Thursday, January 14, 2010

Spring 2010 Sneak Peek: Paul Ruffin: New and Selected Poems

"They bounced down the dusty runway,
Gathered speed, and rose that final time, their shadow sliding over jungle trees, bellies full of New Guinea Thunder Beans, another leg of the journey before them:"

These were the lines that brought 2009 Texas Poet Laureate Paul Ruffin back to writing new poetry after many years.

In May, Texas Christian University Press will publish Ruffin's finest works in Paul Ruffin: New and Selected Poems as part of its Texas Poet Laureate Series.

Here, Ruffin, who is also director of Texas Review Press, talks about inspiration and the writing process. A poem from the forthcoming book, "Nesting," follows.

"When I was advised by TCU Press that they would be bringing out Paul Ruffin: New and Selected Poems as part of their Texas Poet Laureate Series, I was both elated and dismayed. It would be fine indeed to have a book of poems published by such a prestigious press, yes, but where was I going to find twenty or thirty pages of new poems?

"Well, I rummaged through fragments of poems written long ago, and checked to make certain that all my finished poems had been published. I found nothing of any true value in the bits and pieces, and I didn’t have a single finished poem on hand that had not already appeared in a journal and/or book. What to do?

"For several days I fretted over my dilemma. I tried finishing some old fragments, but I couldn’t get anything to click. Nothing.

"One morning, around 2:30, I was lying in bed staring at the ceiling, when a notion came to me. I had not been thinking at all about poetry but about my newspaper column for the next week. Sometimes, when I’m really busy and don’t have time to write about something new, I’ll go back five or ten years and find something I really like and run it again—this saves me time and effort, and chances are that those reading my column will not have read that particular piece or will have forgotten it.

"So I was trying to decide whether to run the column on Amelia Earhart or the 3000-year-old mummy who ended up pregnant in a Cairo museum. Both were entertaining, and I had quite a lot of feedback from the mummy piece in particular. Then there was the one on the female diver off the Florida Coast who was sexually assaulted by a 300-pound turtle . . . . And Larry the Lawn Chair Guy, who tethered himself to a bunch of
balloons and realized a life-long dream of flight . . . . And how to eat chicken
backs . . . . Mack Dryden’s version of ancient history . . . . Marilyn Monroe’s
death at the hands of the FBI because she was a vampire . . . .

"The next thing I knew, these lines came to me:

"They bounced down the dusty runway,
Gathered speed, and rose that final time, their shadow sliding over jungle trees, bellies full of New Guinea Thunder Beans, another leg of the journey before them:

"My column piece about Amelia Earhart and her ill-fated flight was evolving into poetry. It went on and on into deep morning. I was writing in my head these poems based on column pieces I’d written, and I was having a ball doing it. I woke Amber up three or four times giggling. Finally I just got up, around five-thirty or six, and went to the computer and started typing out the poems still fresh in my mind.

"In only a couple of weeks, I had some forty pages of new poems, all but one based
on some of my wilder columns (and I have written a lot of wild ones).

"I immediately shot some of them out to magazine editors I know—I had to get them
published right away, since the TCU book is due out in the spring of 2010. I sent three to Richard Burgin at Boulevard, one of the most highly acclaimed literary magazines in the country and one that pays really well for material they publish. They had already published a novel chapter of mine and have scheduled a familiar essay for September, so I thought I might have a chance there. They bought all three. Then Louisiana Literature took three more. Then Langdon Review took four.

'OK,' sez I, 'you are a poet again, boy.'

"I have on hand over 1,200 column pieces written over twenty-five or so years, and I calculate that at least half of them can be converted to poetry.

"So I have returned to my first love, and I am delighting in it. These poems are very different from most I have written, and maybe that’s a good thing. There’s one thing for sure: I am likely never to tire of them."


About her she has gathered pillows and blankets,

arranging them just so, then peopled her nest with dolls,

those with anatomies quite far from correct, glittering

eyes of glass, flesh very unlike her own, some merely

limp or plump, dimpled and dappled pieces of cloth

with dull fabric eyes and skin, no fingers or toes.

It seems to make no difference to her as she places

them about her in the ring, tucking each one in for the night,

the one with the rocking blue eyes shining in their sockets,

the one with round black patches where eyes should be.

"Keep well," she tells them, crawling into bed,

to dream whatever she will dream in that lovely haunted head.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Bryan Carlile on Cartography, Geology, and Hurricane Ike

"Growing up, while kids around me pretended to be soldiers and football stars, I was recreating the great adventures of discovery in my backyard."

