Since 2017, Ahwatukee residents may have noticed David Chorlton walking or focused on a bird. Little would they know he is an award-winning poet.
His awards included the Slipstream Chapbook competition, the Ronald Wardell Poetry Prize from Rain Mountain Press and the Palanquin Press Poetry Chapbook Award.
When asked about his walks, he explained, “Running began in my teens when I needed to work off my mother’s Austrian style cooking. To preserve my joints, I found walking just as beneficial and balances the otherwise sedentary activities of painting and writing. Sometimes it serves to create a mental space to think through issues that needn’t be written down.”
Chorlton, grew up in post-WWII Europe.
Born in 1948 in Austria, his youth was spent in Manchester, England, and his early 20s in the cultural mecca of Vienna. While in Vienna, David met Roberta, his future wife, while she was studying and performing violin. They moved to the Phoenix area – her home – in 1978.
“During childhood, nature was just an occasional relief from the industrial city. Poetry wasn’t present when I was growing up, but the mood, values, and time of the place influenced the way I see the world,” he said. “Since there was an odd mix of allegiances within my family, I learned to look beyond the amiable character a person could project to see what was really present within.”
“Poetry is about what goes on just under the surface, so the lessons were indirect, but important nonetheless. In looking back to people in Manchester and Vienna, different as the cities are, much of the human story lies in the way we adapt – or not – to our societies and what history has created for us to inherit.”
As an avid reader, he admits he hadn’t studied poetry in school but learned from reading.
“What I’ve found overall is, poetry goes beyond the best-known names. My most admired list includes many whose work is harder to find, and whose success is less visible within the poetry universe.”
Among his favorite poets are “Stephen Stepanchev, whom I’ve read over and over and never tire of. He came to the U.S. from Serbia as a child and lived to be over 100.
“I also like Jack Marshall who is a California poet I never met outside a book’s covers. And there is Carolyn Stoloff, a smart, witty, and sophisticated poet whom I had the pleasure of knowing in person long after I first found her books on Phoenix library shelves. Finally, Victoria Edwards Tester’s book, ‘Miracles of Sainted Earth,’ rates among the best poetry I’ve ever seen on the Southwest.”
Chorlton believes his poetic writing style evolved from interaction with other poets. He joined his first writers’ group in Vienna with English-speaking poets.
“In Phoenix I met other poets with whom I enjoyed workshops. Beyond that, I use the library, and I love to browse in bookstores where there’s always a new discovery of what is possible with words. Little by little I lost bad habits, and increasingly I found strong concrete imagery always works while philosophical musings and abstractions rarely do.”
“The writing process enhances my sense of where I am and what I value. It’s also a way of conversing with the world and events around me rather than just being on the receiving end of every news bulletin. Culture has the potential to create more of a social dialog constructively. I think poetry emboldens me to think for myself.”
David described his wildlife interests, explaining “By the mid-90s I realized our human relationship with the natural world set nature poetry in a different light. During this time, I had internalized the desert and knew more about it, so the private and public streams flowed together. Now, when I look around and relate to the desert, I feel I’m surrounded by my own subconscious.”
Between 2014 and 2016, David took part in the Fires of Change-A Science & Art Collaborative as the poet representative for this national project.
“They invited artists from around the country to a boot camp and taught about forest fires. Then they sent us on our way to make art from the science we’d learned. It was a rather challenging venture. I’m not one who camped out, but it intrigued me.
“During the opening at the Coconino Arts Center in Flagstaff, I read my fire inspired poetry. The audience was a varied one interested in forests, fires, science, and the Southwest. This occasion demanded reaching beyond the purely poetic world, which added a little extra tension for me.
Chorlton’s latest book is “Reading T. S. Eliot to a Bird.”
“The content is more serious than the title suggests, being largely about animals, birds, ecological problems, and weather. These poems were written mostly between 2014 and 2016, with a few earlier ones finally finding a group to belong to. I’m often a bit scattered in what I write about, but these were, I think, looking for each other.”
“From living in the desert to visiting a Costa Rican rainforest, I’ve found beauty and vulnerability in nature….Watching Amadeus, my pet starling, has highlighted how a bird lives in the moment. I don’t doubt animals have memories, but they can’t look into the future to guess the consequences of a changing world.
When asked what David would want readers to learn, he replied: “Of the issues on the face of the planet, care for natural systems transcends all national divides. We humans have disrupted and destroyed so much since the industrial revolution, and restoration where possible, should be undertaken.
“The world’s institutional response to the growing crisis has been shamefully slow. We have an ethical obligation toward other species, and to do well by them will mean improving our own water and air quality, as well as securing forest land and cleaning the oceans. It isn’t politics, it is good sense.”
Some of David Chorlton’s other books of poetry include: “Waiting for the Quetzal” (2006), “The Lost River” (2008), “From the Age of Miracles” (2009), “Selected Poems” (2014), and “Bird on a Wire” (2017). His most recent book, “Shatter the Bell in my Ear” (2017), is his translation of a selection of Christine Lavant’s works.
“Writing is a solitary and introspective activity, while presenting a reading (of my work) demands a more outgoing personality,” he said. “My desire is to keep writing and retain interest in it for myself and for my readers. It’s like knowing I’m on my way somewhere without ever knowing exactly where.”
The book launch of “Reading T. S. Eliot to a Bird,” will include Chorlton reading selected works on Oct. 27, time and place to be announced. Information: DavidChorlton@centurylink.net.