Artist to Artist

Arterial Opera House and Philly’s Poetry Scene

Teatro Nacional Sucre, photo by Héctor López

I chose Anne-Adele Wight for Curate This because her poems are a constant rush of poetic experiments, of surprises, of kaleidoscopic gladness, of images that mix fancy with science and art. She animates buildings, for example, a globe-trotting opera house! Who else could have thought of that? She is a force in the Philadelphia poetry scene both because of the reading series she directs and because of her own rip-roaring work that delivers such unexpected pleasures.

– Lynn Levin, Curator

Anne-Adele Wight is the author of Sidestep Catapult and Opera House Arterial from BlazeVOX Books. Her work has appeared in American Writing, Philadelphia Poets, Apiary, Fairies in America, Jupiter 88, Luna Luna, The Philadelphia Inquirer, and Bedfellows. Her poem “Nothing but Villas in Tuscany” was selected as the Editor’s Choice in the Sandy Crimmins Poetry Competition. In July she took part in a panel discussion of Pablo Neruda’s work, reading her own translation of one of his poems, for the live TV series Who Do You Love? She curates the monthly Jubilant Thicket performance series and lives in Philadelphia with her husband and two cats. Curate This spoke to Anne-Adele about her most recent book.

CT: Opera House Arterial is quite the inventive series. How did you turn a structure into a living creature with a trickster spirit?

A friend showed me a postcard from Quito, Ecuador. It showed the city in layers. There was a strip of city and then there was the opera house. Behind the opera house were the Andes rising up. I looked at that postcard and something happened in my brain. I felt the picture going deep in and wanting to become something. So I thought, “Oh, it wants to become a poem,” and at first it just didn’t work as a poem. So I put it away for a long, long time, and when it resurfaced I realized it hadn’t gone anywhere at first because it wanted to be 56 poems. I got so into it for a while that everything I wrote turned into an opera house poem.

And eventually that evolved into a mythology in 56 poems. You’ve clearly had a substantial career. Can you tell us a little bit about your background and your relationship with the poetry scene in Philadelphia?

So, the series Poets & Prophets was in the city since 1983, and they now hold readings out in Media, Pennsylvania—near where the driving force, Bob Small, lives. I worked with Bob on Poets & Prophets for a long time, and was constantly finding myself running readings, so this is how I learned to do that.

I detached myself from Poets & Prophets three years ago, because I took over the series I now run, which is called Jubilant Thicket. It is a mixed-media series principally devoted to poetry. It was founded by my friend Debrah Morkun, who is an absolutely wonderful, very avant garde poet.

It has been passed onto me and I am doing my best to honor the multimedia aspect, but often we’ll have readings that are entirely poetry. Occasionally we will have a musician or a dancer. A few months ago we had a musician accompanying a dancer, which was quite an accomplishment because we read at Head House books in the children’s section, which is charming, but it is a very small space.

You’ve been in the Philadelphia poetry scene for a while, both working with Poets & Prophets and Jubilant Thicket, but you are not originally from Philly.

I’m originally from Massachusetts around the Boston area, but I’ve lived here for 37 years.

What do you think is specific to Philadelphia’s poetry scene?

The first thing that comes to mind is particular personalities. I think of Frank Sherlock, Philadelphia’s Poet Laureate; CAConrad, who created a whole new poetics and now teaches internationally; Larry Robin, who runs the wonderful Moonstone Arts collective; and people who really shape the way events are run. Another thing that is characteristic here is how many of the same people go to all the readings.

That’s interesting; do you view that as problematic?

No, I think that’s excellent. But one thing I try to do, and this is where it gets a little problematic, I look for readers for Jubilant Thicket who aren’t necessarily going to be people everybody else has heard. I try to find off the beaten track series and they are not always easy to find. I try to be ingenious.

Another thing that is very characteristic is how many events there are. There is something going on practically everyday. You often have to choose between events because you can’t be in two places at once.

So there’s a staple audience, and a plethora of events, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that Philly attracts poets. From experience do you think Philadelphia, in fact, attracts poets?

Most definitely, I’ve heard people say they came here for the poetry and the people who don’t move here will often go to great lengths to give a reading.

How can people support local poets?

Go to a reading, buy somebody’s book, talk them up, and make sure you bring as many people as are willing to go to a poetry reading. Being a poet in the busy poetry scene it is easy to forget that not everybody is crazy for poetry. Sometimes you say to a more mainstream person, “Come to this poetry reading with me,” and they go green around the gills. Readings often are held at a bar or a place that serves food and drinks. Try to buy a drink and tip the bartender. The establishment is counting on bringing in some money during the event.

Also, support independent bookstores. They’re endangered and are more likely to host local poets than the larger establishments.

Photo by Héctor López

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