Category Archives: Tuesday Review

Review: Unspoken Word

Unspoken Word Open Mic

King Dusko

Charleston, South Carolina

 

I was late, as usual. Trying to cook dinner before I go somewhere is always a bad idea if punctuality is key. I’ll never learn, though.

Despite our late departure and the bizarre wind that was going on outside, we hopped on our bikes and headed down to King Dusko, a relatively new coffee shop by day, wine/beer bar by night (plus art gallery all the time?), where the open mic I read about a few weeks ago was happening

The interior of the coffee shop/bar is marked by white walls that are covered in art and an eclectic array of chairs and tables. The wine and beer selection is small but curated; I have yet to try their coffee. For the open mic, they had a small stage and had rearranged the seating around it. It was a very informal atmosphere, relaxing and welcoming, which was good, since walking in after an open mic has already started is never an ideal situation. There’s no way to get in there without people realizing you were late. Plus, you just have to face the fact that you’re going to have to struggle for a seat.

And so it was when my roommate and I carefully tiptoed inside. The poet onstage was reciting something that sounded like an open letter to America type of piece, which was actually the best we could hope for–there was a lot of crescendoing of volume as we tried to inconspicuously grab chairs near two friends we were meeting.

But then, we were settled, and even with the wild wind and the whirlwind of the previous thirty minutes, I found it easy to mellow back to that familiar setting of poet, microphone, stage and words.

The first thing I noticed: how young! Charleston is a college town, I realize, but the average age of this poetry open mic was surely around twenty, which is fine, just not exactly what I first expected, coming from Atlanta’s Java Monkey venue. The bimonthly event is fairly new–one of its organizers told me they had their first event in December 2013. The emcees are certainly energetic, though–especially when it comes to their call-out/tagline (Leave no word UNSPOKEN)–and the poets/audience attentive.

As for the quality of the work, it, as might be expected, varied. I hesitate to go into much of a critique because open mics are first and foremost about sharing work that is important to the writer, and many of the young poets who got on stage spoke from a very authentic place. Anyone can appreciate the dedication they put into their verses, and listening to these pieces opened little windows into the writers’ lives that was truly enriching. (And I can honestly say, I had no moments of uncomfortable seat-squirming–you know what I’m talking about.)

Now, with some of the poets who were more experienced, I feel I can be a bit more critical. One of the emcees had good poetry, but his delivery was difficult to understand–his pace got too fast, and his words weren’t enunciated well enough. The other emcee’s first piece wasn’t my cup of tea, but the piece he recited from memory toward the end of the evening that was originally written as a page poem was quite beautiful. Even with his halting beginning (he had some trouble pulling up the piece from memory–but he fully recovered, which is always impressive), the three-part piece was easily the best I think I heard that night.

Overall, the variance between poets was probably the most intriguing aspect of this open mic: one played with his cadence to emphasize his rhymes, which didn’t always include the entire word; another was a page poet whose piece dove into the complications of a romantic relationship. I hope it stays this way as the event continues–it would be a shame if everyone started to sound like the same spoken word artists,though  obviously some of that will begin to happen as people gather momentum from being at the open mic itself.

The event definitely has the feeling of still getting its feet on the ground, but the organizers seem dedicated to opening up the Charleston poetry scene–they made several announcements about other events and had the organizers of other open mic venues come and read. On my next visit, I hope to speak to them more so I can add a coda to this piece with more background information.

In the meantime, King Dusko’s website and the Charleston Poets website will have the most up-to-date information on the days the open mic is happening. If you’re in the area on one of the days, it’s worth your while to stop in.

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Gifting Poetry: Anthology Review

Second Tuesday Review

Because it’s the holiday–and gift-buying–season, we’ve assembled a brief review of anthologies that are perfect for bestowing on your poetry-minded friends. Anthologies are great bargain gifts–so many poets, for the price of just one book! While anthologies might not give the in-depth sound and feel of a poet’s voice, they do provide a lot of curating to offer some of the best poetry in their chosen topic. Here are a few we’ve enjoyed recently and that we’d like to enjoy soon. Provide a few of your favorites in the comments!

Poetry Anthologies

The Best American Poetry 2013

Scribner Poetry, 2013

Well, really any year would work, but it seems good to stay current, right? For the past two years, we’ve seen these debut with readings from the poets featured inside at the Decatur Book Festival. Like all the BAPs, this anthology features the seventy-five “best” poems published in literary magazines over the course of the year picked by a special guest editor, in this case, Denise Duhamel. But what we really enjoy about these anthologies is the information in the back–the notes and comments from the contributors. Who doesn’t enjoy a little extra insight into a poem?

