Sunday, August 16, 2009

A Sense of Place (Montreal, Damascus, Cleveland)

I just got back
from a long weekend in Montreal*, where-- among other things-- I met poet Amal El-Mohtar, the other winner of the 2009 Rhysling for best poem. (photo of Amal and me); not to mention a number of other speculative poets, too many to name**.

Amal is one heck of a poet. (She's also one of the three editors of the internet quarterly Goblin Fruit, which features mythic and fantastic poetry***). She won for her poem "Song for an Ancient City," a love-letter to the city of Damascus.

What strikes me most about Amal's poem is how deeply and beautifully it is evocative of place.

Amal placed third for the long poem Rhysling as well, collaborating with Cat Valente (a former Clevelander) on "Damascus Divides the Lovers by Zero," another poem deeply evocative of place.

So I've been thinking of poetry of place recently. There is some body of poetry of place about Cleveland, of course-- in fact, the Deep Cleveland poem o' the week is a long-running attempt to capture the city in all its myriad fragmented poetic angles, somewhat channeling the spirit of D.A. Levy.

"Paul Shepard thinks that the lack or denial of our connection to the plants and animals in a given place makes us crazy. Rootless, detached people are dangerous. On the other hand, sanity happens when people understand that where they are is who they are. "

Any thoughts on poetry of place from the clevelandpoetics cabal?

*for those of you who look for my usual post on clevelandpoetics every Sunday or early Monday, that's why I didn't post last week.
**I was originally going to list them all, but it occurs to me that with my sketchy memory I'd probably leave somebody out, and that person would then assume I was snubbing them deliberately.
***"fantastic" is often used as a generic adjective meaning "really good," but in this case I mean it in its literal sense (not that the figurative sense isn't also applicable). If I were Edgar Allen Poe, perhaps I'd say "phantasmagorical."


Geoffrey A. Landis said...

I might also have mentioned Michael Ceraolo, and most notably his Euclid Creen book (from Deep Cleveland.

Shelley Chernin said...

I love "Song for an Ancient City." Thanks for posting the link. I enjoy poetry of place when, like this poem, it captures the passion that the poet feels for for a place that's special to her or him.

Many years ago, when I was new to writing poetry, I attended a writing workshop where it was suggested to me that I needed to ground my poems in place. This, I know, is not quite the same as "poetry of place," but the post on poetry of place brought it to mind.

Do all poems need to be "placed"?

This question bugged me enough that eventually I wrote a poem with the opening lines: "Let's skip the niceties of place/or Ohio if you can't..."


The poet doesn't invent. He listens. ~Jean Cocteau