “They’re all true events. I can go back to any one of those days and look up what happened, because they’re all in my journal. I guess the pure honesty of my thoughts, what I experienced and what I was feeling came from my nightly journal entries—never knowing what the next day would bring with this item—truly comes through in the story. I guess that is why people like it—it is honest and occurring as you read it. Writing the book from my journals allowed me to keep from spoiling the mystery.”

The Dibbuk Box doesn’t rely solely on his own journals or experiences; it is riddled with stories and testimonies from previous owners, various folk who encountered the box, and a few anonymous persons whose only contact with the box was through a photo of it. Furthermore, people who play a role in Haxton’s Dibbuk Box story seemed naturally drawn to help Haxton in his efforts to understand and cleanse the box of its demonic evil. Even before the book was written, the story of the Dibbuk Box had a way of bringing people to work together, and that didn’t stop with just helpful strangers on the Internet.

In October 2004, a lawyer representing Sam Raimi, director and producer of such films as the Spiderman trilogy, approached Haxton. Raimi heard about Haxton and the Dibbuk Box through a Los Angeles Times article, as well as through Haxton’s own website. Raimi wanted rights to make a filmed version.

Though Haxton didn’t mind the idea of the story being retold, he said, “I originally told them ‘No.’ It didn’t matter to me who he was. I didn’t care. I was just starting my book, my kids were still young, and, most importantly, I was happy. I didn’t want anything to get in the way of that.”

But eventually a contract was drawn up that allowed Haxton to keep rights to a book, documentaries, replica boxes and a few other elements. A movie based on the box, The Possession, will be released August 31.

Just like with Haxton’s book, there was no shortage of people working on the film’s script. Haxton said there have been three scripts drafted for the film. Stephen Susco (The Grudge, The Grudge 2) penned the first of the scripts; his was loosely based on Haxton’s personal experiences, with the protagonist being a museum director who has recently taken possession of a haunted Jewish box.

Susco’s script was polished and finished, but then bad news came. While at a party, Susco ran into his friend and fellow screenwriter, E. L. Katz (Autopsy), who was elated about a new job that he had just received. The job? Katz signed on to write the script for a dibbuk box movie; the very movie that Susco had just finished writing. Katz’s script told the story of a college student who bought the box from an auction on the Internet; a close similarity to the owner previous to Haxton.

Once Katz’s script was completed, he received bad news as well; his script had been passed over, and this time Juliet Snowden (Knowing, Boogeyman) was to write the coveted screenplay. This version of the script is the final version, with the story vaguely following Kevin Mannis’ story, the original owner of the box.

Haxton hypothesizes that these first two drafts of the script aren’t just going to be thrown away. “It’s not like they were bad scripts. They were good. They just weren’t where the story begins.”

Haxton’s guess is that Raimi had the full story written in a backwards order, starting with Haxton’s experiences and leading all the way back to Mannis’. This way, Raimi could produce sequels to The Possession quickly, without sacrificing story quality.

“Raimi is a master of horror. He took control of the American horror genre with The Evil Dead trilogy; Japanese horror with The Grudge,” Haxton said, “and there’s no way he’s going to give up on Jewish horror.”

Many of those who worked on the film wanted to keep close to Haxton’s story, often asking him for advice or to draw inspiration from his stories. Though Haxton has written to all of the screenwriters, he still has regular contact with Susco. “Susco has kept up a friendship,” he said. “Mostly by his contacting me about the movie, my book, articles in magazines. And he has expressed a desire to do more work, if possible.”

Haxton’s contribution to the films didn’t stop there. In order to draw inspiration for the box, Raimi’s assistant asked Haxton to acquire an exact replica of the box.

“They were too afraid of having the actual box,” Haxton said. “Nobody wanted to house it.”

The box in the film, while not the exact replica, does draw upon the wine cabinet’s unique hinges, its odd appliques and Jewish inscriptions. When I asked why they decided to go with a chest instead of the replica, Haxton responded, “It was for practical purposes. [Natasha Calis, who plays the box’s first buyer in the film] needed to be able to carry it, but the replica was too large.”

Because the filmmakers worked so closely with Haxton throughout the process, taking his experience for inspiration, Haxton thinks the film complements his book, rather than detracting from it.

