“Beveled Poise” — Cecilia Woloch

Tuesday morning, October 14, 2014

Cecilia Woloch read her poetry at CSU Long Beach last night. The Soroptimist House must have been closed up since Thursday, since the room seemed to have only been opened at a half-hour before the event. The space obviously had not been aired out at all for some time; the temperature of the room made it almost unsuitable for the event. Several fans were at work, but they were more effective in minimizing the usefulness of the microphone than in making the audience comfortable. Despite the performance conditions, Cecilia gave a very fine reading. Here is my introduction.

The first time I heard Cecilia Woloch read her poetry was at the Gasoline Alley Coffee House on Melrose Blvd. in Los Angeles. Phoebe MacAdmas and I were running a reading series that had originally been started by actor and poet Harry Northup, and Cecilia was a poet who was beginning to earn her living working as a poet-in-the-schools. This is almost impossible to do, and I can attest to the difficulty of doing so because I gave it a try myself. If Cecilia succeeded, it was because of two things: 1) she is simply the most inspiring teacher of poetry I have met; 2) her inspiration derives from a passion for poetry that never stops being curious about the origins of emotions and where their destinies might take us, both as readers and writers.

Indeed, Cecilia Woloch’s poetry invites us all to make more of a journey out of our lives, not necessarily a heroic journey, but the journey that surprises itself in the telling. In her case, it is the unexpectedness of form that keeps me alert to the true degree of risk that she takes as an artist. What’s next? – a prose poem? A pantoum? If L.A. poets are known for their formal variety, they are also known for how an emotional intimacy radiates from their poems like a voice that understands what Whitman whispered to each reader: “I may not tell everyone, but I will tell you.”

Her poetry, however, is not just an intense revelation of personal cross-purposes of life and fate. Like one of her favorite poets, Muriel Rukeyser, she summons history and demands that it account for its often preposterous occurrences. If she is able to recalibrate the narrative of tragic history, such as that imposed on the Romani during World War II, it is because she has traveled a distance (both literally and metaphorically) sufficient to understand the truth of art’s limited redemption.

In the first three paragraphs I hope that one can begin to detect the problem with introducing this wonderful poet. It is almost impossible to acknowledge the full range of qualities that make her such an intriguing figure in contemporary American poetry. One could focus on how rare it is that an outstanding teacher of poetry is also a poet who refuses to take any predictable path of poetics, or one could focus on the different way her writing can be contextualized. In terms of the latter, she is unabashedly a Los Angeles poet, and her love for this city and its poets shines throughout her work as the founding organizer of the Idyllwild Poetry Festival. As a teacher and poet, she has personified the indivisibility of those roles. To learn from her is to hear the language made anew. At the same time, she is a poet who can keep her visionary balance no matter what part of the world’s stage she finds herself writing about. Such a sense of internal centeredness and external poise is a gift that I savor each time I get to hear her poetry. I am delighted to present to you a poet whose poems are beveled with history, knowledge, and vision. Please join me in welcoming Cecilia to CSULB.