Thursday, September 23, 2010

New Book by Larry Smith/ Tu Fu Comes to America

And he lives right here in Cleveland. Smith is having fun and creating meaning by moving the ancient Chinese poet (or his spirit) to the streets of Cleveland. He's working at the temp agency, washing dishes, and struggling with his family to get by and make some meaning of their lives.

"Tu Fu Comes to America is a compelling verse novel depicting the poignant realities of working immigrants. Smith’s spare, sturdy lines flash with Buddhist insight as Tu Fu strives to provide for his family in Cleveland, 'In the shopping bag, my work clothes./ On my back the white shirt Mei has ironed./ No yesterday or tomorrow, only now.'" -RAY MCNIECE, author of Our Way of Life: Poems

"In the winter of 770 CE, Tu Fu left this world. In Larry Smith’s fine narrative, he reappears in present day Cleveland. We see America through his eyes, through his contemplative heart. Hope, loss, friendship, love, the old quarrel with the world. Travel with him. Open your chest. Learn." —MAJ RAGAIN, author of Twist the Axe

The book comes from March Street Press in North Carolina, 60 pages...$9. You can order from them online or from Bottom Dog Press or pick up a copy at Mac's Backs Books...Smith will be reading at Sandusky on Sunday October 10th and at Mac's on October 16th.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Westside Poetry Workshop

tools_01 NEW:
I. Poetry Workshop WEST!
Fourth Thursday of Every Month
7-9pm @ Visible Voice Books
1023 Kenilworth Avenue
Cleveland, OH 44113

UPDATE - "Just wanted to let you know if you are interested, we've dropped the tuition fee for the Poetry West Workshop with Claire and Lou. It will now have a suggested donation of $10 per session, so people who can't otherwise afford it can still come." 

Fall Session Begins Wednesday October 27, 2010.
Finally! The LIT's Public Poetry Workshop comes to the West side, Poets of all ages and backgrounds are welcome once a month to bring a work-in-progress and receive recommendations for improving it. Our goal is friendly, yet serious critiques by emerging and experienced writers. Improvement of craft through reading, writing, and work shopping with Instructors Lou Suarez and Claire McMahon.

Lou Suarez is the author of two book-length collections of poetry, Traveler (2010) and Ask (2004), both published by Mid-List Press (Minneapolis), and three poetry chapbooks, Losses of Moment, The Grape Painter and On U. S. 6 to Providence. He is professor emeritus at Lorain County Community College and lives in Sheffield Lake, Ohio, with his wife Debby.

Claire McMahon has an MFA in Writing & Poetics from Naropa University (Boulder, Colorado) and a Ph.D. in 20th Cent. American & British Poetry from Kent State University. She is co-editor of MoonLit poetry journal (Drag City Press, Chicago) and the author of a book of poems entitled, Emergency Contact (Van Zeno Press, Cleveland). She has taught English writing courses locally at Lake Erie College, Baldwin-Wallace College, Cuyahoga Community College, and Chancellor University. Currently, Claire is an Adjunct Professor of Humanities at Bowling Green University’s Firelands campus.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Poetry @ IngenuityFest 2010

Ingenuity, Cleveland’s Festival of Art and Technology

ingenuity The Ingenuity Festival returns with a weekend-long celebration of art and technology, designed for audiences of any age and experience, staged in the center of Downtown Cleveland. Prominent international masters present original works alongside the finest of Northeast Ohio’s performing and visual artists. High technology firms and major colleges and universities are presented alongside acclaimed artists to create a dazzling display of exciting and immersive new work! Ingenuity pushes boundaries, creating a unique festival experience that draws and celebrates diversity, and involves the audience as both spectator and participant!

This Year’s Poetry centered events include:

Malikee Ikiru
September 24, 2010 11:45PM - September 25, 2010 12:00AM@ Span Stage - West Concourse - West Side of Bridge
Malikee Ikiru has been active in the urban poetry scene in Cleveland since the early 90s. He combines the hard revolutionary stance of the late 60s with futuristic images military science fiction. Mixing politics, romanticism, spirituality, and a computer generated world to give his art a matrixesque feeling.  He has done hundreds of shows and opened for such acts as Sonia Sanchez, burning spear and krs1. Are you ready for the revolution? The matrix has you!

