Monday, February 13, 2006

More On Moribund

So Much to Choose From is not the sign that a poetry community is thriving.

We are getting allot of out of city readers doing our circuit so?

If you look at the marquis reading series' in Chicago they serve very small communities, Danny's serves the hipster scene, Poem Present the U of Chicago, Chicago Poetry Project a Saturday Crowd, Discrete, Experimentos but I think that the problem in Chicago is that our institutions are at best underformed. We are talking about a total audience with Slammers and Barnes and Noble Readings of say 200 people that is a small audience in a city area of 9 million people don't you think?

I could list here every poet and press of note in Chicago there would be say 20 names two or three presses and one or two magazines but is their work really interesting and worth reading?

Is the work intellectually honest?

Is it really innovative ?

or is it formulaic?

What we need in Chicago is vigorous discussion and critique and out of this friction we will create poetry that is worth reading and worth thinking about.

Today we have allot of poets who are concerned more with opportunities and meeting and impressing the right people. What we have now is syncophancy and what we need is art. I would love once for someone at a reading to criticize a reader the way Kerouac criticized O'Hara just once to get the fake smiles off everyone's face.

What we have now is a poetic landscape of friends publishing friends which has made the artform unimportant and ignored.


At 11:26 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

how bout, instead of nostalgiac yearning for Kerouac's misfired heckling of O'Hara, we got this farcical reprise instead ---

BIANCHI (unpunctuated): Institutions allot of you are ruining Chicago's poetry!!!!

INSTITUTIONS (punctuated): It's more than you ever did for it, Bianchi!

With love,

Geoffrey Trickle

At 12:51 PM, Blogger Dave said...

Is this a sign of a thriving community? Here are just some of the poets whose books have come out in the last few years - or are soon to be out:

Dan Beachy-Quick. Spell. Ahsahta Press.
Daniel Borzutzky. Arbitrary Tales. Triple Press.
Garin Cycholl. Blue Mound to 161. Pavement Saw.
William Fuller. Sadly. Flood Editions.
Chris Glomski. Transparencies Lifted from Noon. Meeting Eyes.
Arielle Greenberg. My Kafka Century. Action Press.
Roberto Harrison. Os. Subpress Collective.
Roberto Harrison. Counter Daemons. Litmus Press.
Simone Muench. Lampblack and Ash. Sarabande Books.
Peter O'Leary. Depth Theology. University of Georgia.
Jesse Seldess. Who Opens. Kenning Editions.
Laura Sims. Practice, Restraint. Fence Books.
Kerri Sonnenberg. The Mudra. Litmus Press.
Chuck Stebelton. Circulation Flowers. Tougher Disguises.
Stacy Szymaszek. Emptied of All Ships. Litmus Press.
John Tipton. Surfaces. Flood Editions.

Since this isn't even a comprehensive list, and doesn't include chapbooks and other things, this strikes me as an amazingly productive time for Chicago and its friends.

I agree that critical discussion is wanting, but isn't that the point of this blog? Along with "Geoffrey Trickle" (who is that?), I'd say that crowd heckling isn't the best way to discuss one's work. The format of "the reading" might need some tweaking to allow for more discussion, but I'm not sure any of us want someone yelling "You suck!" when we're reading.

At 1:11 PM, Blogger Kerri said...

I'd be interested in what the Red Rover organziers would have to say here, since they are systematically reimagining the reading event as such. (Also Jen K. is full of ideas about how community organizations can build relationships with one another.)

Another question: Dave, all, how do you feel about Q&As following readings?

At 7:45 PM, Blogger Ray said...

My point is not that there have been not been lots of good books published from 'Chicago' poets

(By the way Dave you forgot to include my book but perhaps that was your commentary on my work?)

My point is that poetry should be more than comfortable. It ought to challenge and ask questions.

Most of these books listed are not challenged by critique and do not have an audience of any size this needs to be challenged. Poets cannot be content to create art just for ourselves.

There are some good books on your list but there are also some real stinkers as well and many of these books are your standard MFA creations.

I realize that it is not poetically correct to be critical of poets and their work but an aweful lot of weak stuff gets published and it is mostly because the Poet knows the editor and they refuse to challenge the poet to improve their work....

