Sneak peak of our summer season:
Sneak peak of our summer season:
I know Christina through working with her as members at Mascher Space Co-op. She has a special way of thinking about her art and about Mascher, and a deep love for the well-worn, DIY rehearsal and performance space. Christina often talks and writes in a roundabout, muddled-through way that gives weight to the slow, the dispersed, and the felt, and this modus operandi extends to her sincerity in working with the multiplicitous, slow-moving organism that is an artist cooperative. I thought of Christina for an In the Studio piece not only because she is an integral part of this unique cooperative studio, but also because her art space expands beyond those walls. She walks around Kensington as part of her dance and life practice.
-Antonia Z Brown, curator
For a while now, I’ve been saying “I have a walking practice.” I’d like to rethink that and instead just say, “I like to walk.” I think of walking like digestion—an active space of doing, sensing, and soft absorption and excretion. For the past few years I’ve been rehearsing fairly steadily at Mascher on Friday afternoons. I often split my time between being INSIDE and OUTSIDE of the rehearsal space.
When I’m INSIDE:
When I’m OUTSIDE:
How do artists or citizens move through the landscapes, dynamic environments, and communities in which they make their work, especially when those communities and neighborhoods are rapidly gentrifying and changing? It is our job to turn over and over and over the ways that we are embodied within ourselves and our work but also in our physical and geographic location.
This experience INSIDE and OUTSIDE of Mascher has collaged itself into a solo that I have made called lasso belly. Many of the pictures are of me rehearsing that solo. The piece asks how process and studio time can transparently and unapologetically live in a finished work. The piece asks how I want to engage with an audience and how I want to frame my own solo body and the contexts in which I choose to put it in.
All photos by Miles Yeung.
See Christina’s solo at Fresh Juice, Mascher’s 10th Anniversary Cabaret, Nov 20 – 21, 2015, 155 Cecil B. Moore. Info here.
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
Lynn Levin does a lot of things. Levin is a poet, writer, and translator, is adjunct associate professor of English at Drexel and lecturer in creative writing at the University of Pennsylvania. She is, with Valerie Fox, co-author of the craft-of-poetry textbook, Poems for the Writing: Prompts for Poets (Texture Press, 2013), a finalist in education/academic books in the Next Generation Indie Book Awards. Levin’s other recent books include Birds on the Kiswar Tree (2Leaf Press, 2014), a translation from the Spanish of a collection of poems by the Peruvian Andean poet Odi Gonzales, and the poetry collection Miss Plastique (Ragged Sky Press, 2013), a finalist in poetry in the Next Generation Indie Book Awards. Lynn Levin has received eleven Pushcart Prize nominations. Her poems, stories, essays, and translations have appeared in Ploughshares, Boulevard, The Hopkins Review, Michigan Quarterly Review, E-Verse Radio, Verse Daily, and Garrison Keillor has read her work on his radio show The Writer’s Almanac.
—Amanda V. Wagner, co-founder
Poetry is not a big tent. It is an encampment with lots of little tents in which souls select their own societies. If Emily Dickinson went camping (not likely), she would probably not share a tent with Anne Sexton. But after a hard day of walking in the woods and making poems, I can see the two of them sitting around the campfire relaxing, talking po-biz, looking for shooting stars. Poets who pitch different kinds of poetry tents can be friends, but one does stand by the tenets of one’s own tent.
Here are some tips about what I love best in poetry. I present them with examples from some poets I admire, poets who write emotionally clear, witty, accessible poems that convey love and sympathy for the world.
1. Describe generously
Our world will vanish, therefore imagery, either through straight description or figurative language, is essential. Mark Doty’s poem “A Display of Mackerel” from his book Atlantis never fails to dazzle me with its rapturous descriptions of fish in a market.
They lie in parallel rows,
on ice, head to tail,
each a foot of luminosity
barred with black bands,
which divide the scales’
like seams of lead
in a Tiffany window.
prismatics: think abalone,
the wildly rainbowed
mirror of a soapbubble sphere,
think sun on gasoline.
The poem scintillates with its subject. When you read the whole poem, be sure to catch the brilliant irony: as much as Doty presences the material and the now, he meditates platonically on the idea that there is a truer form of mackerel in “heaven’s template.” Doty expands on his devotion to imagery in the essay “Souls on Ice,” which includes the complete text of “A Display of Mackerel.”
2. Surprise your reader
As a reader, I yearn for the moment in which a startling turn of thought, a comparison, a profound observation slides into a poem. I want to feel that moment of awe, that shiver before a truth I did not see coming.
Surprises can be fierce or gentle. In her poem “Olives,” from her collection Olives , A. E. Stallings slips in a gentle surprise. Her poem begins with a gourmet appreciation of olives, but very quickly the poem turns unexpectedly melancholy:
Sometimes a craving comes for salt, not sweet,
For fruits that you can eat
Only if pickled in a vat of tears—
Stallings chooses the sorrowful “vat of tears” to express the brining. It made me wonder what troubled the speaker’s heart. The diction in the poem also delivers the unexpected. Stallings combines everyday words with seldom-seen terms, always precisely relevant to olives, such as “indehiscent” and “drupes.” The poem surprises line after gorgeous line, and at points it shifts from darkness to light: “The nets spread under silver trees that foil/The blue glass of the heavens in the fall.” And I am struck by the poet’s subtle slant rhyming of “foil” with “fall.” From the diction to the sound effects to the constantly changing emotional and sensory perspectives, Stallings gives me something to gasp about in every line. You can find the whole text of the poem in The New Criterion here.
