poet

Welsh poet Gwyneth Lewis will read the poetry of Dylan Thomas at the Harry Ransom Center on Wednesday.

Photo Credit: Photo courtesy of Dr. Kurt Heinzelman | Daily Texan Staff

Poetry should be heard, not seen, according to Welsh poet Gwyneth Lewis. This idea is the inspiration for her latest project, “Dylan Thomas and the Colour of Saying,” which celebrates the art of poetry through oral recitations of fellow Welsh poet Dylan Thomas.  

Lewis, along with English professor Kurt Heinzelman, will read Thomas’ poetry as part of the Poetry on the Plaza series at the Harry Ransom Center this Wednesday at noon. Lewis said the idea for the event came directly from Thomas’ practice of reading poetry aloud before an audience. 

“He used to quite often read other people’s poetry; poets just usually read their own these days,” Lewis said. “I thought as part of the tribute during the centenary year of his birth that it would be a fitting thing to imitate his act of generosity.”

According to Lewis, currently a visiting professor at Princeton University, poems are often designed to make more sense audibly than if they were read to oneself on a page. 

“To read them on your own is sort of like going to swim in a wetsuit,” Lewis said. “It’s much nicer to go skinny-dipping or at least in a bathing costume so that you can actually feel the water.”

On the title of the event, Lewis said that Thomas’ poetry calls upon all five senses and opens up a “colorful world.”

“Poets don’t work on their own; they work in relation to other people’s work,” Lewis said. “We are all colored by each other.”

Heinzelman — who has been publishing poetry for more than 30 years and has served as a co-editor and advisory editor of numerous poetry publications — said the Harry Ransom Center has the largest archive of Dylan Thomas materials in the world, housing over half of all the existing archival material on the poet. Heinzelman said the aura of poetry is something books cannot capture in the same way. 

“Thomas believed very strongly, as [Lewis] and I do, that poetry is an oral event and it wants to be spoken; it wants to be read; it wants to be heard,” Heinzelman said. “It makes the poetry more alive.”

Photo Credit: Fabian Fernandez | Daily Texan Staff

On Tuesday nights, the crowd gathered at the Spider House Cafe & Ballroom isn’t waiting for a band to tune its guitars. They’re not waiting for the sarcastic banter of a comedian to fill the room, either. On Tuesday nights, the crowd gathers to witness a different art form altogether. 

Poetry slam is competitive poetry. At Austin Poetry Slam at Spider House, poets from all over the city recite their works in front of an eager crowd. The poets are judged by criteria such as presentation, depth of writing and the extent to which they emote while performing. When a poet walks up to the mic, the DJ’s music fades into the background. Unlike the aimlessly chattering audiences at music shows, the crowd falls silent once the poets begin speaking. There is a palpable energy that fills the entire room. The crowd acts as a seismograph, reacting to the emotional highs and lows of each poem with snaps and cheers. 

Jomar Valentin, who was part of Austin Poetry Slam’s 2011 national team, writes personally but also, as he asserts, accessibly.

“I write a lot about gay life and gay rights,” Valentin said. “I try not to be preachy; I try to be funny about it. It’s bringing awareness to it, as well as being able to express yourself. It’s a great platform.”

Some poets, such as Valentin, come to spread a message. Others, such as Dave Webber, come to sort out their personal troubles. Tim Clark, a retired Austinite who found out about poetry slam through his daughter, wants to accomplish something different with his poetry. 

“Sometimes, things just happen. I want to see if I can communicate how that made me feel,” Clark said, referencing a poem he wrote about a woman with cerebral palsy. “I want to communicate that to a general audience so they can get something out of it too.”

Austin Poetry Slam started in 1994 and, four years later, hosted the National Poetry Slam, which brought national attention to the group. Gloria C. Adams, secretary of Austin Poetry Slam, said Austin has some of the best poets in the country.

“We have a really robust crowd full of people who are truly interested in being here,” Adams said. “This is a great place to hear things that will resonate with you.” 

Adams, a seasoned poet who competed at last year’s national competition, said the basic premise of poetry slamming is not only helpful to poets but also essential to their well-being.