(More here)

Word of Mouth: Poems Featured on NPR’s All Things Considered

Vintage Books, 2003

We are big suckers for listening to poetry. BUT we also really like the way a good poem is laid out on a page. Can you guess why we were drawn to Word of Mouth? Though this anthology is a bit older (ten years) than the previous, it remains an examination of contemporary poets and how they “harmonize on the racket and cacophony of our times,” as editor Catherine Bowman notes. Less writers are included, but the pro is that there are multiple pieces by most of the poets.

(More here)

The Hungry Ear: Poems of Food & Drink

Bloomsbury, 2012

Food + Poetry = Greatness. Kevin Young really nailed the pairing with this anthology of great poets talking about what’s really important to us all: our stomachs. But there’s so much more here than just food–family, gluttony, harvest, death, and of course alcohol. Yep, food poetry is way more broad than you thought, and the poets in this collection are, too: Natasha Tretheway, W.B. Yeats, Langston Hughes, Charles Baudelaire, among others.

(More here)

Angles of Ascent: A Norton Anthology of Contemporary African American Poetry

W.W. Norton, 2013

But let’s be real, any Norton anthology is something we want to read. This one’s just at the top of the list. It covers poets from the 1960s onwards, and according to the publisher, “It is a gathering of poems that demonstrate what happens when writers in a marginalized community collectively turn from dedicating their writing to political, social, and economic struggles, and instead devote themselves to the art of their poems and to the ideas they embody.”

(More here)

Drawn to Marvel: Poems from the Comic Books

Minor Americana Press, 2014

Even though this one is coming out next year, we wanted to include it–because we’re that excited. Comic books and poetry–enough said.

(More here)

Java Monkey Speaks/[Insert Your Local Poetry Venue’s Anthology and/or Chapbooks]

Because it’s important to support the poets in your area. Just think how happy you’ll make the poet whose work you buy. If that’s not something in the holiday spirit, we don’t know what is.

Good luck with your holiday shopping!

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Interview with Colin Kelley

First Tuesday Review

For some excellent explications of the poems and collection as a whole, you can read reviews at Arts Atlanta and Subtletea. Naming Constellations has a review that reveals how Render can be instructive for developing poets. Below are my thoughts after reading.

Photography is the metaphor of Collin Kelley’s newest book of poetry, Render. The book is organized by the major aspects of the art—reticulation, aperture, blowup, resolution—and the poems within are framed by two pieces “A Broken Frame” and “Render.” The metaphor works well not only for the structure it provides but also because the poems themselves are their own snapshots. These pictures of Kelley’s memories capture his childhood, with all the questions of sexuality and family dysfunctionality that came with it.

But almost as vividly portrayed is the background of Kelley’s poems, the time, place, and culture in which he grew up. The poems are littered with popular culture references and sepia-hued imagery. Take as one prominent example “The Freedom Train.” References to the Bionic Woman, Farrah Fawcett, and Gone with the Wind occur within the first stanza alone. Others, such as “Three Mile Island,” reflect national events that remain in public memory. And then there are some that reveal Kelley’s personal history almost solely, “After Adultery” being one such piece. But to separate the poems by these categories—national icons and personal memory—is reductive because what really makes the poems so intriguing is that all these references are happening at once in the same poem.

Not having grown up during this time myself, I felt a little like a niece listening to childhood stories from an uncle. But also, at times, I felt a little out of my depth—a quality, I think, that is as it should be. These poems did what all writing should: made real to me a world that I could never know. This is not to say that I found nothing in the poems in Render that I could relate to. The most universal quality to the collection is the reflection on childhood, an event everyone has encountered, and childhood—mostly my own, but also what is depicted in Render—is what I found myself thinking about long after I finished reading.

An additional pleasure I had in reading this collection was in reencountering some pieces that I have heard before. Visiting the pieces on the page has exposed to me new allusions and poetic devices that I missed from only hearing them previously. At the same time, having listened to Kelley read, I can imbed that knowledge of voice and cadence in my own reading. Fortunately, Kelley has recorded several pieces from Render, so if you’re interested in making your own spoken word to page comparison, you can.

 

We were lucky enough to catch Collin for a short Q&A. Read on for his responses.

 

What author/poet(s) would you say have most influenced your writing?

