Luanne Castle’s Kin Types

When is a poem not a poem? When it’s a kin type, Kin (literally, one’s family or relations) type (a category of people or things having common characteristics). The reader doesn’t quite know what to expect when diving into Luanne Castle’s second poetry collection, Kin Types because it is immediate evident that this is not fiction, not poetry, not history nor prose. Kin Types is all of these things spun into a genre-bending volume of poems that demand to be read over and over again, for their plot and lyricism, and for their contribution to the preservation of times past for both one family and all families.

As a fan of Castles first award-winning book, Doll God, I was expecting more of the types of poems that cause one to pause, and reminisce; these poems provoke memory you didn’t even know you had. The kin in Kin Types are a bit grittier, by sheer nature of their age, more mature; these poems may be full of vignettes your gramma couldn’t bear to tell you.

From Advice From Our Forebears, which reads like a foreward at the book’s opening:

We can’t talk about it, but here’s your great-grandma’s Eastern Star ring so you will have a signal.

Coming from my own Masonic roots, the meaning and the secrecy were not lost on me.

Everybody was always dying it seems, but the text isn’t sad. It is practical. Like a detective out of Dragnet, Castle aims to tell the truth, and nothing but the truth. Seemingly without embellishment but by no means stark, many of the poems spell out plainly the hardships of life without modern conveniences. The Ill-Timed Elopement tells us plainly what happened to the couple, but underlying the facts, there is a shred of hope that, pardon the cliché, springs eternal, as it does in many of the poems.

Once and Now speaks of a hate ripped right out of current events:

“Given their immigrant circumstances, the career

 had seemed wise until now, with Huns like red

Devils leering down from propaganda posters

Jeering them with their German names,

a town friend’s Dachshund ripped from her arms,

his brains smashed on the pavement, onto

her shoes. Shoes she showed Clara, pointing,

See, see how dangerous they are in their hate!

This is a great gift book for your friend that likes history but doesn’t yet know if she likes poetry. Good for the reader dipping her toe in the area where history and creativity collide. The cover makes for a fine conversation starter, especially with the addendum found on the author’s website LuanneCastle.com. This volume will proudly sit atop your coffee table collection, and the poems will spark conversation as well as memories, depending on the reader’s age and inclinations.

This book will also likely appear on the shelves of the 23andMe and the Ancestory dot-comers, as well it should: these are not just lines about Castles family, they are bits of wisdom from generations past and passed down.

Suggested classroom reading for multiple themes, scholarly research and something-for-everyone contents: 5 stars.

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Thoughts about dusty words

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An old poem

(even if it was your favorite)

Is just that:

Old

Each day deserves a fresh new set of words

(They can be about an old beau, or your friend that bakes bread for the homeless

proofing yeast, conjugating verbs as he goes,

but they need to be

NEW WORDS)

Both change daily

Like the reading

Of the poem

Two Temp Jobs That Nearly Killed Me

keep-calm-call-kelly-servicesSome of the jobs were more temporary than others, and to this day I still till believe temping is a great way to get a job if you have the stomach for it. If you are competent and live by the old “fake it til you make it” adage, you might make a great temp, and temp-to-perm is how I found quite a few of the 25 jobs. (To qualify for this list, a  job had to have a minimum duration of least two months and/or supply me with a laminated necklace name tag).

Temporary work provides exposure to a wide variety of people, hardware, software, & human resources that might other-wise take years to gain. If you get an intolerable assignment you can get out of it pain-free if you just stick out the week. The downside is that they might only give you 37.5 hours of work a week yet require you to work 40 to get any benefits-this may have changed but that’s how it was for me.

It’s hard to continually leave places that seem to have pleasant work environments, even though you know in your heart that if you work there you will be sucked into the drama that is easily avoided when you are temporary. Every day can feel like a job interview, both a pro and a con.

