29 September 2016

Trey Moody Reads Poems

This article originally appeared as a post titled "Best Thing I’ve Heard This Week: Trey Moody" at Vouched Books on 17 June 2013.

Last week, I visited Lincoln, NE for a few days. During my stay, I spent some time with the poet Trey Moody. Trey's first book, Thought That Nature, was selected by Cole Swenson as the winner of the 2011 Kathryn A. Morton Prize in Poetry. Sarabande Books will release the collection in January of next year; below are a couple video clips of Trey reading poems that will appear in it.


"So Warm":

Hill, Belflower, Olszewska, and Covey Read Poems

This article originally appeared as a post titled "Best Thing I've Heard This Week: The Big Big Mess (06/08/13)" at Vouched Books on 14 June 2013.

Last Saturday, The Big Big Mess celebrated its two-year anniversary. Over the course of the past couple of years, this Akron, OH readings series has hosted local, regional, and national writers, such as Mary Biddinger, Matt Hart, Nate Pritts, Cathy Wagner, Adam Clay, Zachary Schomburg, and Heather Christle.

At their most recent event, out-of-town poets from Albany, Atlanta, Chicago, and Louisville converged on Northeast Ohio for a terrific reading. Check out the videos below for highlights.

Sean Patrick Hill reads his poem "1972":

James Belflower performs an excerpt from his book The Posture of Contour:

Daniela Olszewska reads her poem "Frontier with Fancy Spurs":

Bruce Covey reads his poem "Foreign Objects":

The Big Big Mess' next reading will be on 05 July. They will host The Line Assembly Tour, featuring S.E. Smith and others.

Introducing Dikembe Press

This article originally appeared as a post titled "Best Thing I’ve Read Today: Dikembe Press" at Vouched Books on 12 June 2013.

DP 001I first became aware of Dikembe Mutombo during the late-1980s when, under the tutelage of the great John Thompson, he and Alonzo Mourning formed one of the most intimidating frontcourts in the history of college basketball at Georgetown University. He then went on to have an illustrious career in The Association, popularizing his now famous finger wag.

Wasn't it a joy, then, when I discovered the inaugural titles from the newly formed Dikembe Press, a chapbook publisher based out of Portland, OR and Lincoln, NE.

Dikembe Press’ first two titles are Matthew Rohrer’s A Ship Loaded With Sequins Has Gone Down and Emily Pettit’s Because You Can Have This Idea About Being Afraid Of Something. The second set of chapbooks, arriving sometime this summer, are already slated: as-of-yet titled manuscripts by Christian Hawkey and Christine Hume.

Rohrer’s collection begins and ends with longer, narrative poems. In between these bookend pieces are a series of four re-combinatory sonnets, each one comprised of three different variations. Take, for instance, the first iteration of the second “Sonnet” as a sample of what you can find within:
He wrote amazing poems because he
was fucking a wizard. This perspective
mutilated all his expectations
and he was naked. The wizard threw him
a small thin towel to cover himself with.
I’m sitting in a small bar in Brooklyn
discussing his next move: surely his wife
will climb the pyramid and leap off it
because she is a butterfly. He is
everywhere down there, in the air. Inside
a tiny black bean. It’s not necessary
to live like this, we decide. We crumble
into our highballs, the city outside
consumes things like an enormous creature. (17)
Emily Pettit’s collection contains thirteen poems and ten illustrations by Bianca Stone. The poems, which shift and bend through oftentimes absurdist logic, are most successful when articulating some sense of doubt, misunderstanding, or fear. For example, in the poem “You Keep Asking What I Want And I Don’t Know What I Want,” the speaker says:
                                                           We breathe air.
We keep the same body temperature all day.
We are holding onto things. An unspecified
racket. A small wagon. The biggest warehouse.
It’s ambitious and complicated. It’s a result
that is still unclear and can go either way.
I do not know what I have to make. I make
mistakes and many of them. I’m afraid I make
many mistakes. This has something to do
with the desperation and something to do
with other things too. A web of smoke holding
onto a dark night. Refusing to reflect any light. (17)
To purchase these titles and discover more information about Dikembe Press and their forthcoming releases, please visit their website.

Matt Hart's Debacle Debacle

This article originally appeared as a post titled "Best Thing I’ve Read This Week: Debacle Debacle" at Vouched Books on 10 June 2013.

In February of this year, H_NGM_N Books released Matt Hart’s Debacle Debacle. In some sense, the book can be read as the experience of working through contradictory thoughts and feelings.

To this extent, poems near the beginning of book guide the reader by setting the conceptual and poetic framework for the rest of the collection. In “Upon Seeing Again The Thriving,” the speaker informs the audience that “Life is so messy,” and:
                                                     yes, I do feel

terrible at times, like a fuck-up descending a staircase,
woozy with nectar and too much trouble. Frustration

I get, and discouraged I get. (20)
Likewise, in the title poem, the speaker reiterates similar claims when he states: “Positivity these days // is difficult to come by” (14). But in the face of frustration and discouragement, when filtering the world through a positive lens can oftentimes be difficult, Hart’s poems seek to do just that.

Of course, the poems of Debacle Debacle don’t do this by embracing affirmation uncritically. Instead, they do so by meditating on complex emotional circumstances of our daily lives; or, as Hart writes at the conclusion of the title poem:
                                                                          Life happens;
it’s my job to say so. It’s our job to express it, expand it
to the edges. Essential it is to struggle, but struggle’s

merely tension, and tension can be a thing of balance
or irritation, confusion or song. I’m singing in tension
with the not singing. I’m living in tension with the forces

out to kill me. We’re living in tension because we’re
different human beings, and living in excitement
that we’re so much the same. (15)
Debacle Debacle, then, harnesses this tension between the joy and struggle to both sing and not-sing as an expression of a life lived poetically.

Hart’s poems succeed the most when they yoke these tensions of life so as to produce “an ambiguous noise” (30) wherein one cannot necessarily tell which feeling the poem expresses, or, to this extent, whether it’s song or not-song. The poem “Fang Face” echoes these sentiments in its closing lines:
                                I hate the way stories
seem to love a conclusion. I love
the bird’s singing just before it gets eaten. (25)
The excerpt contains both “love” and “hate,” the song of a bird and its grizzly death, and a reproach of conclusions in its conclusion. By oscillating between these binary poles, Hart doesn’t offer didactic verse, but rather “expressive works… // …about the way the artist feels and thinks” (73). And this artist, it seems, thrives in the possibilities and tensions that a poem with open emotional and sonic registers offers us.

