Word Play, May 2020

Text by Diane Slocum


his year marks the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, celebrated on April 22. The theme for this year was climate action. One way to get involved is to read about it.

“The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming” (Tim Duggan Books, 2019) by David Wallace Wells, a columnist and deputy editor at New York magazine, pulls no punches. He starts out by saying, “It’s worse, much worse than you think.” He goes on to describe Elements of Chaos, such as heat death, hunger, wildfire, unbreathable air and freshwater drain. But he doesn’t leave the reader without hope. He posits that if we are walking on a path toward suicide, we are choosing it, and we don’t have to.

More on the bright side is Barbara Kingsolver’s “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life.” The 10th anniversary edition was published by Harper in 2017, so the book has been around for a while, but the updated version includes stories by the whole family and shows how the project has carried on over the years. The story began when the Kingsolver family moved to a farm in Appalachia and aligned their lives around local food. If any place is designed to emulate this story, it is here in the San Joaquin Valley.

“Thank You, Earth” (Greenwillow Books, 2018) by April Pulley Sayre, an acclaimed photographer and author of more than 65 children’s books, is a love letter to the earth. It introduces young children to science, nature, geography, biology and poetry. It includes ideas for conservation projects for children.


Gabrielle Trapse, an 11th-grader from Tulare Union High School, was the Tulare County Poetry Out Loud winner for 2018 and 2019. She was eligible to compete in the state competition, which changed to a virtual event March 15.

“Prismatics: Larry Levis & Contemporary American Poetry: Interviews from the Documentary Film A Late Style of Fire” (Diode, 2020) features transcripts of interviews of Fresno poets Peter Everwine, Philip Levine, Charles Hanzlicek, David St. John and others discussing Levis and the era of Fresno poetry of which they were all a part. Gregory Donovan and Michele Poulos conducted the interviews and wrote and produced the film. The interviews act as a prism into the life of a poet, not only Levis, but those who are speaking. Levis grew up working in the vineyards of Selma and wrote about his Mexican migrant co-workers. He studied under Levine at Fresno State and the two became lifelong friends, critiquing each other’s work. Levis’ books include “Wrecking Crew,” “The Dollmaker’s Ghost”and “The Widening Spell of the Leaves.” His awards include the National Poetry Series, James Laughlin and Guggenheim Fellowship. He died of a heart attack at age 49 in 1996. Fresno State history Professor Jill Fields is the author of “An Intimate Affair: Women, Lingerie & Sexuality” (Berkeley University of California Press). Fields’ book not only details women’s intimate fashions from the late-19th into mid-20th century, but shows how the fashion industry influences concepts of femininity. Her book encompasses cultural studies, the consumer culture, production, consumption and other ways that clothing affects history


The deadline for the Malahat Review Far Horizons Award for Poetry is May 1. Prize is $1,000 Canadian plus publication in the magazine. Poems that have not been published in a book are eligible. Entries must be made through Submittable. Fee for U.S. entries is $30 U.S. Details at malahatreview.ca/contests/far_horizons_poetry/info.html.

The annual Haiku Society of America Garry Gay Rengay Award will accept submissions until May 31. A rengay is a six-verse thematic poem written by two or three poets using haiku. No part of the poem may be previously published in any format. Prizes are $200, $100 and $50. Details at hsa-haiku.org/hsa-contests.htm


Querytracker.net has made it easier to find an agent who may be interested in your work. The database currently includes 1,638 agents. A tutorial on the home screen explains how to filter this to a more manageable number of those who might fit your needs.


“The ultimate test of man’s conscience may be his willingness to sacrifice something today for future generations whose words of thanks will not be heard.”
— Gaylord Nelson (1916-2005)