Where The Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens was a poignant coming of age novel that centers around Kya, a young girl who lives in the swamps of North Carolina. This story follows her as she grows up in the swamps, isolated from the community and known as the Swamp Girl. At the beginning, we know that a young man, Chase Andrews has been killed, and a lot of the townsfolk think that Kya had something to do with it. As the story progresses we see Kya grow up and learn more about the world around her.
Going into this book, I wasn’t really sure of what to expect. I knew that it was popular. This is a coming of age story because, the main character Kya grows up and changes. One of the most striking features of this novel is the fact that the description of the nature is so vivid. It feels like we’re in the swamp with her as she is observing the wildlife around her. This book was written by someone who was a biologist and it really shows as we see the deep descriptions of the animals and wildlife in this novel. It is beautiful and at times I felt like I was in that swamp catching fireflies at dusk.
The poignancy comes into play when we see Kya grow up as one by one each of her family members leaves. She does have a few friends, such as Jumpin’ and his wife Mabel, and Tate whom was a friend of her older brother and she forms a close bond with him as the story progresses. The majority of the story is told in two different timelines; the one where we see Kya grow up and the the one in which the sheriff is investigating the death of Chase Andrews. Many of the town residents believe that it was Kya who killed Chase. This story is set in a small town in North Carolina, and Owens does a fantastic job at portraying that. I saw that with both the dialogue and colorful description of the town. Everyone knows one another. Everyone seems to have some sort of reputation, and everyone thinks that Kya “The Swamp Girl” had something to do with Chases death.
Owens does a fantastic job at portraying a story of isolation and discrimination as we see Kya grow up as an outsider in this community. I empathized with this character who closed herself off from the rest of the world due to the treatment that she receives. We see Kya grow into her own as she experiences love, loss, and pain. She overcomes obstacles that make her more resilient as a result. Kya just wants to love in her swamp and study the nature that she lives in, but she gets thrown in situations causing more hardships along the way.
Overall, this is a character driven novel that follows a girl who is an outcast in her community, who finds solace in the environment that she lives in, as she grows up and becomes tangled up in the murder of Chase Andrews. We see through her eyes, her experiences and why she thinks the way she does, living a reclusive life and trusting only a handful of people. Where The Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens portrays a poignant tale of love, loss, abuse, isolation, friendship, and overcoming challenging obstacles.
On October 16th, Cheryl Savageau who is of Abenaki descent came to UMF and read us a few of her poems from her books. The event was kicked off by UMF’s new president Edward Serna, who recognized Indigenous People’s Day. Afterwards Cheryl Savageau came on stage and began her reading. Her poems not only her heritage, but also her upbringing, and a lot of it was about nature and her family.
One thing that I noticed from her poems was that she wasn’t afraid talk about her heritage, growing up of Abenaki descent. One of her poems was a detailed account about how one her her college professors told her to stop writing about natives because it made people feel guilty. Another poem, “Looking for Indians” was a poem about her childhood, learning about her Abenaki heritage from her father.
Another thing that I noticed about this poem, was that Savageau did a phenomenal job at providing us a detailed description of these mundane activities that she did with her parents as a child, such as fishing, and gardening, things that can make anyone reminisce about our childhood and think about the fun activities that we did as children with our parents that created some of our best childhood memories. I also enjoyed how towards the end of the poem we get a detailed account of her father telling her about the Abenaki tribes and how they “roamed the thick new england forest/ they hunted deer in winter/ sometimes moose, but mostly/ they were farmers and fishermen”. I felt like this excerpt gave me a clear picture on the Abenaki people.
I also enjoyed the poems about when she was in high school. She told us that she was in a band. This poem was about her experience as a high schooler playing in a pub as someone who is underaged. Another poem she read was a list of reasons why her family members drink. This was originally written when she was a child because she was curious as to why her family members drank alcohol. It was a comical and overall enjoyable poem as she listed her family members reasons, some of which included: being married to someone, being in college, and just wanting to see the bottom of the can. She also mentioned how the Abenaki believe that they come from trees, which I thought was fascinating learning about this culture.
Cheryl Savageau has three books of poetry, Dirt Road Home, Home Country and Mother/Land, and in 2020 she will be coming out with a memoir.
On Saturday, October 5th through October 6th, I had the pleasure of going to the Writers Workshop with Sigma Tau Delta at Camp Kirkold in Readfield, Maine. We left UMF at around 3:00pm on Saturday. When we arrived we got to pick out cabins and help collect firewood. after we collected the firewood, we made our way down to the lake, where there were two benches. A bunch of us, including myself took pictures of the lake, really capturing the beauty of Maine. We sat down on the ground or on one of the benches and did our first writing exercise. For this writing exercise, we had to write about an object near us and describe it in immense detail. Describe how it looks, the texture, what’s around it. Pretend as though this object was the most important thing in our life. We had about fifteen minutes to write about this. When we were done, we continued to walk down the trail where we saw a chimney with nothing else around it. It looked like something out of a horror movie. It really set the mood for spooky season.
