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
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.
The people from the hospice
give us a pamphlet. The dying,
it says, often speak of journeys,
‘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,
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 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 Quarterly, Prole, The High Window, Ink Sweat & Tears, Messages in a Bottle,The Missing Slate, Clear Poetry, Three Drops from a Cauldron, Foliate Oak, The Yellow Chair Review, Poetry Shed, The Lake, Smeuse, Algebra of Owls, Picaroon, Riggwelter, and other journals and anthologies. Her poem ‘Bird of God’ recently won first place in the 2018 Pre-Raphaelite Society Poetry Competition.
The Gun-Runner’s Daughter is available to buy from Amazon, here.