As a child, Bryan Carlile, author of After Ike: Aerial Views from the No-Fly Zone (TAMU Press, 2009), imagined he was a member of the Lewis & Clark expedition, discovering new worlds and mapping virgin territories. Now,in his role as a geospacial technologies consultant, he combines geographic, temporal, and spacial information to assist in the planning, decision-making, and operational needs of many organizations.

It was this work that took him to the Texas coast in 2008 where he worked as a first responder, as Hurricane Ike swirled miles from the coast.

"Nature left me awestruck," Carlile writes on the Houston Museum of Natural Science "BeyondBones" blog. "Educating ourselves about nature and natural disasters is one of the most important things humans can do. Our planet is a precious resource and the more we learn about the way it works the more we can do to keep it healthy and happy."

Read more of Carlile's guest blog on "BeyondBones", and be sure to join him and an excellent line up of some of the region's top minds (including several TAMU Press authors) at the "Examining the Gulf Coast" symposium Jan. 21.

Guest speakers will include Jim Blackburn, author of The Book of Texas Bays; John B. Anderson, author of The Formation and Future of the Upper Texas Coast: A Geologist Answers Questions about Sand, Storms and Living by the Sea; Andrew Sansom, essayist on After Ike; and Abbey Sallenger, author of Island in a Storm: A Rising Sea, a Vanishing Coast, and the Nineteenth-Century Disaster of Îsle Dernière in Louisiana That Warns of a Warmer World (PublicAffairs Press).

Those in attendance will have the chance to win an aerial tour of Galveston Island, sponsored by Apex Helicopters!

Monday, January 11, 2010

Roman Popadiuk on President George Bush

"His personal character of self effacement, of treating everyone properly, played a huge role in building the trust level between himself and (Mikhail) Gorbachev. Gorbachev himself has stated that the one thing you can count on with George Bush is that you can trust him. That trust is very important in international relations."

In his book, The Leadership of George Bush: An Insider's View of the Forty-first President (TAMU Press, 2009), Roman Popadiuk examines the ways in which Bush's personal leadership style influenced the formation and execution of policy.

Popadiuk, executive director of the George Bush Presidential Library, sat down recently with Curt Smith, host of the Rochester and Upper New York State-based show Perspectives (WXXI Radio), to talk about the former president and his lasting impact.

Popadiuk served as deputy assistant to the president, deputy press secretary for foreign affairs, and U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, during the Bush Administration.

An excerpt:
"As history keeps going forward and the years keep passing us, people start appreciating what the president actually accomplished. If you look at his record both on the domestic side and on the foreign policy side, there were quite a list of accomplishments. On the foreign policy side, the president had brought about the end of the Soviet Union, in terms of bringing it to a soft landing without a shot being fired. . ."
"The Bush I know I would describe as personal, self-effacing, considerate, honest, and hard-working. . ."

Hear the review in its entirety here.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Dan Burns, on Autism and What to do after the Bus Stops Coming

"Let the school take care of him until he ages out, and save your money for his institutionalization."

That was not the graduation scenario Dan Burns had in mind for his son, who, at the age of three, was diagnosed with autism.

In his book, Saving Ben: A Father's Story of Autism, Burns talks about the struggle and the journey ─ the challenges, breakthroughs, disappointments, acceptance and his love in raising Ben, his severely retarded and autistic son. Ben is now 22 years old.

Here, Burns talks about the difficulties he faced, after the school bus stopped coming:

"For decades I’d worked hard to build a bridge to a better future for my son. He’d once been labeled by the school system as severely autistic, profoundly retarded, and untrainable.

But after years of ABA training and biomedical interventions, Ben was a healthy, happy kid who had a decent attention span and could follow instructions. He spent his high school years in a pre-vocational work/study program: setting tables at Luby’s Cafeteria, folding pizza boxes at Cici‘s, stocking the video shelves at Wal-Mart, sweeping the aisles at Ruibal’s Plants. And he had great expectations.

During the weeks leading up to graduation, Ben carried around his Jobs People Do picture book, imagining himself, I suppose, as a farmer, doctor, or pilot, like the kids in the book. I knew those careers were far beyond his capabilities, but at least he seemed to be on the path toward a job.

When Ben graduated, his one-on-one school aide, Sharon, stayed behind. All his pre-vocational experience had been under her supervision. She had organized the work, guided and praised him, and kept him on task. Ben’s mom and I, lulled by his work/study experiences and academic progress reports, were unprepared for the magnitude of the challenges he would face in the real world.

An hour into Ben’s first solo job interview, with Goodwill Industries, the interviewer called me into the room and sat me down. 'I showed him a spoon and fork and asked him to hand me the fork and he did nothing,' the interviewer said. 'Same with the spoon.' I knew that adults with autism often interview badly, but I was stunned. 'There is no point in continuing the interview,' he said. I agreed. Ben had totally shut down.

