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Source: Review copy from author

Kin Types is the newest poetry collection by Luanne Castle in which she recreates the stories of her ancestors. (Read the collection’s opening poem, “Advice from My Forebears” and the inspiration for it here.) She draws you in right away with lines similar to what many of us have heard from our elders, like “Quit scowling or your face will freeze that way” (“Advice from My Forebears,” page 2). I soon found myself immersed in the poems about Dutch immigrants who made their way to Michigan and forged a life, often difficult, judging from many of the poems, but hopeful as well in that these lines are written by their descendant.

From a mother who rushes into a house fire (“An Account of a Poor Oil Stove Bought off Dutch Pete”) to the fast-forwarding and rewinding that recounts the ups and downs of a marriage (“And So It Goes”), from the tale of a family who loses everything (“The Weight of Smoke”) to the names and connections that are uncovered when digging into a family’s history (“Genealogy”), Kin Types is about raising and confronting the ghosts of the past, making sense of the lives that came before us, and honoring the struggles and the sheer grit and determination that keeps the family tree growing over the generations.

Castle’s poems are narrative in style and haunting in that they portray some of the darkest moments in a family’s history, but they give us a glimpse of happiness and hope as well. The quote that opens the collection says it perfectly:

“We’re all ghosts. We all carry, inside us, people who came before us.”

-Liam Callanan

It is easy to see how different today is from the era of the woman portrayed in these poems, but Castle does a brilliant job enabling readers to put ourselves in their shoes, at least for a handful of lines. It is virtually impossible to read Kin Types and not imagine the stories of your ancestors, especially those who you’ve heard about but who lived too long ago for you to have met. This collection is powerful in that, just as in the closing poem, “When Your Grandfather Shows You Photographs of His Mother,” it makes you consider how these long-dead people are reflected in who you are today. Kin Types is the best poetry collection I’ve read in a while, and one I won’t soon forget.

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Disclosure: I received Kin Types from the author for review.

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Luanne Castle is my guest today to celebrate the release of her latest poetry collection, Kin Types. She’s here to share a poem from the book and its inspiration. Please give her a warm welcome!

Advice from My Forebears

Always use hot pack canning for your green beans
and test your seals at the end.

Don’t grab a burning oil stove without considering
the consequences.

Don’t get in debt. If you don’t got it, don’t get it.

Make up your mind what church you’ll attend
and go there as often as you can stand.

Be Dutch or you ain’t much.

Get the log out of your own eye so you can get
the speck out of the other’s eye.

We can’t talk about it, but here’s your great-grandma’s
Eastern Star ring so you will have a signal.

Never pick a fight but if someone hits you,
hit them back.

Always plant marigolds in your vegetable garden
and keep a compost pile out beyond the shed.

If they come to your door, feed them. Then send
them on their way.

Just let be.

Be careful with a needle; that’s how your Grandpa
got blinded, coming around his ma’s knee.

Sit on my finger, nobody ever fell off.

Watch your step on deck so you don’t fall off the boat
and get skewered by the anchor like your Uncle Lucas.

Don’t quit writing like I did. Make me a promise.

Quit scowling or your face will freeze that way.

If you see somebody’s thumb stuck in the dyke,
don’t pull it out.

“Advice from My Forebears” was first published in the museum of Americana (Fall 2015) and then in Kin Types.

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The origins of my desire to recreate family stories lies with my grandfather—and with his storytelling and advice. He was the one who told me how his Uncle Lucas was killed by falling on an anchor as a young man in Goes, Netherlands. Also, he described running into his mother’s sewing needle and being taken to the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor for treatments in 1910. That’s how I learned that danger lurked even in the household.

When I began this poem, I had my grandfather in mind, but I was also thinking of a list a newfound relative gave me. I had met him through my family history blog, The Family Kalamazoo. His mother was Grandpa’s mother’s first cousin. He had compiled the list of advice his mother had given him in the 1930s. The list sounded familiar to me as it contained the phrasing and sentiments I learned from Grandpa. This one, for example: “If they come to your door, feed them. Then send / them on their way.”

The poem became a list much like the list given to me, but with advice passed on over several generations, as well as advice added on with new events. Grandpa was no doubt warned about his uncle’s death by his own parents and grandparents, as his uncle had died fourteen years before he was born, but his own accident with the sewing needle was a newer addition to the family lore. In the most recent event, my grandmother who had wanted to be a writer made me promise not to give up writing.

Family history is a compilation of layered stories, added to by each generation. Much is lost as well, but by repeating what is worth passing on we learn by hearing both the inspirational and the cautionary tales.

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About Kin Types

Kin Types is based largely upon genealogy and a fascination with what comes to all of us from the past. A mix of poetry in the traditional sense and highly poetic prose pieces, the collection takes the reader on a journey into the lives of women and somewhat into the lives of men who must carry on alone once the women are gone. The journey of this collection is not a ramble into the past, but a slingshot into the here and now by way of these portrait tales.

Check out Kin Types on Goodreads | Amazon

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About the Author

Luanne Castle

Winner of the 2015 New Mexico-Arizona Book Award, Doll God, Luanne Castle‘s first collection of poetry, was published by Aldrich Press. Luanne’s poetry and prose have appeared in Grist, Copper Nickel, River Teeth, Glass Poetry Press, Barnstorm Journal, Six Hens, Lunch Ticket, The Review Review, and many other journals. Published by Finishing Line Press, Kin Types was a semi-finalist in the Concrete Wolf chapbook contest.

Luanne has been a Fellow at the Center for Ideas and Society at the University of California, Riverside. She studied English and creative writing at the University of California, Riverside (Ph.D.); Western Michigan University (MFA); and the Stanford University writing certificate program. Her scholarly work has been published in academic journals, and she contributed to Twice-Told Children’s Tales: The Influence of Childhood Reading on Writers for Adults, edited by Betty Greenway. For fifteen years, she taught college English. She divides her time between California and Arizona, where she shares land with a herd of javelina. Visit her website.

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