Friday, April 20, 2012

My Top Ten Pittsburgh Poets: Judith Vollmer

Any accounting of Pittsburgh poets must give its due to Judith Vollmer; she is a writing professor at the University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg and co-editor of 5 AM. She has won fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, as well as residencies at the American Academy in Rome, Yaddo, Centrum, Blue Mountain, and Vermont Studio Colony. She has four collections of poetry to her credit: Level Green, winner of the Brittingham Prize, Black Butterfly, The Door Open To the Fire and Reactor. The Water Books is due out later this year.

More important to me is her passion about revision, and her willingness to give of herself to the global community of poets and artists who address issues of importance to the planet and all of its inhabitants. She once encouraged me to continue revising right up until poems are published or read--to make every minute you have count in the evolution of your work--something I'll never forget. Vollmer was a reporter for the Pittsburgh Press, and she continues to report the human news in each one of her poems with a jazzy blend of her classical education and pop culture--no matter what subject she is addressing. Here is a sample from one of my favorite poems from Reactor that was recognized by the 2005 Public Poetry Project: "Coffee With Narrative:"

Voltaire's 70 cups to my 2,

what does that make me, though

his we think were demitasse and mine

are big as small dogs. How no one

smokes anymore, sad, I open my pack

here in the night kitchen and out comes

the exotic Mlle. Teuer, laughing, black cat

on her shoulder, and I rivet on her cup

of sugar-tar while she smokes into the night

and regales me with her vanished minor opera-

star years, drops of holiness wetting her smock.

If I run my hand along this shelf I slide into a farm-

stead where I drank the green, the black teas,

organic leaves picked from bushes silvered under

rain in far places no longer fat. But the beloved sister

to merlot & cognac, to mountain water over matching

ice cubes would be the gift of Ethiopia

that would transmogrify Earth.

Dear red berries who made goats dance about,

dear leaf veins standing turgid & erect, how

the little goats in their happiness peed

on those bushes, thus deepening the primal

blend from Dante to Beauvoir;"

I can't wait to read her forthcoming book. And after I do, you'll here more from me about Judith Vollmer, one of my top ten favorite Pittsburgh poets and one of my favorite living writers from anywhere.

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