Featured Publication – The Gun-Runner’s Daughter by Susan Castillo Street

Our featured publication for June is The Gun-Runner’s Daughter by Susan Castillo Street, published by Kelsay Books.

Susan Castillo Street weaves a feisty autobiographical web of familial relationships, cottonmouths, cicadas and crabbing amongst many other varied subjects; a ‘bayou fusillade’ (The Alchemist) of images and well-hewn narratives from a Southern Gothic childhood to the present day. Be ready to be transported to Mississippi and beyond by this vivid and intriguing collection brimming with the lessons of a well-lived life.” Jill Munro

Susan Castillo Street’s poems, in the first section in particular, read like short films such is their sense of place, characters, narrative, and tension. Gothic there is here yet also tenderness, humour, and a refreshing down-to-earthness. But after saying all that it’s a waste of effort / to try to place things in neat boxes.” Brett Evans

Susan Castillo Street’s new collection startles in its straight-talking ability to deal with memory, loss and hope. Incidents remembered from childhood, and from a life well-lived, are recounted with easy wit and subtle measure. The title poem, ‘The Gun-Runner’s Daughter’, remembers a teacher who bullied its narrator as a young girl. Yet, with a sort of steely generosity of spirit that characterises the collection as a whole, the poem ends trusting that the teacher is the one who has learned from the girl. These are poems that teach us to listen to, and learn from, incidents in the life of the poet. With a dash of Southern Gothic – running guns to Cuba; magnolia trees; the scent of wisteria; a dead baby sister – the collection delivers its lessons with tenderness, sometimes remorse, always with the hope that the details of a life can illuminate the living of our lives. These are poems that touch the heart. They teach us to remember, and to celebrate that remembering.” Nick Selby

Susan

The Gun-Runner’s Daughter

It was a strange old year.
We moved to Oklahoma
without warning, and I started a new school.

The teacher taught me sums. I’ll give her that.
Still, she rabbitted on and on
about my lack of tidiness.

One morning when I arrived
she’d hurled every object
from my desk across the room.

“It’s to teach you a lesson,” she said, “Nice girls should be tidy!”
I picked it all up, lips pressed tight. My classmates were looking on.
I hope she found my silence scary.

A month later, we left town in the dead of night
when Dad made headlines:
LOCAL OILMAN RUNS GUNS TO CUBAN REBELS.

Perhaps my teacher learned her lesson.
Sometimes it’s a waste of effort
to try to place things in neat boxes.

 

Taxi

The people from the hospice
give us a pamphlet. The dying,
it says, often speak of journeys,
cars, departures.

‘Where’s my taxi?’ you ask,
your voice imperious.
‘Why’s it taking so long?’
I lie at your side, hold your hand.

‘They’re sending a special taxi,
’just for you,’ I say, voice brittle
but not breaking. ‘Pink Cadillac,
Nat King Cole on the tape deck.’

Then I go to the screen porch
where friends have gathered.
Light flickers through the trees.
I smile, sip wine. You’d want

your friends and guests well tended,
Southern Lady to the end.
And when my back was turned
your taxi came.

 

Lines of Desire

We humans are anarchic creatures,
prone to hare off at wild tangents

………….ignoring yellow lines
………… crossing when the light is red
………… walking over pristine grass
………….taking shortcuts through dark alleys.

City planners factor this
into their blueprints, map the chaos,
predict unpredictability


while we mortal beings careen careless
on the green baize field of Fate,
shining snooker spheres colliding.

There’s beauty in these desiring lines,
these wild asymmetries,
these awkward urgent angles.

 

I Won’t

I bring you red roses
sit on the wooden bench
look out over the valley.

You loved this view.
The wind ruffles my hair,
whispers in the grass.

I look down at my feet
see a sprinkle of forget-me-nots.
Rest assured, my love.

 

Susan Castillo Street is Harriet Beecher Stowe Professor Emerita, King’s College London.  She has published three collections of poems, The Candlewoman’s Trade (Diehard Press, 2003), Abiding Chemistry,  (Aldrich Press, 2015), The Gun-Runner’s Daughter, (Aldrich, 2018) and a pamphlet, Constellations (Three Drops Press, 2016).  Her poetry has appeared in Southern QuarterlyProleThe High WindowInk Sweat & TearsMessages in a Bottle,The Missing SlateClear PoetryThree Drops from a CauldronFoliate OakThe Yellow Chair ReviewPoetry Shed, The LakeSmeuse, Algebra of OwlsPicaroonRiggwelter, and other journals and anthologies.  Her poem ‘Bird of God’ recently won first place in the 2018 Pre-Raphaelite Society Poetry Competition.

 Her blog The Salamander and the Raven (www.thesalamanderandtheravenBlogspot.co.uk) has had more than 100,000 hits in 39 countries.

The Gun-Runner’s Daughter is available to buy from Amazon, here.

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A Bibliophile’s Heaven – Susan Castillo Street

 A Bibliophile’s Heaven 

Room after room after room
of stories, lives bound in vellum
and gilded letters.  The smell of dust

and leather.  Slanting rays of sun
falling from high windows.
I would lie back on a chaise longue

feet up, while a conga line of Clooneys
pours me goblets of fine champagne
and a legion of Clark Gables

fetches every book that takes my fancy.
My fingers would caress their spines,
savour their margins,
never stop at endings

 

Susan Castillo Street is Harriet Beecher Stowe Professor Emerita, King’s College London.  She has published three collections of poems, The Candlewoman’s Trade (Diehard Press, 2003), Abiding Chemistry,  (Aldrich Press, 2015), and Constellations (Three Drops Press, 2016), as well as several scholarly monographs and edited anthologies. Her poetry has appeared in Southern QuarterlyProleThe High WindowInk Sweat & TearsMessages in a BottleThe Missing SlateClear PoetryThree Drops from a CauldronFoliate OakThe Yellow Chair ReviewPoetry Shed, and other journals and anthologies.

Cottonmouth – Susan Castillo Street

Cottonmouth

Mama takes me fishing.
At dawn, we go out to the garden.
The earth is black, teeming,
full of purple worms.

We put them in a Mason jar,
set off in her two-tone Chevrolet.
On the radio, Hernando’s Hideaway
sings tunes of dark secluded places.

We drive through haunted woods,
sun filtering down through
trees dripping Spanish moss,
ghostly beards of lost grandees.

Then we reach the river.
The Mermentau is thick and brown.
Roiling currents whirl.  We take out
cane poles, bait our hooks, wait.

When fish strike, the shock of impact
ripples up my arm. We haul them in,
bream, perch, red snappers,
the occasional tough old gar.

Mama threads a line through gills,
puts the stringer in the water at our feet,
A thick coiled form rises up, primeval dragon.
Its mouth yawns nightmare white.

The cottonmouth strikes at the fish.
I run into the forest shrieking.
My mother beats the snake away,
laughs, pulls out our catch.

That night she cooks them for our dinner.
I look out into the dark, shiver.
What about the poison, Mama? I ask.
Nothing can hurt us, honey, she replies.

 

Susan Castillo Street is Harriet Beecher Stowe Professor Emerita, King’s College London.  She has published three collections of poems, The Candlewoman’s Trade (Diehard Press, 2003), Abiding Chemistry,  (Aldrich Press, 2015), and Constellations (Three Drops Press, 2016), as well as several scholarly monographs and edited anthologies. Her poetry has appeared in Southern QuarterlyProleThe High WindowInk Sweat & TearsMessages in a BottleThe Missing SlateClear PoetryThree Drops from a CauldronFoliate OakThe Yellow Chair ReviewPoetry Shed, and other journals and anthologies.