Two years removed from helping create Literary Cleveland, a nonprofit resource for Northeast Ohio’s writing community, writer Lee Chilcote is about to release his first book, The Shape of Home.
Due out next month, the 32-page poetry collection is already garnering national attention with award winning writer Nin Andrews calling Chilcote “a welcome new voice in American poetry.” Topics covered in the book of poems include parenting, love, marriage and family.
CoolCleveland recently reconnected with Chilcote about his new book, memories of growing up in Cleveland Heights and his future.
Congratulations on The Shape of Home. How long has a book of poetry been on your radar?
I’ve been writing poetry for 25 years. I’m 42 now, but this particular book, which is my first, I wrote over the past five to seven years. It’s really about growing up in Cleveland and in turn moving back to raise a family here, particularly in the wake of the recession and some of those experiences. I wrote the poems after the kids went to bed and before they woke up.
Going into the project, what did you envision and how was that different from the finished product?
When I started, I didn’t envision much. I just started writing poetry after a long hiatus. And I found myself drawn back to the language of poetry, particularly after some experiences I had in the recession of getting downsized, trying to kind of reinvent my own career in my 30s, deciding to launch work as a fulltime writer and then also having kids. I was just drawn back to the kind of compact, lyrical language of poetry as a way of expressing and digging into some of those experiences.
As a poet, who are your influences?
Robert Frost, Rita Dove and Philip Levine write in everyday clear, accessible language but their poetry has layers of meaning. My poetry is very much in the style of narrative poetry, so another name that comes to mind is Billy Collins.
Considering this is your first book, what was the journey like to get it published?
I got a lot of great mentoring from Northeast Ohio poets with more experience than me. And at readings, I got the work out there to kind of test it with audiences. Slowly over time the book kind of took shape. I sent it out to a lot of contests. I didn’t win any, but eventually it was picked up by Finishing Line Press, which I’m really excited about. It’s a great small press based near Lexington, Kentucky. They kind of specialize in poetry chapbooks.
How does Northeast Ohio color The Shape of Home?
A couple of different things comes to mind. The book’s title is from the first poem in the collection. The reason I thought it was a fitting title for the collection is because it’s really about how I was shaped by my home growing up in Cleveland Heights with my family and how as an adult I’m taking those influences and shaping my own home raising a family in the Detroit Shoreway neighborhood. That first poem is actually about some relatives of mine that came to Northeast Ohio in the early 19th century. I also have a poem about fixing up old houses during the recession titled “Home Improvement.” I’ve got a poem about listening to blues records with my dad, who grew up in the ’50s and would go down to these black blues and jazz clubs on Euclid Avenue. I’ve got a poem about exploring Doan Brook in Cleveland Heights with my brothers, which we were totally not allowed to do. So there’s quite a lot of Cleveland in the book.
So what’s next in the career?
What’s next is probably a full-length poetry collection that will be a little bit longer, which I’m pretty excited about and hopefully it’ll be done fairly soon. I’d love to publish it next year, but nothing is definite. Also, I’m working up some memoir pieces about my family’s history in Cleveland.
Finally, considering you’re now a published poet with various projects on the way, how are you juggling writing with your Literary Cleveland responsibilities?
The great thing about Lit Cleveland is it’s given me an opportunity to serve other writers and to work on developing programs that help writers grow in Cleveland, which is something I’m really passionate about. It’s a great reciprocal relationship because like others who are participating in our programs, I’m growing as writer and as an author just by being a part of the community that Lit Cleveland has helped to create. That in turn feeds my creativity.