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It took a bit longer than I thought it would, but WUTC, the local NPR affiliate, broadcast my interview about Confederate Streets this morning.  I have to say, radio interviews are pretty fun. Since I was just in a foam-lined studio, there wasn’t much distraction. The reporter, Michael Edward Miller, asked the questions and I just took off with the answers.

The link is here, and you can also listen to an excerpt of me reading from “Our Most Segregated Hour.”

I think I handled the radio interview pretty well, and I hope Terry Gross takes note. 🙂

Oh, also, for you Chattanoogans, check out the Metro Weekly insert in today’s Times Free Press. There’s a short review promoting my reading this Saturday at Wild Hare Books from 2-4 p.m.

Thank you, readers, for indulging all the self-promotion as of late. I’m trying hard to get the word out, especially with readings coming up. If you have enjoyed the book, please consider passing this link along to like-minded friends. I’ll be back to photography and reflective essays before long, and perhaps I’ll see some of you soon!

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Last week, I had the thoroughly new and interesting experience of sitting in for a radio interview. I had one of those big foam microphones right in front of my face and gave verbose answers to questions from WUTC’s own Julie Steele.  I was a little nervous and can’t exactly remember what I said, but I’ll certainly remember tomorrow, Wednesday, July 6, when the interview is aired on “Around and About,” WUTC’s daily program about events and people in the Chattanooga area.

So, y’all tune in! If you are in Chattanooga, you can tune in to 88.1 FM and hear “Around and About” at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. If you live outside Chattanooga, you can find an mp3 stream here.

The interview is to promote the book, as well as my upcoming reading at Wild Hare Books on Taft Highway in Signal Mountain, which will be from 2-4 p.m. on Saturday, July 23.

Tune in and let me know what you think!

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Like many, many writers, I spend most of my time reading work by aspiring writers.  Heck, often they’re not even aspiring writers so much as aspiring-to-get-the-hell-out-of-high school-ers.

Much has been made of the toil of grading papers and I have no intention to add to it.  Suffice to say, it’s  an activity that tests one’s stamina and sense of self-worth, but, like all such activities, grading papers is not without its rewards. And teaching , though fraught with toil, is incredibly rewarding.  This is the time of year where we teachers start to see some payoff in all the work we’ve been doing with our students, especially the seniors.

Tuesday night was Poetry Night at the all boys’ prep school where I teach.  My colleagues read some moving and interesting works.  Students from the Writing Fellows class I’ve been working with all year read their own stuff, and many guys in the boarding community came of their own accord and shared their work.  (We even had a young lady from the girls’ school deliver a rap about the Israli-Palestinian conflict).   The evening reminded me of the vitality of poetry.  The poems covered topics on everything from ancient Greece, to picking up girls, to death, to Duck Day, to walking goldfish (that was mine). The audience was engaged and receptive.  My friend, Sara Coffman read some pieces and gave a short, poignant lecture on the meaning and importance of poetry.

The best part of the evening, however, was watching the teenagers take the podium and read.  It’s easy for me to see students as vessels to be filled with knowledge, difficult to always remember the rich tapestry of their lives beyond the classroom. But poetry brings it all to light.  In fact, we had so much fun that Sara and I stayed behind with about a half dozen boys, eating cupcakes and talking about literature and movies. It was the type of night that really only comes toward the end of a school year, when much of the hard work is done, but the frenetic busy-ness of exams is not yet upon us.

And now, in honor of my students, who I really, really have enjoyed this year, some of my favorite pieces of student literary work from 2010-11.  I got permission from each boy to post his stuff, but I am leaving the last names off to protect their identity. I’m very proud of them, not just for what they’ve written, but for who they are.

Silly Me

I saw a bird

The other day

At least I think I did


I told my friend

About the bird

He called me an Idiot


“There are no birds

That live ’round here”

He said condescendingly


He told his friends

And his friends laughed

As they told me I was wrong


There was no bird

They convinced me;

Birds do not live around here


I thought I saw

A blue bird once,

But now I’m not so sure

– -Trace, 12th Grade

 

Luposlipaphobia

“An abnormal, persistent fear of being pursued by timber wolves around a kitchen table while wearing socks on a newly waxed floor” –Gary Larson

The wolves from which woods did come,

And entrench themselves within my home.

There nary is a way to flee from,

Their gnashing teeth and roaring foam.

Round and Round I start to run

And round my table they did chase.

My pace increases lest I’m done.

On and on in our deadly race,

How did these events transpire?

In only my socks I do tread.

My situation appears quite dire.

O the torment, terror, and dread.

On the wax my feet won’t grip,

My fear is great; I will slip.

–Avery, 12th Grade

2 A.M.

We ate a meal in a city diner.

I had coffee – black – and bitter.

You never finished your meals.


I lit a cigar once you left.

I wished to sear myself,

But that too would leave a scar.

–Banks, 12th Grade

I would never tell you,

but you are the shock of red flowers on green grass,

the warm grass on my skin,

and the green leaves waving in salute.


You are the coolness of a low stone wall,

the shadows playing on the ground,

and the low-laying scent of Asian cuisine.