Eventually we made it to our next stop for our second writing exercise. For this exercise we had to remain completely silent and write about every sound we hear. After that we made our way to our third and final stop to where there were a few picnic tables and for this exercise we had to write a poem backwards, that had to be twenty lines and we had to use words from a list that was provided. This resulted in an interesting poem to say the least that involved talking coyotes and nosy cicadas.
By the time that we were finished with our writing exercise, Tegan met us at the picnic tables and said that our dinner would be ready soon. We made our way over back to the campsite and gathered around the campfire as the sun began to set. We cooked rice and beans. Having it after a long day of hiking made the food all the more delicious.
After we all finished our meals we roasted marshmallows and made s’mores . Afterwards we huddled around the fire to keep ourselves warm in this Autumn weather. The next morning we all woke up fairly early. Three of members of our group had to leave because they were not feeling too good, but our remaining group went down to the dining hall where Tegan made us pancakes. Afterwards we did our next writing exercise, which was a scavenger hunt. For this we we given a clue to a hidden writing prompt that would be somewhere around the area. Each prompt had something to do with character creation. For instance, for our first prompt we had to list the physical attributes of our character. For another prompt we had to write a monologue that gave a bit of a backstory to our character. By the end of this exercise, we knew our characters backstory, motivations, fears, flaws, and weaknesses. This is the type of exercise that I would recommend to anyone who really wants to get to know their characters. With each writing exercise, all of our characters became more developed and human. I found myself getting invested in these characters and their stories. We concluded our camping trip after the eighth and final prompt, which was to write about an event that would change our characters nature. These prompts were thought provoking and made me more conscious of the importance of knowing your characters when you are creating a story. This writing retreat was an excellent way to practice writing and experience the great outdoors of Maine.
Tonight at 7:30pm in The Landing, poets Jessica Jacobs and Nickole Brown will be reading for us. Nickole Brown is the author of Sister: A Novel in Poems, published in 2007. Her second book Fanny Says won the Weatherford Award for Appalachian Poetry in 2015. She has a chapbook called To Those Who Were Her First Gods that won the 2018 Rattle Chapbook Prize. She is currently the Editor for the Marie Alexander Poetry Series and teaches at the Sewanee School of Letters MFA program and the Great Smokies Writing Program at UNCA. She lives with her wife Jessica Jacobs in Asheville, North Carolina.
Jessica Jacobs is the author of poems about love and marriage called Take Me With You, Wherever You’re Going and Pelvis With a Distance that is a biography of poems about Georgia O’Keeffe that was the winner of The New Mexico Book Award and the finalist for The Lambda Literary Award. She has also worked as a bartender, rock climbing instructor, and professor. She now serves as Chapbook Editor for Beloit Poetry Journal. She lives with her wife Nickole Brown in Asheville, North Carolina.
Jessica Jacobs Interview
How would you describe your poetry? My most recent book, Take Me with You, Wherever You’re Going, is a collection of love poems written during the early years of my marriage, exploring what it means to share your life with another person—such as learning to balance moments of great joy with all the compromise and self-assessment such a relationship requires.
What inspires you to write? I’m most often driven to the page by either an image or a question. The former is often something I notice while out on a run or bike ride that I don’t want to forget, some strange sight or surprising sensation, while the latter is often more long-lasting, more reflective of some enduring obsession.
Are you working on any projects right now? If so, what? Well, some of those questions/obsessions that currently have me in their grip are the big ones: Why are we here? What does it mean to live a good life? Is there a concept of God that makes sense to me? So, I’ve begun delving into Midrash, which is a collection of rabbinic writings about the Torah, which is allowing me to think alongside sages from many centuries. From these studies, I’m writing poems and essays that draw on these texts, trying to capture the contemporary relevance I’ve found in these ancient texts.
Your poem A Question to Ask When the Honeymoon is Over was featured on Screen Door Review. What is the origin and meaning of this poem? This was a poem that grew from a moment in which the person I was fell far short of the person I wanted to be. It’s a poem of deep vulnerability and guilt, but also one in which I want to hold myself accountable, hoping to chart a path toward right action in the world.
Who are some of your favorite writers? Why? I love writers who bring the news, by which I mean: they give the world I thought I understood back to me in a new way. In poetry, Laure-Anne Bosselaar teaches me resilience and the crafting lines with beautiful music; Matthew Olzmann, humor and abiding curiosity; Patricia Smith, how to look unflinchingly at violence and deep sorrow and write about it with honesty and style. In fiction, I think everyone should read Richard Powers’ The Overstory, one of the most moving—and hopeful—books I’ve read about our need to engage with and fight for the natural world.
