The Gibbes Museum of Art will host the 2022 Piccolo Spoleto Sundown Poetry Series | File photo

The Sundown Poetry Series is one of the Piccolo Spoleto Festival’s longest-running events, dating back to 1979. This year’s series, which takes place at the Gibbes Museum of Art, features poets from diverse backgrounds who appreciate the power of language to engage and connect.

On love and dogs

Writer and poet Chrys Tobey was driving from Portland to Seattle with her dog Clementine on Sunday. From Seattle, she flew to Charleston to visit her graduate school mentor Richard Garcia, another poet in the series, and to do her reading during Piccolo Spoleto. Clementine, a 13-pound mutt of indeterminate origins, is named after one of the main characters in Tobey’s favorite movie, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

Like that film, Tobey is preoccupied with the complex question of love. “I think we all tend to have topics we’re obsessed with, that we can’t write enough about, and I think that would be love,” she said. “I can’t stop writing about love.”

Tobey, who teaches college composition and poetry courses, is currently working on a manuscript. It will include writings about her journey with her queer identity, as well as poems responding to misogynists in ways that highlight the absurdity of their views. Her work is often filtered through a feminist lens; Her previous book includes persona poems from the perspective of historically misrepresented women like Bonnie Parker and Catherine the Great. 

Reading and writing were lifelines for Tobey as a lonesome, misunderstood child. “It makes me feel less alone in the world. Also, [writing] can help me understand my own experiences,” she said. “But I’ve realized most of what I do, whether it’s teaching or writing, what matters most to me is connection.”

  • Chrys Tobey – Tuesday, June 7, at 6 p.m.

Building new and forgotten worlds

Yvette R. Murray is writing a love letter to her hometown.

Of her upcoming book, she said, “It’s like a love song to Charleston from me, and to my neighborhood that I grew up in, neighborhoods that aren’t there anymore. I like to mention stores and events that aren’t there anymore, and how the community was back then.

“Downtown Charleston was a thriving neighborhood with businesses and homeowners and renters and everything,” Murray added. “And I think it’s important that people know that. I call it an enchanted urban forest. It was an ecosystem. And that sense of neighborhood is missing. I, for one, think that that’s a tremendous loss.”

Although Murray attended college at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh and valued the opportunity to explore a different part of the country, she returned to make her home in the city that raised her. In addition to poetry, she’s working on children’s picture books that celebrate the Gullah Geechee culture and connect today’s youth to their heritage.

Murray also writes speculative science fiction in the tradition of Octavia E. Butler. She’s fascinated by Butler’s social commentary, the way Butler tweaks one aspect of society in her writing and builds a world from there.

“My science fiction is basically a mirror for what’s going on in our country,” Murray said.

  • Yvette R. Murray – Thursday, June 9, at 6 p.m.

An odyssey of language

Stories and language have been constants throughout Larry Rhu’s globetrotting life, from teaching English and Latin in Rome to teaching Shakespeare in Charleston. He’s made many stops in places as varied as New Orleans, New York and Lisbon, Portugal, along the way and feels deeply enriched by his time overseas.

“The kind of appetite I had for language was nourished by not only having my mother tongue,” he said, “but also by having the opportunity to study other languages, particularly Latin and Romance languages. Also to live and work in places where Romance languages were spoken.” 

Rhu traveled thousands of miles from his hometown of Tucson, Arizona, at the young age of 14 to attend boarding school in Concord, Massachusetts. During this strange and isolating time, he needed stories and language. He recalls reading A Streetcar Named Desire with a favorite high school teacher and discovering the poet Hart Crane through an epigraph in a paperback copy of the play. Rhu connected further with poetry through reading Dylan Thomas and Robert Frost with that same teacher.

When Rhu sat down to write the introduction for his poetry collection Pre-owned Odyssey and Rented Rooms, he realized that the overarching theme was pilgrimage.

“I write a lot about cars and planes and trains, and I write a lot about travel,” he said. “But I also write about what I call finding the end of the road in each step of the way.”

  • Larry Rhu – Friday, June 10, at 6 p.m.

Ellen E. Mintzer is a graduate student in the Goldring Arts Journalism and Communications Program at Syracuse University.

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