Unfortunately, you soon become

the dull hum of car engines,

The smell of damp stone and the taste of aphids,

the sound of chattering people and the word toque.


Always, though, you will be

a blue bike at rest on Baker Lane formally Baxter Wynd,

the woman hopping to put back on her shoe,

the slight pressure of the wind on my face,

and a short red skirt on the move.

–David, 12th Grade

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This week is guaranteed to go by quickly as every day is filled with some sort of literary event, including my own reading on April 15 at Winder Binder/A Novel Idea on the North Shore in Chattanooga.

In honor of a week that’s certain to be as glorious as it is exhausting, I will be posting an excerpt or short work by each author I plan on seeing during the week.

I’m starting with Mr. Bill Brown.  Brown will be reading as part of a group of Southern poets at 2 p.m., Sunday April 17, at Winder Binder/A Novel Idea.

Mr. Brown was my creative writing and English teacher for two years at Hume-F0gg High School in Nashville. I have had many teachers and professors who have made it possible for me to be where I am today in my writing, but Mr. Brown was the first to show me what words can really do – not just his, but mine. As I’ve been reconnected with him professionally over the past few years, I’ve been struck by how much his poetry and ways of seeing influenced my own work.  Now, for your reading pleasure, two poems by Bill Brown.  If you like them, for pete’s sake, buy one of his books. You won’t be disappointed.

What the Night Told Me

The owl and whipporwill know this well

that while the world sleeps, earth

still swings around the sun

the sun in its slow death

swirls a broader arc

and light rushes toward

the red fringe of something

and the moon for which they sing

drags each sea with a whip


Weasel and snake know this well

that rock and limb do not reveal

their shadow in the night

the warm blood of a rat

can be sensed without

the distraction of light

a prey’s shriek is swallowed by darkness

only man clutches his mate

when the talons of owl surprise

the silent rabbit, its scream

does not keep the raccoon

from watching that great horned

drag its soft catch across the sky


Worms and maggots know this well

that rot feeds on darkness

the source of all light

is decay, the cool glow

of foxfire thrives on dead wood

polished bones glare at night

and only reflect

what they cannot keep.

from What the Night Told Me, Copyright 1993, Bucksnort Press

Okay, now one from his latest book The News Inside, which is currently available on amazon.com

The Melting

There should be hope in the leaves’ first turning –

summer green fringed gold and crimson, webbed

hands reaching out against the curtain’s blue.


Winter and what it takes from the heart

is almost worth it. Year by blessed year,

in the shortened days, something is stolen


that cannot be reclaimed – a swelling in the chest

when night comes soon. At a certain age

a man takes a season’s beginnings, the small


beauties – frozen rings on creek rocks,

the first skein of ice in the horse trough.

He holds it to the morning sun and it burns


his palm as it drips through his fingers.

Each year he grips it tighter

to see his face melt in the fire.

from The News Inside, Copyright 2010, Iris Press



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If cities full of people really did spontaneously break into showtunes, the writers and bibliophiles of Chattanooga would currently be dancing in front of the Tivoli, singing “Top Hat, White Tie, and Tails.” Those of us who love writing and literature are getting ready to step out to breathe an atmosphere that simply reeks of literary class.  The excitement as we prepare to (metaphorically) suit up and geek out is palpable.

The main event that has us all tap dancing on Broad Street is the biennial Conference on Southern Literature, during which the South’s literary giants (Roy Blount, Jr., Dorothy Allison, Bobby Ann Mason, Wendell Berry, Lee Smith…the list goes on) will converge on the Scenic City for four days of panels, conversations, book clubs, readings, and gatherings.

But, as if that isn’t enough, the city will be celebrating more local writers (including yours truly) at the  Faux Bridges Art and Literature Festival.

In the middle of all this, David Sedaris is coming to town! (like Santa…or a Roman bell filled with chocolate).

As if these events weren’t enough, the all-boys’ prep school where I teach will be hosting a poetry night, featuring my wonderful, talented friend, Sara Coffman.

Here’s what the week will look like for me:

April 12 – Writing Center hosts Poetry Night with Sara Coffman (and many, many student and faculty readers) at McC.

April 13 – The Southern Literature Book Club will discuss In Country with Bobbie Ann Mason.  Oh, and who gets to drive Ms. Mason back from Winder Binder (where we meet) to the hotel? THIS gal! (so while I am only metaphorically brushing off my metaphorical tails, I need to literally clean out my car)

April 14 – Southern Lit. Conference officially begins. I will be catching my breath and probably trying to get my school’s literary journal to the printer. (oh yeah, that deadline is this week too)

April 15, 7 p.m. – Chattanooga Launch for Confederate Streets – the kick-off event for the Faux Bridges Art and Literature Festival on the North Shore. Reading is at Winder Binder/A Novel Idea.  Books will be available for purchase. Drinks and refreshments provided.

April 16, 11:30 – Southern Lit. Conference Keynote Luncheon. Roy Blount, Jr. will be speaking. Ernest Gaines will receive the Cleanth Brooks Medal for Lifetime Achievement.

Robert Morgan, a member of the Fellowship of Southern Writers, will be reading at Winder Binder/A Novel idea, at 6 p.m.

