Aldon Lynn Nielsen (headshot)

A Conversation with Aldon Lynn Nielsen

Aldon Lynn Nielsen was born in Grand Island, Nebraska in 1950 and attended college in the District of Columbia, earning a PhD in American Literature from George Washington University in 1985. His dissertation, Reading Race: White American Poets and the Racial Discourse in the Twentieth Century, was published by University of Georgia Press in 1988 and remains in print today, along with numerous other critical texts focusing on African American poetry and poetics including Writing Between the Lines and Black Chant. While he has taught at many institutes of higher learning, including Howard University and UCLA, Nielsen has been Kelly Professor of American Literature at Pennsylvania State University since 2001 and a Visiting Professor at Central China Normal University in Wuhan, China since 2014.

In addition to teaching at an award-winning level, contributing numerous important works of scholarship, and editing collected works and anthologies, Nielsen has published eight full-length collections of original poetry over the past four decades including Heat Strings (1985), Vext (1998), Tray (2017), and Spider Cone (2022). His second poetry chapbook, Sufferhead, was published by Bottlecap Press in 2022, and he shows no signs of slowing down in his writing as he nears retirement from teaching.

Aldon Lynn Nielsen (headshot)
Aldon Lynn Nielsen

I met Nielsen in November 2023 on a visit to the Kelly Writers House at the University of Pennsylvania campus. He had joined Al Filreis, William J. Harris, Tyrone Williams, and Evie Shockley for a couple of recorded discussions of Shockley’s poetry and a public reading. I’d come to watch the recording and was fortunate enough to meet the group through Filreis, a mutual friend and the day’s host. That day left such a strong impression on me that I ended up writing about it in a hybrid CNF-review essay on Shockley’s award-winning latest book, suddenly we. The memory was made all the more precious by the fact that Williams passed away in February, as this email interview was being conducted.

In the following piece, Nielsen shares about poetry, chapbooks, what drew him to the study of African American poetics as a white man born in Nebraska, and he pays tribute to poets, scholars, and friends like Williams, who we’ve lost recently and over the years.

Editor’s Note: This interview was conducted by email in February and March of 2024, with questions posed one at a time. I wanted to hear— and share— Nielsen’s considered, thoughtful responses, rather than use the journalistic mode of looking for frank, unguarded statements. I consider the resulting, lightly edited transcript a collaborative interview.

Aiden Hunt: Your poetry chapbook, Sufferhead, was published by Bottlecap Press in 2022. Can you tell our readers a little about it? What was the inspiration for these poems, why did you choose the chapbook form, why did the poems take the form that they did?

Aldon Lynn Nielsen: ​Sufferhead is only my second chapbook in a life of writing poetry stretching back a half century. My first book, Heat Strings, was originally meant to be a chapbook. I had planned it to come in at forty pages, as most “first book” competitions in those days allowed entrants to have published earlier volumes of no more than forty pages. But when the good people at SOS Press went to set the type, it exceeded that limit. As somebody who was well outside the gravitational field of the mainstream creative writing industry of the time, it seemed unlikely that I would ever be graced by winning a first book contest anyway, so we went with the longer volume. Turned out well, in my view.

Sufferhead, which takes its title from an album by Fela Kuti, was conceived as the fourth part of a quartet of poetry volumes organized largely around similar themes, each featuring cover art rooted in Blues music and poetry.

​My first actual chapbook was 2011’s Mantic Semantic, published by the amusingly named Hank’s Original Loose Gravel Press (PDF available for free from The connection here was that the publishers of those chapbooks had both been friends of the late poet David Bromige, as had I, but they had also been his students. The cover illustration is a photo my father took of me stuck in a post hole when I was probably about three years old. (pictured below, right) Seemed sufficiently symbolic. With one exception, none of my books was written specifically in the form in which it finally appeared. The usual course was that I would write a book manuscript, time would pass, I would continue writing and changing it, so that when the magic day came that an opportunity for publication presented itself, what I gave was always a sort of selected poems, reorganized as a book. In this instance, Mantic Semantic is mined from manuscripts dating as far back as the 1980s and as recent as two weeks before the chapbook was published.  Still, I was at pains to create what seemed to me a coherent statement. The chapbook begins with James Brown, and ends in eternity. I don’t know if any readers have noticed that, but it was an organizing principle for me.

(Used with permission.)

