For each of the last ten years, the Poetry Society of America’s Chapbook Fellowship Reading has produced four of the most beautiful books printed that year. Between the covers of the chapbooks -- designed by Gabriele Wilson and featuring patterns selected from Susan Meller and Joost Elffers’s 2002 Textile Designs:Two Hundred Years of European and American Patterns -- are the words of four New American Poets chosen each year by four poets invited to judge. This year, Vijay Seshadri, Dara Wier, and Matthew Rohrer joined Alice Quinn and the staff of the Poetry Society -- Brett Fletcher Lauer, Elsbeth Pancrazi, and Charif Shanahan – to bring together another surprising and invigorating collection of poets and poems and an evening’s fascinating reading.
The first poet-judge to speak at the May 3rd event, Vijay Seshadri, highlighted the important role that the Poetry Society's Chapbook Fellowship program plays in supporting poets early in their work, before their first books come out, in rescuing each poet from their "desolation and isolation," adding,"not that desolation and isolation do not return later...and again and again." As each poet - judge and chapbook winner alike -- rose to read, the CUNY graduate center auditorium brightened with the flourishing enterprise that is poetry written and read today. Through chapbooks so beautiful as to tempt even the most resolute e-reader to begin surreptitiously collecting, the works of four talented new voices were showcased in a reading that included an audio debut by Siri. Only Justin Boening or the speaker of his "To Be A God" can say whether she was invited.
In the introduction to Travel & Leisure, Vijay Seshadri writes of ’Eric Bliman’s “deadpan, offhand, but nevertheless intensely focused layer-by-layer metaphor-making…an individuation that makes this poet difficult to place in a cultural moment…[and work that] seemed neither old nor new but perennial.”
In Pompeii’s hot mud, hollow pietàs were trapped.
Poured plaster revealed their human forms.
Here, a coal car’s wheels polish the track.
-- from “Prometheus in Pittsburgh”
Alice Quinn introduced Cherry Pickman, selected by Lucia Perillo, for her Theory of Tides, in the introduction to which she emphasizes “how the poems move, through gradual accretion and sideways association…" and what they deliver: "Sometimes a semi-joke in how the sentence had changed meaning at the line break. Sometimes a deepening of an assertion or a denial of what I’d taken for a given. These poems are exacting, and demand precision in their language.”
…There is something metal or magnet
that keeps us at our slow progress. We are charged
with the static of skeletons, the trickle down
of vertebrae, of the soft feather pressed fast into rock.
-- from “The Passage”
Of the poems in Justin Boening’s “Self-Portrait As Missing Person”, Dara Wier, who selected his work, writes, “What draws my attention is their intricate attempts to pry into some kind of understanding by any means available, realistically possible or not.”
When you need
me to hurt, I’ll dim in the linden leaves,
I’ll hide in the fire-scarred hills,
and the great guards
of my gilded name
will circle around to protect me.
And you’ll be there.
And I’ll know your name
as a god knows your name,
as a father knows your name,
but you won’t recognize me.
from "To Be a God"
Matthew Rohrer stood in for D.A. Powell, and before introducing Danielle Blau, remarked on the collaboration evident in the Chapbook Fellows Program and the chapbooks themselves and read a few poems titled "Poem Written With Basho." With regard to Danielle Blau's work, he noted that “to inhabit the imagination is to engage the world.” In the introduction to "Mere Eye", D.A. Powell writes that it is “ a collection of collapsed time, filtered light and compiled images writ against the formless void in cinematic sequencing.”
We are transmitters of the universal
tap water. Eucalyptus backwash-
funnelers. We’re the backlash
of backwoods tunneling.
We are trumpeters of Wormwood
Whiplash. Please come to our party.
from "We Are Purveyors of the Absolute Vacuum"
For more, see these features on the Poetry Society website:
new and interesting first book poets of the last decade;
poems from the first 36 chapbook winners;
"In Their Own Words", poets writing about their work; and
"Old School," poets writing about past poets.
Madge McKeithen has written about poems in several essays including those collected in her book, Blue Peninsula (FSG, 2006). She initiated the One Page Poetry Circle at the NYPL in 2006 and at the Darien Library in 2009. Her work has appeared in TriQuarterly, Utne Reader, The New York Times Book Review,and Best American Essays 2011. She teaches nonfiction in the Writing Program at the New School and blogs at madgemckeithen.com