Art Works Blog

Meet the 2013 Poetry Out Loud National Finals Judges

Judging the Poetry Out Loud National Finals is a tough job, but you know what they say---somebody's got to do it. So who are these somebodies? Well, according to our interviews with the judges, we have at least one haibun, one sestina, and some free verse in the bunch. Confused? Read on and we promise it'll make perfect sense. And don't forget to tune in to the live webcast of the #POl13 semi-finals today from 9am-8pm and the finals tomorrow at 7pm to see our judges at work! (All times are EDT.)

NEA: What's your five-word bio?

FADY JOUDAH: Palestinian-American, Husband, Father, Poet, Doctor

NEA: What kinds of art-full activities do you get up to when you're not judging poetry competitions?

JOUDAH: I watch documentaries, listen to classical Arab music and song, write poetry

NEA: Which poets and other artists, living or dead, would you invite to your next dinner party?

JOUDAH: Mahmoud Darwish, Miroslav Holub, Emily Dickinson, Al-Mutanabbi

NEA: What kind of poem are you?

JOUDAH: A poem in translation

NEA: Which poem would you memorize and why?

JOUDAH: Any of Shakespeare's sonnets. Each has at least 27 lessons to learn. I love most his off-beat ones, so to speak, like Sonnet 66. I would also memorize a poem, any poem, in another language, given I could speak that language reasonably well.

Eduardo Corral. Photo courtesy of Mr. Corral

NEA: What’s your five-word bio?

EDUARDO CORRAL: Reader. Reader. Reader. Poet. Son.

NEA: What kinds of art-full activities do you get up to when you’re not judging poetry competitions?

CORRAL: I live in New York City. I love walking around, exploring new neighborhoods. I'm always visiting museums, trying out new restaurants, making coffee dates with old and new friends.

NEA: Which poets and other artists, living or dead, would you invite to your next dinner party?

CORRAL: I would love to break bread with Robert Hayden and Federico Garcia Lorca. I would sit back and let them talk. I can't even begin to fathom their conversation. But just thinking about it fills me with joy.

NEA: What kind of poem are you?

CORRAL: I'm the volta in a sonnet. A turn, a twist, a change.

Which poem would you memorize and why?

CORRAL: Currently, I'm memorizing "Iskandariya" by Brigit Pegeen Kelly. It's one of the most beautiful and moving poems I know. I carry it with me everywhere. It lives in my heart. It's helping me to heal a broken heart.

Philippa Hughes. Photo by Matt Dunn

NEA: What's your five-word bio?

PHILIPPA HUGHES: Curious, courageous, passionate, generous, inspired

NEA: What kinds of art-full activities do you get up to when you're not judging poetry competitions?

HUGHES: My whole life is an art-full activity. The whole process of living is my creative act.

NEA: Which poets and other artists, living or dead, would you invite to your next dinner party?

HUGHES: Marina Abramovic

NEA: What kind of poem are you?

HUGHES: Free verse. I can't be restricted by any rules.

NEA: Which poem would you memorize and why?

HUGHES: Leaves of Grass because I contain multitudes.

 

Tree Swenson. Photo by Brian Palmer.

NEA: What's your five-word bio?

TREE SWENSON: Poets---most of my life.

NEA: What kinds of art-full activities do you get up to when you're not judging poetry competitions?

SWENSON: Reading poetry, going to poetry readings, reading poetry, arranging poetry readings, reading poetry, working with poets---and writers!

NEA: Which poets and other artists, living or dead, would you invite to your next dinner party?

SWENSON: T.S. Eliot, Donald Hall, Kevin Young, Kay Ryan, Heather McHugh, Lyndall Gordon, and Tracy K. Smith

NEA: What kind of poem are you?

SWENSON: An ambiguous poem---one requiring magnums of negative capability.

NEA: Which poem would you memorize and why?

SWENSON: Beyond the many poems I've already memorized, I would memorize [T.S. Eliot's] Four Quartets, but my memory isn't quite that big.

Kevin Dyels. Photo by Daniel Morris, Fat Yeti Productions
NEA: What's your five-word bio?
 
KEVIN DYELS: Theater, travel, music, humor, ASL.
 
NEA: What kinds of art-full activities do you get up to when you're not judging poetry competitions?
 
DYELS: I work with the deaf community in visual theater. I watch as many professional theater and concert performances as possible. I do some sound design.
 
NEA: Which poets and other artists, living or dead, would you invite to your next dinner party? 
 
