By Alice Beecher
On Wednesday night at Black River, three talented and unpretentious human beings came to share their art and stories. Ryan Eilbeck, Richard Wehrenberg Jr. and Matt Scheuermann are down to earth punks writing poetry in their basements, finding beauty in falling in love and toilet seats. Although the opening band was a bit discordant and the real show didn’t start until around 11, the event showcased some of the most moving poetry I’ve heard at Oberlin.
Arriving late because of a broken down van, Ryan Eilbeck, a poet from Columbus and a Lorain County native, immediately warmed up the crowd with funny banter and an easy stage presence. With poems that began as relatable, small town stories and later delved into deeper philosophical ideas, Eilbeck impressed the small but captivated audience.
Poems about dog shit and gold bonding became vehicles for finding meaning in the mundane, showcasing the perspective of someone seeing their childhood through clearer, older eyes. “Bite,” a poem about Eilbeck’s sister getting a hickey, turned into a meditation on love and families, ending with the line “only get married if you can stand it.” Another family poem, “Bellybutton,” related Eilbeck’s relationship with his mother (and her political opinions) in anecdotes like “capitalism isn’t an umbilical cord, it’s a straw/where we were tied, but no longer are”. The last poem in the set, “Twelves,” was a vivid, bittersweet piece about how it feels to be a twelve-year old boy, obsessed with boobs and overwhelmed by loneliness. “Listen up twelves, go get struck by lightning” declared Eilbeck, to a crowd of nodding heads and knowing smiles.
The next poet in the group, Richard Wehrenberg Jr., unearthed beauty in the loss and growth that are integral to becoming a full human being. Interspersing his works with funny, intimate stage banter and stories that could almost classify as poetry, Wehrenberg invited the audience to see their own lives in his art. “If anything in this bear trap of a world should be considered truth, it is things that grow”, said Wehrenberg in his first poem, “subjective truths spitten in punk kitchens”. His next poem, from the collection “Think Tank,” posed rhetorical questions for his dog, such as “Do your organs have intrinsic value? Do you know you have been bought?” Other poems focused on the confusion of being young and restless in Midwestern college towns, with a piece about Kent State that ended with the killer line, “Whoever would have thought the afterlife would look so much like Ohio…there must be a backcountry for the beyond”.
The late night ended with a gritty yet lyrical performance by the folk musician Matt Scheuermann, who performs in the band “American War.” His songs begin with stretches of satisfying melody that propel into beautiful harshness, the sort of music you have to hear live to experience completely. “I’m assigning all these symbols to my feelings,” he sang, implying that words are often incapable of containing all we need to express. Nevertheless, it was satisfying to bring home a copy of the poets’ chapbook and know I could look back on their moments of wisdom.