Tag Archives: Cleveland State University Poetry Center

Best Thing I’ve Heard Today: Bloomfield, Foley, and Xu

20 Mar

Last night the poets Luke Bloomfield, Brian Foley, and Wendy Xu passed through Cleveland, OH on their Moonbucket reading tour in promotion of their books Russian Novels (Factory Hollow Press, 2014), The Constitution (Black Ocean, 2014), and You Are Not Dead (Cleveland State Poetry Center, 2013), respectively. Below are three short video clips of each poet performing at the event, which took place at Guide to Kulchur.

Here’s Luke Bloomfield reading his poem “Fisticuffs”:

Here’s Brian Foley reading his poem “Acumen”:

Here’s Wendy Xu reading here poem “Nocturne”:

Their tour, which has also taken them to Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Akron, will continue tonight in Buffalo, NY.

Books I Didn’t Review But Really Liked

18 Dec

For many, many reasons, I’m unable to review a lot of the books I read. Instead of putting together a “Best of the Year” list, I thought it might be more interesting to create a “Books I Didn’t Review But Really Liked” list. Below, then, are a handful of titles I thoroughly enjoyed, along with an excerpt of a poem that I thought was particularly swell:

Blaser, Robin. The Holy Forest: Collected Poems of Robin Blaser. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2006.

from “Image-Nation I (the fold”

the participation is broken
fished from a sky of fire
the fiery lake pouring itself
to reach here

that matter of language caught
in the fact      so that we
meet in paradise      in such
times, the I consumes itself

the language sticks to
his honey-breath      she is
the path of a tale, a door
to the perishing moonshine,
holes of intelligence
supposed to be in the heart

Gridlley, Sarah. Loom. Richmond, CA: Omnidawn Publishing, 2013.

from “Shadows of the World Appear”

It isn’t difficult to remember
how it went.

A wordless world would be a relief
until it expects you to see a horse.

Try to sing and stand where the aspens quiver.
The breeze will always

be almost there. Go back those few steps:
it isn’t difficult to remember:

the wind will always shine as if
it loved its armored riders.

Hall, Joe. The Devotional Poems. Sommerville, MA: Black Ocean, 2013.

from “Trailer Park”
In an algorithm of trees exploding in your face, shaved from soap
in a prison cell, in a pair of yellow finches
alighting from high power lines over all these dudes
lying on their beds, palming their cocks, waiting for me
leached from circuits in a baroque array of evolving graphical
representations of a black economy, cancer, subverting process,
O Beast! O Christ!
in the mother fucking sound and the mother fucking light
the iterations of thunder, the bass so high
it hurls you into the grass, Beast!

Hass, Robert, ed. The Essential Haiku: Versions of Bashō, Buson, & Issa. New York, NY: Ecco, 1994.

from Bashō’s “Learn from the Pine”

Learn about pines from the pine, and about bamboo from the bamboo.

Don’t follow in the footsteps of the old poets, seek what they sought.

The basis of art is change in the universe. What’s still has changeless form. Moving things change, and because we cannot put a stop to time, it continues unarrested. To stop a thing would be to halve a sight or sound in our heart.

Wieners, John. Selected Poems: 1958-1984. Santa Barbara, CA: Black Sparrow Press, 1998.

from “Poem for Painters”

                                                    No circles
                           but that two parallels do cross
And carry our soul and bodies
       together as the planets,
                      Showing light on the surface
                              of our skin, knowing
                      that so much of it flows through
                              the veins underneath.
                      Our cheeks puffed with it.
                              The pockets full.

Wilkinson, Joshua Marie. Swap Isthmus. Sommerville, MA: Black Ocean, 2013.

from “Upholsterers’ Moon”

so then the moon
drifting way too close
gets leaky

going through treeline when
a voice in the radio
accidentally says your name

Xu, Wendy. You Are Not Dead. Cleveland, OH: Cleveland State Poetry Center, 2013.

from “We Are Both Sure To Die”

Clutching a tiny molten piece
of someone else’s life. I tried sleeping
in a bed made of heavy light. I tried moving
out into the forest where everything
was a deer. Say you will be nothing or
beside me. How best do you correspond
in the darkness of a year? But look the year
rolls over and gives me a new face. Now
you go toward the ocean with a terrible
spirit of discovery. There is getting to know
your body and disowning it. The ocean says you
are not dead. What else did you want
it to announce?