“There aren’t that many places in the world where people are interested in hearing the dark truths about yourself,” Adams said. “One thing I really like about the poetry world is this emphasis we put on telling your truth, on telling what’s happening to you and what you’ve experienced.”

Austin Poetry Slam takes place weekly and not only showcases local talent but also features touring poets in its lineup, such as award-winning poet Andrea Gibson. But, whether it’s the most famous poet in the world or a local writer who’s trying their hand at slamming for the first time, Webber likes what poetry does for everyone, even himself.

“I could pay someone a hundred dollars to lay on a couch for an hour every week," Webber said. "I’d rather pay three bucks and go onstage and make people understand what’s going through my head.”

Two-term U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins didn’t start publishing poetry until he was already in his 40s — but now, even writings from his early childhood will be available at the Harry Ransom Center. 

Collins, now 72 years old, is one of the most widely read poets in America. Stephen Enniss, director of the Ransom Center, said Collins’ agent offered to add the expansive archive to its collection. The archive contains photos and compositions from Collins’ childhood, as well as diaries, datebooks, recordings and drafts of poems. 

Enniss said the Collins archive will be a worthy addition to the center’s poetry holdings.

“Billy Collins is a rare poet whose work has attracted a wide popular audience, and, at the same time, he has been recognized with some of the highest honors a poet in this country can earn,” Enniss said. 

Collins’ popularity has not made him immune to criticism. English professor William Scheick, who disagrees with Collins’ approach to poetry, said he still finds his work engaging.

“Collins is simply wrong about the nature of language, especially in narrative forms,” Scheick said. “Even so, Collins is clever, invitingly readable and, so, a delight to accompany into the experiences he celebrates.” 

English professor Kurt Heinzelman said he believes Collins’ work is important to the world of poetry.

“Billy Collins has given poetry a popularity and a performative stature that has been lacking since the time of Dylan Thomas and Robert Frost,” Heinzelman said.

Enniss said Collins’ collection of notebooks would be one of the more engaging features of the archive once it were to become available to patrons of the center.

“Certainly Collins’ manuscript notebooks, in which he works out the shape of a new poem, are some of the most fascinating things in the archive,” Enniss said.

The archive will be available at the Ransom Center once all the documents have been processed and catalogued.

Undergraduate English student Katherine Noble is the first undergraduate student ever awarded the Keene Prize for Literature. Photo courtesy of Annie Baker. 

Photo Credit: Annie Baker | Freelancer

Katherine Noble, a poet with long blonde hair and a way with words, has recently added another prize to her list.

The English department announced on Monday that Noble is the most recent recipient of the Keene Prize for Literature for her collection of poems "Like Electrical Fire Across Silence." The Prize, named after E. L. Keene who graduated from the University in 1942, is one of largest student literary prizes. The $50,000 award is granted once a year, and Nobel is the first undergraduate recipient. 

The Daily Texan chatted with Noble about her recent award, her inspiration and what's next.

The Daily Texan: Does this prize mean something different to you than the others you've been awarded as an undergrad? 

Katherine Noble: Receiving the Keene Prize has been a pretty overwhelming experience. I submitted without telling many people, and never thought I would place. It's humbling and meaningful to know your work is resonating with other people, especially when they don't know you personally.

DT: What ties the poems in this collection together?

Noble: These poems generally deal with themes of intimacy, both with God and in romantic relationships. The narrators in the poems struggle with the inevitable loneliness that sneaks up on you when you are alive. There is a loneliness that comes from engaging with a silent, intangible God, and a distinct loneliness present when you fall in love with other people. Not to mention the inevitable loneliness of childhood that no one likes to remember - that leashing loneliness you experience before you inherit your autonomy.


DT: Do you have a favorite poem that someone else wrote?

Noble: I am inspired by Corey Miller's poetry all the time. He is my significant other, so I am biased, but he is an incredibly talented poet. He is finishing his MFA through the Michener Center at UT and was a finalist for the Keene. Also, I have been on a Linda Gregg kick this semester, since she taught my friends at the Michener Center this spring. Her poem "Let Birds" makes you want to get really good at being alive.

