Sunday, November 8, 2009

Kalamazoo: Best American Poetry City

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in July 2008 Kalamazoo County, Mich., had a population of 245,912, roughly 8 million less than New York City, the cultural capital of the east, and more than 9.5 million less than Los Angeles to the west. Yet two -- two! -- poets from the area in or surrounding Kalamazoo County have had their work selected for "The Best American Poetry 2009" anthology, guest edited by David Wagoner.

The poets are John Rybicki, of Delton, who appears for his poem "This Tape Measure of Light," originally published in "Third Coast," and Kalamazoo's own Susan Blackwell Ramsey, who appears for her poem "Pickled Heads: St. Petersburg," originally published in "Prairie Schooner." This is the second consecutive appearance in the series for Rybicki, whose poem "Three Lanterns" appeared in the 2008 edition, guest edited by Charles Wright.

This poetry news comes on the heels of news that Kalamazoo resident and poet Jennifer Sweeney's second book of poetry, "How to Live on Bread and Music," won both the 2009 Perugia Press Prize and the prestigious 2009 James Laughlin Award, which is sponsored by the American Academy of Poets and is awarded each year for the most outstanding second book from an American poet, the only second-book award for poetry in the United States. Her husband, Chad Sweeney, appeared in the 2008 edition of "The Best American Poetry" for his poem "The Sentence."

Had enough proof that Kalamazoo has an abnormally high concentration of the literary elite? No? Read on.

The area also has two finalists -- two! -- for this year's National Book Award. Bonnie Jo Campbell, of Kalamazoo, is a finalist for her collection of short stories, "American Salvage," and David Small, of Mendon, is a finalist for his graphic memoir "Stitches."

And we have no shortage of area natives who are now producing quality work elsewhere. Horror writer Joe Schreiber, a former Portage resident who now resides in Hershey, Pa., released an original horror novel and a standalone "Star Wars" horror novel on the same day in October, the latter of which, "Death Troopers," reached as high as #13 on the New York Times Bests-Sellers list for Hardcover fiction (it's currenly #28). Richelle Mead, formerly of Comstock, is another New York Times best-selling author of "urban fantasy" books for both adults and teens. She's currenly based in Seattle, where she's working on three original book series at the same time. And "Wowee Zowee," Kalamazoo native turned New Yorker Bryan Charles's Pavement-based contribution to Continuum's "33 1/3" series, is due out next year. He also will be following up his 2006 novel "Grab On to Me Tightly as if I Knew the Way" with a memoir of his first few years in New York City, an exerpt of which appears in the current edition of "Open City."

I'm sure I've unknowingly left some prominent names off this list, and for that I apologize, but the fact that the list runs even this long is an indication of what we're dealing with here in Kalamazoo: A total domination of the national literary landscape by native Kalamazooans. Which sounds good to me.

But, of course, I live here.

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