Poetry at Sangam



November 2016

Folks, I’m delighted this issue’s guest editor is poet Michael Kelleher. He’s also Director of the Windham-Campbell Literature Prizes at Yale University. We met earlier this year at the Jaipur Literature Festival and talked about many things except poetry. On returning home I read all his work I found online. The piercing music of his poems dazzled, as did the precise and resonating inclusiveness of the all too human world he portrays.

Here’s a fragment from Heliotrope that’s included in his new collection Museum Hours (Blazevox, 2016): “Throw everything out, start again, design / a form, a shape, imagine it in three / dimensions. Then bring the object to life. / Or did I mean bring it back to life? / Was it always there, waiting to be seen?”

The full stop has rarely been more consummately deployed. Michael Kelleher’s punctuation lifts each phrase out from the poem’s shimmer to reveal the aleatoric moment in its tremulous fullness. Magically surfacing from its liquid each paused phrase becomes a stepping stone on which we balance, as we play hopscotch with time. Remembering the poem’s narrative while opening to the oncoming, we are temporarily stilled. This is what we have, he suggests, before we fall back into time. To me he’s a questor of what I term ‘the everyday sacred’; he gifts us the world that is always there, awaiting recognition.

Here’s another excerpt from Swerving: “…Imagine. / There is. Inside all things. You said. / An emptiness. Post-industrial sunsets. / Reflect. On crystalline mountain lakes. / A parade goes by. Outside. Our view. / All at once. The many. Marchers. / Let go. Their balloons. So many. / In fact. They form. A kind of cloud. / Obscuring. Momentarily. The sun. …

Read Michael Kelleher’s poems here, his biographical note here. Now to the folio he has curated for Poetry at Sangam, with introductions to each poet. It’s a sumptuous and invigorating issue.

— Priya Sarukkai Chabria

A Selection of American Poets for Poetry at Sangam

Poetry is, to me at least, a form of community. And these poets form part of mine. Most are poets whose work I have followed for a long time, though some I have only recently begun to admire. They are not representative of U.S. poetry as a whole, unless we say the great variety of their poetic expressions in some way mirror that same variety in American culture. But that’s not it. Not really. I admire each for their particularity, for the unique visionary intelligence they invest in their work. There are no windows that simply open onto the world in these poems. The idea of transparency in language is challenged at each every turn. But, as readers, we share their struggles with words, with worlds. We feel the presence of the mind on the page. And it is moving.

I met Anselm Berrigan in New York in the mid-nineties. We frequented the same readings – at the Ear Inn, The Poetry Project, The Segue Foundation. We went to the same parties. But I never actually met him until I’d moved away to Buffalo for graduate school. Since his first chapbook, They Beat Me Over the Head With A Sack, Berrigan has tried to take on language in all its unruly fullness. His poems are at once impenetrable and relatable, intimate and abstract, thoughtful and silly. I often feel like a kid when I read them: giddy, anarchic, ready for anything.

Richard Deming published my first chapbook, Cuba, way back in 2001. Another Buffalo emigré, we both now live in New Haven, CT and work at Yale University. We talk often about poetry, and have for many years, but we talk more often about films. We both watch them incessantly (less so since I became a father), and for both of us the things we see in them, the things they make us think and feel, inevitably ground our various poetic projects. His poetry is capacious enough to include lyrical explorations of subjectivity and cognition alongside depictions of the zombie apocalypse.

David Hadbawnik came to Buffalo to study at around the time I’d left graduate school there to work at Just Buffalo Literary Center. He brought with him a quiet determination to make a scene, so to speak. He published a journal called Kadar Koli. He brought to raucous life a Buffalo Poets theater that would have made Frank O’Hara proud. All the while, he wrote and published poems that fuse the modern and the classical with both feeling and wit, including, most recently, a brilliantly contemporary translation of Virgil’s Aeneid.

I have never met Yuko Otomo, except by email, but her work has had a great impact on my recent poems. Her book Study, which collects twenty or so years of ekphrastic poems, inspired a long letter to her which became the title poem of my new collection, Museum Hours. As a non-native English speaker and a visual artist, she approaches language at what one might call a slightly oblique angle, bringing fresh sense to words that sometimes too easily roll off our native tongues. There is a directness of experience that renders works of art palpable, if not visible, and deeply felt.

I’ve been talking and sharing poetry and ideas with Jonathan Skinner for longer than any other poet. We met in New York. Shared a house in Buffalo. And have spent many nights up late talking about poetry. A poet of unceasing devotion to the natural world, he insists, through his restless and investigative poems and through his work on the foundational journal, ecopoetics, that nature is more than simply birdsong, though it is that, too. His challenge to us is to that we understand that language itself is as fundamental to the ecosphere as the birds themselves.

Stacy Szymaszek, poet, arts administrator, dog-lover, is one of those poets I look to when I feel oppressed by having a job other than writing poetry. Her tireless advocacy of poets as Artistic Director of the Poetry Project in NYC is at every turn outpaced by her innovative and prodigious poetic productions. From the minimalist and fragmentary to the diaristic and quotidian, Stacy’s work reminds me constantly to keep looking around.

I once ran into Genya Turovskaya a random East Village street corner, where we stood talking for an hour before finding a table in a cafe where we spent the rest of the night in the kind of breathless conversation one has at a certain age in a great metropolis. I will quote her to descibe her poems as “a warren / of undiscovered rooms.” They are filled with images that lead to other images, ones that never entirely give themselves over to us, but rather push us forward in wonder to the next discovery.

I was supposed to give a reading in Tucson, AZ in 2007 with a poet called Maureen Owen. My wife and I drove across the country, stopping in places like Norman, OK to do readings. When we arrived in Tucson, we found out that Tyrone Williams had replaced Owen on the ticket. I’d never read or met him, but when I heard him read him read his incredible sonnet sequence, “I am not Proud to Be Black,” I felt lucky this switch had been made. Each book he writes is an uncompromising and daring formal experiment. Each poem calls into question the very foundations of the language we supposedly share.

I don’t quite recall how I met Matvei Yankelevich. He lived in New York while I lived in Buffalo. I may have met him while visiting New York. Or I may have met in him while he was visiting Buffalo. But I knew of his work as one of the founders of Ugly Duckling Presse and the journal 6 x 6. And then I knew of his translations. And his championing of poetry in translation. It wasn’t until later that I read his poetry and discovered a poet at once lighthanded and philosophical. His poems think out loud. As readers, we are privy to sudden discoveries at the moment in which they occur.

— Michael Kelleher