What I'm Up to For National Poetry Month and Beyond

 April and May in My Poetry-landia

APRIL

All month: 
Read + Write: 30 Days of Poetry:
 https://cuyahogalibrary.org/blog/poetry

All year, I collect names of Northeast Ohio poets to curate into a weblog for the Cuyahoga County Public Library's month-long celebration, consisting of a poem a day by a local poet, a prompt by me and some extra fun stuff like book suggestions, responses by readers. This is our eleventh year, without repeating any poets  (with a few exceptions due to lost files). I don't think there are many areas of the country where a site could find over 300 excellent poets to feature, but Northeast Ohio definitely has them. The 30 poets this year are:

Tom Barlow, Elizabeth Beck, Stephen Bellamy, Elijah Perseus Blumov,  Dana Burtin, Chuck Carlisle, Neil Carpathios, Danielle Nicholle Dixon, Jacquie People Dukes, Charlene Fix, Dom Fonce, Siarra Freeman, Kelly Hambly, Samantha Imperi, Angel James, Cora McCann Liderback, Rose Marry, Tommy Mihalopoulos, Corey Miller, Scott Minar, Lynda Montgomery, Kourtney Morrow, Terry Murcko, Maxwell Nobis, Elana Pitts, Mallory Rader, Andrew Rihn, Stephanie Sesic, Toni K Thayer, and Vance Voyles.


Saturday, April 6 at 1:00 p.m. in the Cleveland Public Library, Main 

My poem, "Total Solar Eclipse" will be a part of a staged reading titled The Gift of Darkness, directed by Christine Howey. Other contributing writers are: Cathy Barber, Kate Barlow, Liz Breazeale, Aja Dandridge, Sarah Halko, Ann O'Mara Heyward, Meredith Holmes, Kat Karney, Lara Lillibridge, Ray McNiece, Philip Metres, Mimi Plevin-Foust, Geoffrey Polk, Story Rhinehart, Vincent L. Robinson, Deborah Taddeo, Laura Maylene Walter, Rebecca Waud, and Timothy Wutrich. 

Thursday, April 11 at 9:30 on Zoom 
I am meeting with my writer's group, the 811's (which I affectionately and I think hilariously call the "Ate Elevens.") This isn't public, but this is my chance to thank Laurie Kincer, Laura Weldon, Richard Ferris, and Geoff Polk for being well-read, careful, and demanding readers, and terrific writers and people and great snackers. Their capacity for meeting outside in cold wet weather around a fire pit is a tad higher than mine, but I have weathered it all and loved every minute. 


Saturday, April 27, 1:00-3:00 p.m. at Spring Hill Historic Farm 
The Underground Railroad Whistle Stop Tour

I will be one of four poets reading our own social justice poems as well as the works of African-American poets from the period when Spring Hill Farm was a site of the Underground Railroad. I am thrilled to be invited to this event as the farm is a few miles from my grade school, from where our teachers took us to tour the house and learn the lessons of slavery. I will never forget the hidden staircase. Following the reading, you can take that same tour. The address is 1401 Springhill Lane NE, Massillon, OH 44646. Locals will know it as the white house on the hill on Wales Road where it is intersected by Lake Road.

MAY

Thursday, May 2 at 5:30 p.m. "Muse at the Museum" ekphrastic poetry at the Allen Art Museum in Oberlin

I'll be reading my poem, "Goya Diptych," on two Goya etchings in the Allen exhibit. This reading is special to me in two ways. First, I lived and taught in Oberlin my difficult years after college, two doors down from the museum, where my 85-year old landlord worked as a docent while he did needlepoint. And Goya is an artist whose most difficult heart-breaking works have been in my heart since I studied "Saturn Devouring His Son" at the Prado in 1971. Then too, Lynn Powell, Oberlin poet extraordinaire curated this show. 


Saturday, May 11 at 4:00 p.m. at Uncloistered Poetry in Toledo, OH

I will be reading with two of my most long-standing, beloved, talented friends, Tom Barlow and Don Cellini. If you are anywhere near Toledo, come hear us. Here is a bit about them:

Tom Barlow, born in Canton, Ohio, is the author of poetry, short stories and novels. His father and both grandfathers were steelworkers back during the years when Canton was a boom town.  These people and that blue collar world still find their way into many of his poems. His work has appeared in journals including Trampoline, Ekphrastic Review, Voicemail Poetry, Hobart, Tenemos, Redivider, The North Dakota Quarterly, The New York Quarterly, The Modern Poetry Quarterly, and many more. See more at tombarlowauthor.com.

