Monday, January 24, 2011

Monday Muse: Virginia's Poet Laureate

. . . Freedom for a writer is being able to access
whatever is needed for a particular piece of work.
~ Kelly Cherry*

Kelly Cherry has succeeded Claudia Emerson as Virginia's Poet Laureate.

I wrote about Emerson and the uncompensated Poet Laureate position here. Be sure to check that post also for its Resources section.

Cherry, appointed in 2010 (Governor Robert McDonnell made an announcement on January 14, 2011), will serve through 2012.

* * * * *
. . . all I know is that I have to write.*

Virginia's 15th Poet Laureate, Kelly Cherry is a poet, novelist, award-winning short story writer, memoirist, essayist, translator, playwright, and literary critic. Her most recent poetry collections are a book-length sonnet sequence, The Retreats of Thought: Poems (LSU Press, 2009), and Hazard and Prospect: New and Selected Poems (LSU Press, 2007). Among her other volumes of poetry are Rising Venus: Poems (LSU Press, 2002), Death and Transfiguration: Poems (LSU Press, 1997), and Relativity: A Point of View (Carnegie-Mellon University Press, 2000). Her first published poetry collection was Lovers and Agnostics (Carnegie-Mellon University Press; paperback edition, 1995). Cherry's collection of short reviews about contemporary poets, History, Passion, Freedom, Death, and Hope: Prose About Poetry (University of Tampa Press), was published in 2005.

Cherry's poems take as their subjects love, marriage and divorce, death and loss, sex, nature, science, truth, beauty, artists and writers, money, music, history, and femaleness and femininity, to name just a few. The breadth of her intellectual curiosity is enormous. Her poems may be just several lines or long narratives. They may or may not rhyme, be in metered or free verse, lyrical or meditative, witty or philosophical (especially so in The Retreats of Thought, where she ranges over questions about luck, time, relativity, space, string theory, writing, the self, and scores of other topics).

Note in the following examples not only the diversity of subject but also the tone of voice, the restrained yet evident emotion, the poet's use of enjambment, the skillful way she changes and adapts her structures to what she needs to say.

You're meat and salt,
nine-tenths water; you live on a  rock,
craning your neck

to see; you have always felt
something was watching you. [. . .]
~ From "Paranoia" in Hazard and Prospect

The paintings were of what wasn't there,
as if of the shadow of air.

It smothered you like a pillow, or plastic,
that air you painted, dark and drastic

as all absence, all loss. [. . .]
~ From "Rothko" in Rising Venus

Unconscious, says the doctor, speaking of
his patient who has slipped into a coma,
your dying mother, whom you surely love
despite your scars, your open wounds, the trauma
of never being who she wished that she
had been [. . . .]
~ From "My Mother, Dying" in The Retreats of Thought

And if—and if—? Would that have been enough
for you? I think you always looked for more—
more anything. More everything. [. . .]
~ From "As If a Star" in Death and Transfiguration

God is dead, having been stuffed into an oven
like meat. God is dead, having been eaten.
Blood is what we batten on. Therefore, love is lying,
light is scattered like bread crumbs at the creek's edge,
and free will is the reflection of time's wings in water.
My heart is shattered in the pebbled shallows and lost in the sedge.
People are dying.
~ "Themes" in  God's Loud Hand: Poems

The first recipient of the Hanes Award for Poetry (1989), Cherry also has been honored with a Dictionary of Literary Biography Award (2000), several PEN/Syndicated Fiction Awards, a Rockefeller Foundation fellowship (2009), and Bread Loaf, du Pont, and National Endowment for the Arts fellowships. (For a more complete list of Cherry's many awards, go here.)

Cherry's fiction, nonfiction, and poetry have been published widely, both in anthologies, including An Endless Skyway: Anthology, forthcoming in March from Ice Cube Books,  and numerous literary magazines and periodicals, including Cortland Review, Virginia Quarterly Review, AgniPoetryPer ContraPrairie SchoonerAtlantic Monthly, Cave Wall, Southern Poetry Review, Sow's EarGeorgia Review, and Esquire.

Professor Emerita at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Cherry has been a writer-in-residence at Hollins University in Roanoke, Virginia, and a Fellow of the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. In addition to her appointment as Eudora Welty Professor of English and Evjue-Bascom Professor in the Humanities at UW-Madison, Cherry holds distinguished writer positions at a number of other colleges and universities, including Colgate University and Hollins University. 


