* rochelle hurt’s The Rusted City

BELT: Your poems do a wonderful job of transforming a city’s decay into beauty without romanticizing the image of America’s failed industrialism. How does The Rusted City set itself apart from other works that exploit or generalize the Rust Belt experience? 

Hurt: I felt it was important to write about a Rust Belt city without glorifying urban ruin or falling into nostalgia for the good old days of industry. I was born into decline, so those days were never a part of my life. In the book, I wanted to imagine a world in a miraculous return to the past wasn’t even an option — a world already made from the rust . . . The metaphoric mergers between the characters and the city’s decay prevent the Rust Belt setting from being reduced to a romantic or dramatic backdrop; these characters are their city.*

* rust in time *
* rust in time *

Reading through fellow UC colleague and friend Rochelle Hurt’s The Rusted City recently, I found myself marveling much at the ambition of the book’s central metaphor, each poem adding to the logic and myth of a world not parallel but more chipped and glinted from ours.

I include the interview excerpt above because it describes aptly what I mean by “central metaphor.” Already an engaging concept, the book’s most pleasurable moments for me are when the metaphor of a decaying city permeate into human experience.

In the poem below, one can see the unique tension of Hurt’s city-mythology at work: a childhood scene is complicated by the metaphor of the rusted city, and vice versa, in a confluence that makes for a captivating reading experience.

The Quiet Mother Cups the Favorite Father’s Ear – Rochelle Hurt

with her lip. It quivers on her tongue like a lump of pudding, a tapioca earlobe. The smallest sister is behind the wall, watching through a termite hole. She sees their hands and legs tangle into a knot of twine on the bed. When one of the hands reaches up and ties itself to the chain in the ceiling, black spills into the room. The smallest sister gasps and shreds of rust flutter from the peephole into her mouth. They snag their way down, crumpling like foil in her throat.


Happy rusting!


* The rest of the BELT magazine interview with Rochelle can be read here.

For more on this poet’s work, check out her site here.

* stitching along with valerie wallace

I came across this week’s poem – “Winged” by Valerie Wallace – reading through the latest issue of Rust + Moth.

I was taken in by the Auden reference to the “old masters” from his poem Musee des Beaux Arts. I find the reference suiting since the impetus for Wallace’s poem comes from Alexander McQueen, whom I don’t know too much about except that his singular designs had him working with Bjork and Lady Gaga as well as designing Kate Middleton’s wedding dress (more to the point: Alexander McQueen the person didn’t design Middleton’s wedding dress – because he was dead. His label did – more specifically Sarah Burton, the creative director since his death).

In Wallace’s poem, the corset in question is taken on both conceptually as well as visually in the structure of the poem. The couplets themselves work down the poem like stitches as the speaker goes further into breaking and fraying as much meaning from each word “Be/hold balsa ribbons” is an especially powerful revelatory reading moment.

Enjoy the poem below and check out the rest of the issue of Rust + Moth here.

* mid-flight *
* mid-flight *

Winged – Valerie Wallace

—Corset from the Alexander McQueen collection No. 13, spring/summer 1999

The old masters
got them wrong,

their locations, at
least. Not pinned

at the spine like a moth
or the bone blade spurt.

From the tiny bloom
of sternum I swept

over shoulders, fanned,
arc’d. Slit for heavy arms.

How on earth do you
expect to walk in them? Ha.

Be/hold balsa ribbons
planed, laced, bindings,

not for flight but descent.
How will you care for me,

keep me from fire.
It sings, you know,


a promise to be ever
sewn into the sun.


Happy sunning!


p.s. For more info on the McQueen piece go here.

And for more poems from Wallace’s Be/spoke project, go here.

* weathering with sandra cisneros & sleater-kinney

Sometimes the books find you.

I remember Sandra Cisneros’ Loose Woman as one of the first books of poems I carried around with me, young and possessed of that particular hubris termed a calling to poetry (Even the phrasing of that reeks of hubris, no?).

