Dallas Gets Its Own Dead Poet's Society

Poet Joe Milazzo is starting a new repertory poetry series at Deep Vellum Books.
Poet Joe Milazzo is starting a new repertory poetry series at Deep Vellum Books.
Dan Collins

Contemporary poets will breathe life into the work of writers we may have forgotten at Deep Vellum Books this Sunday. Other People's Poetry (OPP) is a new reading series created by author and teacher Joe Milazzo, who is on a mission to bring poets who've fallen out of the oral tradition back onto our radar. The bi-monthly event kicks off with the second volume of Rainer Maria Rilke’s New Poems, first published in 1908, and will continue through May 2017.

Milazzo has recruited a who’s who of the Dallas poetry scene to be his readers and going forward he has plans to read Sylvia Plath, Bob Kaufman, Adrienne Rich and Frank O’Hara, just to name a few. 

Although Milazzo's concept is a new one for Dallas, he says the poetry scene here is already thriving. “Dallas benefits both from a core audience 'who have always been here' and a new influx of audience members becoming acquainted with poetry and the contributions local poets are making to the city’s cultural life."

That’s an exciting thing to hear if you’re the kind of person 

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who worries after the health of Dallas' art scene. 

"Some of this is due to larger demographic and culture trends in the region,” Milazzo says, “but some of it, I believe, is a result of movements within the discipline, or metier, itself: a renewed appreciation for poetry as social practice and even activism; a revival of interest in letterpress, print-making and the book arts."

It probably also has a lot to do with the younger generation of poets who are growing up in an age when the barriers erected between artistic mediums and disciplines over centuries are being systematically demolished. Artists are writing poetry, musicians are creating multi-disciplinary performances, and poets are setting their words to music.

Despite the blurry lines between media, the line between mainstream and academic poetry is still very visible. You have the performative poetry popularized by slam artists on one side, and on the other you have the poetry of the academy, the poetry of history. You know the names from school: Rilke, Wordsworth, Dickinson, Eliot. Chances are you haven’t heard them much since.

Other People's Poetry is a repertory series — the individuals will be reading from a repertoire of poetry that is not their own. It’s Milazzo’s attempt to provide “opportunities for audiences to interact with poetry that has otherwise fallen out of the oral tradition.”

"Poetry, even the most avant-garde, apparently unspeakable poetry, is meant to be voiced, and it is meant to be heard,” Milazzo says.

Repertory reading series are not all that common. The work of playwrights is staged all the time, but we rarely do the same for poets. Milazzo says the reason for this is complicated. 

“I come back again to the importance alternatives and explored possibilities play in keeping art vibrant and vital,” he says. “Perhaps OPP’s participants, poets and audience members alike will treat the series as a laboratory particularly well-equipped for collaborative experiments in all the different ways we might read, listen to, interpret, respond to and honor the poetic.”

Catch the first Other People's Poetry event at Deep Vellum Books, 3000 Commerce St., at 4 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 25. The event is free to attend. Find more info here.


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