Weeks later, a letter from the Texas Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services, addressed to Ben, summed it up: “Because of the severity of your disability, an employment outcome cannot be achieved. You are not eligible for rehabilitative services.”
That was a major blow.

As his mom and I saw it, a job was Ben’s link to a life beyond the one we had constructed for him. We felt that we were at the edge of the cliff. I know that Ben deserves a place in this world as a vibrant young adult: healthy, happy, and hopeful. His mom and I will find a solution for our son. We have trial jobs lined up for him at two sheltered workshops in the Dallas area ─ the Metrocrest Rehabilitation Center and the Citizen's Development Center ─ sorting and bagging components, as he’d done in class.

Our cliffhanger with Goodwill Industries, though, made me think. What about other young adults with autism? What are the job prospects for them?
According to a Florida study conducted in 2008 by The Center for Autism and Related Disabilities (CARD), 74% of the young autistic adults surveyed wanted to work, but only 19% were currently working.
The numbers are likely to get worse.

A recent prevalence study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that Autism Spectrum Disorder has increased almost one hundred-fold in the last decade, from 1 in 10,000 in the year 2000 to 1 in 110 today. According to a report prepared by the Organization for Autism Research, 80% of these kids are under age 22.

What will the Department of Rehabilitative Services say to this tsunami of citizens with ASD when they “age out” as young adults? Where will they work and live? Where will they find friends and supportive communities when we, their parents, have passed on? Ben is on the crest of this tsunami.

The shock of the Goodwill interview got me thinking about opportunities that his mom and I had missed in preparing him for the working world.
Here are five lessons I wished I’d learned before the school bus stopped coming for Ben:

1. Institute a rigorous program of household chores and savings.

2. Consider a summer job for your ASD child instead of summer school.

3. Work with the school system to create internships in competitive employment and/or sheltered workshops.

4. Participate in weekend work retreats with your ASD child.

5. Resist school system-induced dependency. Among other, more useful achievements, school taught Ben to sit down, shut up, and wait for orders. That’s not enough in the workplace. Teach your child to advocate for himself: speak up, hold his ground, ask questions, oppose unfairness, see a need and fill it.
No doubt you can add to this list, and I hope you will.

Whether our children are school age or adults, we are in this together. We need a national agenda for living and learning with autism, an agenda that will address our children’s needs for jobs, homes, and supportive communities. As we enter the new decade, here are some resolutions we can work on:

• Create a service movement like Teach for America or AmeriCorps that employs young people as life coaches to work with ASD kids.

• Connect with Advancing Futures for Adults with Autism (AFAA).

• AutismOne – Get involved.

Once again, we as parents can ignore, accept, or fight. Ben summed up my choice in three words: Don’t give up.

For more on Dan and his book, check out his recent interview on DTV (Denton TV).

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Freezing Weather: Doug Welsh on Saving Your Plants

Aggieland is bracing for a hard freeze tonight, with frigid temperatures sure to cause most gardeners ─ yes, even those in a region widely known for its horticultural prowess ─ to fret.

Doug Welsh, author of the wildly popular book Doug Welsh's Texas Garden Almanac (Texas A&M University Press, 2007), shared some of his best plant-saving strategies with viewers of Bryan-College Station's KBTX this morning.

Here the renowned professor and extension horticulturist for Texas AgriLife Extension Service shares even more tips for ensuring your vegetables, flowers, and herbs are able to survive a cold snap:

Q: Bryan-College Station gardeners have not seen temperatures this low since 2002. What can gardeners here and in freeze-prone areas do before the low temperatures set in to prepare their winter flowers and herbs?

DOUG WELSH: Most cool season annual flowers, such as pansies, will be injured with the sustained (24-48 hours) freezing temperatures predicted. Protect them with a blanket or quilt, or cardboard boxes. Herbs, other than rosemary, will be heavily damaged, if not killed. Protect the herbs you desire most with blankets, quilts, or boxes as well. Providing supplemental heat can also help. I recommend Christmas lights.

Q: How will freezing temperatures affect knock-out roses and other shrub roses? Should any special precautions be taken there?

DW: All the shrub roses should be fine. They will likely lose their foliage, but that's about it. Temperatures lower than 10 degrees F would be needed to kill knock-out roses.

Q: Should you water your plants beforehand?

DW: Water all container-grown plants, veggie gardens, and flower beds prior to a freeze.

Don't forget to check out Doug Welsh's Texas Garden Almanac for a practical, information-packed, month-to-month guide for growing in Texas!