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Friday, February 05, 2010

Beth Ann Fennelly Rocks

With the sky spitting and threatening another snow, those who showed up for the Mid-West Poets Series reading last night at Rockhurst University were treated to the no-nonsense humor of Beth Ann Fennelly. Beth acknowledged this is her first foray into Kansas City but felt quite at home, as she was accustomed to reading to her children from a Calef Brown children’s book, Kansas City Octopus which she went on to recite to everyone’s delight.

Kansas City Octopus
is wearing fancy slacks.
Bell-bottom,
just got 'em,
fifty bucks including tax.


Red corduroy,
and boy-oh-boy,
they fit like apple-pie.
Multi-pocket snazzy trousers
custom made for octopi.


fantastic plastic stretch elastic
keeps 'em nice and tight.
Kansas City Octopus
is looking good tonight!

It seemed quite evident that Fennelly places great emphasis on the oral qualities of poetry. Her presentation was recitation as opposed to reading. Still, she was quite at ease shared a number of personal stories related to her writing. The best was about her writing a poem sort of block spaced at random on a page of little notes. This after the horror of learning her mother had sent a copy of her first book to an aunt with little post-it-notes on various poems. Then when that poem was published and her mother saw it she called to thank her for the tribute poem.

Beth read from her books, Open House, Unmentionables, Tender Hooks, and Great with Child: Letters to a Young Mother.

A few of the poems she read that I particularly recall, Souvenir, When Did You Know You Wanted To Be A Writer, Cow Tipping and my personal favorite - First Warm Day in a College Town. I like this one because she captures that feeling we get when we want to be able to hang on to something that identifies us with our youth. The poem is warm, sweet, humorous and most of all real.

When the reading was over, I chatted with Beth briefly as she signed my copy of Unmentionables. I had mentioned that Kelli Agodon had asked that if I go to “please let us how the reading was” and that I would be blogging about it, would she mind if I shot a picture for the blog. Some friends of mine, Pat and Brenda in line behind me suggested a shot of us together and Beth kindly agreed.

Looking at the inscription inside my book as I walked away,

“For Michael, with pleasure in signing this for you – pal of Kelli’s is a pal of mine – Thanks for taking her advise and coming out! Beth Ann”

The Mid-West Poets Series has a long history here in Kansas City and has hosted many top name poets. I've attended most of them over the last three or four years and this was among the most impressive to me.

After I’ve finished and reread Unmentionables a couple more times, you’ll find my review of the book here. I suspect I’ll have to add Open House to my wish list.


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