Monica Wendel for Word for Word Poetry, June 18, 2013
Featuring the poets of Copper Canyon Press
Landau closed with “Domestic,” from a new manuscript called The Uses of the Body. This poem seemed to comment on family as well as the attempt to write about family: “Wait, I am trying to establish / something with these people. / Him, her, him. We make a little pantomime.” The others and the self are characterized: “I am the talker and taker / he is the giver and the bedroom man.”
James Arthur took the podium next, reciting his poems from memory above the whirring of fans. Moving the reading indoors to a nearly-empty library gave me the impression of having stayed overnight in a school after everyone had left. The smell of old books filled the air.
Arthur’s first poem “The Land of Nod” (available on Poetry Foundation from his debut collection Charms Against Lightning) brought us to the Old Testament. In clear, precise language we followed Cain’s exile east to the land of Nod, and follow the speaker’s imagining of this “marked” country. His next poem “Distracted by an Ergonomic Bicycle” (also from his debut collection, and available on PBS) brought us back to the rain outside: “The rain was almost ice, the sky / mild and pale.” Slant rhymes and close attention to sound drew the audience in, until we too heard how the bicycle’s “clicking wheels kept clicking.” Arthur’s final poem, “Goodnight Moon,” returned (as Landau’s did) to the domestic. “Good night, fair trade coffee,” the speaker said, almost praying.
Lisa Olstein closed out the evening with spirit and imagination. Her first poem conjured an image of “fingers like drawbridges,” and I pictured hands clasped in prayer, or lovers holding hands – the instances in which we connect skin to skin in order to reach a higher power, be it love or God. “No wind is my conductor,” the poem continued. It is difficult to explain, but I trusted the speaker, unironically and sincerely. In her next poem, we returned to hands: “we hold, in one hand, a set of questions.” Each of us is only a “bewildered child” with “children of our own,” but with the agency to make moral choices such as creating a world in which “mules’ gift to warfare [is] pulling cannons through snow.” The tracks of those cannons became a scar reaching through the poem, a “passing mechanical eye.”
Monica Wendel is the author of No Apocalypse (Georgetown Review, 2013) and the chapbook Call it a WIndow (Midwest Writing Center, 2012). She holds an MFA in creative writing from NYU, where she was awarded both Goldwater and Starworks teaching fellowships. Her poetry has appeared in the Bellevue Literary Review, Lamba Literary Review, Nimrod, and other journals. The former writer-in-residence at the Jack Kerouac Project of Orlando, Florida, she currently lives in Brooklyn and works as a visiting instructor of composition at St. Thomas Aquinas College.