Don Cellini  is a poet, translator, and photographer. He is the author of six collections of his poetry, most bilingual, including Approximations/ Aproximaciones and Candidates for Sainthood and Other Sinners / Aprendices del santo. In addition, he has published books of translations by three Mexican poets. A recipient of fellowships from the King Juan Carlos foundation and the National Endowment for the Humanities, he is professor emeritus at Adrian College. He divides his time between Toledo, Ohio and Savannah, Georgia. More at https://www.doncellini.com/


Friday, May 17, at 4:00 p.m. in the Kent State School of Architecture and Environmental Design in Kent, OH
https://www.edithchasesymposium.org/#

My poem, "The Jackson Bog" will be featured in my reading and in the book that's assembled each year of poems by Ohio poets on the environmental theme, which this year is, "Embracing Wetlands."


Saturday, May 18, Noon to 4:00 p.m. at Memorial Park, Stuka Day 
(next to The National Museum of the US Air Force, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, OH)
https://www.afterglowkennels.com/stuka/


This is an event to recognize Stuka, a Scottie who flew in the B-17 called "The Memphis Belle" duirng WWII. I will be speaking about my dad, Russ Kendig, who flew 17 missions in a B-17 called "The Top Hat" out of Thorpe Abbotts, the base which is still there, a museum, in England. Dad did not have a Scottie there, but he always had dogs, and when he returned home, Grandma Kendig, a big fan of FDR and her eight sons (four of them in the war) got him a Scottie to replace his dog at home that died while he was in the service. That was Lassie, my first dog as a child. I have had six since then, including the two who will be with me that day.












Whistle Stop Tour: Spring Hill Farm, April 27, 2024

 

Saturday, 27 April 2024

1-3:00 
3:30-4:00 


My local historical site, Spring Hill Farm, an  original Underground Railroad site, is hosting the Ohio Underground Railroad Whistle Stop Tour on the 27th, and I am very happy to be performing there, along with Atlas (Elijah Elliott), Courtney Morrow, Jessica Jones, and Quartez Harris. 

The five of us will be reading historical antislavery poems, as well as our own poems about contemporary justice issues. The tour, sponsored by Poets Against Racism and Hate USA, is traveling around Ohio to other places I have lived and been associated with, including Oberlin, and I am especially grateful to be included at this site, which is part of my own grade school history. My grade school, Watson Elementary, took my on a tour of Spring Hill


over 50 years ago, and the stories of slavery and escape that I heard there remain in my heart even now. I remember the tour guide saying, "Next we will be going to the hidden staircase."

After the reading and the Q and A on the 27th, there will be time to socialize. The authors will have books for sale. And at 3:30, the tour will be available to everyone for free, which is an exceptional gift from the Home, which usually charges $10 for a tour. (You can see a one-minute video of some of the inside of the home at this page.

I highly recommend the event for people interested in local Ohio history and poetry. Many of the historical poets have Ohio roots. Many of them have good, rhymed poetry, which some of you love and complain there isn't enough of. (I'll even be reading one or two of my rhymed poems.) If it's been along time since you've been to Spring Hill Farm, maybe it's time to go back. If you've never been, here is a great opportunity.



JOURNAL ENTRY: VISITING RUSSELL ATKINS for the HOLIDAYS

JOURNAL ENTRY

Sunday, December 19th - 


I drove in the driving rain to visit Russell, taking a pink poinsettia (one of his favorite colors), cookies, a thermos of very hot, sweet coffee, two prints of the Cleveland Museum of Art, and a homemade book of 30 perfume-paged samples, titled Aromatics for Russell.

When I arrived, he was asleep and a curious attendant shook him brusquely, raised the headboard just a bit  and hollered, "Wake up, wake up. You have a visitor."  Russell responded, "I'm dying. I'm dying." "No you're not," the attendant harumphed. I said, "He's fine. He'll wake up. Or I'll just sit here." The attendant walked out.

Gradually, Russell came to, and I offered plastic spoonsful of coffee, which really woke him up. He loves strong caffeinated very sugared up coffee and was wide-eyed, cheerful. Not always coherent but he talked on many topics, often coherently

He tried three of the "aromatics" pages, including Chanel No. 5, which he has always loved, and he claimed to perceive all of them. (I have some doubts. A lot of people lose smell with age or covid, both of which he's had.)     


 Then I had him look at the two CMS cards. One is a postcard that shows the building in daytime and then in dark (its lights go on pink) as you tilt it. He could see it, and we used it to talk about the night Paul and I took him to accept the Cleveland Arts Prize for Lifetime Achievement. I reminded him he was the only one who received a standing ovation that night. That was after he gave his (unplanned) speech, and Sunday he seemed pleased for me to recall it. Then we looked at the other card, based on a painting by an artist who won the CA prize the year before Russell, "And Russell," I said, "he died a year later." "He what?" "He died, the year you won it" And he smiled and laughed softly, not disrespectfully, at the irony, so surprised he is at "still kicking."

