Monday, November 25, 2013

Denver Imaginary

Last week, Denver poets Oren Silverman, Noah Eli Gordon, Jesse Morse, and Mathias Svalina read their poetry at MAINSITE Art Gallery here in Norman.

The gathering was small and unpretentious. After they’d had a pint at a local pub across the street, the poets arrived just after seven p.m. We chatted for a few minutes before the reading began; the poet Crag Hill gave the introduction: “these poets are stateless; they inhabit multiverses of language…they are the future of poetry rather than the past.” The evening had a flavor of Americana to it, not least because at one point a loud whistle from a train passing through the middle of town interrupted Gordon’s reading. Small talk ranged from college football to an anecdote about the four poets speeding down Flaming Lips Alley in Bricktown the night before—windows down, blasting Flaming Lips songs. Apparently, too, the poets had been kicked out of a hotel at midday for no logical reason—and then promised the hotel manager’s son that “no one from the University of Oklahoma would ever stay there again.” If only you could’ve heard Morse tell the story.

It was clear, though, that these poets take their work seriously, even if they differ in how they define “work” and its relationship to “art.” The poets had been announced for a few weeks as “Denver poets,” words which already imply a kind of school of thought. As always, “schools” are misleading; in each poet’s work I heard differing approaches to poetics, ethics, language. Svalina holds the term “experimental” suspect because it borrows from science and implies a “finding.” What we got on Saturday was undeniably not a Western-enlightened “finding.” Instead, Gordon’s "The Next Year: did you drop this word" offered:

A poem runs the risk
of being meaningfully
  a little case study
     illustrating what
        one can fit inside

We heard critiques of romanticism and nostalgia, including that nostalgia fatal to poetics—the need to reduce a poem to a “meaning.” Gordon seems to have proposed a history of the lyric poem in his performance of “The Next Year,” a piece he’s described as “pretty much an unmasking and an ars poetica in one”:

The real
                    history of the lyric's
                 what we do with our
              runoff until a garbage
           truck rumbling by
              wakes our bird too early
                 with the thought
              a city's everything
           outside a citizen

In Svalina’s reading, I heard playful absurdism and a blurring of the line between prose and poetry (a line which became blurrier as the evening wore on). Svalina’s work seemed perhaps the most sparse—not in terms of depth or volume, but of space. The walls of the room we were in are a blank off-white, and the room’s small silver ceiling lights scattered shadows about the room, a perfect space to encounter “Red Plastic Cup”, in which a “body’s shadow flows over the asphalt / like water in my cupped hands draining out...As if, were I able to be any thing, / I’d be a red plastic cup.” Svalina also shared work from his newest collection The Explosions. In the collective imaginary built by the four performances, an imaginary which seemed to hold nostalgia suspect, I felt safe—perhaps because of lines like this from “Above the Fold”:

I will hide your grey
within my grey.

It was Ted Berrigan’s birthday, as Morse reminded us. “When I read Berrigan, I thought, ‘I can do this,’” he said before reading “How the Dead Gain Passage.” He shared new poems gleaned from the autocorrect feature on cell phones. While profound, these garnered some laughs. He lent us new geometries inspired by the grace of baseball player Eric Chavez, seeming to answer something of Gordon’s earlier question:

Is there ever a point in cultivating nostalgia? It's not something you water & watch grow. It just happens, hits like a thought. No, that's something you build. I guess I mean it's void of fulfillment, though even that's dubious ground & who'd want to stand outside waiting for the day's instructions?

Perhaps these questions are part of what Crag was getting at when he said these poets are of the future, not the past. But how does one dodge nostalgia in what appears at first glance to be a baseball poem?—this I found myself wondering when Morse read from his “Eric Chavez Sonnets” from Alive at the Center.

Eric Chavez in Portland

How fortunate life lies, Eric, my neverending
birth tonight in Portland, you on rehab
with the Sacramento Rivercats,
I a mere nine rows up!

I can see the contours of your face, your brow even,
the perfect zen in your crouch. Your precise
over-the-shoulder release. The fundamental straightness
of your back. Is that a little belly even?

Every move, every pitch, every waking
high thrust of my spirit simply yards away,
at third, all my lost dreams realized tonight

in your paced extension, gentle lean
slow gait, nervous twitch, gracious act
your glove, my heart.

It’s not really (or perhaps just more than) a baseball poem—it’s a meditation on chance and time and precision, a celebration of the body and its relation to all three of these elements; it’s an exclamation of renaissance in Portland. From each small movement of Eric Chavez spiral innumerable possibilities—“neverending / birth.” Perhaps here is a key element which tied together the evening’s “Denver imaginary” and its incredible heterogeneity: a sense of possibility—where romanticism is upset by delightful absurdity; where nostalgia, “void of fulfillment,” is unwelcome.

