NORMAN — If it was important, or at least seemed that way, chances are Jim Chastain wrote it down. Likely, it can be found in the many journals of poetry he’s been writing since he was 15 years old. "Some go all the way back to high school, some were written as late as 2006 in my journals,” Chastain said of the poems in "Like Some First Human Being,” a collection of his poetry released this week. The Norman author, film critic and Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals attorney will celebrate the book and his birthday Sunday at the Performing Arts Studio’s Second Sunday Poetry Reading. The event will begin at 2 p.m. at the Norman Depot, 200 S Jones Ave. Chastain said he decided to compile some of his favorite poems into a single volume because "the time was right.” He had been asked to be on the state poet laureate selection committee, and he had read his poems at the Oklahoma Arts Festival and the Woody Guthrie Folk Festival. "I know most of the poets in Oklahoma, and I was getting more offers to do more poetry things and getting more and more poems published,” he said. "It seemed like the right thing to do, and when I started looking through my poems and categorizing them, four topics kept popping up.” The book is divided into those four categories — look, life, love and loss. Chastain said he was struggling to find a way to tie all the poems together until he went on an artists’ retreat to Austin, Texas. "I actually went there with hopes that I needed to find an overall topic for my poetry book,” he said. Instead of going out with his journal during free time one day, he decided to go to a local library to drink coffee and read. "Out of all the books they had there, I picked up this slim volume called ‘Letters to a Young Poet’ by Ranier Maria Rilke, a famous German poet,” he said. "It’s not poetry at all, he’s writing letters to a poet who’s asking his advice.” What Rilke told the young poet on page 2 of the book became Chastain’s theme and title for his book. "I swear, on the second page he’s asking this guy, ‘Ask yourself, must you write. If the answer is yes, then you need to stick close to nature, then try like some first human being to say what you see and what you experience and what you love and what you lose’ — the four categories in my book. I had this huge chill go down my spine. For me, it was really like I was talking to someone from many decades ago. I felt like that was a very spiritual moment.” The poetry book comes on the heels of "I Survived Cancer, But Never Won the Tour de France,” Chastain’s humorous account of the highs and lows he faced during a three-year battle with cancer that ultimately cost him his right arm. Chastain also will celebrate the release of that book at Sunday’s event. "What I wanted to do was to get the book out there to as many people as I could and hopefully connect with people like I do when I read a book that I love. Obviously not everybody is going to connect in that way with me, but there will be some,” he said. Chastain said learning to live with one arm in a world built for two-armed people has been difficult, but there’s at least one thing he has become better at. "My poetry has gotten better. That is, I think, a product of being slowed down and having to focus on one word at a time, or maybe a line at a time. I’m just a lot slower at writing,” he said. "I think the left side of your brain controls the right hand, and the right side controls the left side where creativity comes. Perhaps the left side of my brain is so confused trying to find out where my arm is that I’m able just to stay in that creative mode.” The poetry reading and book launch are free. Refreshment will be served, and music will be provided by Larry Hammett. For more information on the event, call the Performing Arts Studio at 307-9320. For more information on Chastain, go to www.jimchastain.com.Comments
Poetry reading and book launchJim Chastain will celebrate his two new books, "Like Some First Human Being” and "I Survived Cancer, But Never Won the Tour de France,” from 2 to 4:30 p.m. Sunday at the Norman Depot, 200 S Jones Ave. For more information, call 307-9320.