Monday, November 23, 2009

In the forest of symbols

Are poets synesthesiacs? I do know that “To taste the wine of speech” (as one poet put it) helps to describe our world in a way that illustrates the gray areas of experience—a memory is often collage. It’s a rinse cycle in the mind of every available sensory detail regarding a person, event, or period in time.

Hey, you’re doing it, like I didn’t tell you
to, my sinking laundry boat, point of departure,
my white pomegranate, my swizzle stick.
We’re leaving again of our own volition
for bogus patterned plains streaked by canals,
maybe. Amorous ghosts will pursue us
for a time, but sometimes they get, you know, confused and
forget to stop when we do, as they continue to populate this
fertile land with their own bizarre self-imaginings.

—John Ashbery, “Mottled Tuesday”

The Sufi poet Attar to describe Rumi said …"There goes a river dragging an ocean behind it." So, poets are used to using figurative language to describe and bring new life and interest to the mundane. And poets have been writing of memory throughout the ages. As Ana Akhmatova wrote in her poem “Lot’s Wife.”

There are three periods of memory.
The first of them is like a yesterday,
The soul basks in the blessings of their vault,
The body takes its glory in their shade.
Laughter has not yet passed away, tears gush,
The blot is not yet bleached out of the desk,
The kiss, like a heart's seal, is terminal,
Is singular and unforgettable...
But this does not last long before the vault
Has vanished overhead. And in some backwoods
Neighborhood, in a solitary house
Where summers leave the winters' chill warmed over,
Where spiders weave, where all things are in dust,
Where lovestruck letters lead a crumbling half-life,
Sly portraits change into their different selves.

And Emily Dickinson wrote “Light laughs the breeze in her castle of sunshine.” I guess it’s always been this reorganization of the senses that interests me most about poetry.

Anne Salz, a Dutch musician and visual artist, perceives sound as swatches of color that she incorporates into her paintings. "The painting represents the opening of the concerto for four violins. I listen to the music while I paint. First, the music gives me an optimistic, happy feeling and I perceive red, yellow, and orange colors in a great variety with little contrast. It looks like a field of these colors. I perceive the color field as a musical chord. You can compare it with the colors of a blanket or cover made of autumn leaves." Her painting "Vivaldi" was a result of what she "saw" while listening to Vivaldi's music.

Neurologist Richard Cytowic identified synesthesia as meeting some of the following criteria:

1. Synesthesia is involuntary and automatic.
2. Synesthetic perceptions are spatially extended, meaning they often have a sense of "location." For example, synesthetes speak of "looking at" or "going to" a particular place to attend to the experience.
3. Synesthetic percepts are consistent and generic (i.e., simple rather than pictorial).
4. Synesthesia is highly memorable.
5. Synesthesia is laden with affect.

Some artists who also happened to be synesthetes include Duke Ellington, David Hockney, Vladimir Nabokov, Franz Liszt, Wassily Kandinsky and the guitarist John Mayer. This claim might be a little more obvious as it relates to Kandinsky’s painting versus, say, John Mayer’s guitar playing, but the topic is intrinsically interesting. It may have been Charles Baudelaire, (first as he was in many things), to have first written in a modern way about the effects of synesthesia in his poem “Correspondences.”

Nature is a temple where living pillars
Let escape sometimes confused words;
Man traverses it through forests of symbols
That observe him with familiar glances.

Like long echoes that intermingle from afar
In a dark and profound unity,
Vast like the night and like the light,
The perfumes, the colors and the sounds respond.

There are perfumes fresh like the skin of infants
Sweet like oboes, green like prairies,
—And others corrupted, rich and triumphant

That have the expanse of infinite things,
Like ambergris, musk, balsam and incense,
Which sing the ecstasies of the mind and senses.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Arizona Fuzz

The poem
does not lie to us. We lie under
its law, alive in the glamour of this hour

—John Wieners

Do roses skipping in the
Glass make great gifts, I mic
Their contours, wipe innocence
From the window, these milk
Mansions. Arizona fuzz catches
Green fish coming up

Being hunted, her
Devouring dawns, within
Gnawing hiatus shed. This
Glamorous tongue noticed,
Will arrest all secrets.
We stash strange

Butterflies are
Puzzles of our former lives.
But he is elephant. That
Exception and the
Surrounding meadow
Its tender symmetry.

On repeat, the choral
Stillness, yet the siren’s panache
Makes stew of our excuses
Launches enemy submarines
Who looks with astonishment upon
Its maize

My happiness.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Series A, mini-conference, "Poetry and Place"

I had an opportunity to discuss new Chicago poetry at a recent conference with Garin Cycholl and Ray Bianchi as part of Bill Allegrezza's Series A poetry reading series at the Hyde Park Art Center.