Zukofsky, Louis. “A.” Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1978.

from “A-12”

Together men form one sky.
The sky is a man,
You must know this to understand
Why places are different
And things new and old
Why everywhere things are different,
You cannot find out
By looking at skies alone
But from their effects.
One sky is rich in each of us,
When a child is conceived
It gets a sky for a gift.

I would suggest checking out all these books if you already haven’t. Each one will melt your face in their own special way.

Best Thing I’ve Heard This Week: Xu & Hazelton

25 Nov

Last Friday, 22 November, the poets Wendy Xu and Rebecca Hazelton visited Cleveland, OH to read from their collections that were published by the Cleveland State University Poetry Center earlier this year.

Here’s Xu reading “Several Altitudes of Not Talking” from You Are Not Dead:

And here’s Hazelton reading “Questions About the Wife” from Vow:

Indie Lit Classics: Svalina, Xu, Killebrew

12 Sep

MathiasI Am A Very Productive Entrepreneur

Mathias Svalina

Mud Luscious Press, 2011

Add this book to the list of reasons it’s a shame good ol’ Mud Luscious Press shut the doors, blinds, chimney. I’ve read a major portionhunk of their fine books–go ahead and checkmark them all reasons it’s a shame–and this was the last of the bunch that I scurried inside of (so far; got that newish Kimball collection on my to-read list). That’s a shame, too, that I waited so long. Svalina here talks as this fella who has created many lifetimes worth of businesses—intrusive and surreal, heart-wrenching and ingenious. Fancy stereos installed in people’s heads. Wardrobe swap company where you get the rags and robes of someone who recently kicked the bucket. A tour company that shows Americans around their own neighborhoods. But beyond a list of clever constructions what makes this book a small press classic is how it develops each business, not as a professional entity alone, but as a pulsing, dynamic piece of this fella’s life —a block of the self that can fail and can grow and can loop and can puncture. There’s a flurry of these list/series type books in the small press world, many of them super cool!, but here Svalina has captured the fascinating world of creation, of meaning-making, of not letting failure keep one from failing again. “Productive” has many connotations, and Svalina’s telling of the story over and over captures the momentum as it shifts from creating a useful business to creating a large quantity of businesses, the heap as its own kind of product. And beyond, what is most impressive (and sure to be long-lasting) about this work and the world(s) he’s captured is the book’s ability to elude monotony and crippling disappointment; each one subtly shake us further into the throes of this book’s capitalism and unquenchable entrepreneurial spirit. And I hope the people who want to read this book in the future are successful entrepreneurs because apparently a print copy on Amazon is gonna cost them a hundred (or more!) bucks, though of course, it’s still available in fancy ebook form for us less successful folks.

I started this one business that applied to the eyes of our clients the opposite of blinders, what we called Seeingers.

See everything! Every detail before you in intense exactitude! This was our pitch. Our scientists stumbled upon these Seeingers during an experiment on the bone structures of kaleidoscopes. It was a failed venture, until two of the scientists, depressed at their impending unemployment, got gin-drunk in the lab & ended up half-naked with the bones of kaleidoscopes strapped around their faces. What they saw in that moment they could not describe. Later, during his debriefing, the senior scientist said it was the visual equivalent of when you bite through your tongue & suddenly feel how your teeth are both weapons & exposed bones.

The Seeingers made every detail as important as if you were looking into the face of your child for the first time. No patch of spackle or inflamed pore was ignorable. Each dent in the hood of the car after the hailstorm was unique & therefore astounding. The creases on the pants of the person on the other end of the subway were as vivid as the exclamatory breasts of the woman in the window, removing her shirt in a Greek statuary flourish at the exact moment you happened to look up toward the sky.

Read the rest at Everyday Genius.


