The burgeoning poet returned to Tulsa to read samples of his work.
In partnership with the University of Tulsa creative writing department, Eric Ekstrand presented selections from his newest project, a manuscript of compiled poems, at McFarlin Library on Tuesday, Feb. 12. Ekstrand was selected as a 2018 Tulsa Artist Fellow and published his first book of poetry, “Laodicea,” in 2015.
Ekstrand currently lives in North Carolina with his husband, Danny, where he is an associate teaching professor of creative writing and composition at Wake Forest University. He graduated with an MFA from the University of Houston and has received several fellowships and awards to pursue his poetry since. He earned a fellowship through the National Poetry Foundation in 2009 and has been published in the Indiana Review and jubilat.
“Laodicea” deals with issues like contradictions in the self. The Amazon page for “Laodicea” quotes a line from the book, “‘The mind and the world / together are a Co-Cathedral’—the impulse for love and play.” Ekstrand was met with several commendations for this collection. Donald Revell selected “Laodicea” for the Omnidawn 1st/2nd Book Prize, which helped Ekstrand publish the book. It was also a named finalist in the National Poetry Series following its release.
After being selected as a Tulsa Artist Fellow in 2018, Ekstrand lived in Tulsa, his husband’s hometown, for a year as part of the program. Ekstrand’s experiences living in the area are the foundation for several of the poems that he read during his visit to TU. Throughout the duration of his fellowship, he was given the space and time to write much of the work he plans to publish in his second book. These poems breached a wide variety of topics such as current events and his interpretations of atmosphere.
Ekstrand began by reading a poem entitled “Two Love Poems” that centered on homosexuality and experiences of same-sex couples. He introduces two couples — two lesbians and two gay men — who negotiate their public images and the presentation of their romance. The male couple has to justify their love when applying for a visa, and “self aware, they began to act in love even though they were.”
Another piece, “Veil,” dealt with the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia in 2016. Ekstrand painted an image for the viewers of a pillowcase slipping over his eyes, evocative of “blind justice” and the line between life and death. He told the audience, “I’m really just trying to piss off his ghost,” when asked about his motivation in writing this poem.
Ekstrand ended his reading with a piece dealing directly with Ekstrand’s time in Tulsa, titled “Pokémon Hunters.” He recounts an experience watching Pokémon Go players on Guthrie Green and described it as “kind of a beautiful sight,” watching these people interacting with an alternate reality. Building this concept, Ekstrand further explores the idea of a limited view and perception of reality.
Ultimately, Ekstrand’s time in Tulsa allowed him the space to explore the concepts that are illuminated in his poems. He described having more trouble writing his most recent works than he had in the past, but the Tulsa Artist Fellowship allowed him to work through this. Being surrounded by other artists helped Ekstrand “absorb by osmosis” the creative energy that inspired and encouraged his writing. Readers can purchase copies of “Laodicea” for $17.85 from Amazon and indiebound.org or for $7.95 at powells.com. Information about his upcoming publications and readings is on Ekstrand’s website, ericekstrand.com.