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Friday, January 29, 2010

Poetry Friday--The Dust Bowl

March 1936 near Liberal, Kansas. What looks to be snow is really drifts of dirt and sand.

What is it about the dust bowl that inspires people to poetry? There's Karen Hesse's award-winning book, Out of the Dust [J HES]. This novel-in-verse, with it's evocative and haunting poetry, won the 1998 Newbury Award. Here's a poem, dated July 1934:

I am awake now,
still shaking from my dream:

I was coming home
through the howling dust storm,
my lowered face was scrubbed raw by dirt and wind.
Grit scratched my eyes,
it crunched between my teeth.
Sand chafed inside my clothes,
against my skin.
Dust crept inside my ears, up my nose,
down my throat.
I shuddered, nasty with dust.

In the house,
dust blew through the cracks in the walls,
it covered the floorboards and
heaped against the doors.
It floated in the air, everywhere.
I didn't care about anyone, anything, only the piano. I
searched for it,
found it under a mound of dust.
I was angry at Ma for letting in the dust.
I cleaned off the keys
but when I played,
a tortured sound came from the piano,
like someone shrieking.
I hit the keys with my fists, and the piano broke into
a hundred pieces.

To read the rest borrow the book, or better yet, borrow the audiobook [J AB/CD HES] and listen to it being read. I'm sure you'll feel the grit between your teeth.

I was alerted to another work of this type called Rain: A Dust Bowl Story. This story, however, is not in traditional print. It appears online with a poem added each day. It have been ongoing since August.

A nice feature is that readers can contribute their "own personal observations of literature, history, and human nature. The author, Shelley Shaver, will visit the blog daily and respond." It's too bad that more people haven't taken advantage of this feature. The comments are few and far between. Thus, I'm featuring the site today in hopes that you'll visit it and comment.

Here's a sample from poem #10:
10. Spring 1934: Bird’s Eye View

As the crow flies,
Lots lay in a checkerboard
Below. One man’s boundary
Straight against the next,
Turn-row to turn-row,
Perfect, all-encompassing
Geometry. Squares:
Some, larger–
Someone had a bigger loan.
Some, small–
Just hanging on.
All you had to do
Was work the land.

Read the rest here.

Anastasia Suen hosts the Poetry Friday Round-Up this week at Picture Book of the Day. Stop by!


  1. Thanks for the heads-up about Rain: A Dust Bowl Story. What a fabulous site!

  2. Thanks for the lead to this. I've passed it on to a couple of friends, and will delve into it a little later.


  3. You made my day.

    I'm delighted that you have found the Dust Bowl website, and equally delighted by Mary Lee and Jet. I'd love to have readers as literate as these visiting my site. I'd like to mention that there is not only a strong marriage but also a strong female friendship, between two very different women (Riah and Louise)in the storyline.

    Let me know if I can ever answer questions or be of help. Thanks for the encouragement. It's hard to get a literary work "out there" these days when there are no vampires involved!

  4. Rain: A Dustbowl Story is a great website. I've been following it from the beginning. It's beautifully written, the characters really come to life, and the story is captivating. Reading my daily installment is part of my morning coffee routine! I know other readers will enjoy it as much as I do.

  5. Thanks everyone for your comments. Shelley, keep up the good work! Like Gene, I'll be reading it each morning.
    --Kurious Kitty

  6. Diane,

    Everybody who works in a college or school will know how much we need spirit-lifting on a Sunday night. Thank you! There's a great "vibe" on your site.

    Am heading over to my website right now to put today's poem up.