Posted in Balocating Prize for Poetry

2015 Balocating Prize for Poetry: “Memorial Day” by Connor Yeck

Congratulations to Connor Yeck, a Senior in English and the winner of the 2015 Annie Balocating Undergraduate Prize for Poetry! Yeck’s poem “Memorial Day” was selected by guest judge Carolyn Forché and presented during her reading at the RCAH Center for Poetry on April 22, 2015 in Snyder-Phillips Hall. The Balocating Prize is an award of $500 for a single poem submitted by an undergraduate student at Michigan State University. Started in 2010, the award is in honor of Annie Balocating, a poet and alumna of the former ROIAL program at MSU.

“Memorial Day”
by Connor Yeck

We were washing graves at the edge
of June. Veterans, my father had said,
handing me pail, rag, twist-tie throat

of plastic peonies; family we mustn’t
forget, even here, the way-back-simple-
sticks of Hart, Shelby, Newaygo & Irons.

So I go to metaled spigot, swatting gnats
& potter wasps, half-proud, half-angry
at a weekend spent with dust-dull acres,

stern watch, stone-chip fields of knotweeds
& shagbark. Rubbing slattered bird filth,
I rinse those men in granite, marbled boys

who’d seen Belleau Wood & Saint Quentin,
the pined Hürtgenwald, till he calls me restless
across the day. It is near-time for lunch,

he says, & so opens the fish chest—fried
chicken cutlets, sweet rolls, iced-necks of soda
for the both of us. We eat in silence, crushing

chiggers, spotting sun-pricked pillar tombs beyond
a bank of hedge. I ask if we might turn on the radio,
& he says no, it is disrespectful to those passed,

(as if it might shake them back to living sense).
Rather, he tells me of work, though I am young,
& uncaring—how I can go to the Dow plant,

like himself, or the carom factory if I so wish.
It makes me ill to think of fall bowling leagues
& company picnics, shouting in the Polish bars,

& for a moment, I hate him, a thing kept hidden,
loose, & careful, yet what he must’ve known, going
to the nearby fence line where curled, sun-spry

buckwheat had begun to overtake. A farmer’s field,
next-door. Brown-green runnels filled with migrant
workers. He calls to the nearest & three appear.

Cuánto cuesta? he asks, so loud and fool-clumsy.
The men hold up sky-burnt fingers. A few creased
bills, & they are gone, off to blue-bent buckets

on an endless, running turf. I am given the clutch
of asparagus, ribbed & gritty, a baton-like thing
of morals, perhaps. I expect him to say how young

they were, working on their knees in gingham aprons,
pulling, plucking, proud; how they’d be glad to clean
old graves for an afternoon, have something to drink.

But instead, he simply says, eat, & I do, tasting loam,
wet musk, the raw-keen bite of insecticide as he tells
me Oceana County, despite its meager size, is this-
that, crop capital of the entire living world.

Posted in poem of the week

Poem of the Week: “The Colonel” by Carolyn Forché

Perhaps Carolyn Forché’s most well-known poem, “The Colonel” was published in her book The Country Between Us (1981) and captures “her now-famous encounter with a Salvadoran colonel who, as he made light of human rights, emptied a bag of human ears before Forché” (from The Poetry Foundation). Forché will visit the RCAH Center for Poetry this Wednesday and Thursday for a reading & reception as well as a talk about her travels and her experience as a poet of witness. More information about her visit here.

%22The Colonel%22 by Carolyn Forche

Courtesy of The Poetry Foundation

Posted in community outreach, Spring Poetry Festival, workshops

RCAH Center for Poetry Hosts Conference for Educators and Writers

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By Kelsey Block

On March 28, 2015, the RCAH Center for Poetry hosted its first-ever conference, titled: “Exploring Our Own Amazement: Learning the Language of Poetry.”

A crowd of approximately 40 people filled the RCAH Theater to participate in workshops and discussions with a number of presenters, including the Center for Poetry staff, associate professor of MSU’s College of Education Laura Apol, and local poet, teacher and coordinator of the Old Town Poetry Series, Ruelaine Stokes.

Laura Apol started out the day with a discussion on how to teach poetry effectively. Ruelaine Stokes followed with a lively presentation on strategies for oral performance. Center for Poetry Assistant Director Linnea Jimison and interns Jenny Crakes, Sarah Teppen and Kelsey Block followed with a panel on community outreach and public relations. Anita Skeen closed the day with her talk on the “compass points of poetry” and helping young writers find direction in a poem. For more information, visit our website.

The Center for Poetry plans to host another conference next year. We welcome your suggestions.

Posted in poem of the week

Poem of the Week: “Ice Music” by Terry Blackhawk

Detroit-based poet Terry Blackhawk will join the Center for Poetry for a reading and talk on April 15th as part of our Spring Poetry Festival. You can read more about her visit on our website.

