Posted in poem of the week

Poem of the Week: Broom, by Jim Harrison

This week’s poem of the week is in memory of Michigan’s own Jim Harrison, who died this past weekend at the age of 78.



To remember you’re alive
visit the cemetery of your father
at noon after you’ve made love
and are still wrapped in a mammalian
odor that you are forced to cherish.
Under each stone is someone’s inevitable
surprise, the unexpected death
of their biology that struggled hard, as it must.
Now to home without looking back,
enough is enough.
En route buy the best wine
you can afford and a dozen stiff brooms.
Have a few swallows then throw the furniture
out the window and begin sweeping.
Sweep until the walls are
bare of paint and at your feet sweep
until the floor disappears. Finish the wine
in this field of air, return to the cemetery
in evening and wind through the stones
a slow dance of your name visible only to birds.


from SONGS OF UNREASON, Copper Canyon Press, 2011

Posted in poem of the week

Poem of the Week: “Lilacs from the Field of Mars,” by Maureen Boyle


Lilacs from the Field of Mars

Maureen Boyle

Bringing armfuls of lilacs from the Field of Mars
blushing girls hide them under cotton skirts,
stiffening petticoats like the dancers’ horsehair net
bought by the shimmering bolt they have seen carried
to the costumier’s in the neighbouring street. Once in place
they must brave the babushkas who sit in the dusky corridors
of the old theatre knitting, darning the dancers’ shoes
holding the block in the satin where blood has soaked into cloth.
The hidden flowers rustle as they walk and when inside
are pulled out in a wash of Spring scent to be handed
carefully over the balcony and down to the blind box
where they will wait until the last beat of his pas-de-deux
and then fall in a lilac shower – flowers warmed
by the thighs of girls as offerings for the young god.

Posted in news

Center for Poetry, College of Music host Voicing Poetry II


By Kelsey Block

On Tuesday, March 15, the RCAH Center for Poetry and the MSU College of Music hosted the second performance in an ongoing collaboration that pairs the work of composition students with the work of local poets.

Voicing Poetry II featured ten performances – almost double from last year – by a number of poets, musicians and composers.

See the program below for more information.
voicing poetry II program.jpg

Posted in community outreach, news

Center for Poetry plans to build Little Free Library

By: Alexis Stark

This spring, the Center for Poetry is constructing a Little Free Library to be installed in East Lansing and filled with wonderful books of poetry.

The Little Free Library Organization established its roots in 2009, when Todd Bol of Hudson, Wisconsin built a small wooden schoolhouse on a post and put it in his front yard, in tribute to his mother. The house was filled with books people could take and exchange for free. Ms. Bol was a lover of reading and learning, and her legacy lives on through the 36,000 Little Libraries, sharing free books across the world.

The Center for Poetry heard about the phenomenon, when director Anita Skeen shared a clip about the fad from The Lansing State Journal and decided books of poetry needed to be added to the mix.

“I originally learned about Little Free Libraries from poet, Jane Taylor, but had never actually seen one. I immediately thought, this is the kind of project RCAH would produce, and East Lansing could use a library of poetry, to help spread an interest for poetry.”

Shortly after discovering the article, the idea was set in motion. Center for Poetry interns Sarah Teppen and Alexis Stark began brainstorming ideas for the structure and what books to fill it with. With the help of Steve Baibak, RCAH professor and LookOut! Gallery curator, the interns were able to purchase supplies from the MSU Surplus Store and Recycling Center.

Sarah and Alexis are both students in Steve’s art workshop, “Reclamation Studio”, in RCAH and were inspired to create the Little Free Library out of recycled materials. It would be a work of art, while giving a new life to old materials.

After obtaining licensing from the Little Free Library Organization and the city of East Lansing, the plan is to construct the library during the month of March. Then, the Center for Poetry will install it at the Beal Cooperative House on M.A.C. in April, to celebrate National Poetry Month.

“I was geeked about the idea of opening a little library in the name of the Center, and am so excited for our unveiling later this spring,” said Sarah. “Our stock will start out with mostly poetry, but who knows where how the stock will evolve from there. I can definitely see the Center for Poetry continuing Little Free Library Projects in the future.”

If you would like to find out how to start a Little Free Library in your area, go to The website is filled with information on the history of the organization, instructions for buying or building your library and how to register. Plus, you can read stories from other stewards around the world and become a pat of the global community.

If you would enjoy building your own project, or are interesting in creating art out of repurposed materials, visit the MSU Surplus Store and Recycling Center, open from 7:30 am to 5:30 pm on Tuesdays and Fridays.

Posted in news, visiting writers, workshops

Renowned Translator and nye musician bring new perspectives to annual Translation Conversation 

By Kelsey Block

On Monday, February 22, Director of Arabic studies at DePaul University Nesreen Akhtarkhavari visited the RCAH Center for Poetry to join in the Translation Conversation. The Translation Conversation focused on the work Akhtarkhavari translated, titled Desert Sorrows: Poems on Love and Politics by Tayseer Al-Sboul.

Akhtarkhavari’s reading and talk was accompanied by nye musician Nadim Dlaikan. The nye is a Persian reed flute. Dlaikan crafts his own instruments from bamboo he grows in his backyard in Detroit.

Akhtarkhavari grew up speaking Arabic, Persian and English. She started translating so she could use Arabic works in her classroom.

“A lot of the work that I’m familiar with and that provides an alternative view of the stereotypes of who Arabs are is not translated,” she said.

When the Jordanian Writers Society got wind of what she was doing in the classroom, they invited Akhtarkhavari to translate a novella, You As of Today by Tayseer Al-Sboul. She’s been continuing her translation work ever since. Her latest project is a translation of Rumi’s Arabic poems for the MSU Press.

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Akhtarkhavari is not a poet herself, but she works closely with Anthony Lee, a UCLA poet, on all of her poetry translations.

“He doesn’t speak a word of Arabic.  I like it this way,” she said. “It allows someone to look at the poems from the readers’ perspective in addition to being a poet. A reader doesn’t necessarily have to be familiar with Arabic but still can digest the poem in the English language without too many spices from Arabic.”

Some of those Arabic “spices” that are difficult to convey in English include an expression of grief in which the “she-camel is weeping,” a term of endearment in which parents call children their liver, and the seagull as a symbol of freedom rather than nuisance. In these instances, Akhtarkhavari does her best to convey content and sentiment, rather than opting for a direct translation.

“The distance between Arabic and English is so wide that there are very few words in common. So I’m not just changing sound, I’m changing structure,” she said. “That’s where it is important for me to understand the poem and then try to bring the pictures back to the target language as close as possible. To repaint the poem with the same colors … For me, the last thing that gets sacrificed is content.”

Context is also extremely important when translating poetry, Akhtarkhavari said.

“You have to really know your audience and you have to make sure you don’t let the transfer of metaphors distract from the meaning. That’s when you drop it, when it starts distracting from the meaning,” she said. “You want it to be different. You’re not turning an Arabic poem into an English poem. If you do that, it loses the novelty it’s bringing to the language. These translations help expand the imagination of the target language reader; that’s why they are profound.”