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Thursday, February 17, 2011

Three leading poets appearing at Duke Friday—and why verse-lovers need to knock off work early

Posted by on Thu, Feb 17, 2011 at 3:29 PM

Roberson_Labyrinth.jpg
If you are a poet, then you need to knock off work early this Friday, Feb. 18.

Eileen Myles, William Corbett and Ed Roberson—three of the more fascinating and talented poets in the country—are at Duke University for an afternoon panel discussion and evening reading. Both events are free and open to the public.

Sponsored by the university’s English Department as part of the Blackburn Visiting Writers Series, the panel discussion will take place in the Breedlove Room of Perkins Library on West Campus this afternoon from 2:30-4:30. The reading will begin at 8 p.m. in the parlor of the East Building on East Campus.

Ed Roberson has written eight books of poetry, including Atmosphere Conditions (Sun & Moon Press), which was selected by Duke professor Nathaniel Mackey for the National Poetry Series and nominated for an Academy of American Poets prize. Roberson’s latest book is To See the Earth Before the End of the World (Wesleyan University Press).

Roberson often replaces punctuation with spaces, which opens up both tightly ratcheted syntax and everyday speech in the poems. As carefully chosen and placed as his phrases are, they can relate to each other in multiple ways across these spaces. If it’s unclear whether a particular phrase begins a sentence or continues the previous one, it’s likely that both possibilities are meant to sit simultaneously on the page.

Currently distinguished artist in residence at Northwestern University, Roberson’s also worked as an Alaskan limnologist, a diver for the Pittsburgh Aquazoo and in the Pittsburgh steel mills. His diverse background informs his work with restless observation, as in the first stanza of “I Remember Form:”

I remember a yellowish color
          suddenly opening in the ground
          just to my left a step ahead
          when I startled a huge adder

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Eileen Myles has lived in New York since 1974. Known for stripping any and all preciousness out of her wanderings of cityscapes and explorations of queer identity, she publishes poetry, fiction and essays. Her recent collection of essays, The Importance of Being Iceland (MIT Press) describes recent visits and meanders through malls, urban landscapes, and, yes, Iceland. A former director of the inimitable St. Mark’s Poetry Project in New York, she also recently taught at the University of California at San Diego.

This excerpt from a blogpost last August shows her direct style. Each straightforward sentence moves forward narratively and conceptually, occasionally also synthesizing the preceding stretch of sentences to create a kind of rolling revelation:

Tonight was black and wet in New York and weirdly like a warm fall-like weather from another part of the world. We’ve had bike lanes for a while now and I turned onto mine from the gym on 4th St. and wound up right behind a huge pile of bottles and cans in a blue plastic bag mounted on the top of a cart. I had to be immensely patient waiting for a moment to pass this heap and when I did I looked at the person manning it. I think if I don’t describe them — their race, their age, their gender well what do you see. The person contributed to my feeling about the weirdness of the night.

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William Corbett hails from Boston, and his work combines the craft of Modernist American poets like William Carlos Williams with the spontaneity of New York School writers such as Frank O’Hara. He’s also a baseball lover: It’s not uncommon for him to place a philosophical point after a brief reportage on the Red Sox:

The Red Sox
open a three game series
with the Yankees in New York.
I watch TV.
This is the age of distractions.
In the city who ever
looks up?
(from “The stars are huge in the sky”)

Writer in residence at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Corbett is also a scholar of the artist Philip Guston and poets James Schuyler and John Wieners. His most recent book of poetry is Opening Day (Hanging Loose Press) and his New and Selected Poems is out on Zoland Books.

And don't forget to pick up your copy of the Indy next Wednesday, Feb. 23. It's the Indy poetry issue, featuring the work of the this year's winners.

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