Click here to access the sound file. Frank O'Hara's work loomed large in my mind as I considered how to respond to the idea of Poetry and Place.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Myopic Books Poetry Schedule

We've updated the Myopic Books Poetry Series calendar ... please note that the Kent Johnson/Linh Dinh reading occurs on a Saturday~! Myopic Books has the widest selection of used books in the city.

All readings begin at 7 pm. Thanks,



Saturday, October 24 - Kent Johnson
& Linh Dinh

Sunday, November 1 - Roberto Harrison, Tom Hibbard
& Chuck Stebelton

Sunday, November 8 - Matthew Klane & Jennifer Scappettone

Sunday, November 15 - Eileen Myles
& Guest


THE MYOPIC POETRY SERIES — a weekly series of readings and occasional poets' talks

Myopic Books in Chicago — Sundays at 7:00 / 1564 N. Milwaukee Avenue, 2nd Floor


Contact curator Larry Sawyer for booking information and requests.

Myopic Books — 17 years of innovative poetry in Chicago


Tuesday, October 06, 2009

On the New Chicago Poetry

The quote by Reginald Shepherd included by Robert Archambeau on Adam Fieled’s blog in an old blog post gave my morning a jumpstart, along with my morning cup of sacred bean squeezings

“T. S. Eliot said that the poet must be as intelligent as possible; Wallace Stevens said that the poem must resist the intelligence almost successfully. It is in the play between the intelligence of language and the resistance to intelligence of language as an object that poetry occurs. What matters is not what a poem can say, a preoccupation Harold Bloom shares with the multiculturalists he so despises, but what a poem can do. I look to poetry for what only poems can do, or what poems can do best–to alienate language from its alienation of use (the phrase is Adorno’s), to treat language as an end-in-itself rather than a mere means: to communication, expression, or even truth.”

Although Shepherd passed from this earth on Sep. 10, 2008 he was described by Lawrence White as “born and raised in Bronx projects, exiled to Macon, Georgia, then rising up to Bennington and Brown and beyond—was the stuff of an Oprah-list memoir. The motor of that progression, his adamantine integrity that would not swerve nor stoop, was heroic in the old-fashioned sense: it brought him to glories and it brought him to calamities. But he was no cliché. His friends, and those students and readers who were drawn to him, knew he was a rare spirit.”

In thinking about what’s "new" about the poetry being written right now in Chicago (dubbed by Kent Johnson recently as the New Chicago School and by Adam Fieled previously as the Chicago Eliotics, and even earlier by Tim Yu as New Prairie School), I came upon Shepherd's quote, which posits an idea that has a different drift than Auden’s famous “Poetry makes nothing happen.” And it’s worth reading Poetry magazine senior editor Don Share’s post against the holding up of W.H. Auden’s line as evidence of anything when taken out of context, being that the line was written to describe a poet whom, according to Auden, did/does make things happen—William Butler Yeats.

Although Share comments that Auden’s line isn’t necessarily a declaration of poetry’s inutility, in my experience, proving the utility of poetry, as absurd an idea as that may seem, comes up frequently when one applies for a grant or funding of any kind, either for the monetary means to travel in order to write poetry, or to take time off of work to write poetry, or to host a poetry event. Often questionnaires include a line or two asking “how will this serve the community.” In other words, why is poetry on a different side of the line than, say, fiction (or painting or film)? Does Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds serve the community of Los Angeles, or did William Faulkner somehow serve his community by writing The Sound and the Fury? In the case of Faulkner, the folk of Oxford, Mississippi grew to dislike the novelist in their midst, after they'd read his books, because they claimed that Faulkner had presented an unflattering portrait of what went on there. These two examples are perhaps polar opposites of a sort, but I still hold to the notion that an artist creates because he/she must. I’m pretty sure that authors of fiction who receive grants or endowments aren’t asked whether the new novel that is in the process of being will somehow serve the community.

This “newness” has come into being largely on a completely parallel course to the course that is being charted by the Poetry Foundation. Perhaps two or three of the younger poets that I know have been published in the pages of Poetry magazine, but none of the other 30-40 other amazing younger poets living in Chicago who are all writing what could be called experimental poetry (I would call it contemporary) have been published there and it could be that the editorial board of Poetry is simply not able to hit that vein, whether that’s intentional I have no idea.

Another recent foray into publishing Chicago poetry has been Granta’s (which is financed by a Swedish billionairess who purportedly doesn't like Americans) recent Chicago issue that includes virtually none of the many younger Chicago writers of this newer poetry who frequent venues, bars, and bookstores such as Danny’s, Myopic Books, Elastic Arts, Red Rover, and Series A in Hyde Park.

I was surprised to receive a near-immediate response from the American editor of Granta John Freeman, after I originally criticized Granta's odd editorializing of the Chicago scene and he stressed via e-mail that it wasn’t the intention of Granta editors to “exclude younger poets,” but that he couldn’t find one whose work “bowled him over.” He concluded by commenting that many poets don’t know that Granta publishes poetry and that keeping track of new poets is daunting. My guess is that Granta solicited all the work that was published in their Chicago issue and that the net they cast to find these “Chicago poets” must have been a pretty small one. Ok, enough appetizer.

