Saturday, February 15, 2014

Residency Broadside Launch

Poet Aubrey Jane Ryan concluded her residency as the Collins poet-in-residence at the Midwest Writing Center with the launch of her broadside poem, "Things to be done at the end of the world." The broadside was celebrated at the SPECTRA "Local Lovers" open mic at Rozz-Tox February 13.

The broadside was printed on 110lb gray vellum and designed by Alexander Iaccarino. The Collins poetry residency was sponsored by 918studio

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Medicine Poet Erin M. Bertram

Here, now, a poem from the beautiful Erin M. Bertram. 

Erin is the 2013 recipient of a John Woods Scholarship from Prague Summer Program and the author of nine chapbooks, including Body of Water(winner of the 2007 Frank O’Hara Chapbook Award),Inland Sea (winner of the 2009 Robin Becker Chapbook Prize), and Memento Mori and The Vanishing of Camille Claudel (both forthcoming in 2013).  A former teaching fellow at Washington University in St. Louis, she has received awards and fellowships from Split Rock Arts Program, Lettre Sauvage, Augustana College, and the Academy of American Poets.  She currently teaches English and Women’s & Gender Studies at Augustana College along the Mississippi River, where she co-coordinates the campus Safe Zone Program. 


Gray-gauzy light, the edges manic & tired, & at night, head tilted back, a welter of stars invading kindly.

                                 The dust-driven trail drives the hiker to query the miles stacked in her boots—sylvan confessional, autumn’s ochre hum.

                                                                                              Pocket-knife, tin cup, ferro rod, afterimage of last night’s hurrah still warm in her hands.

                                                                                                           And the wind nuzzles its maw like a filly at a gate.

                                       Where does what has left us go?

                                                                                                     If I make of my hands a temple—incense, votive, blocks of cool stone, the vocal bow chanting makes of the air—who, then, will reach, unstumbling, for the braided rope, coax the rusted metal to sing its tiny room?

                Tall grass taken by snow, rain tumbling coins from the sky’s torn black jeans, a wind that bays—I am willing to follow it anywhere.

                                                                                                  Of quietude, the body, in time, adjusts to the added weight.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Medicine Poet Jodie Toohey

Hello all. Today, a poem from Jodie Toohey. Jodie is the author of two poetry collections, Crush and Other Love Poems for Girls (2008), and The Other Side of Crazy (918studio, 2013), which contains “Out of the Blue," first place winner of Bettendorf Public Library’s Love Poem Contest in 2012. Her novel, Missing Emily: Croatian Life Letters, was published in 2012 and she has two entries in Midwest Writing Center’s Creative Writing Primer.  Thank you Jodie!


So there will not be an end
To the story,
I will write my life,
The days, the hours,
The moments of awakeness,
Drip-dried and drunk,
Rain plastered hair
Beneath LED lighted billboards,
Free and unfaltering.

I’ll take it all,
The tears, the joy,
Unnecessary lies crept over
And pulled under
In purgatory slumber,
Let it wash over,
Clean and captivating.

I will write it all,
The dreams, forgotten scenes,
Saved and unsacrificed
Until the last day
My pen struggles and withers,
Evaporates off the page
So I will not be lost,
But forever there,
The last word.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Poetry as Medicine Questionnaire: Ryan Collins

O Happiest of Saturdays to you. October is healing me right up: the house smells of sage, my toddler is wearing a flannel shirt (if you didn't know already, this is goddamn adorable), and I've been reading this: 

Good, good stuff. 

And another gift: some words from Ryan Collins, who was good enough to answer the Poetry as Medicine Questionnaire. Ryan is the author of three chapbooks, most recently Dear Twin Falls (H_NGM_N, 2013).  His poems have appeared in American Letters & CommentaryAsymptoteBlack ClockColumbia Poetry ReviewDIAGRAMForklift, OhioHandsomeiO: A Journal of New American PoetryPEN Poetry SeriesSporkTransom; the Hell Yes Press cassette anthology 21 Love Poems; & many other places.  He is the Executive Director of the Midwest Writing Center & an English instructor at St. Ambrose University, both in Davenport, IA.  He plays drums in The Multiple Cat & curates the SPECTRA Poetry Reading Series in Rock Island, IL, where he lives.

He's a wonderful dude, and here are his answers.

1.  Can poetry be medicine? As in:

Can it heal our bruised-up world or our bruised-up brains?
Can it foment revolution?
Can it make us want to go out and fight another day?
Can it be prayer?

Yes poetry is medicine.  Poetry heals.  At least it can.  It does for me & a lot of other people I know.  I think this is evidenced best when there are moments of tragedy—local or global—and people turn to poetry.  For example: 9/11 turned a great many people toward poetry—as a means of expressing how they felt, as memory, as recovery, as a way of trying to address or understand in some way this terrible event that even now, 12 years after, seems unfathomable, beyond understanding.  I think this impulse is deeply humane, genetic.  We are trying to understand our damage & heal after it via language.  Saying the names of our wounds releases them somewhat from our bodies, allows us to recover while still recognizing that which almost killed us.  It also allows us a medium to put our minds & our lives & our hearts & all the triumphs & pain they endure out in the world, into a sort of healing community, if you will, where we see that our alienations are shared, that we are not alone as our alones would like us to believe       

2.  If so, what poets/poems are your medicine?

Dear lord.  There are so many.  Let’s start w/ a friend: Matt Hart.  All of his work is really important to me, but in particular his poem “Amplifier to Defender”—it’s one of those great ars poeticas, a poem that I turn to & read aloud w/ the full force of my lungs anytime I feel in doubt or beaten down or anywhere near giving up on something (or myself).  What Matt says about the possibilities/capacities of language & its resulting materials, about living attentively & enthusiastically & completely, about friendships & relationships & how language operates to build & sustain them, just resonates so deep in my bones that the poem has a very real restorative effect on my whole being.  Here’s a video of him reading it, so you can see/hear what I mean.

