Monday, September 7, 2009

“VANDALS”


I first met Lisa Graley about eight years ago when Dr. Mary Ann Wilson, professor of English at ULL, introduced her to me (Note: Mary Ann’s essay about Grace King in LOUISIANA WOMEN was highlighted in a recent blog). Lisa, a soft-spoken woman with blushing complexion impressed me as a gentle person who possesses unusual grace and empathy. When I read the first story she published in “Glimmer Train,” those qualities of her character became more apparent in her prose. This woman, I thought, has an authentic voice.

The voice comes out of West Virginia, Lisa’s birthplace, and has deep roots in the Appalachian Mountains. Just recently, a second story by her, which appears in “Glimmer Train,” establishes her as a writer of place, one of those gifted people who make particular regions in the country come alive in fresh, highly accessible prose – prose that is often playful when the author uses folk metaphors indigenous to the region about which she's writing. Lisa was born in Sod, West Virginia, the name itself speaking of farmers, cattle growers – hill folk inured to the soil. In her latest story, “Vandalism,” the reader will find small carats of sagacity that emerge from a tradition of southern storytelling and that convey an innate wisdom characteristic of hill folk.

I’m not going to reveal the story because I’d like to encourage readers to order copies of the handsome magazine in which Lisa’s story appears and to read the story for themselves, but I did want to excerpt a few of the “carats” I mentioned above to titillate the reader. I might add that the story carries a strong theme of redemption and forgiveness that reflects Lisa’s personal religious upbringing, a subtle theme woven into the story without mawkishness or judgment.

Here are some of the carats in “Vandalism:” About aging: “There comes a time when you want only to sit on your porch, he told Glenn Turley. You want to think over things you’ve done or haven’t done – not things you’re planning to do…” and, speaking of adolescence: “the week loosened, it unwound itself. That was just the way of it. He remembered how it felt. You had an energy, looked around for a place to put it after bottled-up days of school or even work. Was why his father always started planting or plowing up potatoes on Friday evenings. House painting. Bridge building. Bringing in the hay. Ditch digging. Anything to keep him home…” Then, here’s one of Lisa’s wonderful down-home metaphors: “He felt the kind of disorientation you feel when a dish from the kitchen winds up in the tool shed…” Again, about adolescence, she writes: “It was hard to tell a boy gone bad from one who was just learning his way…”

Lisa is a lecturer in English and Humanities at the University of Louisiana in Lafayette. She’s the former editor of “Interdisciplinary Humanities” and coordinates the Interdisciplinary Humanities Program at ULL. One of my poems made it into an issue of “Interdisciplinary Humanities” devoted to Walter Anderson, the Ocean Springs, Mississippi artist. The poem was spontaneously accepted at my dinner table when I read it aloud to Lisa. She has an ear for the cadences and style of language and handles dialogue and the vernacular exceedingly well. When I read a 25-page poem she had written about her native Sod, West Virginia, I was lost in mythic-poetic language, and when I had finished reading “Sod,” I declared: “This is how I’d like to write.”

Lisa was awarded a grant to pursue her creative writing this year and is presently on sabbatical from ULL. She says she spends most of each day working on a collection of short stories she plans to complete by the time her sabbatical ends. She also carpenters and continually makes improvements to her home in Lafayette, which she renovated several years ago. To provoke (or invoke) the Muse, she runs almost daily.

“Glimmer Train” is a notable literary press established by two sisters who studied language and linguistics in college, and the idea for becoming publishers was conceived over pizza and beer. Their press has been in existence for 18 years, and they report that for years they read paper submissions, receiving as many as eight buckets of submissions, or 250 pounds of mail, daily. This inundation of mail made reading of every submission impossible, and the sisters had to employ other readers. However, with the advent of online submissions, their system of reading has been made easier, and they’re now able to read every submission without additional readers. Since 1990, the sisters have read thousands of stories and tout that they enjoy focusing on their first love: READING. Since they’ve accepted two of Lisa’s stories, it’s obvious that they recognize she has an authentic literary voice.

The picture above is the cover of “Glimmer Train,” Fall 2009, Issue 72, in which Lisa’s story, “Vandalism” appears. You’ll also enjoy a photo of Lisa and her brother on the page facing her story, as well as comments in the end pages about a West Virginia woman who encouraged Lisa to write. You can go online and click on “Glimmer Train Press Store” to order this issue and a back issue that features Lisa’s work. You’ll find a handsome magazine filled with outstanding stories… especially those penned by my friend, Lisa Graley.
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