Obviously... I suck...and I have done absolutely nothing for poets and poetry in Chicago but whoever Geoffrey Trickle is is beyond me??

At 7:25 AM, Blogger Kerri said...

No one can accuse you of not being a conversation starter, Ray. This site had five times its normal traffic yesterday due to your post. Anyone who wants to contribute thoughtfully to the conversation is certainly welcome.

I don't wish for the kind of combativeness you seem to be proposing though. Trickle and other anonymos were only too ready to respond in kind, but dialogue, to me, is not so many aggressive gutteral noises.

The publicness of balls-out criticism is perhaps most unpalatable. Traditionally hasn't it been the place of private correspondance between poets where one's work can be taken to task in good faith?

At 9:20 AM, Blogger Dave said...


(My list didn't mention your book, but it also didn't mention Mark Tardi's book, or Suzanne Buffam's, or David Trinidad's, or a number of others writing in Chicago, and I did point out that the list was not exhaustive. I made no judgements on your work or anyone's work and meant no slights. I simply listed Chicago-area poets doing their work they way they feel is appropriate to them, and making their own mark. No one would deny that the Berkeley Renaissance was an energetic scene, although none of us read Joe Dunn or Helen Adams anymore - we prefer Duncan and Spicer and Blaser.)

I agree with Kerri that combativeness isn't the point here. A poet should think about his/her stance in relationship to other poets - if that results in combativeness, fine, but I'm not willing to be ham-fisted about line-breaks and diction. "Weakness" in poetry is relative. And the decision to argue, to criticize, or to attempt to understand is up to each of us. While I also don't like the work of everyone on that short list, I'm willing to read it and decide for myself.

To return to the point about readings: I think the option should be on the reader to decide if she/he wants to speak with the audience, not the other way around. Otherwise, rudeness (as Trickle's) is invited over constructive discussion. I don't see why - at a reading - the reader can't address the audience and cause a public conversation. But ultimately the reader shoul have control over her/his performance, not the crowd. I think historically these types of readings have been in more-or-less private spaces (apartments, homes, lofts) as with the Berkeley Renaissance or Bob Perelman's Talks series. But it could work anyway.

At 9:51 AM, Blogger Kerri said...

To scope out a moment from the local aspect of these concerns about poetry community, and this desire for definition- self and "them"- which could be a constant pursuit- as in I would hope my work or anyone else's isn't so static as to question/position them once and let it rest- and regardless the culture is breakneck enough to be ever changing the context of what we do (i.e. war, anyone? mergers?) dotdotdot.

See also the Lime Tree- let's see if I can imbed- like so.. and kent johnson's remarks there too.

At 10:04 AM, Blogger gtrickle said...

I agree with Kerri and Dave. I didn't want to hurt anybody's feelings. But I really hate poorly made arguments, and can't miss a heckle when solicited.

And I want to add: too much community talk, and before you know it you're designing a gulag; here comes the man with a whistle. Community is the petridish normative conforming orthodoxy grows best in.

I really want to know which ones are the stinkers? I haven't read but half those books, and certainly wouldn't want to waste my time. Gladiatorialism, tho notably not hand-to-hand, is the order of the day in POETRY magazine's reviews lately ---- I'm sure they'd relish an expose of Chicago's stale experimentos! hint: go after the one's with heavy duty academic positions.

Seems to me that some of the kneejerk anti-academicism in evidence here is very much in line with Dana Gioia's famous and shallow, but evidently catching, "Can Poetry Matter?" I just don't believe that the relationship between a University and its writers and its greater community is finite.

Hey speaking of "underformed institions," look at what the U of C has on tap around the bend:

How to Read. What to Do: The Future of Poetry Criticism

I'll be out of town that weekend but it looks pretty good from here.

Oh, and look at this --- &NOW Festival --- another underformed institution going at it!

Was somebody saying there aren't enough foreigners afoot? Something about internationalizing the conversation? Define your terms! someone said "ethnic"; someone else said "world". Do English people count? I mean they speak our language, but can they still teach us something about it? Someone told me Christopher Middleton (he's English, fyi) is reading at the U of C today, and it appears to be true: "POEM PRESENT"

And someone else told me Tom Raworth is coming next month --- but I can't find that listing anywhere. Does anybody know about it? It's really weird how poorly advertised some of these readings are! Like there was one for Jesse Seldess that was advertised for the wrong day on one of those calendars.

