Posted in poem of the week, Uncategorized, visiting writers

Poem of the Week: “Incident” by Natasha Trethewey

We tell the story every year—
how we peered from the windows, shades drawn—
though nothing really happened,
the charred grass now green again.

We peered from the windows, shades drawn,
at the cross trussed like a Christmas tree,
the charred grass still green. Then
we darkened our rooms, lit the hurricane lamps.

At the cross trussed like a Christmas tree,
a few men gathered, white as angels in their gowns.
We darkened our rooms and lit hurricane lamps,
the wicks trembling in their fonts of oil.

It seemed the angels had gathered, white men in their gowns.
When they were done, they left quietly. No one came.
The wicks trembled all night in their fonts of oil;
by morning the flames had all dimmed.

When they were done, the men left quietly. No one came.
Nothing really happened.
By morning all the flames had dimmed.
We tell the story every year.

(via Poetry Foundation)

Posted in poem of the week, Uncategorized

Poem of the Week: “Smoke in Our Hair” by Ofelia Zepeda

The scent of burning wood holds
the strongest memory.
Mesquite, cedar, piñon, juniper,
all are distinct.
Mesquite is dry desert air and mild winter.
Cedar and piñon are colder places.
Winter air in our hair is pulled away,
and scent of smoke settles in its place.
We walk around the rest of the day
with the aroma resting on our shoulders.
The sweet smell holds the strongest memory.
We stand around the fire.
The sound of the crackle of wood and spark
is ephemeral.
Smoke, like memories, permeates our hair,
our clothing, our layers of skin.
The smoke travels deep
to the seat of memory.
We walk away from the fire;
no matter how far we walk,
we carry this scent with us.
New York City, France, Germany—
we catch the scent of burning wood;
we are brought home.

Via Poetry Foundation

Posted in news, Uncategorized, visiting writers

Poetry Center director Anita Skeen and former RCAH professor Laura DeLind publish collaborative book

By Kelsey Block

The Unauthorized Audubon, a collection of poetry and prints by Poetry Center Director Anita Skeen and Anthropology Professor Laura DeLind, was recently published by the MSU Press. The RCAH Center for Poetry hosted a reading on February 19 to celebrate the occasion, in which the creators read and signed their book.


The project began after a class DeLind and Skeen co-taught had ended. The course focused on communication across media and how two different media can inform each other. The artists noted that poetry and visual art often deal with many of the same things – point of view, pattern, lines, mass and positive and negative space.

The friends confessed that they both were sad to see the class end. To commemorate their work together, DeLind stuck a print she had created under the windshield wiper of Skeen’s car as a surprise. Skeen said she noticed the print from a distance later that day as she left the RCAH.

“I came out at the end of a very bad day,” Skeen said. “I could see my car in the distance, parked illegally, and I could see this card in the distance, and I thought, ‘oh crap – a parking ticket.’ And as I got closer, I realized it was too big, and thought maybe a student had left something under my windshield wiper. And then, when I got closer, I could see that it probably wasn’t because it hadn’t been ripped out of a notebook. And I opened it up and here was this print with two feathers, and underneath it was written, ‘guess who?’”

In order to thank DeLind for the print, Skeen wrote a poem and invented the imaginary birds from which the feathers came: the “polka dotted dairy pigeon” and the “riverswift.”

After that, it became a kind of correspondence. Skeen wrote a poem for each new print DeLind created.

“It was sort of fun to recognize that you could do something and get someone to respond to it so completely,” DeLind said. “This was totally play. There was no pressure, there were no deadlines. We just did this. And the magic of it was my prints are two-dimensional, flat. And I’d give them to Anita and I’d get them back and these birds that I thought I had invented, that I had created, I found that in fact they had names that I hadn’t known about, they had histories that I hadn’t known about, they had songs that I didn’t know about, they had habitats I wasn’t aware of. They had personalities.”

The pair worked (or played) without forethought until the MSU Museum did an exhibit about the 50th anniversary of the publication of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring. One of Skeen and DeLind’s friends at the Museum suggested that the collaboration become a part of the exhibit. There, the MSU Press saw the collection and considered publishing it.

“All the writing I’ve done in the years, all the books I’ve done, nothing has happened like this” Skeen said. “Ideas for books had sort of come out of places I didn’t know they’d come out of, but nothing like this where it just fell into place and we didn’t have to work at it.”

The creators titled their book after the works of John James Audubon, a 20th century naturalist illustrator who drew meticulous representations of birds in danger of extinction.

“Instead of documenting things that were going extinct we were creating new critters that never were before,” DeLind said. “They were imaginary, they didn’t have fine, fine detail, they allowed for all kinds of interpretation and imagination.”

As for the reason she created birds, DeLind said they were an excuse.

