2016 EMERGING ARTIST PRIZE IN LITERATURE
Dave Lucas is hesitant to talk about what made him a poet. He’s concerned he might just be restating his youthful experiences to align with the lives of other writers he’s studied. A thoughtful analyst of life, he knows he could have easily become a geographer like his father, who spent hours with his son hiking along and explaining the history of the Lake Erie shoreline, a few minutes north of their home in Mentor. But there is one thing about his childhood that seems fitting for a writer.
“When I was little, I loved to make up stories,” informs the SAGES Fellow at Case Western Reserve University. “I loved to make up myths a lot, and I also liked to mimic voices and accents. But all of that was pure play, with no sense of career in it.”
By 10th grade, Dave had figured out that his innate writing acumen enabled him to earn an A on a book report without reading the book. Fortunately, Ellen Geisler, a teacher in his senior year at Mentor High School, got him to engage a little more thoroughly. “She made me feel that I should actually read,” he recalls. “She was the one who made the pursuit of knowledge seem not just a possibility, but a responsibility.”
As a student at John Carroll University, he began reading quite a bit, fueling his desire to become a fiction writer. Then he took a workshop from poet George Bilgere (Cleveland Arts Prize, Literature, 2003) and discovered poems. “I became aware that the quality of the language was a consolation for me that wasn’t available through religious, scientific or philosophical truth,” he explains. “Metaphorical truth through poetry became the way I could make sense of the world.”
He completed his BA in English (summa cum laude) at JCU in 2002. Although both his parents were teachers, he had seen how hard they worked and didn’t think it would accommodate his writer’s schedule, until he had to teach while earning his MFA in Creative Writing at the University of Virginia (2004), where two professors became close mentors: Rita Dove and Charles Wright. “I had a terrific group of students, and it was just a natural fit,” he says. “Teaching didn’t compromise, but actually energized my writing.”
After teaching at JCU, Tri-C and Gilmour Academy, he decided to enroll at the University of Michigan, where he earned his MA (2010) and PhD (2014) in English Language and Literature. The timing was difficult because his father was in the last stages of his battle with cancer in Dave’s first year at Michigan. However, he was able to come home almost every weekend to spend time with his father before he died the day after Thanksgiving.
Dave’s love of his family and his hometown are clear and present in his first book of poetry, Weather (VQR, University of Georgia Press, 2011), which won the 2012 Ohioana Book Award in Poetry. His poems have been anthologized in several publications and have appeared in many journals, including The American Poetry Review, Blackbird, Orion, The Paris Review, Poetry, Slate, The Threepenny Review and the Virginia Quarterly Review.
“What I like best about Dave is his capacity to fuse humor and lyrical intensity in the space of an individual poem,” says friend and colleague, Michael Clune, Professor, Department of English, CWRU. “This is a rare gift, and it gives his work a human warmth often lacking in the austere, distant tones of contemporary verse.”
Additionally, Dave’s writing has garnered numerous awards, including a Creative Workforce Fellowship, Community Partnership for Arts and Culture, Cuyahoga County; 2016 Baker-Nord Center for the Humanities Faculty Affiliate, Case Western Reserve University; and the 2005 Discovery/The Nation Prize. To bring more attention to local writers, Dave co-founded, in 2012 and co-curates the Brews + Prose reading series at Market Garden Brewery in Cleveland in 2012.
He has completed his second poetry collection and is in the process of having Attempt at a Mythology published. He is refining the concept for a third book of poetry that will harness “the sound or the general weirdness of nursery rhymes or folksongs,” he says. Of course, winning a Cleveland Arts Prize in Literature is pleasing to this quintessential Cleveland boy who’s greatly enjoying the current communal pride of artists and residents of the North Coast.
“It’s a great honor, especially because I think of myself so much as a poet from Cleveland and the first book is so thoroughly about this city,” he concludes. “So something of this magnitude is both entirely humbling and a challenge to do more.”