What about Australians? They speak English too, alas. But Robert Adamson and Kevin Hart will be at the Poetry Project on April 1 (aka "the Saturday crowd" --- yikes, what a flabbergasting epithet!)

What about Germans? At least we have to translate them. Durs Gruenbein at the U of C 5/4 and 5/5 (boy those guys must have deep pockets!)

Love as ever,

Geoffrey Trickle

At 11:34 AM, Blogger Kerri said...

Thanks for underscoring with links to upcoming things.. especially this spring it’s hard to keep them all straight.

The Discrete Series is hosting Raworth.. he reads Friday March 3 at 7 p.m. with Joel Craig at the SpareRoom. I would appreciate suggestions for other places to post the word. So far the Reader, TimeOut,, email list.. check check check and check.

the What To Do panel sounds interesting though I hope that’s intended how I hear it, a flummoxed Mary Poppins, instead of Avoid Heavy Machinery, May Cause Drowsiness, Take This With Food.

On another (but related) note, I’ve noticed on other blogs a provisional period of time elapse during which the writer or writers pull in many directions before finding/settling into that blog’s own particular rhythm/purpose. I’m not preordaining anything here, but some of this discussion does strike me as proto towards this. With the issues identified so far: a need for more critical engagement on a local level, the abundance of literary activity currently in our midst, the inability to quite take it all in/things passing unnoticed, one could make a motion for more post-reading write-ups, something done by zero local arts media that I know of. Also, what are one’s expectations for criticoblogchat? (If we can’t have ideas plus a little spelling and grammar amnesty I’m out. Blogonia is where I wear my sweat pants.)

At 11:52 AM, Blogger gtrickle said...

re: "post-reading write-ups" --- a couple blogs are up to this locally, viz.:

Steven Halle


Robert Archambeau

Halle especially has lots of links, that will take you hither and yon; rope them into this one-stop shop your setting up! Or better still, leave them in their natural medium, and link to their reports from here.

& thanks for Raworth info. I was told it was Discrete, but didn't see it on their website.

At 12:04 PM, Blogger gtrickle said...

links fixed (?):

"Can Poetry Matter"




Discrete upcoming

At 12:37 PM, Blogger Kerri said...

Aw crap. I thought the Discrete website was relatively up-to-date. Thanks for the heads-up.

At 1:55 PM, Blogger bill said...

i tend to think we are going through high period for poetry in chicago.

that's why i'm putting together a panel for this year's MMLA in chicago to discuss this issue. the panel is called "Experimental Poetics in Contemporary Chicago: Poetry and Theory." i invite all of you to submit something and join in the discussion. see the abstract at Look at the bottom of the page.

At 2:43 PM, Blogger Kerri said...

I'd have something to contribute to that topic, plus what a deal sweetener that the conference's theme is "high & low culture." Are these terms really still being used/acceptable? Is this still the pop culture/academic art culture divide that's being supposed? I guess I'm too far away from the high realm to know. I would love to trespass for a day, especially in my own backyard. Let's talk.

At 4:29 PM, Blogger bill said...


i personally do not use the low/high art distinction, but many academics still do.

if you have something to submit, just send me a note.

At 5:10 PM, Blogger gtrickle said...

hey look at that --- Kevin Killian says (in one of his indispensable reviews, in this case of Garin Cycholl's BLUE MOUND TO 161=) that Chicago IS where it's at after all --- good thing the prophet of Oak Park's prognostication's didn't get to him first.

Killian writes that BLUE MOUND is "an ambitious book that mixes Cycholl's interest in experimental narrative with the kind of analytic lyric that's all over Chicago these days. The American Midwest is where it's all happening now, and with BLUE MOUND Cycholl celebrates and locates this excitement within a regionalism that works like a magnifying glass: if you hold the glass with a steady hand to one patch of ground for a long enough period, pow, it goes up in flames."

The full review is worth reading --- go here for that. Cycholl's book is one of the one's on Dave's list I'm going out to buy right away!

At 12:52 AM, Blogger jpb said...

