Mudança

Mudança, my latest chapbook, was released in April by Dos Madres Press. Dennis Daly reviewed the collection for The Somerville Times/Boston Area Small Press and Poetry Scene edited by Doug Holder.  My thanks to Dennis for reading the poems with so much sympathy, and to Doug for getting the word out.

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Like my first collection, this book was about a decade in the making. I started drafting poems for it in 2009, when I moved with my fiancée to her hometown in the northeast of Brazil. I was also writing the poems that would form the bulk of my first collection, Lord’s Own Anointed, but as I sketched out the occasional piece that related directly to the experiences I was having as a foreigner in a small Brazilian city, struggling to learn Portuguese and getting to know my new family, I sensed that this work did not fit with the poems drawn from my formative years in Louisiana. I was creating two collections based on distinct geographies. So, I would put the odd piece about mangoes and sambas aside for the second collection as I continued to work on the first.

These “Brazil poems,” as I called them in those days, were directly personal. I did not speak from behind any masks as I did in my Louisiana poems, or if I inadvertently concealed myself, I tried very hard in revision to pull the mask away. Strictly speaking, there are no dramatic monologues in Mudança, whereas the monologue was my favored mode in the first book. I liked working with monologues for several reasons. My various personae allowed me to say things that I had trouble directly relating, to “tell the truth but tell it slant,” as Emily Dickinson would have it. (Bonus points if you can find the Dickinson allusion I’ve buried in one of the poems in Mudança!) On a purely aesthetic level, the personae provided several levels of irony to my poems, from the tension between non-standard grammar and moderately controlled formal verse lines, to the inherent irony of the monologue whereby the writer assumes a persona with full knowledge that the reader is in on the little trick. (In every dramatic monologue, behind the mask of the speaker is the face of the poet, and every now and then she winks at the reader. Otherwise, where’s the fun?) Perhaps my strongest motivation to write so many monologues came from my youth and inexperience. Nothing about my life interested me enough to make it into my poems without some fictive twist. The people who raised me, and the people I grew up around, were interesting characters. For me, there was no question, as there was for David Copperfield, whether I was the hero of my own life. I wasn’t.

Uprooting my Bostonian existence, having only a few years before uprooted my Louisianan existence, interested me enough to make its way into poems. I suppose I should define “interest” in this context. In some ways, I find everything under the sun and beyond the solar system fascinating to a degree. For example, I look up from my desk and see the gray door of my loft’s breaker cabinet. A long metal rectangle frames a smaller rectangle. The grayness from my perspective is profoundly flat, if anything can be both flat and profound, but when I move I see that the surface is numbly reflective. Visually, I find the cabinet interesting in the same way I admire certain abstract paintings, and I may even take a picture of it and post it to my Instagram collection of dirt, weeds, chain link fences, and busted and stained concrete. Chances are, though, that you don’t find my breaker cabinet all that interesting. It is therefore a private fascination, one that cannot catch on, not easily. For the purposes of making poems, I don’t find something interesting if I don’t also think that someone else will find it interesting. I have to feel as though I am having a conversation with a friend, and the poem happens in that silence that my friend has given me to tell my story, when my friend becomes my listener.

The listening friend in the poems that make up Mudança, more often than not, is Cris, the woman who foolishly married me in a courthouse in Arcoverde ten years ago. By so narrowly defining the addressee of these poems, I have kept a vestige of the dramatic monologue throughout the collection. And because these poems are often about Cris, I have continued the practice of writing about people who are infinitely more interesting than I am, as Cris unequivocally is. I began this little essay believing that the work in Mudança represents a radical departure from my previous published work in both form and content, but I realize now that I am still playing the same old tricks with perhaps a few variations.

In short, I have no idea what I’m doing. I’m having fun, though, so I guess I will keep on doing it.

Recent News

The good folks at E-Verse Radio (Luke Stromberg and Ernest Hilbert) have graciously posted my poem “Fall on your Knees,” just in time for the holidays. 

This poem appears in Lord’s Own Anointed, which I hope you will check out (if you have not already) by visiting my publisher, Dos Madres Press. 

In other news, I recently had the good fortune of spending time with Al Basile’s new collection, Tonesmith.  I reviewed the book for Literary Matters. 

