ELL Featured Writers 2012

Robbie Q. Telfer

Robbie Q. Telfer is the co-founder and curator for The Encyclopedia Show, a live literary variety show being staged independently in over 10 cities around the world. He’s been in two documentaries (from HBO and Siskel and Jacobs) for his work at Young Chicago Authors, a not- for-profit that gives creative writing opportunities and mentorship to Chicago teens. It is as part of this organization he organizes the world’s largest teen poetry festival, Louder Than A Bomb. In addition, he’s written on two video games, is the poetry correspondent for TimeOut Chicago, and in 2007 was an individual finalist at the National Poetry Slam. In 2008, Telfer and five other Chicago performance poets who form the Speak’Easy Poetry Ensemble performed at the annual Bertolt Brecht Festival in Augsburg, Germany. His first published book of poetry, Spiking the Sucker Punch, was released in 2009 from Write Bloody Publishing. Telfer’s work appears in American Book Review, Octopus Magazine, cream city review and decomP magazinE, as well as several spoken word anthologies and DVDs.

Telfer’s unique approach to poetry earns him many accolades. Just last year he was named Best Local Poet by the Chicago Reader. Timeout Chicago says there isn’t another poet like him: “Telfer has a seasoned comedian’s presence on stage, at once unassuming and unpredictable.” Telfer knows he’s unique too, remarking, “Slam is often hip-hop- focused, but I don’t come from that tradition…The tradition I come from is stand-up comedy, which has its own rhythm.” In fact, some have even questioned whether performances constitute poetry. To those who question the poetry itself of performance poetry, Telfer’s response is simple: it depends on one’s definition of poetry; “ The poet Kenneth Koch talks about poetry as its own language, that you have to learn the rules of, in order to communicate in it. So performance poetry is the language of performance attached to the language of poetry. It’s up to the individual performer to use whatever parts of those languages fit their needs.”

Richard Hoffman

Richard Hoffman is the author of three poetry collections, Without Paradise, Gold Star Road (winner of the Barrow Street Press Poetry Prize and the New England Poetry Club’s Shelia Motton Book Award) and just this year Emblem, as well as the short story collection Interference & Other Stories, and the celebrated memoir, Half the House. Against the back-drop of post-war,blue-collar America, Half the House tells a story both intensely personal and universal. Depicting his family’s struggles to care for two of his brothers who are terminally ill, Hoffman also recounts the horrific abuse he suffered in secret at the age of ten by his baseball coach. In a memoir Time magazine called, “spare and poignant,” the author explores the ways in which grief and rage become a tangled silence that estranges those who need each other’s love the most, and demonstrates the healing power of truth-telling in both the personal and public spheres.

For Hoffman, writing, in all its forms, is all about listening: “When I’m writing a poem, that listening is kind of a musical sense, a listening for the right sound that also makes an interesting kind of sense, that takes me with the poem into something new, or if not new, then something I know I need to say…When I’m writing an essay, that listening is really a kind of listening for ideas that grow out of one another, listening for the idea that branches off of the one I’m writing, that makes an interesting connection. When I’m writing fiction, I’m often listing for what a character says, either in dialogue or in his or her internal monologue.” (Midnight Oil Magazine). Perhaps it his skill to listen that makes Terrance Hayes, author of the National Book Award winning Lighthead, claim “If Anton Chekhov returned as a modern-day poet, Richard Hoffman would be his name.” Indeed, readers of his most recent work, Emblem, laud Hoffman for his ability to “revel in the infinite possibilities of language, and jolt, surprise, and satisfy at every turn” (Patricia Smith, Blood Dazzler) and “move beyond form to inhabit the places where our human selves reside” (Pablo Medina, The Man Who Wrote on Water) Hoffman currently teaches at Emerson College and serves as Chair of PEN New England.