An eerie beginning…

The hardest assignment was going into a building that was a bank that changed ownership over the weekend. People were calling who had just learned of the takeover on the news. We (the temp crew) didn’t even understand this until the phones started ringing. We were given a script and had to repeatedly parrot insipid responses to reasonable questions people ask when they don’t know where their money is.

The place had been totally remodeled over the weekend, new paint, new carpet, new corporate identity: walk-ins were literally crying and figuratively giving anyone in sight the finger. The formaldehyde in the carpet and the newness of everything gave me a migraine; the opportunist in me said stick this out and see what becomes of it. After two weeks, they kept the best, and I was not one of them. My downfall was listed on my pink slip as “too much empathy with the caller”. OK, there was no pink slip and I made that whole last sentence up. But that’s what it felt like. See? I am empathetic!

I spent six weeks at Continental Insurance, where I was hired to help an executive get organized. His idea was to have me go through every file in a wall of cabinets and determine what was in the file, categorize and label everything. I said should we make a database so the list is more searchable? This is where I learned database management which would come in handy later.

This particular executive was also in the middle of a “what not to wear” style make over. His management hierarchy did not think he was professional enough and they were especially grieved at the luggage he toted to work each day. This guy, a tall, good-looking blonde in always fresh suits, had a briefcase and two giant wheeled suitcases of stuff he wrestled into the office each day. The contents of these bags? The imagination runs free. I would reflect on this years later, when I would have a company laptop full of social security numbers for one of the jobs.

The job that came with a map of the building…

When they asked me at the agency if I knew unix, I had no idea what that was but I figured I had a weekend to use this new thing, the internet, to find out what I might need to know. Word processing is word processing, I was able to muddle through. This was a tough assignment,. I was filling in for a high-level secretary who was on leave because her husband had had a heart attack.

I would come in the AM and settle in to the small room that accommodated three of us. The other two were taking this absence-of boss time to have a mini-vacation at work. They talked incessantly, and my ADD made it hard to focus on the LINK Dictaphone.

There was a giant paperclip on the desk, and it would have letters for me to enter into the system each day. Some days there would be a bunch, some days there wouldn’t be much and the boredom was palatable.

I was reminded of a John Berryman poem excerpted here:

From Dream Song 14

Life, friends, is boring. We must not say so.

After all, the sky flashes, the great sea yearns,

we ourselves flash and yearn,

and moreover my mother told me as a boy

(repeatingly) ‘Ever to confess you’re bored

means you have no

Inner Resources.’ I conclude now I have no

inner resources, because I am heavy bored.

(Find entire poem here.)

On the third day a guy whipped into the room, threw some papers into the brass clip, and sped out as quickly as he had flown in, sans greeting. I looked at the other two women, the one closest to me filing her nails and the other one doing night-school homework.

Me: Who was that?

Her: (Without looking up, and with a gum-chewing scowl): That was your boss.

I loved the giant, six-story building, offices all around the perimeter, live  trees dotting the interior creating little nooks and crannies where one could lunch and hang out. It was my first time working where security was taken seriously-think Person Of Interest without the German Shepherd. Lunch was often difficult because as a Kelly employee you only got a half hour, and you were working with people who got an hour. This made connecting with others a challenge, but a necessary evil if one hoped to become permanent.

There was no time to leave, nowhere to go. Sitting in a staff area felt presumptuous at best, even though I would often be told to go there. In climate weather I would go outside and wolf down a sandwich, winter and rainy times I would be forced to eat at my desk. There was a lovely and inexpensive cafeteria, but even that was too time consuming to navigate in my thirty minutes.

Smoking was still prevalent and workers here had measured breaks varying in length by if the boss smoked or not. I watched a million dollar deal go down by a hand-shake and a Salem 100.

One day I returned to my desk to find a note in the clip–interrupt the meeting if so-and-so calls. When the call came, I nervously knocked on the heavy conference room door. Boss was on the phone and waved me into the packed room. I felt so out-of-place it occurred to me I might faint. The next morning my paperclip message said “thanks for yesterday,” as if we had had some sort of office dalliance instead of a shared post-it note with a side-dish of panic.

