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Readings in Contemporary Poetry

Maxine Chernoff and Emily Skillings

Tuesday, May 15, 2018, 6:30 pm, Dia Chelsea

Event Details
Tuesday, May 15, 2018, 6:30 pm

535 West 22nd Street, 5th Floor
New York City 

Readings in Contemporary Poetry curator, Vincent Katz provided an introduction for the evening's reading.

Free for Dia members; $10 general admission; $6 admission for students and seniors 

Advance ticket purchases recommended. Tickets are also available for purchase at the door, subject to availability. 

Maxine Chernoff is a professor and chair-ex officio of creative writing at San Francisco State University. She received a Writers’ Corner fellowship in poetry from the National Endowment for the Arts in 2013. Chernoff is the author of six books of fiction and sixteen books of poetry including Camera (Subito, 2017), Here (Counterpath, 2014), Without (Shearsman, 2012), A House in Summer (Argotist, 2011), To Be Read in the Dark (Omnidawn, 2011), and The Turning (Apogee Press, 2008). Her collection of stories, Signs of Devotion (Simon and Schuster), was named a New York Times Notable Book in 1993. Both her novel American Heaven (Coffee House Press, 1996) and her book of short stories, Some of Her Friends That Year (Coffee House Press, 2002), were finalists for the Bay Area Book Reviewers Award. With Paul Hoover, she translated The Selected Poems of Friedrich Hölderlin (Omnidawn Press, 2008), which received a Pen Translation Award in 2009. She has read her work and taught at workshops in Australia, Belgium, Brazil, China, England, Germany, and Scotland, as well as the Prague Summer Program for Writers and the Summer Literary Seminars in Saint Petersburg. She was an international visiting scholar at the University of Exeter in England, and a visiting writer at the American Academy in Rome. She is cofounding editor of the long-running and award-winning journal New American Writing, and has reviewed fiction for the Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times, and New York Times.

A House in Summer 

“Virginia Woolf wrote this paragraph.” –Erich Auerbach 

In which a woman wonders when her son will grow taller, when the weather will clear and her husband stop throwing his negative shadow on clocks and lamps and objects as they are. Will it grow lighter despite his darkness, her eyes dry, though they are mostly dry, despite the feeling of tears welling up as she wishes for the boy to have more light.

Will the room, nature’s repository of conical shells and tidy driftwood and small and radiant glass beads smoothed for centuries by water's vague intentions, have something to say about the figures that come and go, the careless boy, unhappy man and woman whose demeanor makes the room glow with the distinct light of sickrooms, though no one yet is ill—but there is the care and caution one associates with grief.

When shutters break loose and the wind does its work and the people who've shined with the moment's surprises and disappointments and failures to love quite well enough have left the room, will the wind acknowledge their vivid passing on sofas and loveseats where sand is engrained in scalloped patterns of fabric woven to resemble teardrop-shaped leaves? Will photos teeter on walls in their dampened frames or simply be stacked in boxes for relatives to take to a coach house overlooking a stand of elms on a narrow hill that deflects the wind, where someday a woman opens the box in front of her grandson who asks without much concern, to pass the day, who were these people, did you know them?

And the woman, because she is sentimental but cautious with her emotions, will say without conviction, I hear they were a family who summered at the beach, who lost their mother, who thought many things and then forgot them, who loved as well as they might, as I love you, she will tell her grandson, though not it words. She will think these words as he looks at her without knowing why her answer takes so long and when it does comes seems to acknowledge some deep sorrow of inheritance neither can understand.

If this is in a book as most things turn out to be, the woman will have read it twice:  once when she was young herself, a reader whose eyes grew teary for Mrs. Ramsey and all the love in the world that gathers in unmapped corners where someone comes to stand for no good reason, and then again when she is older and knows the pleasure of overhearing in her own voice things she might have said to calm herself and soothe a boy.

Emily Skillings is the author of the poetry collection Fort Not (Song Cave, 2017), as well as two chapbooks, Backchannel (Poor Claudia, 2014) and Linnaeus: The 26 Sexual Practices of Plants (No, Dear, 2014). Recent poems can be found or are forthcoming in BOMB, Boston Review, Brooklyn Rail, Harper’s, Hyperallergic, jubilat, LitHub, and Poetry. Skillings is a member of Belladonna*—a feminist poetry collective, small press, and event series. She received her MFA from Columbia University in New York, where she was a creative writing fellow in 2017, and has also taught poetry at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, and at the New School in New York. She splits her time between Brooklyn and Hudson, New York.


I buy an orb-shaped glass orb
and a designer candle
and go home to touch myself.

Take off everything but my shag coat,
turn on some minimalist drone
sent to me by a man.

I was never almost partly there.
I was on a stone beach in Newfoundland
enjoying near-perfect sound
with the early, hovering crowd of bodies.

I was in early evening Brooklyn
backchanneling an elder about acupuncture
receiving dull, potato-shaped aches,
age-old pricks, hyperbolic
Encyclopedia of World Mythology-sized feelings.

Ereshkigal bolts the seven gates of the underworld
against her sister, ruler of heaven.

Isis buries replicas of Osiris’s genitals
in Egypt’s maternal earth fields.

Some chick gets pregnant when she squats in clay.
Her baby a limbless waterpot with a giant mouth
betrays her in the river.

A glitter splotch moves across my eye.
Bacteria raft?
I’ve been drinking too much possessed broth.
I pre-condition. I condition. I deep condition.
I leave-in condition. I deflect an image
of the body as a series
of hermetically sealed plastic cubes
filled with sluggish wasps. 

I can skillfully point at something
by connecting it to a term
with a little line from my
character viewer of recently
used icons, but really there’s nothing
in these texts to end on.

I climb out into a thought—
some rare embossed urn,
youngish flowers pasted
on the back of light,
misaligned polka dots
on an entitled seam,

a pulse in my ass,
the exquisitely dropped beat
I’ve been searching for
in most holdable objects.




Photo: Don Stahl

Readings in Contemporary Poetry: An Anthology

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