By Robert Laurence
For the Ozark Poets & Writers Collective

James Tolan lives in Brooklyn, teaches in Manhattan and went to grad school in Louisiana. Olivia Stiffler lives in South Carolina but has family in Missouri. They both write poetry, they work together, and they will be on the road in May, including a stop in Fayetteville.

James Tolan and Olivia Stiffler will be the featured writers at the last-Tuesday-of-the-month meeting of the Ozark Poets and Writers Collective, 7 p.m. May 27, at Nightbird Books on Dickson Street in Fayetteville. There is no charge, and the public is invited. Texts, caffeine, alcohol and calories will be available for purchase.

Jim Tolan

Jim Tolan

Tolan is a professor of English at the Borough of Manhattan Community College, a unit of the City University of New York, an institution of over 100,000 students, located in all parts of the city. He teaches Modern Poetry and Developmental Writing to a very diverse group of mostly working-class students, with an impossible-to-imagine course load of 12 to 15 semester hours. As a teacher, Tolan hopes to give his students models of how to write, even though he knows that many of them will disappear around Thanksgiving, when the retailers begin hiring. (They can’t afford not to.)

As a writer, he sees his poetry as spiritual, participatory and relational. His latest book, Mass of the Forgotten (Autumn House, 2013) contains poems, says poet Naomi Shihab Nye, “breathtaking in their stark originality.” For example, in “My Father, Vietnam,” Tolan writes:

I walk and wander, my appetite
for solitude and banter, rigor and quality
of mercy both scrupulous and calm. What of it
is more than only mine?”

Olivia Stiffler

Olivia Stiffler

Stiffler is a retired court stenographer – meaning that she knows how to work one of those machines you see in the old movies – from up the road in Springfield, Missouri. She and her husband, a retired FBI agent, now live in Bluffton, South Carolina.

She met Tolan at a writers’ workshop where he was teaching, one so crowded with talent that she didn’t get a chance to read. But, taking her destiny into her own hands, she emailed him some poems, and he liked what he saw.

They became both friends and collaborators, and he was her editor on her latest book, Otherwise, We Are Safe. (Dos Madres Press, 2013). As she puts it, describing herself, “she writes what she likes in her own words,” often first-person memoirs.

I am number two in the procession
of 8-year-olds in filmy white dresses
and net veils marching to the front
pew of St. Ambrose, hands folded
into steeples, eyes downcast.

Thus begins her “First Holy Communion.”

Please join the Ozarks Poets and Writers as we welcome James Tolan and Olivia Stiffler to Fayetteville and to Nightbird’s lectern. We charge no admission but do pass the hat once.

Before and after their readings the mic will be open for members of the community to share words with the audience, four minutes each. As always, the OPWC microphone is uncensored, the themes can be adult, and the language, on occasion but not always, rough.

Please feel welcome to join us.