What we have now is a poetic landscape of friends publishing friends which has made the artform unimportant

I'm not sure I like the implication here, that an artform only becomes "important" once it attracts the attention of "non-friends" / capitalist speculators. In poetry, as well as in music, a scene often (although not always) feels most vital to me—most important—when it's at the level of a bunch of related artists mutually reinforcing one another's most delightful strangenesses.

At 1:01 AM, Blogger jpb said...

[Poetry] ought to challenge and ask questions.

So what does a "challenging" poetry look like, these days? Or, perhaps more pointedly: Challenging who? Challenging what?

Poets cannot be content to create art just for ourselves.

Is the desire for a poetry that is "challenging" compatible with the desire for a poetry that has mass appeal? They seem at opposite ends of a single axis to me.

At 7:24 AM, Blogger Kerri said...

Good points, Jeremy, thank you.

Of the friends publishing friends.. this made me reflect on how poets end up becoming friends with each other. For me, the work is usually the first form of introduction and then I think, I've got to meet this person! As publishers/boosters/whathaveyou, some of the poetry that happens to be of interest will be going on right in front of you.. the work is exciting and hopefully there's a nice person behind it. usually there is :)

OK, no more posting until caffiene. With caffiene comes vocabulary. I hope.

At 12:43 PM, Blogger Ray said...

I am glad that my comment caused some conversation hat was my intent and not to hurt anyone. I think that we can disagree without it being personal. There are poets whom I love, Creeley, Bernstein, Pound, Stein, who ave written weak books that does not make them less great poets.

Regarding Here&Now I am presenting at that conference it should be interesting. Regarding kneejerk anti academicism my thoughts are not knee jerk. Poetry is the only artform where the critical structure is lacking. In fiction booksales and reviews, not where you went to school or who you are friends with determines your saliency. The same is true in visual art, dance, theatre and music. Poetry needs to move beyond
its small comfortable world and try to build an audience that is larger than other poets we need to be in dialogue with other artists and our society as a whole. If you look at the truly transformative literary movements they have done this....

At 2:21 PM, Blogger Kerri said...

Interesting points. I think though that poets- and some artists working in the other disciplines you mention, Ray- have a certain healthy ambivalence about the ability of a capitalist system to be the determiner of artistic value and merit, especially when what we produce- even the "good" poems- has a "use value" registering well below pedicures and doggie couture.

In picking one's battles, I think a lot of poets, myself included, aren't naturally business people, find that side of the endeavors a use of time and energy they'd rather put toward art/life. You're in a unique position to shed some light on this since you inhabit both worlds. I'm just saying it's not such a fluid relationship between the two for me and I've come to believe that I can have more of an impact in the margins. And the solidarity (or "comfort") one finds there is certainly a perk when it seems like the system of American culture is otherwise hostile to all I hold dear: leisure, serendipity, talking to strangers, etc.

At 2:43 PM, Blogger Kerri said...

Hey Ray, What's the Here & Now conference? Google's not giving it up. Got a url?

Jeremy, challenging books, what they should do, etc..

I've been a zealot about Juliana Spahr's This Connection of Everything with Lungs in this category. The writing is fully engaged with our post 9/11, hyperglobalist moment and indicts speaker, reader, "the bad guys out there".. all at once. I haven't come across many other investigations in poetry (expressed in building textures in both form and content) that can so effectively move even us liberal, I-didn't-vote-for-him, righteous ones with a convincing portrait of our complicity in the muck.. Holds the mirror up to our muddled political-mystical interdependence, like it or not. Challenging indeed.

In my version of the universe, this would be the impulse item in the line at the grocery store. Move over Tomkat, Bennifer II, Joan Collins.

At 10:47 AM, Blogger jpb said...

Poetry is the only artform where the critical structure is lacking.

Although I feel quite strongly that the fact that the New York Times Book Review reviews about two books of poetry a year isn't the fault of poets unwilling to "be in dialogue."

In any case, I really do see the poetry blog network as being a great emergent "critical structure": in the past month alone even just a causal look-around has found me K. Silem Mohammad's an absolutely killer attack on the new Sarabande books anthology, Legitimate Dangers, as well as Dan Hoy's misguided but intriguing critique of the "virtual dependency of the post-avant" (as well as some trenchant responses.) Both of these level concrete criticisms against specific targets, which seems like they are fulfilling the exact function of a "critical structure." No?

