I first met Jeff Tigchelaar when he won the prestigious Langston Hughes literary award for poetry in 2010. As a judge, I saw a good sampling of his writings. At the presentation, I asked about his name, which I could not spell worth a darn—it is Dutch for “tile-layer.” This demystified the name even if it created more questions about Dutch triplings of consonants and doublings of the same vowel. Tigchelaar, born and raised in Michigan, is a former newspaper reporter, editor, and stay-at-home dad. After residing in Lawrence, Kansas, he is moving with his family to West Virginia (2015).
His writing is deceptively simple with sophisticated line breaks that tilt his ideas one way and then another. He can begin with ordinary moments, like take-off on a runway, and subvert the normalcy into surreal images. “Fly Frontier,” below, reframes flight and creates further drama, as though the passenger carrier were a space “capsule.” Then he shifts to the bizarre image of a “yawping wolf,” an ordinary logo, perhaps, but seen in context of a death-defying flight, it adds a sinister tone. Tigchelaar keeps pushing the nightmarish quality of the experience as the plane is “drastically tilting” and the “slide” wing could lead straight to disaster. The narrator sidesteps the drop into an abyss at the end with an adroit shift to the conditional, the what-if. He finds “light” at the end of “darkness.” For another day, the poet and the reader both escape mortality. The title, the “New Frontier” of John F. Kennedy as well as the “Final Frontier” of Star Trek, resonates with layers of cultural suggestions.
I’m in a manmade capsule hurtling through the sky
so if I die I probably deserve it.
and still dark, but Kansas City
is all lit up. There’s a yawping
wolf outside my window
painted on the wingtip,
eyes closed, muzzle up, how whimsical.
No, how foreboding. And why is it so
choppy? God, we’ve only
just taken off. Now we’re drastically tilting
and the plane wing looks like a slide.
If this were a dream, I’d step out
and plunge into the darkness of a Monday
and fall until everything was light.
© 2015 Jeff Tigchelaar, reprinted with permission
Full disclosure—I blurbed this book, and I’m happy Eric McHenry, Jim Daniels, and Wyatt Townley joined me in support of this fine writer. My comments were: “Jeff Tigchelaar speaks directly to his readers about politics, moral choices, and the beauty he finds in an imperfect world. This debut collection shows a poet ready to suggest solutions. Join him as he makes a difference.” Yes, Tigchelaar is a poet with lots of layers working at once. Woodley Press of Topeka published Certain Streets at an Uncertain Hour, available online for $12.00 and at the Raven Bookstore in Lawrence.
Tigchelaar blogs for XYZ Topeka Magazine and publishes poetry widely. His poems have been published in Kansas, Canada, Germany, and Wales, as well as on bar coasters. Journal publications include Pleiades, Coal City Review, Flint Hills Review, Flyway, Fugue, Rhino, North American Review and The Laurel Review, and anthologies such as Best New Poets 2011, Verse Daily, A Ritual to Read Together: Poems in Conversation with William Stafford, and New Poetry from the Midwest. His work received a fellowship from the Ohio Arts Council. His poem “One Way of Looking at Thirteen Blackbirds” was reviewed at www.cellpoems.org. More information is at his website, http://jefftigchelaar.weebly.com/ and http://www.kansaspoets.com/ks_poets/tigchelaar_jeff.htmHis blog Stay-at-Home Pop Culture, is published by XYZ Magazine in Topeka http://xyztopeka.com/xyz-blogs/stay-at-home-pop-culture-up-and-away/