You Are Not DeadWendy

Wendy Xu

Cleveland State University Poetry Center, 2013

Before someone shrieks against this being a indie press classic, let me explain: Though released on a university press just this year (though hey hey right right a university poetry press is often a smidge of a thing, too), Wendy Xu’s first book deserves to be in this here list because of its origins in the small press magazine scene. Let’s mosey into the acknowledgements list where we find tops small press journals like Dark Sky Magazine, Forklift, Ohio, ILK, Phantom Limb, and many more. This book is a triumph in putting together the pieces—the poems lifted from the indie press world to win a university prize, the wacky and startling pieces of life smushed together, voice melding with passion to create a whole new hum. It’s impossible to fall asleep inside a Wendy Xu poem. What you once think you saw (“Here there is an altar made of sand. It dismantles/no less than itself to please the sea.”) gets quietly disassembled and brought back to new life five poems later (“I put some sand in a jar and wait/for it to mean. Some horses wade into/the dangerous ocean because what else/is more important to see?”). It’s impossible to fall over dead from boredom in a Wendy Xu poem, though of course, she reminds us one day we will die, in her ending sequence, each called “We Are Both Sure to Die” (See below). But ultimately these poems, slapped with that sticker You Are Not Dead, remind us that time is not now, there’s still joyous life and tragic sorrow and paranoid delusion and impossible connections waiting for us, blowing into our faces—“In my past life I was just a math/equation and then I got promoted. Now I have/way more variables.”

Without coffee and only very minor explosions
to spell our names. One will actually just be
a bird meeting a clear pane of glass. Fanfare
and various stems of wine. People circulating
in a slow, meaningful fashion around
other people exchanging gifts. One time you
gave me a gift. One time everything
was rare and dispensed in intricate
packaging. One time it was a real accomplishment
to find someone a coat they could wear
into a mountain and its forgiving silence.

Read the rest (and another from this sequence) at Diagram.



Paul Killebrew

Canarium Books, 2010

Mr. Ware brought forth Killebrew’s new book, Ethical Consciousness, in his great style not that long ago. But here I wanna poke back further, into Killebrew’s debut collection, Flowers. Flowers is one of those rare books that gives off a mist of rowdy and loud, yet still bends its knees to talk insightfully into your face, an effusive mix of the emotional and the intellect. Meaning: Killebrew is a pure delight, a fuse lit before the fireworks even begin; each poem in Flowers demands to be read—read aloud, read to someone, read with your heartrate a bunch of notches higher. Killebrew relentlessly searches, asks questions, demands from us and the world (answers okay I guess, but also cooperation, curiosity and enthusiasm). In “For Beth Ward,” Killebrew begins, “One of my basic human dilemmas/goes something like, Does metaphor/contain us, or do we extend ourselves/out into it?” and as he moves from himself, the “my,” to include the “us,” we relearn what contains us, what shapes us, what room we have to wiggle.

…Dark blue clouds approach
from the west like a future from California
full of the natural tragedies of living there:
mudslides, earthquakes, house sinking into the ocean,
B-movie actors in positions of public authority.
I hope it’s not all happening on my account.

The coasts shape our boundaries
and in this way define us, though sometimes
you forget all about them, forget that you’ve got ears
on either side of your head, that a lake
in Carlisle, Illinois isn’t, in fact, the ocean,
but just a place out in the corn
where people in shorts circle arbitrary triangles
under the fact of dark blue clouds arriving without thunder.
The clouds just sit there, a quiet, heavy metaphor
we share like a giant backyard.

Wow, no, don’t be thinking Killebrew is searching for meaning, is trying to convey meaning, but rather, he exports ideas to bend this world backwards into a new light. It’s impossible to know where our next step will land us, where Killebrew’s next breath will guide us, but two books into this dude’s career, I’m invested and committed and will hop in the buggy for the wild ride every time, all along the way asking the question I ask all my pals who haven’t read this fella, “Why aren’t we throwing parades for Paul Killebrew?”

Awful Interview: Rebecca Hazelton

18 Jul

hazelton_coverRebecca Hazelton‘s first book, Fair Copy, won the 2011 Ohio State University Press Poetry Prize. Her second book, Vow, was a runner-up for the 2012 Cleveland State Poetry Center’s Open Book Competition and was published earlier this year. In Vow, Hazelton’s poems call “the world into notice” (1) through language, while simultaneously expressing anxiety of language’s failure to do so, at least to the extent that speaker of the “Book of Memory” concedes: “I have no words for the one in the mirror / who apes me every morning” (1).

But the tension produced between the creation of worlds via words and the abject failure of words is not the thematic limit of Vow; in fact, there are many tensions that proliferate throughout this collection. Hazelton was kind enough to take some time during the past couple of weeks to discuss some of the other issues at hand in her second book.