“Ice Music”
by Terry Blackhawk

ice melt ice lace ice
breaking up upstream
coming down from up
north in variegated
quilts of floes
no instant’s act this
crumbling an entire
season sends broken
continents our way
once-miles-wide chunks break
and bob or push up
against the shore in
spun sugar turrets
they rise fall glistening
dissolving ice lace
ice music I seem
to hear a tremolo
in the trees
but it’s March no leaves
no breeze just the score
for the scene
before me silvery
glissandos rising
from a streaming swarm
of glinting
creatures herded
by the current
in a living touching
clinking singing surge

Courtesy of the author

Posted in Uncategorized

Center for Poetry Holds Edible Book Contest

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On April 1st, the Center for Poetry held its annual Edible Book Contest, inspired by the International Edible Book Festival. Special thanks to RCAH Communications Manager Katie Wittenauer for being our guest judge, and to the Roethke House in Saginaw, Michigan for contributing prizes and a magnificent cake inspired by Theodore Roethke’s children’s book Party at the Zoo. The winners were:

Grand Prize: Charlotte’s Web submitted by Alli Rayburn
Best Literary Classic: Pride & Prejudice submitted by Jean Krueger
Most Edible: Holes submitted by Hannah Warren
Most Creative: Superfudge submitted by Joy Whitten & Aaron Williams
Most Humorous: Julius Caesar submitted by Holly Bronson
Best Pun: Heart of Darkness submitted by Brian Teppen
Best Children’s Literature: James and the Giant Peach submitted by Darby McGraw

You can also read about the contest in the State News.

Posted in Uncategorized

Spring Poetry Series opens with Michigan poet, teacher Dennis Hinrichsen

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By Kelsey Block

“You’re always in the process of becoming a poet. You keep going on and striving to become that thing,” 62-year-old local writer Dennis Hinrichsen said.

Hinrichsen visited the RCAH Center for Poetry last Wednesday as the first guest in our annual Spring Poetry Series.

Hinrichsen first discovered the pleasure of words in the Bob Dylan song, “Visions of Johanna” with the line: “The ghost of electricity howls in the bones of her face.”

“I thought, ‘Holy mackerel!’ It created this amazing image in my mind, a cinematic effect, and I wanted to be able to do that too,” he said.

Later, as an undergraduate student Hinrichsen abandoned his studies in math and switched to creative writing. Since then, he’s completed nine works, six of which are books of poetry.

Hinrichsen said his work changed significantly between his second and third books.

“The biggest challenge was recognizing that I didn’t like the way I sounded in a poem and having to completely change myself. It took me nine years to do, but at the end of that, I had developed my own point of view,” he said.

Hinrichsen said he’s always trying to challenge himself as a writer.

“When you’re writing, you’re constantly trying to crash things together. You’re this mad scientist trying to do a fusion and see what happens, if you can sustain something or if you have to recombine to push this stuff. That’s where it’s really exciting for me, because that’s me going into new territory and trying to follow that thing,” Hinrichsen said. “I try to find things I can’t possibly write about, and try to write about it… It’s being brave enough in the act of drafting those things, to find cliff edges and continually jump off them, to constantly risk writing badly.”

Hinrichsen has another book, Skin Music, coming out this fall.

“The poems sort of look at hard things for a variety of reasons,” he said, adding that many of the poems take place in Grand Ledge where he grew up. “When you’re writing poetry, you have no clue what the poem’s about – you write to discover what it’s about.”

In addition to writing, Hinrichsen taught writing at Lansing Community College for a number of years. He said it’s important for students to learn to write with abandon.

“You come into creative writing class and you’re going to be writing for the next four years. It’s going to be the most important writing you’re doing, and you’re going to throw away everything you write,” he said. “It’s just practice to get to the point that you get old enough to have that skill set.”

Hinrichsen said students also need to read as much as they possibly can.

“The reading component is plugging into what’s going on around you. It’s learning how to read like a writer and recognize (writing) is a practice,” he said.

Posted in poem of the week

Poem of the Week: “April Midnight” by Arthur Symons

“April Midnight”
by Arthur Symons

Side by side through the streets at midnight,
Roaming together,
Through the tumultuous night of London,
In the miraculous April weather.

Roaming together under the gaslight,
Day’s work over,
How the Spring calls to us, here in the city,
Calls to the heart from the heart of a lover!

Cool to the wind blows, fresh in our faces,
Cleansing, entrancing,
After the heat and the fumes and the footlights,
Where you dance and I watch your dancing.

Good it is to be here together,
Good to be roaming,
Even in London, even at midnight,
Lover-like in a lover’s gloaming.

You the dancer and I the dreamer,
Children together,
Wandering lost in the night of London,
In the miraculous April weather.

Courtesy of the Poetry Foundation