Getting back into the swing of things with Poe Ballantine

It is about three months since I last posted some great words. And yet, yesterday, I had a visitor who read three pages (before getting bored?). That’s OK. I’m a glass half full kind of guy. Three pages he managed! Brilliant. My general blog-slackworthiness is not due to the fact that I am not reading second hand books. I am. Lots. It’s just that I half read them and then move on to something new. I have in short been extremely busy. I am preparing loads of books for Kindle – books that have been in the bottom drawer since time began. And lucky me, my new tenant turns out to be a whizz at putting together a book cover image so today we knocked out nine and there’s another three to go. Pretty exciting. But the real reason I am writing this post late into the night is that I have rediscovered the delights of the essay. Somewhere along the way (and I am not quite sure where or when) I picked up the 2006 Best American Essays selected by Lauren Slater (whoever she might be). Now backstory: I was put on to this series by a journalist friend many moons ago and for years I would buy and read the book and always it would be a selection of extremely wonderful, jealousy-inducing essays by people who had far too much time and intelligence on their hands.(Bastards!). But then, one year, I fell out of love with it. There was a general sense that it was becoming politically correct. Don’t get me wrong – no anthology was ever completely bereft of genius. But, you know, maybe it was me, growing older, growing more flatulent in my mind-set. Well, all I can say is that I have just read a sentence or two that on their own repaid the measly sum I paid for this volume. These sentences were written by one Poe Ballantine.

Unlike me, Poe Ballantine has a paragraph on Wikipedia and I am going to quote it in full and hope that the creaters of Wikipedia will forgive me my presumption:

“Poe Ballantine (born 1955 in Denver, Colorado) is a fiction and nonfiction writer known for his novels and especially his essays, many of which appear in The Sun. His second novel, Decline of the Lawrence Welk Empire, won Foreword Magazine’s Book of the Year. The odd jobs, eccentric characters, boarding houses, buses, and beer that populate Ballantine’s work often draw comparisons to the life and work of Charles Bukowski and Jack Kerouac.

One of Ballantine’s short stories, The Blue Devils of Blue River Avenue, was included in Best American Short Stories 1998 and one of his essays, 501 Minutes to Christ, appeared in Best American Essays 2006.

He lives in Chadron, Nebraska with his wife Christina and their son Thomas Francisco.”

Isn’t that fantastic? And yes it was his bleak essay 501 Minutes to Christ that I read and wept. For him? For myself? Not real tears but my heart seeped with understanding and fellow feeling. Here are the sentences he wrote that tornadoed into my psyche:

“I think to myself: I’m thirty-six years old and rotting in front of a television set. The electrons that bomb that cathode-ray tube are crumbling the cartilage of my soul…”

Read that last sentence again – and again. That sentence is a lesson in writing all by itself. Thank you Poe for writing it.

I am also pleased that the dark-haired girl of his dreams was found.

About Jonathan Chamberlain

I am a novelist and creative writer attacking all genres indiscriminately - Dreams of Gold (humour) - Alphabet of Vietnam (literary suspense) - Whitebait & Tofu (noir suspense) - Wordjazz for Stevie (memoir) - King Hui (biography) - Chinese Gods (cultural analysis) - The Cancer Survivor's Bible (self-help) My literary blog is In Praise of Older Books see My Fighting Cancer website is My cancer information archive is at
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