Friday, October 12, 2018

Casting a Line for Susan Glassmeyer's 'Invisible Fish'

by Chuck Salmons


If you haven’t heard by now, OPA member and Cincinnati poet Susan Glassmeyer is the winner the Ohio Poetry Day Association’s 2018 Poet of the Year award, for her first full-length collection, Invisible Fish (Dos Madres Press, 2018). On the heels of her winning, I corresponded with her to find out more about the collection and her writing process. 

CS: First of all, congratulations on the award! Having read Invisible Fish, I know this is an honor that is well-deserved. How does it feel to have your name among past winners such as Mary Oliver, David Baker, and David Citino?

SG: I was truly surprised to win this award, Chuck. I did some research after the fact and learned about the history of the award. What an honor to be part of this venerable Ohio poet lineage! I already own a few of the books on the list, not realizing the authors had previously won the award. And although I have many of Mary Oliver’s books, Twelve Moons (winner in 1980) was not among them. I just purchased a copy and plan to take a closer look at that collection, especially how it is organized.
    
CS: As I read the new collection, I recognized some of the poems from your previous chapbooks, Body Matters and Cook’s Luck. But there were a lot of new poems that I’d never read before. Powerful poems. Many about your family and childhood. How did you decide what poems to bring together for Invisible Fish? How did you approach the organization (the four parts) for the collection?

SG: Choosing and organizing the poems in Invisible Fish was a time-consuming but worthy challenge. I started by reading through the bulk of my files to take inventory of the poems I’d written over a thirty-year period, culling those that were well-crafted and finished, or nearly finished. I paid attention to recurring themes and styles of poems that seemed to work well together.
            At first, I thought there might be a separate, focused chapbook of “father poems,” but I soon abandoned that notion when I realized those poems didn’t want to stand alone in the world. They needed and deserved companionship, so I found a way to weave them throughout the larger whole, creating a more mature perspective of my family of origin and childhood. Allowing Invisible Fish to morph into four parts was a slow and inspired process. Once I realized these 60 poems clearly belonged together, I literally carried them around with me, reading and rereading them over many months while I worked on other projects. I spread the poems on the floor, I taped them to the wall, I spent a lot of quiet time with them in a nearly meditative state simply ‘listening’ to them, not forcing anything. The poems eventually settled into a four-part psychophysical storyline: down-up-down-up. Each of the four parts, as well as the sum of those parts, serve the personal and the universal, the known and the unknown, the visible and the invisible.
            Once I understood which poems belonged to each of the four independent sections (Don’t Be Afraid, Beyond Geometry, Uninitiated, Crowning the Injury) I took a more directive role in figuring out their specific order. The process was like planning four separate dinner parties, determining which poems would sit where and with whom at the table for the best ‘conversations’ to take place. That part of the process was quite enjoyable!

CS: Both human nature and the natural world play a key role in the collection. Many of the poems are reflections, either an examination of memory or a kind of pondering of the world and what makes it tick. How do you decide when to write about a particular memory or idea, or know when you’ve got something worth writing about?

SG: I seldom run out of ideas or inspiration for poems unless I am tired or experiencing some measure of duress in my life. By nature I am a curious and attentive person and purposely cultivate those attributes which I think help ward off dry spells or writer’s block. As I’ve matured as a writer, I find that poems more often choose me rather than me choosing them.
            I may start off down one avenue of poem-making and soon find myself miles away in a completely different territory. I have even foolishly tried to resist writing about certain topics that present themselves, topics I’d rather not visit at all or revisit again. But alas, what resists persists! So I pick up my pen and honor the muse who is whispering loudly in my ear.

CS: Two of my favorite poems in the collection are list poems, "Wrench" and "Nameless." However, their resolutions in each of the final stanzas are so starkly different. In "Wrench," there is a kind of resignation, but in "Nameless," there is this statement of taking control or reclaiming power. But each seems to address the idea, as do several other poems, of masculine vs. feminine dynamics, especially within families. What purpose does reading and writing poetry serve for you?