Somehow the reading became an ethical experience. There was an urgent quality to it, and not just because our finale was Silverman’s astounding performance—his reading might as well have been a dramatic monologue written for the stage; he spoke more than one voice and “played” more than one role. He voiced a relationship between art and law that spoke to the world in a way that the clearest prose will never be able to accomplish. I agree with Morse when he says that “a proper reading of a poem” must be “multifarious” and “continuing,” and each poet and his work seemed to “talk” to the others, making Silverman’s final poem not just the last piece of the evening, but a zenith of the evening’s intertextualities—a true finale. Svalina handed me a copy of his new book as we all headed to top off our drinks and make conversation. It was an immense privilege to have heard these four in one sitting.

Monday, July 22, 2013

"The Leaves in Her Shoes" by J.L. Jacobs

Not only has J.L. Jacobs been a part one of the Mark Allen Everett Poetry Series in the past and delivered an alluring poetry reading; she was also one of my mentors and favorite professors of Creative Writing when I was a student at the University of Oklahoma. She sparked my interest and love of poetry and was an inspiration to all of her students. I saw this article posted on Facebook. Hope you enjoy it and I highly recommend buying her book, The Leaves in Her Shoes.

"I don't think I've ever read a first book of poems so haunted as The Leaves in Her Shoes. Reading these poems is like listening to snatches of song or overhearing half-sentences, mutterings, broken chants of a lost tribe. J. L. Jacobs assembles these shards into a startling and unforgettable collage." --Carol Muske
J. L. Jacobs' latest collection of poetry, The Leaves in Her Shoes, blends aspects of the everyday and the spiritual, infusing simple domestic rituals with a latent wonder. Spare but supple, this poetry manifests a life tied to the earth. Evoking earlier centuries, "hidden heirlooms," the poems provide a sense of the past's continuing presence. Bits of earlier poems reappear later, imitating life's circularity. In this poetry, all seasonal patterns and the human rites which match them, be they harvest time or "communion at two Eastertides," take on a certain mysticism. The human body exists as an extension of the earth, so that a woman's death is "a translation of her into landscape." The poems chart the geography of daily life, mapping not only "a land of bogs and swamps" but also the path of "a wagonload of flowering bulbs." J.L. Jacobs mixes with a deft hand the "voice above," the voice of the spiritual and divine, and the "voice below," that of the earth and life. 

J.L. Jacobs was born in 1967 in a small town in the rural South. She began her own "project" of collecting folklore, particularly that of womenfolks, at the age of eleven. She did "carry those bug-eaten books out of the barn," and they, along with the Matriarchs she learned from, are woven into her work. She has a B.A. from the University of Oklahoma and an M.F.A. in poetry from Brown University. In 1992, Leave Books published her chapbook Varieties of Inflorescence. J.L. Jacobs' work has appeared in many literary journals, including New American Writing, First Intensity, New Orleans Review, Five Fingers Review, and Talisman. She edited the 1995-96 season Of Chance Abstractions. J.L. Jacobs resides in Valliant, Oklahoma.

River geography at first hand

An error in geography
The timber they kept back
Things not explicitly remembered


Monday, February 18, 2013

International Poets Showcase - Wolfgang Kubin

Poet, sinologist, and public intellectual Wolfgang Kubin was born in Celle, Germany, in 1945. While more well-known as a leading figure of European Chinese studies, he is also known as a poet. His poetry was first published in 2000 with the title Das neue Lied von der alten Verzweiflung (tr. The New Song about Old Despair). Narrentürme (tr. Fools’ Towers) was published in 2005, and Schattentänzer (tr. Shadow Dancer) in 2004. Philosophical and political in nature, his poetry reflects on the places he has lived and his travels to Madrid and Salamanca, the US, and, of course, China, which has become a second home. In 2006 he published a collection of short stories entitled Halbzeit einer Liebe (tr. Half-time of a Love). In Kubin’s fiction and poetry, readers recall the impulse behind traveling, the push to discover the distant and unknown, and if not discover, then be closer to it.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Kate Greenstreet and Quraysh Ali Lansana Links

Fabulous February Poetry Readings - Special Valentine's Day Reading

Kate Greenstreet
is a poet, graphic artist, painter, and the author of several collections of poetry from Ashanta Press, including case sensitive (2006), The Last 4 Things (2009), and, most recently, Young Tambling (2013). Greenstreet has received a New Jersey State Council on the Arts Fellowship, and her poems have been published in numerous publications, including Colorado Review, Fence, VOLT, Boston Review, Chicago Review, and other journals. Her videos can be viewed in Medium, Dewclaw, Slope, Trickhouse, Evening Will Come, and TYPO. She lives in Ireland with her husband, Max, but the couple is presently crisscrossing the US. 

