Story Club Cleveland asked me to be a featured performer on Wednesday night at their west side show at Forest City Brewery. I'm glad I said yes (and hopefully they are too). I told a story about raising my daughter in the era of Trump, while others told stories about moving to Cleveland, traveling and running marathons. The other featured storyteller was Liz Ferro, who told her own powerful story of surviving foster care and sexual abuse and how it led to her amazing work with girls through her nonprofit organization Girls with Sole.
One of the things that struck me about the evening was how well-versed the crowd clearly was in the form, and how kind they were to each performer. The individuals who took the open mic slots had some ideas of what they wanted to talk about, but they were not reading from a script or their notes, and that made it all the more fun and interesting. I guess in our digital age, people feel the desire to gather over a glass of beer and tell stories to each other. Aw. Plus the beer is good and the venue is fantastic.
OCFB: When did you begin writing poetry?
LC: I started writing poetry in high school. Although I was writing short stories in middle school, in high school I discovered poetry through my English teacher at University School, Kevin Kay. We completed a poetry unit in which I read poems like “Those Winter Sundays” by Robert Hadyn (a Detroit poet), “Autumn Begins in Martins Ferry, Ohio” by James Wright (an Ohio poet) and others. I fell in love with their lyrical voices and that was it for me.
As time progressed, I became interested in other genres of writing – songwriting, journalism and creative nonfiction. But I have always come back to poetry.
OCFB: Congratulations on the publication of How to Live in Ruins . Last year you published your first poetry collection, The Shape of Home and now your second collection will be released in November. Does the new collection expand upon the ideas present in the first?
LC: My first collection braids together poems about growing up in Northeast Ohio with pieces about urban parenting, and the whole endeavor in set in a recessionary environment. I’m exploring themes of creating your own identity amidst the echoes and influences of the past. How to Live in Ruins tells the next chapter of the story – one couple moving into and raising kids in the Detroit Shoreway neighborhood of Cleveland, a place that might appear “ruins” when viewed from the outside. The poems grapple with challenges facing urban neighborhoods like crumbling schools, homelessness, people losing their homes to foreclosure. They’re personal but also political.
Click here to read the whole interview and check out the work of OCFB.
Last night, Jen O'Leary and I performed original and favorite songs to a good crowd at Visible Voice Books, an excellent bookstore in Tremont. After schlepping several loads of gear up two flights of stairs to this upstairs book nook, it was good to perform in this lovely (and cool) space. Some of the highlights included performing new original songs like "Sympathy for the Brute" and "Red House," older ones like "When I Was a Train" and "Lucky," and showcasing Jen's harmonies on "Don't Go Back to Rockville" and "Long Black Veil" and her lead on "Hey Jack Kerouac." We took a break midway through the performance and sang happy birthday to the fabulous Katherine Readey. At the end of the night, many glasses of wine and beer had been drunk, we'd nearly destroyed The Destroyer, Crust Pizza's epic-sized pizza, and the birthday cake was mostly gone (especially the flower, which 4.5 year old Jonathan was insistent about eating because it contained the most frosting). More friends joined the birthday bandwagon at Bourbon Barrel Room down the street for drinks and appetizers, and the night ended with so-bad-it's-good karaoke at Tina's Niteclub, aka Cinderblock Heaven. Katherine can thank me later that when a friend handed her a shot of whiskey, I took it away and told her to go back to drinking beer. We had such a great time hanging with friends, and are grateful for our community in CLE as well as epic babysitters Tuni and Lee Chilcote.
This week, I had the pleasure of having lunch with Scott Lax, the author of The Year That Trembled, Vengeance Follows and other works, in Chagrin Falls. Scott is teaching some awesome workshops focused on the art of fiction and essay writign in collaboration with Fireside Bookshop. This is another local gem that has been reinvigorated by new owner Lori Muller-Zaim and her business partner Jean Butler. Info about Scott's workshops, which have been selling out, are on his website at www.scottlax.com.
Stop by and check out Fireside Bookshop at 29 North Franklin St. in Chagrin Falls. Their website is www.firesidebookshop.com.
"Good doesn't always look like how you imagine it," Benjamin Percy writes in The Dark Net. "Sometimes it cusses and wears a leather jacket and motorcycle boots and chain smokes. Sometimes it deals a little on the side. Sometimes it kills."
Percy's book, a vampire novel that is simultaneously about the dangers of the Internet, tells the story of demons who flow into the world through a virus propagated on the Dark Net (where dangerous and illegal stuff takes place on the Internet).
Somehow this gravel-voiced writer (have a listen here) manages to take a genre novel and imbue it with cheeky literary significance -- in the book there are debates about God, good and evil, as well as a frightening sense that our society is headed towards calamity by our over-reliance on insecure Internet connections. Holy public policy, Batman!
Percy is coming to Cleveland Public Library as part of its Writers and Readers series in collaboration with Literary Cleveland on Fri.-Sat. Aug. 3rd-4th.
Don't you just love the holidays? It's a season where we get to use otherwise quaint, defunct words like "merriment." Depending on what you're into, that could mean candy canes or spiced alcoholic beverages.