The progress of the heart attack guy moved slowly. Each week meant another opportunity to impress someone, make a connection, a chance to stay; a foster puppy on probation in a new home with white carpeted floors. I might get to stay, but I could feel the odds against me. I wanted a real, benefit-laden full-time job, even though by five PM I wanted to take my own life in that windowless room. I stuck this one out mostly because if I didn’t, I had a feeling nobody would know I was missing.

Guy on the Train: London 1980

English: Gower Street sign, Camden, London WC1

English: Gower Street sign, Camden, London WC1 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Daily Prompt: Come Fly with Me

Share a story about the furthest you’ve ever traveled from home.

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2013/11/13/daily-prompt-travels-2/

The guy on the train.

I had been schooled: “In America, people say ‘come on over’ or ‘I’ll meet you next week’, but they don’t mean it.”

Even the book “Let’s Go–England” (a 70’s copy found in a Laundromat) told me that if  invited somewhat casually, with no follow up plan, to a location, it would be considered rude not to show up.  This would be the farthest from home I had ever traveled, and the last thing I wanted to be was rude.

The other thing that I failed to learn by reading the travel books was the train ticket advice…you will need your ticket to get off the train. Simple enough, right? It wasn’t as if I was accustomed to train travel (at least not yet, anyway), so I didn’t have any bad habits to break.

On a train from Gatwick  (ultimate destination, Gower Street via the Goodge street station) I had the weariness and exhilaration that accompanies the completion of a long trek.  I wouldn’t have needed this next-to-final leg of the journey had I flown into Heathrow, but I saved hundreds of dollars, and I met ‘the poet.’

He sits across from me and says ‘hello’ with an English accent so thick I had no idea what in God’s name he was saying. Since the plane was full of Americans, this was my first sip of the UK and I intended to drink deeply.

It was all that I expected. It sounded beautiful and I listened intently, picking up a bit here and there. He seemed fascinated that I was American, and I was fascinated at his fascination, among other things.

He told me he was a poet and I said I kinda was too.  We dug through our belongings. In a moment he came up with a journal out of a worn, cotton messenger bag. I pawed through  my luggage to get mine. I was also packing a Martin guitar in a massive hard shell case, an over-sized soft sided suitcase that said “parental property” all over it, and a purse. Nothing had wheels and I checked my passport (purse) and guitar every eight minutes.

We shared a few poems, and had that non-verbal agreement that writers sometimes have: Yes, these are poems.  It is so embarrassing when someone hands you something that doesn’t seem like a poem to you. I was glad I didn’t have to manufacture some kind of reaction, I was way too tired for that. I had been awake for 19 hours, in the air for 9 of them, and I was having alcohol while severely dehydrated. I wasn’t buzzed, drunk or stoned. I was crazy, but I didn’t yet know it.

The ride was less than an hour and we exchanged numbers, mine, the student number for the house at 35 Gower street.  I spoke to him on the phone a few times but this caused some issues with a boyfriend or two…ahh, the jealousies of youth!

When the train stopped, I went to hop out and the conductor asked for my ticket.  I was wearing my cape and had no pockets, and I was so struck by the ride and my new poet friend that I was flustered and near tears while searching my purse and the bag that held the poems.

A hand reached out behind me holding a pale yellow ticket. The sans-serif font explained my destination to the conductor and to the world. It was as if I was freed from incarceration, the endorphin release brought the tears the rest of the way.

The hand belonged, of course, to my new literary cohort, who had come to the front of the train to see what the commotion was about. We had already said our goodbyes, simple and sincere. Now came an awkward moment and a final glance that I was sure revealed my craziness in full bloom. The last look I saw from him can only be described by the word poignant. I probably looked a little desperate, that would be the kindest word for the moment.