The Poems of B.J. Love

This article originally appeared as a posted titled "Best Thing I’ve Read This Week: B.J. Love" at Vouched Books on 06 June 2013.

6_Quick B.J. Love is a poet who authored the chapbook Michigander, the editor of the online audio journal Pretty LIT, co-host of the Seersucker reading series (with Erika Jo Brown), and teaches at Savannah State University. Additionally, he used to run Further Adventures Press, which released a number of terrific, handmade chapbooks between 2008 and 2011. Yes, Love is a bit of Renaissance Man when it comes to poetry.

Earlier this week, I read a pamphlet of collaborative poems he wrote with Friedrich Kerksieck (the brains behind Small Fires Press) titled Six Quick Sand Pits. The colophon for the collection reads:
These quicksand pits were written collaboratively by BJ Love & Friedrich Kerksieck. This booklet was printed for Parenthesis 23 in the blazing Memphis summer of 2012. It was printed with a Vandercook No. 4 on Somerset Book paper. Type is Gill Sans.
If the specifications don’t mean much to you, know this: just like everything Kerksieck prints and produces, it looks gorgeous. And the six sand pits within? They are wonderfully odd prose poems. Take, for instance, the opening pit:
Sand and Water wanted a baby. What beautiful coastline we could make, they’d say to each other just before having sex in the usual positions. When quick sand bubbled up nine months later, Sand and Water sank the disappointment deep below the Earth’s crust. I don’t want to say this is why we now have volcanoes, but I can’t say it’s not.
The other five pits read in a similar tone and style. I’m not sure exactly how one would get their hands on this short collection (in fact, I’m not entirely sure how I got my hands on this collection), but you can read more of Love and Kerksieck’s collaborative poems in their chapbook Fossil, which they released via the Dusie Kollektiv a couple years ago.

Last week, I received the new issue of Cant in the mail, which contains eight poems by Love. To this extent, they act as the centerpiece for the issue. Here is one of those poems, “Grammatical Benjamin,” in its entirety:
I feel like I should be making more
telephone calls. That I could be better
at talking if I committed to a more rigid
practice schedule and insisted on using
the English to Feelings dictionary we
bought that night we couldn’t think of
the word that meant half-priced sushi.

When I put my hand in your hand, this
it tells us, is what we mean: Something
really necessary appears to be happening. (17)
The rest of the poems follow a likeminded trajectory: texts composed in a conversational idiom that, thematically, read as somewhat oblique love poems. To read more poems by B.J. Love (as well as work Aaron Belz, Matt Hart, and a terrific interview with Laura Solomon) order a copy of Cant.

28 September 2016

2013 Springgun Press Poetry Releases

This article originally appeared as a post titled "2013 Springgun Press Releases" at Vouched Books on 31 May 2013.

Last year, Springgun Press released its first offering of full-length collections: Lily Ladewig’s The Silhouettes, Adam Peterson’s The Flasher, and The Container Store, which is a collaborative text written by Joe Hall and Chad Hardy. For their second round of full-lengths, Springgun published three more solid collections: James Belflower’s The Posture of Contour: A Public Primier, Michael Flatt’s Absent Receiver, and Aby Kaupang’s Little “g” God Grows Tired of Me.
 photo MF1_zpsc9e4ef01.jpg  photo AK01_zps6d145db9.jpg
A conversation with Belflower discussing his Posture will appear on this site in the coming weeks; so I will focus my attention on the other two collections.

Flatt’s Absent Receiver opens, literally, with a microphone check: “check // check // check // check” (1); then proceeds to explore sound as both an object of study and as a form of study. Take, for instance, the following passage:
through the narcissism of reverb

we expect big things from small ones.

the propeller thrums the night

and electric light

brings blackground into relief.

in this space my open mouth

does not create a cavern. (32)
The excerpt begins with a meditation on the nature of reverb, and its ability transform “small” sounds into bigger ones. But there is more than meditation here; the form itself also contains a music in the hard rhyme of “night” and “light,” as well as the consonance of “create” and “cavern.” The reverb(eration) of phonemes in rhyme and alliteration, it would appear, propel the poem forward with their sonic thrums.

To this extent, then, Absent Receiver looks to travel “deep in the sound” of poetry in order to “deepen / the sound” (69) of the poems. In doing so, “the page” becomes “an amplifier” (47) through which Flatt sounds his songs; and the sounds, it would seem, are emotive:
the inside of a poem
isn’t anything
anyone needs to be shown.

the illiterate already know it
as the space between the
heartbeat and the heart. (46)
While Flatt’s preoccupations deal primarily with sound, Kaupang’s, Little “g” God Grows Tired of Me focuses mainly on the body and its various permutations. Take, for instance, the following segments from the poem “Scenic Fences”:
the body                    {that other body you
respond to—the one you reap}

refuses to wake
writes grieve

in the rainbed       the basalt       the mobile
choking over the baby’s crib (30)

return the body       {the one you
resound to}       lose it       once

and leave

be sad at the demolition of house (37)


the bodies beside
the body       {you
sometimes}       and lying
there and trying
accidentally appear too

misaddress invitations for
other men’s pockets (43)
Over the course of these three passages, one body “refuses to wake,” calling into question our agency over the very thing we think we control; and “writes grieve,” thus undermining normative conceptions of Cartesian dualism, wherein the ability to write, think, or communicate resides, first and foremost, in the mind. Likewise, the body is a space to which we can return, we can lose or leave, or, like a house, be demolished. Kaupang’s collection contains a plethora of bodies that function in many different ways. Yes, this is the multiplicity of the body.

The proliferation of bodies, then, disassociates corporeal selves from the concept of identity and, more specifically, the pronoun “I.” As such, “I is useless in the dung / of words that name” (57), because “a name means nothing,” whether it be “I,” another pronoun, or a proper noun. But Little “g” God Grows Tired of Me is not a lament for a lost sense of self. Instead, the collection offers us an “exchange”: in place of a determinate “I” residing in a particular corporeal body, “I inhabit[s] innumerable houses // your “body / in jeopardy” (73). By placing the body and the self in jeopardy, though, we attain a fluidity heretofore unattained.

