Philadelphia Poems by Livewell, Krok and Chelius

Last weekend I went to see three Philadelphia-influenced poets read at the Manayunk Arts Center.
Here are selections from that evening.

David Livewell’s new book is Shackamaxon.

Pete Krock read from his book Looking for an Eye.

Joe Chelius has two chapbooks, Row House Yards and Taking Pitches from Pudding House Press.

Jean Valentine Reading from “Lucy”

I went to the Jean Valentine reading last night at Bryn Mawr College last night. She’s a small woman who barely stood out behind the podium, but once she began reading, the room (packed, by the way) grew silent and attentive. Her reading style is sensitive, almost cautious of each word’s footing into the space. It was a entrancing evening.

She read mostly from her newest book, Breaking The Glass, released in paperback in 2010 from Copper Canyon. Among the most engaging of the selections is the sectional poem “Lucy,” which takes the fossil of Australopithecus afarensis, discovered in 1974 by Donald Johanson and affectionately named “Lucy” as a metaphor for lots of things–motherhood, humanity’s original state, loss. In the Q & A period that followed the reading, Valentine noted that she gets great comfort in thinking about Lucy–an ancient mother figure who’ DNA helped carve out our own path.

“Lucy, when Jane in her last clothes

goes across   with Chekhov

you are the ferryman, the monk

Ieronim

who throws your weight on the rope.”

Below are three videos of Valentine reading from last night.

Just Received: Never a Note Forfeit by Catherine Staples

It was a good mail day yesterday. In addition to receiving some stuff from Amazon I ordered for my basement project, I found the chapbook, Never a Note Forfeit, by Catherine Staples. This collection was one of the co-winners of the 2010 Seven Kitchens Press Keystone Prize, selected by Betsy Sholl.

While I hadn’t remembered hearing of Staples before, it turns out we were featured in the same issue of Apiary a year or so ago.  Her poem in that issue is the first poem in this collection–and it’s a stunner:

The deer are skittish

grace, just faltering

prayers leaping away.

I love her imagery, but it’s her dexterity that most strikes me. Her line breaks, enjambment and sonics show her complete control of the her poems’ pace and stride. It’s as if each poem has it’s own unique gait you can sense, a subtle, but palpable music:

Cicadas rise stepwise

a sweet racket

that hums and rises.

I’m only about halfway through the book, and the second presidential debate is tonight, so I probably won’t get back to the book until later this week, but I’m really looking forward to it. Staples is a fellow Pennsylvanian from the greater Philadelphia area, so I hope to catch her at a reading sometime soon.

Check it out here.

A poem by Catherine Staples at Cortland Review here.

More about her here.

Daniel Hoffman Reading At Mad Poets Festival

Yesterday I had the pleasure of joining a fantastic group of poets reading at the 25th annual (wow–25 years) Mad Poets Festival in Media PA. An impressive crowd of poets attended and read, including Joseph Farley, Leonard Gontarek (and his teenage son Max), David Kozinski, Allison Hicks,  Peter Krock (editor of the Schuylkill Valley Journal) and many more.

A highlight for me was seeing Daniel Hoffman, the nation’s first Poet Laureate (before the title had that name) and winner of the National Book Award. He’s 89 years old,turning 90 very soon, and read a poem about that at the festival (see video below). I mentioned to him before the reading that I’d recently been reading his book The Center of Attention and was actively stealing ideas from it. His 14th book of poems is soon to be released.

Happy Frank Stanford Day

ImageWhen I was in grad school in Bowling Green, Brian Ownbey introduced me to Frank Stanford. The 1991 collection The Light the Dead See had just come out. It contained selections from most of Stanford’s books. At the time no other book made a greater impact on me. Today is his birthday.

Here’s an article at the Poetry Foundation web site all about him.

The Pessimism of Jack Gilbert

Update: I recently learned the Jack Gilbert passed away Sunday, November 11. You can read more about that here.

I came across this set of interviews with Jack Gilbert today(April 23, 2012). He’s one of my favorite poets, and I’ve mentioned him on UnIambic several times. I love the simplicity, the sincerity of his poems. How he’s able to be completely at ease pouring out intense emotion without being sentimental or maudlin about it.

