By Ronnie K. Stephens
Theodora Ranelli, poet and current resident of Dairy Hollow Writer’s Colony in Eureka Springs, will be giving a reading with Ozark Poets and Writers Collective at Nightbird Books at 7 p.m. May 27. Ranelli, blessed with an impeccable memory and vivacious wit, began her writing career by “copying Bible passages out…and passing them off as my own…[she] got away with it because [she]…wasn’t sitting there with a Bible copying [them] out.” She went on to record whole books, and one of her first big hits was a spin on “National Velvet,” which, she professes, her first grade peers loved.
Growing up, Ranelli spent most of her time in Laramie, Wyo., and Duluth, Minn. She graduated from Harbor City International School and is now enrolled at Evergreen State College.
Her poetry bridges two familiar themes, God and sex, but the freshness of her verbal whip more than makes up for the stacks upon stacks of dry sonnets flooding our composition courses, and her take on the Almighty is far from stale recitations of the hymns. She is not afraid to push the edge, which she illustrates in her response to one of our interview questions: “I have been chosen as a writer for this Catholic blog…[but] the editorial team has to figure out how much gratuitous sex…they are willing to print.”
Ranelli recently completed a poetry manuscript unlike any other; the overarching theme seems to be love, and some poems are quite traditional in their subject matter, but others bring together images of submission and heaven, of office trysts and fierce lovers.
In one poem, Ranelli writes that the speaker’s lover, God, “bring[s] out the harness and leash,” but still she serves because God has promised “a great reward;” in another, the speaker is bent over a copy machine “in a short plaid skirt and no panties” while God peers at her. Clearly, her words are not for the faint of heart, but the curious and open-minded will walk away feeling refreshed, if not in need of a cigarette and a hot shower.
Despite her daring approach to poetry, Ranelli is more practical in her advice to aspiring authors. She reminds them that writing is a physical endeavor as much as a mental one, and that writers must take care of themselves if they are to thrive in this profession. She further comments that “everything is material,” but writers must take on projects that they can handle.
A list of her personal influences is more traditional than one would think, given her unique style; it includes authors such as Margery Kempe, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Leo Tolstoy and Mohja Kahf. If nothing else, she has gleaned from these writers that the edge must be extended and, as Irish author Gerard Donovan says, nothing is off-limits.
Come join Ranelli for a reading which is sure to impress the critic, entertain the enthusiast, and shock the wanderer into listening.
OPWC meets the last Tuesday of every month at Nightbird Books. These events begin with an open mic at 7 p.m., followed by a feature set and conclude with a second open mic. Events are free, but a hat is passed for the feature artist and The UA Press gives away a book. For information go to www.uark.edu/ua/mmasull/opwc.