An Interview with Susana Gardner

This article originally appeared as a post titled "Conversation: Susana Gardner" at Vouched Books on 28 May 2013.

Caddish Susana Gardner lives in Switzerland where she runs Dusie Press, which publishes full-length poetry collections and an online journal. She is also the author of three books: [lapsed insel weary], Herso, and her most recent collection  CaddishGardner took some time via email to answer a few questions for me about her newest book.

You mentioned during one of our previous conversations that your poem “Idylls and Rushes,” in vyour new book  Caddish,  appropriates text from Colette’s The Vagabond. Could you tell me a bit about what attracted you to this text and your engagement with it during the writing process? What, generally speaking, do you think techniques like appropriation, collage, and erasure offer poets writing today?

I wrote Idylls & Rushes for the 18’s Anthology for Knives, Forks, and Spoons Press (UK) in the winter of 2010/2011. The editor, Mark Cobley solicited poets to contribute to the anthology by writing 18 poems with 18 words each.

This was interesting and new for me—The restriction given which was naturally that, restrictive! New possibilities came from this new guideline and process, which I would have not had otherwise. For example, I had to be more creative if I wanted to have more words…thus sort of Celan-ing words…jamming words together thus creating new words with new meanings.

I had been rereading Collette’s The Vagabond. I loved the language and construction as well as the storyline. I’m not sure if that was in part to the period in which it was composed, or the fact it was later translated from the French. The story itself really resonated with me as a single woman, alone in Europe, making choices outside of the social normative grid, so to speak. My situation is a bit different because I am also a single mother, and while being a single mother, or divorced single mother is more and more common there are still elements of social deviance intimated in the general social fabric…these are felt.

At some point I started writing down words that I found somewhat outdated or words I found compelling or that I was just attracted to. I continued to do this throughout the reading and once I was finished decided I wanted to use the book itself as a material part of the of chapbook as well, which I would make from the 18’s project. I used the pages as filler pages as well as in constructing the covers. So, other poems were thus created in this process as well, like the first poem of the book, Artless Adores Her.

Appropriation, as well as other techniques, like erasure (lifting), collage, etc, simply offer poets a greater range of possibility. I don’t think there is any one way a poet must start a poem or poetic project. Having other means simply makes it more exciting and complex and interesting. Erasure or appropriation also includes others. We all are writing together somehow, the body poetic merges.

The cover image of Caddish is a visual collage you created, titled “Beauty.” Could you explain your relationship to visual collage and other arts? In both practice and theory, how do you understand or conceive of the relationship between poetry and the visual arts? Are there certain thoughts or feelings more appropriate or better suited for one medium or the other? Are there any specific collagists that have informed your practice?

Collage is something I do simply for fun or when I can’t write. I do think there is a visual embodiment that can accompany words. Collages that also have text enter another level for me in a meta-poetic way or endeavor. I have done collage work for many years, but this was the first time that I used my work for a book cover of mine (I have done so for the online journal Dusie). But for my own work it initially felt riskier and scarier. The collage itself was made years ago. I am not sure I wanted to silence Ezra, but perhaps his reign of imagism, etc. It wasn’t an intentional act, the blinding or silencing of poor Ezra (he did it to himself though didn’t he?), it happened and I didn’t want to undo it after that point. The German text is also an interesting random composition. I love the randomness that can happen and the subsequent surprise. I like many artists, but I think Joseph Cornell and his miniatures and shadow boxes certainly influenced me in the beginning. Also, any art that includes written text, there are many pieces in the permanent collection here in Zürich of Cy Twombly, Jasper Johns as well as many Dada works which I adore. The Dadaist collages of Hanna Hoch and much of DuChamp’s work, especially The Bride Stripped Bare By Her Bachelors Even, which isn’t collage but still an influence.

Some of the poems in Caddish, as well a few in Herso, employ a variety of typefaces, font sizes, and unique page layouts that create poems that are visual fields. It could be argued that these poems, when engaged by a reader, are more visual than textual objects. Could you speak about these poems and how you intended them to be received? What was the process of constructing these texts? Do you think about them differently than some of your more traditional poems? Are they influence at all by the Futurist and Dada movements, both of which experimented with text in somewhat similar manners?

It is possible that I was influenced somehow by the Dadaist poets, since I was composing much of Herso while I was working at the Cabaret Voltaire as a curatorial assistant. Herso was very much an exploration of language. While writing Herso, I felt the need to destroy any previous concept or relationship I had with language, I needed to destroy it in order to bear it again, to give new birth. I also do all of my own layout, in InDesign. This gives me the possibility to really engage the page in different ways which is something I really appreciate the ability to employ as a poet. Some of the more palimpsestic poems are not readable in a traditional way, though I have recorded these ones layer by layer. Ultimately, this challenges me to think in different ways, develop different strategies and find the page anew again and again. I think the visual aspect also speaks to my desire to create a pictorial field as well as text field. There are really just so many possibilities there is no reason to settle with just one. I don't feel there is any one way to receive such poems either, the experience can vary from reader to reader and that is all the more exciting to me.

To conclude, what direction do you see your work following in the immediate and near future? Are there any poets or poetry that you feel has been influencing your current writing, thoughts, or feelings? What are the overriding concerns that have been consuming your art and poetry lately?

Right now I am interested in writing an epic poem, though I oscillate between that and a lyric book. I have had the idea to do both for some time actually.  I hope it will soon germinate fully into whatever end form it will embody. My life is full of huge transitions right now, so I am just trying to ride with the waves of it. I will revisit some important long works, like Notley’s Descent of Alette and Alma. But other than that, I don’t have any concrete plans. I have started collaborating with another poet, that has been fun! There is an immediacy that exists in such a project and concurrence that is totally different and other than a solo project, and I am digging that. I am also just trying to finish a bunch of projects in the next few weeks that I have been meaning to finish for some time in way of my own press, I think the completion of these will assist in the creation of my own new book as well.

Noah Falck Reads Three Poems

This article originally appeared as a posted titled "Noah Falck at North High Brewing (05/11/13)" at Vouched Books on 22 May 2013.

