This month’s literary arts profile spotlight Alexis M. Smith. We talk to the Portland author about her new novel “Marrow Island,” the beauty of Puget Sound and the importance of small presses.
Hailing from Reno Nevada, Jeff Alessandrelli spent much of his youth going to punk shows and skateboarding, which would explain his reading style: “I basically shout at people,” he says. His aggressive intonation is reminiscent of a worked-up Allen Ginsberg. Unlike many poets, Jeff memorizes his poems, and delivers them with purpose, emphasising the truthfulness he feels in each word.
At Poetry Press Weeks, Jeff had his five female presenters perform “Poem Against Selfies” wearing masks as they read lines from his poem. While each presenter read, the others would take selfies and obliviously look down at their phones. It was one of the best received readings of the two day event. While so many of us are caught up with our online portrayals of ourselves online, Jeff pays attention to the here and now. “I can’t even use Instagram if I wanted to,” he says, pulling out his worn flip phone.
In his newly released book, This Last Time Will Be The First, Jeff makes connections between poets, artists, musicians and comedians alike that appear disparate, but come together organically, with many poems ruining into each other, mirroring the thought process of a busy brain. He entitles a poem “Understanding Evel Knievel” that lists the amount of broken bones he sustained over the course of his career, and ends the poem with a seemingly random reference to Alois Alzheimer and his first case study, Auguste Deter. The next poem quotes some of the transcribed notes of his examinations with her, mapping the deterioration of her mind. “I feel like I have lost myself,” she muttered, in a brief moment of clarity.
It’s these kinds of investigations that make Jeff Alessandrelli unique as a poet. “It’s a jumping off point,” he explains when asked about why he explicitly titles his poems after quotes from other poems or songs. “I wouldn’t call myself super original.” Musing on past poetry and history is how he finds inspiration. While walking his dog, Beckett Longsnout, Jeff always carries a poem in his back pocket, the basic ideas marinating in that poetic brain of his until it turns into something completely new.
Jeff Alessandrelli is like many young creatives who moved to Portland in search of some culture and ended up, in his own words, “lurking” around the city and working at a restaurant. It wasn’t until he went back to school for his Masters at PSU that he started writing again, and then seriously writing for his PhD at the University of Nebraska. He was offered a fellowship back here at PSU where he currently teaches. Jeff also works at the IPRC (Independent Publishing Resource Center), a mecca for writers and artists on lower SE Division that offers an array of classes and even a degree in fine arts that many local accomplished poets have attained.
With all his fancy education and academic work, Jeff is also very much a regular dude, wearing his Oakland A’s hat and drinking craft beer, he perks up when I ask him about the upcoming Lit Hop, an event he co-curates with Kevin Sampsell and Brian Coffelt of Future Tense Press. It’s a “lit reading/bar hopping extravaganza! We basically take over a neighborhood [where] you wouldn’t expect to hear a poetry reading.”
Jeff Alessandrelli exemplifies what is exciting about the local lit scene; youthfulness, brilliance and sincerity. He doesn’t seem to care if he’s part of a movement or not. He captures fleeting thoughts on paper and releases them for everybody to see. »
– Scott McHale
Poems are not about
the difference between
what you know
and what you choose to reveal.
Poems are about houses.
FROM “POEM AGAINST SELFIES”
It’s a common misconception that on her deathbed Cleopatra muttered such heresies as, “The lonelier a person is the more selfies he or she takes.” A common misconception she ever verbalized platitudes in the vein of: “What we substitute for the love of others is what the camera captures in our blank, expectant faces.”
In actuality, Cleopatra died soundless and wordless, surrounded by three of her most prized courtiers. Each one focused a handheld mirror to her face, as, dying, she watched herself watching herself.