 

 

Old News

In January, I was invited to participate in the Triangle Quarterly reading series at the Bowery Poetry Club in New York, hosted by Anton Yakovlev. In this series, Anton strives to bring together three poets with differing aesthetics.

Adam Fitzgerald  represented the eclectic and elliptical contemporary aesthetic that is, for me, very hard to clearly define as it seems to encompass an exciting range of influences, but whose prime mover is probably the late John Ashbery.

Joel Francois represented the slam scene admirably, enjoining the respectfully quiet audience to throw away respect and vocalize their feelings as he read the poems. 

As for me, I guess I represented what’s normally referred to as “formal” verse, as many (but not all) of the poems I read were metrical.

I grow bored with these categorizations very quickly (even typing the word “metrical” makes my eyes roll involuntarily). I hope that this reading series will continue to bring together diverse voices and continue to show that the poetry world is not as fractured as it seems. A Q&A followed the reading, during which we each addressed the complex amalgam of aesthetic approaches that is contemporary American poetry.

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Adam Fitzgerald, Joel Francois, Kevin Cutrer. Photo: Anton Yakovlev

My poem, “The Lesser Light,” appeared in the Winter 2017 issue of The Hudson Review earlier this year. It was then picked up by Poetry Daily.  This marks my third appearance in The Hudson Review and my first on Poetry Daily. Not that I’m keeping track of any of this…

In May, I gave a reading at The Hastings Room series at First Church, Cambridge, with Mark Pawlak (Frannie Lindsay was also on the bill, but sadly was not able to make it). The reading was superbly hosted by Mike Steffen and Steven Charles Brown. Below is a picture of me raising hell. I tend to get moved by the Spirit when I read my redneck rendering of Charles Baudelaire’s “Au Lecteur,” which I have retitled “Truckstop Chapel Testimony.”

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“…the hollering, hooting, hissing animal mass…” Photo: Steven Charles Brown

In June I read for the First Books panel at the 22nd Annual Poetry Conference at West Chester University. My fellow panelists were Austin Allen, Annie Kim, Dawn Manning, and Charlotte Innes. Their books are excellent. It was an honor to read with them.

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L-R, Quincy R. Lehr (panel moderator), Annie Kim, Kevin Cutrer, Austin Allen (Not pictured: Charlotte Innes and Dawn Manning) Photo: Luke Bauerlein

At West Chester I also participated in a panel honoring Dos Madres Press. Dos Madres, in addition to giving my first collection a home, has been putting out some very exciting titles lately. I highly recommend the late James Tolan’s Filched, which is one of the best new poetry collections I have encountered in a long time. I was honored to share my experience with working with Robert and Elizabeth Murphy on my first collection with the audience at West Chester, and to read a poem. I read “Truck Stop Chapel Testimony.” (It’s usually a crowd pleaser.)

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“You know you’re out of alibis.” (with Robert and Elizabeth Murphy up on the big screen) Photo: Quincy R. Lehr

That just about catches you up with the public aspect of my writing life. I love giving readings. I love performing for an audience. But the real work happens in sight of no one, quietly, draft after draft.

2016 Readings: A Look Back

 

Cutrer at Mr Hip Presents

Photo: Meghan Hole

Since the release of Lord’s Own Anointed in December of 2015, I’ve had the pleasure to read for some amazing audiences in Louisiana, Massachusetts, and New York. The book officially launched in January of 2016 at St. John’s Coffeehouse in Covington, Louisiana. It felt right to launch the collection there, so close to where the stories and characters of the poems came into being. The event was hosted by Rob Fairburn, whose artwork appears on the book’s cover and throughout its pages. Rob has been killing it lately with new commissions and projects–if you don’t follow him on Instagram already, then you most definitely should. And consider commissioning a piece from him–his rates are reasonable and his work is phenomenal.

In April, I read for one of the last installments of Mr. Hip Presents in Jamaica Plain, Boston. I was excited to read alongside David BlairBobby Crawford, and Sarah Blake . Mr. Hip is legendary in Boston for his monthly showcase of diverse poets and musical guests. Each reading felt like the best kind of talk show, with musical interludes, humor, book giveaways, dancing, and every kind of poetics you can think of, from slam to sonnets, narrative to elliptical, all held together by Mr. Hip’s genius for hosting. It’s too bad that the series has folded, but it was phenomenonal while it lasted. Anyone with the good fortune to attend these readings came away with the feeling that anything, just anything can happen at a poetry reading. I am honored to have been a part of it.

