Saudi Arabia, Art’s Perspective, and Piranha

This afternoon I attended a reading at Boxcar Books sponsored by the Writer’s Guild at Bloomington.  There were three scheduled readers and an open mic.


Molly Gleeson opened up the program with a reading of her memoir My Heart is a Wilderness about her experiencing teaching English in Saudi Arabia.  Gleeson poignantly depicted the black-robed women as the “walking dead” and the white-robed men as the “ghosts” who haunt them.  She described keeping house in a “palatial” yet “entirely beige” apartment.   She visited with other international teachers, but admitted she felt very much alone – a stranger in a strange land.

Next up was  Beau Vallance.  Vallance has served as education director for major museums.  She explained her approach to encourage students to imagine stories behind the works displayed.  She read examples of this work from an article she had published “The Adventures of Artemis and the Llama”.  The stories told tales of how the art was formed, acquired, moved, misplaced, collected, and finally displayed – both from a narrative point of view and in 1st person (as the work itself).  The Llama as a play companion with a G.I. Joe.  Artemis as a lawn ornament weaved the stories into the narrative of “Toy Story”, reflecting both on the value of being “handled” and being “admired”.


The featured reader, all the way from L.A. (though with roots in Bloomington) was  Frank Montesonti.  Frank read from his 2011 Barrow Street Prize winning collection of poems – Blight, Blight, Blight, Ray of Hope.  His poems are vivid and concrete.  They tell a story – at times through dialogue, at times through images.  The titles are descriptive – “Best Deaths” about an ancient Spartan who died after his son won the Olympics and Don Doane from Ravenna, Michigan, who died after bowling a perfect game.  “Those Anomalies at a Party When Everyone Suddenly Falls Silent” and “Inventors of Sadness Learn to Use What They Have the Wrong Ways” and “When You Left I Started a Garden” serve as self-contained stories (and the poems themselves only enhance them).

One of my favorites was “Piranha” – which he said was about teaching creative writing.  I obtained Frank’s permission to reprint it here.  I would encourage you, however, to consider purchasing Blight, Blight, Blight, Ray of Hope through Barrow Street Press.


I try to tell my students to use images:

                say, a piranha eating an apple

       or a piranha flying through the air

               and biting a woman’s jugular.

Maybe you could say that when the blood

sprays from the woman’s neck it looks like, hmm,

a red Chinese fan.

When I’m asked what a poem should be like,

I simply state the fact that a full-size cow can walk into a river

and a school of piranha can devour it in two minutes.

They work their way into the belly and eat out the soft organs.

Then the skin and head dance on top of the water.

Frank, do all our poems have to be about piranhas?

a student asks — the piranha.

No, no, not if you don’t want them to be about piranhas,

I tell her, of course

I really don’t see the point

of not writing about piranhas:

that moment when the water starts to break and pop

before the frenzy.


The open mic afterwards went well.  I read the scene “The Walmart Way” from The Pursuit of Happiness.  There were no “amens”, “hallelujahs”, or “preach it, brothers” – but I did get one laugh which felt very nice.

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