Lucifer Poetics: The State of NC part 2

Brian Howe


Lucifer Poetics: An Intro

There are mornings when I wake up and wonder what the hell I’m still doing in North Carolina. I’m almost thirty now, and my younger self always vaguely foresaw my thirty-ish self ensconced in some dwarfing urban center. Looking at this feature as a whole, though, my often-murky reasons for remaining in North Carolina become crystal clear: As a member of the Lucifer Poetics Group, I find myself amid an astonishingly diverse array of writers and artists––some of the finest in the country right now, as far as I’m concerned. And on a practical note, the Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill area of North Carolina is an attractive place for artists to live–with several major universities in the area, there are plenty of cultural and academic opportunities, and with relatively low costs of living, I can afford to live here as a freelance journalist with plenty of time for art-making, which would be much more difficult in New York, L.A., or Chicago. It’s the sort of crucible in which artists can find one another, stretch their legs, thrive.

This is important because, while writing often unfolds in solitude, it’s only an emulsion. Poetry is an act of life that goes on 24/7––you can’t just be a poet when you sit down with your notebook or computer, you have to be a poet all the time; to me this means always striving to see the world anew, receive it with the proper reverence, and thereby discover yourself by deepening degrees. Leonard Cohen, as usual, has already said this better than I can: “Poetry is just the evidence of life. If your life is burning well, poetry is just the ash.”

Reading through the work here, you’ll notice a vast array of style and content, with connections that have less to do with any dominant orthodoxy than with organic inspiration––you’ll notice, for instance, how two of Patrick Herron’s poems take the form of a dialogue with fellow Lucipoet Chris Vitiello. This is a prime example of how poetry sifts out of lived experience, and how interaction with other strivers is a crucial facet of lived experience. As much as I like the work that emanates from the group, I often find myself more inspired by the people themselves–how they live their lives, and how they construct themselves in words, fearlessly and potent with will. The members of Lucipo have wildly varying goals for their writing, styles, influences, and contexts, and so the group is united simply by this striving to authentically create one’s profound subjectivity on the page. Its multivalence–that is, its accommodation of diverse poetic intentions, rather than its adherence to any school or movement–is what makes the group so complex and alive.

But that same multivalence makes it difficult to quantify exactly what Lucipo is. Every yardstick you can pick out to define it presents at least one counterexample disproving it. It’s a poetry group, yet you’ll notice that this feature opens with some suspiciously flash-fiction-esque pieces by Joseph Donahue, and closes with a bona fide short story by Magdalena Zurawski. The inclusion of these pieces betrays two things. First, my personal definition of poetry is highly amorphous, having more to do with spirit than with form–for this feature, we’re focusing on texts, but my own poetics includes video, sound art, and work in other media, and my ideal poetry feature would reflect this diversity, just as Lucipo itself does. A song isn’t a poem, nor is a painting, but a poem can take the form of sound or paint, if it’s animated by the deep interior reconnaissance that characterizes the writing of poetry to me. It’s self-creation in an eternally expanding present, which for me occasions the need to freely riff over various media and forms to suit the moment’s demand.

Classicists will argue that to be poetry, writing must maintain or revise classical tenets of meter, form, and rhyme, and while there is some merit to this claim, it doesn’t represent the world of poetry I know. If poetry is an act of life, it must evolve to suit its age, and this evolution might well entail a violent break with poetry of the past–with its fundamental definition–if poetry is to remain a living form. I like a good sonnet as much as the next guy, but what first attracted me to the poetry world was that it’s a space where you can do anything, in any media, and find an audience willing to go along for the ride. While Lucipo contains the range of ideas about what poetry is, and while some members would certainly disagree with my personal definition, that openness to competing interpretations, and that opportunity to create my own poetics in a supportive and generous environment, is what Lucipo has given me.

The inclusion of Maggie’s story reaffirms that poetry is an act of life––as co-curator of the minor american reading series (with kathryn l. pringle), Maggie has been instrumental in bringing Lucipo together and keeping it connected to the broader world of poetry since she moved to Durham. Fine writing is fine writing in any genre, and as far as I’m concerned, to live like a poet is to be a poet, regardless of what form one commits to the page.