Midnight Poetry with Dr. McMahon
September 24, 2010 11:45PM - September 25, 2010 12:45AM@ Span Stage - West Concourse - West Side of Bridge
Hosted by Claire McMahon readers will include: Poetry by Eric Alleman,  Eric Anderson, Diane Borsenik,  Miles Budimir, John Burroughs,  Charlotte Mann, Claire McMahon,  Robert Miltner, Michael Salinger,  Theresa (T.M. Gottl), Russ Vidrick.

Poetry Workshop and Performance with Michael Salinger
September 25, 2010 4:00PM - 5:00PM@ West Courtyard Stage
Student workshops led by poet/educator Michael Salinger. Students will write, edit, rehearse and perform their own original works.

Ray McNiece - Haiku Slam
September 25, 2010 5:00PM - 6:00PM@ Span Stage - West Concourse - West Side of Bridge
Whether you participate or observe you will enjoy the fast paced action of Head to Head haiku – a poetry competition based on the rules of Sumo wrestling. Also, add your thoughts to the endless scroll that will be a Cleveland Rengku. Hosted by local haiku master Ray McNiece.

The festival will be held on the subway level of the Veterans Memorial (Detroit Superior) Bridge in Downtown Cleveland.  It can be accessed from the East and West sides of the river and is protected from the weather.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

What is the state of American Poetry?

Anis Shivani of the Huffington Post asks, What is the state of American Poetry?

"Is it savagely alive, reaching its tentacles into new corners of consciousness, or is it a moribund corpse, having long been administered last rites?"

He asks a bunch of poets this, including
Clayton Eshleman ("...Today the writing scene resembles a blizzard on an archipelago of sites...")
Annie Finch ("American poetry is at a dead-end. And that's a good thing!" ... "Poetic fashions change surprisingly fast, so don't spend too much energy on them.")
Ron Silliman ("Fifty years ago, there were well under 1,000 poets writing & publishing in English. Today, there are easily over 20,000. A dead-end? Hardly.")
Danielle Pafunda ("American poetry is a live wire. In fact, it is a tangle of live wires....")
...and also a pile of other people in the comments section ("I don't think poetry is dying, it's just that there are too many bad poets out there.")

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Poems for Peace by Philip Metres

The Poetry Foundation has just published an article about "How to build a collection that moves beyond anti-war poetry" by Cleveland area author, educator and peace activist Philip Metres. Check it out here:

* * *

About Philip Metres:

Professor of English at John Carroll University, Dr. Metres was recently awarded the 2010 Cleveland Arts Prize for Emerging Artist. His books include To See the Earth (2008), Come Together: Imagine Peace (anthology of peace poems, 2008), Behind the Lines: War Resistance Poetry on the American Homefront since 1941 (2007), Instants (2006), Primer for Non-Native Speakers (2004), Catalogue of Comedic Novelties: Selected Poems of Lev Rubinstein (2004), and A Kindred Orphanhood: Selected Poems of Sergey Gandlevsky (2003). His poetry has appeared in numerous journals and anthologies, including Best American Poetry and Inclined to Speak: Contemporary Arab American Poetry. Find him online at and

Monday, September 13, 2010

Lix & Kix present Philip Metres, Lou Suarez & Monica Igras on 9/15 @ Bela Dubby in Lakewood

The Lix and Kix Poetry Extravaganza is pleased to present featured readings by Monica Igras, Lou Suarez and Phil Metres -- followed by an open mic emceed by Dianne Borsenik and John "Jesus Crisis" Burroughs.

Monica Igras is a poet/performer from Erie, Pennsylvania, who Dianne and John had the pleasure of meeting and hearing for the first time during Snoetry: A Winter Wordfest at the Last Wordsmith Book Shoppe. Her work has appeared in numerous places including the Enhanced Poetry CD Live @ the Jive, available at

Lou Suarez is the author of two books of poems, Traveler (Mid-List Press,2010) and Ask (Mid-List Press, 2004), as well as three poetry chapbooks: Losses of Moment (Kent State University Press, 1995), The Grape Painter (Frost Heaves Press, 2001), and On U.S. 6 to Providence (Red Mountain Review, 2006). Lou is currently Professor Emeritus at Lorain County Community College, and his book Traveler was a finalist for one of The Lit's Lantern Awards. Find him online at

