As the year comes to a close, I find myself in a reflective mood. Having compiled a list of the more than 350 poets I have mentioned on my website since I began writing about poetry in 2003, I was curious to discover which poets I have mentioned most often in the last ten years.
What follows is that list of poets — most alive, some dead; most writing in English, some not; many I have met, some I won’t and never will. Click on the name or image for a brief summary of who each one is and and what they mean to me, and to read what I have written about them over the years.
The Internet gives us the illusion that the best a culture has to offer will invariably find its way to us. But when it comes to art, I find that so much still comes down to local knowledge. Americans and Brits alike have long maintained a fascination with the literary work of their overseas cousins, but usually only the biggest names make the trip across the pond.
Hoping in some small way to remedy this, I have written an article for the US edition of The Huffington Post on “5 British Poets to Watch in 2013” and, for sake of symmetry, an article in the UK edition of The Huffington Post on “Five American Poets to Watch in 2013“.
How closely you watch is, of course, up to you. My hope is that you will seek out the work of these ten fine poets out for your own sake, to bring a little transcontinental mischief and mirth to your poetry reading in the year ahead.
“The distant reality every day questions me / like an unknown traveler who wakes me up in the middle of the journey / saying ‘Is this the right bus?’, / and I answer ‘Yes’, but I mean ‘I don’t know.'”
-Nikola Madzirov, “I Don’t Know”
Bergamot Station at night / Photo: Marvin Rand
It was with great excitement that I drove down to Frank Pictures Gallery in Bergamont Station to read poems alongside Tim Green, Nikola Madzirov, and Ilya Kaminsky last night. It is always a privilege to read alongside first-rate poets, but last night was something truly special. It was one of the final readings in the “Third Area” series to be held in this gallery, and my final reading in America before Val and I move to London.
But more than this, the lineup was particularly special to me. I was slated to read with Tim Green at the Carnegie Art Museum last year, but it ended up being too close to the due date of his new baby daughter. He read poems from American Fractal as well as some new work. Tim has been a great supporter of my own work, giving it exposure through Rattle, and is himself a fine poet — sonorous and absorbed when he reads, self-deprecating and down-to-earth in between.
Then I was introduced to the work of Macedonian poet Nikola Madzirov, available now in English thanks to BOA editions and the Lannan Translations Selection Series. His poems took my breath away. In them, I found many of the elements of what I admire most about other Slavic-language poets, especially those far to the north in Poland — sensitive, clever observations, at times whimsical, but always with a deep undercurrent of existential longing.
“The sea is dangerous, they say, but not if you’re the sea.”
-Sarah Maclay, “Ocean in White Chair,” from The White Bride
Sarah Maclay drew me down to the seaside tonight, to hear her read poems from her first book, Whore, her second book, The White Bride, and selections from a new, unpublished manuscript. It was great to be back at the Artists’ Union Gallery, among friends. Sarah read poems back-to-back, like a line of train cars speeding down the coast through evening fog. And, as is the tradition at this venue, and precisely at the end of one of Sarah’s poems, the 7:50 freight blared through the dark.
Though many of the poems she read were prose poems, her compelling imagery and sonorous delivery made her work sound as though it might have been written with the blade-like precision of couplets. For all of her unexpected imagery and captivating associations, Sarah is not a surrealist — in much the same way that a poet like Sandra Alcosser is not a surrealist. In fact, Maclay brings to the urban landscape much of what Alcosser brings to the wild places — rough, self-startling observations, deep sensuality, and a ravenous fascination with human concerns — all balanced with a keen, keen ear. It was a pleasure to hear Sarah read tonight, and to step out into the salt air, changed.
Since it has been several years since the excellent master class in poetry I took with Suzanne Lummis through the UCLA Extension, I decided it was time to get myself back into a workshop. Even though Sarah has recently accepted a position with Loyola Marymount University to teach creative writing, she still conducts small private workshops in her home. It was great to exercise my poetic thinking in this way again with Sarah and six of her monthly “regulars”. If you are serious about advancing your craft and are in the LA area, I highly recommend these workshops. And if you’re a student at LMU studying creative writing, you are in for a treat.
I just got off the phone with Sarah Maclay, a Los Angeles based poet who was gracious enough to spend some time with me talking about her journey as a writer and teacher. It was so insightful that I wish I had a tape recorder at the time. Fortunately, I found an interview with Poetic Diversity online that gives a glimpse of some of her intelligence, generosity, and dedication to poetry. Many thanks to Frankie Drayus for introducing me to Sarah, and helping to reconnect me to what’s great about the LA-area poetry scene.