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Bobby Crawford, David Blair, Kevin Cutrer, Sarah Blake, Jordan Carter, Donald Vincent (AKA Mr. Hip). UForge Gallery, Jamaica Plain, April, 2016. Photo: Meghan Hole

I was invited by Dan Wuenschel to read with Simeon Berry and heather hughes at the Cambridge Public Library in August for the series that Dan hosts in the public lecture space there. Like Mr. Hip Presents, this series illustrates that poetry can feel just at home out in the world as it does on the university campus. The public library is a natural venue for a poetry reading, as it’s a community space dedicated to learning and preserving access to the arts of language. I have to say that the crowd for our reading was sizable and enthusiastic, due in large part to the efforts of heather, Simeon, and Dan to drum up interest in the months leading to the big night. We were worried that a number of regulars wouldn’t make it, as many of them would likely still be out of town on summer vacations. But thanks to the dedicated push to get the word out early and often, that night we read to one of the best audiences I’ve ever seen gathered.

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Simeon Berry, heather hughes, Kevin Cutrer. Cambridge Public Library. August, 2016. Photo: Dan Wuenschel.

I try to make it out to New York as often as possible, which sadly amounts to just a few times a year as work obligations and other responsibilities conspire against me. In fact, last year I thought for sure I wouldn’t get to visit at all, as an unplanned event took up the precious few vacation days I had hoped to reserve for a handful of three-day weekends in New York. But when the invitation to read in October for Carmine Street Metrics (one of the best reading series in New York) came from Quincy LehrAnton Yakovlev, and Wendy Sloan, I knew I couldn’t pass it up. So, I packed my suitcase and headed down to read with J.D. Smith, who was promoting his latest collection. This was my second time featuring for Carmine Street, and my first at the legendary Otto’s Shrunken Head in the East Village.

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Otto’s Shrunken Head. 


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J.D. Smith and Kevin Cutrer. East Village, NYC. October, 2016. Photo: Anton Yakovlev

If a public library seems like a natural fit for a poetry reading, a tiki bar in lower Manhattan may at first glance appear antithetical. But if you’ve read my poems, you should know that they feel as much at home on a bar stool as on a church pew. I applaud the work of poet-promoters like the Carmine crew for their effort to bring poetry to venues–like tiki bars–where it’s routinely ignored. Kudos to Carmine, too, for providing a longstanding venue for formal verse, featuring what has to be the best open mic in the country. Among the poets reading at the open mic in October were Terese Coe, John Foy, and John Marcus Powell. In a space that regularly hosts rock shows, our reading may not have made the walls shake, but we rocked out all the same.

Each of these events was a labor of love, and when I think of all of the unpaid hours in organization and promotion, I am honored that these good people thought my work deserved so much of their time and energy. It’s enough to keep me going for a long time to come.
 

 

Good Grief

An earlier version of this poem was published by First Things. A friend on Facebook mentioned it yesterday, which prompted me to revisit it this morning and change a few things that have always bothered me.

Good Grief

You said it, Charlie Brown.
Though all we get is grief,
they only knock us down
to topple our belief
that one day, maybe soon,
the meek will all inherit
and Lucy change her tune.
I don’t think they could bear it
the way we do: to rise
in failure and begin
where we left off, unwise,
knowing we’ll fall again.
And in our darkest mood
to still allow for Good.

Reading at the Cambridge Public Library 8/31/2016

I will be reading with Simeon Berry and heather hughes at 6:30 PM on August 31 at the Cambridge Public Library (449 Broadway, Cambridge  02138). Click here to see the Facebook event page to let us know you’re coming and to invite all of your friends.

I am incredibly excited to read with these two poets. The event is hosted by Dan Wuenschel, a consummate host. I’ve attended a number of Dan’s poetry events over the past few years (and, I might add, he killed it a few months ago at Mr. Hip Presents); it is an honor to have the opportunity to enjoy some time behind the podium this time around.

I’ll be reading from Lord’s Own Anointed, of course, with copies available for sale. I’ll also read some new work, in case you’re wondering what I’ve been up to since the book came out. I hope to see you there!