On 11 May, Columbus, OH Matt McBride hosted a reading at North High Brewing that featured the poet Noah Falck. Falck read from his first full-length collection Snowmen Losing Weight (BatCat Press, 2012), as well as new poems from a series called Celebrity Dream Poems. Below are a few videos of the reading. First, here's Falck reading "Celebrity Dream Poem: Madona":

Here's another video of Falck reading "Celebrity Dream Poem: Jay-Z":

And finally, watch Falck battle crowd noise from the bar while performing a humorous rendition of his poem "5. Across":

Rebecca Gayle Howell and Nick Flynn Read Poems

This article originally appeared as a post titled "Rebecca Gayle Howell & Nick Flynn (04/24/13)" at Vouched Books on 20 May 2013

On 24 April, Rebecca Gayle Howell read at Cleveland State University to celebrate the release of her first collection of poetry Render: An Apocalypse (Cleveland State Poetry Center, 2013), which was selected by Nick Flynn for this year's CSU Poetry Center's Fist Book Prize. In the book's forward, Flynn writes that Howell's poems contain a voice that "is strong," in that  "it insists, it compels, it occasionally lunges" so as to push or cajole the reader into a their meditative worlds. Below is a video of Howell reading Render's opening poem "The Petition":

Flynn also read at the event. Below is his rendition of a poem he wrote in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombing, simply titled "Marathon":

Matt Hart Reads "My Wife on Vicodin Kissing"

This article originally appeared as a post titled "Matt Hart at BONK! (03/16/13)" at Vouched Books on 16 May 2013.

On 16 March, Matt Hart read at the 54th installment of the Nick Demske-curated BONK! performance series in Racine, WI. Hart, although promoting his new book Debacle Debacle (H_NGM_N B__KS, 2013), read selections from all five of his collections. In the below video, Hart reads his poem "My Wife on Vicodin Kissing," from his fourth book Wolf Face (H_NGM_N B__KS, 2010):

26 September 2016

Dana Ward Reads "Our Music"

This article originally appeared as a post titled "Dossiers: Ohio & Poetry, Dana Ward" at Vouched Books on 15 May 2013.

In early March, Futurepoem released Dana Ward's second full-length collection of poetry, The Crisis of Infinite Worlds. On 28 March, Ward visited Case Western Reserve University to perform his work for the Poets of Ohio reading series. The first piece he read, "Our Songs," can be streamed below:

Alessandrelli, Hall, and Zeller

This article originally appeared as a post titled "The Big Big Mess (05/10/13): Zeller, Alessandrelli, & Hall" at Vouched Books on 14 May 2013.

On Friday 10 May, Corey Zeller, Jeff Alessandrelli, and Joe Hall descended upon Akron, OH and read their poems for The Big Big Mess Reading Series. Below are a few videos from the event.

Corey Zeller reads from his recently released full-length Man Vs. Sky (Yes Yes Books, 2013):

Jeff Alessandrelli reads from recently released chapbook People are Places are Places are People (Imaginary Friend Press, 2013):

Joe Hall reads from his recently released full-length Devotional Poems (Black Ocean, 2013):

Factory Hollow Press, Glaser, and Landman

This article originally appeared as a post titled "New Factory Hollow Press Releases" at Vouched Books on 13 May 2013.

In March of this year, Factory Hollow Press, which is the publishing imprint of Flying Object, released Rachel B. Glaser’s Moods and Seth Landman’s Sign You Were Mistaken. Both books are the debut collections for each poet (although Publishing Genius released the short story collection Pee on Water by Glaser a few years ago).

Glaser’s Moods thrives on humor and pop culture references that remind one of the early writing by New York School poets, such as Kenneth Koch and John Ashbery. Take, for instance, the following excerpt from the poem “Thanksgiving didn’t happen”:
we can say Jesus existed
he was he good looking, charismatic
and once did a magic trick

if we still hate the cat tomorrow
let’s tie him to the tracks

when we all smoked catnip together, I lied
I did feel different

something else I didn’t tell you was
when I was in the WNBA
I had a very poor shooting streak and couldn’t admit it
I’d miss a three-point attempt
and pretend it was an ally-oop
“Where were you Swoops?! The ball was there,” I’d say,
“But where the hell were you?” (14)
A bit later in the same poem, after a digression concerning Julia Roberts and a series of humorous observations about but seemingly inane subject matter, Glaser invokes the poem’s title and completes its fragmented syntax:
                    Thanksgiving didn’t happen how they said
all it was, was two Indian boys
who shared some deer meat with two Pilgrim girls
and (big surprise)
their families freaked out
the girls got sent to boarding school
the boys were sent into the woods to “think” (15)
The references and humor, which spares no one, continues throughout the remainder of the collection at a furious pace, making for a quick and enjoyable read.

Landman’s Sign You Were Mistaken works as a counterpoint to Moods, at least to the extent that is a more meditative collection that forces a reader to slow down as they maneuver through the oftentimes irregular (or at least circuitous) syntax. For example, the poem “Story” begins with the following lines:
A very small train in silhouette is
a terrible way to travel is
to go back. (30)
Not only does this brief excerpt ruminate upon the nature of travel, but it does so in a manner that collapses two syntactic units into one another. In other words, the lines concatenate the sentences “A very small train in silhouette is a terrible way to travel” and “A terrible way to travel is to go back,” linking the two through their common phrase.

In other instances, such as in the “Hunt,” the poems produce a sinuous syntax through a series of qualifying phrases offset by excessive comma use:
                                               That with this gaze I fix no word
in orbit is given, is gone,
like shape, melting into
twilight. (41)
The poem “Merry Christmas” follows a similar pattern:
                    Say you took it,
a lantern, twinkling once, more,
so long in the night
of spite and thunder.
But there was now, alive
for good, no sign of
spring, and yet there was
a pleasant chance
to think, and I sprang to do it. (48)
These syntactical techniques require readers to examine the relationships between words more closely, thus forcing us to consider more thoroughly the meditations within each poem.

While you wait for your copies of Factory Hollow Press’s new books to arrive in the mail, check out Glaser’s portrait paintings of NBA players and Landman’s musing on Fantasy Basketball.

