Archive for January, 2012

Review: “Forever, Erma”

Sunday, January 8th, 2012

Forever, Erma: Best-Loved Writing from America's Favorite HumoristForever, Erma: Best-Loved Writing from America’s Favorite Humorist by Erma Bombeck
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

One of my favorite humorists of all time, Erma Bombeck ruled the newspaper pages, inspiring and amusing readers with her entertaining observations about the nature of motherhood. “Forever, Erma” was a labor of love: a posthumous collection featuring the most loved Bombeck columns, as well as a smattering of lesser known pieces and a chapter of tributes from colleagues, friends and family. For those unfamiliar with Bombeck’s work, it’s a good introduction. For those, like myself, who have loved her work for years, the book is both a delight and a revelation.

Bombeck’s columns elevate the trivial moments of motherhood: mining them for both humor and for meaning. While, on the surface, she may simply be sharing a story about a difficult child, she is also making a then-revolutionary statement: “I’m not a perfect mother or wife, and that’s OK.” She wrote such columns years before comedian Roseanne Barr introduced the idea of a sublimely flawed family; and her columns predated by decades the first by humorist Dave Barry, who explores similar territory from a father’s point of view. Indeed, Bombeck was one of the first to discount such unrealistic role models as TV’s Donna Reed and to air her dirty laundry (both figurative and literal) in print.

Such insights won her legions of fans — mothers and children, wives and husbands — and this book does a good job of illustrating why.

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Review: “Motherhood: The Second Oldest Profession”

Sunday, January 8th, 2012

Motherhood: The Second Oldest ProfessionMotherhood: The Second Oldest Profession by Erma Bombeck
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Erma Bombeck, the beloved newspaper columnist who wrote about the foibles of motherhood, expanded upon her familiar territory in “Motherhood: The Second Oldest Profession.” The result is a work that, though familiar-sounding, delves deeper and sometimes darker than her newspaper columns did.

For example, Bombeck reruns one of her most popular columns, a paean to the mothers of disabled children, answering it with a new companion piece where the mother of a disabled child criticizes the original column, calling it naive and speaking about the realities of her life. In another piece, Bombeck expands upon a newspaper column where she had joked about leaving behind letters for each of her children to tell them she’d loved them best. In “Motherhood,” the expanded piece takes place at the mother’s funeral, as each of the children reads his or her letter privately. The resulting work takes on a more serious, almost ponderous import.

In the pages of “Motherhood,” Bombeck shows that she is capable of contemplating more than just the whereabouts of wayward socks disappeared from the dryer. While these pieces still evince her trademark wit, they go beyond classic Bombeck, exploring the deeper side of motherhood.

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How to Select Poems for a Reading

Saturday, January 7th, 2012

When I gave my first poetry reading, I was in grad school. This was, astonishingly, roughly 15 years ago now. Although it was my first time at the podium, I’d attended many poetry readings and picked up some public speaking skills both through the undergrad student radio station and from holding leadership positions in various clubs. Using what I learned, I selected a group of poems that went over very well with my audience, and I avoided some of the pitfalls I’d been strike other readers.

With that in mind, here are some quick Dos and Don’ts:

  • DO choose a variety of poems that showcase your work, alternating between different types. I like to think of a poetry reading as a spoken mix CD: I choose pieces that are more “upbeat” to follow pieces which are more “mellow.” Remember that even poetry audiences like to laugh.
  • DON’T choose poems that take an excessive amount of explanation in order to enjoy them. Make the most of your limited time by keeping your explanations simple.
  • DON’T read poems that are difficult to parse from one reading alone. Listeners cannot go back and read something over again.
  • DO read poems that make use of vivid language, clear imagery, and striking word use. They tend to go over best with an audience.
  • DO read your poems aloud ahead of time, to get comfortable with them and to make sure they will work well as “read aloud” poems.
  • DO read poems directly out of any chapbook or book you might have published. It may encourage listeners to seek out those books following your reading.
  • DO bring some alternatives with you, in case you change your mind. If you’re reading on a program with other poets and writers, you might be inspired by what the other readers are doing to work in a poem that fits. Or you might decide to pull a poem that’s too similar to something another poet read.
  • DO stay close to your allotted time limit. It’s better to leave them wanting more than to overstay your welcome.
  • DON’T over-think things. It’s natural to be a little nervous (I always am), but remember that the crowd voluntarily came out to hear poetry and, generally speaking, will work with you.

Following such rules, I have successfully read for a wide variety of audiences. Since poets and writers seldom get to meet their audiences, it’s a great opportunity to be seen and to see how an audience responds.

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