In the title poem of your second full-length collection Vow, the speaker begins by referencing a couple that “were not traditionalists” (20); by the end of the poem, though, they “stood up and received the standard narration” (21). These excerpts speak, I think, to a tension that runs throughout the collection. Was the struggle between tradition and innovation, whether thematically or poetically, something you considered when writing the poems that became Vow? If so, could you talk a bit about how you worked through those ideas? If not, do you think about your collection this way in hindsight; or are there other, more pressing concerns for you in this book; if so, what?

I didn’t consciously set out to investigate tradition versus innovation, but now that you mention it I certainly see ways in which that operates. My first book, Fair Copy, was entirely in a very old form, the acrostic, and so writing in free verse for Vow felt quite liberating. Of course, it’s arguably more radical these days to write a book in form, so questions of tradition are complicated when an innovation becomes the norm, as free verse certainly is these days.

But I might rather say that both the poem and the book are concerned with constraint versus freedom, which plays out in a number of ways. As suggested by the book’s title, and this poem in particular, the vows of marriage are constraints equally attractive and vexing. Our expectations for our lives are constraints, even if those expectations are for freedom and wildness. Youth always wants to break the mold, but eventually, youth grows up and becomes like everyone else, and that disparity between what we thought our life would be and what it becomes is either tragic or a testament to our shared experience as humans. Not to mention the constraints we can’t even see, but operate on us all the same—our social and economic backgrounds, our biological makeup, our time period and location. I see a tug of war between constraint and freedom—or what looks like freedom—throughout the book, and it’s typified through various roles—predator and prey, femme fatale or ingénue, faithful or faithless.

Vow contains several unique series of poems (such as the Rabbit and the Fox sequence, the Elise sequence, and the Book Of sequence). Could you tell me a bit about each of these groupings and, at least to your mind, what’s the driving force behind each one? Also, when putting together the manuscript, how did you see these three sets of poems interacting with one another? How did it affect the collection’s sequencing and order?

Whenever I introduce a poem from the Fox and Rabbit series at a reading, I always preface the poems by explaining that they are about two characters in a relationship, and as you might imagine from their names, it’s a problematic one. By having my characters named after (and in some cases, acting like) animals, I was able to talk about the idea of predators and prey, both in the natural world and in relationships, where it’s a far more freighted and complicated idea. The poems are persona poems, almost entirely from Fox’s point of view because I feel like we are naturally inclined to romanticize a prey animal, and to villainize a predator.

In the Elise poems, I suppose I wanted to try and do what many elegiac poems strive for—to bring a person back to life. In the case of these poems, it’s a person my speaker had a very fraught relationship with. The Elise I try to capture in these poems is like many larger than life women—magnetic, infuriating, beautiful, and awful.

The “Book of ____” sequences are rather different. They aren’t persona poems like the first two. I was initially inspired by a scene from Peter Greenaway’s movie “The Pillow Book”—where the heroine creates her final “books” by writing on others’ bodies. I love the idea of a body as a book, that our experiences write on us, mark us. In writing these poems, I started with the title—Book of Longing, Book of Letting Go—and essentially meditated on the subject. The poems are more associative and far less narrative than the other two series. They go strange places.

In putting together the manuscript, I tried to braid them throughout the text, so that the reader would come back to one story, another, as he or she read. There are images that are shared among all three, and I think they speak to each other thematically as well. Fox and Rabbit experience many of the emotions and experiences in the Book of ____ poems, and Elise is a figure who both inspires and complicates fidelity, another concern of the book.

To you mind, how has your writing (whether formally or thematically) altered since you composed Vow? How so? To this extent, could you tell me a bit about what you’re working on nowadays and how it relates (or does not relate) to your previous two collections?

I’m probably not the best person to answer this first question—I am very myopic as to my own work. But I’ll do my best, and say that I’m working far less with persona than I was in Vow—the work is a bit cooler, less hotheaded, not dispassionate by any means but a bit more distant. For me, Vow was very much trying to articulate conflicted passions, and my recent work is more concerned with reflection, a bit more cerebral.

I’m working on a number of things—the most cohesive of which is a three part series of ekphrastic poems based on the works of painter Julie Heffernnan, photographer and conceptual artist Cindy Sherman, and performance artist Terri Frame. All three of these women use the self-portrait to comment on social, historical, and archetypal representations of women, and in that way, the work very much relates to my previous poems. I’ve always been interested in the divide between a woman’s experience and cultural representations of a woman’s experience, and how the latter can shape the former, so a self-portrait has that kind of reflexivity built-in.