Philip Metres, Professor of English at John Carroll University, was recently awarded the 2010 Cleveland Arts Prize for Emerging Artist. His books include To See the Earth (2008), Come Together: Imagine Peace (anthology of peace poems, 2008), Behind the Lines: War Resistance Poetry on the American Homefront since 1941 (2007), Instants (2006), Primer for Non-Native Speakers (2004), Catalogue of Comedic Novelties: Selected Poems of Lev Rubinstein (2004), and A Kindred Orphanhood: Selected Poems of Sergey Gandlevsky (2003). His poetry has appeared in numerous journals and anthologies, including Best American Poetry and Inclined to Speak: Contemporary Arab American Poetry. Find him online at and

We hope to see you there!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Lantern Award Winners

Last night at the Palace Theater, The Lit hosted their first-ever biennial Lantern Awards ceremony. Since Billy Crystal wasn't available, Cleveland's own Michael Heaton [left] emceed.

My favorite underappreciated cartoonist, Derf, proved appreciated after all, receiving a lifetime achievement award. Thankfully, he's not yet ready to retire.

The far-too-soon retired Harvey Pekar and Sheila Schwartz also received well deserved lifetime achievement awards.

As for the fab northeast Ohio writers who competed for the rest of the awards, there was no way every deserving candidate was going to win a uniquely sculpted Mark Yasenchack lantern. If that had happened, I imagine the artist might not have had time to create anything else this year. But ten writers both got lucky and very much earned their awards in ten highly competitive genres. Here they are:

Poetry Collection: George Bilgere of Cleveland Heights, for The White Museum.

Single Poem: Eric Anderson of Elyria, for "A Couple of Scars on My Back."

Fiction/Novel: Dan Chaon of Cleveland Heights, for Await Your Reply.

Short Fiction: Tricia Springstubb of Cleveland Heights, for "In the Dark."

Memoir - Book Length: Thrity Umrigar of Cleveland Heights, for First Darling of the Morning.

Non-Fiction - Book Length: Michael Rulman of Cleveland Heights, for The Elements of Cooking.

Non-Fiction - Essay: Kristin Ohlson of Cleveland Heights, for Watching TV in Kabul.

Journalism: Joanna Connors of Shaker Heights, for "Beyond Rape."

Performance: Michael Oatman of Shaker Heights, for Eclipse.

Blog: Erin O'Brien of Broadview Heights, for The Erin O'Brien Owner's Manual for Human Beings.

And appearances to the contrary, I assure you there has been no vast eastside conspiracy.

Thanks to The Lit's director Judith Mansour for spearheading this memorable event, and to everyone else who had a hand in making it happen. Hearty congratulations to the Lantern Award winners! For more about each of them, I encourage you to check out this morning's Plain Dealer article or click on their names above.

P.S. I videoed the awards ceremony and took some photos at the after party. So stay tuned for a sequel to this blog entry when I have more time.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Congrats to Erin!

Clevelandpoetics was one of the three nominees for best blog at the Cleveland Literary Center's "All Lit Up" ceremony for the biennial "Lantern" literary awards. The awards ceremony just finished, with John Burroughs and me there to accept the award for Clevelandpoetics if we won....

Well, I regret to say that when the envelope was opened, Clevelandpoetics didn't win best blog... but I am thrilled to say that we lost to Rainy Day woman Erin O'Brien's blog, "The Erin O'Brien Owners Manual for Human Beings." If we have to lose, I think we can say that we lost to the very best. Erin's blog is funny, and insightful, and all in all a great read. I'm sure you all already read it, but if not, you should go there right now and add it to your bookmarks.

Congrats, Erin! Well deserved!

(Stay tuned for a post on the rest of the winners... )

Saturday, September 4, 2010


When doing a poetry reading, it is always best NOT to take yourself too seriously. Prepare, yes. Have your papers in order, yes. Rehearse a little. Know your audience. But all of us who read our words aloud have grown to appreciate nobel prize winner Wislawa Szymborska's sentiment:

Poetry Reading

To be a boxer, or not to be there
at all. O Muse, where are our teeming crowds?
Twelve people in the room, eight seats to spare
it's time to start this cultural affair.
Half came inside because it started raining,
the rest are relatives. O Muse.
The women here would love to rant and rave,
but that's for boxing. Here they must behave.
Dante's Infemo is ringside nowadays.
Likewise his Paradise. O Muse.