​Eleven years later, Sufferhead was published. In this instance, I submitted the manuscript in response to an open call I saw from Bottlecap Press. I had no previous connections to them, so was yet more pleased that they accepted my submission and got the book out quickly. Speed and design opportunity are, to me, two of the hallmark advantages of the chapbook form. Sufferhead, which takes its title from an album by Fela Kuti, was conceived as the fourth part of a quartet of poetry volumes organized largely around similar themes, each featuring cover art rooted in Blues music and poetry. The first of these, A Brand New Beggar, title borrowed from a song by reggae group Third World, bore the photograph of a hand (my wife’s) holding a miniature harmonica and suspended over the strings of a guitar. The second, Tray, was organized around the title poem, a sequence composed in response to the murder of Trayvon Martin and the trial of his killer. That book cover showed a white hoodie floating above a steel-bodied Blues guitar. You Didn’t Hear This From Me, was the third. The title was literal at the time; the poems had not yet been heard. That cover showed a chromatic harmonica laid across the strings of an electric guitar.

The way the cover of Sufferhead came about was a first for me. I sent a photograph to the publisher as a sort of conceptual guide, which he then transformed into a painting of my hat, sun glasses and harmonica, tokens, if you will, of my life and sensibilities. (pictured below, right)

​Sufferhead begins and ends with couplets: the first a dream, the last a mode of premature epitaph. Various musicians appear throughout, interspersed with bits of personal history, a voyage to China, and just plain fun. There is an emphasis on lyric, and there are melodies tossed out to pick up on strands from the other three books. The penultimate poem is a tribute to the late writer/recording artist Gil Scott-Heron, who had been one of my teachers at the University of the District of Columbia. It’s a poem again organized, as is the whole quartet, around music and memory. It starts out on the first day of my class with Gil, to a background song by Odetta. The titles of several of Gil’s own songs float by, but it ends with allusions to a classic Gospel song: Thomas Dorsey’s “Precious Lord.” That song was written in the wake of his wife’s death, as my poem is a posthumous prayer for Gil Scott-Heron.

Chapbooks may seem a more transitory format than THE BOOK, and yet they pass from hand to hand, gain reputations of their own, and often become treasured ephemera.

​Even near the end of his life, as he was finally being recognized as the artist he had always been, William Carlos Williams contributed to and read the little magazines and chapbooks, knowing from his own long experience that the most innovative and interesting poetry was always to be found there. The world of the small press, in my case perhaps more accurately the micro press, is a realm of artistic ferment and familial affection. Case in point: in 1985, I reviewed several recent volumes of poetry by Keith Waldrop for the literary magazine Gargoyle, published and edited by Rick Peabody. I had first written of Waldrop’s work, however briefly, in one of my very first scholarly essays. I’d sent an offprint of the article to Keith and Rosmarie Waldrop, and from then on they sent me the many books they were publishing with their own Burning Deck Press. None of the books I discussed in this review, though, were from the Waldrops’ press. Each of the books was memorable for many reasons, but one chapbook made a particular impression on me due to its presentation. I believe that review is the only one I’ve ever published where I singled out the cover art for focused praise. Each copy of The Quest for Mt. Misery and other studies was bound in a different section of map, so that each copy of the print run was a unique art object in addition to being wonderful poetry. (picture below, left) The press was one I’d never heard of, from a place I had never heard of: Turkey Press, in some place called Isla Vista. I always treasured that chapbook, and carried it with me in my many moves around the country. Come 1997, my wife and I relocated to Santa Barbara, California, where she took up a position at the University of California while I commuted down the coast to a position in Los Angeles. My wife came home from several campus meetings singing the praises of a colleague in the Art Studio program named Harry Reese. In time, we began to exchange visits with Harry and his wife, Sandra, discovering that we had much in common. The two of them were central figures in the world of design, literature and image making. They specialized in limited edition artist’s books, hand-crafted paper, experimental formats and unique bindings. It was a while before I learned that they lived in Isla Vista and that one of their projects was Turkey Press. Over dinner one night in California, I discovered that I was talking to the very people who, more than a decade previously, had created that gorgeous chapbook of Keith Waldrop’s poetry that had so impressed me when I reviewed it over on the other side of the continent.  Turns out Harry had attended Brown University and met Keith Waldrop there about a decade before I met Keith.