SG: You are an astute reader, Chuck Salmons! Yes, "Wrench" and "Nameless" do end with starkly different resolutions. The speaker in "Wrench" has a young candid voice that describes a painful reality. With a child’s heart she tells a sharp uncomfortable truth, almost naively. The speaker in "Nameless" is a seasoned elder speaking from a long perspective, an earned wisdom. Although she too is claiming a disquieting truth, her wound is neither sharp nor raw.
            After you brought these two particular poems to my attention, I recalled the two forms of the Mother-Daughter (Buddhist) Goddess Tara: The half-open lotus of the Green Tara represents a young girl in the flux of activity and wonder—"Wrench." The full-open lotus of the White Tara is the feminine figure observing life serenely, and with equanimity. She has no need to take action but, as you say, is “reclaiming power”—"Nameless."
            Related to “masculine vs feminine dynamics” in the so-called family poems, I’ve tried to write openly and honestly in ways that reflect not only personal experience but echo the likely experiences of others as well. And just as we wrestle with masculine and feminine dynamics in the outer world—our family, the workplace, the culture, etc.—we wrestle internally as well with our own anima and animus. I try to address the layers of these external and internal relationships in my poems.
            Reading, writing (and revising) poetry wakes me up to a fuller sense of myself and serves to connect me in a more meaningful way to others and to life around me. Poem-study and poem-making both strengthen and tenderize me. It’s like going to a mental and spiritual gym where I can exercise my psychospiritual muscles, gain energy, and tone my psyche—which in my opinion is also good for the health of the body. No separation.     

CS: While these poems don’t take very many strict forms, there are prose poems, couplets, and the list poems I mentioned before. Do you prefer to write in forms or free verse? Do you see value in writing in forms, which often are shunned by many poets?

SG: When I was younger, I practiced writing in forms—sonnets, pantoums, sestinas, an occasional villanelle—modeling my pieces after well-known poets’ poems. I value the discipline of working with forms but I gravitated mostly to free verse. I’ve had some success with the ghazal and haiku. In recent years, I happily discovered the American Cinquain—a form consisting of 5 lines of 2 / 4 / 6 / 8 / & 2 syllables for a total of 22 syllables. I’ve exchanged a few hundred cinquains with a skilled writing buddy over the last few years, which has been a very rewarding process.

CS: One of the things I appreciate most about your work is its concision, which is something I strive for in my own poems. There is so much packed into every line. Several times I found myself getting through a poem and then having to take a deep breath. Is this concision something you are consciously striving for in your poems?

SG: Yes, it’s very deliberate, and I recognize that same precision and concision in your poems too, Chuck. I’ve often thought that a well-crafted poem can be the best short story ever written. The practice of revision is a labor of love for me, as important as and equal to the original seed that birthed the poem itself. What we leave out of a poem is as important as what goes in it. And maybe here’s a good place to end this interview with a favorite quote by Theodore Roethke: “May my silences become more accurate.”


To learn more about Susan, visit her website: www.susanglassmeyer.com


Friday, September 14, 2018

Wellspring of Imagination Goes Visual in its Seventh Year

by Chuck Salmons


Throughout Ohio, examples of literary citizenship shine and provide opportunities for writers of all ages to grow as artists while simultaneously supporting their communities. Since 2002, retired teacher Alan Cohen has organized the Hocking Hills Festival of Poetry, in Hocking County, an annual event that welcomes the public to hear and learn from some of the nation’s top poets through readings and workshops.

I first met Alan more than a decade ago, at one of the annual festivals, and since then have come to appreciate his ability demonstrate the “power of poetry” (the namesake of the festival’s website) to move people in ways they never thought possible. He and his wife, Evie Adelman, work together to organize the Hocking festival, including hosting the featured poets, getting musicians on board, and finding venues. Just when I thought they couldn’t do much better, Alan formulated a plan for engaging more of Ohio’s high school students. How did he come up with the plan?

Poet David Lee with Thomas Ellison (Dayton) and Sara Abou Rashed (Bexley).
“Boredom,” Alan told me jokingly, adding that he often gets ideas when he’s doing repetitive chores, such as splitting wood, around his home, which is nestled in the Hocking Hills. He explained that the subconscious takes over and ideas move to the forefront of his mind. Thus, the Wellspring of Imagination program was borne of mundanity.