Sarah Gridley Reads "Charcoal"

This article originally appeared at a post titled "Dossiers: Ohio & Poetry, Sarah Gridley" at Vouched Books on 07 May 2013

For the final installment of the Poets of Ohio reading series on 18 April, Cleveland-native Sarah Gridley read from her new collection Loom (Omnidawn Publishing, 2013). Below is a video clip the event wherein Gridley reads her poem “Charcoal”:


After spending several years away from Ohio (in states such as Massachusetts, Montana, and Maine), Gridley returned to Cleveland a few years ago. In an interview with Joshua Marie Wilkinson (which originally appeared in the Denver Quarterly in 2010 and re-published last year in The Volta), Gridley had the following to say about her birth city:
How does one develop what Eliot calls “tender kinship for the face of the earth” when one’s childhood takes place in a part of the earth like Cleveland? This is what’s striking to me about being back here: despite the many ugly things about Cleveland, the severity of its physical and socio-economic decay, I find there is in me a habit of the blood, a sweet habit of the blood, that responds positively and lovingly to being here.

Through the sensory channels of memory, my lived experience at present finds weird communion with my lived experience from childhood. The native things, the snow, the rain, the winds, the thunder boomers and magnolias, the grime, winter’s flat gray light, the boarded up buildings, the ethereal, silver-leaf interior of Severance Hall, towering horse-chestnuts with blooms like candles, gloomy Lake Erie, the gentle Cuyahoga valley, downtown’s meager skyline—the good, the bad, and the ugly all flow through my blood creating a sense of loyalty and obligation that’s difficult to explain.

It is not that Cleveland doesn’t offer places of natural and manmade beauty; it is that you cannot possibly take them for granted. The scars of industry are livid here: they are, you might say, part of the city’s shame and its hope, its catalyst for re-direction and renovation. On a positive note: the Cuyahoga catching on fire did lead to the passage of the Clean Water Act in 1972, and the creation of the EPA (today, as cautionary reminder and/or badge of shame penance, Great Lakes Brewing Company makes a pale ale called “Burning River”). Today, there are a number of organizations and institutions working collaboratively to improve both economic and environmental sustainability, most notably, Green City Blue Lake, The Cleveland Foundation, and Cleveland Botanical Gardens.

22 September 2016

The Poetry of Russell Atkins

This article originally appeared as a post titled "Profile: Russell Atkins" at Vouched Books on 06 May 2013.

A few months ago, I spoke with the conceptual poet, poetry scholar, and experimental musician Tom Orange about poets who currently live and write in the state of Ohio. Through the course of our discussion, Orange mentioned the little known poet, dramatist, and musician Russell Atkins. Born in Cleveland in 1926, Atkins still resides in the city today.

Orange also mentioned that he recently wrote an essay for a forthcoming anthology showcasing the poetry of Atkins. The collection, titled Russell Atkins: On the Life and Work of a 20th Century American Master and edited by Michael Dumanis and Kevin Prufer, will be released later this year on Pleiades Press as part of their Unsung Masters Series. The series puts out one new collection a year that contains work by, and five-to-six essays about, a neglected American poet or fiction writer. In addition to Atkins’ own writing, the book will feature essays by Aldon Nielsen, Tom Orange, Evie Shockley, Sean Singer, and Tyrone Williams.

In an anticipation of the collection, I found a relatively inexpensive version of Atkins’ 1976 full-length Here In The (Cleveland State University Poetry Center) at an online book retailer. The author’s bio in the back of the book states that he was “one of the first concrete poets in the country and an innovator in poetic drama”; moreover, established poets such as Langston Hughes and Marianne Moore read his poems and championed his work. But more than the literary mythos surrounding the author, I found the book compelling because of the strange and beautiful voice within. Take, for instance, the second stanza of the poem “School Demolition”:
so silently
about the rooms
the autopsy
the moon coroner
          late (29)
This brief and enigmatic image offers us a vision of moonlight slicing through an abandon school that’s being readied for demolition. The moon transforms into a coroner, the building a body, and the city a morgue. To this extent, Atkins addresses the decay of a once great city and foretells the Rust Belt's continual decline as a result of the difficult economic effects of moving our country's manufacturing and industrial jobs overseas.

Everywhere through Here In The, the poet surveys the city, its residents, and surroundings, noting how even traditionally beatific images, such as a sunset, can transform into something less gorgeous in the crumbling urban cityscapes. For example, section six of “Irritable Songs” reads in its entirety:
horror of sunset stealths
through the boughs of birch:
sunk in a sigh the whole nauseous red:
the sun’s hideous liquid
fills gutters        frantic
the twigs at the window—
away goes through the air,
old cans abject        by-ways whimper
          —the night sky’s
at its death-fall (27)
Of course, in these “hideous” and “abject” images, Atkins creates a singular, Cleveland-based beauty in his language and the sounds it produces. Yes, while his content focuses on the death of a city, he enlivens that very same material through his poetic technique. Through an aestheticized vision of Cleveland, then, perhaps writers and artists living here (and other cities along the Great Lakes) can find an answer to the manner in which we engage our troubled city: acknowledging its decline, but doing so in a way that honors its inherent beauty.

For more information on Russell Atkins, visit his page at Deep Cleveland or read his work at the Eclipse archive.

Adcox, Krutel, Pope, and Shaheen Read Poems

This article originally appeared as a post titled "RCNC Reading (04/23/13): Pope, Krutel, Shaheen, & Adcox" at Vouched Books on 30 April 2013.

On Tuesday, April 23 in Akron, OH, Glenn Shaheen and James Tadd Adcox rolled through town for their recent Great Lakes region book tour. The writers teamed up with the local poets and co-hosts of The Big Big Mess Reading Series, Alexis Pope and Mike Krutel. Hosted by the artists that run Rubber City Noise Cave, all four readers put on lively performances, excerpts of which can be found below.

Here is Alexis Pope reading her poem "I Think I Would Die":

Here is Mike Krutel reading his poem "Physical Cliff":

Here is Glenn Shaheen reading his poem "Predatory":

And, finally, here is James Tadd Adcox reading from his "Scientic Method" series:

Cathy Wagner Sings "A Geography Poem"

This article originally appeared as an post titled "Dossiers: Ohio & Poetry, Cathy Wagner" at VVouched Books on 29 April 2013

Recently, the Oxford, OH-based poet Cathy Wagner traveled to Cleveland, OH to perform her work for the Poets of Ohio reading series, primarily focusing on material from her latest collection Nervous Device (City Lights Books, 2012).

