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These Streets: Bi-Coastal Collaborative Poetry


>>Local poet J. Edward Moss and his uncle John Burgess of Seattle collaborate in a synergetic collection of poetry about their respective cities, entitled These Streets.

Living in a city can be a lot of things: chaotic, inspiring, defeating, uplifting. Rochester-based poet J. Edward Moss explores the multifarious experience of city living from his lens, while his uncle John Burgess answers with verse from the streets of Seattle. Some lines feel tailor-made for an audience of Rochesterians (“and soon the season changes/ but, i have only just begun/ to lift my eyes”); others surely resonate with Seattleites (“curves & waves/ give way to straight”); but on the whole, the collection integrates the two cities beautifully in a unified acknowledgment of urban vitality.

Heavily influenced by jazz music, specifically the great pianist and composer Bill Evans, These Streets was conceptualized as an improvisational give-and-take between the two writers. Moss had started a collection of poems about Rochester and sent 10 of them to his uncle, whom he considers his “soundboard” and mentor, for review. Burgess sent five original poems back, in a manner that Moss describes as “cheeky,” quasi-challenging his nephew to come up with five responses.

Soon, however, the two writers realized they had something with potential on their hands. They delved into the project, each contributing vital components to the collection. Burgess proposed using the words “These Streets” in every poem title and lent his keen, editorial eye to the poem’s lengths. He explains his self-imposed constraint of poem length as inspired by the “punk ethos of spitting out what I have to say, then getting off stage.” In turn, Moss drove a lot of the thematic pulse of the collection, stirred by Rochester’s “darkened streets and rain.” He adds that the poems can read “a little dreary, but not sad.”

The emails bounced back and forth, each writer responding to ideas, themes, and vibes from the other’s writing. They were excited by the call-and-response nature of the poems, which Moss likens to “a mix tape – songs that sound good next to each other.” After editing and compiling the poems, These Streets was picked up by Goldfish Press, a local small press publisher in Seattle. Both writers acknowledge the importance of this small publisher in achieving their objectives for the collection. Moss appreciates that he will “be able to perform for [new] people in Seattle that have never heard my stuff,” while Burgess notes the fitting nature of using a small press to publish poetry. “It’s kind of the way poetry is – very local,” he says.

Thematically, the poems oscillate between gritty and melodic, realist and mystical, austere and optimistic. The authors’ truth no doubt lies at the core of their words as they convey their vision of their cities’ streets and their place within them with authenticity. Take, for example, “These Streets (& Other Things) Fall Apart” (first Burgess’s Seattle iteration, followed by Moss’s Rochester response):

(Seattle)

hearts & tunneling machines

leave sinkholes in their wake

concrete

falls

from

overhead

(Rochester)

trees replaced

with NEW APARTMENT HOUSING

eating what was left.

the wear

& tear

of everyday abuse

It would be hard to find a city denizen who couldn’t relate to the literal and figurative “falling apart” of their urban community. Still, the message of the book is not singular; in fact, one could surmise a somewhat uplifting ending as both authors take a higher vantage point with the concluding set “High Above These Streets”:

(Rochester)

sunshine hits iris

first time in 8 days

warming bone against bone

tone of a day off

(Seattle)

i see how

geometry shapes

the way i go

i sway when you sway

Speaking to goals, Moss aims to subvert the inherent stuffiness that is often expected in poetry by creating poems that are digestible and smooth. “[The book] has depth but it’s not pretentious or unapproachable,” he stresses. He seeks to engage new audiences in not only his poetry, but in the genre in a larger sense as well. Burgess echoes the goal to engage new readers, and he also hopes to broaden local writers’ perspectives. “I wanted to show other Seattle poets that there was a different way to write about Settle,” he states. Creative, collaborative, improvisational – “poetry on your toes,” Moss imbues.

These Streets made its east coast debut at the UUU Art Collective on November 22. Moss is slated to travel to Seattle this week for the book’s west coast debut on December 15, which is an intimate gathering Burgess’s house. In the meantime, Moss is promoting the book through social media platforms as well as garnering online sales on Amazon. He enjoys selling the book through word of mouth especially, even going so far as to drop off copies at purchasers’ homes to cultivate “a personal side” to the transactions.

Put on a jazz record, make sure your literary nose is not upturned, and enjoy this collection as it examines the unique duality of east-and-west coast city dwelling.

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