What's Love Got to Do with It?

Chax Press presents a poetic lovefest.

For Love is the title of a Robert Creeley poetry collection that, says poet Charles Alexander of Tucson's Chax Press, is probably the "best-selling poetry book ever."

But that's only part of the reason that Alexander gave the name For Love: Chax Press Poets and Friends to a group poetry reading he's organized for Thursday evening at the Tucson/Pima Arts Council.

"I invited all these people I love," says Alexander. "And I wanted to invite people who have a strong connection with Chax Press," a small poetry press Alexander runs out of the Steinfeld Warehouse downtown. And the invited poets themselves will be reading what they love: a favorite poem by another author and one they've written themselves.

Performing against the backdrop of an exhibition of visual work by the artists of the Steinfeld Warehouse (including some Chax Press books), the readers will include Dennis Williams, a performance artist and poet; Jim Paul, until recently head of the UA Poetry Center; Tenney Nathanson, a UA literature professor; Tim Peterson and Heather Nagami, students in the university's MFA writing program; Imo Baird, a poet, artist and former member of the Little Dinks band; and Lisa Cooper, a poet and editor. Some as yet unannounced poets might show up, and Alexander hints at the possibility of improvisational music.

Most of the readers have played a part in Alexander's life in the years since he first arrived in Tucson in 1984, with his printing press in the back of a U-Haul. A brother-in-law living in Albuquerque had recommended a move to the Old Pueblo because "he thought Tucson had retained a Southwest feel." Alexander temporarily camped out at the home of the only person he knew in town, the author Leslie Marmon Silko, one of whose poems the new arrival had published through Chax's predecessor, Black Mesa Press in Madison, Wis.

"Dennis Williams was one of the first artists I met in Tucson," Alexander remembers. Williams, who coincidentally was once a student of For Love's Creeley, used to electrify the town's artgoers with stunning performance pieces in downtown's alleyways and, once, in a homeless camp at the base of Sentinel Peak. "I saw something in his house, a play. I was even in one play. I've always thought of Dennis as one of my favorite artists in Tucson. One time I got Dennis to talk about the plight of artists in Tucson for the Tucson/Pima Arts Council. He was brilliant."

Baird helped design one of the first Chax Press books, and Nathanson published some of his work with Chax and, with Alexander, helped found POG, a poetry society. Cooper, whose book of poetry & Calling It Home is a Chax title, met Alexander back in 1985 at the Tucson Poetry Festival. "She's been a particular supporter of Chax," he says.

Alexander said he "absolutely loves" the work of the two grad students, Nagami and Peterson. Nagami, a fourth-generation Japanese-American, is the daughter of a woman born in a World War II internment camp in the U.S., he says, and her recent work explores that heritage.

Like the other poets contacted at press time, Alexander is not sure which works he'll read at the event. He's considering a poem by the late Steve Kranz, "a really good friend who worked for me at the Press." Before committing suicide, Kranz authored numerous works of poetry, including the Chax Press volume Predicting the Future with Fish.

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