3. Take a stand without ranting
A poem should be brave enough to take on a political subject, but it should not hector the reader. In her collection Doll, Kim Bridgford uses an inflatable doll as a persona to symbolize women who have been silenced or intimated by sexist partners and a sexist society. Here are a few lines from her sonnet, “Inflatable Doll as Driving Companion”:
No backseat driver, this one’s in the front:
Her upbeat plastic buckled in to go
Wherever you go. This blow-up doll is silent,
Offers her support. I sit; therefore I know.
Bridgford’s wit, formal grace, and her sympathetic and subtly sharp approach empower this poem. You can read the whole poem here.
4. Be funny
I love having fun with dark subjects, and that’s what successful funny poems usually do. They deploy humor to beckon the reader only to slide or pounce into something grave or existentially large. Charles Harper Webb’s poem “Nostalgia’s Not What It Used to Be” from his book What Things Are Made Of, ruminates on an ice cream truck, a fond memory of youth, seen by the speaker hilariously through the lens of social and political critique. The poem begins:
I’m well aware it’s problematic to miss the ice cream trucks
that clinked and tinkled down Candlelight Lane. The name
“Good Humor” privileged bourgeois affability, and valorized
consumption. Songs the trucks played—“Daisy, Daisy”
and “Dixie”—legitimized patriarchy, women’s oppression,
and the Mariana Trench of slavery.
Eventually, the poem travels to an incident in the speaker’s youth involving class distinctions, and then rockets out to a pessimistic view of the future, thus bringing not-so-delightful past in conjunction with fraught future. But there’s so much fun in between. You can read the all of Webb’s poem here.
5. If you can write a happy poem, do it
Mostly you will be pondering lost love, illness, guilt, failure, violence, hurt, and all the other things that flesh and spirit are heir to. The Polish poet Anna Swir wrote about all those things, but here she takes a moment to sample joy.
Happy as a Dog’s Tail
Happy as something unimportant
and free as a thing unimportant.
As something no one prizes
and which does not prize itself.
As something mocked by all
and which mocks at their mockery.
As laughter without serious reason.
As a yell able to outyell itself.
Happy as no matter what,
as any no matter what.
as a dog’s tail.
Now and then, let your verse celebrate simple pleasant things. Swir’s poem appears in her collection Talking to My Body, translated by Czeslaw Milosz and Leonard Nathan. You can also read Swir’s poem on the Poetry Foundation website.
Avoid dense brush, swamp land, and other hazards around the poetry encampment
The five tips above spotlight some of what I value in poetry, but I want to point out what I don’t like as well. I do not care for self-consciously academic poems, abstruse poems that prize difficulty, poems with subjective associations I cannot follow, or syntactical weirdness that seems downright ungrammatical. Boring poems, I can’t tolerate them either.
All that said, I know that other poets and readers might find fascinating a text that I consider a flatliner or might dig the challenge of a hermetic poem. I reserve my right to be opinionated. I stand by the aspects of poetry that I revere because I think they help poetry do its job, which is to enlarge our world and abide with us in the wilderness of time.
Image by Margaret Kearney
Transcending Medium is a prompt which asks artists to create a work of art in a non-preferred medium and treat it as critically as they would a project in their chosen field. I chose poetry, which I haven’t touched since college, but thought was close enough to my preferred medium that I could treat it critically.
The wide open sky.
Sky as broad and blank as the earth
As the sky
a great, wet sky
What is a play without a vision.
What is a vision without a dollar.
What is a dollar without a passion.
What is a passion without a body.
What is a body without a liquid.
What is a liquid without a pool.
What is a pool without a cutting oar.
I wear these sunglasses
powder just by looking at you.
Poetry of the moral Universe,
I got seven glimpses of the same thing at the same time.
Hot motion peace has no place.
Growl at it
Slant not known
Guns are significant
Where the whores won’t go.
Encounter night slippage
men have curves
cooked brass shapes on my night eyes blue yanked out on grids blue whale harmonics
taking up two taking up.
Looking out over the arc
A pitcher of pounce
(god grant me)
Brought on blue wails
. The great American wails.
I we don’t half open think
around ten tonight
I’ll be here
the earth is
he stands before me living
all a dreamy rules
somewhere else, you see
a hand, he take
. a deliberate
. a cheese sandwich.
I have hands
(see through white)
(and peruse online catalogs)
that says it all.
night cats on blue paper the Finnish product is awful kind.
he’s talking about
that doesn’t rhyme
isn’t a vegetable
inside joker Orlando
the greener pastures
the one that’s true
that much is true
the hot hands a clinical approach a God it’s hot a many kind a people
the next good thought