Monday, July 25, 2011

Observable Readings: September 6 featuring Debra Allbery and Stephanie Schlaifer

Poets Debra Allbery and Stephanie Schlaifer Usher In 2011-2012 Observable Readings Series on Sept. 6 at the Schlafly Bottleworks

Debra Allbery grew up halfway between Lancaster, OH, where she was born, and Athens, OH, where there's the University, in a town called Enterprise, which just happens to be a very Sherwood Anderson territory-Enterprise was the basis of his novel Winesburg, Ohio. Schooled at Denison University and the College of Wooster, Allbery received her MFA from the University of Iowa, where she studied with Larry Levis, and did further graduate work at the University of Virginia, connecting there with Charles Wright. In 1989 she was the Discovery/The Nation winner, and she won the Agnes Lynch Starrett Poetry Prize for her first book, Walking Distance (1991). She's also the recipient of two NEA fellowships, two fellowships from the New Hampshire State Council on the Arts, and a Hawthornden fellowship. She's been a writer-in-residence at Phillips Exeter Academy, Interlochen Arts Academy, and a teacher at Dickinson College and the University of Michigan. Now the director of the Warren Wilson MFA Program for Writers, she lives near Asheville, NC. Her second book, just out from Four Way Books, is Fimbul-Winter.

Surely it was Levis who contributed to Allbery's extraordinarily rich sense of the pastoral, as a literary mode, a mode of "this space which is like | room for error" (italics in the original). In the spaces of abrupt shift, of discontinuity, in the ballad's narrative point of view, in the American song's spaces of allegorical excitement, when we're not sure if it's Arthurian England or a construction site, Debra Allbery has found her Walking Distance, a buzz in which the aspects of desire or recognition are caught out, electric. She has had the sense from the first to go into her sources, whether these are Sherwood Anderson's Enterprise, OH, or Levis' rootless demimonde of all-but abandoned public spaces. In Fimbul-Winter, it is again the rootless "weird" of that space opened in the poem between image, music, and lyric choice. This is Allbery's world, and while it finds itself on native literary grounds, it also discovers something uncanny in that world's other-the author's own experience, and suffering.

Stephanie Schlaifer, originally from Atlanta, GA, works in St. Louis as an artist and freelance editor. She holds a BFA in sculpture and BA in English literature from Washington University in St. Louis (1999) and an MFA in poetry from the Writers' Workshop at the University of Iowa (2003). Schlaifer's poems are informed by travel, and by social class. She is interested in the way that the cut-in landscape, in the body, and in familial position-shapes the lyric, ironically positioned narrative voice with affiliations in painting, photography, and children's verse.

As editor-designer of Delmar, she was responsible for its eleventh, and last, issue. Her own work has appeared in or is forthcoming from Verse, Chicago Review, Colorado Review, Sugar House Review, and Fence, among other journals. A manuscript, Clarkson St. Polaroids, was a semi-finalist for the Brittingham and Felix Pollak Prize from The University of Wisconsin Press, and a finalist for the 2010 Beatrice Hawley Award from Alice James Books. Schlaifer is a combative Boggler and a compulsive baker; it is rumored that two men once arm-wrestled each other to death for the last slice of her pecan pie. She is currently working on a book of poems about historical weather events and a collection of children's books in verse.