Anyone who has heard and seen Wagner read her work will probably agree that she is quite the performer. For example, her live renditions of poems such as “A Well is a Mine: A Good Belongs to Me,” “Capitulation to the Total Poem,” and “Note and Acknowledgments” all contain theatrical elements that call attention to the body in space as a critical (but non-verbal) aspect the poem’s delivery.

But Wagner doesn’t limit her performativity to the physical realm; no, she also calls attention to voice and its articulation through song. Whether singing portions of her poems or chanting medieval verse, the musicality of her performance adds another compelling layer to the reading. Take, for instance, the below clip wherein Wagner sings a poem she wrote on the drive from Buffalo, NY to Cleveland, OH:

About one year ago, Wagner read at the University of Denver. Afterward, I asked her via email how she conceptualized the intersection of poetry and performance. Below is an excerpt from that conversation:

[Performance] has become more and more important to me—1st long ago I wanted to work on performance because I suffered too often watching people who thought it was OK to bore people. But the more comfortable I became performing the more interested in it I got; I could watch the audience, and I am fascinated by the weird interaction that is performance and in thinking about it in relation to, and as figure for, other kinds of relationships, political sexual economic, and in thinking about the poem on the page as performance, as interactive device. [Nervous Device] comes straight out of thinking about performance, or really, the poem as interactive device…There is a poet Bob Cobbing in England, dead now, whose work/thinking influenced me. He thought anything was a performance—any aspect of the artwork's life in the world. Its making is a performance, its page version, its live version—none of these is the poem, one is not the real poem while the others interpret it, all versions are equally poem. I do think there is tension between page and live at times because sometimes I prefer one to another; I might like an ambiguity on the page that it's hard to register in performance, and of course the songs lose their tunes on the page (I am trying to figure out how best to deal with that). But generally I think that the performance on the page and performance live are related but separate beasts and I don't feel pressure to make them resolve or be more similar. I am interested in both cases in drawing a reader/listener's attention to the fact of interaction and to the particular thrust or effect (these are not the right words...) of the interaction.

The Chapbooks of Jeff Alessandrelli

This article originally appear as a post titled "The Chapbooks of Jeff Alessandrelli" at Vouched Books on 22 April 2013
I met Jeff Alessandrelli in the autumn of 2008; but it wasn’t until winter/spring of 2009, when both of us enrolled in a poetic forms course at University of Nebraska, that we became close friends. After a few conversations, I learned that we shared similar poetic interests, listened to a lot of the same music, both owned dogs, and enjoyed drinking shitty beer until the wee hours of the morning, amongst other things. When you’re stuck a cornfield for nearly five years, you’re lucky to find someone with the same malformed interests.

Now that I live in Cleveland, OH and Jeff in Portland, OR, we don’t get to see each other as often as before; but every couple of months, I’ll receive a package from him that contains a new chapbook. Yes, Alessandrelli has been a bit of a chapbook machine during the last 14 months, coming out with three terrific collections.

Poor Claudia published the first of these chapbooks and released it at the 2012 AWP in Chicago, IL. Titled Don’t Let Me Forget to Feed the Sharks (which I’ve written about before, elsewhere), the book contains one of my favorite Alessandrelli poems, “Spring in the New Year.” It reads in its entirety:
Partial inventory of all items left dripping in the kitchen: one faucet, two knives. According to the fancy new guidebook I bought, you don't go crazy all by yourself. Out of some freshly sealed envelope of darkness, every morning we have to invent the sun in order to see it, have to invent the sky's cherry-blue backdrop in order to witness the sun’s milky light. Eventually there comes a point, though, when our inventions fail us: patentless, faulty, we wake up in some vaguely familiar pitch black. Yesterday was different we think, without entirely understanding how or why. But now it is the first day of spring and—reverent—we take the time to remember. Today is the first day of spring. Half-weighted flashlights aimed and ready, we ceaselessly pray that we will never ever have less. (21)
The cherry on top of this book, so to speak, is the artifact itself. Poor Claudia has done a fine job creating some amazing books, and this collection is no exception. If you’re unfamiliar with their product, I suggest heading over to their site and purchasing something.

For this year’s AWP in Boston, the relatively new Imaginary Friend Press released Alessandrelli’s People are Places are Places are People. While the artifact is a bit more in line with a no frills D.I.Y. aesthetic (as opposed to Poor Claudia’s more artisan approach), the collection contains some of Alessandrelli’s strongest poems. Two of my favorites are the opener, “Understanding Marcel Duchamp,” which reads:
One morning—I’m not sure why, maybe some type of lack or definition of half-tawdry want—I woke up, saw my neighbor’s bike lying in his driveway and just beat the shit out of it, just pummeled and crumbled and wracked and irrevocably dismantled it until what it was couldn’t even be called “bike” anymore; it was something else entirely. Then I went to work. When I got home that night my neighbor’s driveway was empty, his garage closed. The bike was gone, all its recognizable parts absent, vanished, shaped into new and heretofore incalculable realities. (1)
And two poems later, “Understanding Mina Loy (Everything, Everything, Everything)”:
I will refrain from discussing
the role of the lover.

Always burn the sheets
after you fuck in them. (4)
In the Elisa Gabbert-penned introduction to the collection, we’re told that an Alessendrelli poem is like “a place where you can know something but not believe, and vice versa; a place where understanding is not deeper knowledge but an alternative kind of access.” Or, as Gabbert, states later, these poems do “not tell us what [the poet] know, but to find out” something about ourselves while reading them. Indeed, when reading these poems, we enter into a process of discovery with the poet.