“I believe from what I have seen so far,” Haxton said. “That the movie truly complements the suspense I tried to keep in the book of not being too sure what might come next, and also that element of help coming when it is unexpected from unexpected sources.”

It seems that in the past few years, everyone wants to have a hand in telling the tale of the Dibbuk Box. Beside the book and the movie, there are several other groups telling the tale of this demonic box. One of which is SyFy Channel’s popular docudrama series, Paranormal Witness, which will air an episode on August 29 titled “Dybbuk Box” about Haxton’s story. Haxton said they were very excited to work on that episode, and that it could be one of the most-watched episodes of the season.

“SyFy really wanted this story because it was already vetted. With most ghost stories, you get people who have no real proof other than their statement. ‘Oh! I saw a ghost!’” (At which point in the interview, I admit, I thought Haxton had actually seen a ghost in our meeting room. But then he continued.) “They have to do research into these stories to make sure it’s true. Mine was already vetted. I have eight years of journals, a published book, and lots of contactable references. Their work is already done for them.”

Besides The Possession and the SyFy program, the story of the Dibbuk Box continues to be told again and again. Haxton spoke about the box and his book on multiple podcasts, an episode of The History Channel’s Fear Files based on his story, and in a six-page spread in Entertainment Weekly on August 3. It seems that this story has a natural draw to people that sparks their imagination, and they want to be a part of it. Haxton think this is because “People have always loved stories like this. We have Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster… what else? Chupacabra, that’s the newest one. But it’s really been a while since we’ve had a true story create a legend like this.”

In order to tell this intriguing story completely, Haxton understood the need to include as many voices as possible. Haxton said that he couldn’t have told his story without the participation and help from all who have been involved; that it’s great when “everybody comes together, when you help each other. Collaboration is the only way to get a great finished product. If you’re nice to people, and give what you can (especially if it doesn’t cost you anything), then you’ll only foster good relationships.”

With all the excitement stirring around the story of the wine cabinet, could there be repercussions with tempting the haunted box? The film crew has already felt the effects of the Dibbuk Box. Haxton said that a few days after The Possession finished filming, their entire props warehouse spontaneously burned to the ground. If the dibbuk did actually cause this incident, what will happen when this film is released to the wider audience? In The Dibbuk Box, the box affected people after they saw only a picture of it. This is a major motion picture telling the story for entertainment; could the malicious effects be intensified?

I asked Haxton what he thought about this possibility. He said, “I believe people will feel a connection and have issues—they always do—but so far nobody has died, just felt horrible bad luck. So, I am not too worried.”

Then he joked, “Then again, there is that Mayan ‘December 2012: End of the World’ scenario—maybe it can give that ball a kick start.”

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Mona Lisa Saloy discusses poetry as a journey

Three T. S. Eliot Prize poets will visit Truman March 29 to promote poetry and highlight their prize-winning books published by Truman State University Press, now celebrating 25 years of publishing.

Rhina Espaillat, Mona Lisa Saloy and Dean Rader will be on the Truman campus as guest lecturers in several creative writing classes. They will all take part in a discussion panel at 1:30 p.m. in the Student Union Building Alumni Room to talk about the craft of poetry and getting started in publishing. The poets will read from their prize-winning books at 7 p.m. in the Student Union Building Down Under where books will be available to purchase. The public is welcome at these events.

The T. S. Eliot Prize, sponsored by the University Press, was first established in 1997 and receives national recognition for the quality of work published. Each year the Press receives about 500 manuscripts for the competition and a well-known poet selects a final winning manuscript. The author wins $2,000 and publication.

In preparation for the event, we invited each author to tell us about their interest and career in poetry.

Saloy, author of the 2005 prize for “Red Beans & Ricely Yours,” has had her prose and poetry published in many anthologies and magazines. Her folklore research and writing focuses on the culture of New Orleans before and after Hurricane Katrina. She teaches at Dillard University.

For more information, visit Saloy’s website: http://www.monalisasaloy.com/

How did you decide to become a poet?

Actually, I didn’t, poetry picked me. Initially, I wanted to be the first black girl to win Gold swimming at the Olympics; but it was the end of Jim Crow. Rather than integrate the local pools, city pools were closed. Then, I wanted to be a designer of clothes, but I really did not draw very well, but I could sew; I sewed my way through my first two degrees for sure, sewed for some in the NBA, some on the Globe Trotters, mostly men’s custom casual clothes, and men tipped well. It was a way to continue my studies on my own schedule, hiring myself out to shops. I took a class here and there between work, really directionless and still swimming, where I met my husband and married too young.

