Monday, July 25, 2016

Monday Muse: New Virginia Poet Laureate

. . . one of the important things that all art can do [is]: invite first
the artist and then the audience to reconsider life on different
terms. To the extent that we can imagine ourselves in other lives,
we increase our capacities for compassion and invention.
~ Tim Seibles*

Tim Seibles is Virginia's eighteenth Poet Laureate. His appointment was announced July 15, 2016. 

Seibles, who continues in the post through June 30, 2018, succeeds Ron Smith (2014-2016).

Information about the legislatively created post is included in my Monday Muse profile of the late Claudia Emerson (2008-2010). Others who have served include Sofia M. Starnes (2012-2014) and Kelly Cherry (2010-2012).

* * * * *

. . . when I write a poem, I'm imagining anybody
and everybody as my audience (though, surely,
people of different backgrounds will understand
my poems in different ways).*

Self-described "ambassador of the arts", Philadelphia-born Tim Seibles is the author, most recently, of Body Moves (Corona Press, 1988; Carnegie Mellon Classic Contemporaries Series Poetry, 2013) and Fast Animal (Etruscan Press, 2012). The latter was a finalist for the 2012 National Book Award.

Seibles's One Turn Around the Sun is scheduled to publish on February 14, 2017. (Hear him read the title poem.)

The poet's other books include Buffalo Head Solos (Cleveland State University Poetry Center, 2004), a collection of persona poemsHammerlock (CSU Poetry Center, 1999), and Hurdy-Gurdy (CSU Poetry Center, 1992). In addition, Seibles has published the chapbooks Ten Miles an Hour (Mille Grazie Press, 1998) and Kerosene (Ampersand Press, 1995).

A poem is an invitation to think hard about the human
condition, to recognize differences in experience and
to see our own struggles in the lives/voices of others. . . .**

. . . The tradition that interests me most is the tradition of
employing language with great care to capture something
essential about our time in the world. . . .**

Among the many subjects that Seibles addresses in his poetry are sexual discovery, love, spirituality, race, poverty, religion, innocence, loneliness, identity, self-awareness, childhood and adulthood, life's fragility, remembrance, power and vulnerability, the African past and present, sports, and animals. He salts his poems with numerous cultural references and allusions, from films to cartoon characters, to Greek and Roman myths, to politics; black vernacular or other slang, and what he describes as "highfalutin words"; and quotations from international poetry and other languages, especially African languages. Seibles's imagery is inventive, sometimes oddly juxtaposed, never stale, often sensual and consciously sexual. ("I try to embrace many facets of the sexual world in my poems," he told a Bucknell interviewer, adding, "This is one way for a poet to oppose those forces in the culture who fear this beautiful and mysterious aspect of our humanity.") His diction can be playful, sparkling with touches of humor, as well as lyrical. Rhyme also marks his work. Though he writes primarily free verse, Seibles also uses traditional forms, such as odes, ballads, and villanelles. He gives attention to line and stanza breaks and where he allows pauses (notice his spacing of words). He excels at poems in long form, which tend to run from 150 lines to 400 lines(!).

Following are excerpts from several of Seibles's poem, which I think are especially notable for their lyricism, beautiful, even startling images, and music. Notice, too, in the third excerpt (from an extraordinary poem) Seibles's use of metaphor, similes, and effective repetition. The energy in his poems is propulsive.

Early day, early summer, liquid sunlight
soaking the city and crape myrtle trees bring back
their pink and purple blooms: how can it happen
again, again—Earth spins and dawn unwraps
the night world as if to say show me a story
and the eyes blink

and hearts turn over—something like engines, maybe
like clocks—and not only in beds [. . . .]
~ from "One Turn Around the Sun"

Dusk in the body
      starlight near the heart.

One half-lit street
      heading into night: now

the insects magnify
      their small vocabularies [. . . .]
~ from "Walk"

Her mouth
fell into my mouth
like a summer snow, like a 
5th season, like a fresh Eden,
like Eden when Eve made God
whimper with the liquid
tilt of her hips—
her kiss hurt like that—[. . . .]
~from "First Kiss" (for Lips)* from Buffalo Head Solos

* Hear Seibles read "First Kiss".

