Poetry Center Book Award Reading: Lynn Xu and Jacob Kahn

The Poetry Center presents poets Lynn Xu and Jacob Kahn, each reading their work then joining in conversation with one another and their audience. Xu's book, And Those Ashen Heaps That Cantilevered Vase of Moonlight (Wave Books, 2022), is selected by Kahn to receive The Poetry Center Book Award, given each year since 1980 to an outstanding book of poems. Join us for this online-only event.

Register here.

VIDEO for this program will be posted after editing at Poetry Center Digital Archive.

  • Lynn Xu’s And Those Ashen Heaps That Cantilevered Vase of Moonlight is both embodied meditation on and mythic labor through the exhausting multiplicities of birth, death, and the diaphanous channel rippling between. It evokes the brute physicality of coming into being (“Rippling in the ceosops / foreskin of wind / still surrounded by blood / poverty / and the uneven caresses”); toils in the flushed, pained ecstasies of gestating, birthing, mothering; flickers in and out of ancestral exchange (“The Unanimous Mother / When does she arrive?”); and cycles through dream and memory and mythos and memory and dream. Extrusion, excretion, involution, absorption, fever, resistance, the poverty of the living, the starkness of the organism: “This morning / standing over myself / as one does / a kind of poverty / to be born / from nothing.” Birth as memorial, and memorial as birth. These interstitial strands extrude and involute their way into a singularly charged poetic material weaving and dissolving the boundaries of being and time, self and (m)other, womb and space, before and after. The title—itself an irresolvable linguistic construct, a mesmerizingly dense invocation which supplies the elements yet evades the guidelines of sense—are the ashen heaps doing the cantilevering? Is a comma missing or a caesura implied?—is also the chorally haunting opening of the book, each word in all caps given is its own page, before the screen goes dark as it were, a black page offsetting our descent into the text. Xu is a stunning lyricist, spare and virtuosic, inventive, whose sense of syntactic rigor and paratactic surprise is ever-present across her poetry, even in a book as different from her first, the poetry collection Debts & Lessons, as the more experimental And Those Ashen Heaps That Cantilevered Vase of Moonlight. Less a book-length poem than a single operatic or staged entity, this book uses a set of structural, linguistic, and visual techniques that make reading it feel like sitting before a surrounding multichannel display. Or, an arthouse reimagining of the human development ur-film The Miracle of Life, eschewing the classic’s documentary empiricism for a kaleidoscopic oracularity, combining modes of elegy, libretto, hosanna, dream journaling, and visual poetics. The propulsive play of those visual poetics gives the book its transitive urgency: fonts are enlarged to unusual sizes, all caps and italics employed with figurative purpose, sections separated by pixelated black abstractions resembling the cloudy details of an ultrasound, single words or short lines absorb entire pages, and white text in English and Chinese and Spanish emanates out from pitch black pages. (Notably, And Those Ashen Heaps That Cantilevered Vase of Moonlight was adapted as a monumental text-based multimedia installation at Museum of Contemporary Art Tucson in 2022-23, an exhibition which, even from afar, seems a perfect distillation of this spectral work.) Altogether, the book’s formal experimentation and gripping vocality function to intervene on behalf of the living and dead, or function in the shadow of their intervention, to labor and mother and commune in body and spirit against a brutalist world whose violence and inhumanity would have us ripped from any and all lineage and scattered, unmemorialized, as ash. Its feminism refuses this denial by situating the book as a sacred site for the growing and feral, the wretched, the pregnant, the pro- and preceding: “DREAMING YOU, / FLOWING IN MY BODY, / BODY OF THE OTHER, / WRITING MYSELF, / with the illegibility of an / ALREADY that leads back to / nothing, / DON’T DIE.” 
    —judge's statement by Jacob Kahn

Born in Shanghai, Lynn Xu is the author of the full-length collections Debts & Lessons (Omnidawn, 2013) and And Those Ashen Heaps That Cantilevered Vase of Moonlight (Wave Books, 2022). The latter work was on view at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Tucson as an exhibition of the same title, and the book was selected for The Poetry Center Book Award. Author as well of two chapbooks: June (Corollary Press, 2006) and Tournesol (Compline, 2021), Xu has performed cross-disciplinary works at the Guggenheim Museum, the Renaissance Society, Rising Time Projects, and 300 S. Kelly Street. She teaches at Columbia University, co-edits Canarium Books, and lives with her family in New York City and West Texas. Photo by Joshua Edwards.

