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Poetry, Northern/Southern Border, Part I

By Hoa Nguyen
Notecard printed by UDP:D at Salt & Cedar

Notecard printed by UDP:D at Salt & Cedar

In which I talk about three newly minted 2014 poetry series that take place along the border between Canada and the U.S.A.

Dispatch from Detroit

On Friday May 2nd Dale Smith and I rode in a white rented Fiat. D named it “the clown car” for its tiny size. For some reason, it had Nova Scotia plates (“Canada’s Ocean Playground” the tagline said). Dale drove. We felt rather conspicuous in our fake Nova Scotia clown car as we rode west through Ontario past giant wind turbines across the border and into Detroit.

It takes four hours to drive from Toronto to Detroit. The wind turbines agitated my field of vision and sense of landscape. Along the way we saw many crows, red wing blackbirds, some hawks, and stands of sheared trees from the late December 2013 ice storm.

We were attending an event celebrating the publication of Sixty Morning Talks: Serial Interviews with Contemporary Authors published by Ugly Duckling Press this spring. In it Andy Fitch interviewed Dale on his scholarly book Poets Beyond the Barricade. Fitch and I talked about my book As Long As Tress Last for this project.

Fitch is a masterful, indefatigable interviewer. Can you imagine interviewing 60 poets over a single summer? Me neither.


Our event was part of a literary series of readings by visiting and local writers. It features talks by poet-publishers and book artists curated by Kate Abbey-Lambertz and Matvei Yankelevich with support from Frances Barber.

On the night of the event, like a jerk, I kept calling Kate “Christine”—I think my brain linked her red hair with the “strawberry” of Souxsie and the Banshee’s song “Christine.” Sometimes I say that my brain is full; sometimes I blame my brain drain on having children. Luckily Kate was good-natured about my misnaming. She and Matvei were the Fantastics of hosting. Afterwards, in the far third of the space (the living space with a kitchen and loft where Matvei was staying), I was fed fantastic pieces of pizza, a yummy conclusion even though I had had dinner.

Speaking of names, we were appearing with three other poets that Fitch interviewed in Sixty Morning Talks: Joel Craig, Rob Halpern, and Tyrone Williams.

Poster printed by UDP:D at Salt & Cedar

Poster printed by UDP:D at Salt & Cedar

As mentioned, the space had three areas: the front was all pop-up small press store nirvana. The second area was the event space: here is a picture of it, below. You can see Andy on the left, seated, getting ready to ask questions.


Here, Dale is reading from Slow Poetry in America and A Personal Bibliography on Bolinas, California, for Wave Books. He also talked about Amiri Baraka, attitudes, and the social meaning of poems and readings.

Joel Craig read from his book The White House. There was talk of influence on the long poems in the book around New Narrative, Lewis Warsh and Ed Roberson—two people who can navigate the heart as much as theory. I loved that he mentioned the Replacements and event deejaying: how to feel a room and find a way to bring an audience with you.

Rob Halpern read from Music for Porn. He read his soldier poems directly before me. These question the reality/unreality of the body that respond and unpack Whitman’s erotic relationship with his Civil (sic) War soldier poem. From Fitch’s interview [Halpern]: “For Whitman, libidinal desire always contains the potential to activate what we might think of as real social agency. Yet Whitman’s discourse around a democratizing camaraderie never adequately maps onto the social material the Civil War presents to him.”

Tyrone Williams lives and teaches in Cincinnati, but was born and raised in Detroit. Williams read from Howell the title of which refers to a misnaming as well as the homophone “howl”. Howell dwells in that space of the foreground, one that is the “questions of mistakes, questions of error, of misreading or inscrutability—both in relation to language and to history.”

Of note: Detroit’s intense attentive audience. Among them Barrett Watten, Carla Harryman (who would read May 4), Christine Hume, James Hart III, and other poets I met, admired, and understand as makers.

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Posted in Featured Blogger on Wednesday, May 7th, 2014 by Hoa Nguyen.