“For me they’re an excuse to play with natural shapes and patterns and composition. Birds come in infinite variety and have great body shapes. And the idea of flying is pretty spectacular … There’s no end to what I can do with birds,” she said.

The book combines DeLind’s block prints with Skeen’s poetry. DeLind said she usually works with linocuts, which involves cutting designs into blocks of linoleum.

“It’s like any relief print. What you cut away does not accept ink, what you don’t cut away stands in relief. It’s like a stamp,” DeLind said. “[Linocuts] have a certain democratic nature to them, they aren’t expensive, you don’t need special techniques or training, it’s quick, it’s bold, it’s honest.”

While she is primarily a poet, Skeen also has experience with other types of writing, including short fiction.

“I am in my heart of hearts a poet, and I really love language,” Skeen said. “One of the things I really loved about this book project was that I got to name the birds, and that was just such a gift. Poets are always naming things, but we’re usually naming emotions and we’re naming experience and we’re naming how it feels. But I got to name these imaginary birds and that was the best naming I’ve ever done.

“I looked at some of the birds for a long, long time, because I had to figure out what was at the core of them,” Skeen said. “I had to know things about these birds. I had to know where they lived and where they flew, and then once I figured out some things about them I could figure out what they might be likely to do. But I had to look at them a long time. I would set the print up on my desk or carry it around in my calendar so every time I opened it I’d see the bird. And I had to figure out how to get that bird out of there. They were flapping around and making a lot of noise.”

DeLind and Skeen are hoping to do a calendar next.

Click here to purchase the book from the MSU Press.

Click here to learn more about Skeen’s work.

Click here to learn more about DeLind’s work.

Click here to see a collaboration between Skeen and fellow RCAH Professor Guillermo Delgado

Posted in poem of the week, Uncategorized

Poem of the Week: “Song” by Brenda Cárdenas

You shout my name
from beyond my dreams,
beyond the picture window
of this Rosarito beach house.
Rushing from bed to shore
I glimpse their backs—
volcanoes rising out of the sea.
Your back, a blue-black silhouette,
feet wet with the wash of morning waves.
Fountains spring from mammal minds,
my hands lifting a splash of sand.
I’m on my knees,
toes finding a cool prayer
beneath them, fingers pressing
sea foam to my temples,
while you open arms wide as a generation,
raise them to a compass point,
If you could reach them,
you would ride their fins
under the horizon,
then surf the crash of waves
left in their wake.
And if I could grasp
my own fear,
I’d drown it,
leave it breathless and blue
as this ocean,
as the brilliant backs
of whales
for air.

Via Poetry Foundation

Posted in news, Uncategorized, visiting writers, workshops

Festival Of Listening

By Kelsey Block

The RCAH Center for Poetry was proud to put on the 2014 Festival of Listening.

An estimated 50 people gathered last Thursday at (scene) metrospace to listen to untranslated poetry read aloud by 13 speakers of 11 different languages.

Kegan Cochrane, MSU sophomore, read two poems – one in Icelandic and one in Tagalog.

“It was hard to read because it’s not the same as more modern Tagalog,” Cochrane said of Jose Corazon de Jesus’s poem, Bayan Ko. “It really does do a good job expressing in just a few words why the Philippines should be set free.”

Center for Poetry intern Jenny Crakes noted it was fun to hear all of the different language. Crakes read the poem, A Nes by Sarah Moskovits in Yiddish.

Richelle Wilson, a 26-year-old speaker of Swedish, read Tomas Transtromer’s Kort paus i orgelkonserten. She noted the acoustic pleasure of the poems read.

“I think Swedish is a pretty language,” she said. “It’s got nice lifts and musical qualities.”

Stayed tuned for photos of the event!

Posted in poem of the week

Poem of the Week: the salve trade by Fred Moten

all down on perdido street, from san juan

to inglewood, up on that bridge, up where the
soul trees grow by soul, dance to fantastic
information while we kick off the modern world.

the whistle sounded good like a kiss on a train.

a track below us in the cabinet in the tunnel

under the water. a steady boom to lift us out.
nobody lived, not without digging, but he wore

that ivory waistcoat and we loved to see that shit.

I love my people too much to be around them
at school. I slip underneath the cinema tree, move myself
in half, dance to fray, write a paper on the salve trade.

the big fat women and the heliocopters they bring

with them to watch them and their kids. whole long-

ass sheets of improper names. we refused to act right
at the hospital and I was right with ’em. at the wrong time

I started reading my paper and ash flew from their big ol’
legs. we rub down and dance everyday at the broke clinic

and I was right with ’em. johnny griffin turns to this long
burning to pray for fire. make a song about the sky they stole.

if you ain’t gon’ get down then what you come here for?

what they bring your ass up in here for if you ain’t gon’
tear shit up? if you wasn’t just as happy to be here as you was

to come then what you gon’ do, simple motherfucker? the salve trade

-from the Poetry Foundation.