Friday, June 21, 2013

Word for Word Poetry Editions with Copper Canyon Press

We have a collection of very talented guest bloggers to cover the Word for Word Poetry series this summer. They capture a first-hand account of the poetry readings, as well as help to interpret the work of our visiting poets who present at the Bryant Park Reading Room sponsored by HSBC. 

Monica Wendel for Word for Word Poetry, June 18, 2013
Featuring the poets of
Copper Canyon Press

“Nothing likes to be abandoned,” writes Lisa Olstein in “Space Junk.” This poem closed out the Copper Canyon reading at the General Society of Mechanics and Tradesmen, and one couldn’t help wondering if the readers had felt a little, well, abandoned: rain moved the reading from outdoors in Bryant Park to this library on West 44th Street, and chased away much of the audience. Those who remained were treated to an abbreviated yet intimate reading by Deborah Landau, James Arthur, and Lisa Olstein.
Deborah Landau began with the final stanza of “All Else Fails” from her collection The Last Useable Hour. (The full poem is available on The Awl.) With the words “I’d rather watch you do it to me than do it to myself, / I’d rather watch it, I want to be told” the speaker establishes distance between herself and her lover, and between her “self” and her body. The next poem, “Dear Someone” (available on The Paris Review) could have been a description of the rainy scene outside: you can’t get out from the drowning / nightwatery     the blacksparkling pools.” Water imagery continued through the poem, as in my favorite lines "all night the selves are breaking themselves / again and again on the sandbar."  
         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.”

Olstein closed with “Space Junk:"

            There is a point on every mission
            when something must be jettisoned
            into the thin, black air.
            Nothing likes to be abandoned …

Loss, grief, relief: this poem brought them together with beauty and grace, as the rain fell outside and inside we stayed still, like astronauts together in flight.

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.

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