Jacob Kahn is a poet, editor, and curator living in Oakland, CA. He is the author of the book Mine Eclogue (Roof Books, 2022) and several chapbooks, most recently A Is For Aegis (DoubleCross Press, 2021). With Sophia Dahlin, he runs the chapbook press, Eyelet Press, and the reading series, Islet. Previously, he was a managing editor, curator, and bookseller at Wolfman Books, a bookstore, small press, and community arts hub in downtown Oakland, and a 2018 fellow at Epicenter in Green River, UT, a rural design studio and community-based artist residency. He works as a librarian at Berkeley Public Library. Photo by Nikolai Hagen. 


Poetry Center Book Award Readings

Poetry Center Book Award Reading: Michael Kleber-Diggs and Cynthia Parker-Ohene

The Poetry Center is honored to welcome Michael Kleber-Diggs and Cynthia Parker-Ohene, reading from their works and engaging with one another and their audience in conversation, for this online Poetry Center Book Award event. Kleber-Diggs's premier book of poetry, Worldly Things, from Milkweed Editions, was selected by Parker-Ohene, author of Daughters of Harriet, to receive the award, given annually since 1980 to a single outstanding book of poetry. Join us online together with our poets—appearing from St. Paul, Minnesota, and from Oakland, respectively—for this feature event.

  • I have chosen Michael Kleber-Diggs’s opus of perfection, Worldly Things. These poems will shake you up, as its poetic crescendos blaze nimbly, and “[become] space that nourishes—sanctuary within darkness.” Your ears will ring long after the last resounding word. Worldly Things enacts utterances of Blackness in all its ascendancy. Read, and be reborn. 

    Cynthia Parker-Ohene, judge’s statement, Poetry Center Book Award

REGISTER for this webinar here.

This event is free and open to the public. 

VIDEO for this program will be posted after editing at Poetry Center Digital Archive.

Michael Kleber-Diggs (KLEE-burr digs) (he / him / his) is currently writing a memoir about his complicated history with lap swimming called My Weight in Water (forthcoming with Spiegel & Grau). He is a 2023-2025 Jerome Hill Artist Fellow in Literature, a poet, essayist, literary critic, and arts educator. His debut poetry collection, Worldly Things (Milkweed Editions 2021), won the Max Ritvo Poetry Prize, the 2022 Hefner Heitz Kansas Book Award in Poetry, the 2022 Balcones Poetry Prize, the 2021 Poetry Center Book Award, and was a finalist for the 2022 Minnesota Book Award. Michael’s essay, “There Was a Tremendous Softness,” appears in A Darker Wilderness: Black Nature Writing from Soil to Stars, edited by Erin Sharkey (Milkweed Editions, 2023). His poems and essays appear in numerous journals and anthologies. Michael is married to Karen Kleber-Diggs, a tropical horticulturist and orchid specialist. They are proud of their daughter who recently graduated from SUNY Purchase with a BFA in Dance Performance with a Concentration in Composition. Photo by Ayanna Muata. More at michaelkleberdiggs.com

Cynthia Parker-Ohene is a therapist, abolitionist, and cultural worker. She is an MFA graduate in Creative Writing at Saint Mary’s College of California, and the Chester Aaron Scholar for Excellence in Creative Writing. She is a Finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize in Poetry, Winner of the San Francisco Foundation/Nomadic Press Poetry Prize. Her recent work has appeared or is forthcoming in Best American Poetry 2022, Poetry Daily, Verse Daily. Obsidian, 5 Points Literary Journal/Georgia State University, Northwest Review, diode poetry journal, Spoon River Poetry Review, The Rumpus, Black Warrior Review, Bellevue Literary Review, West Branch, Kweli, among others. She has received or will receive support from VCCA 2024, Tin House, Callaloo, Juniper, Post Graduate Writers Conference/Vermont Fine Arts College, Wright-Hurston Foundation, Naropa, and elsewhere, as well as work in the anthologies, Black Nature: Four Centuries of African American Nature, and The Ringing Ear: Black Poets Lean South. She is also a Poetry Reader for The Adroit Journal. Her book Daughters of Harriet was published by The Center for Literary Publishing/Colorado State University in 2022 and Drapetomania published by Backbone Press in 2017.


The Poetry Center Book Award, some previous readings

Kiki Petrosino and Tongo Eisen-Martin, Poetry Center Book Award Reading

Kiki Petrosino’s book of poetry White Blood: A Lyric of Virginia (Sarabande Books, 2020) was selected for The Poetry Center Book Award by Tongo Eisen-Martin. Join us for this remote-access event, as both poets read from their work and engage in conversation with one another and their online audience. London Pinkney kindly joins the poets as emcee for this online-only event. 

Kiki Petrosino is the author of White Blood: a Lyric of Virginia (2020), three other poetry books, and most recently Bright: A Memoir (2022), all from Sarabande Books. She holds graduate degrees from the University of Chicago and the University of Iowa Writer's Workshop. Her memoir, Bright, is forthcoming from Sarabande in 2022. She directs the Creative Writing Program at the University of Virginia, where she is a Professor of Poetry. Petrosino is the recipient of a Pushcart Prize, a Fellowship in Creative Writing from the National Endowment for the Arts, the UNT Rilke Prize, & the Spalding Prize, among other honors. More here.