There are so many, but at the very top would be Anne SextonMargaret AtwoodDon DeLilloWalt WhitmanAlice WalkerJeanette Winterson, and Stan Rice. They’ve been my touchstones since I began writing seriously back in the ’80s.

If you could meet any poet (author), current or past, who would it be? (And why?)

Anne Sexton. I discovered her work in 1986 while I was in high school, and although I’ve read every poem she’s ever written, I can still pick up one of her collections, and the words make me vibrate. She switches on whatever genetic disposition I was born with to be a poet. She’s still a controversial figure because of the confessional nature of her writing, her mental illness, and the abuse she inflicted upon her family, but she is an absolute genius. I think a boozy dinner with lots of vodka and ciggies would be a great way to spend an evening.

What does your usual writing process look like? Initial draft/edits/revisions?

For poetry, I will find a few words–or a phrase or a title will pop into my head–and I might let that marinate in brain for weeks until I’m ready to put it on paper. I’ll write a complete first draft, and then put it away for a few days and come back and redraft. I’m one of those poets who believes a poem is never finished. There are poems in Render that I would still love to revise.

For fiction, I’m a bit more focused. When I’m working on a novel, I try to write two nights a week from about 9:00 p.m. to 1:00 a.m. and then spend four or five hours on [it on] a Saturday or Sunday. I tend to write forward–meaning I don’t come back and rewrite or tinker until I have a complete first draft of the manuscript. Although, on my new novel–the third book in The Venus Trilogy–I did go back and remove an entire subplot about halfway through because it was bogging down the story.

Specifically regarding Render, what did compiling this collection look like? Were you aware that you kept returning to a photography motif? Did you make any edits based on your decision to group the poems together with this theme in mind?

The manuscript that eventually became Render had been sitting in a drawer for years. I had submitted it to a few contests and open readings under another title and with many different poems. The book never quite seemed to gel, so I put it away and focused on fiction. In the summer of 2010, I went to the UK to guest lecture at Worcester College at Oxford University and had the chance to go down to London and see the Sally Mann photography retrospective. I realized while I was walking through the gallery that Mann’s work, which I love, and my poetry had a strange symmetry and synchronicity. I came home and wrote the poem “Render,” and the idea of the collection being a type of pop culture photo album clicked into place. It hadn’t dawned on me that so many of my poems refer to photos and have imagery based on “snapshots” of my life growing up in the South.  I tossed out a lot of work from the original manuscript and stopped overthinking the arc of the collection and put [the poems] in a quasi-chronological order. I also knew that I wanted the collection to be lean, so I forced myself to remove poems that I loved but that weren’t working in the manuscript. There’s a tendency by poets to try to cram in everything, especially if it’s been previously published. I have quite a few “orphan” poems that would have fit into Render, but they will probably find their way into a future collection.

What, if any, types of writing exercises do you like to use?

I’m always on the hunt for a good writing prompt. One that I did earlier this year was an exercise to take a famous film or literary character and write a persona poem in their voice. The idea was to either extend their story or to voice things left unsaid in the movie or book. I got the idea from reading about the old silent film The Wind starring Lillian Gish. In the original cut, she killed herself, but the movie producers thought it was too dark. So they tacked on a happy ending although it didn’t really fit. In my poem, her character, Letty, commits suicide. I also do this little exercise where I try to create poems out of the subject lines from all the spam email I receive. Most of it is X-rated.

The basis of each issue for Imitation & Allusion is pairing an author and poet for other writers to, well, imitate or allude to in their pieces for the magazine. If you could pick an author (poet) to be paired with in one of our issues, who would it be? Or, what author/poet duo do you think would make an interesting pairing?

This might be cheating a bit, but I would have to say fellow Atlanta poet Karen Head. We occasionally do a gig together called “Call and Response” where we have someone in the audience flip a coin to see who begins the reading. Then, we read our poems round-robin style, selecting poems on the fly to find common themes, moods, and imagery. We never plan ahead, so it’s all very off the cuff. We bring all our books and notebooks of work in progress, just in case. Karen is a Georgia native, too, and we have a lot of the same pop culture references, so our work meshes well together.

What other books or projects are you currently working on?

I’m in the middle of writing the third book in The Venus Trilogy, which began with Conquering Venus and Remain In Light. I’ve also got a poetry chapbook, which is 95 percent complete and will hopefully be out in 2015. Beyond that, I have plans for a short-story collection and a memoir about my time in London.

 

Thanks, Collin! We’ll be looking out for more of your work.

You can keep up with Collin at his websiteFacebook pageTwitter, and Tumblr!

 

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