As Alen Ginsberg eloquently put it: “Poetry is the one place where people can speak their original minds. It is an outlet for people to say in public what is known in private.”
Poet Brendan Walsh is working to put to action the words of Ginsberg. Walsh’s work has appeared in Glass Poetry and the Baltimore Review, among other journals. He has been awarded the Anna Sonder Prize, Leslie Leeds Poetry Prize and a Freedman Prize for poetry in performance. This summer Walsh will begin his Great American Poetry Crawl—an idea he has had in his head for many years. Spanning from Florida to Connecticut, Walsh will visit local bookstores along the West Coast, hoping to discover the intricate relationship that exists between poetry and place.
Walsh’s obsession (his words, not mine) inspired him to look beyond his own experiences. The Great American Poetry Crawl will give him a chance to indulge his obsession. He will perform his work, interview poets in their respective places and talk with locals about any poetry they have written.
On July 8, the crawl will make its way to downtown’s Old Books on Front St. where Walsh will interview locals Melissa Crowe and Khalisa Rae. Crowe is a professor of creative writing at UNCW, coeditor of Beloit Poetry Journal and recently has released a poetry collection titled “Dear Terror, Dear Splendor,” a poetic journey that follows the speaker’s poor and unruly childhood to compassionate but terrifying adulthood.
Rae is a poet, director, educator and co-owner of Athenian House, Wilmington’s first publishing press for women, gender non-conforming and transgender writers. Rae published her first poetry collection, “Real Girls Have Real Problems” in 2012, which chronicles her experiences being a woman in society and the effects of pop-culture on her life. Rae has wrote, produced and directed a play, “The 7 Deadly Sins of Being a Woman,” based off her collection—which premiered at Cape Fear Playhouse in early 2018.
All three poets have work published in Glass Poetry, which is what first introduced Walsh to their writing styles. “[They have great] immediacy of language and their imagery is stark and gorgeous,” Walsh praises. “They have a strength and resonance to their work that affects their presence in the Wilmington literary community.”
Rae and Crowe will present readings of their recent works, and Walsh will dive into how Wilmington has influenced the way they write poetry.
Along with interviews, Walsh will create a digital record of his experiences across the West Coast. “I am hoping to be able to talk to a lot of people and record a lot of conversations so there will be something for posterity,” he explains. “It won’t just be a standard poetry reading. I am hoping to get poetry out of the people that are there.”
Along with getting to the root of the relationship between poetry and place, Walsh hopes his docuseries and poetry crawl will highlight the importance of independent bookstores to readers and writers alike. “We need this physical space where we can come together to cultivate community, which is why I don’t think poetry is only meant to be written on the page, but experienced in person,” Walsh tells. “I am trying to praise independent bookstores, which serve as places for community and creativity. It is not an easy job, especially with the Goliath of Amazon breathing down everybody necks.”
Walsh’s interest in poetry and place began at a young age. Moving around in childhood made it difficult to establish a secure home base. After graduating with an MFA from Southern Connecticut State University, he continued to travel, spending a year teaching in South Korea and a year in Laos. He now resides in Hollywood, Florida where he works as a teacher and poet.
“All of these places [I lived] transformed how I viewed the world, and the work that I created while I was there was impacted by the environment,” Walsh tells.
Walsh’s first and second chapbook, “Make Anything Whole” and “Go,” were influenced heavily by his time spent in South Korea and Laos. “Make Anything Whole” takes readers through Walsh’s experiences of new cultures and re-experiences of the United States. “Go” explores the various degrees of human consciousness and experience. Written through the perspective of people he met in Laos and South Korea, Walsh examines the fragility of place and the ecstasy of movement.
The relationship between poetry and place becomes a little more complicated in Walsh’s latest collection, “The Only Flesh to Feed You.” It is inspired by various animals he saw on his travels.
“When I lived in Connecticut I’d see a lot of squirrels, possums, deer and bears,” Walsh explains. “Now that I’m living down here [Hollywood, Florida], I have poems about gators, and anoles (lizards).”
The collection is composed of 18 love poems written through the perspective of animals. This unorthodox POV allows Walsh to explore his fascination with the natural world.
During his poetry crawl, Walsh hopes to prove the relationship between poetry and place goes deeper than just physical. He believes a poet always subconsciously is affected by the place from which they write. Whether it is in subject matter, tone, or mood, it plays a pivotal role in shaping a poem.
“Your poetry will bAe influenced by how the air feels, by how the place smells, by how the place looks . . . Even if we are not explicitly writing about those things, they are influencing the way we create,” Walsh notes.
Walsh will sell “The Only Flesh to Feed You” at the crawl, as well as give out a zine to attendees. “I want people to take something from it beyond just the energy, something physical to have as a reminder,” Walsh explains.