Lyrae Van Clief-Stefanon and C.S. Giscombe - Poetry Lecture

May 16, 2022 12:00PM
Rosenwald 405

 The Railroad Sense project is an attempt to address, partly synthesize, and—perhaps mostly—account for and trouble the intersections between some ideas pertaining to public transportation, color, landscape and nature (and “nature writing”).  I’m very interested as well in the literary forms or statements in which those intersections might occur. Much has been written about the railroad—it attracts hobbyists, economists, musicians, and the like.  I came to it in childhood via my parents, who were, in many senses, travelers.  The idea—which I encountered at a very young age—was that the “mechanics” of getting around was a complicated series of processes and, therefore, interesting and worthy of commentary; this was related to the old math teachers’ instruction—“Show your work.”  In later life showing the work became a principle of my work as a poet and essayist: writing was the way of recording the process of thinking about things.  I have no particular interest, as a writer, in “capturing” anything; I am interested in where the writing itself—the vehicle—will take me (and my reader).  My parents—and grandparents—were interested by travel, at least in part, because they were migrants.  We are a black family and the two generations before mine traveled rather deliberately—as did many—from the southern parts of the United States to the northern parts.  (In some 19th and 20th century instances we continued on to Canada.)  My father left the south in the 1940s for Ohio, where I was born; in the 1950s and 1960s we would travel on the overnight train once a year or so to visit his—my father’s—parents in Birmingham and it was in the train stations of that city that I encountered the Jim Crow system.  My mother’s parents fled Mississippi for St. Louis in the 1920s; my grandfather, who had been a county extension agent in Mississippi, found work as a “laborer” with the Terminal Railroad Association of St. Louis, a switching railroad which continues to exist in 2021.  We would take the daylight train to visit them in St. Louis. The train to Birmingham was called the Hummingbird; the train to St. Louis—where the railroad station was not segregated—was the Spirit of St. Louis.

C.S. GISCOMBE’s poetry books are Prairie Style, Giscome Road, Here, etc.; his prose books are Into and Out of Dislocation, Border Towns, and Ohio Railroads (“a poem in essay form”). The poetry book Train Music (a collaboration with the book artist Judith Margolis) was published in 2021; forthcoming is Similarly (a “selected and new” poetry volume). He teaches at the University of California, Berkeley, where he is the Robert Hass Chair in English. He is a long-distance cyclist.

Lyrae Van Clief-Stefanon is the author of Open Interval, a 2009 finalist for the National Book Award and the LA Times Book Prize, and Black Swan, winner of the 2001 Cave Canem Poetry Prize, as well as the chapbooks Leading with a Naked Body with Leela Chantrelle and Poems in Conversation and a Conversation with Elizabeth Alexander. She has been awarded fellowships from Cave Canem, the Lannan Foundation, and Civitella Ranieri. She has written plays and lyrics for The Cherry, an Ithaca arts collective, and in 2018, her work was featured in Courage Everywhere, celebrating women’s suffrage and the fight for political equality, at National Theatre London.