Contemporary Las Vegas Poets

Southern Nevada is home to many poets writing today. The University of Nevada, Las Vegas hosts an M.F.A. program for poetry and fiction writing and has hosted many contemporary poets through the years, including Seamus Heaney, Toni Morrison, and Robert Creeley. The city has also featured many local slam poetry events. In addition, every public library in Clark County hosts writing workshops where poetry is written. Still, every culture has methods and means for judging taste and style in poetry, and libraries are full of books with poets such as William Shakespeare, Emily Dickinson, etc. whose poetry speaks to universal themes important to humanity. In a transient city such as Las Vegas, many people, including aspiring poets, come and go very quickly. The following entry shall introduce the several poets who are rooted in Las Vegas, either by birth or transplantation, and those who are nationally, and sometimes, internationally, known.

A native Las Vegan, Dayvid Figler is a poet who wears many other hats. One of the youngest lawyers in Nevada History when he took and passed the bar at age twenty-three, he is also the youngest retired judge currently in the state. A delightful performer/humorist, opening for the Beastie Boys in 1994 at Lollapalooza, his comedy tour de force "Dayvid Figler is Jim Morrison in Hello, I Love You (Where You Folks From?)" was selected as a feature at the 1999 Bumbershoot Festival. A recipient of an Electronic Media Award for Best Las Vegas Radio Program in 2002, Figler is also a featured commentator on National Public Radio's All Things Considered. An entertaining slam poet, he has performed at many festivals around the country and his poems have appeared in many literary magazines.

Dayvid Figler is perhaps the most representative of the spoken word poets in Las Vegas. Spoken word poetry is poetry that "you can actually read," as another Las Vegan poet, Bruce Isaacson, claims. It is poetry that is distinguished by plainness of speech, "real" experience, humor, and personal experience. One other representative of this genre is local author Harry Fagel.

Harry Fagel has lived in Las Vegas for thirty years. He is a police officer with Las Vegas Metro whose books Street Talk and Undercover chronicle the sights and sounds of the crime world. A self-described madman, he can often be seen rollerblading around town, or lurking in Alternate Reality Comics. Dayvid Figler has written this of Fagel: "a Poet-cop may sound like an ill-conceived Steven Bochco pilot, but wouldn't we want all our protectors and enforcers to have a special vision? Still we must resist the urge to pigeon-hole our hero of the streets as a poet-cop. Harry is an alchemist who can transform crime and grime into literature." (From the foreword to Street Talk, Zeitgeist Press.)

Bruce Isaacson not only is a poet but the founder of Zeitgeist Press and the publisher of many poets across the country. Zeitgeist has published eighty books and features mostly poetry from the San Francisco Spoken Word Revival of the 1980s, though the volume Bone Needles features Las Vegan poets Gary Ashman, Jan Ashman, Thomas J. Fitzpatrick, Sheila Paris Klein, and Ken Wanamaker. Isaacson earned degrees in theatre and economics from Claremont McKenna and Dartmouth colleges, and was a student of the late, great "Beat" poet Allen Ginsberg, who with Jack Kerouac defined the "Beat Generation."

An ardent defender of poetry and free speech, Isaacson made local news in 2000 by defending Fagel when he was ejected from Barnes & Noble for using the "f-word" in a poem. In "A Defense of Poetry," an opinion piece written for Las Vegas Weekly, Isaacson wrote: "to defend poetry is to express hope for a human future beyond the dictatorship of dollars that runs us all so completely and efficiently until death." His many books include Caf Death (Opus 11 Press, 1986) and Ghosts Among the Neon (Zeitgeist Press, 2005).

While Isaacson did study poetry in college, he has since made his living in business, and has been an advocate for simplicity in poetry. However, since the 1920s, beginning at the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop, aspiring writers have studied the craft of writing in universities across America, a practice unheard of in other countries. Many of these writers have since become professors of poetry, as well as journalists, editors, and translators. Las Vegas is home to three such poets.

In an interview in Poets & Writers online, Claudia Keelan says, "The longer I live in Las Vegas, the less I understand it. Las Vegas is continually in the process of re-making itself, which makes, on one hand, a city where a Blackjack dealer can afford a house with a swimming pool, on the other, a 100 -year-old city with no solid infrastructure. The schools don't open on time and the U.S. government is in the process of sending the entire country's nuclear waste to be buried at Yucca Mountain." A professor of English and Creative Writing at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, Keelan is the author of five books of poetry, and her awards include the Beatrice Hawley Award from Alice James Books and the Silver Pen Award. Her poetry is rooted in verbal word play, the politics of language, as well as in the vanishing desert landscape of Las Vegas, and the legacy such a disappearance ensures the generations who come after. Prior to moving to Las Vegas in 1996, she lived and taught in many parts of the country, including Iowa, Boston, Kentucky, Colorado, and Tennessee. She currently serves as the Director of the MFA International at UNLV, where she is the editor of Interim.

A local journalist and music critic, Jarret Keene describes his childhood as a "misspent youth spent crashing the sunny pool at the Admiral Benbow Inn [and] reading secondhand comic booksand singing in a choir" After receiving his Ph.D. from Florida State in 2001, Keene moved to Las Vegas where he has lived since. A musician as well as a writer, Keene's books include the poetry collection Monster Fashion, and the rock band bio The Killers: Destiny is Calling Me, both from Zeitgeist Press. He was voted Best Local Author by the readers of Las Vegas CityLife magazine in 2005 and 2006.

Nationally and internationally known, Donald Revell was born in The Bronx, New York, in 1954. Twice awarded fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, he is also a former fellow of the Ingram Merrill and Guggenheim Foundations, and his other honors include the Gertrude Stein Award for innovative American Poetry, two Pushcart prizes, an award from the PEN Center USA, and the Lenore Marshall Prize from the American Academy of Poets. A poet writing in the pastoral tradition, Revell's poetry has negotiated the urban landscapes of his birth city, as well as the Mojave Desert where he has lived since 1996. The author of over fifteen books of poetry, he is also a translator of the French poets Guillaume Apollinaire and Arthur Rimbaud. A professor of English and Creative Writing at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, Revell has served on the faculties of the University of Tennessee, Ripon College, Denver University, the University of Missouri, the University of Colorado-Denver, the University of Alabama, and the Iowa Writers' Workshop.

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