Jeffrey Hillard visited Dulles Elementary School on February 25, 2016. He spoke with 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders about writing and imagination, and encouraged them to create and share unique stories using a series of writing exercises.
In early December 2015, two local poets, Susan F. Glassmeyer and Bucky Ignatius, inaugurated a new poetry reading series in Cincinnati at the Pendleton Arts Center, in the Pendleton district of Over-the-Rhine, three or four blocks from the vivacious Horseshoe Casino.
Given the fact that there’s a passionate poetry scene in Cincinnati, and one that involves an array of eclectic voices, we as writers – and certainly us poets – should never feel as if reading venues for creative writers will dry up anytime soon. I don’t think this has ever been a reality. As long as I’ve been reading my own work out loud the past three decades, I’ve always encountered opportunities for writers to work out their writing in some public mode.
So, in 2016, let the written and spoken words be elevated even more. Let 2016 be the year that brings writers not only more success and an abundance of quality drafts, but let it inspire writers to take advantage of reading opportunities – and in this case, poets, especially.
Built in 1909, the Pendleton Arts Center is a vastly roomy eight-floor building whose historical relevance is striking. In those first few decades of the 1900s, the building was used by the Krohn-Fecheimer Shoe Company and later morphed into the main warehouse for Shillito’s department store. The building at 1310 Pendleton Street was bought by The Verdin Company in 1991 and transformed into studio and exhibit space for regional artists of all disciplines.
The unfolding of this new poetry series is yet another innovative component to illuminate the artistic activity at the PAC. The facility already showcases the enormously popular Final Friday series for visual artists.
It’s a perfect place for poetry readings. It’s a perfect place for poets to do part of the work a writer who cares about his or her craft should want to do. Read aloud in public, as challenging as that may seem.
My late friend, mentor, collaborator for 22 years, and former professor, Dallas Wiebe, always reiterated to me: “The true test of your [creative writing] is if it can hold up in public – in your reading the work aloud. Test it out.” Dallas should have known: an American original as a fiction writer, he read locally and around the country for over 50 years. Dallas was responsible for advancing the public reading venues in this city for nearly forty years, starting in Mt. Adams, in the mid-1960s. As a young writer, I’d taken my queue from him and realized the advantage of sharing my work aloud in public.
Other writer-friends of mine have also shared in this creed and have done so liberally, with real expectation to either facilitate readings or expose their writing to an audience. This city bustles with literary activity and always has. The PAC is such a refreshing venue because it opens a door for poets to read in that eastern part of Over-the-Rhine, minutes north of the Cincinnati’s central business district and just south of Mount Auburn.
It’s with this rush of excitement that I see the PAC Poetry Reading Series as another potentially vital venue for poetry in our region. The locale is dynamic. The hub of art emanating from the PAC itself is impressive, and the old, fabulously remodeled building, on this occasion of the first reading in December, complemented the creative spirit spilling from Bucky’s and Susan’s poems. Their reading arrangements, clever and lively, supplied the beautiful energy that made the launch-night a success.
The local presence of these two poets has been a mainstay for many years. Both are vital core and constant contributors to the poetry scene and especially to The Greater Cincinnati Writers League, a splendid writers’ group dedicated to the craft of poetry. The GCWL co-sponsors the Pendleton Arts Center readings, as well as our library’s Poetry in the Garden Series each April. The GCWL, which meets monthly, has empowered many poets, allowing them to improve their craft especially upon receiving critiques and feedback from a revolving door of monthly poet-critics who are well-published poets and teachers. Once a month, a different critic provides input into each member’s submitted poem.
Susan Glassmeyer, in her two chapbooks, Body Matters (Pudding House Chapbook Series) and Cook’s Luck (Finishing Line Press), displays an exquisite sense of wonderment. It is often so easy to say that a poet has great range, because, as Pablo Neruda so adamantly preached, every last thing one confronts is a potential poem in the making. This is radical but true. Or it should be. The subject matter in both Glassmeyer’s and Ignatius’ poems is far-ranging, yet such an orientation in these poets’ hands shows the patience with which they’ve cultivated their poems, the disciplined way they’ve honed their craft. No matter that there are three small yet powerful books between them.
I’ve always been so fond of the fluctuating tone and form in Glassmeyer’s poems. Take the satire in “Caution, Submerged Pilings I,” one of the 23 short prose poems in Cook’s Luck. The poem is a whimsical look at two married characters, Jolene and Ronnie. After an outdoor-work experience, there’s this: “…He [Ronnie] stops at the lighthouse end of the beach parking lot to reattach the unhinged roof of the dog-poop-bag dispenser which looks somewhat like a scout-made birdhouse.” Glassmeyer is very keen on juxtapositions, as in the more contemplative poem, “The Mountain”: “…Now, a poster of it [photograph] hangs above your couch captivating the baby lying beneath it. In a surprise milky stupor he gazes unblinking into its face as if hypnotized by the eye of a giant….”
And Glassmeyer has a sense of apt timing for creating metaphor. Her short-lined gripping poem “I Tell You,” in Body Matters, is rich with fresh metaphors, such as: “…How two geese would spin out/of the opal sun opening my spine,/curling my head up to the sky/in an arc I took for granted.”
In Bucky Ignatius’ superb new chapbook, 50 Under 50 (Finishing Line Press), short poems surge forth to capture slice-of-life moments that reflect his ever-sharp poetic eye. In a four, five, or eight-line poem, Ignatius is exceptional in the way his lyricism casts a glow on the smallest details. Unexpectedly small yet human details like laundry, a hammock, a garden, a feather – summoning life into each of these meditations and giving us the chance to see how priceless often-fleeting things are.
On December 8, 2015, I was thrilled to listen to Susan Glassmeyer and Bucky Ignatius read. It was the appropriate way to wind up a vigorous writing year. Sure, the PAC ended the old year this way, but better yet, the reading signaled the launch of new poems to come in this facility in New Year 2016.