Map of Gower Street

Map of Gower Street (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We had a few phone times, me on the Gower street phone where the whole house could hear even the slightest whisper; he on a pay phone in a little red booth that I got to see in a Polaroid photo he later sent me.

He sent me a few love poems but it was not “like that”; he wanted to share critiques and, while we were close in age, I believe he felt a little fatherly towards me, writing-wise. If this girl couldn’t get off the train by herself…

After a few phone calls and failed meeting attempts and new, exciting adventures supplanting this one, we stopped talking.  But he that was the boy who helped me validate myself me as a writer, by way of my first European peer review.

Weeks after we met I realized he must have paid a hefty few pounds for me to exit the train (what the delay hoopla was about). In a pocket in my sweater was the pale yellow ticket with the sans-serif font.

International Phone At A London Post Office

london bt post office tower

London Post Office Tower-Just outside my window at Gower Street. Photo: Wikkepedia

In 1980 I wrote a poem that struck me. It didn’t strike me as the best thing I ever wrote (at the time, nor now). It just struck me. I am not sure if you should read this post forward, or backward, from the bottom up. It makes sense either way; the sad part is in the center.

As I shared it (in a writer’s workshop) the blank stares and lack of input from the room might have been a clue to an ordinary wanna-be that this poem was not my best work.  Never the less, I tucked it away but thought about it, visited it, and shared it here and there. I read it publicly twice, both times to quiet rooms.

I don’t know when is a good time to mention it, I guess now’s as good as any. This poem caused my boyfriend to break up with me. He would tell you it was the other way around, whatever.

It went down like this:

I wrote the poem.

I left it on my desk while I showered. (A good writing effort often requires a shower afterwards).

My boyfriend read it. Thought it was about us.

Words flew. Some words, once spoken, cannot be put back.

He came to understand that the poem was not about us, but I could never understand how he could have thought, for one moment, that it was.  I had not yet learned of the fragile nature of relationships, much less of poems.

Since I was in England when I wrote it, a short tutorial is in order. I was literally in a London post office. The signs were literally there.  I did overhear most of this conversation (plus a whole lot more). Even then, I was Berniecing. The part that seemed like poetry to me was the passion that exploded between the people having the conversation.

Little things seem to matter-sitting in the back row of the theater was preferable to the front row to the Brits.  The cost of stamps. Details like that, some which are lost, even to me now.

Having been typed on the manual Underwood typewriter shared by the collective, this poem exists on paper that is nearly transparent and a carries a slight mildewy fragrance . The letters are both light and dark  reflecting the various pressures applied to the keys…the woman’s quotes are the darker indications of a heavy hand at times.

Creativity had to wait it’s turn.  The carriage on that thing was fast, when you hit the return you felt like the typewriter might take flight  until you got the hang of it. We didn’t write our poems and then type them, we typed them as we wrote them. Most of us worked  too close to deadlines rendered impossible by a delicious pint of Guinness looming so close in the nearby pub.

One of the things I didn’t like about poetry readings back in the day was the way the writers  would go on and on about a poem. Just read the damned poem already!  A poem should speak for itself!.  Here’s evidence  I’ve softened over the years, or at least, given up some of my earliest convictions.

International Phone At A London Post Office

A poet shouldn’t speak

of these unfinished things-

“Are you a man? A man

would tell her now.”

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“Will you tell her tonight? Are

You going to be free?”

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Buy your license here.

“Do you have the guts to tell her?

Do you know what this is doing to my family?”

It’s cheaper to pay for your health care all at once.

“Damn it! Just tell me. I need to know.

I can’t eat, can’t sleep. Cannot go on like this!”

Who needs Women Drivers?

We do! Call London Transport.

“But do you have the guts to say it?”

At last, you can sit in the back row again.

Highlights by Clairol.

“Do you have the guts to say I love you?”

Posted on http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2013/09/09/writing-challenge-backward/