Vouched On The Road: Akron with Nick Sturm and Mike Krutel

21 Jun

In the first of my road trip posts, I visit with Nick Sturm and Mike Krutel of Akron for some rad hangage.  

Here they are, our first hosts, our radiating poets, Nick Sturm and Mike Krutel, recent NEOMFA graduates, lifelong Akronites, rad dudes.

Sturm, you might remember, of his TREMENDOUS TIME (and will see him chapbooking again with his BASIC GUIDE that just won the Bateau Press Boom Chapbook contest). Krutel, you need to remember, from poems like these and this.

These dudes can write! But can they live?!

I asked them both a bunch of questions beforehand about their connection to Akron.

KRUTEL SPEAKS

1. How long have you lived in Akron?

I have lived around Akron pretty much my entire life. It’s one of those cities that have dozens of other communities surrounding it in every direction (small suburban towns/”cities” and also areas that are more farmland). But I spent most of my teenage years hanging around Akron, running around the city with friends, and participating in the local music scene to lesser and greater extents. I have been an actual resident for nearly three years now.

2. What are your favorite pieces of Akron?

The part of town that I live in (North Hill) has a lot of nostalgia buried in corners of it, most related to being in high school and playing music with a good friend who lived in that area. Other than that, I enjoy going to Highland Square. It’s the only real neighborhood in Akron, that is, one that has a distinct culture about it. I have grown a bit tired of the Square over the years, but there are a few parts I’ll never get tired of, such as the local punk bar. There is also an amazing record store named Square Records that is a definite place to stop even if you are just passing through town. One last area worth all its weight is the Cuyahoga Valley National Park system on the edge of the city. There are good hiking trails, as well as the old towpath that is now a hike and bike trail.

3. What keeps you in Akron?

For one, Akron is an extremely affordable place to live. But other than that, I have yet to live anywhere else than in Akron or in areas around it. Though there is a college crowd around, Akron still holds onto it’s own identity without being wrapped up in college life, which can get old after awhile.

4. How has Akron influenced your writing?

I am really unsure how to answer this question. Perhaps the only thing I can think of is that having been settled in here for so long, and the affordability factor, I have been able to invest in traveling and experiences outside of Akron, which I then come home and digest. There is enough space in and around Akron that it doesn’t feel claustrophobic ever, as it might in other major cities at times.

5. If you could live in any city, what would it be and why?

I have the dream to live in some major city, at some time in the next few years (I hope), such as Chicago, New York, or some place like that. I’m not to picky, I just really want to experience that kind of life for at least a bit. Chicago is always nice because it is familiar, being a Midwest city. Basically, I would love to not need a car and just use public transit. Akron has pretty bad public transit in my experience.

6. How’s the literary scene in Akron?

While maybe not that great/thriving, it always feels like it is because of my friends and I and how stoked we are to be involved with the greater Lit community as well as each other. The Big Big Mess Readings Series has been really bolstered Akron’s connection to the larger community by bringing in awesome writers to read and hangout here.

7. Describe Akron in three words.

Salad, half cheese.

8. What are you most stoked to show me in Akron?

My porch. And maybe some hills.

The Big Big Mess Readings Series, ah yes. Held at the mega-cool Annabell’s, that glorious thing Sturm started last year, having brought in readers such as Matt Bell, Heather Christle, Jason Bredle, and many others. Krutel and Alexis Pope hope to keep those good times rolling next year. I had the pleasure of reading at a Big Big Mess in January and boy, they sure are fun fun fun, hootin’ and hollerin’ and clappin’ great time.

Vouched contributor, Ashley Ford, made this journey with me (and big thxxxxx to her for these pictures and videos). First big adventure was hiking in Cuyahoga Valley National Park. Above Ashley and Sturm dance on a wobbly rock. These guys like to wander around, like to wonder about their surroundings. Sturm full of stories about finding horse teeth in a river, about the history of the land. Krutel the constant kind guy, the warning signal of slippery rocks, the teller of the whats-up.

If you’re paying any attention, you’ll be astounded by these two dudes’ sense of self, how they absorb and exist, experience and share.

STURM SPEAKS

1. How long have you lived in Akron?

I’ve been in and around Akron most of life with short stints in Michigan and Oregon that always made me appreciate Ohio more. I’m actually about to move out of Ohio for a PhD program in Florida, so I’m finding myself looking back on my time here, getting nostalgic and way too fluffy, but really realizing how amazing it’s been. I was in Massachusetts a couple weeks ago and Christopher Deweese and I were talking about my upcoming move and he said something like, “How do you feel about leaving? Akron is your jam, right?” I said something about how it’ll be okay because the trees in Tallahassee are rad. But he’s right, Akron will always be my jam.

2. What are your favorite pieces of Akron?

52 Corson front porch. Kendall Hills secret creek valley in Cuyahoga Valley National Park. Abandoned downtown roof spot. Skating down Mill Street. The Aqueduct garden.