I remember being in high school and even then struggling with how to deal with culture and words, how to balance a love of Yeats (wherever Innisfree was, it sounded dope and fancy) as well as for Juan Gabriel (try listening to “Querida” and not feeling something!).

What I was moved by most in reading Cisneros is her ability to bring such worlds together. She was the first writer I read to bring together worlds I knew – Texas, books, and, yes, heartbreak (highschool amiright?) – and show how they can coexist through the tension of words.

In the spirit of this “world-togethering,” I’ve decided to pair up this week’s poem with the video for Sleater-Kinney’s new song, “No Cities to Love.” The chorus of the song (There are no cities, no cities to love/It’s not the city, it’s the weather we love!) brought me back to Cisneros and her poems which taught me how to take note of weather.

Bay Poem from Berkeley – Sandra Cisneros

Mornings I still
reach for you before
opening my eyes.

An antique habit from
last summer when we pulled
each other into the heat of groin
and belly, slept with an arm
around the other.

The Texas sun was like that.
Like a body asleep beside you.

But when I open my eyes
to the flannel and down,
mist at the window and blue
light from the bay, I remember
where I am.

This weight
on the other side of the bed
is only books, not you. What
I said I loved more than you.

Though these mornings
I wish books loved back.


Happy weathering!


* charting the world with rafael campo

In searching for images to accompany this week’s poem, I came across the photo below. The photo is from 1933 and is of the Metropolitan nurses home at Roosevelt Island, part of the Renwick Smallpox Hospital complex.

The image below stayed with me for the way it captured what might have been part of someone’s daily commute or walk, a scene that may have been overlooked in day to day life. The image is almost without center, or rather, the center is active, keeping the viewer staring off into the detailed distance as one would be able to should they be turning this particular corner.

This week’s poem – “Chart” by Rafael Campo (pulled from the latest issue of Poetry*) – takes on the idea of people being overlooked in a doctor’s work life. Through the detailing of the particular corners of the people that he knows, Campo keeps the reader looking into the very active center of his poem.

* look over *
* look over *

The Chart – Rafael Campo

Says fifty-four-year-old obese Hispanic
female — I wonder if they mean the one
with long black braids, Peruvian, who sells
tamales at the farmers’ market, tells
me I’m too thin, I better eat; or is
she the Dominican with too much rouge
and almond eyes at the dry cleaner’s who
must have been so beautiful in her youth;
or maybe she’s the Cuban lady drunk
on grief who I’ve seen half-asleep, alone
as if that bench were only hers, the park
her home at last; or else the Mexican
who hoards the littered papers she collects
and says they are her “documents”; if not,
it could be that Colombian drug addict
whose Spanish, even when she’s high, is perfect;
or maybe it’s the one who never says
exactly where she’s from, but who reminds
me of my grandmother, poor but refined,
lace handkerchief balled up in her plump hand,
who died too young from a condition that
some doctor, nose in her chart, overlooked.


Happy nosing!


* p.s. Read the rest of this month’s issue of Poetry here.

* holding light & dark via brad leithauser

Some poems move me for their ability to hold contradiction and multitudes of possibility.

This week’s poem, “A Candle” by Brad Leithauser, does just that. The phrasing starts in debate mode (“your point of view”) but quickly rises from it into suspended thought via imagery. Through the singular rhyme scheme’s quick turns, the poem leaves the reader with the image of a candle delivered *ahem* light-ly but whose undertones are dark. The suspension of thought comes, for me, in terms of the phrase “I am thinking of” which doesn’t so much pin down a bias as much as let the “single fellow” exist between “love” and “hell.” Enjoy!

* the single fellow *
* the single fellow *

A Candle – Brad Leithauser

According to
your point of view,
it stands for love –
or hell posed starkly.
I’m thinking of
the single fellow
who hunches darkly,
as though with shame,
there at the blue-yellow
center of the flame.

(from The Mail from Anywhere)


Happy 2015, y’all! Here’s wishing you good words and reading in the new year!

Happy centering!