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September 23, 2003

Poets B. H. Fairchild and Mary A. Koncel to Read at Smith College

NORTHAMPTON, Mass. -- Smith College will present a poetry reading by two striking and strikingly different writers, B. H. Fairchild and Mary A. Koncel. The reading, which is free and open to the public, will be held at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 7, in Stoddard Hall Auditorium.

Koncel was born and raised in Chicago, where she completed her bachelor's degree in poetry at Columbia College before coming east to the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, where she earned a master's degree in English.

A long-time devotee of the prose poem, Koncel has published widely in journals. Her work has appeared in anthologies such as "The Party Train: A Collection of North American Prose Poetry," "The Best of the Prose Poem: An International Journal" and "Real Things: An Anthology of Popular Culture in American Poetry." In 1999 Quale Press published her chapbook, "Closer to Day." Most recently, ten of Koncel's poems were included in the 2003 anthology "No Boundaries: Prose Poems by 24 American Poets," edited by Ray Gonzalez, and her full-length collection "You Can Tell the Horse Anything" will be published this fall by Tupelo Press.

Koncel's prose poems are tightly focused mini-dramas of whimsy and poignancy. Using an eccentric array of voices, both human and animal, she blurs the line between the commonplace and the absurd, finding emotional touchstones in the most surreal situations. Her family of characters often find themselves in absurd and precarious positions, clinging to wreckage, hoping for some kind of redemption or insight into the human condition. There is a woman who needs to be told she is dead; Tommy Rodriguez is compelled by the voice of God to drive his naked family across Texas; a horse plots revenge on a snowy winter night; and the nervous collective "We" are desperately trying to raise the Babies.

While her work might be described as surreal or absurd, Koncel resists the label. "I think of [my characters] as teetering on the outer edge of reality," she writes. Her poems, "microcosms of our own lives," as she calls them, "remind us of our tenuous place in a world that is easily turned on its side. "

Koncel teaches in the Jacobson Center for Writing, Teaching and Learning at Smith, and lives in Worthington, Mass., with her husband and many animals, small and large. Besides writing prose poetry and essays, she is an avid dressage rider.

Fairchild grew up in West Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas. While he now lives in Claremont, Calif., teaching poetry and creative writing at California State University, his work focuses largely on the working-class world of the Midwest, the isolations of small-town life and the possibilities of beauty and grace to be found there. Fairchild's poetic voice was born of the struggle to reconcile his working-class, dustbowl upbringing with the world of the intellect. "I was looking for the place where I could revere the very center of my being as I had known it as a child and [it] dawned on me: what I had wanted was what poetry is. "

Fairchild is the author of "Such Holy Song," a study of William Blake, as well as four volumes of poetry, including "The Arrival of the Future" and "The Art of the Lathe," winner of the Beatrice Hawley Award, the William Carlos Williams Award, the Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award and a National Book Award finalist.

The universe contained within Fairchild's most recent collection, "Early Occult Memory Systems of the Lower Midwest" -- the National Book Critics Circle Award selection for 2003 -- is deep and familiar, a world that is empty, still and sad, yet on the verge of becoming. "This," claimed The New York Times Book Review, "is the American voice at its best: confident and conflicted, celebratory and melancholic."The reading will be followed by book selling and signing. For more information, call Cindy Furtek in the Poetry Center office at (413) 585-4891 or Ellen Doré Watson, director, at (413) 585-3368.


Office of College Relations
Smith College
Garrison Hall
Northampton, Massachusetts 01063

Marti Hobbes
News Assistant
T (413) 585-2190
F (413) 585-2174

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