Wick poetry winners reflect on clouds, apples, everything

Andrew Schiller

“You can buy both of them for less than the price of a pitcher of beer,” said Maggie Anderson, director of the Wick Poetry Center. “And they will enlighten you far more.”

Benjamin Scott Grossberg’s The Auctioneer Bangs his Gavel and F. Daniel Rzicznek’s Cloud Tablets were the winning chapbooks in the 2005 Wick Chapbook Competition.

Both poets had their work appear in various publications and both gave poetry readings last night at the first spring performance of the 2006-2007 Wick Poetry series.

A love of apple orchards

Grossberg, whose favorite writers are Shakespeare and Walt Whitman, teaches poetry and English Renaissance literature at Antioch College.

“He is one who intertwines a survey of sexuality, and gay sexuality at that, with theological questions, … one who knows how to be serious, with the assistance of laughter,” said Anderson, in quoting what another poet has said of Grossberg, who comes from a long line of rabbis.

“I actually believe some of that stuff is genetic, sometimes. I don’t think I would have liked it, but I would have been good at it,” Grossberg said.

He said he’s not interested in opening people up or getting them to write about his life.

“I would like to think that I write about sex from that perspective and that if I were straight I would just write about that from a straight perspective,” he said.

Grossberg read a lot from his upcoming poetry book Sweet Core Orchard, which has lots of apples references.

“I went 15 years without eating an apple. Who else can say that but Eve? Fifteen years without the hard crunch that now I prefer above all things,” said Grossberg, in reading his poem “Two Apples.”

“As long as I can remember I’ve wanted an apple orchard and to be a poet,” he said.

Grossberg said he gets his inspiration from unexpected things.

“It’s so hard to predict. I think in all disciplines you happen upon something and you keep thinking about it even though it’s small or stupid,” he said. “So, it’s a way to cleanse your minds of those things, to shake the Etch-A-Sketch.”

He had already won the Pushcart Prize and an Ohio Arts Council grant for writing by the time his chapbook was recognized by the Wick Poetry Center, Anderson said. Underwater Lengths in a Single Breath, his first book of poems, will be published this spring.

Looking to the sky

“Reading Rzicznek’s poems, we are surprised by the way the poet has found to get at something, to describe it. His metaphors startle: ‘Black thumbs of lava heave matter into pigeons of smoke,'” creative writing professor Alice Cone said.

One of Rzicznek’s poems opened with wisdom from a fortune cookie.

“To add something to the truth only subtracts from the truth,” he said.

“What if you kind of add something — not to the truth — but maybe kind of next to the truth or kind of near the truth, but not on the truth, but kind of in that same area: close to the truth. So that’s kind of where this poem arrives from,” he said of “Captiva.”

Rzicznek read from different collections, including his Cloud Tablet chapbook.

“I think that’s sort of one of my big things, is kind of waking up, reacting to the world and not really going through the motions, but waking up to that amazement that we’re in the world and the world is so big and diverse and amazingly complex,” Rzicznek said.

“That’s kind of frightening, but there’s some comfort in knowing that your complexities are mirrored by complexities all around you, right? You don’t feel so alone,” he said.

Rzicznek started reading Whitman and lots of Allen Ginsberg in high school. Then he took his first creative writing class at Kent State and one thing led to another, he said.

“I took the Teaching Poetry in Schools class … and that was a real turning point for me,” he said.

Rzicznek now teaches English at Bowling Green State University.

His first book of poems, Neck of the World, recently won the 2007 May Swenson Poetry Prize and will be published by the Utah State University Press this summer.

Contact libraries and information reporter Andrew Schiller at [email protected].