Photo Credit: © 2009 by Burke Davis III (Davis, a fiction writer, is Cherry's husband.)

All Poetry Excerpts © Kelly Cherry

* Quoted in Interview with Kelly Cherry at Iambic Admonit, August 16, 2010 (This is particularly informative in its discussion of vision, craft, and subjects, and it shows Cherry to be a writer of fierce independence. As she says, "Taking cues from others, whether they are writers or not, limits one's work." She scoffs at any notion that a writer would want her work to be considered "typical". I especially appreciated her statement, "I like art that is unafraid of human feeling.")

"Halifax County Produces Newest Poet Laureate", in SoVaNow, January 17, 2011 (In this article, Cherry notes that while Poet Laureate she'd like to focus on senior citizens.)

Annotated List of Poetry Collections by Kelly Cherry

Kelly Cherry Profile at University of Wisconsin-Madison (Also see Experts Guide listing.)

Kelly Cherry Profile at The Poetry Society of Virginia

Kelly Cherry Profile at Poets & Writers

Kelly Cherry Profile at Appalachian State University News (Cherry participated in the Visiting Writers Series.)

Kelly Cherry Poetry and Audio-Recorded Poetry Online: Benjamin John Poems at March Street Press, 1993; "She Doesn't Care What You Say About Her, Just So Long as You Spell Her Name Right", "Miscarriage", "The Visitor", and Hansel and Gretel: The Abstract", All in Cortland Review, Issue 4, August 1998 (audio included); "Sappho in Her Study" at Poem Hunter; "Alzheimer's" at  Alzheimer's Poetry; "Gethsemane" at articulation; "The Loveknot" and "Lovelilly" at Connotation Press; "The Fight" at Beth at Home and Abroad; "The House at the End of the Road", "Woman Living Alone", "Alzheimer's", "First Marriage", "Lines Written on the Eve of a Birthday", and "Song of the Wonderful Surprise", All at The Writer's Almanac (audio included); "Gethsemane" at The Atlantic Online, April 1988 (audio available); "Field Notes" at The Atlantic Online (audio available); "Against Aphasia" and Wintering at poemeleon: a journal of poetry; "Taormina" at mediterranean, November 2009; "In Memory of Elaine Shaffner", at Expansive Poetry and Music Online (Selections of poems from Cherry's various collections also can be found on her publishers' sites and, as referenced below, at GoogleBooks.)

Derek Alger Interview with Kelly Cherry at PIF Magazine, October 1, 2010 (In this interview, Cherry talks about her literary influences, her teaching career, her college years, her many published works, her current writing projects, and her beliefs about beauty, art, and place.)

Pam Kingsbury Interview with Kelly Cherry, "Words Will Take You Anywhere" at Southern Scribe (In this interview, Cherry addresses her sense of being southern, her cultural influences, and the "nuts and bolts" of writing.)

Belinda Subraman Interview with Kelly Cherry, "Kelly Cherry: Poet and Author" at Pod-o-Matic, 2008 (Podcast)

Fred Chappel, "Kelly Cherry in Her Poetry: The Subject as Object" in The Mississippi Quarterly, Winter 2004

Review of Kelly Cherry's Death and Transfiguration

Review of Kelly Cherry's Rising Venus

Review of Kelly Cherry's The Retreats of Thought

Kelly Cherry's Death and Transfiguration: Poems on GoogleBooks

Kelly Cherry's God's Loud Hand: Poems on GoogleBooks

Kelly Cherry's Hazard and Prospect: New and Selected Poems at GoogleBooks

Kelly Cherry's Rising Venus: Poems on GoogleBooks

Kelly Cherry's The Retreats of Thought: Poems on GoogleBooks

The Fellowship of Southern Writers

Ice Cube Books Blog

Virginia Center for the Creative Arts (Blog)

Virginia Festival of the Book

Kelly Cherry on FaceBook


Louise Gallagher said...

A new poet Laureate! How exciting.

And -- okay -- so you taught me a new word thsi morning. I felt like a little girl when I'd ask my father -- what's that mean, and he'd reply, handing me the dictionary -- look it up.

enjambment -- I didn't know that!

Anonymous said...

it's like a full time job keeping up with all the poet laureates!

S. Etole said...

painting what isn't there ...

my son does that frequently in his art work ...