You can visit her website where she has tons of poems and audio files at
["The giant takes us"]
Poetry Foundation
 An Interview with Kate Greenstreet
A Conversation with Kate Greenstreet

Quraysh Ali Lansana is the author of six books of poetry, most recently his mystic turf (Willow Books). He is also the author of a children’s book titled The Big World (Addison-Wesley, 1998) and a book of pedagogy, and is the editor of eight anthologies, including Dream of a Word: The Tia Chucha Press Poetry Anthology (Tia Chucha Press, 2006). He is Associate Professor of English and Creative Writing at Chicago State University, where he also served as director of the Gwendolyn Brooks Center for Black Literature and Creative Writing from 2002 to 2011.

Gerald Stern and Anne Marie Macari

This is a video taken of Gerald Stern and Anne Marie Macari's poetry reading that was held at the Performing Arts Studio, Norman Depot on November 15. The poets read from several of their books to an eager and inspired audience. It was a great night of poetry and literature. Afterwards there was an open conversation between the poets and members of the audience who had questions, a book signing and refreshments.

Macari said she has been with Stern for 15 years. It was so great to have both of them read at the University of Oklahoma and share their stories and poetry. Macari read mostly from her book Gloryland. She also talked to us about the 36 sonnets she wrote in conversation with the "creation myth" and the book of Genesis. Here is a poem she read titled "XXVI - In the Beginning Was the Animal"

In the beginning was the animal
of space licking earth to life, the night sky

lit with great herds of stars, and the paths of planets
growing radiant rubbing each other.

Heaven’s thrust and caress upon us,
green and fertile in the cracks, poultice of dust,

spore, pollen and ash. Creation’s luminous
mouth. In the beginning all that was made

was good because it was made, and what was
made and not-made knew each other, and it

was good. The stars in unending intercourse.
Heaven an amnio sac, the slopping

salty center, from there all the swimmers
breast stroking, diving, all night long, toward earth.

"Creativity is a human right. Art is what we do." - Anne Marie Macari

"While you're here, take everything you can take. Study everything you can study because it's all connected. Everything we do is all connected." - Anne Marie Macari

Macari was asked what her inspiration for writing poetry was. Where it all began for her. Writing poetry comes along differently for everybody. We all have different stories of how and why we began writing, who inspired us and who encouraged us. But one thing that Macari said really stuck out. She said that writing poetry was a calling; that it announced itself to her. I've wondered if that's how it is for all poets, all artists. Macari has a deep connection with her body, memory and consciousness - a connection that can only be explained through her poetry. It fascinates me - the mind of an artist. What they do, what the make, that is a part of them, a symbol, a moment in time, a feeling, and it is poured out in to the world, into existence, in the form of art. We say that art is imitating life, but what makes more sense to me is just the opposite. Life is imitating art. Because art is the expression, the realness, the core of what life is all about. Without art, there would be no life. There would be no emotion, no color. Our lives are our masterpiece. Life is art.

Macari said she grew up in a house with no books, but she has always written. Her piers made fun of her for reading books. But Whitman was her main source of inspiration to be a writer.

Macari also read many poems that had to do with her experience in a cave in Belize. She described the experience as one thing leading to another. There was no safety railing, she was afraid of heights and prone to panic attacks. So she stayed in the cave, in the quiet, by herself. Turning off her headlamp, she adjusted to the dark for 20 minutes and just sat there. She was surrounded by the cave art and felt her body parts just floating around her - she had an amazing out of body experience and wanted to see more...

I really enjoyed Anne Marie Macari's poetry reading. As a woman, I felt a strong connection to the messages in her poetry.


Gerald Stern said that he didn't have a teacher, etc that gave him words of inspiration. His inspiration for writing came from a different place. His sister, Sylvia, died when she was 9 years old. He's written poem after poem after her. He was the only Jew in an anti-semantic neighborhood. But, he said he doesn't know where exactly his inspiration came from... it was just always there... the need to write.

" makes me realize that poetry and life is in the details, so carefully placed in our lives." - Gerald Stern

Stern read from his book Stealing History, winner of the National Book Award. His essay "Demystification" was amazing and one of the best things I have ever read. Listening to him read it was even more awesome. He read many poems, some old and some new, that everyone seemed to find a way in which to connect with.

Here are the poems that were featured in the readings.