Other contradictions abound: Here, it’s worth looking back at the closest thing Lucipo has to a mission statement, which appears on the back cover of The Displayer Vol. 1, our self-published group chapbook that Ken Rumble put together for Patrick Herron’s sea-changing Carrboro Poetry Festival. “Based in North Carolina, the Lucifer Poetics Group is an affiliation of people interested in contemporary poetry with an emphasis on experimental, post-avant, and avant-garde poetics.” That’s already pretty vague, as mission statements go, and while the group does lean toward the chimerical “post-avant” category, you’ll find ample traces of more traditional poetics in this feature. This gets back to the group’s openness–to be in Lucipo has more to do with your willingness to participate, to challenge yourself and venture out onto narrow ledges, than with what kind of work you produce. The dialogue between traditional and postmodern forms enriches both sides of the axis, which often blur into one another, so the more trad-leaning among us might discover previously untapped modes of expression, while the more postmodern discover things about how to root our work in history and tradition.

What Lucifer Poetics is now is complicated by the history of what it’s been, each step along the way informing its current (but always shifting) incarnation. It’s an email listserv for NC-based poets, yet many people all over the country have been on the listserv or involved with the group at some point (there are, in fact, some current Lucipo members who live outside of NC, people who were too integral to the group to lose when the decision was made to close off the list to non-NC-residents). And in fact, there are arguably two Lucipos that are overlapping yet distinct––the Lucipo of the email list, and the Lucipo that hosts and attends readings, hangs out together, collaborates. For the purposes of this feature, we’re focusing on writers who are both active on the list and currently live in NC (which explains the otherwise inexplicable exclusion of Lucipo stalwarts like Evie Shockley, Marcus Slease, Tim Van Dyke, and so many more–even this limited group is shockingly large and diverse, and these restrictions were necessary to give the feature a somewhat coherent center and manageable scope).

For my part, I’m glad Lucipo is impossible to define with any accuracy–that means it lives. IT LIVES! Consider this a snapshot, at one radically specific moment in time, of what’s going on in the group (whatever it is), a snapshot that represents only a sampler and not an exhaustive primer of the group’s output, let alone the output of North Carolina poets in general. I’m honored to curate it and grateful to Fanzine for the opportunity (what a good thing Fanzine is doing, in a culture where poetry is usually relegated to its own hermetic sphere instead of its proper place, in dialogue with other branches of the arts). Also, I’m grateful to the poets who make up this mongrel community, both for trusting me to put this together and for being a part of my life for the past, what, five or six years. The river shapes the stone, and individually, each of us is the stone; collectively, we’re all the river. It’s a context in which I was allowed and encouraged to become myself, and in the final tally, maybe that’s what Lucipo is–a group united by stalwart individualism and mutual respect. As kathryn l. pringle writes in her selection from her forthcoming book, RIGHT NEW BIOLOGY, “we, having drawn taut lines about the Mindfulness as such GROUP identity, do not escape the FUNDAMENTALS of who we is[.]”

––Brian Howe

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Chris Vitiello lives in Durham, NC and works with teachers and parents on literacy. His book Irresponsibility (Ahsahta Books) came out in 2008, but his earlier Nouns Swarm A Verb is out of print. His blog languishes for unforgivable lengths of time at

Ken Rumble is the author of Key Bridge (Carolina Wren Press, 2007) and President Letters (Scantily Clad Press, 2008). His poems have appeared in Talisman, Parakeet, Cold Drill, the tiny, Octopus, and others.

Tessa Joseph Nicholas’ poems have appeared in journals such as Sulfur, Talisman, minor/american, Cold Mountain Review, and the Seneca Review. She holds an MFA in creative writing from Cornell University and a PhD in American literature from UNC-Chapel Hill, where she teaches in the departments of English and Computer Science. Tessa lives in Carrboro, North Carolina, with her husband and son.

David Need is an Ohio/Massachusetts boy who has lived in the South since 1989. Current projects include scholarly work on Kerouac and Olsen, Rilke, translations from Tibetan and Vedic poetry, and several long poem projects, including “St. John’s Rose Slumber”, “Offshore St, Mark” and “Places I Have Lived”.

Magdalena Zurawski was born in 1972 to Polish immigrants in New Jersey, where she attended Catholic School for twelve years before escaping north to Rhode Island to study literature. Currently, she lives in Durham, North Carolina. The Bruise is her first book.

