Commonplace: Shawna Mason, “Highway 69 to Dallas”

“South of McAlester the land rises–

long fingers protruding,

as scrubby cedars fight for footing

amongst angular limestone

thrust from the ground,

exposed ridges of backbone eroding.


A copper-skinned beauty on a low-slung billboard

urges her tribesmen to honor what is sacred,


While dying towns boast

pawn shops, seedy gas stations, and Calera–

Home of the 1956 Class B Boys State Champs

painted failure fresh


Rising obscenely out of rural decay,

the casino’s neon crescent

crouches above the asphalt.

Stale gray air flees its wide maw, shadowing the noonday sun.”

~ Shawna Mason, “Highway 69 to Dallas,” Applause. This poem perfectly captures that drive from McAlester to Dallas. Shawna’s poem is one of the students poems in the newest issues of Applause, UAFS’s literary magazine.

Commonplace: Bram Stoker’s Dracula

“It’s the Eve of St George’s Day. Do you not know that tonight, when the clock strikes midnight, all the evil things in the world will have full sway? Do you know where you are going, and what you are going to?” She was in such evident distress that I tried to comfort her, but without effect. Finally she went down on her knees and implored me not to go; at least to wait a day or two before starting. It was all every ridiculous, but I did not feel comfortable. However, there was business to be done, and I could allow nothing to interfere with it. I therefore tried to raise her up, and said, as gravely as I could, that I thanked her, but my duty was imperative, and that I must go. She then rose and dried her eyes, and taking a crucifix from her neck offered it to me. I did not know what to do, for, as an English Churchman, I have been taught to regard such things as in some measure idolatrous, and yet it seemed so ungracious to refuse an old lady meaning so well and in such a state of mind. She saw, I suppose, the doubt in my face, for she put the rosary round my neck, and said, ‘For you mother’s sake,’ and went out of the room. I am writing up this part of the diary whilst I am waiting for the coach, which is, of course, late; and the crucifix is still round my neck. Whether it is the old lady’s fear, or the many ghostly traditions of this place, or the crucifix itself, I do not know, but I am not feeling nearly as easy in my mind as usual. If this book should ever reach Mina before I do, let it bring my goodbye. Here comes the coach!

~ Jonathan Harker’s journal in Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Happy St. George’s Day.

Follow up to Granta’s Best British Novelists Under 40 List

The best British novelists under 40 list is out. Gaby Woods, one of the judges, reflects on the process here.  Other than Zadie Smith, who was also on the 2003 list, most of these names are unfamiliar to me. Guess I need to add to the three piles of books by my bed. (Yes, it’s three piles. I’m at loss for how it got so big, but I’m working on it!) And here’s is the list of 20 novelists under 40 who made Granta’s best of list.:

Adam Foulds

Evie Wyld

Adam Thirlwell

Zadie Smith

Naomi Alderman

Sarah Hall

Steven Hall

Ross Raisin

David Szalay

Sunjeev Sahota

Xiaolu Guo

Kamila Shamsie

Ned Beauman

Tahmima Anam

Nadifa Mohamed

Taiye Selasi

Joanna Kavenna

Benjamin Markovits

Jenni Fagan

Helen Oyeyemi


The Fair Maid of Perth

It’s that time of year: the trees are in bloom, the weather is temperamental, I’m using an old copy of the complete works of Shakespeare to hold open a window in order to catch the breeze, and all anyone wants to do is find a nice spot for an outdoor sunbathe and nap. Instead, I’m grading. To make it go faster, I’m listening to BBC 4’s production of Sir Walter Scott’s The Fair Maid of Perth with David Tennant. If I have to be indoors, at least I have good company. It’s only available for 5 more days, so listening while you can.


I’m not sure I can read much more about the bombings at the Boston Marathon. I keep thinking about how this time last year, my friend Glinda and I were there for a conference. We stood on the finish line–neither of us are runners, but it was fun to just stand on that strip. I fell in love with Boston that trip, the grandeur of the city, it’s bricolage of old and new, it’s food, friendliness, and just the feel of being in a place that has been there for a long, long time. Kevin Cullen’s, of the Boston Globe, reflection on yesterday’s events is here. I’m going to grade comp essay. Seems like the thing to do to keep from weeping.