The idea was to “get good teachers to reach kids through poetry.” He wanted kids to spend time outdoors, taking inspiration from nature, and to learn from great poets who were also solid educators.

A noble cause, to be sure, but could it be done? Having forged relationships, through the annual festival, with terrific poet educators, Alan reached out to three poets he and Evie featured previously: David Lee, Alison Luterman, and Lisa Starr. As it turns out, the idea was an easy sell, and the first Wellspring of Imagination program kicked off in autumn of 2012.

According to the Power of Poetry website, Wellspring is “an intensive three days with prominent poets and artists, working on writing, visual arts and presentation,” culminating in a reading on the final evening of the program. As Alan writes in his letter to teachers, many Wellspring students “have had life changing experiences” going through the program. Indeed, as one 2016 student writes on the website: “I wish I could go back every year for the rest of my life.”

Since Wellspring’s inception, Alan has invited several other poets to lead the program, including Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer, a four-year veteran of the event, and Ohio’s own Wendy McVicker. Alan says the program sees an average of about a dozen students per year, with most coming from Ohio. But a few have come from outside the state. He’s hoping for more kids this year and to that end, sought the help of OPA to reach more high school teachers.

New for 2018, Wellspring will modify its emphasis. While past programs sought students who love poetry, this year the event welcomes “students with a deep love of the visual arts.”
Evie Adelman (r) with Jessica Kennedy (Columbus).

“Our activities will play these two disciplines with each other, striving for increased aesthetic stimulation for everyone,” Alan writes. In addition to poet teachers, the program will feature strong artists, including a watercolor painter and a photographer. And students will create their own artwork.

Alan’s goal? Ultimately, every participant, from the poets and organizers to the students, will experience a greater sense of community through the arts. And that’s the goal of any literary citizen.

To learn more about the Wellspring of Imagination, visit the program website. Teachers who are interested in participating can contact Alan directly by phone at (740) 385-3918 or by email at owl111@frontier.com.

Watch videos of past performances:

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Denison Student Wins 2018 NFSPS Edna Meudt Memorial Award


Interview by Chuck Salmons, OPA President
 

Iryna Klishch, a senior at Denison University (Granville, Ohio) was chosen as this year’s winner of the 2018 NFSPS Edna Meudt Memorial Award, which includes a cash prize and publication of her first chapbook, A Monster the Size of the Sun. Klishch, who is Ukrainian by birth, grew up just outside Chicago. I interviewed her via e-mail to discuss her award and the chapbook.

CS: First of all, congratulations on the award and on graduating from Denison. After reading the chapbook, I’d say the NFSPS made the right choice. How has life changed since receiving and sharing the news? Or has it?

IK: Thank you so much for your kind words and for taking the time to read my chapbook. The support I’ve received from family, friends, and Denison’s community has been so incredibly moving. People have been so kind and generous with offering feedback, supporting the little book, and bringing all new light into my life. Poetry has always been the one constant, true thing in my life and for that I owe it the world—so to be able to share it with a larger audience other than my workshop class, has been a dream come true.

CS: You are Ukrainian by birth, but grew up in the Midwest. How old were you when you moved to the U.S.? What kind of role has your Ukrainian heritage played in your development as a writer/poet?

IK: I moved to the United States when I was around 6 or so. But my younger sister and I went back constantly—visiting my grandparents each summer for a span of 4 or so months. All my happiest childhood memories are there. My grandmother was and is a wonderful story teller. She’d tell Russian folk tales, incorporate her own wit and charm into each piece, and leave my sister and me falling in love with stories from a very young age. My grandfather was an avid reader, and I was constantly surrounded by novels, adventure, and classics. I feel so much love for Ukraine, and because of the current political situation, I find it important to write about themes of war, power, family, and always—light.

CS: There is a strong feminine voice in these poems. Does this voice represent someone from your personal life or is it imagined?

IK: My mother, my grandmother. They are the strongest, most courageous women I know. Their support, their love, their curiosity have helped and shaped me in a multitude of ways. They have taught me the importance of kindness, love in all that I do: that home is an experience, never a place.