And just this month, the newly minted Both Books released a third Alessandrelli chapbook: A Lover’s History of Nevada. In this collection, the poet (a Reno, NV native) creates a liminal space filed with poetry, fiction, and historical non-fiction collaged into an off-beat guide to the Silver State. Take, for instance, the chapbook’s first piece:
Upon birth we slap the cheeks of every infant in Nevada until they bleed. To make sure he wasn’t born a wizard. To make sure she wasn’t born a witch. The old saying Go Fuck Your Soul means little in Nevada: forks weren’t introduced to our citizens until the mid-80’s, sandals didn’t arrive until just after the new millennium. In Nevada Y2K was a water rat that gnawed out the side of its cage and died quietly. A red sports car without wheels. The Humboldt River has no actual outlet to the ocean; it simply sinks into the ground, feeding a massive underground aquifer. The largest single public works project in the history of the nation, Hoover Dam contains 3.25 million cubic yards of concrete. In Nevada. How the bike tires and automobile tires ravish and splendor the pavement, the concrete, the desert sands as they make their every way to Burning Man, the largest annual experiment in temporary community dedicated to radical self-expression and radical self-reliance the whole world over. We are a state of grievous angels, each of us ceaselessly attempting to burn our wings for nothing but the sheer sake of spectacle. You go first. Wait for me. (1)
The collection proceeds in similar fashion and, as Alexis Orgera writes of the book, creates an “amalgam of factoid, mythos, and rhythm” that “pays homage to [the poet’s] home state, exploring its landscape and the relationships therein through various states of being.”

Alessandrelli’s full-length collection The Last Time Will Be The First Time, will be published by Burnside Books later this year. If you live in or around Ohio, you’ll be able to catch Alessandrelli read at The Big Big Mess in Akron, OH on May 10 or in Columbus, OH on May 11 at North High Brewing.

Frank Giampietro Reads "Whitman's Brain"

This post originally appeared as an article titled "Dossiers: Poetry & Ohio, Frank Giampietro" on 09 April 2013 at Vouched Books.

Frank Giampietro moved to Ohio last summer to become the interim director of the Cleveland State University Poetry Center. He is the author of Begin Anywhere (Alice James Books, 2008) and co-author of Spandrel (Small Craft Advisory Press 2011) with Denise Bookwalter and Book O' Tondos (The Painters Left, 2010) with Megan Marlatt. In the below video, he reads a new poem, titled “Whitman’s Brain,” at The Big Big Mess Reading Series on 09 November 2012:

Giampietro also read recently for the Poets of Ohio reading series on 21 March 2013. For the series, participating poets were asked to write brief thoughts on the state of Ohio and/or how they conceive of the relationship between poetry and Ohio. As a relative newcomer to the state, Giampietro responded with the following list:
1. Hello, Toledo, Ohio!
That’s hilarious.

2. In Maine they say, “You must be from away.”
In Cleveland they don’t say anything.

3. Like Jesus, Cleveland, in you there is no north or south—just east, west, and Akron.

4. So there's a bar on every corner in Lakewood? Yes—No. No but yes.

5. How many lonely, dog walking, single people living on one Lake Avenue is too many lonely, dog walking, single people living on one Lake Avenue?

6. If Seattle, Washington is a big city built on tiny bones, then Cleveland is a very, very, sexy Elizabeth Bishop, especially if you consider EB’s relatively small oeuvre as congruous symbol of Cleveland’s population density.

7. Once, he saw a woman walking down Euclid Avenue loudly repeating the following question: “What is wrong with the people in Cleveland?”

8. The worst thing about being destitute in any middle American city is that no one will look you in the eyes. So I’ve heard (while looking away).

9. There were so many dead fish, various sizes of dead fish on the Lake Erie shore on March 23rd, I found some kissing.

10. Hey. Let’s dump our waste into this vast but shallow lake and then get our drinking water from it!

11. If the world comes to an end and humans are to blame, it won’t be Ohio’s fault.

12. Question: What’s America like, Ohio?

Answer: Long, semi-incredulous / slightly bored sigh.

13. Hey, I’m one of the wealthiest people in the whole wide world, but my heart has gone bad (as all hearts do). Can you help me America Can you help me Ohio? Sure. Just come on over to Cleveland.

14. Did you spill coffee on your sweatshirt or is that the outline of Ohio?

15. Burn, burning river.
Die, dead man’s curve.
Just kidding.
You’re both actually very cute.

16. Hey, Cleveland Clinic. You getting all this on camera? Where’s your remote controlled medicine cart taking those meds?

17. So where did you eventually end up happily living out the rest of your life, Francois?

18. Dear Hart Crane, Sorry your monument and park is kind of a mess.

The final readers for the Poets of Ohio reading series will be Sarah Gridley (04/18). For more information, please check out the series’ Facebook page.

19 September 2016

Gina Myers: Hold It Down

This post originally appeared as "Gina Myers: Hold It Down" at Vouched Books on 16 April 2013.

Gina Myers’ second full-length collection of poems, Hold It Down (Coconut Books, 2013), centers itself around the two long poems “False Spring” and “Behind the R,” both of which explore the terrain of the speaker’s consciousness as she lives, works, and writes in a particular city.

I’ve written at length before about “False Spring” and its dual intent to “explore both the city of Saginaw, Michigan and a poetic consciousness that shifts with the seasons,” while simultaneously expanding its vision through our “modern information systems” so that it cannot be pigeonholed as “a placed-based text that estranges readers not from Saginaw or similar Michigan cities.” As such, I’d like to focus my attention on “Behind the R.”

In 1883, Emma Lazarus immortalized the Statue of Liberty in her sonnet “The New Colossus.” She envisioned the statue as a monument to “world-wide freedom” that welcomed the tired, poor, and huddled masses who yearned “to breathe free” in the United States and make a better life for themselves.

While Lady Liberty may have offered the promise of a better life for immigrants during the late-nineteenth century, the speaker of “Behind the R” views the statue much differently one hundred and fourteen years later:
still the abandoned streetcars at the end of Van Brunt
spider web windshield & slow rust
weeds bent through tracks
brick streets & eyes      cast to sea
over the      East River   sails & tugboats
water taxi tours past
the statue of liberty           dilapidated
crumbling into the water
small town Brooklyn
or anywhere (31)

Behind the R the sun is setting
on the statue of liberty
a cruise liner dock three blocks
from the projects
wild dogs roam the streets (33)
The “dilapidated” images of Brooklyn with which Myers surrounds the statue suggest that the city, our country, and the ideals of liberty and freedom have begun “crumbling into the water,” both physically and psychically. We rust. We are overgrown with weeds. We are hounded by wild dogs. We are lost in our own streets.

