Constance Alexander: July 13 readings by Lynn Pruett, Jeff Skinner offer late afternoon respite

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In the midst of a busy schedule that includes teaching, publishing stories and essays, and raising sheep in Salvisa, Kentucky, Lynn Pruett is back at Murray State University this week for the summer semester of its low residency Master of Fine Arts program. Another writer with a busy schedule — poet and playwright Jeff Skinner — is also on campus. The two will give readings from their works at 3 p.m., Thursday, July 13, in the Pogue Library’s Reading Room, providing creative inspiration on a sultry summer afternoon.

Lynn Pruett’s novel, “Ruby River,” was described by one reviewer as “Pride and Prejudice” in a rural Alabama truck stop. Another critic was impressed by her ability to lure readers in with a “gentle drawl.” For me, re-reading the opening of “Ruby River” the other day, I was reminded how much I admire the way Lynn combines insight, wit and social commentary in crisp sentences and lyrical paragraphs.

“Ruby River” begins with narrative from “The Ladies of the Church of the Holy Resurrection,” who often find reason to comment about Hattie Bohannon, a young widow with many admirable virtues who annoys the women of the church because, “There was no Christian way not to admire her.”
Hattie not only appeared taller than she really was, “she took a tan well and looked fashionable, while most women her age…had shied away from the sun to maintain their perch above the rising tide of social democracy.”

More irksome about Hattie, “was her ease in handling orphanhood, widowhood, and de facto single parenthood. Hattie had no breakdowns or depressions or weight gains or drug dependencies.”
But most annoying of all was that Hattie, as a young waitress in Brentone, managed to snag “Oakley Bohannon, a man twice her age, for a husband.”

Like Ms. Pruett’s fiction, much of Jeff Skinner’s poetry in his new book, “I Offer This Container,” focuses on family, marriage and the clash between past and present, old and new, domestic and foreign. In “The Deal,” from the New Poems section of Skinner’s most recent collection, an eternal father-son conversation is replayed.
“The younger man is trying to sell / some project to the older man,” it begins.
After a back-and-forth of talking and listening, the exchange ends in the same old manner: “I’ve tried to tell you my entire life – /poetry & business don’t mix.”

The compulsion to edit the past is illustrated in another of Skinner’s poems, “Corrections.” A series of emphatic statements is interrupted by a quick list of other options.
In the line, “A violet light addressed the snow,” the verb could be replaced by “(impressed, caressed, suggests)—“

In reference to God, who “pulses violet,” the poet could have used “(violent, voluble, silent)” thus leaving the reader to decide which of the corrections makes the most sense.

Both Skinner and Pruett invite readers into dark landscapes, illuminated by forces not easily contained. Skinner’s other new book, “Chance Divine,” emerged from his 2015 stint as Artist in Residence at the CERN Particle Accelerator in Geneva, Switzerland. And Lynn Pruett’s story, “All of My Trees to Die,” currently featured in the new collection, “Unbroken Circle,” edited by Julia Watts and Larry Smith, spins a jarring tale of marital fidelity, aging, and ancestral duty.

Their reading on Thursday, July 13, at 3 p.m. in the Pogue Library is part of Murray Stat’s MFA Program in Creative Writing. The event is free and the public, is welcome.
Books by Lynn Pruett and Jeffrey Skinner are available through Amazon.com.

Constance Alexander is a columnist, award-winning poet and playwright, and President of INTEXCommunications in Murray, Ky. She can be reached at Calexander9@murraystate.edu. Or visit her website.

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