​Not every chapbook can make such a strong bond of artistic relation across a span of time for me as an individual writer and reader, but every chapbook carries that possibility in its pages and in its modes of circulation. Chapbooks may seem a more transitory format than THE BOOK, and yet they pass from hand to hand, gain reputations of their own, and often become treasured ephemera.  Sufferhead reaches out to contemporary Africa in its title (and circuitously to Broadway, where the musical Fela has introduced thousands to the artistic legacies of Fela Anikulapo Kuti), touches on my own educational history while recalling a man sometimes known (often to his dismay) as the “godfather of rap,” embraces figures of American pop, soul and jazz, and makes a few subtle political points, all in just 34 pages. It was planned to round out a quartet of books, but, as always seems to be the case, it has created an aperture for me as poet through which I already glimpse future books.

AH: You mentioned how you’ve planned chapbooks that ended up as longer collections. As a longtime poet, critic, and professor, you may have had more time to consider this than most. Do you think poets should always start with chapbooks in mind or is there an appropriate use for the form?

ALN: In the distant mirror of my youth, I see that there was once a sort of standard pattern for poets starting out. They would begin by publishing individual poems in journals of all types. Once they had built a substantial record of publication in the mags, little or otherwise, they would publish a chapbook; or two or three. Following that, they would “graduate” to book publication, and the chapbook, or chapbooks, would be included in the book. (I’ve never incorporated a chapbook into a larger volume, but that is still a standard move in the literary world.) Most poets would continue to publish an occasional chapbook throughout their career.

I think it is clear that most chapbooks are still matters of opportunity. The poet is afforded a chance to work, one way or another, on a smaller scale, in a format that may be more rapidly produced, or that gives the writer the chance at an artistic collaboration.

My own favorites have been the chapbooks that were collaborations between poets and artists. Robert Creeley did quite a few of these. One fascinating example is his serial poem “Numbers.” In 1968, Diane Di Prima’s Poets Press published it in a limited edition of 150 copies. (Mine is number 90.) The chapbook cover was a rubber stamp art work by William Katz that quite obviously was a tribute to William Carlos Williams’ “The Great Figure” and his friend Charles Demuth’s 1928 painting “I Saw The Figure Five In Gold.” Anyone who knows those earlier works will immediately think of them upon seeing the Katz rubber stamp on Creeley’s chapbook. The poems are from a sequence Creeley wrote in honor of artist Robert Indiana, and both art work and poetry stand as postmodern acknowledgments of the modernist pioneers that went before. The second part of “one” reads:

​​Who was I that
thought it was
another one by
itself divided or multiplied
produces one.

This clearly prefigures a notorious section of Creeley’s Pieces: “One and / one, two, / three.” I heard him read that at the Folger Shakespeare Library, and responded to it with a serial poem titled “Ones.” Also in 1968, Indiana released a folio of silkscreen prints accompanied by Creeley’s poems. The Poet’s Press edition reproduces Creeley’s handwriting. There are later versions of the chapbook combining the silkscreens with the poems, and then between 1980 and 2001, Indiana created a series of monumental numbers in aluminum that was recreated for site-specific installation in cities around the world. In 2014, the Smithsonian even included “Numbers” In its “adopt a book” program. The poems of “Numbers” are reincorporated in Creeley’s Collected Poems 1945-1975, albeit without Indiana’s artwork. But few American poets can hope to have their chapbooks enjoy such a glorious set of reincarnations. Many chaps, though, are artistic collaborations. John Yau, himself an art critic in addition to his works in poetry, has produced many such collaborative projects. Near the end of his life, Amiri Baraka, who never stopped his do-it-yourself productions, released a series of chapbooks under his “Razor” rubric celebrating the legacies of multiple jazz artists.

There is another model: the chapbook as a kind of sampler of a poet’s existing works. Wesleyan University Press has been doing this in recent years. They have published two chapbooks by Rae Armantrout [Entanglements (2017) and C.M. Crockford interviewed Armantrout about Notice (2024) in PCR Issue 1] with many poems selected from earlier volumes they published. As a reader, it seems to me that these have been organized much as if they’d been written as chapbooks in the first place, but I have no direct knowledge that this is the case. [The books drew poems from previous collections around themes (physics and climate change, respectively), both including a few poems from forthcoming full-lengths.]

But I think it is clear that most chapbooks are still matters of opportunity. The poet is afforded a chance to work, one way or another, on a smaller scale, in a format that may be more rapidly produced, or that gives the writer the chance at an artistic collaboration. I believe there are audio equivalents of this today, recordings that are meant to stand on their own apart from a print book. And there are innumerable virtual chapbooks, small online collections designed as integral works in themselves.

