An Evening of Love and Loss

The Urban Room at the Salt Lake Public Library Main Branch was buzzing on Valentine’s Day. City Art, as part of the City Art Reading Series, presented an Evening of Love and Loss, featuring an A-list of the Wasatch Front’s favorite poets. Seriously, there was something for everyone and the room was packed with students, poets, and poetry enthusiasts. The format was for each poet to read a poem of love or loss from another writer and then to read one or more of their own as well. Most of the poets stuck to this format, and their choice of which poet to read and whether to read about love or loss was telling – a little extra peek into the minds of these people we’ve all come to know and appreciate.

Lisa Bickmore started the evening on a pensive note with Robert Lowell’s poem “Will Not Come Back.” She followed it up with an old favorite about loss those of us familiar with her work were happy to hear again. Joel Long read “Flying Home” by Galway Kinnell. He read about both love and loss in “Ghosts of Love” and “Kissing Lisa Hill,” which was a tender tale about awkward teens. Rob Carney memorized his presentation of Brent Cunningham’s “The Pyromaniac and the Gas Station Girl” and his own “How to Have a Campfire.” Abraham Smith, always dynamic, read so fast that one poem ran into another; his voice rose, filling the space, so much so that representatives from the meeting room next door just had to come find out what was going on. He read John Keats’ “The Living Hand” and a few of his own. Laura Scott chose WB Yates’ “Clothes of Heaven” and a tanka by Izumi Shikibu. Her own poem was about a devastating loss, a miscarriage – grieving for her own lost child, her voice trembling with emotion. The whole room had to take a deep breath after that one. Natasha Saje selected Bill Olsen’s “Loon,” and then read “Q” from her own collection, which was inspired by Pablo Neruda’s “Question.” Katherine Coles, former Utah Poet Laureate, read Emily Dickenson’s #277 from her facsimile and envelope poems (which you really should check out – for a peek into the process of this well-known poet.) Katherine’s poem, “February 14th,” described her husband’s frustration with the snow, because he knows there’s early spring flowers blooming under there. After her poem, “Stranger and Stranger,” we were left with the knowledge that all love is odd, and that’s OK, really. She also read from what she referred to her recent series of “annoyed” poems. Finally, Lance Larsen, also a former Utah Poet Laureate, began with Margaret Atwood’s anti-valentine poem, “You Fit into Me.” He read Linda Grey’s “Growing Up.” His own selections were wry, tongue in cheek works like “Sad Jar of Atoms” and “Elegy with Bra and Peppermints, 1969,” wrapping the evening up on a lighter note.

City Art events are free and open to the public. City Art is sponsored by the Utah Arts Council, the Salt Lake City Arts Council, Zoo, Arts, and Parks, X-mission, and audience donations.

–by Lisa Connors

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Dana Levin and Paisley Rekdal Poetry Reading

It was standing room only at the 15th Street Gallery in Salt Lake City Saturday, September 30th. Everyone wore new fall outfits or old favorites brought out of storage for, even though the sounds of children trying to wring a few more evenings outside out of summer 2017 could be heard through the open doors, the night was definitely chilly. Perfectly crisp. Perfect for an evening with two wonderful poets. The King’s English bookstore sponsored the event which, due to its appeal, had to be moved to the larger venue down the block. Dana Levin and Paisley Rekdal each read from their latest works to the packed house.

Dana Levin traveled all of the way from New Mexico to read from Banana Palace. She said the book evolved out of her growing anxiety for the future, which she described as technological change and an appetite (as in all sorts of greed.) She captivated the audience with four longer poems from Banana Palace. Her first poem, the title poem to the collection, attempted to explain Facebook to someone from an apocalyptic future. Incorporating modern technology into literature is often difficult, but this poem was charming. Her second poem was about her actual cat’s actual appetite, and she took a relatable subject for many and turned it into a clever metaphor about desire for the simple things in life. Her third poem explored how she and her bi-polar father bonded over food. It was an interesting look at how children react to a parent’s mental illness, as was her fourth poem, which chronicled her father’s melancholia using pop culture references like Krakatoa. She concluded her reading with a brand-new poem, “You Will Never Get Death Out of Your System.”

Paisley Rekdal, the Utah Poet Laureate, began her reading by explaining the terror of reading to people you know and will see again. Her new book, The Broken Country explores the trauma of war – the genetic components, new scientific studies, and the effects it has on families. She was inspired to write about this topic by her time spent in Vietnam. She read the first chapter which details a crime in Salt Lake City where a Vietnamese man went on a stabbing rampage. Her narrative describes the victims’ and witnesses’ experiences with compassion, but also instills a desire to understand the perpetrator’s circumstances and point of view. Most of the audience seemed enthusiastic about reading the rest of the book. As Poet Laureate, she couldn’t just read from a work of non-fiction, so she concluded her reading with a poem, inspired by a sculpture, an assemblage of plane parts, which she saw in a Vietnamese military museum in Hanoi.

The reading closed on that somber note. It was dark outside and the children had all gone home when the assembly adjourned to The King’s English down the street for the book signing and a meet and greet with the two poets.

Lisa Bickmore: Poetry of Place

Thursday evening was a beautiful one to spend on the patio at the King’s English bookshop in Salt Lake City. Air conditioners hummed in the background and children could be heard playing even though it was a school night. A sizable crowd gathered to hear Lisa Bickmore read from her latest poetry collection, Ephemerist. The release of Ephemerist came soon after the release of her second collection, flicker, which she considers a surprise and a gift.

Lisa Bickmore is Professor of English at Salt Lake Community College, where she is also one of the founders of its Publication Center. Her poems have been published in numerous publications, including Quarterly West, Tar River Poetry, Sugarhouse Review, Glass, The Moth, Terrain, and Southword. She was awarded the Ballymaloe International Poetry Prize for 2015, and the 2014 Antivenom Prize for her second book, flicker.

Before launching into several selections from both Ephemerist and flicker, Ms. Bickmore took a moment to explain the importance of art in everyone’s life. She feels life is diminished when people have no way of expressing themselves through art.

Ms. Bickmore’s poetry is at times somber or humorous, but always deeply personal. She tackles the difficult issues like aging, grief, and homeless youth with sensitivity and from an accessible perspective. Several poems revolved around the change in perspective she had while traveling overseas and the space in between or disconnect she felt between her daily life and the one she’d stepped into.

The reading lasted about thirty minutes, with Ms. Bickmore choosing to skip a few poems she’d selected for the evening just because they didn’t suit her mood at the moment. Afterward, she retired to the Mystery Room to sign books and answer questions.

Lisa Bickmore’s poetry is very grounded, tightly tied to place, whether she is talking about her home or another country. Take a two hour field trip to someplace nearby, like a hotel lobby, museum, laundromat, or diner. In your notebook, record your impressions. Try to capture the atmosphere – the people, the mood. Use all of your senses. Then, write a poem that ties this ordinary scene to a larger theme.