In the interview he discusses some of his apprehension with publishing, his disappointment with much of the contemporary po-biz and his poor outlook on the future of poetry. OK, some of that I agree with, but I also feel he shortchanges poets in a big way. Yes, there are the career-minded poets, the post-modern tricksters, the posers and all the rest: “Much of postmodern poetry has no significance at all.” But he overstates how much poetry or poets have changed, and underestimates the sincerity of many of today’s poets.

That’s not surprising really. For a large part of his adult life I believe Gilbert has lived a partial hermit’s life, if not physically (as in the years he spend on Greek islands) then mentally or emotionally. He’s a person who thrives on removing himself from the pressures of the rest of the world, while he focuses on the inner world.

He says: “I don’t believe people would continue to write poetry, most of them, if there was no money to be made in poetry.” Here I assume he’s referring to the career academicians and big prize money winners, yet how could he not realize that poetry is so much more than that. Look around here (the greater Philadelphia area). There are scads of poets, with no academic affiliations,  working alone and together for just the pleasure of the poems themselves (see this recent Philly.com article on the scene.)

He also says some things in this interview which are a bit dishonest to himself. His comments on craft, for instance, he critiques the workshop experience here:

“Nobody wants to talk about how a poem works, what its purpose is. They all want to deal with the outside of the poem. Does it look good? Should I take the left line out and put it over here? How should I make the rhythm correct and such. But hardly anybody talks about the strategies of poetry, or how you make poetry live, how to use concrete detail rather than similes, goddamned similes, the weakest kind of resource there is in poetry. People are so much in love with similes. It’s a pity. The mechanics of poetry have little to do with design.”

Yet he came out of one of the most celebrated workshop programs (Iowa Writers’ Workshop). Speaking of similes here’s a couple of lines from one of my favorite Gilbert poems Finding Something

“The arches of her feet are like voices

of children calling in the groves of lemon trees

where my hart is as helpless as crushed birds.”

His craft is not the obvious, meticulously tinkered craft, but it’s a craft that shows he understands the workmanship of writing, the effort that goes into making something feel effortless.

Anyway, this interview, while illuminating, also makes me sad because I don’t feel poets and poetry warrant the negativity and pessimism he heaps upon them. I hope and believe he’s wrong.

The interview is from the book  Sad Friends, Drowned Lovers, Stapled Songs which I’ve just added to my Amazon wish list.

Interview with Nathaniel Perry on APR

I recently conducted an interview with Nathaniel Perry, author of the very fine collection of poems Nine Acres.

I encourage you to get over to the the American Poetry Review to read the whole thing.

Here’s a brief excerpt from the interview:

Grant Clauser: Did the concept for this book develop after you’d already written a few of the poems, or did you envision the collection and then write to fit within the mode?

Nathaniel Perry: I did write a few of the poems first and then the concept came to me pretty quickly. I think the first poem I wrote was the one with the seed catalog (“Vegetable crops to Avoid and to Choose”), and it happened to be in that form of simple rhymed quatrains in tetrameter, and I had maybe thought of doing a group of 10 or so with the titles from the M.G. Kains book, but the form felt fun, and was engaging for me, and I soon decided I was going to do all of the chapters.  I guess I didn’t initially even realize it was going to be book-length.

GC: I find this book to be very much like a journal—recounting the events of a year. Like a journal it tells a story, without relying on narrative. How fully formed in your head was this narrative when you were writing it?

NP: Strangely, not really at all as I was writing it. I assumed that I would put the poems in the order that they appeared in the original book, but then somebody pointed out to me very late in the process after I had already written all of the poems that there were 52 poems which was equal to the weeks in a year and it dawned on me that they could fit into the cycle of a single year. I remember taking all the poems and just sorting them out by spring, summer, fall, winter and seeing what that looked like and being pretty happy with that. I’m still happy with it.

GC: I noticed shifts and waves in the relationship between the husband and wife throughout the book.

NP: Well, you’re married. There are always shifts and waves. I won’t hide behind the fact that many of these poems are sentimental and sweet, but I like to think that’s still possible without being necessarily bad, and so the way to do that is to be true to the way relationships are. They can be hard and frustrating and full of doubt while simultaneously being joyful and intimate and full of starlight, so I wanted to show what an actual relationship looks like.