DT: You studied Frank Stanford for your senior thesis. Do you see his influence anywhere in your own work? 

Noble: Frank is a monster. His poetry has influenced my life in general - he has taught me to be in awe of the world and to try to make meaning out of the quotidian. Frank was wild, brave and soft - which are all traits I hope to have during my lifetime. He also never stopped wrestling with God, as is evident in his poetry and his epic poem. I think we have that in common. One of my favorite quotes by him is: "Everyone wants to drive the hearse, but only the poet is willing to die."


DT: When did you start writing poetry? 

Noble: Early in elementary school. In fifth grade, a friend and I wrote a book of poems and "quotes to live by" called "A Handful of Gems." It was horrific. We made up inspirational truisms. One was "you can't roll a cube" which just isn't correct, because of the whole dice thing. It takes a long time to stop being bad at any art form, I think.


DT: What does your creative process look like? 

Noble: My creative process involves a large amount of time doing nothing, and then doing something. I go on long walks - in the graveyard connected to my backyard or around our neighborhood in east Austin. I think long walks are creative people's secret to success. That and a lot of alone time, which looks suspiciously like laziness to most other people.

We don't give our imaginations enough space to speak to us these days - or to invert the world into art. You have to let your brain suck stuff up, and then let it sit quietly and turn into metaphors and images and narratives. I spend too much time wandering around the world wide web, so I am guilty of this as well. Anyway, after I write a poem down, I edit it over the course of a few months. And I try to read as often and as broadly as I can. 


DT: Do you have plans for the collection after this? 

Noble: I am beginning a series based on the Via Dolorosa (Stations of the Cross) that doesn't involve Jesus explicitly. In the South, Christianity is the cultural vernacular - the Christian narrative is everywhere. It permeated my adolescence, so the myths come up again and again because they are so terrifying, lovely, and poetic.

Forcing the cliched vernacular about Jesus and sin and love into original and affecting language is difficult and meaningful to me. Maybe I'll grow out of it eventually. But as my favorite poet, Jack Gilbert said, "For the poet, there is no choice [of theme]. There is the single infinitely variable Theme. The single poetic theme of life and death. The question of what survives of the Beloved."

DT: What's next for you? 

Noble: I'm moving to Oregon for the summer to work as a groundskeeper at an old logging mill that has been converted into a cooperative for students. It's in the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument and it is the most beautiful place I've ever lived. Then, I'm coming back to Austin and considering going to graduate school. ​

 

A new book by Austin poet Ebony Stewart delves into the complexities of physical and sexual abuse, race, the love of mothers and cupcakes.

Ebony Stewart conveys her own truths and universal ones in “Love Letters to Balled Fists,” a collection of poems out February 28 by local publishing company Timber Mouse. Her first full-length published book mixes hard and soft, a reflection of her own identity as “The Gully Princess.”

“The gully part is more of a heavy hand, say what I gotta say I don’t give a damn,” Stewart said. “The other part is the love letters where I try to be sensitive and be vulnerable.”

Stewart started writing poetry when she was eight years old. She started performing her poetry live in 2005 and moved to Austin in 2007. She is active in the Austin slam scene and said Texas is a great place to be a performance poet. Most of the poems in the book were written over the last two years, and some as recently as a month ago.

She grew up surrounded by women after her mom divorced her abusive father. Today, she writes powerfully on the impact of women in her life and in her community.

The first poem, “Mosaic Women,” ends “These women, who carry a pen, a switchblade and bubble gum in their purses. I say these women, make the world go ‘round in verses.” The line sets up the rest of the book, which mixes up serious ideas with light commentary.

In “Cupcakes,” Stewart explains that she eats the sweet treats in lieu of vices like booze, weed or video games. A poem about the deliciousness of red velvet is suddenly a poem about sex and the failure of quick fixes.

The poems are confessional — Stewart called herself “a life writer” — and the author doesn’t shy away from sharing hard truths about her past. In “Domestic,” Stewart shares her experiences seeing and experiencing domestic violence.

Lines like: “For his best friend, who is also his roommate, and watched me lie on the floor in a fetal position, closed the door because it wasn’t his business, and listened to my skin split between his knuckles, congratulations on your baby girl,” pack a verbal punch that wakes the reader up.

