Undercover: 'sugar run road'

The writing of poet Ed Ochester may be the finest example of the Pittsburgh style.

While I was sharing a few drinks recently with a couple of local word-slingers, the question arose of whether or not a Pittsburgh writing style — a Steel City School of Composition, if you will — existed. We quickly determined that the Pittsburgh style is one wholly lacking in pretense. It isn’t frilly with luxuriant passages of description, nor is it muddy with unnecessary clauses stacked one atop another ad infinitum. The “Pittsburgh style” ultimately is blue-collar, taking its pride in sturdy craftsmanship.

The writing of poet Ed Ochester may be the finest example of the Pittsburgh style, and his latest collection of poems, sugar run road, is a primer on the local aesthetic. Ochester writes, “I like complexity / not confusion / plain surface texture / free of mere complicatedness.” In the manifesto-like “poetry,” he rails against “the mystified truisms / the dusty puzzle-prunes / the theatrical exaggerations” that are so closely associated in the public mind with poems. It’s a plea to fellow poets to knock off all the b.s. and get down to what’s important.

What’s important to Ochester is rendering the world in our art as we find it — not as we would like it to be. There’s no need for long-winded puffery when this life offers such wonders as the “two young toothless men” singing “Stairway to Heaven” “with enormous gusto” in “karaoke night at the serbian club, south side, pittsburgh: a haiku.” Ochester’s “sugar run road” makes an argument for poetry less as a kind of alchemy where the real is remade as art but rather poetry as witness sharing the beauty and wonders of the real that we too often fail to notice.

Dan Nowak is a serious romantic. The pages of his newest chapbook, the hows and whys of my failures, are redolent with the pangs and joys of new love. These poems positively vibrate with a lusty electricity, “we’ll drink bourbons / with our free hands and throw compliments across / the table that sticks to our skins and i’ll wish i had / your lips stuck on my body.”

There’s a mischievous wink in Nowak’s work, a good-time fizziness that sweetens what otherwise might be melancholic, such as the awkward encounters listed in “one of many failed pick-up lines.” Nowak is saying we’ve all been there. We’ve all suffered through those moments when trying desperately to impress the object of our affections but spill a drink or find our fly has been unzipped the whole time.
The latest entry in the popular America Through Time series, The Synagogues of Central and Western Pennsylvania: A Visual Journey, is a thoroughly researched volume concerning the rich history of the Jewish communities in central and western Pennsylvania. As always, the reader is presented with a wealth of extraordinary photographs beautifully chronicling the growth of our local congregations, some of which trace their roots back to the early-18th century.

Upcoming readings:

Rodef Shalom Congregation, April 23
The New Yorker’s resident doyenne of neurosis, cartoonist Roz Chast makes a rare appearance in town to discuss her best-selling graphic-memoir “Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?” A National Book Award finalist, the work details Chast’s exasperation and worries about her aging parents. Proceeds from ticket and book sales go to support Family Hospice and Palliative Care in western Pennsylvania.
[4905 Fifth Ave., Oakland; 412/572-8812, familyhospicepa.org]

University of Pittsburgh, April 7
Daniel Jones is the editor of The New York Times’ very popular “Modern Love” column (and he grew up in Pittsburgh). The tour for his latest book, “Love Illuminated: Exploring Life’s Most Mystifying Subject (with the Help of 50,000 Strangers)” brings him to the University of Pittsburgh campus. Local authors Lori Jakiela and Aubrey Hirsch also will read.
[Cathedral of Learning, Room 232, 4200 Fifth Ave., Oakland; aeh74@pitt.edu]

Classic Lines Bookstore, April 25
Columbus, Ohio’s Darren C. Demaree is the author of four poetry collections and the recipient of five Pushcart Prize nominations. He reads with Margaret Bashaar and other locals.
[5825 Forbes Ave., Squirrel Hill; 412/422-2220]


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