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Poetry at Woodland Pattern

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Chuck Stebelton, who became literary program manager of Woodland Pattern in August, recently moved to Milwaukee from Chicago where he had been curating the Poetry Series at Myopic Books. Stebelton replaces Stacy Szymaszek, who is now the programming manager at the St. Mark’s Poetry Project in New York City. Stebelton is the winner of the 2004 Jack Spicer Award for Circulation Flowers, a poetry volume recently published by Tougher Disguises. On Sunday, December 4, from 1-5 pm, Woodland Pattern will have its annual open house which will feature Stebelton reading from Circulation Flowers. Laura Sims will also read from her new book, Practice Restraint. There is no charge for admission. When asked what he believed to be the function of poetry, Stebelton replied, “It’s a way of engaging with and interrogating the world in language, which is very much tied to thought. I don’t have a relationship to philosophy really or systematic ways of thinking as much as I do to poetry.” What value does he believe poetry has — is it aesthetic or ethical? “It’s sort of bundled,” he said. “It’s in a space where you don’t have to necessarily delineate that. That’s one thing that Woodland Pattern is really good at is having poetry and art and music and film together. They all sort of complement one another and the poetry that I’m drawn to is similarly engaged with theory and with criticism and with art and with ethics and with politics.” One of Stebelton’s goals as Literary Programming Manager at Woodland Pattern is “to foster a safe space for the type of work that I value and that leads back to the question of what good is poetry, what does it do.” Stebelton was an elementary education major and language arts minor at Michigan State University when he casually happened upon a box containing free books of poetry and journals that poet-in-residence Diane Wakoski maintained. Stebelton began reading the discarded books in the box and also Wakoski’s own poetry, although he never met her or registered for a class with her. After leaving East Lansing, Stebelton moved to Boulder where he first discovered the world of small press publications and started paying attention to experimental writers, who were frequent visitors to the Boulder area. In 1997, Stebelton heard Gary Snyder read. He had taken on Snyder “as an uncle figure,” and it was an important experience to hear him read. “That was hero worship for me.” Stebelton admired Snyder because Snyder “provided a model for how to proceed in the world as a poet and to have that be part and parcel of your ethics.” Besides admiring the poetry of Wakoski and Snyder, many other poems by a wide variety of poets “lodged themselves in my ear when I first set out” and “were complete accidents of exposure,” Stebelton said. These poets and poems included, among others: Robert Bly’s “Teeth Mother Naked at Last,” Diane Wakoski’s “The Birds of Paradise Being Very Plain Birds,” Wordsworth’s “Tintern Abbey,” Shelley’s “Mount Blanc,” and Seamus Heaney’s “Death of a Naturalist” and “The Peninsula.” Stebelton believes that the publications of small presses are “more immediate, diverse, and more appealing” than large press offerings and are a wonderful way for the beginning writer to sample the diverse offerings of contemporary poetry. He also believes that “one thing that makes it much easier these days [to access] contemporary poetry…is the [existence of] online journals.” Stebeleton likes living in Riverwest because he can walk to work, and enjoys Milwaukee because it is a “different pace and a different scale” from Chicago, where he lived for 10 years.
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