UC Blue Ash professor reflects on parenthood in award-winning poetry book
Kevin Oberlin dives into his experiences as a new parent, both the worry and wonderment, in Steamboat Alley, his new chapbook of poems that received the 2021 Heartland Review Chapbook Prize in poetry.
Oberlin is an associate professor of English at the University of Cincinnati Blue Ash College who has been publishing individual poems for about 20 years. This is the second chapbook he has had published.
He wrote Steamboat Alley as he entered a new chapter in his life. The poems were conceived shortly after Oberlin and his wife had their first child and were expecting their second.
“I was surprised at how challenging and stressful it was to start a family,” he says. “A lot of these poems talk about that, where you’re anticipating what parenthood is all about and wondering whether we can do this.”
The title poem draws on Cincinnati’s rich history with the steamboat.
“One part is about being a parent, one part is kind of Alice in Wonderland, and one part is about the history of Cincinnati,” he says.
Blueberries, blackberries, the rubbery fuzz of the lychees way back in the fridge, and steamboat alley’s wiry fingers spread open, reaching up. Not enough to fill the dredged canal of his throat, not enough crow-dark coal, he drawls down the middle of the river, the water’s feather vee an arrow around him. “Spicy pickles, please.” “Close the door, steamboat, you’re letting out all of the cold.”
An excerpt from Steamboat Alley
“The body’s delights and its limitations, the lovers we cherish and the ghosts who crowd our tables – Kevin Oberlin’s poems engage the sorrows and compensations of domestic life with compelling insight,” says Don Bogen, author of Immediate Songs and University of Cincinnati professor emeritus.
All of the poems in the book feature a parenting theme and show the different aspects – the ups and downs – of what one experiences while raising young children. “They (the poems) tend to focus a little more on anxiety because that’s what I was feeling at the time,” says Oberlin. “But I also talk about the rewarding side. It’s the delight and bittersweetness of being a parent.”
Oberlin says he is working on his next chapbook which will look at life from the other perspective in the family dynamic. It is a series of mythological poems reflecting on the legacy of what it means to be somebody’s kid.
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