Nathaniel Perry

New Jack Gilbert Collection

No, I don’t mean there’s a new Jack Gilbert–just a new book by the same old Jack Gilbert. At least I hope it’s the same Jack Gilbert–by that I mean I hope the new poems in this collection are just as rich and delicate and ache-inducing as the others.

To have a new Jack Gilbert book out is pretty exciting and surprising. He’s 87 now, and from the last video of a reading he did in Washington I didn’t think there were going to be more poems coming out of him. Anyway, people who know me know that Gilbert is one of my favorite poets, and I was thrilled to meet him years ago in Newtown, thanks to Allen Hoey.

The book is described as a collected works (I already have all his books) combined with some previously unpublished poems. I don’t know how many or if they’re older or newer, but I’ll go for it anyway. You should too. The New York Times review promises lots of nipples.

Two Memorial Readings for the Late Louis McKee

Philadelphia poet Louis McKee passed away in November 2011. He was a well-respected poet and friend to many in the Philadelphia area and beyond. To celebrate his life and work, two separate memorial readings are being held, one hosted by the Mad Poets Society and another by the Fox Chase Review.

The first will be next Sunday, March 18 at 1 pm at the Mansion Parlor and Gallery of Media Borough Hall, 301 North Jackson Street, Media, PA 19063. More information on that event can be found here.

The second event will be April 29th at 1:30pm at Ryerss Museum and Library, 7370 Central Avenue, Philadelphia, Pa. 19111. It will feature one of Lou’s former students. More information can be found here. State Representative Michael McGeehan will present a Pennsylvania State Citation in honor of Louis McKee.

Ted Kooser on Nature and Poetry

UNLPublications and Photography.

Below is a continuation of the Q&As I did with several poets on the connection between poetry and nature/wilderness. The first was with Jane Hirshfield, and if you need to get caught up you can see that one here. These Q&A were all done via email. In this one former U.S. Poet Laureate writes briefly about why corporate/business life plays so small a part in the poetry of people who actually work in business for a living (Kooser worked in insurance before he taught at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln).

Do you think writers’ approach to nature/wild has changed in the contemporary world?

No. There are certainly lots of writers using urban life and subjects, and they get a lot of attention, but there is always a steady outflow of poetry and nonfiction about the natural world.

Another way of asking—has our dependence on technology and distance from nature changed poets’ relationship to it?

I don’t think so.

Is nature a good yardstick for measuring our own human issues by?

Certainly. Despite our habit of complicating our lives, we are still natural beings.

You’re a poet who spent a good portion of his life in a business/office environment, yet that world doesn’t surface in your work as frequently as fields, farms, animals or laborers? In general, opening any poetry journal, it’s much easier to find birds, mountains and rivers than it is to find references to inter-office mail, insertion orders or spreadsheets, yet they are probably a larger part of most people’s (and most poets) daily lives. Do you have any thoughts on why that is?

In an office, one’s experiences are often the same experiences day after day after day, whereas in nature there may be epiphanous events, coming as us as complete surprises. I did write some poems about my days in the insurance business, “Four Secretaries” is a good example, but, frankly, I just wasn’t very interested in what happened at the office, and why write about something that doesn’t interest you.

Galway Kinnell has said we must include the city in our definition of nature. What do you think of that? Can the city work for the poet in the same way as the forest or the sea?

I don’t know that quote, or its context, but I think he may have been talking about life in the city, rather than the city. His wonderful long poem “The Avenue Bearing the Initial of Christ….” is rich with human life, which is nature. You can almost smell the people in that poem.

The concepts of bewilderment and wonder—brash and sometimes meditative—seems to be a strong thread connecting nature poetry (from the ancient Chinese writers to present writers like Harry Humes). What role do you believe bewilderment plays in nature poetry? I also believe bewilderment is tied into gratitude. And if not that, then what?

You know, I’ve never thought about that word [bewilderment] and what it means and how it’s constructed to include wild until this very moment, and I thank you for bringing it to my attention. I’ll have to give it a lot more thought. Li Po is bewildered, not by nature but by alcohol, and I don’t think of him, or Tu Fu, as being confused by nature in the way that they are confused by their own circumstances.

Ted

You can find Ted Kooser’s latest book, Delights and Shadows, here.

Kooser’s website: American Life in Poetry

My next poetry workshop at Musehouse begins the week of March 12. It’s a six-week course held on Wednesday evenings. Go here to view the description and sign up.