And the deteriorating cityscape affects the speaker’s well-being. No more clearly does the poem make this apparent as when Myers writes: “Sometimes your environment makes you hate yourself” (39); and it would appear that the self-hatred manifests itself in a list of fears both common and bizarre:
fear of voids or empty spaces fear of time travel
fear of waves or wave-like motions
fear of hearing good news
fear of swallowing or being eaten
fear of the knee bending backwards
fear of nihilism
fear of rain or of being rained on (24)

fear of picnics
fear of taking tests
fear of being buried alive or of cemeteries
fear of symmetry
fear of the color red
fear of being tickled by feathers
fear of writing in public (37)

fear of crosses or of crucifixes
fear of the figure 8
fear of the color blue
fear of crowded rooms
fear of empty rooms
fear of dizziness or whirlpools
fear of dining or dinner conversation (43)
Yes, there is no shortage of fears that the city and its ruins can induced within the speaker. Moreover, these fears might be “the very language” needed “to articulate our unfreedom” (20), thus eradicating our false belief in the freedom we think we experience.

The combination of unfreedom, fear, and a crumbling surroundings, though, begs the question: Where is the hope? If everything fails, what is to stop us from sliding into the very nihilism the speaker mentions in her list of fears? The answer the poem offers is to turn “a blind eye / to the newspaper stand” (45) and disengage from the narratives forwarded by mainstream media and the like.

Yet, in the previously reviewed “False Spring,” the speaker seeks to engage with broader social, cultural, political, and artistic communities in order connect with other people outside of the worn landscape of Michigan. So what is one to do? On the one hand, retreat offers the comfort of ignorance, but the loneliness of disengagement; on the other hand, participation provides community, but also a heightened and debilitating fear. Myers’ second book might not be able to solve this conundrum, but it does thrive on the tension produced from it: the push and pull of the speaker’s desire both to engage the world around her and withdraw into her art. The best solution the book might offer resides in the title: Hold It Down. And while you’re at it, take some deep breaths, maybe move to Atlanta, and revel in the knowledge that:
Not every day
can be a good day
but this [could be] one
of them, one
of the best days (98)
Yes, things can be difficult, but the hope that today could be one “of the best days” keeps us going; or, as Lazarus wrote in “The New Colossus,” there might be “wretched refuse” along our “teeming shore,” but we remain hopeful for a better future wherein we “lift [our] lamp beside the golden door!”

Mary Biddinger Reads "Dyes and Stichery"

This post originally appeared as "Dossiers: Poetry & Ohio, Mary Biddinger" at Vouched Books on 02 April 2013.

Black Lawrence Press released Mary Biddinger’s second full-length collection of poetry, O Holy Insurgency, earlier this year. The poet opened her book tour with a reading at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, OH on 14 February and read several poems from the collection. In the below video, which was taken at the event, she recites the Insurgency poem “Dyes and Stitchery”:

As part of the reading series, participating poets were asked to write brief thoughts on the state of Ohio and/or how they conceive of the relationship between poetry and Ohio. Biddinger responded with the following:
In Ohio sometimes we let our barns grow so old that they topple, and then we plant sunflowers or flights of kale around the mouse boards and rails and ghosts of saddle horses. Sometimes we are a series of roads, but never resolved to just one side. We try the center lane instead, but do not expect a dynamic vista. As children we dumped a deck of cards into a retention pond and most of them ended face-up. We were allowed to touch feathers and eat snap peas right from the dirt, because it wasn’t dirt, it was Ohio, which may or may not have made us, but nonetheless kept us. We knew better than to imagine the bottom of the quarry, a parting of gray waters or primordial catfish emboldened by stray cheese curls and Coppertone. Maybe we don’t raise our hand in class. Maybe the swish of corduroy makes us self-conscious, like the back of a math book, the last inch of a pencil, like opening day and stuck in the church basement with a haystack of missalettes. Perhaps it’s the way this place does not have a way, but a name, which begins somewhere near a downed tree and halfway across the sky.
The final two readers for the Poets of Ohio reading series will be Cathy Wagner (04/04), and Sarah Gridley (04/18). For more information, please check out the series’ Facebook page.

16 September 2016

Phil Metres Reads "Home/Front"

In order to archive the posts I wrote during my tenure at Vouched Books, I'm migrating each article to this site in order of their original appearance. Laura Relyea was kind enough to grant me permission to reproduce them here.

This post originally appeared as "Dossiers: Poetry & Ohio, Phil Metres" at Vouched Books on 28 March 2013.

Philip Metres is a poet who teaches literature and creative writing at John Carroll University in Cleveland, Ohio. He has written a number of books, most recently the chapbooks A Concordance of Leaves (diode editions, 2013) and abu ghraib arias (Flying Guillotine Press, 2011), which won the 2012 Arab American Book Award, and To See the Earth (Cleveland State University Poetry Center, 2008).

Metres recently appeared at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, OH for the Poets of Ohio reading series. He opened the performance with a section his poem “Home/Front,” which originally appeared in the Massachusetts Review and won the 8th annual Anne Halley Poetry Prize:

As part of the reading series, I asked participating poets to write brief thoughts on the state of Ohio and/or how they conceive of the relationship between poetry and Ohio. Metres responded with the following:
“Tin soldiers and Nixon coming, we’re finally on our own.” While I was in utero, the caterwauling of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young was a lament for the four students shot dead at Kent State University—just down the road from where I now live and teach. In a state called Ohio. Basically, to me, this state is a fiction. Nothing unites Cincinnati, Columbus, and Cleveland—and the sundry towns between and around—except that every four years, this humble and homely flyover becomes the prom queen, as presidential hopefuls crisscross the state, promising the moon. “America is just a word but I use it,” Fugazi once sang. And “language keeps me/locked and repeating. Language keeps me/locked and repeating.” When I wrote a poem based on the signs and voices I read and heard as I traveled down its spine, I gather that Ohio is afraid of its mortal soul, and everyone wants you to obey the God of their imaginings. Either Ohioans are very pious and like their radio religious, or they are very rebellious and many preachers are afraid of where we are all heading. Either way, there will be long drives down our very spine to find out the answers.
Upcoming readers for the Poets of Ohio reading series will include Frank Giampietro (03/21), Dana Ward (03/28), Cathy Wagner (04/04), and Sarah Gridley (04/18). For more information, please check out the series’ Facebook page.