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2009 National Book Award Finalist,

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Lyrae Van Clief-Stefanon
Open Interval
University of Pittsburgh Press

Video from the 2009 National Book Awards Finalist Reading


Passionate and personal, innovative and elegant, Lyrae Van Clief-Stefanon’s Open Interval marries a wildness of vision with a lens-maker’s precision. The book takes on the actual astronomical phenomenon of “RR Lyrae” stars not only to form a metaphor for the self, but to reveal a constellation of lyric impulses. In exploded sonnets, taut syllabics, Dickinsonian dashes, or that new poetic invention, the bop, Van Clief-Stefanon writes of science, rock-n-roll, and the history of a heart that could be hers, but speaks to all of ours.


Open interval is a mathematical term referring to a line that has no endpoints. Drawing upon intersections of astronomy and mathematics, history, literature, and lived experience, the poems in Open Interval locate the self in the interval between body and name. Like the Romare Bearden paintings she writes about in Open Interval, Van Clief-Stefanon’s work is colorful, sometimes playful, grounded in reality, yet other-worldly at the same time.


Van Clief-Stefanon is assistant professor of English at Cornell University. She is the author of ]Open Interval[, and Black Swan, winner of the 2001 Cave Canem Poetry Prize, and coauthor, with Elizabeth Alexander, of the chapbook Poems in Conversation and a Conversation. Her poems have appeared in African American Review, Callaloo, Crab Orchard Review, Rattapallax, Shenandoah, and in several anthologies, including Bum Rush the Page and Role Call.


AUDIO - From the Fishouse: Poets: Lyrae Van Clief-Stefanon

AUDIO - Writers At Cornell: Interview: Lyrae Van Clief-Stefanon
Apr 2, 2008 ... Lyrae Van Clief-Stefanon received her B.A. from Washington and Lee University and her M.F.A. from Penn State.

AUDIO - Cornell University - CornellCast - Lyrae Van Clief-Stefanon, poet


309 words

Bop: The North Star

—Auburn, NY

Polaris sits still in the sky and if I knew
which one it was I could follow it all the way
to Auburn. Oh, Harriet, who did not need the poise
of freedom knocked into your head like sense, who found it more
than possible to sleep, pistol shoved deep into your pocket
along this route, I cannot tell a dipper from Orion.

Yes, the springtime needed you. Many a star was waiting
for your eyes only.

The university twinkles on the hill above my house.
The fat moon rises and a girl holds out her arms. She twirls
in a blue Polly Flinders dress. Mama's precious
cameo—a white woman's silhouette on black satin ribbon
choker tied around her neck. Poise begins here:
in cinders, in rhyme, in splintering beauty into this
and this—: the image at my throat: the summer's pitching
constellations: the ten o'clock scholar's midnight lesson.

Yes, the springtime needed you. Many a star was waiting
for your eyes only.

At the prison at Auburn I cross the yard. Inmates whet tongues against
my body: cement—sculpted—: poised for hate—: pitch
compliments like coins: —(wade)— their silver slickening —(in the water)—:
uncollected change. A guard asks, Think they're beautiful? Just wait
til they're out here stabbing each other
. Oh, Harriet, the stars
throw down shanks—: teach the sonnet's a cell—: now try to escape—

Yes, the springtime needed you. Many a star was waiting
for your eyes only.

Transit of Venus

The actors mill about the party saying rhubarb
because other words do not sound like conversation.
In the kitchen, always, one who's just discovered
beauty, his mouth full of whiskey and strawberries.
He practices the texture of her hair with his tongue;
in her, five billion electrons pop their atoms. Rhubarb
in electromagnetic loops, rhubarb, rhubarb, the din increases.


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