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Kin Types Paperback – July 14, 2017
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Welcome to Luanne Castle’s Kin Types, where every piece, poem or prose, is a ghost—but not the sort you can see through. You see, Castle’s ghosts have been resurrected through powerful emotion and startling detail, have been made suddenly solid and real again with a skill that brings to mind the work of Edgar Lee Masters. Herein we find all the heart and heartbreak of ordinary lives from the past finally valuated properly, given their own set of lines and stanzas, their own sentences and paragraphs, the attention and care of a gifted and sympathetic writer. Which is to say, you’re going to want to stick around for a while. Kin Types exists at the precise place where literature and history intersect to make something both beautiful and true.
—Justin Hamm, author of American Ephemeral, editor of the museum of americana
Luanne Castle’s Kin Types is based largely upon genealogy and a fascination with what comes to all of us from the past. A mix of poetry in the traditional sense and highly poetic prose pieces, the collection takes the reader on a journey into the lives of women and somewhat into the lives of men who must carry on alone once the women are gone. The journey of this collection is not a ramble into the past, but a slingshot into the here and now by way of these portrait tales. Of particular importance to readers are these lines from “What Lies Inside:” What lies outside my mind is nothing. Mother’s bones cleaner / than steak bones, buildings diminish to the horizon. // Inside my mind / a junkyard, castoffs from outside others, / flickering and igniting when struck on its inside walls. Clearly, Castle is letting us know that she (and we) are all inhabited by stories of our ancestors. Castle explores the warnings and quirks of relatives in poem after poem. Perhaps Castle is also issuing a warning in “Advice From My Forebears” to those whose lives are lived by the word and pen: Don’t quit writing like I did. Make me a promise. The whole collection is a promise, and not to be missed, whether for its flashlight into the past or its beam into the future.
—Carol Willette Bachofner, Poet Laureate Emerita of Rockland, Maine
About the Author
Winner of the 2015 New Mexico-Arizona Book Award, Doll God, Luanne Castle's first collection of poetry, was published by Aldrich Press. Luanne's poetry and prose have appeared in Grist, Copper Nickel, River Teeth, Glass Poetry Press, Barnstorm Journal, Six Hens, Lunch Ticket, The Review Review, and many other journals. Luanne has been a Fellow at the Center for Ideas and Society at the University of California, Riverside. She studied English and creative writing at the University of California, Riverside (Ph.D.); Western Michigan University (MFA); and the Stanford University writing certificate program. Her scholarly work has been published in academic journals, and she contributed to Twice-Told Children's Tales: The Influence of Childhood Reading on Writers for Adults, edited by Betty Greenway. For fifteen years, she taught college English. An avid blogger, Luanne can be found at luannecastle.com. She divides her time between California and Arizona, where she shares land with a herd of javelina.
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So I ordered Luanne’s book to gather ideas for my own family history writing project. All I have left of the tragedy are photographs, letters of sympathy, yellowed newspaper clippings, locks of hair. How can I ever understand this history fully? Perhaps by doing what Luanne did, that is, entering the lives of her ancestors via genealogy, photographs and ephemera.
Kin Types will inspire you if you wish to research your own family history or simply desire to connect with your ancestors through the power of writing.
Layered with poems and prose, you turn a page to reveal the next colorful character, the faded memory, the texture of a detail only a poet would think to include. The result is a beautiful collage of the family experience — its loves and losses, its joys and sorrows, its tragedies and secrets.
How clever of Castle to include the modern-day theory of behavioral epigenetics, essentially we are that collage, we are the stories, they are in our DNA. It is the premise of the book, and holds its own from the opening epigraph by Liam Callanan (The Cloud Atlas) to the final, beautiful poem “When Your Grandfather Shows You Photographs of His Mother.”
Speaking of photographs, do make note of the woman on the front cover, her knowing glance to the author's photo on the back. Is this the forebear who whispers “Don't quit writing like I did”?
No matter, we are happy Castle heeded the advice!
Luanne Castle, the author of the wonderful genealogy blog The Family Kalamazoo, has done just that in her new remarkable collection of prose-poems, Kin Types (Finishing Line Press, 2017). In these clear and beautifully written poems, she has brought to life the people she has researched and studied for many years. Collectively, her poems evoke the hard and often bitter lives of her ancestors while also piercing beneath the surfaces of those hard lives to uncover the love and the beauty that each one of these people experienced.
For example, in “An Account of a Poor Oil Stove Bought Off Dutch Pete,” a poem that describes in horrifying detail how a fire envelops a home and the woman living in it, Castle creates this image:
“Under the smoke, she can make out the sliced strawberries centered on the oilcloth nailed to the tabletop.”
In these few simple words, Castle uses the image of strawberries sliced by a caring wife and mother to remind the reader that this is a loving family woman who is threatened by a deadly fire. It evokes birth and life amidst the threat of death and destruction.
And when Castle wonders about the history of an old house that is in serious disrepair in “The Fat Little House,” she creates a story about the man who built the house and his family. Her words convey the love between the husband and wife through the man’s response to his wife’s description of the house as “short and fat:”
He laughed, I like my houses like apples.
And swaddled inside the crisp
sugary walls she nurtured and nestled
babies, slippery as fruit flesh…
From these few words and the images created, you can imagine the sweetness between these two people. Once again, fruit becomes a metaphor for love, for life, for birth.
In other poems Castle describes the fears of a dying mother that her children will be separated and sent to orphanages where “Teachers like scavengers pick at the remains of my family,” the anxiety of a mother as her teenage daughter gives birth on the kitchen table, the joy and sadness of a mother seeing in the face of her young son the face of her now deceased brother, and the guilt and love shared by another family whose lives are torn apart because of a fire in the family home. These are just a few of the stories Castle tells in this book of poetry. Each poem made my heart ache for the lives of these people---people I never knew, people Castle herself never knew, but whom she has given new life through her words.
If you also have ever imagined what life was like for your ancestors, you will enjoy this wonderful collection. In fact, anyone---whether interested in family history or not---should read this book for the beauty of its language and for the light it sheds on our shared humanity.
However, I was unprepared for the impact of the powerful images projected in Kin Types. Images of perseverance that an immigrant family from the Netherlands endured, how they profoundly suffered to overcome unspeakable hardships while they staked their claims on a part of the American dream. I felt the struggles with her family on their journeys and was reminded again of how fortunate I have been to be born in this time, regardless of how turbulent it seems. Not only is this a beautiful tribute to real family values,it is also relevant to discussions of immigration issues in the headlines today..