At 12:14 PM, Blogger Kerri said...

Jeremy, I've found a lot to appreciate in those critical blog phenomena you mention too. And others in the last few months. (see also Jane Dark's Sugar High.) Honestly, I'm more inclined- or able- to read critical writings in this format and context than when they are stuffed in the back of numerous, various print journals.

At 9:56 PM, Blogger Ray said...

Killer attack? I thought that K silem Muhammad's critque was mild of mild. Legitimate Dangers is a perfect example of editors publishing their friends. I dont have problem with this and some of the poets, Juliana Spahr, Lisa Jarnot and others are truly important poets but some of the poets included are not innovative and I think his critique that the poets in the anthology are not committed to social change and that they are mostly a group of peers with the same experiences is right on the mark.

At 10:26 PM, Blogger jpb said...

I don't agree that his critique is mild. But, that aside, do you feel that KSM's critique of the anthology constitutes the kind of "critical structure" that you're wishing for?

At 11:04 PM, Blogger Ray said...

I actually just put up a minnie review of Legitimate Dangers. If I were doing an anthology here is who I would want-

Kerri Sonnenberg
William Allegrezza
Mark Tardi
John Tipton
Jesse Seldess
Jen Hofer
Catherine Daly
Lisa Jarnot
Peter Gizzi
Simone Muench
E Tracy Grinnell
Chris Glomski
Garin Cycholl
Peter O'Leary
Stacy Szymazek(sic)
Chuck Stebelton
Dave Pavlich
Chris Daniel
Lance Phillips
Kazim Ali
Anselm Berrigan
Mark Wallace
Joe Ahearn
Dale Smith
Hoa Nguyen
Elizabeth Robinson
Liz Willis
Garin Cycholl

Now there is a diverse list of MY FRIENDS......... and a list that is certainly innovative

At 8:55 AM, Blogger Kerri said...

Ray, If I'm in your anthology, does that mean we can't be friends anymore? :)

But really, I LOVE this idea of fantasy anthologies.. a's are essentially just a list of names anyway. I don't know enough about the fantasy football/baseball so many of my coworkers and cousins play, but I imagine it's a similar thing? Hmm.. a MY Legitimate Dangers project kind of like MY Emily Dickinsin? How far do we want to go with the reader-center poetics thing?

Random, uncaffinated thoughts above.. totally available for critique.

At 10:59 AM, Blogger Kerri said...

OK, I’ll be the first to criticize my last post. “Just a list of names anyway?” You have a lot of explaining to do, young lady. I’ve been thinking about the anthologies I have found useful—the Norton Postmodern, the Rothenberg and Joris tofu-pressers, Auster’s Random House French poets— and they strike me as filling the space left behind by textbooks, sweeping surveys of literary history that tweak the canon ever so little. With this in mind, is it the best use of resources to anthologize writers who still have much to be written ahead of them? I’ve got a lifetime to watch the work and careers of LD anthologees turn, grow and swerve along with the course of history. How do we know that what they’re writing now is the definitive moment of their oeuvre when Jarnot may yet still have the best poem in her that will be written in 2026 when the aliens take us over? These anthologies that take the temperature of a history in progress are valuable, yes, and I mean regardless of aesthetic squabbles here, but is what are they doing more valuable than periodicals with less PR?

At 12:19 PM, Blogger chicagopoetry said...

What is the point of poetry that nobody will read? If you become so experimental that nobody gets it then you are like a tree falling in the woods with nobody around to hear the noise. How about just loving your own art for the sake of loving your art instead of retaliation for styles or schools that you don't particularly like. How about cooperating with the scene in general and sharing your experimental style with everyone, instead of isolating yourself into a little clique. Also, how about not hijacking other people's domain names. The domain "chicagopoetry" (all one word) was already taken nearly a decade ago and creating this blog with that domain name is a cheap attempt at diverting traffic from the domain's rightful owner. The real chicagopoetry is open to ALL schools of poetry, so creating a chicagopoetry that is exclusive only to one style of poetry seems to be a very immature tactic to shine on those that you don't particularly like.


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