DYELS: Neil Simon, Jason Mraz, Kanye West, William Shakespeare, Missy Higgins, Anne Frank
 
NEA: What kind of poem are you?
 
DYELS: Free verse
 
NEA: Which poem would you memorize and why?
 
DYELS: "There is another Sky"--- Emily Dickinson---it's simple with clear imagery. Additionally it has an encouraging and inviting tone that leaves you feeling lighter and connected to the piece.
 
 
Jon West-Bey. Photo courtesy of Mr. West-Bey

NEA: What’s your five-word bio?

JON WEST-BEY: I do what I want.

NEA: What kinds of art-full activities do you get up to when you’re not judging poetry competitions?

WEST-BEY: Playing chess. Spending time with family.

NEA: Which poets and other artists, living or dead, would you invite to your next dinner party?

WEST-BEY: Ahmad Jamal, Edgar Allen Poe, Frida Kahlo, Robert Deniro, Gordon Parks, Etheridge Knight

NEA: What kind of poem are you?

WEST-BEY: Definitely a haiku. Short and to the point.

NEA: Which poem would you memorize and why?

WEST-BEY: "We Real Cool" by Gwendolyn Brooks. I like its rhythm and its edginess.

 

Patricia Smith. Photo courtesy of Ms. Smith

NEA: What’s your five-word bio?

PATRICIA SMITH: Fall down, rise up, repeat.

NEA: What kinds of art-full activities do you get up to when you’re not judging poetry competitions?

SMITH: I WRITE poetry. And fiction. Collaborate with musicians and dancers. Romp with huge wooly canines. Edit my husband's crime fiction.

NEA: Which poets and other artists, living or dead, would you invite to your next dinner party?

SMITH: Gwendolyn Brooks, Allen Ginsberg, Will Rogers, George Carlin, Audre Lorde, Walt Whitman, Langston Hughes

NEA: What kind of poem are you?

SMITH: I'm a sestina. I may repeat myself, but I grow stronger and more nuanced each time.

NEA: Which poem would you memorize and why?

SMITH: I'd love to internalize Ginsberg's "Howl." It would be great fun to just mutter segments during crowded subway rides.

Dr. Simone Muench. Photo by Richard Every

NEA: What’s your five-word bio?

SIMONE MUENCH: She was not Nina Simone.

NEA: What kinds of art-full activities do you get up to when you’re not judging poetry competitions?

MUENCH: I’m a horror film junkie who loves to coordinate ladies’ dance night especially when my girlfriends are DJing.

NEA: Which poets and other artists, living or dead, would you invite to your next dinner party?

MUENCH: That’s an impossible question!

The dead: I’d like to sip an aperitif with Andre Breton; dance the rumba with Robert Desnos; share a glass of port with Julio Cortazar as he reads to me. Others in attendance might include Joyce Mansour, Maya Deren, El Lissitzky, Ladislaw Starewicz, Billy Wilder, Neruda, Shakespeare, and Sappho. The living: Tom Waits for a little pre-dinner piano and crooning, Wong Kar-Wai for post-dinner spectacle, Toni Morrison and Anne Carson to provide some wit and impromptu readings, and Joss Whedon to keep it real!

NEA: What kind of poem are you?

MUENCH: Probably a sonnet, more specifically, a Berryman sonnet like “All We Were Going Strong” because “I’m laid back with a lot of rules”; or, at least that’s how my boyfriend describes me.

NEA: Which poem would you memorize and why?

MUENCH: I’ve memorized, and recite on occasion, Stevens’ “The Emperor of Ice Cream” because I love its commingling of the whimsical and the sinister; Plath’s “Lady Lazarus” for its controlled but gut-wrenching rage; and Larkin’s “This Be the Verse” because it's incredibly satisfying to drop the f-word on a bunch of unsuspecting Catholic students.

Dan Brady. Photo courtesy of Mr. Brady

NEA: What’s your five-word bio?

DAN BRADY: Dan Brady loves reading poetry.

NEA: What kinds of art-full activities do you get up to when you’re not judging poetry competitions?

BRADY: I’m the poetry editor of Barrelhouse magazine, a bi-annual print journal that publishes fiction, poetry, and pop culture-related non-fiction. We’re just coming off a day-long conference we run here in DC called Conversations and Connections, which was a huge success. Now we’ll begin planning the fall version which takes place in Philly at the University of the Arts on September 28th.

