This City Could Be Your Poet: Richmond

Allison Titus

As Xenophobic as we Portlanders can be, we know our city is not alone when it comes to having a vibrant and eclectic and wild poetry community. In an effort to discover these territories, we have reached out to some of our favorite poets, asking them for introductions to the cities in which they write, read, and live in. 

Allison Titus, whose poem “Essay on Urban Homesteading” appeared in our themed Wild issue, gives us a glimpse into her crumbling, haunted, gorgeous Richmond. 

Tin House: Where do you live?

Allison Titus: In a neighborhood called Church Hill in Richmond, VA, which is ancient, crumbly, haunted and gorgeous.

TH: Are you from there?

AT: No, I’m originally from Charlottesvillle but mostly grew up across the river on the south side of Richmond.

TH: Describe the poetry scene of your city in a line…

AT: Fragmented but friendly; the city is full of MFA grad students and ex-MFA grad students and slam poets and scholars and solitary writers who are doing their own thing… there’s not much overlap between the various groups. Maybe it’s more accurate to say there are lots of mini-scenes.

TH: What are three of your favorite collections to come out of your city?

ATElegy by Larry Levis, If Birds Gather Your Hair for Nesting by Anna Journey and Lessness by Brian Henry.

TH: What local poet are you most excited for the rest of the country to read?

AT: Allison Seay, whose first book, To See the Queen, just came out and is stunning, stunning.

TH: Is there a poem that best describes your city?

AT: “Memorial Department” by Joshua Poteat.

TH: Do you have a favorite local press?

ATMakeout Creek. And it’s not a press, but I can’t not mention VCU’s excellent online literary journal, Blackbird, here. 

TH: If we were visiting, what reading series would you take us to?

AT: Let’s see: the University of Richmond’s writer series, or the series at VCU (Virginia Commonwealth University) or whatever reading was happening at Chop Suey, the best bookstore in Richmond, which is often where poets passing through town read.

TH: Booze and dancing seem to go hand-in-hand with poetry. Where can we get a drink and shake it after a reading?

AT: Babe’s, for sure. It has surprise beach volleyball out back.

TH: If you could choose one poet to move to your city, who would it be?

AT: Carl Phillips. I choose CP because I began reading his work only recently (last spring, or early summer) and immediately felt, in his poems, a comfort I hadn’t known I was seeking; I think Dan Chiasson puts it beautifully and perfectly in his New Yorker review of Phillips’ newest book when he writes that Phillips is a poet “enthralled by silence.” And because Phillips addresses his lover in the poem “Blizzard” as “little firework, little/not-my-own” and breaks my heart wide open: that tenderness, that surprise, that lament. It’s everywhere in his work and I can’t get enough of it.

Allison Titus lives in Richmond, VA. Her first book of poems, Sum of Every Lost Ship, was published by Cleveland State University Poetry Center in 2010, and a chapbook, Instructions From the Narwhal, won the BOOM chapbook prize and was published by Bateau Press in 2007. Recent poems have appeared in A Public Space, Boston Review, Black Warrior Review and Gulf Coast. She co-edits the poetry journal Handsome, recently completed her first novel, The Arsonist’s Song Has Nothing to Do with Fire, and in 2011 was awarded a poetry fellowship from the NEA.