Feeling despair about the future of the republic in the hands of Xboxers and the “whatever” generation?
Feel better. Get to the West Tisbury library and listen to some new literary voices. These mostly twenty-something award-winning poets and novelists think and write with clarity and understanding about our relationships with the world and with each other.
The series began earlier this month at the West Tisbury library and will continue each Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. through March 26. The artists read, then meet the audience members. About a dozen Island residents attended the opening night.
Three women, two poets and a novelist, kicked off the series. They are fellows at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, which provides a nine-month residency for emerging writers and artists.
The center’s fellows have won virtually every prestigious writing award, including the Pulitzer and Guggenheim. More than 1,000 applicants vie for 20 fellowships each year. The program is in its 30th year.
Perspectives included poet Cynthia Lowen’s set of verses about Robert J. Oppenheimer’s conflicted life following his leadership role in developing the atomic bomb used against Japan in World War II.
Ms. Lowen’s grandfather was for a time a member of the Manhattan Project development team, and he provided her with insight into the developers’ emotional fallout from the greatest man-made cataclysm in the history of war. There also are several verses based on Hibakusha, a project that gathered testimony from 100 survivors of the Hiroshima bombing.
Her opus is powerful stuff. The set of poems is grouped under the title Corpus, and subtitles include elemental names such as Uranium and Nucleus and disturbingly homey titles such as Bedding Down with Oppie:
Sometimes when we are lying here
I have the urge to pull my hand from your breast, ball it into a fist
and smash your near-unconscious
face. It is like the fear
of calling out
in a silent theatre
during the most important
part of the play.
The audience turns in their seats,
the actors on stage pause
and I am dragged away.
I wanted to see the play
as much as I wanted to lie here
“I wanted to show the interior landscape changes and to show some rays of hope,” said Ms. Lowen after her reading. “There is a mythical standpoint [around Oppenheimer and the atom bomb]. “How do we deal with culpability. Oppenheimer can be mimed for his representation of personal conflict,” the New York native said.
Amanda Rea began writing at six years of age. “I liked to write, it was a means of getting attention and I was good at it,” she said of her literary calling.
The young author read from her soon to be published novel, The Desert Quiet. The story records a ride by a husband and wife home through an arid Southwest desert following hospital treatment for four fingers amputated in an accident that somehow involved her husband.
In a six-page reading, including only 45 words of dialogue, we learn this accident is the latest devastation of inattention and unkept promises visited on the wife by an evidently well-meaning mate who has never shown up for the relationship in meaningful ways.
Nancy Kathleen Pearson is a recent graduate of George Mason University’s master’s of fine arts program.
Ms. Pearson’s experiential preparation for her tale is real, including teaching in a prison and entering data for the State Department.
Her style can be gritty, direct, smacking of William Burrough’s low-bottom people, and can vault to love poems with delicate recall of feelings and moments.
From the Lilies of the Fields:
... all my life I’ve been vain in my grief.
Meanwhile, the thin-skinned lilies
hold more than their share of water
deep in the perpetually shedding forest-
they toil not, neither do they spin.
The women are realists, instantly answering “no” to the question of self-sustenance through writing at this point in their lives.
Just as clearly, they understand life on life’s terms.