David Sedaris at the Tivoli, 8 p.m. (tickets still available, last I checked)

April 17, 2 p.m. – Faux Bridges continues with the launch of Southern Light – an anthology of 12 contemporary Southern poets. One of the readers for this event will be Bill Brown, who was my creative writing and English teacher in high school. His poems are absolutely incredible and I can’t wait to be there.

So, that’s about it. It’s a good thing that words feed the soul, because I’m not sure how much time there will be for actual eating or sleeping for all of us Chattanooga writers and readers.

In preparation for the big week, I will be posting work connected to each event over the coming days.  Keep checking back.  Also, look for more news in The Pulse and various other Chattanooga literary outlets.

And put on your top hat, if you have one.

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Last Monday morning, I grabbed the almost-full box of books I’m still trying to sell. (Fortunately more like a quarter-box now) and headed off to Martin Luther King Magnet at Pearl High School.  When I went there in 7-9 grade, it was Martin Luther King, Jr. Magnet High School for the Health Sciences and Engineering. Being as I wasn’t much of a health scientist or engineer, I left in 10th grade to go to Hume-Fogg Academic Magnet.

Anyway, while most people probably don’t dream of the day they will triumphantly return to their junior high school clutching an essay collection, I kind of did.  I was actually a student at MLK when English teachers starting to pay attention to my writing. I was at MLK when I decided I would write a book someday.

That was almost 20 years ago. But, once again, I found myself in the sort of time warp one experiences on trips home.  As I say in my chapter on MLK, a lot has changed around the school – it has landscaping, the street is a thru street, the Hale Homes have been razed and replaced with HOPE VI Housing – but a lot is the same.  The hallways are still brown tile, the seventh graders still stick close together.

I sat in the hallway at MLK during lunch and watched the kids milling about. A couple old teachers came by and bought the book. After lunch was over, an English teacher invited me to come speak with her study hall group, and the kids were full of questions about what the school was like 20 years ago.  From our dialogue, we determined that the teachers were different, but the quirky,misfit spirit of the school was essentially the same.

After about 25 minutes with the class, it was time to go. I thanked them for listening, walked down the hall, and out to the principal’s office. Just as I was saying goodbye to her, a school resource officer came up and said, “We’re going to have to put the school on lockdown immediately.”

The principal and I agreed that I should get out before I was stuck indefinitely. Then, a couple boys ran in to the office.  They were frantic.  It seems they had been outside when they heard about 15-20 gunshots and  saw a car going up the street with its windows shot out, being pursued by an SUV.

I decided not to go out there.

When I was a student at MLK, we had a similar situation. There was a hostage situation in the housing projects across the street and we were not allowed to move around the school.  But it was a pretty primitive lockdown compared to the one I saw on Monday. Twenty years ago, we were told to get away from the windows (so we all ran to the windows), but we weren’t given any other explanation. I remember I eventually wandered out into the hall, found my soccer coach and teammates also wandering the hall, and asked if we would still have our game that day (we didn’t).    Shades were drawn, doors were locked, walkie-talkies brandished.  Every room was its own shut off little pod.  I sat in the main office with a motley crue of office aides, seniors, 7th graders, and a former French teacher. I tried to sell my book. 🙂 The atmosphere was pretty relaxed, really, and after 35 minutes, we were freed.

As far as I know, the police never found either vehicle. Just as I did twenty years ago, I think of the layers and layers and divergent lives converging on one space, interacting with and effecting each other, deliberately or not.

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I’m heading out the door this morning to drive up I-24 and spend the weekend in Nashville – the city chronicled in the essays in Confederate Streets. This is the big launch event for the book, and I’m excited.

I will be giving two readings. If you live in Nashville and would like to stop by, here’s the information (from the facebook invite):

After a long wait, Erin E. Tocknell’s first book, Confederate Streets, will be officially released on March 19. Come celebrate with Erin at two events in Nashville!

Friday, March 18, 7 p.m. – Reading, signing, and refreshments at Glendale United Methodist Church – 900 Glendale Lane, 37204

Poet and beloved Hume-Fogg teacher, Mr. Bill Brown, will be giving the introduction!

Saturday, March 19, 3-5 p.m. – Reading and signing at Rhino Booksellers, 4006 Granny White Pike

Come out and support a local bookstore!

This is an open event, invite whomever you like. There are so many teachers and friends I’m indebted to in Nashville and I would love to share this special homecoming with them.

You can find information on Confederate Streets here:
http://www.amazon.com/Confederate-Streets-Erin-Tocknell/dp/0984462902/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1299200907&sr=8-1

http://wordyevidenceofthefact.blogspot.com/2011/02/author-interview-erin-e-tocknell.html

http://savvyverseandwit.com/2011/03/guest-review-confederate-streets-by-erin-e-tocknell.html

BOOKS WILL BE AVAILABLE FOR PURCHASE AT EACH EVENT.

Also, don’t despair, Chattanooga folks. I will be reading at Winder Binder at 7 p.m. on Friday, April 15.

Have a great weekend, y’all! I’m certainly looking forward to readings, friends, family and pancakes from everyone’s favorite Pancake Pantry.

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