Monday, February 16, 2015

Monday Muse: Oklahoma's New Poet Laureate

Oklahoma is more to me than just the place I live; it is my home, my
homeland. The opportunity to combine my deep love for this land
with my poetry is an opportunity I am very thankful for. . . .
~ Benjamin Myers*

Benjamin Myers, Ph.D., began his position as Oklahoma's State Poet Laureate on February 11, 2015. He succeeds Nathan Brown, who completed his two-year term on December 31, 2014. Myers will serve through the end of December 2016.

Information about the honorary position can be found in my Monday Muse post about state poet Jim Barnes, dated December 13, 2010.

In one interview about his appointment, Myers said he plans to "visit schools, universities, libraries, and community organizations to talk about poetry. I want people to know that poetry is not an elitist form of art, that poetry can enrich everybody's life in a number of ways." He told The Bison, the student newspaper of Oklahoma Baptist University, that he also plans to offer public workshops. "Encouraging poetry is the main thing."

Note: Myers is scheduled to read and sign books on April 17 for "The Big Pasture Reading Series"; the event will take place as Cameron University's CETES Conference Center in Lawton, Oklahoma. (Information is available through Oklahoma Humanities Council.) In May, Myers will conduct a craft workshop at Cameron University as part of the Military Experience & the Arts program. Myers will be a guest speaker at the Giving Voice Writers Festival, John Brown University, on September 24-25.

* * * * *
Poetry is good for the soul. Without poetry, and without art
in general, the soul lacks an essential part of its necessary diet.*

A professor of literature at Oklahoma Baptist University, Shawnee, and a native of central Oklahoma, Benjamin Myers is the author of two poetry collections: Lapse Americana (New York Quarterly Books, 2013) and Elegy for Trains (Village Books Press, 2010), which Myers describes as an elegy for his father, also a poet who used poetry as therapy for veterans. (His mother is a writer of historical fiction.) The latter collection was awarded the Oklahoma Book Award for Poetry in 2011.

Myers's "bedrock American"*** poetry is informed by his knowledge of American, European, and Asian poetic traditions. It takes such various forms as haiku, sonnets, and free verse; it may or may not be rhymed; it may be in couplets, or broken, or not, into stanzas. It is populated with allusions and written in plain, stripped-down language that nevertheless can be lyrical and invoke emotion. As Myers told a World Literature Today interviewer,** ". . . Sometimes I use  traditional forms; sometimes I use free verse. . . My simple working criterion is that the form fit the tone or mood of the poem." 

Of every poem I write, I ask myself if it is three things:
vivid, engaging, and poignant. . . those are my standards,
because that is the kind of poem that sticks 
with me as a reader.**

At the heart of Myers's poetry is experience of life as lived in the Midwest and the Midwest landscape. But while Myers could be said to be a "regional" poet, he is not hemmed in by his Midwestern borders. He tackles the significant themes all accomplished poets address: love, faith and doubt, memory and forgetfulness, death, loss and redemption, time's passage (the past and present), courage, hope. Place, home, and personal history figure prominently, yet subjects range as far afield as Virgil, Dante, Shakespeare, or Anchises, Paul Klee, the Alamo, weather events, even divorce. Myers has written about Alzheimer's ("Odin"), coffee ("French Press"), farming ("Hauling Hay"), analog devices ("Sometimes I dream of he analog world"), fatherhood, Irish migration ("Rail Arrives in Rock Island"), fishing ("Noodling")

I think that all good poetry is, in a sense, 'local' poetry,
because the only way of getting at the universal
is through the particular. . . .**

Following are excerpts from several of Myers's poems:

Think also about a toothache,
a cold wind
rising from under the door at night,
a tedious neighbor who holds
you too long with a bony grip
on your bicep. [. . .]
~ from "When You Meditate on the Cross"

[. . .] I wanted

to go on the Ferris Wheel,
for the way it turned above
the noise and the smell
of manure and funnel cakes,
how it reminded me
of a queen I saw
in a movie once, raising
her head to meet the eye
of the executioner. [. . .]
~ from "Spook House" in Lapse Americana

[. . .] maybe like my father,
lifted light
as a bag of popcorn
in my arms,
slipper feet brushing
the floor between the hospice bed
& wheel chair, [. . . ]
~ from "What Peter Looked Like Stepping on Water"

Poems by Myers have been published in The Chiron Review, Christianity and Literature, The Iron Horse Literary Review, The Mayo Review, The Mid-America Poetry ReviewThe New York Quarterly, Nimrod, Numinous, Poetry NorthwestRuminate, Salamander, San Pedro River ReviewTar River Poetry, Texas Poetry ReviewThe Yale Review, and numerous other literary journals and magazines. His work is in the anthologies Ain't Nobody that Can Sing Like Me: New Oklahoma Writing (Mongrel Empire Press, 2010), Travelin' Music: A Poetic Tribute to Woody Guthrie (Village Books Press, 2010), and America at War (McElderry, 2008), an illustrated anthology for children.

