Sunday, July 5, 2009

Aimless Reading: The C's, Part 40 (Alicia Cohen)

Cohen, Alicia
Debts and Obligations

I am back from my hiatus. Thanks for waiting.

Just before I left, I realized I that had left this book out of the C's. It had been sitting among a pile of recently received titles on my bedside table and hadn't yet made it to my shelves. It is a review copy I got it in the mail from the publisher, O Books.

Alicia Cohen lives in Portland. We go way back to my first days in the Poetics Program. In fact, I think she was the first Poetics student I met after arriving in Buffalo in 1997. I was standing outside of Clemens Hall at UB, smoking a cigarette, when this tall, smiling, friendly woman approached and asked, "Are you the new poetics person?"

We've been friends ever since.

I saw Alicia most recently when I read at the Spare Room reading series with Kathleen Fraser in 2007. She gave me and Lori the grand tour of SE and SW Portland, including her Alma Mater and former employer, Reed College, as well as the site of an out of the way apartment she once shared with Joel Kuszai. Most importantly, she took us to Stumptown Coffee, near PSU, where she and her husband, Tom Fisher, teach. Stumptown makes just about the best lattes I have ever consumed.

I have lots of fond memories of Alicia in Buffalo, including parties and various other events she threw in her different abodes.

One apartment was on the third floor of a house on Ferry St. At the time it was owned by a woman named Rose, who sang folk music. Joel Kuszai also lived in the ground floor apartment. It was a beautiful house in a marginal neighborhood (and is now, sadly, boarded up. O Buffalo, when will you rise from the ashes?).

I recall one party there at which Alicia had a book on, I think, Chinese medicine, which included a chapter on divining the character of a person by determining the shape of their hands. I think there were four basic shapes -- earth, fire, water air -- something liked that. Alicia spent the evening explaining to each of us what kind of hands we had and what our destinies were based on these forms.

I also remember there was a video camera and that I had a long, rambling, sarcastic conversation with Bill Howe that was recorded on said apparatus, and which recording I hope has been lost.

When Alicia and Tom got together they had a great a apartment on Upper College St. in Allentown. I remember sitting in their kitchen eating portobello mushrooms grilled in a balsamic/olive oil/garlic marinade while listening to John Fahey and playing with their now-deceased pooch, Stumpy (RIP).

I once recited a poem at a reading in their apartment that named everyone I had up to that time met in the Buffalo poetry scene.

I also remember discussing poetry communities in their dining room with Devin Johnston and a few others over breakfast, and that Devin remarked on how the conversation was incredibly utopian, which was almost always true about such conversations in Buffalo at that time.

Their apartment had a beautiful bay window in front topped with some floral-patterned stained glass. I think the bay was used as an office for either Tom or Alicia. I always think about them when I walk past it.


of the animal hearted world
wild orphan gazelles

under night's starlit dome
you are
alone and

a part
of the world's brutal senses
full of sweetnesses

even   predator's longing is


Susan said...

Michael: It's amazing the power of recall we have when we are studying and full of hope about our futures even if we are struggling at the time. The power of observation that a writer possesses is a great gift and what allows us to develop a closeness to other writers that will always sustain us. Thanks for sharing.

Julian Montague said...

Kells is back on the bookcase!

Alicia said...

Can you believe I am only right now seeing this for the first time? How did I miss it? It's a measure of how long we've been friends that 6 years doesn't seem that long at all. I remember all these times and places too, but from my perspective. What a great pleasure to suddenly recall the memories through your eyes/words! Too, remember that long winter walk (walks?) in the northern dark talking & talking? The day you helped us pack boxes in our truck bound for Oregon and how you laughed loading my box labeled: "Essential Oils"? Not just any oils. The Essential ones. Of course, I had a hippie's collection of healing scents...but you were also reading it as a poet and what a poet would pack: "essential oils are wrung / the attar from the rose /be not expressed by suns alone / it is the gift of screws" (I need to double check that but it's one of my favorite Dickinson poems--where the poem is an essential oil). We almost crossed paths in London a few months ago! Alas. Sometime soon...I hope.