3. What keeps you in Akron?

For the last seven years school has kept me in Akron, my undergrad in History and my just-finished MFA. But it wasn’t really that simple. I left Akron post-undergrad not really planning to come back soon. Went to Oregon. Got my certificate to teach English as a second language. Planned to go overseas to use that certificate. But then this girl happened. The best girl. So I came back for her, jumped into the MFA on a whim, and here I am. No more girl, but that’s how things happen. Realistically, there are only so many dance parties you can have in one city before moving on. It’s been a really good seven year dance party…

4. How has Akron influenced your writing?

I spent my undergrad reading Ginsberg, Whitman, and Blake and seeing Akron through their prophetic voices as a place that kind of embodied the line between the human and nonhuman, natural and artificial, hope and decay, pastoral and urban. So a lot of my terrible early poems were these ecstatic, pseudo-transcendental attempts to show how awesome it was to be alive while wandering through a continual mixture of sunlight and desolation a la James Wright if James Wright had spent a weekend camping with Kenneth Koch while they wrote all the songs for Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo! I still feel the current poems connected to all that in ways, but I don’t think anyone would say my work is connected to Akron or any place really, though I know my environment does influence the poems. I wouldn’t have started writing the poems from my first chap, WHAT A TREMENDOUS TIME WE’RE HAVING!, if it hadn’t been May and spring was just starting to set in and everything was turning over golden again. So Akron is there somehow. I guess you could say there’s an Akron glow over it, but you wouldn’t know unless you knew me in this place. I think a lot of people’s poems are like that.

5. If you could live in any city, what would it be and why?

Give me every city. I’m too curious to decide.

6. How’s the literary scene in Akron?

I think the literacy scene in Akron has, over the last few years, really started to become something, or at least it’s become possible that a poet in Northampton, Massachusetts knows what Akron, Ohio is. Is that even significant? I don’t know. A couple years ago when I was starting to become aware of the wider contemporary poetry scene I felt like Akron wasn’t really on the map. But not for any reason, you know. Somebody just needed to stand up and start saying, “Hey, have you been to Akron? What do you know about poetry in Akron? Pretty dope, huh?” Hart Crane wrote a poem that is dear to my heart’s heart called “Porphyro in Akron” where he talks about rubber workers on Main Street and our “smoke-ridden hills” and the etymology of Akron, which comes from the Greek acros, “high place” (Akron is in Summit County) and really shows how much of a working class town Akron was in the early 1920s, which is right when my family moved to Akron from West Virginia to work in the rubber factories, and then at the end of the poem says: “The stars are drowned in a slow rain, / And a hash of noises is slung up from the street. / You ought, really, to try to sleep, / Even though, in this town, poetry’s a / Bedroom occupation.” Throughout the poem Crane is both celebrating and lamenting the working class and industrial landscape he sees – these people are alive and joyful but they’re also doomed to the inhuman forces of a newly forming modern America – and I’ve always loved how Crane modulates between despair and a tired joy, like when they overpay the Sunday fiddlers “because we felt like it,” but I can’t deal with how he ultimately gives in at the end of the poem when “poetry’s a / Bedroom occupation.” I put my shoulder to the wheel with THE BIG BIG MESS READING SERIES trying to get amazing writers into Akron to read and to get people out of their bedrooms to see what new poetry is all about and I’m so happy that the BBM is now continuing under the control of Alexis Pope and Mike Krutel. Other reasons Akron isn’t a town where poetry is a bedroom occupation: Barn Owl Review, edited by Mary Biddinger (for real, if you ever want to know why Akron is awesome, ask Mary), and the NEOMFA: Northeast Ohio Master of Fine Arts. Become psyched.

7. Describe Akron in three words.

Pretty rad, regardless.

8. What are you most stoked to show me in Akron?

HOW WE’RE NEVER ACTUALLY APART.

Oh hey, Akron has some killer food, I’m telling you, like this awesome grilled cheese (with grilled apples! C’MON) and goldfish crackers from Lockview (rad Great Lakes beer not shown), like MR ZUBS where you can get a Mac and Cheese sandwich and tator tots!

How does one bring up Joshua Kleinberg? After the entire state of Florida had had enough, Kleinberg has been bouncing around Ohio and recently got stuck in Akron. He’s a cool poet too and a nice guy, putting together a reading for myself, himself, Sturm, Krutel, and Akron writer Alexis Pope (along with sets by local metal bands Rhomer and Gasmask).

Hey look, it’s Sturm ollieing over Ashley, getting psyched for his reading.

Basically, Akron felt like a big Fourth of July party, and that’s a good thing. I ended up getting a tattoo, my first!, at the Sturm/Krutel/Kleinberg-vouched Good Life shop in Akron. You can see a little more chatter about that here.

While this weekend was jam-packed with readings (the Akron reading on Friday, a Heather Feather Review reading in Cleveland that Kleinberg and I did with folks like Mary Biddinger and Aubrey Hirsch on Saturday, and Sturm’s reading in Dayton with Noah Falck and Matt Hart), the refreshing and rad thing about living some days with Sturm and Krutel is there sense of go-go hosting outside of writing stuff, the aforementioned hiking, a pre-Cleveland reading Lake Eerie visit (pics too sexy for here!), general goodtime hang. ABSOLUTELY A BLAST.

UP NEXT: Chicago with James Tadd Adcox

One Response to “Vouched On The Road: Akron with Nick Sturm and Mike Krutel”

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