Myers's reviews of poetry appear or have appeared online or in print in World Literature Today, Faith and Theology, 32 poems, and Books and Culture, at Visual Artists Collective, and in such periodicals as Rattle: Poetry for the 21st Century, while his scholarly articles on Malory, Wordsworth, and Spenser have been published in English Literary History, English Literary Renaissance, Studies in Philology, and other academic journals. 

Among Myers's honors are a Tennessee Williams Scholarship from Sewanee Writers' Conference (2014),  a Pushcart nomination, and, in 1996, a Byline Award for Poetry (for "For Jack Kerouac"). Myers is a member of the Oklahoma Literary Arts Alliance, sponsor of a Poets & Writers in the Classroom program.


Photo Credit: Bill Pope

All Poetry Excerpts © Benjamin Myers

* Quoted from Oklahoma Arts Council News Release (Link Below)

** Quoted from April 2013 World Literature Today Interview (Link Below)

*** As characterized by Karen Swenson in her review of Lapse Americana 

"OBU's Myers Begins Terms as Oklahoma Poet Laureate", Tahlequah Daily Press, February 11, 2015

"Shawnee's Ben Myers Named Oklahoma State Poet Laureate", Oklahoma Arts Council News Release, February 5, 2015

Benjamin Myers Poems Online: "Spook House" at Verse Daily and the poetry daily Critique Blog; "Talking to My Racist Friend" at Cybersoleil - A Literary Journal; "On Taking Communion with My Students" at TitusOneNine (Blog of Rev. Canon Dr. Kendall Harmon); "What Hamlet Got Wrong" and "When You Meditate on the Cross", Both at Numinous Magazine; "Cedars" at This Is Just to Say Blog (Myers's Blog); "Mannequins" and "Bad Harvest", Both at Visual Artists Collective; "What Peter Looked Like Stepping on Water" at Books & Culture: A Christian Review; "Tornado" and "Talking to My Racist Friend", Both at Valerie R. Lawson Blog

A number of sample pages from Lapse Americana may be viewed at NYQ Books.

"Myers Received Oklahoma Book Award for Poetry", News-Star, April 14, 2011

Benjamin Myers, "Poetry and Redemption", Ruminate Magazine, September 14, 2010

Sara Wilson, "Poetry with 'Something at Stake': Benjamin Myers on Past and Present", Interview, World Literature Today, April 29, 2013

Red Lion Square Podcast Featuring Myers's Poems, on iTunes (Episode 16) (Also see Archived Podcasts.)

"Benjamin Myers - Lapse Americana (an interview)", The Toronto Quarterly Literary & Arts Journal, June 14, 2013

Valerie R. Lawson, "Let's Talk Poetry - 'Lapse America Review", June 2, 2013

Glynn Young, "Poetry Review: The Submerged Depths of Lapse Americana", TweetSpeak Poetry, May 28, 2013

Glynn Young, "Pinocchio in Nineveh", Review of Elegy for Trains, The Master's Artist Blog, October 5, 2011

Brett Foster, "'Poetry's Places': A Review of 'Elegy for Trains' by Benjamin Myers and 'This London' by Patrick Hicks", The Englewood Review of Books, September 9, 2011

David Oestreich, "Review: Elegy for Trains by Benjamin Myers", Religious Affections Ministries, October 26, 2010

Benjamin Myers on FaceBook and Twitter

Mongrel Empire Press

Oklahoma Arts Council (FaceBook)

Oklahoma Center for the Book, Oklahoma Department of Libraries (Finalist Page for 2011 Awards)

Oklahoma Humanities Council

Oklahoma Poems . . and Their Poets (Mezcalita Press LLC, 2014)

Shawn Holliday, The Oklahoma Poets Laureate: A Sourcebook, History, and Anthology (Mongrel Empire Press, February 28, 2015)

Visual Artists Collective

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