Things may get steamy when fingers snap for a trio of poets in one of Rochester’s finest caffeinated joints. Lisa Higgs, John McCarthy, and Tracy Zeman will all read from their recently published or forthcoming books of poetry at Café Steam on Saturday, Aug. 24, from 7:30-8:30 p.m. The event is free and open to the public.
“We want to be a space where all performances can take place,” says Café Steam co-owner William Forsman. “Poetry readings as a public performance are very aren’t heavily represented … and I think that poetry is the perfect stepping stone into any alternative form of performance art.” Forsman sees poetry readings as just another way, like the music and open mics the café frequently hosts, for people to express themselves.
Poet Higgs’ love affair with the medium began in middle school, when her teachers introduced her to writers like Dickinson and Keats. But she only began writing poetry when she spent time in Spain and, as she puts it, “was lonely for the English language.” After earning an MFA in poetry from Hamline University, Higgs spent time teaching at the University of Illinois in Springfield.
Higgs has published several books of poetry, including “Lodestar” and “Unintentional Guide to the Big City.” For the reading at Steam, she’ll focus on sonnets from “Earthen Bound,” published by Red Bird Chapbooks.
“Earthen Bound” was compiled from a set of sonnets that Higgs wrote and mailed each week to her then-99-year-old grandmother. In part, the weekly poems were Higgs’ way of supporting her grandmother, who had been diagnosed with terminal cancer. “The chapbook is a love story for certain,” says Higgs, “though I doubt I ever thought about the sonnet’s connection to love when I wrote the poems.”
Tracy Zeman was introduced to poetry through the brief lines of writers like Williams Carlos Williams. She earned an MFA in creative writing from George Mason University. At Steam, she’ll be reading from a collection of poems entitled “Empire” (winner of the 2018 New Measure Poetry Prize).
Zeman typically writes free verse, but says she likes to set up perimeters for herself. For instance, most of the poems in “Empire” include the same number of lines in each section. “Empire” focuses on European settlement and the ecological devastation of the North American Prairie.
“I layer field work, research, lines from other poems and nonfiction materials with lyric fragments to create a web of contingencies, juxtapositions and accumulations,” says Zeman. “This practice, I hope, echoes the connections and intricacies that shape ecosystems and our human entanglements with them.”
John McCarthy recalls his early interest in poetry grew from memorizing a poem he performed at a high school competition. He studied poetry more formally when he earned his MFA in Creative Writing with an emphasis on poetry at Southern Illinois University.
McCarthy will be reading from his latest collection of poems, entitled “Scared Violent Like Horses.” “Horses have a special relationship to the Midwest and landscape, and they have a tender, special relationship with humans, too,” says McCarthy, “So the kind of violence that horses create out of fear—to me—is a good metaphor and mirror for the kind of violence men create and experience.”
All of these poets’ writing is available for purchase and private perusal – but coming to the reading offers a new understanding of the work.
“Since so much poetry is about sound and how words create relationships with other words on the page, hearing poetry read out loud can amplify those connections and help an audience gain a greater understanding of the work,” Zeman says.