Oak Park poet aims to jostle brain cells
Charlie Rossiter | Photo by by Eileen Molony
Charlie Rossiter and
Michael Czarnecki read from
In the Spirit of T’ao Ch’ien
Oak Park Public Library, 834 Lake St
7 p.m. Wednesday, May 30
(708) 383-8200 or oppl.org
Updated: May 22, 2012 9:12PM
“A world without poetry would be entirely possible, but it would not be worth living in.”
This line by Mexican writer Octavio Paz is among the favorite quotations of Oak Park poet Charlie Rossiter, who has carried a notebook constantly and filled his world with poetry for more than 30 years. Rossiter, known to many as the host of the 3rd Saturday Coffeehouse at Unity Temple, has made a lasting impression on the local and national poetry scene.
This month Rossiter’s poetry legacy continued with the release of a new poetry anthology he edited, filled with his own works and those of four other contemporary American poets who write in the style of the ancient Chinese. Rossiter and New York poet Michael Czarnecki, who contributed to the collection, will read from the book, In the Spirit of T’ao Ch’ien, at the Oak Park Public Library on May 30.
Though critics have compared Rossiter’s work to that of Allen Ginsberg and other Beat Poets, he has an affinity with Asian styles of poetry, including haiku.
“They’re very contemplative,” Rossiter said of the poems. “I find that extremely appealing. If you read the original poets from 1,000 or 1,500 years ago, they look like they’re not saying anything, but you will pick up some depth. They’re looking at life.”
The influence of this stye of poetry on future generations cannot be overstated, Rossiter says. Despite its accessibility and seeming simplicity, it is deeply philosophical. Attributes include plain-spoken language and generally short formats that aim to explore the poets’ states of consciousness and relationship with the natural world.
Born in Baltimore, Rossiter and his family moved frequently in his youth. He “naively” pursued a Ph.D. in communications, he said, because “people told me I was smart and I decided that’s what smart people do.” His degree led to a professorship at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, where Rossiter taught for about eight years and directed a graduate studies program.
Rossiter ultimately became disenchanted with academia and deeply engaged with poetry. He and fellow poet Jeff Winke co-founded and edited the “Third Coast Archives,” a literary quarterly that lasted nearly 10 years. They also developed their interest in haiku.
“Haiku is really good training for poetry. It’s the ‘show, don’t tell’ aspect that challenges you to see something new,” Rossiter said.
Rossiter and his wife, Mary Ellen Munley, moved several times after Milwaukee before landing in Oak Park. All the while, Rossiter continued to meet poets and create readings and other projects.
“I’m the kind of guy who likes to make things happen,” he said.
Locally, Rossiter established the 2nd Monday poetry reading that occurs monthly at Molly Malone’s in Forest Park. He also performs his poems in the Chicago area, at venues like the Green Mill, and nationwide.
Defining his approach to poetry, Rossiter said, “I like to try to get down precisely what I think-slash-feel about something, then I’ll revise it to kick-up the sound. If you can do something unexpected, that’s really nice. You jostle some brain cells.”
By creating occasions for people to plug into poetry, he hopes to engage their brains.
“Real art, of any sort, makes you stop, look at things, look at yourself and contemplate. It’s the kind of thing that some people get from church. I get it from poetry,” he said.