Dian Sousa and Jimm Cushing at the Carnegie Museum, Oxnard

Due in part to a migraine at the end of a long week, I once again didn’t manage to make it to the Outlaw Poets reading on Friday night. However, I did finally make it out to the Arcade Poetry Series reading in Oxnard last night to hear Dian Sousa and Jimm Cushing. The venue was one of the countless libraries built by Andrew Carnegie around the turn of the last century–a multi-story white Neoclassical renovated into a spacious visual art gallery. The exhibit of photographs from Tibet, currently on display until May 20th, was worth the $3 admission in itself.

Dian Sousa read exuberant poems from her first and (newly published) second collection of poems. Her work exhibits a voracious creativity and tremendous capacity for unique image and metaphor. She read longer poems with strong narrative threads, though if there is any fault with this vigorous work, Sousa might benefit from striking out the occasional weaker line, striving for greater compression. Still, she read extremely well, entertaining and edifying the thirty-person audience with some truly magical themes. Her work is exciting, original, and vibrant–expressing her belief, which she shared that night, that “if you’re not in love with the world every day, you can lose your job as a poet.”

Jackson Wheeler, who hosts this series now in its eighteenth year, introduced Jimm Cushing with a highly flattering quote from W.S. Merwyn about Cushing’s earlier work, illustrating Cushing’s prestigious lineage. Cushing began his reading with a sampling of poems by a variety of other authors published by Cahuenga Press. His generosity, and belief in poetry as a discipline best nurtured by collaboration rather than competition, shone through in his obvious appreciation of these other poets.

His own poems demonstrated careful attention and potent, almost transcendental, delight. A few of the poems he read at the end I found somewhat inscrutable–perhaps better suited to the page than the ear–and perhaps reflecting some of his tutelage by Ashbery. Cushing also hung a bit too long on every word–an easy bad habit of otherwise good readers–not giving the ear enough respite between moments of savoring so many beautiful, sonorous lines. Overall, his very presence at the podium was a delight, and his poems–and the poems of his press–nourished like a meal offered up to the gods.

The Arcade Poetry Series is a remarkable venue of first-rate poetic talent, and one which I am glad to finally have had the opportunity to experience firsthand. Kudos to Jackson Wheeler for running such a high-potency literary event, and to both poets last night for sharing their exciting work with the eager and appreciative crowd. The next reading in this series will feature Mary Kay Rummel and Ali Liebegott on June 23rd at 7PM, ending the series for this year (it will start up again in January). I will be at the second residency of the MFA that night. But I heartily encourage the rest of the word-loving world to go.