Celisa Steele understands the transforming power of language. That’s evident in every line she crafts. This prize-winning poet will captivate her audience Thursday evening at the Lazy Lion bookstore on Broad Street in Fuquay-Varina.
Steele has garnered awards the way wool gathers lint, receiving the Ron Rash Award for Poetry as well as recognition by the North Carolina Poetry Society and North Carolina Poetry Council. Her poem “How Language is Lost” won the 2010 Nâzim Hikmet Poetry Competition.
Celisa Steele can experience an epiphany at a stoplight while the rest of us check out the price of gas. This ability to see the extraordinary in the everyday sets her apart and infuses her poetry with fizz.
She compares Purgatory to waiting for a table at a trendy restaurant, poetry to ping pong. Steele plays with words, understanding that language is imperfect but also that imperfection provides the space to play in. “Poetry’s a game,” she says. “We give ourselves the rules.”
Steele can be grounded too, elevating the ordinary to monumental proportions, as in this description of her grandmother rolling dough in “Pie at 3 AM.” She loved watching the woman’s hands, “hot as a poultice—work the cold Crisco … . Then she’d flour the counter, the floor, her fat bare toes,” capable and profligate at once.
There’s power in naming, Steele believes. She has lived her life a certain way because of the formative name she was given. Recognizing and naming a thing makes it real and establishes a kind of ownership, she says. And poets, more than reporters or politicians, possess the power to call a thing by an apt term others wouldn’t think of. “Poets can say the world in a different way,” Steele explains.
Words, she believes, can save us.
Of course, she acknowledges the inherent shortcomings of language. Something’s inevitably lost when it’s caged in words. But poetry can “leapfrog” the reader into a shared experience. Good poets, Steele says, invite readers in.
Her poetry, then, is an invitation to connect in the language of life and loss. Celisa Steele knows both.
“I’ve known Celisa Steele and her poetry for better than two years now, and I have to say, she’s one of my personal favorites,” says Jan Parker, who hosts the Third Thursday readings. “Her comfort and play with language is masterful: she can snap up a scene with the fewest of words, and those words can snag your memory so that weeks and months and years later, you will think on how this woman sees the world and thank her for it still. Living poetry—that’s what Celisa does.”
Celisa Steele will share her poetry Feb. 21 at the Lazy Lion from 6 to 8 p.m. An open mic will follow.