Thursday, March 29, 2012

Favorite Writers: Poe Ballantine

When I lived in Munich, one of my favorite possessions was a copy of The Best American Short Stories 1998. Most of the time I read German literature, an attempt to improve my vocabulary, but when my brain was fried from too many 25-letter-long words or from looking up what Verf├╝gbarkeit meant for the fifteenth time, I would pick up the slightly worn, lime green book (guest edited by Garrison Keillor), and read a short story.

The story I loved the most was a melancholy one about troubled kids born into dysfunctional lower class families, written in strange and wonderful imagery. This story has stuck with me over the years, popping into my mind at random times. It's called "The Blue Devils of Blue River Avenue," by Poe Ballantine. The prose is straightforward, just simple enough to accommodate the quirky descriptions and observations. To my delight, I just found that this story is available online. I found it by searching for "poe ballantine wolf," because this is the image that sticks in my memory:

"My mother didn’t like my going over to the Sambeauxs’. There was something mysterious and menacing about that house: a bloodcurdling scream, a silhouette of a knife in the window, a wolf on its hind legs with a leather tail scuffling along behind the juniper trees."

Here is another one I like:

"His hair was short and fair, and he had the polite and unassuming stride of a farm boy. From a distance, the Sambeaux house must have appeared to him to be the place to make friends. There were children everywhere: peeping from windows, lounging against cars, hanging lemurlike from trees, barelegged, barefoot, the spirit of Peter Pan and Tobacco Road. There were paper clouds above the Sambeaux roof, pink pastel streaks painted across the sky, devils on the rooftop, monkeys on wires. A big cardboard vulture squealed over. Homer knocked on the door. Roland and Langston ushered him in."

Here's a great description of the narrator's mother:

"My mother cut sharp glances at me. She had the kind of vision that went right through you and saw into your future. She saw me taking LSD, or driving drunk off a cliff, or marrying a Filipino go-go dancer with a long scar across her abdomen. She saw weeds coming up in the garden of my innocence, and wormy, wild apples waving in the wind.."

Rereading this story now, I still love it just as much as I did back in 1998. I could post a hundred more excerpts--the writing is a dream, so elegant and controlled and interesting. Poe Ballantine is the kind of writer I aspire to be like. If you liked these excerpts, I highly recommend that you go read the full story here.


  1. I loved all 3 of those excerpts! I would love to write like that.

  2. Those are great excerpts. I really need to make more time to read. I will check out Poe Ballantine...looks like some amazing writing.

  3. I'll be looking for this work. Thanks.

  4. Wow! Great excerpts! That's the type of work that takes time to get through, where the reader savors each word, every line.

  5. I, too, really like the description of the narrator's mother. Sometimes I think my mom looks at me like that!

  6. Wow, that is fabulous writing! I've never heard of Poe Ballantine--looks awesome! And hooha, that's so great that you can read German (even if you do have to look up a few words now and then). I took French in college but I SUCKED in my French lit class. I struggled!! :)