Kevin Burke, another Austin slam poet, started Timber Mouse last year. “Love Letters To Balled Fists,” out Thursday, is the publishing company’s second book. To celebrate, Stewart and other poets will perform at a book release party at the 29th Street Ballroom Thursday at 7:30 p.m. The book is available online at Stewart’s website and the Timber Mouse website.

“Cupcake,” host of the Spiderhouse’s poetry slam, introduces each the first poet of the night. Austin Poetry Slams draw college students as both performers and spectators adding appeal to the art of slam poetry.

Photo Credit: Kiersten Holms | Daily Texan Staff

When Zach Caballero steps onto the stage, he hears the cheers and claps from the audience. He takes a second to breathe, and the room goes quiet. He has performed poetry across the nation from Los Angeles to Boston, yet the nerves still manage to creep in.

Caballero is a poet. After tagging along with his brother to slam poetry, a competition in which poets perform their work, Caballero, who was 12 at the time, began to cultivate an interest in the craft. Then he began writing poems of his own.
Slam poetry, or as Caballero refers to it, spoken word, is a form of performance art. Poets take the stage usually with their poems memorized and dramatically recite what they have written. The inflection of the voice, the movement of the body and the words they say are all a vital part to creating the slam poetry experience

During his senior year of high school, Caballero’s English teacher asked him what he was going to do with his writing. That simple question gave him the motivation to take a leap and perform his poetry. At a school talent show, Caballero took the stage and later received best dramatic performance, and he has been performing ever since.

“I feel this liberation every time I go on stage,” Caballero said. “I kept saying to myself, ‘This is definitely what I need to be doing.’”

By the time he entered UT as an English freshman last year, Caballero was no stranger to the stage. In an introductory meeting for an upcoming class, the professor was asking random students in the auditorium what their passion was. When asked, Caballero responded that he was interested in slam poetry. The professor asked him to perform a poem, and without hesitation, Caballero got up in front of about 300 students and performed.

“I just did it,” Caballero said. “There was applause; I even made one girl cry, unintentionally of course. To this day, people come up to me and say, ‘Hey you’re that poet!’”

Caballero can be found every Tuesday evening at 29th Street Ballroom performing his work at Austin Poetry Slam competitions. Because of its move to the 29th Street location, Austin Poetry Slam has seen an influx of young college students both in its audience and as performers.

“It’s kind of like my church,” said public relations senior Victoria Daughtrey. “Whenever I feel uninspired or down or just that my soul needs some rejuvenating, I go to slam poetry and instantly feel inspired.”

Inspiration is what Caballero hopes the audience will get from his poetry. He writes about the things that are on his mind, whether it be love, current events or his tattoo of his favorite “Great Gatsby” quote: “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

“I want my poetry to matter,” Caballero said. “I want what I do to matter and I want what I say to matter because I think that if it matters to me, maybe it will matter to someone else.”

According to Caballero, slam poetry is making poetry cool. At Austin Slam, there are so many people signing up to perform each Tuesday that a new system had to be developed that allows everyone a chance to perform at some point.

“Poetry, besides being an art in itself, is self-expression,” said English senior Jomar Valentin, a fellow slam poetry performer. “It shouldn’t be constrained on a page. It takes on a life of its own. Every poem has a different story.”

Austin Slam has become a community not just of poets, but also of poetry lovers. Each Tuesday, the ballroom is filled with a welcoming crowd of outgoing people waiting to envelop themselves in the energy and liveliness that makes poetry slam the place to be, Caballero said.

“Tuesdays help me keep my sanity,” Caballero said. “I step off that stage, look back, have that sigh moment and then just leave everything on the stage.”

STOCKHOLM — Swedish poet Tomas Transtromer won Nobel literature prize on Thursday.

According to the 2011 Nobel Prize in literature citation, he was awarded “because, through his condensed, transluscent images, he gives us fresh access to reality.”

After publishing poems in a number of journals, Transtromer published “17 dikter” (17 poems) in 1954, “one of the most acclaimed literary debuts of the decade."

Compiled from Associated Press reports