CS: As in the chapbook’s title, the sun, heat, and energy all permeate the imagery in the collection, especially in terms of items that are yellow or orange in color, which can convey happiness or joy. But in reading the poems, they built on each other in a sense that was oppressive, like a stifling summer day in the southern U.S. What was the inspiration for such a dominant trope?

IK: A majority of these poems settings were taken from Nadvirna, Ukraine. I’d spent so many summer months swimming in the river, so many months surrounded by trees and gardens, fields and mountains. To be surrounded by so much light, and then to have that contrasted with Ukraine’s history, current political situation, was always so difficult for me to understand. How can so much beauty exist with so much hate? How can there be lightness and darkness? I hope my poetry was able to shed some ideas on how this could be so.

CS: The sounds that come through in the poems create a real tension. There are many m sounds, especially in names such as Maria, Michelle, Magnolia, Ma. Combined with other “soft” sounds, like apricot, these seem to counter “hard” sounds, like teeth, stockings, lipstick. Add to that the visual movement that is conveyed by the shape of many of the poems on the page, and I’m left feeling as if I’m being pushed and pulled, like a struggle. I’m thinking of the line in your opening poem, “The Kingdom of Heat”: “war is something we have no language for.” Was establishing a sense of struggle something you strived for in the collection?

IK: I’m glad you found themes of struggle evident in my poems, both in subject matter and in visual disposition across the page. Creating a sense of struggle, the hesitation, the quick reading, the soft speech were all very prominent and important to me. I wanted my readers and audience to read quickly, then to stop, have their eyes move across the page, let the words fall. More than anything though, I wanted my poems to be read with a sense of urgency, I wanted to create language that was all fists, but all light.

The judge for this year’s contest was Dr. Benjamin Myers. He was the 2015–2016 Poet Laureate of Oklahoma and currently teaches at Oklahoma Baptist University as the Crouch-Mathis Professor of Literature.

Many thanks to Iryna for her thoughtful responses. Her book, A Monster the Size of the Sun, is available from Amazon.com here.

Learn more about the NFSPS College Undergraduate Poetry prizes here.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Poetry Anthology to Raise Awareness of Opioid Crisis in Ohio

Anyone following the news in recent months knows that Ohio, and the nation as a whole, is facing a severe crisis of citizens succumbing to opioid addiction. OPA was contacted recently by faculty at Ohio University to help raise awareness of the impacts of this epidemic. Specifically, a new anthology is being compiled to spread the word about this crisis. The new collection will feature poems, stories, non-fiction essays, and artwork. Currently, the editors are interested especially in receiving poems and non-fiction. The call for submission details are below.


CALL FOR CONTRIBUTORS: BOOK PROJECT ON OHIO’S OPIOID CRISIS

Since the arrival of a full-blown epidemic in the abuse and addiction of opioids in the United States, Ohio has consistently ranked at the top of the list for overdoses and deaths. As a result of this epidemic the lives of many Ohioans have been significantly impacted in various ways. Policymakers and a wide range of professionals have attempted to devise responses, but opioid use and overdose deaths continue to rise.

HAVE YOU OR SOMEBODY YOU KNOW BEEN AFFECTED BY THE OPIOID CRISIS? DO YOU HAVE A PARTICULAR STORY TO TELL OR PERSPECTIVE TO SHARE?

In an attempt to give a voice to this crisis and provide an in depth look into the opioid epidemic in Ohio, we are compiling a collection of first-person accounts, to be published in 2018 by The Ohio State University Press, under its Trillium imprint. We are seeking a wide range of perspectives to illustrate the impact, severity and scope of how this issue has affected the people and communities of Ohio. Contributions may include: real-life stories in narrative form, fictional short-stories based on real-life events, photographs and other visual media, and poems. If you have an idea for an alternative format or medium, run it by us. If you would rather participate in an interview rather than contribute something on your own, we are happy to arrange for the conversation to be published in an edited form. Your name or other personal information will not be shared unless you prefer that it be.