Tongo Eisen-Martin was born in 1980 in San Francisco, California, to a revolutionary mother, Arlene Eisen. His parents named him after Josiah Tongogara. Muralist Miranda Bergman is his godmother. He earned a bachelor's and master's degree in African-American Studies, all from Columbia University where he taught at the Institute for Research in African-American Studies, creating the 2012 curriculum We Charge Genocide Again! He has also taught at detention centers, including San Quentin and Rikers Island. He is the co-founder of Black Freighter Press. Eisen-Martin’s books of poetry include someone’s dead already (Bootstrap Press), Heaven Is All Goodbyes, Blood on the Fog (the latter two in City Lights Books Pocket Poets series), and Waiting Behind Tornados For Food (Materials), a UK volume including poems and a selection of prose works. The poetry LP I go to the railroad tracks and follow them to the station of my enemies came out from Rocks In Your Head Records. He was the inaugural Mazza Writer in Residence for The Poetry Center at SF State, and is currently Poet Laureate of San Francisco.


Video from recent Poetry Center Book Award readings:

jayy dodd and Lourdes Figueroa: October 28, 2021

Ashley Toliver and Jason Bayani: September 17, 2020

Lauren Levin and Melissa Mack: February 21, 2019

Bao Phi and Sarah Menefee: November 14, 2019

Orlando White and Patrick James Dunagan: April 27, 2017

Poetry Center Book Award Reading: jayy dodd and Lourdes Figueroa

With emcee Tatiana Luboviski-Acosta

  • Video live-streamed to our YouTube channel. Media captioning available there after the event.

Join us as jayy dodd, whose book The Black Condition ft. Narcissus (Nightboat Books, 2019) — "an irreverently tender profile of Black trans life surviving and thriving during contemporary political turmoil" — was selected to receive the Poetry Center Book Award, reads from her work. She’ll be joined by award judge Lourdes Figueroa, in Oakland, who will read from her own work and engage in conversation. With emcee, Tatiana Luboviski-Acosta.

  • ...far more than a critical mirror or melancholy echo, dodd’s Narcissus emerges as a generative principle, birthing the most vulnerable of possibilities, and deftly intimate, if joyously irreverent, a critique. Their book is beautiful, voluptuous, daring, and demanding of new shapes for becoming, loving, and where necessary, destroying. jayy dodd is a genius and I will say that again. —Trish Salah
  • If Amiri Baraka the poet, the pure technician, musician, chronicler of all that is black, blue, purple, and lyric, were to metamorphosize and return as a blxk trans femme in spirit they would be jayy dodd. dodd’s poetry captures the magic and the ‘tude, the swing, swagger, and tender hands of their experience. It’s an epic, a record, recording, A&B side, CD with a bonus track, most importantly it is gospel bristling with raw and tender truths and yearning. —Pamela Sneed

jayy dodd is a blxk trans womxn from Los Angeles, California– now based in Portland, OR. she is a literary & performance artist. her work has appeared / will appear in Broadly, The Establishment, Entropy, LitHub, BOAAT Press, Duende, and The Poetry Foundation among others. she is the Executive Director for Dovesong Labs (a development of Winter Tangerine), editor of A Portrait in Blues (Platypus Press 2017), author of Mannish Tongues (Platypus Press 2017) and The Black Condition ft. Narcissus (Nightboat Books 2019). she has been a Pushcart Prize nominee and co-editor of Bettering American Poetry. her visual & written work has been featured in West Hollywood, Portland’s Institute of Contemporary Art, Teen Vogue, and Entropy. she is also a volunteer gender terrorist & artificial intellectual. find her talking trash online or taking a selfie.

Lourdes Figueroa is the author of ​Ruidoso = To Learn Speak (Alley Cat Books Resident Writers Collection, December 2019) and yolotl (Spooky Actions, October 2012). Her artistic work involves "a series of poems, images & collaborations that are a dialogue of my lived experience when my family worked as migrant farmworkers in Yolo County, California... Overall, this is the writer that I am. My work tastes of pesticides, love, sweat, blood, and llanto. It relates to everything that we eat and are, it is about the stink of el azadón, the queer & brown in el azadón, everything to do with la x on our bodies, the femicides around us, the femicide of our earth & the nopal on my forehead. Quite honestly it is a life of migration = love. The poems are in constant conversation with each other. As the descendants of the nopal, they are the ancient un/remembered human heart. What inspired me to write was and is, survival." More at lourdesfigueroa.net

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The Poetry Center

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Event sponsor: 

The Poetry Center