AH: What attracts you to a book of poetry, whether chapbook or full-length?

What attracts me has always been the language itself. The outward presentation may cause me to pick up the book in the first place. It was the striking photo on the cover of LeRoi Jones’s The Dead Lecturer (Grove Press, 1964, pictured below, right) that first caused me to pick it up, but if the language on the first page had not grabbed me, I might well have put it right back on the shelf. The number of books and chapbooks I have put right back on the shelf is uncountable. There is still that moment, though, when I first look at lines by a new writer and see something amazing, that activates me to this day. If there isn’t something exciting about the language and structure itself, I can’t be bothered; I get bored rapidly. But when I see lines like “laura painted neal yellow” in A.B. Spellman’s The Beautiful Days (1965), or “Chalk mark sex of the nation, on walls we drummers know” in Amiri Baraka’s Sabotage [compiled in Black Magic: Sabotage, Collective Study, Black Art] (1966), or “I’m not the somber skull and crossbones,” the first line of Evie Shockley’s initial chapbook, The Gorgon Goddess (2001), I’m going to take that home with me and live with it.

AH: In your 2022 autobiographical book, MemeWars, with writer E. Ethelbert Miller, you talk about your critical work on African American poetics. Can you tell us a little about what drew you to that specialization, especially as a white Nebraskan? What is it there that draws and inspires you, from the Black Arts Movement of Baraka’s heyday to BIPOC poets and artists of today?

ALN: Opportunity has to do with this, too. As a child in Grand Island, Nebraska, I read Langston Hughes, but I didn’t know any African American people. Today the Black population of that town is listed at 3.39 percent. I suspect it was much lower back in the Fifties. I had Mexican-American friends, and American Indian friends, but the only Black people I recall from that time were African visitors. When we moved to Denver briefly, I had many more Mexican-American friends, but I don’t recall any African American students at my grade school. But then we moved East. My high school had a large population of Black students, and many were good friends of mine. But as to literature . . .

I remember our class taking a bus to another nearby school to hear a visiting specialist read and discuss African American poetry. I remember that my senior English class read Manchild in the Promised Land by Claude Brown (Signet, 1965). But by then I was already reading widely in poetry, and Baraka’s Dead Lecturer was one of the books that most impressed me. Along with Ginsberg, Baraka was my introduction to what I came to learn was termed “The New American Poetry.” During the period of my draft service [Vietnam War] I continued to read whatever poetry I could find in the libraries, and that included Ishmael Reed, Alice Walker, Gwendolyn Brooks and others.

LeRoi Jones, The Dead Lecturer (cover art)

But it was in college that my reading became more systematic. I was living in Washington, D.C. and attending the University of the District of Columbia.  The schools in D.C. were majority Black, as was the city itself in those years.  My English major included requirements in African American literature, so right alongside my American and British literature surveys, I was studying the history of Black American writings. We also had a course in African American criticism, a rarity in university curricula back then. It was also UDC that afforded me the opportunity to take courses in African and Caribbean literatures. My UDC classes introduced me to such writers as Melvin Tolson, Robert Hayden, Lucille Clifton, Derek Walcott, Aimé Césaire, George Lamming, Maryse Condé and so many others. As the years passed, I got to meet many of them at readings and conferences. It was also during those years that I began to attend more closely to musical settings of poetry and to performances of poetry with music. I remember going to a reading by Derek Walcott that featured a calypso band. I went to a reading featuring Michael Harper and Robert Hayden at the Library of Congress where it was announced that Hayden was to be appointed the first African American Consultant in Poetry (the position now designated Poet Laureate). 

When I went across town to George Washington University for my doctoral studies, I found there were no courses in African American literature at all, and no Black professors among the tenured faculty. (GWU has come a very long way indeed from those days.) Most of my fellow grad students had heard of Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston, but had little knowledge of the field of African American Studies beyond that. But I continued my studies on my own, and wrote papers for seminars in the field. An essay on Phillis Wheatley and Jupiter Hammon became one of my very first published works of scholarship, in The Western Journal of Black Studies. That journal published photos of the scholars alongside their articles. I had no head shots of any kind, so I just walked down the street to a place that did passport photos and had one taken. When I saw the journal I realized that I was dressed a bit too informally for the occasion. (pictured, below) But another of the contributors, Wilson Jeremiah Moses, was to be a colleague of mine years later at Penn State.

