Tag Archives: Poets of Ohio

Dossiers: Poetry & Ohio, Dana Ward

15 May

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:

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.

Dossiers: Poetry & Ohio, Cathy Wagner

29 Apr

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.

You can find more of Cathy Wagner’s work at Fence Books, who published her first three full-length collections: Miss America, Macular Hole, and My New Job.

Dossiers: Poetry & Ohio, Frank Giampietro

9 Apr

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.

Hearts[sic],
Cleveland.

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.

Dossiers: Poetry & Ohio, Mary Biddinger

2 Apr

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.

Dossiers: Poetry & Ohio, Phil Metres

28 Mar

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, 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. 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.