Poetry Corner

Each month Safety Harbor Poet Laureate Steve Kistulentz selects a poet and poem to be featured here alongside his critique and insight. 
Poetry Corner
July 2019

Welcome to our new Poetry Corner, in which each month, I’ll introduce you to a poem and a poet. There will be no exam to follow, not even a quiz, but out of respect for the true professor I am, I will offer a short introduction to the chosen work, and a few suggestions for additional reading along the way. Speaking of a poetry corner, I’d invite you to visit the new poetry collection we’ve added to the stacks at the Safety Harbor Library; in my first act as the new poet laureate of Safety Harbor, I asked my colleagues and friends to contribute copies of their work that greatly expand the library’s holdings in contemporary poetry. I hope you’ll stop by and check out a volume or two and find a new favorite. 

I thought it would be only appropriate that we launch our new endeavor by paying a bit of tribute to one of the other fine poets who reside in Florida. This month’s poet is Campbell McGrath. He lives in the Miami area and teaches at Florida International University and is one of the most prolific contemporary American poets. His work manages to pull off one of the most difficult tricks imaginable, to investigate huge ideas and subjects and yet still maintain a sense of openness, a kind of accessibility that makes his thinking available even to readers with little experience reading contemporary poetry. He’s got a lot to say about his chosen subject, which is generally the American experience, but he says it in the kind of familiar language that makes his poems seem at times to be conversations with an old friend. His most recent book, Nouns and Verbs: New and Selected Poems was published in June by Ecco/Harper Collins, and stands as a solid, mid-career retrospective of one of America’s most distinct voices. 

His work often references popular music, the kind of soundtrack that first appeared in his book American Noise, which name-checked a number of performers like Bruce Springsteen. That strategy—using the familiar to explain the bigger picture—is a common one for McGrath, and its power is on full display in his 2016 book XX, which was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. The title is an abbreviation for the 20th century, and the book touches on subjects ranging from historical figures like Picasso, Frida Kahlo, and Gertrude Stein to the first appearance of the @ sign in an interoffice email at MIT. It’s a testimony to McGrath’s eye and ear that this small but significant detail is included in a list of historical and cultural events that amply demonstrate both the radical change and upheaval of the 20th century. I’ve chosen my favorite poem from that book, “The Ticking Clock” as our inaugural selection of the Poet’s Corner. 



Snoop Dogg is born, Julian Assange is born. Already it is coming,
already the new century—though we have hardly begun 
to imagine the death of the old—is taking shape around us.
Babies are crying in nurseries, toddlers are shaking their rattles.
A tennis star is born in Germany, a footballer in Nigeria.
Downhill skiers are born, prime ministers, business tycoons,
pop stars whose images will paper the streets of Tokyo and Bangkok.
Barack Obama is ten years old. Hillary Rodham has just begun
to date her down-home Yale Law classmate, Bill Clinton.
Vladimir Putin is a student at Leningrad State University. 
Major General Idi Amin Dada seizes power in Uganda.
Century of integrated circuits & blue plastic radios,
century of self-conscious fabrication, century of human moons.
Larry Page and Sergey Brin will not be born for two more years,
information technology is a euphemism for paper and pencil.
At MIT, Ray Tomlinson decides to employ the @ sign 
in the address of the very first email, which he sends 
over the ARPANET to another computer in the same room:
“Don’t tell anyone,” he confesses to a friend, 
“but this is not what we’re supposed to be working on.”
Uma Thurman is an infant. Princess Diana is a shy girl
in boarding school; she will not survive the century.
Tupac Shakur is born but he will not survive it. 
Jim Morrison dies in a bathtub in Paris—no one here gets out alive.
The south tower of the World Trade Center is topped out 
at 1368 feet, officially the tallest building in the world. 
In Kafr el-Sheik, Mohammed Atta is three years old. 
Coco Chanel dies. Reinhold Niebuhr, Igor Stravinsky 
and Louis Armstrong die. Lance Armstrong is born.
The future is being assembled in the expanding neural webs 
of six-year-olds, in the atoms of the yet-to-be-incarnated 
beings we imagine as holographic ghosts sitting awkwardly
in the waiting room of the future. Adriano Moraes,
the Brazilian rodeo champion, is one; Wyclef Jean is two.
Agnes Martin will not resume painting for three more years.
The 20th Century is vanishing, o radiant century,
century of quarter notes & treble clefs, of chalk on black paper,
century of deliverance & self-deception, expediency & lies.
Duane Allman crashes his Harley, Edie Sedgwick o.d.’s,
Dean Acheson and Gene Vincent die on the same day.
George Seferis dies. Pablo Neruda wins the Nobel Prize
but has only eighteen months to live. Bertrand Russell,
Yukio Mishima and Jimi Hendrix were buried last year.
Ogden Nash has died; no one lives forever, but he tried.
Lin Biao is dead, his coup against the aging Mao a failure.
Deng Xiaoping has been sent to the provinces for reeducation
at the Xinjian Country Tractor Factory: he will reemerge. 
China will follow the Capitalist road; to be rich is glorious. 
Alan Shepard hits the very first golf ball on the moon.
Daisuke Enomoto, Japan’s first space tourist, is born.
George Lucas directs his first film, Wes Anderson is two
Kubrick releases A Clockwork Orange, Guillermo del Toro is seven.
Jimmy Wales attends a Montessori school in Alabama:
Wikipedia cannot be found in any glossary or reference text. 
Soon there will be no need for glossaries or reference texts.
Bird is dead, Monk is crazy, Miles has turned his back,
Elvis is lost, John Lennon no longer believes in Beatles.
As Disney World opens the Manson Family are on trial
and America’s largest underground nuclear test, Cannikin,
detonates beneath Amchitka in the Aleutian Islands. 
Behold, I am alpha and omega. The world is being destroyed, 
the world is being created anew; the century is dying, 
the century is being born. The clock is ticking.

Steve Kistulentz

Steve Kistulentz was appointed by the Safety Harbor City Commission in April 2019 as the Poet Laureate of Safety Harbor. 

Dr. Kistulentz is the author of the novel Panorama, published in 2018 by Little, Brown & Co. He also published two award-winning collections of poetry, Little Black Daydream and The Luckless Age, winner of the Benjamin Saltman Award. He has a BA in English from the College of William and Mary, an MA from Johns Hopkins University, an MFA from the Iowa Writer’s Workshop, and a PhD from the Florida State University.

His shorter works have appeared in journals including The Antioch Review, The Cincinnati Review, Crab Orchard Review, Mississippi Review, New Letters, Quarterly West, Quarter After Eight, The Southern Review, and many others. He taught at the Johns Hopkins University, the University of Iowa, where he was the Joseph and Ursil Callan Scholar, and at Florida State University, where he was an Edward and Marie C. Kingsbury Fellow for Excellence in Thought. Currently, he directs the graduate creative writing program at Saint Leo University.

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