Oh, not to be a boxer but a poet,
one sentenced to hard shelleying for life,
for lack of muscles forced to show the world
the sonnet that may make the high-school reading lists
with luck. O Muse,
O bobtailed angel, Pegasus.

In the first row, a sweet old man's soft snore:
he dreams his wife's alive again. What's more,
she's making him that tart she used to bake.
Aflame, but carefully-don't burn his cake!
we start to read. O Muse.

Okay, so I did Vertigo Xi'an Xavier's Canton First Friday! The Poetry Spectacular last night. Beautiful night, fun arts event for families and galleries. Highly recommended. Don't wait for a written invitation. The streets were hopping. It wasn't raining at all and some of the crowd even came inside for the poetry reading.

In the theater, the opening act was the local HS forensics team. They wept, screamed, and scratched their skin through three performances. The audience clapped politely as one watched her kids drown on the Titanic, one drank bleach, and one (even more frighteningly) attempted humor. Then they all stood up with their entourages and noisily discussed how well they did as they departed and as I was being introduced. Michael mentioned to a couple of them that my poems have been used to win several state forensic oral interp competitions. Perhaps one kid shrugged.

Then a young woman came to the stage as I was putting my folder on the music stand.
"What time is the open mic?"
"After the feature," answered Vertigo, the emcee (who is working overtime to build this event and sincerely seems to be a great guy).
"What time is that?" She asked.
"Are you leaving?" He asked.
"Yes. I’ll come back to read. I’m first on the open mic."
"You should stay for the feature," he nodded to me, standing at his elbow.
She looked me straight in the eye and said, “most poetry bores me, no offense.”

How could I take offense?

The rest of the evening went much better and we were treated to energetic performances by Mary Turzillo and Geoff Landis among others. Will the poetry gods forgive me for cutting out for the first poet in the open mic and then returning for the rest of the evening?

As I departed, the young woman (who had returned to chat through my last couple of poems and use her cell phone to take pictures of her friend) called to me, “you’re leaving? I’m crushed.”

My reply, “no offense.”

cross-posted at saraholbrook.blogspot

Late Great Cleveland: Langston Hughes

The Negro Speaks of Rivers
by Langston Hughes (1/1/1902 - 5/22/1967)

I've known rivers

I've known rivers ancient as the world and older than
the flow of human blood in human veins.

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

I bathe in the Euphrates when dawns were young.
I built my hut near the Congo and it lulled me to sleep.
I looked upon the Nile and raised the pyramids above it.
I heard the singing of the Mississippi when Abe Lincoln
went down to New Orleans, and I've seen its muddy
bosom turn all golden in the sunset.

I've known rivers:
Ancient, dusky rivers.

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

* * * * *

"The Negro Speaks of Rivers" was first published in the
June 1921 issue of Crisis magazine, published by the NAACP.

Langston Hughes' biography & bibliography are available here.

Every Hughes poem in the public domain is online here.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Zombie Haiku

Actually saw Halloween candy at Walgreen’s yesterday…

What you reading there?

Here’s an essay from a friend down south – all the way in Columbus – Scott Woods, poetry champion extraordinaire. This piece first ran at Got Poetry dot Com and is reprinted here with the author’s permission:
I was at the National Poetry Slam in St. Paul a couple of weeks ago (awesome time) and I noticed something right away: there were a lot more competitors reciting poetry from paper than usual. I mean, to the point of comment.

scottwoodsOn one hand, this delighted me a great deal. In any given year I’m usually one of about three paper poets (a poet that performs a poem from paper or a journal or some other vehicle of codification) out of about nearly four hundred poets who show up to compete. Most people who consider themselves performance poets memorize, and in slam competitions particularly so. I can’t tell you how many times over the years I’ve heard from poets or audience members or judges that poems that are memorized are somehow better than ones that aren’t. There is the notion that a poet who bothers to commit their work to memory is somehow more dedicated to their craft than the poet who does not. I ask you, which poet is more dedicated: the poet who memorizes ten poems that they recite at every featured reading they have over the course of a few years, or the poet who performs ten times that number in the same amount of time, but from paper?