Although he wasn't always coherent, he was talkative and cheerful. We spoke of the Simons. I told him I am trying to write an article on Adelaide. She died so young (of breast cancer) that a lot of people have forgotten her, but she was a big part of Free Lance,  I said. "Yes, she was," he repeated emphatically. He recalled the photo of Martin Simon that I showed him this past summer, and he remembered it: "A large photo of Martin at his cello," that ran with Martin's obituary.

Russell ate two mini-cupcakes (one chocolate, one vanilla, though his preference is white cake with chocolate frosting, which I couldn't find), a 2-bite brownie, and a homemade soft chocolate chip, which he spit the nuts out from. (He has no teeth and is on all soft food now.) This on top of the lunch he had polished off half an hour earlier. "All of it," the attendant reported. "He still has a really great appetite." He drank the whole large cup of coffee, three sugars. (May his nurses and diabetes forgive me, but he so loves it.)

I was hoping I could bring myself to stay for 45 minutes, but I looked at my phone, and an hour and a half had fled by, and I needed to get out before the Browns' fans hit the highway. Russell grew pensive and said, "I've done writing and music. I wonder what I'll do next. I think I'll try painting." 

I looked at him, nearly flat on his back and said, "How about if I bring you a set of pastels?"

He looked at me, "But that wouldn't be paint, would it?"

"But Russell, where would we put the paint? Here in the bed. How about water colors?" At least, I thought, we could just rinse the brushes with water.

He looked at me and began to outline the problems with working in water colors: it pools, the paper gets wavery....

I flashed on a mental photo of Kahlo, lying back, a canvas propped over her, a paint brush in her hand. Who cleaned up after that? 

He is having problems gripping. He couldn't even grip the cupcake. I had to help. But I know if I brought paint in, he'd paint with his teeth if he had to

He is bull-headed, just like another Russell I knew: my dad, whose birthday was one year and one week from Russell's. The two knew about each other, but never met. Some people might call Russell a nicer word like "persistent" or "determined." But I am sticking with the word "stubborn." It means "not open to change," and it fits.  Russell was change, and he wasn't about to change even when the whole literary world ignored him, bid him write about protest and the present and forget his wacky punctuation and syntax, his interest in Cleveland and buses and cemeteries. The world came around, thanks to Kevin Prufer, his editor and literary executor. 

Russell will be 98 in February. If you haven't read him yet, read his book World'd Too Much. Catch up with him.


AI Takes a Crack at Being my Poetry, and I'm Like "Wha?"

Recently, my dear friend Robin Johnson sent me a poem titled "Silent Stones," prefaced with, "So what do you think of this?" 
I dread getting poems from strangers who want to know what I think when what they mean is,  tell me this is a great poem, ready to publish. I usually try to answer as politely as I can that I prefer not to respond to work of someone I don't know, suggesting they find a poetry group to get feedback from, thanking them sincerely for thinking of me, but how I am overwhelmed just now (as I have been most waking moments of my life).  I was going to hold off showing it to you, but here we are in the narrative, so here it is:

Silent Stones

The stones are silent,
But they carry the weight
Of a thousand stories,
Whispers of forgotten lives.

They've seen empires rise and fall,
Watched as time slipped away,
Witnessed the joy and pain
Of generations come and gone.

And yet, they remain still,
Steadfast and resolute,
A testament to endurance,
An anchor in an ever-changing world.

So when you pass by a stone,
Take a moment to listen,
For within its silent surface
Lies a tale waiting to be told.


But Robin is no stranger, and I knew this wasn't her writing. She does write, but I think of her primarily as an actress and director in Minneapolis-St. Paul (and a wonderful one, best known for her portrayal of Elizabeth I in Timothy Findley's Elizabeth Rex.) She also is worlds ahead of me in using technology; she builds a website in the time it takes me to pull up a page. I thought it might be the poem of a friend of hers who was desperate for...something. I skimmed it, cast my eyes to the skies, looked up the title and saw a new book with the same title as the poem so replied, hoping to sound more insightful than I was being, "Nice. Is it a Susan Cummins poem?"

Robin replied, way too enthusiastically:
Oh, thank God you approve! (maybe not for much longer) I was messing with ChatGPT last night and I asked it if it knew who you were. It responded yes and proceeded to list your CV. I then asked it to write a poem “in the style of Diane Kendig” and this is what it came up with. After I shared it, I thought “What will you say if she tells you she hates it?” I don’t know how you feel about artificial intelligence, but there it is… aspiring to be you.


I reread the poem over and over, trying to see what of me was in that poem. I have never written about stones. I may never have written the word "stone." Not crags or rocks or overhangs. To my discredit, I seldom write poems about nature at all, especially not her more inanimate subjects. A bit on deer, skunks, dogs, a coyote... okay, one on water. Still, no stones. The end-stops of most of the lines drove me crazy, and ending with the imperative struck me so hard, I went back and re-read all of my poems online. Not a single imperative in any of them. Oh, and I only ever capitalized every line in ONE poem in which I was trying to capture an 18th century feel, and it's not online. And the
clich├ęs were killing me: rise and fall, joy and pain, ever-changing world, tale waiting to be told. Yikes!

