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American Poet Charles Fort Invited to Kenyon for Guest Reading

First Author speaks in the Kenyon Review Reading Series for Spring 2011

Staff Writer

Published: Thursday, February 3, 2011

Updated: Thursday, November 15, 2012 01:11

Poetry

Courtesy of Charlesfortpoetry.com

Poet Charles Fort is the father of Kenyon students Claire Fort '07 and Shelley Fort '11 and a series of his poems were written and addressed to them at the reading.


The Cheever Seminar Room played host to guest poet Charles Fort, American poet, on Thursday, Jan. 27. As Kenyon's guest poetry readings often are, the event was well attended by Kenyon students, teachers and Knox County community members. Fort read a number of his original poems and afterwards fielded questions from the audience. Fort's sense of humor and artfulness blended together, creating a warm atmosphere for the reading.

Sarah Kahwash '14 said of the reading, "Fort often mentioned the previous names of each poem, which I appreciated. It kind of brought the audience along with him during the creative process." For example, Fort began with a poem originally titled "To Spring," then "Winter Kill" and finally, "To Winter."

Fort has two daughters tied to Kenyon, Claire Fort '07 and Shelley Fort '11. A series of the poems he read were written about and addressed to them. In these poems, Fort's belief in trusting "making the memory of imagination" is particularly prevalent. One excerpt was particularly moving: "Your birth arrives like a morning t

ide, / Like wings alive in a jar."

He read a variety of forms of poetry, including librettos, verse meant to be set to music; sestinas, poems structured with six stanzas of six lines and a final triplet; sonnets; villanelles, nineteen-line poems with two rhymes throughout; and, surprisingly, prose poems — what Fort called "proems."

"I write with a range of styles and subjects. I cannot be limited. Memory and imagination require full attention to language," Fort said. "They are all magical and alive on the page."

Many audience members asked Fort how he bridged the seeming divide between such structured poems and free-verse proems. Fort didn't see the dichotomy as distinctly as his inquisitors. "Poets should enjoy form; own the masters," he said.

For Fort, writing poems is "a reductive process," wherein he begins by writing flowing prose, then going back through and paring it down considerably. The process is the same, no matter what type of poetry Fort writes.

Either way, Fort says, the essence of poetry is consistent: "the best words in the best order." Fort also adheres to T.S. Eliot's belief that a writer should trust intuition rather than reason.

Indeed, Fort's philosophies seem to be effective. Fort has a number of successful compilations of poetry published, as well as a running website: charlesfortpoet.com.

Fort's poetry ranges in topic as widely as it does in form. Part of this is due to the fact that Fort has lived a number of places, including but not limited to Connecticut, New Orleans and Edinburgh. These places, as well as the people in his life, influence and often manifest themselves in his writing.

Years prior to the levees breaking in New Orleans, Fort wrote a poem entitled "Something Called A City" about New Orleans. In it, he proves premonitory, writing of "streets of water" and other apocalyptic parallels to Hurricane Katrina's destruction. Perhaps an example of intuition trumping reason?

Fort also writes in response to novels, film and music. One poem he read, "Born on the River," is a reference to Same Cooke's "Change Is Gonna Come," which itself was a response to Bob Dylan's "Blowin' in the Wind."

Most notably, Fort read a series of poems that utilized a character called Darvil. Fort enigmatically described Darvil as being "based in part, on the Yeats figure Leo Africanus … perhaps his daemon. Darvil is my secret sharer, more importantly perhaps, the Other, a three foot character with odd appendages over his entire body and webbed feet and a six-foot-long, red tongue."

In one of these, a "proem" entitled "Darvil Meets James Brown in Harlem and New Orleans," Fort capitalized on "the pleasure of arriving at a musical refrain." Amid a deluge of blues and spectacular vernacular, from a sea of social commentary and character development, the line "Ain't no potato like blackberry jam" continually surfaced as one such bookending refrain.

When Fort first started submitting poems, he often received responses from editors at the bottom of drafts reading, "What is this?" Now, Fort says with more good humor than bitterness, "I'll send them my books."

Fort is currently working on his first novel, The Last Black Hippie From Connecticut.

 

The Cheever Seminar Room played host to guest poet Charles Fort, American poet, on Thursday, Jan. 27. As Kenyon's guest poetry readings often are, the event was well attended by Kenyon students, teachers and Knox County community members. Fort read a number of his original poems and afterwards fielded questions from the audience. Fort's sense of humor and artfulness blended together, creating a warm atmosphere for the reading.

Sarah Kahwash '14 said of the reading, "Fort often mentioned the previous names of each poem, which I appreciated. It kind of brought the audience along with him during the creative process." For example, Fort began with a poem first titled "To Spring," then "Winter Kill" and finally, "To Winter."

Fort has two daughters tied to Kenyon, Claire Fort '07 and Shelley Fort '11. A series of the poems he read were written about and addressed to them. In these poems, Fort's belief in trusting "making the memory of imagination" is particularly prevalent. One except was particularly pretty: "Your birth arrives like a morning tide, / Like wings alive in a jar."

He read a variety of forms of poetry, including librettos, verse meant to be set to music; sestinas, poems structured with six stanzas of six lines and a final triplet; sonnets; villanelles, nineteen-line poem with two rhymes throughout; and, surprisingly, prose poems — what Fort called "proems."

"I write with a range of styles and subjects. I cannot be limited. Memory and imagination require full attention to language," Fort said. "They are all magical and alive on the page."

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