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Cleveland Artist Spotlights
Dave Lucas is a gracious ray of sunshine in Cleveland’s literary scene (and just generally as a human being). Poet and author of Weather (Georgia, 2011), Lucas is an active force in the community both creatively and socially.
CPAC: How would you describe your work briefly?
DAVE LUCAS: I write poems and essays, I teach at Case Western Reserve University and for other conferences and programs, and I am a co-founder of the Brews + Prose reading series at Market Garden Brewery and of Cleveland Book Week.
CPAC: Congratulations on recently being named the State of Ohio’s second Poet Laureate! What does this position entail and what are your plans?
DL: Thank you so much—I’m wonderfully dumbstruck by the whole thing. But I guess I’d better figure out what to say and what to do pretty soon. The state Poet Laureate is asked to give readings and talks about poetry throughout the state, and to “undertake a significant cultural project” to promote poetry as well.
I can’t offer many specifics about my own plans yet, but I’d like to focus both on celebrating the extraordinary legacy and ongoing work of Ohio’s poets. I’d also like to emphasize the elements of poetry all around us, many of them so fundamental that we might not recognize them as poetic figures: song lyrics, jokes, jargon, slang, and metaphor.
CPAC: Tell me a little more about Brews + Prose and Cleveland Book Week?
DL: Brews + Prose is a monthly literary series at Market Garden Brewery in Ohio City. We (Mike Croley, Jeff Draeger, Matt Stipe, and I) founded the series in 2012 with the motto “Literature is better with beer,” which is our tongue-in-cheek way of saying that we want to make literature and authors, reading and writing, more accessible and engaging to larger audiences throughout the region. We celebrated our five-year anniversary this past July, when Lydia Munnell took over as creative director and Arin Miller-Tait took over as president of our board.
Brews + Prose is also a founding member of Cleveland Book Week, an annual celebration of literature and literacy each September, organized around the Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards and the beginning of the Cuyahoga County Public Library’s season of Writers Center Stage events. The first Book Week took place in 2016 and has grown significantly since; in 2017, partners included the City Club of Cleveland, the Cleveland Flea, Cuyahoga County Public Library, Great Lakes Science Center, Karamu House, MOCA Cleveland, OverDrive, and Twelve Literary and Performative Arts.
CPAC: How were you introduced to writing poetry?
DL: I began writing poems soon after I awakened to a certain mystery in the poetry I had read in and outside of school, a charge or pulse in the language that I found—and still find—compelling and seductive. As I continued reading, I found that poetry helped me make sense of the world in a way that nothing else ever had or has.
In those days two teachers—Ellen Geisler at Mentor High School and George Bilgere at John Carroll University—took me seriously, encouraged and challenged me. They helped me to believe that I could make a life in poetry, and they urged me to work to be worthy of that life. (I blame them for everything that’s happened since.) Later, Rita Dove, Linda Gregerson, Charles Wright, and the late Mark Strand were more generous with their time and counsel than I could ever have deserved.
CPAC: What are you working on right now, as far as your own personal work?
DL: This is always the hardest question. The honest answer: I’m usually working on a dozen things at once, and I have no idea if any of them are any good, so that’s all I’m willing to say for now. In the meantime, I’m planning my spring courses at Case and folding laundry and cooking dinner.
CPAC: Do you have any long-standing influences?
DL: I could offer a list of poets and artists in answer to this question (see above), but I’m just as influenced by the language of my family and friends and teachers, professional jargon and colloquial slang, phrases overheard in the lecture hall or across the bar. In recent years I have been working on a project that rethinks and reworks stories from various mythologies and folklore, so I have become aware of how much a part of my own sense of myself are the stories I’ve heard and told all my life, from fairy tales to classical mythology to the urban legends of my adolescence.
CPAC: Elaborate on this statement a bit for me: I’m just as influenced by the language of my family and friends and teachers, professional jargon and colloquial slang, phrases overheard in the lecture hall or across the bar. How so? How does common language push you to examine more profound themes in your work?
DL: The idea that language can become common at all seems to me profound in its own right, something we might consider a miracle if language weren’t in fact so common, and so essential to being human. So I find myself particularly attentive to these idiosyncrasies of language, as well as regional differences in pronunciation and idiom.
CPAC: Describe your idea of artistic success.
DL: I believe in two kinds of artistic success: the first is the pleasure of doing the work itself. The second is the moment of contact between that work and an audience, and the ongoing resonance of that contact.
CPAC: What's your process for generating new ideas?
DL: I read and I listen, and I try to be patient well beyond the point of reason.
CPAC: How do you stay motivated to keep writing and what motivates you?
DL: Reading and writing poems is my way of attempting to make sense of the world. I don’t anticipate ever completing that work, but I consider it work worth doing.
CPAC: How do you feel your work affects your audience (and/or) How do you want your work to affect your audience?
DL: I would like to write poems that matter in an essential way to the people who read them. I would like to write poems that people remember, and that people come to feel that they needed.
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