Poetry Animates The Culver Center

The Culver Center of the Arts is perhaps one of the most important cultural centers in Riverside. Located about five minutes from Mission Inn, the center hosts exhibitions, film screenings and even poetry readings. This Friday, the center hosted one such event, celebrating two poets, Heather Altfeld and Troy Jollimore, as a part of their regular series “Conversations at the Culver with the Inlandia Institute.”

The Inlandia Institute is a publisher located in the Inland Empire that attempts to celebrate the work of local writers by offering free events and programs. Accordingly, they celebrate “our region in word, image, and sound.” The occasion for this conversation at the Culver was a celebration of both Altfeld’s and Jollimore’s work.

The event began with the Inlandia Institute’s chair for the programs committee, Karen Rae Kraut. She introduced both acclaimed authors and their noteworthy accomplishments, commenting on the fact that the evening’s audience was witnessing the first publication of Altfeld’s new book, “The Disappearing Theatre.” The collection of poetry won the inaugural Poets at Work Book Prize. Kraut also mentioned that Altfeld is also a resident at the Vermont Studio Center, as well as a long-time member of the community of writers at Squaw Valley.

Meanwhile, Jollimore’s latest book of poetry is 2015’s “Syllabus of Errors.” His 2006 poetry collection “Tom Thomson in Purgatory” won the National Book Critics Circle Award. Kraut also pointed out that Jollimore is the author of several books on philosophy, including “Love Vision” and “On Loyalty,” and that he’s been an ex-faculty Fellow at the Stanford Humanities Center, the Stanford P. Young Poetry Fellow at the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference and a Guggenheim Fellow.

Kraut began the conversation by asking Altfeld and Jollimore both about how they came to the field of literature, specifically poetry. Altfeld stated that she studied anthropology as an undergraduate, but didn’t come to literature until she was in her late 20s. Jollimore studied philosophy, and came to writing poetry through his relationship with philosophy. The discussion from there ranged from their various writing schedules and processes to major influences on their work. For example, Jollimore spoke at length about Randall Jarrell, one of his favorite poet-critics, and his statement “Poetry is a bad medium for philosophy,” and his understanding of that as a poet trained in philosophy.

Both poets, once the conversation was over, read selections from their own work and gave a little context about the poems they were reading and how they fit into their larger interests. Altfeld read “American Taxidermy,” “In the Country of Fallen Things” and “Blueprint for the Infinite,” while Jollimore read “When Evening Comes” and “The Adventure.” The poems were rhythmic and played on ideas of longing and vanishing, like these lines from Altfeld’s poem “American Taxidermy”: “There is something quiet happening here / that you can only see if you stay awhile. Have a drink.”

Given his upbringing in Nova Scotia, Jollimore spoke about his relationship with the wilderness and landscapes, and how they’ve influenced his poetry. Specifically, when asked about why he dislikes landscape poetry, Jollimore replied, “It’s not that I don’t like landscape poetry — I’m not very good at it. And I would love to be better at it, because a lot of my favorite writers are very aware of the landscape.” He cited writers outside of poetry, such as Cormac McCarthy, and how awed he is by their versatility. “If I could come any near to what he does, I would write about landscapes all the time.”
Most of the audience members in attendance were older, with some distinguished faculty there as well. The event was well-organized and felt like a genuinely intimate conversation with two accomplished writers animatedly discussing their favorite topic: poetry.

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