Nickole Brown Interview
When did you realize you wanted to be a poet? The first sparks for this mad little fire started when I was fifteen, back when I was young enough to fearlessly (well, recklessly) scale a rickety fire escape downtown with a few like-minded pals to recite Rilke to a gathering of curious and cranky crows that perched up there. That was the summer of my sophomore year in high school, back when I was lucky enough to participate in the Governor’s School for the Arts, a program funded by some higher angels in the state of Kentucky who, with their gift of just a few weeks worth of poetry, changed the entire trajectory of my life. You see, books weren’t exactly a thing in my house as a kid, and being a writer was never an option I could have considered otherwise. I was raised up on the literary equivalent of grease and plastic—if you don’t count the King James, there wasn’t anything to read in the house but Cosmo or maybe a potato chip bag or two. At that tender time in my life, the exposure to poetry (nevertheless the idea that I had a voice and could learn to use it) was a revelation. I’ve held fast ever since, pushing through decades of odd jobs and failed drafts and rejections to land myself where I am today, more than a bit weary but ridiculously grateful that my compass was set at such an early age.
How would you describe your poetry? Narrative, mostly. And a touch irreverent, cut as it is from the cloth of my maternal grandmother, a woman who helped raise me and could tell a story a mile long and just as deep, peppered with an occasional f-bomb and always ripened with select details. From her, I learned just how story can define a person, how the right story can show a person who they are when they forget, and sometimes, how it can change the way we’re able to carry the heaviest facts of our lives. For me, this means that poetry fits together the most jagged edges of my most broken times. By this I don’t mean to say that with my writing I make sense of things that have happened, but it does help, making what could be impossible tragedies into something possible to swallow. In my poems you’ll also see traces of the mud from which I sprung, that working-class Kentucky I once fought so hard to escape, that thistled nest of home to which I always return. The dialect of that place is in my poems, too, as are those fierce bonds of family and origin that make me who I am, both for bad and good. As such, you’ll likely find in my writing one-too-many mentions of my mama, and forgive me if I’ve got my ear cocked to the katydids and cicadas up in the trees. I wait all summer until they start singing in June, and their humid song is the base-note and through-line of most all my signing.
3. What advice do you have for new writers?
This depends entirely on the writer, really, which is one reason why I always begin and end every creative writing course I’ve ever taught with one-on-one conferences. Writing is one of the most intimate acts of creative art there is, and while revision requires a firm grip on craft, it’s often soul work, requiring a degree of courage and vulnerability that no one piece of advice administered to a whole group could approach. I suppose if I had to think of any answer to this question, it might have something to do with my definition of a writer, and that is a person who holds steadfast to this world with a deep, muscular awareness, using all their senses to pay attention to what’s around them. If you’re a writer, you’re a noticer, someone who doesn’t turn away and who works hard never to turn experience into abstractions and generalizations. So, my advice then? Pay attention, even when it’s most difficult and it might be easier to turn away. Pay attention, even when you’re bored and think there’s nothing to see. Listen to what your skin and tongue and ears can perceive; use your eyes to look until you un-see whatever it is you’re looking at, then look harder. Put down your phone and be exactly where you are.
4. What projects are you currently working on? Since 2017, when I moved with my wife to Asheville, North Carolina, I’ve given myself over to something I’ve always wanted to do—to study and work with animals. As such, I’ve read fanatically every book of animal behavior and anthrozoology (the study of the relationship between humans and animals) I could get my hands on, and I’ve also been volunteering at several places that give animals sanctuary and shelter when it’s most needed, including a farm sanctuary called Animal Haven and a wildlife rehabilitation center called Appalachian Wild. I’ve worked hard to write some of what I’ve learned and experienced since, but I’m careful not to write the kind of pastorals that always made me (and most of the working-class folks I’ve known) feel shut out of nature and the writing about it. I yearn for poems to speak in a queer, Southern-trash-talking kind of way about nature beautiful, damaged, dangerous, and in desperate need of saving, and well, I’m trying to write them. A chapbook featuring the first nine poems called To Those Who Were Our First Gods won the 2018 Rattle Chapbook Prize, and this coming January 2020, Sibling Rivalry Press will be publishing The Donkey Elegies.
5. Out of all of your accomplishments, which one are you the most proud of? Why? Tough question. I think the students I’ve had—if I can be so greedy as to call them mine—always make me feel the most proud, especially when I see them years later, thriving and still writing. But in terms of my own poems, I think the longevity of my first book, Sister, has been a surprising source of pride in my career. When I first published that novel-in-poems with Red Hen Press in 2007, I did so with much trepidation—the deeply confessional nature of the book was a tremendous risk, and I wasn’t sure at all how readers would receive poems that dealt so frankly with childhood sexual abuse. Fast-forward a decade later: not only were these poems reviewed widely and positively, but the poems seem to be a continual resource for survivors. In 2018, Sibling Rivalry Press reissued this book with a foreword by poet Rebecca Gayle Howell and an afterward by Sue William Silverman, both of whom talked about the importance of the book in the “me too” movement, a thing that didn’t even exist when I first wrote and published those poems. I was also given the opportunity to pull together an interview of sorts published in the back of the reissue that serves as a guide particularly for those attempting to write their own way through this difficult and often devastating trauma.