I felt then, and still feel, that White scholars who want to work in the field of African American Studies need also to work on the problems and legacies of White racism at the same time. That belief led to what became my first monograph, Reading Race (University of Georgia Press, 1988). That book was meant to spur a long overdue conversation about racism in modern American poetry, and in the history of American poetry criticism. Once the book was out, it became a sort of underground phenomenon among poets. Many of the poets I came to know over the years contacted me after reading that book. Another interesting phenomenon; that first monograph was entirely about White poets, and yet the mere presence of the word “race” in the title caused people to make certain assumptions. I found myself being introduced as an African-Americanist scholar. I did have that training, but the people referring to me that way didn’t know that. 

The second monograph took the work in a new direction. Writing between the Lines (University of Georgia Press, 1994) consisted of a series of careful readings establishing a theory of race and intertextuality. (Free PDF version available from

It was only after the groundwork of those first two monographs that I began to publish scholarship entirely devoted to the works of Black writers.  My poetry, meanwhile, being an outgrowth of my life and surroundings, had always been deeply influenced by Black history and culture. How could it have been otherwise?

AH: The poetry world has lost some bright lights in recent years, including your colleague and friend, Tyrone Williams, who passed in March. Could you share a little about how you met, your friendship and collaborations over the years, and any other feelings you might have about the poets and poetry scholars we’ve recently lost?


Seems so
A project

You’d think
We’d think

Something better
Of ourselves
​​​(From Mantic Semantic, 2011)

An old cliche has it that young poets (indeed, young people generally) tend towards the subjects of love (or sex) and death. As with most cliches, it achieves an immortality of its own because it seems recognizably true to so many. Still, our experiences around death and our ways of thinking about it shift constantly. Most of us have early experiences with loss, and most of us find the explanations offered by parents and preachers a good deal less than satisfactory. My maternal grandmother’s death was probably the first that I felt personally. When somebody muttered something about it being a part of God’s plan I was pretty sure they were wrong about that. I was to come of age in a time of war, when the draft loomed over all of us. There are names on the Vietnam War Memorial of people from my school, from my city. Death and its pressing nearness were on our minds daily.

​The first death in the world of poetry that I clearly remember feeling in any personal way was the demise of Carl Sandburg, In my youth, particularly prominent American poets were often public figures. I’d seen Carl Sandburg reciting his poetry on the Ed Sullivan Show. Surely not a Beatles coming to America moment, but undoubtedly the largest audience any poet had ever had for a reading (with the possible exception of Robert Frost at the Kennedy Inauguration, where he was unable to read the poem he’d written for the occasion and so resorted to reciting an older one from memory). The same year of Sandburg’s death, Robert Lowell appeared on the cover of Time magazine, another moment unlikely to find a parallel today. Three years on, Allen Ginsburg would grace the cover of the Evergreen Review, but that was a very different matter entirely. (And the poet was naked.) 

​I persuaded my mother to take me to the public memorial for Sandburg, held, appropriately enough, at the Lincoln Memorial. His widow, Lilian Steichen Sandburg, was accompanied by her brother, the great photographer Edward Steichen. The Charlie Byrd jazz trio performed. President Lyndon Johnson came and, in addition to a short speech, recited Sandburg’s work. 

​The next such occasion marking the passing of an American poet that I witnessed was in the wake of Robert Lowell’s death a decade later. By this time I was in graduate school. The Library of Congress mounted a grand memorial reading, featuring all the available previous Poetry Consultants (the position that was subsequently changed to the title of Poet Laureate of the United States, though still under the auspices of the Library of Congress). There was a huge crowd lined up long before the doors opened, and the Library had to open a very large room elsewhere in the building to provide a video feed for the overflow. (Looking back at the list of Laureates leading up to 1977, it’s a bit of a surprise to see how many of them had preceded Lowell in death.) One of the poets, William Jay Smith, took the opportunity to read his poem “The Tall Poets,” the title and the poem itself parodying the recent “Tall Ships” celebration during the nation’s bicentennial year. The poem was a direct attack on many other poets of the day, including some on the dais, and was filled with such objectionable verbiage as: “. . . the Tall Women Poets, / decked out in tough companionate canvas pants / vulvas cleaving the wind.” Speaking of women poets, at the reception after the event, in the Library’s great rotunda, I was able to ask Elizabeth Bishop to autograph my copy of Geography III. Bishop heard my name “Nielsen,” and immediately responded, “Danish, right?” 