The editors are seeking contributions from all regions within Ohio, and seek to capture a wide range of perspectives. Examples of contributors could include, but are not limited to:

Recovering Opioid Addicts and Current Opioid Users
Family and Friends of Addicts or Recovering Addicts
Educators and Coaches
Medical Professionals
Law Enforcement Officers and First Responders
Government Officials
Addiction Specialists
Residents of Opioid-Affected Communities
Representatives of Nonprofit Agencies
Community leaders and members of faith-based organizations
Other individuals impacted by opioid use/overdose

The editors aim to curate a diverse selection of contributors. Submissions from underrepresented minorities are especially welcome. All professional backgrounds and levels of education are welcome.

Any proceeds from the collection will be donated to a charity involved in addressing the opioid epidemic within the state of Ohio. Contributors must be over 18 years of age and residents of
the state of Ohio.

This collection is being edited by three faculty members at the Ohio University Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine:

Dr. Daniel Skinner, Ph.D, Assistant Professor of Health Policy
Dr. Jane Balbo, DO, Assistant Professor of Family Medicine
Dr. Berkeley Franz, Ph.D, Assistant Professor of Community-Based Health

The project is being managed by Kacy Gaddis, M.Ed, Curriculum Coordinator at the Heritage College, in Dublin.

If you believe that your story can have an impact, and are willing to share it, please send the following information, with the subject line “Opioid Collection,” to Dr. Skinner at skinnerd@ohio.edu.

Your Name
Brief description of your perspective, or the story you wish to tell
Your town or region
Proposed medium (narrative, poem, visual art, interview, etc.)
Proposed length, if known
Contact information
Preference regarding authorship/anonymity

Potential contributors can expect to hear back within a week of proposal submission. Proposals invited for submission will receive direction from the editors regarding length and scope.

Please send proposals no later than May 1, 2018. Early proposals appreciated. Actual submissions must be submitted by June 1, 2018.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

OPA member, Betty Bleen Named Runner Up in the Prestigious BlackBerryPeach Spoken and Heard Competition


The National Federation of State Poetry Societies (NFSPS), an organization to which the Ohio Poetry Association belongs, named Westerville, Ohio poet and OPA member, Betty Bleen as runner up in the prestigious BlackBerryPeach Spoken and Heard competition. Bleen has been invited to read her poem at the NFSPS national convention in Denver, Colorado on June 2, 2018, along with the other prizewinners. The BlackBerryPeach competition challenges poets to present their original poetry in print and spoken word.

First Place went to  Rosemerry Trommer of Placerville, Colorado. As 1st place winner Trommer receives the grand prize of $1,000. The second place prize winner of $500 is Susan Chambers of Good Thunder, Minnesota. Third place winner of $250 is Ryan Jones of Grayson, Georgia. 

Vice President Joe Cavanaugh, chair of the contest stressed the importance of reaching out to all poets by recognizing spoken poetry in its many forms as a powerful poetic genre.

A video of the convention performances will be posted on YouTube and NFSPS will publish the prizewinning entries including written and oral versions of four poems from each, in a 6" by 9"book that will be for sale at the Convention and will be marketed on Amazon.com.

To learn more about the National Federation of State Poetry Societies, visit there website at  www.nfsps.com.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Kari Gunter-Seymour named Poet Laureate of Athens, Ohio


Kari Gunter-Seymour was recently named poet laureate of Athens by the Athens Municipal Arts Commission (AMAC). Gunter-Seymour began her tenure as poet laureate on February 19, 2018.

A third-generation Athens County native and longtime OPA member, Gunter-Seymour will hold the position of poet laureate for one year and, pending an evaluation at the end of her first year, potentially a second. She will have access to a $2,000 stipend to pursue projects as poet laureate.

Gunter-Seymour holds a BFA in graphic design and a MA in commercial photography, but she is a self-taught poet. She started writing poetry after her son was deployed for Korea in 2002 and is now an active member of the arts community in southeastern Ohio and an award-winning poet.

“I woke up each morning, when I was able to sleep, wondering if my son was alive,” said Gunter-Seymour. “It was poetry, finding those few precious words to explain my fear and analyze my faith, that kept me grounded, got me through.”

