Powell and Glaser Flex Poetic Muscles at Reading

Logan Buckley, Staff Writer

The Main Street Readings series featured an unusual treat this weekend, as Oberlin Professor of Creative Writing Lynn Powell and her friend and fellow poet Elton Glaser read from their new work in the FAVA Gallery. Glaser, distinguished professor emeritus of English at the University of Akron, read from two books of poetry he published this year, Translations from the Flesh and The Law of Falling Bodies. Powell read “new and new-ish” poems from a collection with the working title A Scherzo for Sadness.

As Powell stepped up to the podium to read, she described her recent work as “trying to sidle my way back to poetry,” after having spent the past several years at work on a nonfiction book called Framing Innocence. Evoking that uncertain and searching frame of mind, she read poetry that she described as invoking her muse, “or, more precisely, putting my muse on the spot.” While transitioning back to poetry from nonfiction must be difficult, Powell’s considerable poetic abilities seemed quite healthy. She deployed imagery of nature and mythology with equal facility, with a particular gift for addressing abstract ideas in concrete and vivid language, providing often-startling insight. “A thought doesn’t count,” read one poem, “until I can taste it on my tongue.” In another, she described the quality of being “stubborn as a love letter written in the passive voice.” There is a clear sense in her poetry of language at play, as in one poem, “a violin is trying to climb its way out of the music,” and in another as she describes footprints like “a fugue of left and wrong and right.”

Glaser began his reading with a poem called “Gifts Out of Dirty Weather,” which showcased his bleak and powerful style, describing the Ohio winters “where the night ice cracks / Like a knuckle bone.” His poetry displayed a striking range and level of diction which created a tense, sometimes political edge. In a poem called “Variations Without a Theme,” he read, “I can think of several people who might want to kill me, but no one is Muslim.” In places, the range of tones did not quite cohere, but overall the technique was impressive and expanded rather than limited. The verse describing “pain tattooed on my back in letters that look the way the German language sounds” came across as approachable and incisive, avoiding the pitfall of lightness and artifice.

Particularly striking were the final trio of poems that Glaser read, written in the aftermath of his wife’s death. The first, titled “For Helen in Her Absence,” described the feeling of “more fear than grief, something ancient and naked in the dark,” and ended with a heart-stopping realization as the poem’s speaker climbs the stairs: “Steady, old man. It’s hard now anywhere you fall.” In another, the pall of grief and dread came through in lines like “I’m making a list of everything that bleeds.”

The poets’ friendship seemed to come through in some of their poetry. They shared an attention to natural detail and an ear for the right word, with Powell’s fondness for worldplay finding a companion in Glaser’s poem “Not Dead but Deading,” a play on the words “alive” and “living” describing autumn. Reinforcing that reflection, both poets opened their readings with words of thanks and praise for one another. The two are poetic friends as well as personal ones, who read one another’s work and offer feedback.

Powell’s reading featured an ode to her poetic friendship with Glaser; Glaser in turn began his reading by saying, “None of my poems go into the world without the Lynn Powell stamp of approval, because we all need someone to save us from ourselves.” Hearing the two poets and friends read together expanded their work, offering valuable insight and making for a most enjoyable evening.