Poems by Seibles have appeared in such literary periodicals as The Artful Dodge, Beloit Poetry JournalBlack American Literary Forum, Black Renaissance Noire, CallalooCortland ReviewDark Eros, Electronic Poetry ReviewHuizacheIndiana ReviewThe Kenyon Review, Massachusetts ReviewNew England Review, New Letters, Ploughshares, Rattle, and Red Brick Review.

Seibles's poem "Sotto Voce: Othello, Unplugged" is anthologized in The Best American Poetry 2013 (Scribner, 2013); his poem "Allison Wolff" is in The Best American Poetry 2010 (Scribner, 2010).

Some other anthologies that include Seibles's work are Of Poetry and Protest: From Emmett Till to Trayvon Martin (Kindle Edition; W.W. Norton, June 2016), The 100 Best African American Poems (Sourcebooks MediaFusion, 2010), Black Nature: Four Centuries of African American Nature Poetry (University of Georgia Press, 2009), Seriously Funny, and So Much Things to Say (Akashic Books, 2010). The anthologies Autumn House Contemporary American PoetryOutsiders: Poems About Rebels, Exiles and Renegades (Milkweed Editions, 1999), Verse and Universe: Poems About Science and Mathematics (Milkweed Editions, 1998), E. Ethelbert Miller's In Search of Color Everywhere, New American Poets of the '90s (Godine, 1991), and A Way Out of No Way: Writing about Growing Up Black in America  (EdgeBooks, 1996) also feature Seibles's work. 

Seibles has been the recipient of a number of awards, among them the 2013 PEN Oakland Literary Award (Poetry), for Fast Animal; the 2014 Theodore Roethke Memorial Poetry Prize; fellowships (Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center, 1991; and National Endowment for the Arts, 1990), the 2009-2010 post as Poet-in-Residence at Bucknell University; and the Open Voice Award (National Writers Voice Project). He also is the holder of an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from Misericordia University. In addition, artist Scott Stanton (a.k.a. Panhandle Slim) painted Seibles's portrait, one of eight decorating the walls of Payne Hall at Savannah State University.

A professor of English at Old Dominion University, Norfolk, Virginia, where he teaches in both the English Department and MFA writing program, Seibles also leads or has led workshops for Cave Canem and the Zora Neale Hurston-Richared Wright Foundation; is a teaching board member of The Muse Writers Center, in Norfolk, Virginia; and teaches in the low-residency Stonecoast MFA creative writing program at the University of Southern Maine. In addition, he visits colleges and universities, as well as middle and high schools, to read and demonstrate his love of poetry, conduct workshops, or lecture. He attends many poetry festivals in the United States and abroad.


Photo Credit: John-Henry Doucette

All Poetry Excerpts © Tim Seibles

* Quoted from Bucknell Interview (See link below.)

** Quoted from Poem of the Week Interview (See link below.)

Office of the Governor, "Govenor McAuliffe Announces Administration Appointments", News Release, July 15, 2016

