Dossiers: Poetry & Ohio, Sarah Gridley

7 May

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.

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