I have made a conscious decision not to memorize any of my poetry. It is, quite literally, a mission with me. I’ve memorized poetry in the past to see if I could do it, and when I did the results were pretty impressive. But in the end I have dedicated myself to not memorizing poems because I want poets to know that memorizing a poem doesn’t have to be the entry fee to performance poetry. You can still win slams – even the big ones - from paper. You can still give incredible features and do tours from paper. You can still make an audience lose its complete and utter mind from paper. It all comes down to the poem and how deeply you’re willing to commit to giving a performance of that poem.

I lay no claim whatsoever that my platform of performing from paper only had anything to do with the amount of paper I saw in slam competition this year. I think a case could be made, and I’ve certainly heard things over the years from coaches that imply my mission has had some effect. Whatever the reason is for more paper performances this year I don’t care...I’m just glad the day of acknowledging the power of papyrus has returned.

Not that it wasn’t here along, mind you: any random poetry reading that isn’t swamped with people trying to show their performance chops in equal measure to their writing chops will be a reading filled with paper. There are more poets reading from paper than there are poets who aren’t on the whole, so in the grand scheme of things it’s not that big a deal. It only really matters in those circles that place a premium on performance over writing ability.

Anyhow, while I ultimately do not care about who’s doing what for what reason, I do care about The Big Four. A while back I drafted four rules about performing poetry from paper. Application of these rules is sorely lacking in performances I see everywhere I go:
1. Commit.
2. Voice compensates for body.
3. You aren’t allowed to fuck up.
4. It always comes down to the poem.

1) Commit.
Knowing is not memorizing. I can recite back parts of my poems, but at some point I need my line fed to me because while I know my poems pretty well, I do not have them memorized.
Also, reading is not performing. Sounding like you’re reading makes me feel like I’m in school. I hated school, especially the poetry units. We can all try a little harder in this area.

2) Voice compensates for body.
If you’re performing from paper, you’re already down a hand or two, or blocked by a music stand. The audience will have a hard time not noticing these things. Adopt the principle that if you lose one thing you should compensate for it by amplifying another. After your poem, your voice is your most powerful tool, not your ability to memorize or move around on stage. The poem starts to live in the performance world when you open your mouth, so use it: play with the texture of your voice, the tone, the rhythm, the breadth of its range of meanings.

Also note that I have been saying “perform”, not “read”. Most problems with poets and paper stem from not making this distinction. Conversely they do two things that make me wish they’d just stop writing poetry altogether: a) they don’t bother to commit to a performance since they’re going to be seen reading from paper anyway, and b) they perform with those annoying gaps every other line (you know: EXCITED SHOUTING! Look for my line. EXCITED SHOUTING! Look for my line…). Neither of these is an excuse for a poor performance from paper. If you can memorize, there is no reason why your reading from paper should suck. In fact it should be easier.

3) You aren’t allowed to fuck up.

This one is pretty unforgiveable to me. If you lose your place in a poem that’s sitting in front of you, then you’re an idiot. People who do this tend to do it because they thought they had more of the poem memorized than they actually do, or they get so caught up in the performance they forget that a part is coming up that they don’t actually remember. Idiots. Look, it’s very simple math:
You – memory of poem = no poem in your head
…so quit pretending you know your poem and invest in some fucking focus.

4) It always comes down to the poem.

This is my answer to everything about poetry, but it really means something here. A great poem will forgive a lot of things, will clear the way for a lot of risks you might take as a performer. Don’t worry about your performance more than your poem. In the end, you want audiences to remember your poem, not that you were really passionate about whatever it was you were up there talking about that they can’t somehow recall under questioning. Everything in life is easier if you start off by doing things correctly right out of the gate.

That's it.

I love performing poetry, and performing it from paper doesn’t diminish that for me or my audiences. I love pulling out that thick ragged folder – “Goldie” – and embracing the challenge of riffling through it for the perfect poem at the perfect moment. And I won’t let a little thing like memorization stop me from doing this. It may stop me from being asked to do certain gigs, but that’s the booker’s loss. I will fuck your audience up from paper, just as easily as someone who’s flailing about and giving you jazz hands for twenty minutes. I don’t apologize for not memorizing. No one should, if they believe that the work they will present is just as good read as it is memorized AND that they will deliver it with the extra mile required to make that belief true.


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