​These great public moments have given way over the years to smaller, more localized poet wakes. But it was only decades later that death returned to my own communities of poets. The first was Washington, D.C., poet Adesanya Alakoye, partner of my good poet friend Joanne Jimason. I’d been to Alakoye’s readings around town, but had not known him well. His death by suicide was a heavy blow. I read from his chapbook Tell Me How Willing Slaves Be not long afterward at my very first public reading, at the Folger Shakespeare Library. The second was the passing of Jim Everhard. Jim was working, seemingly endlessly, on a degree in English at George Washington University, and was in one of the seminars I took. When I got a job working in the university’s Office of the Registrar, there was Jim, over in the graduation section, clearing students for their diplomas. At lunch time I would see him furiously writing away in the cafeteria. I soon discovered that he was indeed writing lunch poems, very much under the influence of Frank O’Hara. In 1982, he published a book, simply titled Cute, with Gay Sunshine Press. I never got to attend one of Jim’s readings, but I later learned he’d been a participant in the Mass Transit series that included many of D.C.’s innovative writers in the modes of Beat, New York School, “L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E,” etc. Much as my youth had been a time of war, the ‘80s were the time of AIDS, which wasn’t even known as AIDS at the outset. There was tremendous uncertainty about just what that disease was, and how it was transmitted. My co-worker, poet Jim Everhard, died from AIDS in 1986, before he could ever publish a second book. 

​Fortunately, there wasn’t another such community-shaking death till years later when my friend Hugh Walthall died after an extended period of really bad health challenges, including an amputation due to diabetes. In fact, the last time I had seen Hugh, when I was back in D.C. to give a lecture, he’d been showing off his newly attached prosthesis and joking about it. I’d first met him during my student days. He’d been active in a community of poets during my years of draft service, and started meeting with some of us poets around George Washington University when I was in grad school there. He lived a couple blocks up the street from me. I have often described Hugh as an eccentric cousin of the New York School. He had a book from Ithaca House, a small press, but one that played a central role in the early days of the “L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poets” due to the involvement at the press of David McAleavey, who was my first grad school poetry professor. Despite many magazine appearances, Hugh never published another book. With a blurb from A.R. Ammons and testimonies from Richard Howard, he might have been thought a natural for wider attention, but Hugh always steered an independent path and never got much involved in the Po Biz; didn’t want to give up his amateur standing, said golf-loving Hugh. After he passed I edited a volume of selected poems, A Spell in the Pokey, which was published by Selva Oscura Press.

​The death of a poet that had hit me hardest prior to Hugh Walthall’s was that of Lorenzo Thomas. I had read many of Lorenzo’s poems and essays beginning in my undergraduate days, when I would see his work in such venues as Hoo Doo Review. And I had a copy of one of his earlier books on my shelf. So it was with real appreciation when Charles Bernstein introduced me to Lorenzo at an MLA conference in Washington, D.C. We rapidly became fast friends. In time, as I’ve mentioned in the past, we became a sort of critical tag team at conferences, one of us delivering a paper and the other responding, and we read together at many group events. For a few years, my wife and I managed to be in Boulder, CO, at the same time Lorenzo and Harryette Mullen were in town to do things at Naropa. On a couple of occasions my wife and I joined Lorenzo and his partner on the Naropa lawn during 4th of July fireworks. Then one day I received an email, sent via his partner, asking me to serve, along with his brother, as Lorenzo’s literary executor. Lorenzo had been in bad health for some time, but still, I couldn’t credit that he might be taken from us. Two weeks later he was gone. I felt, and feel, a tremendous responsibility to forward the legacy of Lorenzo Thomas. So far I have edited a posthumous volume of his criticism, and, with Laura Vrana, his Collected Poems (pictured above, left). We’re currently undertaking a volume of previously uncollected works.

Lyn Hejinian

​February and March, 2024, though, turned out to be the most devastating time ever. In the span of one week, we lost two of my dear friends who were also among the most innovative and important American poets of our time, and who were both also wonderful people, not always the case in poetry land: Lyn Hejinian and Tyrone Williams.