Best Thing I’ve Read This Month: Adventures in the Lost Interiors of America

20 Jun

WWCover2William Waltz’s Adventures in the Lost Interiors of America (Cleveland State Poetry Center, 2013) opens with an epigraph excerpted from a letter that Alexander von Humboldt, a Prussian geographer and naturalist, wrote to a friend in 1799. It reads:

I shall collect plants and fossils and make astronomic observations. But that’s not the main purpose of my exploration—I shall try to find out how the forces of nature interact upon one another…In other words, I must find out about the unity of nature.

Framing his collection as such, Waltz leads readers to believe that his second full-length collection of poetry, which won last year’s Open Book Competition for CSU’s Poetry Center, will focus on the natural world in order to discover or make sense of the “unity of nature” and how different natural elements “interact” with one another. In words, the collection will tell us something both of the natural world surrounding us and our relationship to it.

But, in the prefatory poem “Before We Begin,” Waltz appears to undercut this project when he writes:

Let us praise the unknown
source lurking below, let’s
appreciate how little we know,
how little what we know
matters (3)

How does championing “the unknown,” acknowledging our own ignorance, and discrediting the knowledge we do possess enable us to learn anything? Moreover, if what we do discover proves fruitless, what is the point of acquiring it in the first place?

This, of course, is a bit of a rhetorical dodge by the poet. In all actuality, Lost Interiors seeks out the inexplicable and the unknown in order to praise the mysteries of the world as an end, not as a means of acquiring knowledge or empirical enlightenment. Take, for instance, the concluding lines of the poem “Natural Science.” The poem’s speaker stands upon the shore of Green Lake, looks outward, and notes:

Although I couldn’t see
beyond the dark spot bobbing
in the morning mist,
I knew the sun shone somewhere
and the far shore brandished
a stand of shining white birch.
There was nothing left
to do but dive in
before the smell of black
coffee and blueberry pie
reminded me how beautiful
and incomplete
my communion was
and would be until
it was no longer. (10)

The speaker can’t see the sun or white birch while morning mist obscures them both. But he worries not. Instead, he dives into the lake and remembers “how beautiful / and incomplete” our “communion” with the natural world happens to be. Indeed, the “incomplete” is not understood as lack or as failure of comprehension; rather, the speaker understands the “incomplete” to be a beatific engagement with nature.

Waltz forwards a similar argument in the prose poem “Letter to an Incomplete Stranger,” in which he writes:

I feel certain we can again, coexist, I mean. You may not remember, but our eyes meet once in a cool, wide pool of plate glass. I knew then I would never understand you completely, nor would I betray you by thinking I did. (14)

The speaker of the poem and the addressee will “never understand” one another “completely,” nor will they pretend that they do. But the two of them can “coexist” in this incomplete understanding. Moreover, acknowledging the incompleteness of their relationship leads to an honesty wherein they will not “betray” the unknown that divides them like the “cool, wide pool of plate glass.” Yes, they can see one another; but, no, they will never comprehend.

To this extent, then, Waltz’s book asks us to cast aside our desire for empirical pursuits championed by men of science and revel in the poetic possibilities of the incomplete and the unknown. Adventures in the Lost Interiors of America would rather have us traverse the linguistic landscapes and waterways of Cape Cod, Resurrection Bay, Pike Island, Lake Superior, Medicine Rock, Serpent Mound, Big Sur, Kilauea, the Everglades, the Mississippi River, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, and Ohio, losing ourselves in their expanse. In doing so, we let them enter us, as in the prose poem “Birds, Still”:

The woods walked through us and left a trail. We followed, down a street, over a hill, across a stream and a field, and then through a wood where we came upon a thicket rich with cricketsong and morning thorn. We peeled back the pricks and moved like herons through the reeds until an opening and then the prairie and across we saw a flock of silhouettes in a colossal crown. We climbed the wild tree and never came down. (25)

Yes, let the natural world walk through us so we can follow it, watch it, listen to it, and never come down from its wild trees.

Rebecca Gayle Howell & Nick Flynn (04/24/13)

20 May

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“:

Profile: Russell Atkins

6 May

Here In TheA 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.

continual decline