This week’s other featured books, “Dark Braid,” by Dara Yen Elerath and “High Tide,” by Ed Meek, can be found by scrolling down below this post, or by clicking the author’s name on our Authors page.
THE BOOK: Selling the Farm: Descants from a Recollected Past.
PUBLISHED IN: October 2020
THE AUTHOR: Debra Di Blasi.
THE EDITOR: John Gosslee.
THE PUBLISHER: C&R Press. From the publisher: “Literature matters because words let us explore and share the best of what we think, and who we can be. Good fiction, nonfiction, and poetry grow our knowledge and imagination, take us into new lives, and illuminate truths we never knew.” Regarding the Press’s nonfiction preferences, which lend further enlightenment regarding the structure of Selling the Farm: “Concept-driven nonfiction and creative nonfiction with a strong point of view. Visionary writers, disruptive ideas, hope for the future. We look for lively and meaningful nonfiction.”
SUMMARY: Winner of the 2019 C&R Press Nonfiction Prize. Lyric Memoir. “The old house burnt to ash. Acres sold to strangers. So many dead…” Raised in a family of seven, in a small ramshackle farmhouse without plumbing, award-winning author Debra Di Blasi maps a candid and eloquent memoir of a Midwest childhood both land rich and dirt poor, both heaven and hell. Surrounded by creatures big and small, rolling fields and pastures, weedy lawn, deep woods and shimmering waters, she wrestles with the complexity of a crowded family shaped by place and doomed to tear itself apart. Selling the Farm explores the difficult intersection of grief and love, and the many contradictions in nature, life and death, and memory itself. Her lyrical recollections move from season to season with language visually and aurally shaped to reconsider the ways that we bear witness to any place and time—and to ourselves amid all.
THE BACK STORY: Death becomes grief. Grief becomes the ineffable. Yet, I have always tried to expunge heartbreak by forging language into an “object” outside me, something I can set aside and thus manage what is lost. Thus, when my lovely older sister died an excruciatingly painful death in 2009, I began writing about her absence:
“I’ve seen a blue whale’s descent in every dream since your death, Sister, just a fragment, sliver of tail and the foamy slush-hush of froth folding back over itself.” —from “Wallace’s Line”
A few years later I was living in Hong Kong, far away from where I grew up on a northern Missouri livestock and crop farm. When my 93-year-old father began leaning precipitously toward death, one of my siblings sold the farm without my knowledge. These losses—of family,
farm, childhood—produced a protracted desolation. Because the new owners forbade us from visiting the farm, the only way to return to it was to capture those fecund acres in recollections. Part lyric essay, part poetic memoir, the ‘descants’ attempt to create a literary cartography describing the 880 acres where I grew up, and how my family and I were shaped by those astonishingly beautiful acres—for better and for worse. From creek to fields, wild animals to tame, stifling house to outhouse, Selling the Farm seeks the poetry hidden inside grief. WHY THIS TITLE?: The phrase Selling the Farm has two definitions relevant to the book. The first is literal, of course, simply describing what happened. The second refers to a phrase meaning to risk everything for a pie-in-the-sky venture. I wrote to recreate the farm, to make it live again just as it was in my childhood, knowing such a thing is not fully possible: I learned that diving that deeply into memories can cause more grief, even in dreams. The subtitle, Descants from a Recollected Past, suggests that this is not a conventional memoir. In addition to being as much a biography of a place, the language strives toward lyricism, as in a descant, a melody played over the main melody.
WHY WOULD SOMEONE WANT TO READ IT? The people who react most positively to Selling the Farm are those who understand the nuances of language, the musicality and the architecture of words on a page. They challenge their own perspectives and appreciate, as W. Somerset Maughm wrote, “lucidity, simplicity, and euphony.” To that list, I would add precision and, though it may seem contradictory, ontological complexity. My creative writing education was predominantly poetry, although I am considered primarily a fiction writer. I dislike categories. It’s important that a piece of writing (or book) take the scope, shape and sound that the subject matter demands. Readers who enjoy getting lost in language, who enjoy subtle word play and meticulous descriptions, who see literature as an art, might appreciate Selling the Farm. I suggest reading it aloud, slowly, attentively.
“Selling the Farm is a work of rare sophistication, a source of beauty amid calamity.” –Full-Stop Magazine “Selling the Farm, winner of C&R Press Nonfiction Award, defies traditional notions of genre…. This quiet experiment is emboldened by context because as a long-standing member of the small-press world, Di Blasi, an award-winning author of eight books, is like many successful small-press literary figures, especially women: celebrated yet largely unknown. Her choice to make the landscape the protagonist of her memoir is ironic, courageous, and bittersweet because it allows the artist to recede into her art.” — Heavy Feather Review
“Marrying prose and poetry, Selling the Farm is the kind of book you want to read with a pen on your lap, to mark its slippery metaphors and juxtapositions…. It speaks to Di Blasi’s skills as a writer that she’s able to turn [an] ordinary event—stomping through fresh snow—into a transcendent statement on time’s impermanence.” –-Brevity
“Rhythmic and lyrical language is the medium through which Di Blasi uncovers the emotional cores of the seasons. The memoir blends poetry and prose in a way that makes you want to mark every line to revisit and unpack later. Some lines are feasts of images, drawn so clearly and layered so tightly that one clause reveals as much as an entire vignette” –- Hippocampus Magazine.
AUTHOR PROFILE: As much as I loved the farm, I also hated it and couldn’t wait to see the world beyond. Thus, I’ve made choices many people would find frightening or simply too far off the beaten path. From London to Paris, Florence to Barcelona, Honk Kong to Hanoi, South Africa to San Francisco…from hanging out with Kansas City mobsters or drug dealers to hanging out in penthouses with scions of the rich or actors in Hollywood homes. From working in advertising and publishing to writing art criticism and teaching creative writing at college… I wanted a life as interesting as a great novel. A life of ideas, experiences, erudition. Even now, I’ve chosen to live in Portugal, where every day is a beautiful adventure. More: http://www.debradiblasi.com.
AUTHOR COMMENTS: As personal and global extinctions loom in the foreground, and family farms become increasingly scarce, the elegiac ruminations in Selling the Farm remind us how much has been—and will be—lost to us all. SAMPLE:
You couldn’t stop the winter cows from calving. Always, there’d be one born in the middle of a snowstorm. My father’d go searching the dark’s whiteness for a trembling black newborn or the cow with placenta still hanging under her tail. He’d steal the calf from the bawling mother and carry it home.
So many calves in the kitchen! Legs splayed on linoleum. And piglets too, piled up on each other in big metal buckets set in front of the furnace vent. And kittens. And puppies. Fish and a blue parakeet.
It was a life, on that farm, of saving and killing, of watching flora and fauna come and go.
And it was all right.
It was okay the way we each were borne into a system furious with incident, divining our day or night when the snows would come on blinding and no one staggering to carry us home.
LOCAL OUTLETS: Support independent bookstores and buy through Indiebound. Or support small publishers and buy through C&R Press or Small Press Distribution.
WHERE ELSE TO BUY IT: You can also buy at Barnes & Noble, and as an ebook or paperback at Amazon.
CONTACT THE AUTHOR:
To protect my writing and the joy of living, I left behind all the dull noise of social media. I still have some accounts, but I rarely if ever check them. As I’m in the midst of researching and writing the second book of my Eros and Thanatos tetralogy (the first book, Birth of Eros, was published November 2022), I’m not terribly easy to reach. I do try to read and respond to emails from readers, but the response time can be very, very slow. That said: email@example.com