I’m also part of an emerging group of writers, editors, and reading-series coordinators who are working together to better coordinate literary activities in the District. The group is called DC Lit. We’ve been meeting for the past few months to share resources, knowledge, and build tools that will help us work better together.

Otherwise, I’m just reading and writing poems every chance I get.

NEA: Which poets and other artists, living or dead, would you invite to your next dinner party?

BRADY: Matthew Rohrer, Justin Marks, Laura Solomon, and Farid Matuk, though I might not let them eat because I’d want them to read to me the whole time.

NEA: What kind of poem are you?

BRADY: I’m a pretty low-key guy so I’ll go with haibun. It may seem prosaic at first, but hits you with poetry when you least expect it.

NEA: Which poem would you memorize and why?

BRADY: In college I memorized Allen Ginsberg’s “A Supermarket in California” and since then haven’t been able to buy avocados without thinking about it. A few years ago, I memorized a bunch of poems by Joseph Massey, which are short and striking and often spring to mind when I see specific things: a hummingbird, a thicket of bramble, broken concrete.

I’ve always loved William Carlos Williams’ “Asphodel, That Greeny Flower,” but it’s pretty long. It would be a challenge. I first read that poem in high school and was taken by the mix of urgency and delay, memory and in-the-moment presence, long love and impending loss. That sense of elegy and yearning is something I seek out in art. The most oft-quoted lines from that poem are “It is difficult / to get the news from poems / yet men die miserably every day/ for lack/ of what is found there.” That’s probably my least favorite part. There are so many other great lines and images. Here’s a section I like better: “…The poem / is complex and the place made/ in our lives/ for the poem. / Silence can be complex too, / but you do not get far/ with silence.”

Robert Casper. Photo courtesy of Mr. Casper

NEA: What's your five-word bio?

ROBERT CASPER: I ain't no Robbie Robot.

NEA: What kinds of art-full activities do you get up to when you're not judging poetry competitions?

CASPER: Well, I go to a heckuva lot of poetry readings. I like to see plays, too, and music performances. And I love love love movies and a few TV shows (I'm sad Justified just finished its season).

NEA: Which poets and other artists, living or dead, would you invite to your next dinner party?

CASPER: Hmmm. I'd start with Walt Whitman, and it would be hard to resist pairing him with Emily Dickinson (though she'd likely be unhappy to be brought back from the dead for such a party). And heck, why not bring Shakespeare back! Do you think he would like to sit between Wordsworth and Chaucer? My dinner is looking positively canonical . . . I would really like to meet Marianne Moore. And I bet Gertrude Stein would be a blast.

NEA: What kind of poem are you?

CASPER: I am a dog. A Whitmanic dog. My wife is a Dickinsonian cat.

NEA: Which poem would you memorize?

CASPER: First thought, best thought right? I was just talking to a friend about John Ashbery, and I wish I had "A Wave" memorized. I love that poem.

Jane O'Brien. Photo courtesy of Ms. O'Brien

NEA: What’s your five-word bio?

JANE O'BRIEN: Arts-loving journalist with obnoxious cat.(I know that’s six but rules are made to be broken, are they not?)

NEA: What kinds of art-full activities do you get up to when you’re not judging poetry competitions?

O'BRIEN: I try to see something new at least once a week. I like visiting art galleries and museums, but have a very short attention span and don’t like crowds so my visits are brief. I plan them like military incursions---I have a target. I go in, accomplish the mission, and get out fast. That way I don’t feel overwhelmed or under pressure to see everything just because I’m there. I read incessantly and often have several books on the go. I try to read a poet every month; April is John Donne and last month was Louis MacNiece. He apparently died of pneumonia in 1963 after potholing in Yorkshire, England, to record sound effects for his last BBC radio play. That’s dedication to art.

NEA: Which poets and other artists, living or dead, would you invite to your next dinner party?

O'BRIEN: U.S. poet laureate Natasha Trethewey. I’ve so far failed to secure an interview with her so perhaps I can tempt her with my chicken curry and lemon chickpea rice?

NEA: What kind of poem are you?

O'BRIEN: I’m definitely a ballad---but more in keeping with the "Shooting of Dan McGrew" by Robert Service than Tennyson’s "Lady of Shalott."

NEA: Which poem would you memorize and why?

O'BRIEN: I try to memorize a new poem every month for mental exercise. It’s also the best way to get inside the skin of a poem as you have to really understand it and return to it often to fix it permanently in your brain. One of the most satisfying in my (short) repertoire is "Tarantella" by Hilaire Belloc. I love its rhythm and rolling words.

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