Others: Rebecca Wee’s Uncertain Grace is especially important to me, for its compassion & vividness & treatment of loss, grief & everything that comes with them.  It’s a briilant book & she has been my poetry guardian angel for years.  Frank O’Hara’s “To the Harbormaster,” Kenneth Loch’s “Some General Instructions,” Joshua Clover’s “Union Pacific” (really his collection Madonna Anno Domini is one of my all-time favorites), Arielle Greenberg’s Given, Dorothea Lasky’s AWE.  Anything Kiki Petrosino writes.  Wow, there are just too many heroes to name check.  I think Dean Young’s book on poetics, The Art of Recklessness, offers a way of looking at creative process that provides revelation, surprise, prayer, communion, exuberance, bewilderment, joy & pretty much everything I find terrific & healing about poetry & poetic practice.     

3. How do you make use of this medicine? 

Practice—writing, being generative w/ language I have to be very therapeutic, especially when I’m writing away from myself.  I’ve been playing drums for most of my life & I find the kind of mindset I’m able to get into when I’m playing drums is very similar to that when I’m writing.  Obviously the mental/physical demands are very different, but the ease & relaxing of my mind are very similar.  When I’m not doing at least one of these things on a very regular basis, I get swampy, lethargic, grump-city & feel mostly blah about everything.  I read as much as I can, but working/grading essays takes much of that space.  Poems are great in this context b/c if I’m dragging ass, or my head is in some bad space, I’ll break out some poems I love, read them out loud & I feel better. 

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Medicine Poet Mike Bayles

Friends, I hope you enjoy this poem by Mike Bayles. Mike is  a lifelong Midwest resident and the author of Threshold, a book of poetry. He is a widely-published poet and short story writer and has contributed to other community blog projects. WVIK Public Radio has featured his writing.

Town Siren Sounds at Noon
by Mike Bayles

Town takes pause at noon to the sound. Mother in park

watches daughter on swing hang onto chains, but touches sky.
She wants to be an astronaut. The mother wants to be
a nurse in the city while she thinks about past lives. The girl
 hangs onto chain, and she closes her eyes to see stars.
The mother wonders how she can let go. The dog on a leash                              
watches waving limbs and wispy clouds. He wants to be a bird.
A bartender pours a drink for a construction worker having a liquid
lunch. He wants easy conversation. She glances at the TV, where
the weathercaster talks about warm days and endless skies for another
week. Her children are grown, but she holds onto summer dreams.
She wants to be a star while the construction worker wants another drink.
The owner stands at the grill wants another cut of meat. The siren sounds
in town, announcing time, while traffic moves at leisurely pace.                  

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Medicine Poet Dan Holst

Today, I'm sharing a poem sent to us from Dan Holst. Dan is a twenty-one year veteran of the United States Air Force. While serving in Italy during Operation Allied Force, he bought a compilation of America’s 100 Greatest Poems. He admired the love of Anne Bradstreet, shared the demons of Poe, and found kinship between all warriors with Claude McKay's words: if we must die–oh, let us nobly die.  His love of poetry was born.


Across the Nebulae
A battle through the eagle's eye
We fought the enemy down
But they’re not gone
Intruded through and upon
Fighting hand-to-hand
Through death, wounds, and scars
I’m told we won.


My crew fought bravely
Many died
Now I limp them home
Or what remains of them
They will heal but my soul is scarred
Systems askew, I will never again
Fly true.


Within me remains an intruding creation
I will fight this sickening infiltration.
An engineering dysfunction
Puts my weapons in disarray
It de-energizes my core
Depress a switch
Sparks flying without integrity. 


I arrive safely — what they say is home
Release my crew
But home was out there
Dodging fire
Winning every fight
Yet desire remains
An uncontrollable flame
So I return to space
For one final flare against this fiercest enemy
I do what I must
I will be free!
Please remember...
It's just a matter of my internal security.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Medicine Poet Amber Williams

Tonight's poem was written by Amber Williams. Amber was born and raised in the Quad Cities, with a brief detour in Albion, Michigan, where she received a BA in Anthropology.  She lives and works in Davenport, Iowa, where her home seconds as my collage studio. Amber is a member of the Desoto Pottery Studio in Rock Island, IL.

Such Things

I remember long
ago, before my
Atheism kicked in,
when Grandpa took
me on the back
of his four-wheeler
through the woods
behind the old
farm house. 

I asked him
who rested this tree
in the crotch of that one,
keeping the path
conveniently accessible. 

He said
it fell that way.

I looked up,
as we rode under,
knowing he was
wrong.  Clearly,
someone had a hand
in the placement
of such things.