Six months into the marriage, we had a car accident that left me with a broken pelvis (so no kids), a hole in my lung, a concussion, and no memory. I wrote to remember, was flat on my back for a year, then attended poetry readings at the little café next door to student housing (when we married, my husband was a full-time student, and I worked full-time). It was there I heard Black literature, the works of Langston Hughes, Sonia Sanchez, Alice Walker, Don L. Lee, Amiri Baraka from the student poets; and since I was there often just listening, but friendly, they inquired about me.  I told them the stories I remembered about New Orleans, and they told me I “sounded like a writer.” At the time, I didn’t know what that meant. They urged me to meet their teacher, a professor at the University of Washington, Colleen McElroy.

I made the appointment, went to her office still on a cane with my little notebook of scribbled memories, no clue what I was doing. She listened, looked at me, and said “You might have something here; let me show you what you might do.” That began a life-long mentorship. It was Colleen, emeritus from the UW to opened me to the life of literature and writing, who gave me my writing life. Then I studied poetry with Nelson Bently there, and fiction with Charles Johnson (Faith & the Good Thing—still a favorite of mine, & Middle Passage); composition with William Irmsher & others who helped shape me. Under the guidance of Colleen McElroy, I participated in the United Black Artists Guild, the Northwest equivalent of the Umbra workshops of New York, or Congo Square Writers Workshops in New Orleans.

How did you first get published?

Working intensely with Colleen, college coursework, and the workshops of the United Black Artists Guild, the UBAG published a journal called Dark Waters, edited by Charles Johnson; my first writing appeared there. Then, I placed in a Northwest writing contest, second or third; I don’t remember now. Later, I was selected for the poets-in-the-schools pilot program in the Northwest, and interned at the University of Washington Press, where I learned everything from editing to indexing and layout.  I was hooked by the writing life.

What has it meant for you and your career to win the T. S. Eliot Prize?

The T. S. Eliot Prize was such an honor and a game changer. Its prestige is well-known, so my first book rose from the pile of annual first publications. Then my book appeared in October, a few months after post-Katrina flooding closed New Orleans down and forever changed half a million lives forever; no one was home, so it was some time before returning to “market” my work there.  The T. S. Eliot Prize moniker allows me a continual one-up in marketing still, so I’m extremely thankful to have been selected.

Which poets or authors do you often read? Why do you enjoy reading them?

In poetry: Niyi Osundare, his metaphors are extraordinary; Muriel Rukeyser’s craft always teaches me something; Sonia Sanchez, Ntozake Shange, & Carolyn M. Rodgers marry craft to my culture and are daring!  In non-fiction: W.E.B. DuBois, before whose mind I bow; Manning Marrable, the true BuBois of my time.  In Folklore, I’m all over the place but always Hurston. In Fiction, I’m reading Alice Dunbar Nelson and rereading Chesnutt.

What advice would you have for students wishing to pursue writing as a career?

As Ernest Gaines preaches:  read read read, write write write, and always study craft while doing those.

In Red Beans and Ricely Yours, the themes of life and death seem not to be written as opposites, but as somehow co-dependent of each other. Can you talk a little about the relationship between the living and the dead in your poems and how this reflects New Orleans culture?

Being born and raised in New Orleans, I remember early criticisms of the city: “the people are too parochial; they never leave their neighborhoods.”  How right they were because it is that consistency in families who produce the culture. As a result, we live multi-generationally, old and young with all in-between together.  We see the best and worst, how to celebrate life and mourn those passing who are forever with us in memory.  Yes, life and death, living well and sending our loved ones home to heaven in death are integral to our lives here.

The southern women depicted in Red Beans and Ricely Yours are strong, full of life, and support each other like family, sisters. Growing up, were there specific female role models who inspired the women in your poetry?  

Of course my mother, who sewed tropical seersucker suits and costumes for Mardi Gras, my aunts who did the same; my dear sister and elder female cousins who possess so much heart and style; then my dear neighbors who are extended family, who set the bar of living, being, and becoming so high. They are all a constant inspiration; they are all a blessing in my life.