The many awards she has won for her poetry include two Pushcart Prizes and a first-place finish in the BlackBerryPeach Spoken and Heard competition, sponsored by the National Federation of State Poetry Societies. However, Gunter-Seymour said that the position of poet laureate is different from any other she has held or award she has won. The Athens community is growing as a center for diversity and the arts, and she owes much of her success to the place and the people that helped her get where she is now.

This service to my community is something deeply personal for me,” said Gunter-Seymour. “A way of giving back in honor of all who reached out to me to ease my journey.

Gunter-Seymour already has a number of projects she hopes to implement. She has created an official Athens Poet Laureate Facebook page for poets to interact and connect, and she has scheduled monthly poetry readings at The Dairy Barn Arts Center in Athens. She’ll also be spending time working with Athens High School students towards the end of March. She has scheduled her first reading and discussion as poet laureate for April 26 at ARTS/West in Athens.

Her future plans include a coffee table book entitled Expressly Athens, “a place-based mixture of community poetry submissions and art that has been selected for ‘Art Outside the Box’ throughout the years.” “Art Outside the Box” is a project that creates vinyl wraps from juried fine art submissions to cover the city’s traffic control boxes. Poetry for ages kindergarten through adult will be accepted for jury starting in September.

Upcoming Poetry Event Organized
by Gunter-Seymour
Gunter-Seymour’s biggest goal for her time as poet laureate is to “bring all who wish to participate in poetry – write it, read it, teach it, share it – together as many times as possible, in environments conducive to rich interactions, networking and empowerment building. I want everyone to have a voice in what is/should/could be happening with poetry in Athens County.”

As someone who had a long and non-traditional path to becoming an acclaimed poet, Gunter-Seymour wants to provide opportunities for both established poets and beginners to grow and share their work. She hopes that the position of poet laureate will open some doors that would otherwise have been closed to her, allowing her a level of autonomy to organize poets and events.

“I want to spend time with my fellow poets in celebration of the natural beauty that surrounds us here in Athens, [as well as] our inclusive attitude, our inventiveness, our interconnectedness, diversity, and love of the land and the arts,” said Gunter-Seymour.

Learn more about Kari at her website: www.karigunterseymourpoet.com.


Written by Abby Studebaker, OPA Intern


Saturday, March 10, 2018

Governor Names Dave Lucas Ohio's New Poet Laureate

Governor John R. Kasich recently announced that Dave Lucas of Cleveland Heights has been named Ohio’s poet laureate. Lucas is Ohio’s second poet laureate, the last being Dr. Amit Majmudar, and his two-year term began on January 1.

Lucas currently teaches at Case Western Reserve University. He earned his undergraduate degree in English from John Carroll University, his M.F.A. in creative writing from the University of Virginia, and his Ph.D. in English Language and Literature from the University of Michigan. You can read a review of Lucas' book, Weather, here

Lucas, originally from Cleveland Heights, is excited for the opportunities that this new position presents to foster a love and appreciation for poetry across Ohio. He already has plans in the works for a multimedia poetry project, which will be announced once plans are finalized through the Ohio Arts Council.

Lucas’s interest in poetry didn’t officially begin until he was in college, but he felt drawn to language even before then.

I started writing poems seriously in college—I’d dabbled before,” said Lucas, “but years before that, I'd become aware of something compelling and mysterious in both the language of poetry and everyday language as well—in reading it, in hearing it spoken or sung. I couldn’t have put it in these words then, but I think that was the beginning of my life in poetry.”

During his time as poet laureate, Lucas hopes to connect Ohio readers from all walks of life with the many forms poetry can take. According to an Ohio Arts Council news release, Lucas "is planning a multimedia project involving people from diverse places and backgrounds allowing them to experience a variety of opinions about poetry." 

I hope to celebrate the work and legacy of Ohio poets and to celebrate poetry as we find it in ‘traditional’ poems and in unexpected places as well,” said Lucas.

Among Lucas’s many achievements are the 2012 Ohioana Book Award in Poetry for his work Weather, as well as the Cleveland Arts Prize, Emerging Artist in Literature.
His friends and family have been proud and supportive of Lucas’s newest role. “They’re already sick of hearing about it,” said Lucas. “That’s what makes them such good friends.”




By Abby Studebaker