​I first met Hejinian when she read with Michael Palmer at a book store just off Dupont Circle. I got to know her personally a few years later, when she and Barrett Watten took my wife and me to dinner before a talk I was to give in San Francisco. We encountered each other often at readings in the Bay area, particularly during the time when I was producing and hosting a literary arts program on FM radio. Our friendship continued after I had moved to Southern California and then to Pennsylvania. Though I have always been a dreadful correspondent, there are a few letters between us before all of us flew off to the internet. I was on a fellowship at UCLA when Lyn wrote to me about a planned course on the Harlem Renaissance. She also became one of the very small number of poets I would share work with, and she invariably wrote back quickly the most thoughtful and encouraging observations. I remember especially her brilliant reading of my sequence “Sea Script,” a text based on the Dead Sea Scrolls that appears in my book Stepping Razor. From then on, I sent her copies of each of my books, and she always wrote back with some of the most insightful readings my work has enjoyed. I eagerly read each of her books as they appeared, and often taught her work in my university classes. During the years that the American Literature Association held meetings in San Francisco, Lyn would always attend the awards reception of the African American Literature and Culture Society where we presented the Stephen Henderson Award for poetry, and then she would be my guest at dinner with the poet afterward. There is so much more I could say about Lyn Hejinian, as poet, as publisher, as teacher, but most of this is well known in the community of American poets. Word of her death came to us just as we were all sitting down in a hall at the University of Louisville for a tribute panel for Lyn that Barrett Watten and Alan Golding had organized. The news was a hard blow; many speakers were choked up and many tears were shed. I could still hear Lyn’s voice in my head; will probably always hear that voice. When artists die, a realm of possibilities go with them. But the work is still here, so that even the thousands with no personal memories of her will come to know the power of her creations.

​There was already a shadow hanging over that Louisville conference. Not only did we know of Lyn’s precarious state, but we had just learned that Tyrone Williams was in a hospital in Buffalo struggling with cancer that had metastasized into his brain. I have known Tyrone so long that I no longer recall how or where we met. To my own discredit, I did not realize he was a poet at first. We usually met up at one or another academic conference, where I benefited from his brilliant work as a critic and scholar. I do remember seeing a poem in an issue of Callaloo credited to Tyrone Williams, flipping to the contributors’ notes and seeing, yes, it was the same Tyrone Williams I had come to know. Over time we discovered we had many other friends in common. Tyrone was from Detroit, educated at Wayne State University, a place I visited often in my research on C.L.R. James and his political group. Most of the Detroit poets I came to know had known Tyrone. And as time went on, our overlapping circles of acquaintance in the worlds of poetry and scholarship multiplied and intertwined. 

​We appeared at readings together often. One year we read together in the Boog City Festival in New York, then met up again for a poetry event in Philadelphia, shortly before speaking at the same conference in yet another city. Al Filreis, of the Kelly Writers House in Philadelphia, at some point came up with the idea of teaming William J. Harris, Tyrone and me for one of his PoemTalk events. It went so well that Al sponsored several subsequent events “getting the band together again” to explore a series of poems and poets. One memorable episode was dedicated to the poem “In Town,” by Amiri Baraka, which appeared on a CD release by The Roots. Another year we met with Erica Hunt to discuss her book Veronica: A Suite in X Parts.That volume was a response to the murder of Trayvon Martin in Florida, and in another session we discussed my own sequence, Tray, also written out of the experience of viewing the trial of Martin’s murderer, George Zimmerman.  After ruminating over the poetry of others so often with these good friends and sharp readers, it was intriguing to participate in a discussion with them of my own work. That evening the three of us did a group poetry reading.

Tyrone Williams

​And then came November of 2023. Filreis had again called the three of us together to meet with another close poet friend, Evie Shockley, for a public discussion of her work. These days at the Kelly Writers House had come to be a form of real sustenance to me, a chance to work my brain and to share in the comforts of friendship at the same time. That night Evie read with Simone White and we all went out to dinner together. I had really come to love these moments of poetic fellowship. And to make the time yet sweeter, by then Tyrone Williams had begun to receive the kinds of recognition he had so long deserved. After decades of teaching generations of students at Xavier University, Tyrone was named the David Gray Professor of Poetry and Letters at SUNY Buffalo, a post previously held by Robert Creeley, Charles Bernstein, and Steve McCaffery. But this was also a time of sudden disruptions and difficulties. Tyrone was injured in a fall, and also lost his beloved wife. Through it all, he continued to produce poetry and criticism of the very highest order.

