Poetry in Boise, Idaho

The Boise State University MFA Reading Series

Downtown Boise, Idaho
Downtown Boise. Image from http://victoria-weather.com/2012/06/11/boise-idaho-to-appleton-wisconsin/

Rather than highlight a specific poem, poet, reading, or series this week, I want to showcase a city. And  this isn’t just any city. This is Boise, Idaho — my hometown. Mentioning the city elicits many of the same questions and reactions, so let’s get those out of the way right now. Yes, there are potatoes, but no, we don't eat them all of the time. The city is actually in the West, not the Midwest (Boise is further west than Las Vegas, and you probably mixed it up with Iowa). And yes, Boise State University has the blue turf, and we all saw the 2007 Fiesta Bowl game. The one question I never get asked, however, is “How is the poetry in Boise?” It's a shame that I never get to answer this question too, because there is a strong and vibrant poetry community in Boise, with BSU as its center.

I have to begin my profile of Boise with the Boise State University MFA Reading Series,  a series which is crucial to the poetry community in Boise, and is the largest collection related to Boise on PennSound. Recently, Ron Silliman featured a few of these recordings on his blog, almost as a testament to the importance of a series that features prominent writers in a city that is otherwise largely ignored in the literary world. So far, this series has brought a number of poets to Boise, including Susan Schultz, Forrest Gander, Charles Bernstein, Bhanu Kapil, Tom Raworth, and Alice Notley, among others. And it will continue to bring writers in the years to come. Already there are approximately 17 hours worth of readings on PennSound, and even more recordings featuring visiting novelists can be found on the MFA Reading Series iTunes U page

The director of the MFA Program at Boise State is Martin Corless-Smith, who received his MFA from the Iowa Writers Workshop, and his PhD from the University of Utah. His most recent book of poems, English Fragments A Brief History of the Soul, was released in 2010 by Fence Books. Several poems from this collection can be found on Corless-Smith's PennSound page. He is a truly fantastic poet, and the poems in English Fragments come from the intensely personal and lyric modes while using postmodern composition and linguistic emphasis. All our secrets... and Dark Matter are excellent examples of this. Corless-Smith also appeared in a number of episodes of Cross Cultural Poetics, a radio program hosted by Leonard Schwartz.

Also appearing in an episode Cross Cultural Poetics is Janet Holmes, poet, professor, and editor of Ahsahta Press. As Ahsahta Press describes their history:

A not-for-profit literary publisher, Ahsahta was founded in 1974 at Boise State University to preserve the best works by early poets of the American West. Its name, ahsahta, is the Mandan word meaning Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep, and was first recorded by members of the Lewis and Clark expedition...Soon after its inception, the press began publishing contemporary poetry by Western poets along with its reprint titles. Ahsahta editors discovered and initially published a number of widely popular poets from the West.

These works of contemporary poetry include Noah Eli Gordon's most recent book, The Year of the Rooster, Brian Teare's Pleasure, and Sandra Doller's Chora. Ahsahta is one of my favorite presses, and is not one to ignore.

Of course, all of this is part of the institutional poetry world of Boise, and in many ways ignores the poetry community that exists alongside Boise State University. For a taste of that community, I encourage you to visit CA Conrad's Jupiter88. Conrad visited Boise for a reading in late 2011, and used the opportunity to record a number of Boise poets, comprising episodes 66 through 72 of his video magazine: Genna Kohlhardt, Julie Strand, Charles Gabel, Torin Jensen, Megan Williams, and Janet Holmes. When Conrad announced these recordings on the Buffalo Poetics Listserv almost two years ago, he said something that has stuck with me ever since: “BOISE is one of my new favorite poetry cities!” I hope that after exploring some of the resources for poetry in Boise that are available, it might become one of your favorites as well.