Poetry reading and book release reflect on Phoenix poetry scene

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(Nicole Ludden/DD)
In a moment of spontaneity, David Chorlton decided to read to his pet bird, a starling he adopted more than five years ago.

The small bird perched on the edge of the rough surface of a T.S. Eliot book. Chorlton began reading aloud, and the starling fluttered away, unamused by the drab human voice that pales in comparison to his serendipitous song.

Chorlton recounts this moment in the title poem of his new book, “Reading T.S. Eliot to a Bird.” It was this moment when Chorlton realized why he loved writing about animals.  

“None of these creatures have a way of looking ahead. They don’t know the consequences of what we do, what we want, what we support,” Chorlton said. “I realized, in this rather frivolous moment, that this is the reason I am interested in writing about animals.”

Chorlton, a local poet based in Ahwatukee, debuted the new poetry collection during a reading at Burton Barr Central Library on Thursday.

The series contains ecological-themed poetry that often features details of wildlife. Through his work, Chorlton hopes his readers gain a greater appreciation of nature.

“For anyone who reads the poems, I would like them to think about even the smallest moths that they see in a different light, to realize that everything has its right in the earth,” Chorlton said.

His new book was published by Hoot ‘n’ Waddle, a recently established publishing and digital media company based in Phoenix. “Reading T.S. Eliot to a Bird” is the second collection Hoot ‘n’ Waddle has published.

(Nicole Ludden/DD)

“I feel like [‘Reading T.S. Eliot to a Bird’] is a great culmination of what David’s been doing,” said Jared Duran, co-founder of Hoot ‘n’ Waddle. “There’s a great mixture of both dark tongue-in-cheek humor and an appreciation for nature, as well as a concern for what’s being done to it.”

Chorlton moved to Phoenix in 1978 from Austria, and quickly became involved with the local poetry scene. Phoenix poets Jack Evans, Shawnte Orion and laureate Rosemarie Dombrowski spoke about how Chorlton has influenced their lives and the growth of poetry in Phoenix. They shared their favorite Chorlton poems, as well as their own Chorlton-inspired pieces.

Evans has known Chorlton for 40 years and emphasized the poet’s impact in curating the environment for literary expression in Phoenix.

“He came here and actually built the Phoenix poetry scene from the ground up,” Evans said. “There was nothing here. He basically is why there’s a poetry scene in Phoenix today.”

Before reading some of his favorite Chorlton pieces, Evans added, “One of the things about David is not only is he a terrific poet, but he’s the most generous human being that I’ve known.”

Dombrowski, a senior lecturer at the Arizona State University Downtown campus, met Chorlton on Roosevelt Row while promoting her independent poetry journal during a First Friday event in 2005.

“It’s impossible for me to separate the Phoenix poetry scene from David,” Dombrowski said. “I wasn’t really part of anything in Phoenix before I knew him.”

The last poet to speak before Chorlton read his new piece was Orion, who said he considers Chorlton his biggest poetic inspiration to date.

“David was the first real live poet I encountered out in the wild,” Orion said. “Nobody has had more to do with influencing and inspiring me over the years than David.” 

Thursday’s poetry reading was a chance for Chorlton to display his work in the way he intended it to be heard. He said poetry readings used to make him nervous and joked that the plastic water bottle he held in his hand was full of vodka at his first reading.

Despite his humble introduction, Chorlton delivered his writing in the same poignant, vivid manner it was written in.

“A reading is the only social setting in which I personally feel comfortable,” Chorlton said. “This is your chance to say what you have to say and do it in the manner that you want to engage people.”

As a publisher, Duran has a first-hand appreciation of the beauty Chorlton’s poetry offers the world.

“Hearing David read, his voice follows you after he stops speaking,” Duran said. “That’s perfect for his poetry, because he’s a person whose work you read, and it still follows you after you finish it.”

Chorlton said he hopes the messages of his poems encourage readers to take care of the world they inhabit, not only for themselves but for the future of the creatures that give his poems life.

Contact the reporter at [email protected]

1 COMMENT

  1. Yes the late 70’s’s Poetry Scene was centered around the Alwun House Heartsong Poetry Series, with David’s guiding hand at bringing struggling poets and coffeehouse musicians to our Stage. Wow – that long ago!

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