Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Ashley Roach-Freiman Does the “Impossible”

Posted By on Wed, Apr 23, 2014 at 9:02 AM

The next installment of the “Impossible Language” series is the evening of Saturday, April 26th, and for those not in the know, it’s a series of poets reading from their work with visual artists often showing their work. It is also part of the wide range of artistic activities, including events spearheaded by Crosstown Arts, that have sprung up on North Cleveland in and around the Sears Crosstown building.

Ashley Roach-Freiman is playing her part. A poet in the MFA program at the University of Memphis and poetry editor for the program’s literary journal, The Pinch, Roach-Freiman heads “Impossible Language.”

What is all of this about? Let Roach-Freiman explain, as she did recently in another series — a series of emails:

"The next event in the 'Impossible Language' series is at Story Booth, adjacent to the Cleveland Street Flea Market," according to Roach-Freiman. "It's a new space for the series, but I've been to other readings there, and it's wonderful. This will be the first 'Impossible Language' without an art component, but I'm excited about the reading. It's a smaller space, very intimate."

Some background on "Impossible Language": The series was your idea? Your goals?
Ashley Roach-Freiman (pictured): I started organizing it last summer, with the first reading in September. I've felt like there was an opportunity for something like this in Memphis for a long time. I have been to wonderful, intimate readings at Burke's Book Store, and the River City Writer's Series at the University of Memphis brings well-known writers to town. But there wasn't a regular reading series like this.

I’d been trying to get my friend, the excellent poet Adam Clay, to come to Memphis to read, and it seemed like the perfect opportunity to create a space for other poets. At the time, I was a librarian at the Memphis Public Library, where I did a lot of programming, so planning a reading didn't seem insurmountable, and I knew that Crosstown Arts had a gallery space for not much money.

I was also inspired by the whole "Crosstown aesthetic." My goal has been to feature writers that might not have made it to Memphis otherwise — Adam Clay, Ada Limón, Abraham Smith, Sean Patrick Hill, Laressa Dickey — as well as writers who are local or regional and publishing incredible work: Tim Earley and Jessica Comola from Oxford; Caki Wilkinson at Rhodes. I also get to feature current students and graduates of the U of M MFA program (Ruth Baumann, John Owen May, Clay Cantrell), highlighting the good work being done in the city.

The series is also innovative, because it is not just a reading series but a gallery show, and the artists probably work the hardest, putting in a solid 10-hour day to make an incredible space for the events. All of the artists — John Garland (who designed the poster for the April 26th event), Ashley Luyendyk, Caitlin Hettich, Amelia Briggs, April Pierce, Meghan Vaziri, and Mary Jo Karimnia — are Memphis-based.

You’ve had three events so far. How has the response been, the turnout? Future plans?
The turnout has been spectacular (up to 75 people at one event) — above and beyond what I expected for a poetry reading in Memphis. Which just goes to show: This city loves and supports its artists.

The creative energy has been enormous too. I've met some great people, which is how this thing keeps rolling. My philosophy is to keep my ears open. I'm interested in collaborative work, so when Clay Cantrell suggested a piece with Laressa Dickey featuring music and poetry, I was all for it. I don't always know how things are going to look or sound, but I trust the writers and artists.

I'm definitely interested in expanding the concept of “Impossible Language,” and while I want to keep the core concept of the reading series, I also want to build the art “muscle.” I'd like to feature more collaborative work, with artists and poets getting together to plan something special.

The lineup of authors for the event on the 26th: Did they come to you, or did you invite them to read?
A mix of both. I’ve had Tara Mae in mind for a while now, and her book, Philomela, just came out. Heather's book also just came out — In the Low Houses. Both are so strong, so good. Heather's name has been in my ear forever, so it was only a matter of time before we met. I saw her read at Burke's not long ago and was delighted to make her acquaintance. She jumped at the opportunity to read.

This latest event will be a straight reading, without an art component but with a nod to National Poetry Month. Representatives from The Pinch will also be present, with copies to sell. So it will be a good idea for attendees to bring a few bucks. They'll be sad to leave empty-handed.

What do you mean by your series' title, “Impossible Language”?
I wanted something evocative that would be a good fit for this sort of multi-genre experience — something that would help explain what it is that artists and writers experience when we enter the “creative space.” We really are trying to get across something that is impossible to convey in any other medium. I also wanted something that tied every reading or event together, even as it evolves and shifts, so that people know they are part of something ongoing.

Crosstown has it own energy going.
I am constantly trying to get people to move here to Memphis. I don't think I would have been able to accomplish half the stuff I have been able to anywhere else. There's so much goodness here. I love Memphis like crazy, especially in the spring. •
Poets Heather Dobbins, Caitlin Mackenzie, Tara Mae Mulroy, and Elaine Scudder Walters at 438 N. Cleveland on Saturday, April 26th, 6 to 8 p.m. Reading begins at 6:30 p.m.

To contact Ashley Roach-Freiman: Follow “Impossible Language” on Facebook at, on Twitter @impossiblelang, and

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