Steven Church’s Ultrasonic
Photo courtesy of Steven Church.
Steven Church can take a curiously simple subject such as sound, explore it from a variety of angles and create a collection of essays teeming with insight. Church, a professor at Fresno State since 2006, has crafted a series of such essays in his latest book “Ultrasonic” (Lavendar Ink).
Church opens the book with his 2011 Best American Essay, “Auscultation,” a work that connects the significance of sound with listening for a baby’s heartbeat in the womb or hearing the desperate tapping of trapped miners. He illuminates onomatopoeias such as “thud,” “hiss” and “drum.”
Church’s voice blends the scholarly with the streetwise, mixing elegance with bluntness. Each essay leaves the reader pausing to appreciate his craft and power of reflection. In the essay “All of a Dither,” he notes how when a child enters a man’s life, it awakens him to the reality that “fatherhood resets all your meters.” Specifically, the vibrations, trembles and echolocations of a child’s movement triggers the radar of parental protectiveness.
Church’s voice blends the scholarly with the streetwise, mixing elegance with bluntness.
Church’s collection circles around several of his life experiences — the death of his brother in an auto accident, the drowning of a friend, the injured neighbor who needed assistance, the shoulder injury that required attention, the raising of his young daughter. His introspections around these sorrows and challenges intersect seamlessly with his unique interpretation of commonplace words, providing both depth and illumination.
He tackles subjects of public interest, as well, looking into law and order and art and freedom. He takes an unexpectedly absorbing look into Elvis Presley’s decision to take up racquetball in his last months of life. The fact that the King of Rock called his racquet “Red Guitar” is a terrific bit of trivia we learn.
Church’s focus while pursuing an MFA at Colorado State University was initially fiction writing. “But I realized I was not that good at it,” he says. “By a gradual process, I realized that essay writing suited my tastes. The essay is a lens to see larger ideas.”
Church says he enjoys “exploring aspects of pop culture” — for example, “researching people who jump into cages with predatory animals” and taking a journalistic look at Parkfield, California, the earthquake capital of the world. These explorations will be included in a new book-length project which will be released in fall 2016.
“Ultrasonic” is available for purchase at Fresno State’s Kennel Bookstore, Barnes and Noble and online at Amazon.com.
Written by Jeffery Williams, who has been a high school English teacher for 27 years. He is also a freelance writer and the award-winning author of the novel “Pirate Spirit.”