Tim Seibles Poetry Online: "Magnifying Glass" and "Mosaic", Both at Poetry Foundation; "Faith" at Split This Rock; "Ode to My Hands" at Academy of American Poets; "Slow Dance" at Got Me a Nice Little Place in the Stars Blog; "Dolores Jepps" at Etruscan Press (pdf); "Trying for Fire" at Tim Seibles's FaceBook Page"; "Harvest Moon" on YouTube; "Ode to My Hands" (Excerpt) at Lannan Center for Poetics and Social Practice; "One Turn Around the Sun" at  Heart Journal (Human Equity Through Art); "Ode to My Hands" at PoemHunter; "At 59" at Beloit Poetry Journal (pdf); "Vendetta, May 2006" at Institute for Policy Studies; "Walk" at Massachusetts Review (pdf); "Blade, Historical" at The Cortland Review; "Blade, The Day Walker" at The Nerds of Color; "Mad Poets Villanelle" at Noctuary Blog; "Dawn" and "Vendetta, May 2006", Both at Eleven Eleven Journal of Literature & Art; "Ambition II: Mosquito in the Mist" in Black Nature on GoogleBooks (Also at Will Nixon); "Love Poem" on Peels of Poetry on Tumblr; "4am" and "Edge", Both at Sweetlit; "Dolores Epps" at From the Fishouse; "Trying for Fire" at Poem of the Week; "Each Letter", "Kerosene", and "The Caps on Backward", All at Smith College Poetry Center; "Hardie" at JStor; "The Good City" at Recession Proof on Tumblr; "Midnight, the Coyote, Down in the Mouth" at DailyMotion (Text and Video); "For Brothers Everywhere" at Kansas Poets (Lesson Plans); "Allison Wolff" at The Wednesday Poet Blog; "Free" at Poetry Paths; "Lobster for Sale" at kaBoom! Blog (Video); "Not on My Watch", "The Sparkle in the Night" (Excerpt), "Free", "Being Free", "Memorial Address on the Life and Character of Thaddeus Stevens" (Excerpt), All at Poetry Paths (jpg); "First Kiss" at From the Fishouse; "What It Comes Down To" in Texas in Poetry 2 at GoogleBooks (pp 228-230)

Seibles reads 20 of his poems at "Tim Seibles Poetry Reading" on YouTube.

Tim Seibles's TEDxNASA Talk, "Why Poetry? (YouTube)

"Siebles Earns Theodore Roethke Poetry Prize", Midland Daily News, July 7, 2014

Tim Seibles, "In Sound: Some Reflections on Jimi Hendrix" at Drunken Boat

Jim Morekis, "Tim Seibles: 'We need laughter as much as the capacity to be serious' | Acclaimed Poet Is One of Several Special Guests at Savannah State University Event for National Poetry Month", Connect Savannah, July 18, 2016

Emily Jones, "Savannah State Unveils Portraits of Local, National Poets", GPB News (NPR), April 21, 2016

AdmineJ, "Tim Seibles: A Demanding Voice", Distinction, November 15, 2014

Richard Osler's "The Kiss of a Shark and Feet of a Sparrow: The Poems of Tim Seibles" at Recovering Words, October 27, 2014

Haley Hastings, "Tim Seibles Strives to Build Poetry Fans with His Readings", Missourian, September 16, 2008

Joshua Barnes, "The Writer's Block: A Video Q&A with Tim Seibles", Sampsonia Way Magazine, July 3, 2014 (The video also is found at Poets & Writers, where it was posted in March 2015.)

Remica Bingham-Risher, "Tim Seibles: Interview", Mosaic Magazine, March 13, 2014

Nathan Summerlin, "An Interview with Tim Seibles" at Etruscan Press

Will Willson, "Tim Seibles: A Poet's Poet", Q&A, Mace & Crown (ODU), September 18, 2013

Alan W. King, "Ice Cold | Tim Seibles on Teaching, Privacy, and His National Book Award-Nominated 'Fast Animal'", BOMB, December 6, 2012

Alan W. King, "Tim Seibles: A Product of Sweat and Patience", November 2, 2012

John-Henry Doucette, "Writing Craft, Vol. X: Poet Tim Seibles, Author of Fast Animal (Part One)", May 17, 2012; and "Writing Craft, Vol. X: Poet Time Seibles, Author of Fast Animal (Part Two)", May 22, 2012

Kate Peterson, Interview with Tim Seibles, National Book Foundation, 2012

Erica Smith, "ODU Professor Makes 'Best American Poetry' Anthology", Q&A, The Virginian-Pilot Online, April 3, 2011

Kirstin van der Gracht, "An Interview with Tim Seibles, 2010 Poet-in-Residence", Bucknell University
Erika Runke, Podcast with Tim Seibles, WVIA Radio ArtScene

Andrew McFadyen-Ketchum, "An Interview with Tim Seibles", Poem of the Week, October 5, 2007

Review of Fast Animal at Nervous Poodle Poetry, June 26, 2016

Review of Fast Animal at Words Dance, May 2015

Review of Buffalo Head Solos at Bookslut, February 2005

Etruscan Press (Wilkes University, Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania)

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