Michele Zackheim: The Sing-Song Passion of Galway Kinnell

Michele Zackheim & Galway Kinnell
photos: Charles Ramsburg (Zackheim); Nancy Carrick Holbert (Kinnell)

It’s National Poetry Month, and the novelist Michele Zackheim (most recently the author of Last Train to Paris examines her love of Galway Kinnell’s “Under the Maud Moon” (first published in 1971’s The Book of Nightmares, a few years after the photo above was taken). Anita Felicelli is also a fan, calling it “the last poem I loved.” As we’ll see, for Zackheim, it’s a personally significant poem on multiple levels…

In 2003, during one of the worst blizzards in New York City history, I met the poet Galway Kinnell at the stage door at Lincoln Center. It was my job to meet the poets invited to participate in “Poems Not Fit for the White House,” an evening of poetry organized by Not in Our Name, a movement against the war in Iraq. The event was created because Laura Bush had invited the poet Sam Hamill to attend a poetry symposium on Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, and Langston Hughes at the White House. Rather than enter enemy territory, he put out a call for antiwar poems to be sent to Laura Bush in his place. Thousands of poems arrived; the White House was furious and pointedly cancelled his invitation, although Hamill had already said no. Thus the poets’ movement against the war was created—and I met Galway Kinnell.

He was 76 at the time, three years older than I am now. I was so impressed that he had trekked into the city from the snowbound wilds of Vermont. (Now, of course, I would look upon it as a minor accomplishment, because I would do the same.)

After I had introduced myself and showed him to where he would be sitting, we talked. “What poem have you chosen to read?” I asked.

“The one about my son Fergus, my second child, and getting him milk in the middle of the night.”

I remember taking hold of his tweedy arm. “Oh, please change your mind and read ‘Under the Maud Moon’!”

“My dear,” he said. “If I had known, I would have brought it with me. So sorry. Why is it that poem that you like?”

And I froze, unable to articulate my feelings. I stumbled and faltered and was saved by the bell. It was Kinnell’s turn to read.

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6 April 2014 | guest authors |

Mary Hogan: An Author Grows Up

Mary Hogan
photo: Mark Bennington

I met Mary Hogan (no relation) at a book party last summer, and we got to talking about how she had a new novel, Two Sisters, coming out in early 2014. Although she’d been writing young adult fiction for several years, this would be her first novel aimed explicitly at adult readers—well, I wondered, what does that transition feel like for a writer, in the process of writing and then again as it’s being published? Here’s what she has to say on the subject…

When I wrote my first novel, The Serious Kiss, I had no idea I was writing “teen” fiction. Query letters to agents would come back saying, “Sorry, we don’t handle Y.A.” I thought, “What the hell is YAH??” Seriously, I was clueless. In my mind, I had written a story about a 14-year-old girl who was trapped in her crazy family. Admittedly, she was a girl who—like me at 14—longed for a meaningful lip-lock. Still, there were adult themes of alcoholism and family shambles. They just happened to be viewed through a teenager’s eyes.

Indeed, I was young(er) and na├»ve then. But a quick study, too. Once I discovered I was writing in the teen genre I found out what I needed to know. Seeking the advice of a middle school librarian, I asked, “Are there rules?” Nodding emphatically, she said two words: Sex and swearing.

“If you want your books to be read in schools,” she said, “and you DO, no sex and no swearing. Remember, you’re writing for parental approval as well as teen enjoyment.” Damn! I thought, instantly. It felt so… limiting.

Not every YA author follows the “rules”. In fact, being banned from a middle school library is a badge of honor among some. But I rather liked the idea of writing teen characters who were smart and articulate. The first line of The Serious Kiss is, “My father drinks too much and my mother eats too much which pretty much explains why I am the way I am.” Look ma! No swearing!

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23 March 2014 | guest authors |

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