Dianne Timblin lives in Durham, North Carolina. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Phoebe, So to Speak, Rivendell, minor/american, Foursquare, and other journals.

Joseph Donahue has lived in New York City and Seattle, and now lives in Durham, North Carolina. His published books include Before Creation, World Well Broken, and Incidental Eclipse. Talisman will publish the first volume of an ongoing work, Terra Lucida, in 2009.

kathryn l. pringle’s first book, RIGHT NEW BIOLOGY, is forthcoming from Factory School/Heretical Text Series. She is the author of The Stills (Duration Press) and Temper & Felicity are Lovers (TAXT). Her poems can be read in The Denver Quarterly, Fence, Dusie, 14 hills, and 580 Split, among others. She edits the literary magazine minor/american, and curates the minor/american reading series in Durham, N.C. and she blogs at ::END PUNKTURE:: (

Patrick Herron ( is a poet, artist and information scientist from Chapel Hill, NC, USA. His doll Lester is the author of Be Somebody (2008, Effing Press) while Patrick is the author of several books of poetry including The American Godwar Complex (2004, BlazeVox) as well as a recent book on text mining and scientific discovery (2008, Verlag Dr. Mueller). He is working on a new volume of poetry tentatively entitled Embedded. Patrick’s work has appeared in the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum and his is part of the permanent collection of the New Museum for Contemporary Art. You may find some of Patrick’s poems and essays in print and online journals such as The Exquisite Corpse, Jacket, Fulcrum, A Chide’s Alphabet, and Talisman. He is the founder of the Carrboro International Poetry Festival, a member of the board of Carolina Wren Press, winner of the 2005 Triangle Arts Award from The Independent (Durham NC), and a former Carrboro NC Poet Laureate. Patrick teaches new media studies, develops serious games (, and creates advanced analytical tools for the Jenkins Chair at Duke University.

Rodrigo Garcia Lopes (born in Londrina, Brazil, in 1965) is a poet, translator, journalist, and composer. He teaches Portuguese at UNC-Chapel Hill. He has a book of translations of Sylvia Plath, the anonymous The Seafarer, Laura Riding, Arthur Rimbaud, and Guillaume Apollinaire. He has twelve published books (poetry, interviews, and translations). He is currently writing his first novel, a detective story. After releasing the independent CD Polivox (music & poetry), he is preparing a new one for 2009, together with Quatuor, which gathers his previous volumes. His work has appeared in several anthologies of contemporary Brazilian poetry abroad and in Brazil, particularly The Best Brazilian Poems of the Twentieth Century. In 2005, his translation of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass was published for the first time in Brazil, and since 2002 he has edited the literary and art magazine Coyote.

Tony Tost is the author of Complex Sleep (Iowa 2007), World Jelly (Effing 2005) and Invisible Bride (LSU 2004).

Tanya Olson lives in Durham. Her work has appeared in Cairn, Bad Subjects, Main Street Rag, Pedestal Magazine, Elysian Fields, and Southern Cultures. She is a recipient of an Emerging Artist Grant from the Durham Arts Council and is the 2008 Fortner Award winner. She helps co-ordinate Durham’s Third Friday, is a member of the Black Socks poetry group, and serves on the board of the Carolina Wren Press. She’s completed a chapbook that needs a home, Absolutely A Particle, Absolutely A Wave and is working on a full-length book of poetry, Mapping Disappearance, and a collection of essays, Queer Time: Arts, Athletics, Academics and the Duke Lacrosse Rape Case.

Brian Howe’s arts and entertainment journalism appears regularly in Pitchfork Media, North Carolina’s The Independent Weekly, The Fanzine, and Paste Magazine, where he is a Senior Contributing Editor. His poems and sound art have appeared in many print and online journals, including Fascicle, Soft Targets, Cannibal, Octopus, Effing, and MiPOesias. He is the author of three chapbooks: Guitar Smash (3rdness Press; 2006), Foreign Letter (Beard of Bees; 2008), and This is the Motherfucking Remix (Scantily Clad; forthcoming), which was written in collaboration with Marcus Slease. Howe is a member of the Lucifer Poetics Group, a blogger at the collective mp3 blog, and the creator of the multimedia Glossolalia project (