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Poet reflects on life in Oklahoma and California in 'The Wrath of Grapes'

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Like the Joads of John Steinbeck's "The Grapes of Wrath," three generations of local poet Tracy Townsend's family fled Oklahoma for California, beginning in the Dust Bowl. Unlike the Joads, the Townsends came back.

That shift in states "? and back again "? informs the pieces of her first full-length book, "The Wrath of Grapes," a collection of poetry, essays and short stories examining the "myth of the ignorant Okie," for good and ill, she said, "but most good."

"It's about living away and then moving back, and seeing things in a different light," Townsend said. "When it comes to the arts in Oklahoma, we really have a low self-esteem. The level of talent that comes from Oklahoma is just right up there with anyone else."

The book attempts to recapture the respect that the Sooner State enjoyed prior to the 1939 publication of Steinbeck's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, she said. To that end, she name-checked the state's favorite son, Will Rogers, and his brand of folksy, self-deprecating humor.

"We still have that sensibility. It didn't die with him," she said. "We really have a good sense of humility, but that sells us short on a lot of things, too."

SPONTANEOUS BOB
The book's release will be celebrated at 7:30 p.m. today with a signing by Townsend at Galileo Bar & Grill, 3009 Paseo, as part of the restaurant's regular Wednesday-night poetry readings, hosted by the artist known as Spontaneous Bob.

At approximately 75 pages, "The Wrath of Grapes" contains 13 poems, about half of which of illustrated by artist Maria Oriendo, who provided the cover image.

The book also represents the first effort of the newly established IAO Wayward Press, a publishing arm of the Individual Artists of Oklahoma, whose gallery at 811 N. Broadway presents the Home for Wayward Poets' open-mic and slam sessions every fourth Friday of the month.

Townsend said the imprint will focus on getting more local talent published.

"Right now, it's a one-at-a-time, come-as-they-are thing, but I can tell you that several other books are in the works," she said.

One of those may be her follow-up to "Wrath." As she assembled the pieces for this book, she found herself having to pull out works that didn't quite fit her theme. Those she set aside for the next work, tentatively titled "Dance of the Dead," planned for publication in about six months.

Has the Wayward Press not heard all the reports about the death of print?

"It is not dead among the poets," she said.

"?Rod Lott

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