This Sunday, May 8th, 6pm at Porta (135 Newark Ave, Jersey City), Cross Poetry will be featuring another fabulous quartet of poets, including Yasmin Belkhyr, Nancy Hightower, Caleb Kaiser, and Joy Priest. In anticipation of this event, read my interview with the reading’s co-curators, Jen DeGregorio and Claudia Cortese:
1. What spurred the creation of the Cross Poetry Review and the reading series? What is your vision for the journal and series?
After I graduated from an MFA program at Hunter College in New York, I was struggling to stay connected to a poetry community. I had moved back to my home-state of NJ to live with my partner (who will become my husband in June), and I teach very early in the morning at two different colleges (at Hunter and at Montclair State University in NJ). I also have a lot of family and old friends in NJ, as does my partner. All of these things combined to really limit my time and ability to attend poetry readings in NYC, which is home to so much literary action. What were my options? I thought the best solution to keep me connected – and to give back to the poetry community – would be to start a reading series close to home. Jersey City is a really quick PATH ride from my apartment, and it’s also very easy to access from the NYC subway, which connects with the NJ PATH system. The goal was to highlight NJ poets but also to bring NY poets to NJ. Part of this idea was very selfish: I wanted amazing poets to come to me. But the other part was a genuine desire to foster a relationship between the poetry communities in NJ and NY, two states that, while only separated by a river, often seem worlds apart. So far we’ve been really successful, bringing in some of New York’s most celebrated, legitimately amazing young poets, such as Rickey Laurentiis and Danniel Schoonebeek as well as emerging poets who have yet to publish a book. We’ve had visitors from out of state, too, including the poet laureate of New Hampshire, Alice B. Fogel. All of the poets who have read with us are extremely talented, beautiful writers. You can check out their names here.
2. When did Claudia Cortese come on board? What does she add to the picture?
I started the reading series in January 2015 by myself; I asked Claudia to join me as co-curator in the summer of that year, and we announced our partnership in July 2015. Lucky me! Why did I ask her to join me at Cross, and why do I feel so lucky that she agreed? Well, I had met Claudia while working at Montclair State University (MSU), where we both teach in the First-Year Writing Program. I actually first met her partner, Boris, as we both began working at MSU at the same time. Upon our first meeting, I told him I was a poet, and he told me all about his amazingly talented girlfriend, Claudia. Of course I Googled her (I don’t think I ever told her that!), and saw her work online, which I thought was brilliant. I later had the opportunity to emcee an event at MSU where she read her work, and I was even more impressed by her artistic vision. I asked her to read at Cross, which she did in early July. By then we had gotten to know each other, and I realized that she would be a great co-curator. As a poet, her sensibility is slightly different from my own, which is a good thing. I have leaned toward a more traditional kind of poetry, often narrative and epiphanic (though I’m branching out these days), while Claudia seems more interested in exploring character and voice through more associative, hybrid lyrics (that’s how I see her work, anyway). The other thing I admire about Claudia is her social consciousness, in her life and in her poetry. She is a politically minded queer feminist, one who is deeply engaged in an intellectual exploration of gender and what it means to be a gendered body moving through the world. She is engaged in other discourses of identity as well, such as on race and privilege. She values diversity and is committed to justice. I share these values and commitments. In the last few years in particular, I’ve found myself drawn into feminist thought and writing, really for the first time; I’m thinking a lot about gender. Movements like Black Lives Matter and Black Poets Speak Out have also inspired me to really examine my own position of privilege as a white American woman and the ways I have been blind to that privilege in various spaces; they have encouraged me to interrogate my privilege, to examine my relationship to people and writers of color as well as other historically marginalized voices. I want Cross to be a series that explores these issues — which really are the crucial issues of our times — and I want it to be a space that nurtures poets from as many walks of life and perspectives as possible. I know Claudia wants that, too, and we’ve been working toward that together.
3. Some of the most memorable lines from past readings, provided by Claudia:
“If god made us in his image, it was the first failure of the imagination.” Rickey Laurentiis
“Learn to love what is dying before it dies.” Shelagh Patterson
“If I am a black queen and you are a black queen we are both a ridiculous shape” Jayson Smith
“Can terror be a gender.” Grey Vild
“Lie down in the length of your body which is more linear than time.” Emilia Phillips
“All poems are political because power hates the imagination.” Vincent Toro
“Unfashionable, like the word breakdown.” Melissa Adamo