Anyway, this Saturday, Dec. 9th from 3-5 pm, I'll be signing copies of my poetry chapbook The Shape of Home at Gypsy Beans. I'll be there with neighborhood authors John G., Justin Glanville and others. Come by and say hi!
But wait, there's more: across the street the Gordon Square Art Space will be selling signed copies of The Shape of Home along with other artists' work. Go read "Tales to Demystify" by John G., his comic about navigating Gordon Square in a wheelchair. It's wrenching, funny and artful.
Finishing Line Press nominated a poem from my 2017 poetry chapbook The Shape of Home for a Pushcart Prize. Here's the full list of works nominated by FLP:
The Shape of Home by Lee Chilcote: “Catching Sunfish”
Becoming Trans-Parent, One Family’s Journey of Gender Transition by Annette Langlois Grunseth: “Becoming Trans-Parent”
Gas & Food, No Lodging by Devi S. Laskar: “The All-Saints, GA, Overeaters Support Group”
Landscape of The Wait by Jami Macarty: “Aground”
Dipped in Black Water by Kate Peper: “Saved”
Brief Immensity by Jeanine Stevens: “V Shapes against Blue”
They also nominated my book for the Society of Midland Authors Award in Poetry. The winners will be announced in 2018.
According to the website, "Since 1957, the Society has presented annual awards for the best books written by Midwestern authors. Notable winners of the juried competition have included Saul Bellow, Kurt Vonnegut, Studs Terkel, Gwendolyn Brooks, Mike Royko, Jane Smiley, Dempsey Travis, Leon Forrest, William Maxwell, Louise Erdrich, Scott Turow, Alex Kotlowitz, Aleksandar Hemon, Stuart Dybek, Roger Ebert and many more."
For more information visit their website: http://midlandauthors.com.
Last month, I was invited to the Eastside Reading Series at Coffee and ( ) by Detroit writer Aubri Adkins. The coffee shop, which is totally worth a visit, is in the Jefferson Chalmers neighborhood where every other brick house is vacant. Aubri and her husband moved to Detroit from Chicago and bought one that had been vacant six years and now they're fixing it up. She has a great story about the homeless guy she found living there when they were days away from closing.
While we in the neighborhood, Katherine and I had lunch at Rose's Fine Foods on Jefferson and took a stroll through the neighborhood park, which is in disrepair but pretty. We took these pics at the spot where the Detroit River empties out into Lake St. Clair. We never made it to Belle Isle because we ran out of time.
Good crowd, the other readers were fun to listen to, and I sold a couple books. Afterwards, Detroit writer Kelly Fordon put us up at her house and entertained us by showing us Hamtramck and bringing us to the Public Pool art space. If you brought a potluck dish, you can read for two minutes. Since we came with Kelly and she brought some awesome Middle Eastern food, I got to read my poem "In Medias Res."
The next morning, I got up early and walked along Lake St. Clair. After coffee and breakfast with Kelly, we checked out the Diego Rivera murals at the DIA before having brunch with Uncle Mike and his wife Amy at the Grey Ghost. We wanted to stay longer, but were grateful for our quick 24 hours in Detroit. After brunch, we headed home to pick up the kids at my parents' house.
Awhile back my poem "Mid-Winter at the Cleveland Lakefront Nature Preserve" was accepted by the lit journal Enizagam (magazine spelled backwards). Enizagam is this rad journal published by the Oakland School for the Arts ... yes, a high school puts it out and the editors are all students. This week, I received the beautiful Issue 11 in the mail and was looking forward to digging into it. It fell open to my poem, because the staff had put in a bunch of sticky notes with handwritten comments on what they liked about the piece.
"Imagery was spot on! The language in this piece is beautiful."
"Your command of language is inspiring!"
"'Frozen in mid-crash' is such a nice line. Really strong piece."
"Such an original description of nature."
How's that for an ego boost? Thanks, Enizagam!
To find out more about the journal, check out their website here and find them on FB here. Purchase a copy of Issue 11 here.
On Sunday, after a really wonderful camping trip to Headwaters Park in Geauga County with the family, I started watching Manchester By the Sea, which is now free with Amazon Prime. I remember being warned by friends that this is a depressing movie, and thinking, "Oh, I should really go see that." While the movie is really dark and I found myself in tears several times, its spiritual uplift lies in the notion that human beings continue to live and love others even when they're completely broken by tragedy and can never be whole. It's also about adults doing childish things and later regretting them, and that really struck home with me, the late-bloomer who never got a real job until I was 25 (which is young for the millenials, who still live at home and are on their parents' health insurance until they're 26 -- thanks, Obama). From a narrative standpoint, the movie is full of tragic, mundane, and often grotesquely silly scenes in which nothing much happens. In fact, the narrative ends much like it begins, with Lee Chandler working as a handyman in a Boston apartment building. Except he's experienced a small kind of liberation from his grief by helping his nephew through his dad's death and getting him settled with a new family. I love this quote from A.O. Scott in the New York Times: "Mr. Lonergan isn’t trafficking in bittersweet sitcom beats. He’s after a kind of realism rarely found in recent American movies, which often seem to think that audiences will be confused or offended when the silly and the serious collide onscreen."