​So only a bit more than two months had passed from that beautiful day at the Writers House when word came of Tyrone’s hospitalization. There had been an auto accident. It was discovered that he had experienced several small strokes. The news grew worse by the day. As several of his friends headed off for the conference in Louisville, in part to pay tribute to Lyn, the updates from Buffalo grew yet more concerning. In the middle of a session with the poet A.B. Spellman, our chair, Laurie Scheyer, slipped out of the room to make a short phone call to Tyrone at the hospital. She came back with the report that he had still been lucid, and that his parting words were “I love you.” Days later he was gone. What do we do with our love for these poets when we have lost them?  We have not lost our memories of them, and we have not lost their works. 

​​I am not filing a complaint against the future that slipped
Unseen into my heart . . .

-Tyrone Williams


New Poetry Titles (5/7/24)

Check out new poetry books published the week of 5/7 from Stanchion Books, Black Ocean, Andrews McMeel Publishing, Picador UK, Mercer University Press, Wave Books, Alice James Books, Graywolf Press, Copper Canyon Press, BOA Editions Ltd, Black Lawrence Press, Grayson Books, Bloodaxe Books and CavanKerry Press.

Chapbook Poem: Disguise by Christine Kitano

Read the featured Chapbook Poem of the Month for May 2024, “Disguise” from Dumb Luck & other poems by Christine Kitano, along with a few words from the poet.

New Poetry Titles (5/14/24)

Check out new poetry books published the week of 5/14 from Finishing Line Press, Black Ocean, University of Queensland Press, She Writes Press, White Pine Press, Curbstone Books, New Directions, W. W. Norton & Company, Omnidawn, NYRB Poets, Anvil Press and an editor’s pick from Copper Canyon Press.

New Poetry Titles (5/21/24)

Check out new poetry books published the week of 5/21 from Seren, Finishing Line Press, Diode Editions, Copper Canyon Press, Nightboat Books, Milkweed Editions, CavanKerry Press, Invisible Publishing, Holy Cow! Press, Wake Forest University Press, Zephyr Press, Querencia Press, YesYes Books, Coach House Books and Rose Books.

New Poetry Titles (5/28/24)

Check out new poetry books published the week of 5/28 from Tupelo Press, Diode Editions, McSweeney’s Publishing, Michigan State University Press, Caitlin Press Inc., Carcanet Press Ltd., White Pine Press, Deep Vellum Publishing, Hat & Beard Press, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, Copper Canyon Press, Sagging Meniscus, The Song Cave, Finishing Line Press and Broken Sleep Books.

New Poetry Titles (6/4/24)

Check out new poetry books for the week of 6/4 from Bored Wolves, Scribner, Coach House Books, House of Anansi Press, Biblioasis, Button Poetry, Seagull Books, Jackleg Press, Green Linden Press and Central Avenue Publishing.

Chapbook Poem: Like a Honeypot by Stefanie Kirby

Read the featured Chapbook Poem of the Month for June 2024, “Like a Honeypot” from Fruitful by Stefanie Kirby, along with a few words from the poet.

Poetry Chapbooks (May, 2024)

Check out new poetry chapbooks from Cathexis Northwest Press, Diode Editions, Gnashing Teeth Publishing, Seren Books, Grayson Books, Querencia Press, Ugly Duckling Presse, The Poetry Box and Finishing Line Press.

New Poetry Titles (6/11/24)

Check out new poetry books published the week of 6/11 from The Poetry Box, Finishing Line Press, YesYes Books, Burnside Review Press, Row House Publishing, Deep Vellum Publishing, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, Phoneme Media, Sheila-Na-Gig Editions, Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute, Lynx House Press, Alice James Books and Inhabit Media.

May/June ‘24 Editor’s Note: Aldon Lynn Nielsen

While PCR contributors C.M. Crockford, Drishya, and myself work on reviews for our fourth issue and beyond, our May/June issue only has one editorial feature– the first in what I hope to be a series of long interviews with veteran poets.

A Conversation with Aldon Lynn Nielsen

Poet-scholar Aldon Lynn Nielsen shares about his work, his recent chapbook, and poetry in general in this collaborative interview piece with editor Aiden Hunt.

New Poetry Titles (6/18/24)

Check out new poetry books published the week of 6/18 from Finishing Line Press, YesYes Books, Belle Point Press and Red Hen Press.

New Poetry Titles (6/25/24)

Check out new poetry books published the week of 6/25 from Finishing Line Press, Nightboat Books, Coach House Books, Pavilion Poetry, LSU Press, Trio House Press, Leapfrog Press, White Pine Press, Carcanet Press Ltd., Dial Press, Milkweed Editions, and Farrar, Straus and Giroux.