Wednesday, March 29, 2006

So What is Unique About Innovative Poetry in Chicago?

So What is Unique About Innovative Poetry in Chicago?

recently we have had some interesting posts here on this subject and I think that I would like to opine on this subject hoping for dialogue from poetic friends;

Experimental Poetry in the US has been for a long time made up of elitists trying to look common while remaining elitists. This is true for example of the Language Poets who were elitists but who through humor tried to remain close to regular folks. this normally did not work. I have been reading recently Saence a book of essays and Chaz Bernstein has a group of his gimmick poems inside the ones where he says something slogany next to something dire, you know " Fighting in Iraq-Take a Warm Bath".

So now that we have arrived in Chicago as a poetic center what is innovative about our poetic situation? Here are some things that I find interesting and would love to get comments;

Unique Chicago Things

1) lack of true elitism

While we have our poetic elitists especially those affiliated with the U of C even the most elite poets here are still accessable and because most of our magazines and small presses are new enterprises there is a pronounced lack of elitism here I noticed this at AWP poets as different as Simone Muench, Me and Arielle Greenberg were all accessable and their work is not filled with that sense of dramatic art that we find in so much New York writing.

2) Lack of taking things too seriously (Unless a New Yorker is in Town)

When it is just us most Chicago poets are interested and respectful and they are ready to not take anyone's work too seriously...

3) Fusion of many styles and schools

In Chicago we have a great fusion of poetic schools and styles just look at this list and what I think are their influences and ask if this would be possible anywhere else?

Kerri Sonnenberg-Stein, Waltrops, Hoover
Mark Tardi-Visual Art, Slavic Writing, Music, Math
John Tipton- Greek, Eliot, Working Class Work
Peter O'Leary-Byzantine Poetry, Duncan, Catholicism
Arielle Greenberg-Judaism, Motherhood, Kafka, Sound
Chris Glomski-Italian, Lit Crit, Lyric
Garin Cycoll-Geography, Olson, Middle Border

I could continue and list off twenty high quality poets here in Chicago who are all bringing different influences to bear on poetry here and cross pollinating.

4) here is the crux of the matter, Cross Pollination

In chicago because our community is smaller and we are not all pricks to one another as they can be in New York and SF we are able to cross pollinate each other and the fusion has created something new....


At 8:59 AM, Blogger Kerri said...

It's been said of the music scene in Chicago that having open-minded local audiences and a supportive community with a lot of good venues to play equals a positive environment for risk taking. Vandermark and Tortoise are ready examples here, but I think it's true of the present climate for poetry as well. Jeremy can draw this correlation with more detail.

Also, the element of competition is kind of moot here don't you think? Understandably sub-scenes get more defined and poets' relationships to one another become complicated in other cities where there are actually "opportunities" for poets. But that word's been in quotes for me ever since I walked down Michigan Ave. with Ferlinghetti and realized no one knew or cared who the fuck he was.

At 12:22 PM, Blogger joelc said...

Kerri is right on regarding the music scene. Cross-pollination was was something the music scene had in spades in the early-mid '90s (and, still has), around the time it occured to me it might be cool to move here. I drove into town to see an indie-rock show, which as it happened was sold out, and somehow wound up at a now-defunct wicker park jazz bar called the 'Bop Shop', where I saw Ken Vandermark for the first time. The vibe was so fucking electric. I had feeling I'd never experienced before. Through zines and word of mouth, I began to piece together the amazing tapestry of collaborations, studios, art, etc. that was easy for a kid in his early 20s (who waved the flag of experimentalism, without understanding it too much, I might add) to mythologize. But it was no myth that famous Europeans were coming to play, record and collaborate. No doubt, cool was going on & I sort of just assumed this should/would be going on with poetry as well.

It took four years to meet another poet in Chicago (I knew John Beer from before), and it took a New Yorker to do it. The continual exposure to new things I experience here now is exciting--and a blessing. The climate is prime for 'opportunities', individual and collective. By opportunity, I mean getting turned on. Via dialogue, readings, blogs, beers, people being pissy, competetive, people being generous, showing up wherever, and in whatever capacity. Showing support when they can. And of course, making the work. Talented people here are making work. To a lot of folks who are lacking, this would seem unique.

At 2:47 PM, Blogger Dave said...

Late last night I overheard this song coming from one of the air vents in the University of Chicago English department (I quickly jotted it down on my hand):

Who suppresses the Chicago poem?
Who steals Chris Glomski's comb?
We do. We do.

Who keeps Chicago off the maps?
Who keeps experimentalism under wraps?
We do. We do.

Who clogs up the Handle Bar?
Who (to get to Danny's) has to drive a car?
We do. We do.

Who books Hejinian in the middle of the day?
Who reads Catullus in a f@!ked up way?
We do. We do.

It went something like that, anyway.

Let's get past it. The U of C is no enemy, and no debutante. Even Scully and Mulder begrudgingly admitted to me, "There is no conspiracy."

The Chicago Review, under editors like Devin Johnston, Eirik Steinhoff, and Josh Kotin, have published so many Chicagoans that it's hard to list them all, and some have even gotten special issues: Ralph Mills, Michael Anania, Ed Roberson, Peter O'Leary, Garin Cycholl, Daniel Borzutsky, Paul Carroll, Joel Felix, Elizabeth Arnold, Bob Archambeau, Kristy Odelius, Eric Elshtain, Paul Hoover, Maxine Chernoff, Eugene Wildman, and the list goes on. Some are U of C, some are not.

The mentality of South versus North is obsolete, unproductive, and balkanizing. [And, coincidentally, in the photo of Anthony Hawley in the post below, three of the four audience members pictured are from the U of C "elites", and the fourth is Brenda Hillman.]


I think the statement that Chicago poets "are ready to not take anyone's work too seriously" is a bit skewed, because I think that the real qualifier for Chicago poets is their very real seriousness about their own writing, their colleague's writing, and their firm opinions about poetry in general. I think of this community as deeply serious, even if we can joke over a beer after a reading. The writers who I talk to are so well read and so fixed in their convictions that it makes me shy.

I applaud Joel's comments about both dialogue and "making the work." Poetry isn't just about socializing, but about doing your work. And the work, when the whole scene goes into the crapper, is what we're left with.

Look to the work. The crapper swallows the rest.

At 3:45 PM, Blogger Kerri said...

Dave and Joel: Word to your mothers.

At 5:36 PM, Blogger poetry said...

Hi. I've been homesick and I love checking this blog. I wanted to add something from the perspective of a Milwaukee poet now living as a New York poet: first, I don't think anyone has uttered the word community to me here. I think it's less of a crucial impulse in a place that has had such poetic agency for so long. This isn't to suggest that we wouldn't benefit from some thought/discussion about community. But I also haven't run into any of this alledged unfriendly or elitist behavior and I have a prime seat at the Poetry Project where I meet and greet poets from everywhere, like I did before, but now more of them. I still love poets. I agree with Dave that not much crap gets by in Chicago. If someone wants to be not so serious here there are more yahoos to lick it up. I'm about to go read at an event that Jen Hofer and David Gatten set up at his loft - homemade how I like them!

Stacy = Poetry


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