And then, my decades-asleep paranoia awoke, and I thought, "What if other poets think I write like this?" (Note, I didn't think, "Do I write like this?" ah, haha.) And I sent it to my monthly poetry group, saying, "I can give you the backstory if you want it, but don't spend too much time on this one." We never give backstories until we have eviscerated the poems, but I hated to think of Laurie, Laura, and Richard trying to breathe life into this, or pick at commas in order to have something to say. No one wanted a backstory.

Still, when the group met, I couldn't help myself and against all our protocols, I quickly blabbed a one-sentence backstory. One person said, "I thought to myself, 'This doesn't even sound like Diane.'" I so should have shut-up and listened to what they thought on their own reading, but I couldn't because something about this really unhinged me. (For one thing, it thinks I am my CV, so there's that.) I don't even know ChatGPT, but it purports to know me. It might say, like my students used to, "But I didn't have enough ti-i-i-ime," which is how Robin explained it:

BTW, that poem was generated in about 10 seconds. It took that little time for it to scan the ‘web and cull from your work.

 I sent Robin an email pointing out the many troublesome aspects of this poem I would never write, and she pointed out that it was her first go at working with ChatGT, and one would need to be much more specific in telling it what to do. I mean, uh, coaxing it along.

She's right, as was exemplified in the recent NYT article "A.I. Is an Expert At Making Bad Art." The article insists that the right artist can get A.I. to do better, just as a good teacher can help a willing student to write better. The article follows a visual artist as he coaches A.I. in improving its imitation of him: "[S]ome of the first experiments were underwhelming: blobby landscapes, figures drawn without brushstrokes, flat abstractions...." And then, the artist critiques A.I., and the work improves.

But where would I begin with instructing this particular poem? Suggest a new topic, like my current landscaping endeavors? No land(es)caping endeavors. Think about what Rebecca Dunham is saying about contemporary pastorals. About Keats. Did he write about stones? (*googling*): One stoney metaphor's all. That's enough on stones. Maybe grass. Fescue as one poet recently wrote. 

I think I'd just prefer to read a poem. Or write another poem. Which is exactly what I am going to go do. It will not be about stones.


(Many thanks to Robin for continuing to show the way through technology and art and education. )

MY SUMMER AUTHOR EVENTS:

Workshops, Writings, Booksales, & more! 

(Most of these are open to the public. *NP if not public)

June 2 - First Friday in Canton, 5-9 p.m.
My book of poems and essays about the Spanish artist Maria Blanchard, Woman with a Fan goes on sale in the Canton Museum of Art Gift shop. The Canton Museum of Art is free on First Fridays. Come on downtown and see me in the museum 5:00 -7:00 and visit all the neat activities for this month's theme, "Chalk the Walk," in the museum and out on the street.

June 3 - Street Poetry Project in Cleveland,  5-7 p.m.
 I will be joining the "Free Poetry Project" to write poems on request using typewriters. The brain child of Geoff Polk, I will join him and Cherie Bullock to fill pages with poetry on demand for a private gala fundraiser for the Cleveland Borderlight (Fringe) August 3-5 Festival. The Chicago version of our event is "Poems While You Wait," by Kathleen Rooney, et. al. Read about them here. 

Along with my neighbor, Vance Voyles, author of Soldier's Heart and other works, I'll be selling and signing my books, including Prison Terms, about my 18 years in medium security, and Woman with a Fan, about Spanish Painter, Maria Blanchard. At Hartwick Park, on the 13th Street, between Perry H.S. and Edison Middle School. Bring a picnic!

*NP July 5 & 26 - Creative Writing Workshop for families
The Canton City Schools are sponsoring arts workshops for homeless families, and I am excited to be a part of this activity, leading  participants in making "Cut-Out" poems and "Color-Out" poems. 




WOMAN WITH A FAN, LINK 4: review

 Woman with a Fan, Link to Kaleidoscope

Kaleidoscope Magazine,  a journal "exploring the experience of disability through Literature and the Fine Arts," published my first poem about Maria Blanchard in 2009, and now they have published a three page review on the book in a wonderful layout with several photos of Blanchard's work. 





I invite you to read the whole wonderful issue and to find the review on page 66 (65 on TOC) here: Summer Fall Online 2022

I am grateful to the thoughtful reviewer, Sandra J. Lindlow, whom I do not know at all but I  you can find more about her, including the poem, "If Your Clothes Catch Light" at the link on her name. She has nine poetry collections, most recently, Chasing Wild Grief and a recent scholarly book on the Nigerian-American writer, Nnedi Okorafor: Magic, Myth, Morality and the Future 
coming out this fall.