The poets here aren’t necessarily anti-confessional (and I’m really speaking only for myself). In fact, I love Anne Sexton’s work (who lived in Boston and died in 1974), for example, but what I love about it isn’t its juicy confessional details or risqué (for the time) subject matter—reading Sexton is like watching fireworks. She wrings language into new meanings, which is what’s always excited me about poetry—old or new, whether it was written in Chicago, Boise or Khatmandu.

(Even stranger: A recent addition to the Granta Web site under the “Chicago-issue” banner includes a piece by Milwaukeean Bruce Olds titled “Leaving Chi-Town” that wistfully illustrates the memories that he still has of the city, although presumably he moved away. He even mentions Al Capone—pow, pow, pow, but no Michael Jordan? Ok, to be fair he does include the words “at risk of cliché.”)

As Roland Barthes said, (to paraphrase in a meathanded way and bend the quote by Barthes from a separate discussion to suit my own) I believe that readers of this new Chicago poetry to some extent help “generate the texts they are reading.” So, the poetry here does something, even if it's only the impetus for the creation of new and multiple meanings in the mind of the reader. This open ended poetry that kicked out closure and didn’t even give it cab fare exists because there is a confluence of poets who have either relocated here from elsewhere or returned after stints at Brown, Iowa, or other major schools and what had been known previously as a fly-over city is now a cultural blender par excellence where, if one has an active interest in poetry, there is a genuine sense that something is happening. These poets all seem to have a sense of this kind of awareness. These poems do enact, rather than describe or list in the sense that New York School poems, especially evidenced by the timing in the moment-to-moment sensibility of Frank O’Hara as it comes through in his writing, list or map the consciousness of the author as it splattered against another day living in New York.

So, I’m here to say, too, that it matters not what a poem can say, but it’s what a poem does that makes one want to inhabit it by participating in its meaning. It’s not that some of these Chicago poets have some programmatic impulse to create poetry that narrowly adheres to these sort of strictures regularly—but the awareness of this as an aesthetic option (of many on the menu) and a certain brand of extroversion of personality gives the writing being produced here a genuinely wide-ranging quality that is unique. Despite the quibbling over who is or isn’t a “Chicago poet” as if one would have to live out an expiration date from a previous existence to be granted the nameplate and plastered with the title of “Chicago poet”, from where I’m sitting what’s happening here is galactic. Paul Hoover’s words on the topic of Chicago poetry from an old blog post sum it pretty well “perhaps the usual thing had happened, a revolution of the word.” If all this is so, there is definitely evidence here of the orbit of a number of “heavy planets” (Paul’s words), and I’m happy to drift among them.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Tuesday, September 22, 2009


Adrian Brody in Hollywoodland is perfect as a PI in a noir thriller with his mussy hair and charming quirks (he's a private snoop who doesn't smoke, he chews gum), but here in Chicago we have our own mystery brewing.

Apparently Granta magazine, which is published in England, recently visited a Chicago of which I've never heard.

Their recent "Chicago Issue" features much mention of Nelson Algren and Saul Bellow (why Hemingway's name would be mentioned in an issue of Chicago writing is a head-scratcher, he wrote not-so-favorably of Oak Park) and even includes Roger Ebert (thumbs up) but the plot thickens as one scans the contributors' list. It seems that none of the huge number of younger poets who are now living and writing in Chicago are given any mention.

And, Granta, no one thinks that James Schuyler is representative of Chicago. The man was a roommate of John Ashbery and Frank O'Hara in New York. Have you heard of them?

We can't wait for Granta's New York issue. I hope Hillary Clinton will get a centerspread. I mean she's so New York, I mean Arkansas, er Chicago.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

RIP Jim Carroll

Thanks to Kent Johnson for mentioning this humble blogger at digital emunction .

Still up: Evidence of my past stint as Chicago Poetry Scene Examiner , with reports on Myopic Books, the Hopleaf, Bookslut, Adam Fieled, Bill Allegrezza and one of the most underrated poets of all time, Lorine Niedecker.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Word / for word, issue 15

Many thanks to Tom Hibbard for including some of my work in the new issue of Word for / word.

Poetry by Cindy Davett, Brooklyn Copeland, Mg Roberts, Marthe Reed, Joshua Butts, Marcia Arrieta, Nicole Zdeb, Julius Kalamarz, Trina Burke among others.

Visual poetry by John M. Bennet, Scott Helmes, Kristin Hayter, Sheila E. Murphy, K.S. Ernst, Nico Vassilakis, Ray Lam, Andrew Topel among others.

Political poetry feature (guest-edited by Tom Hibbard) with Jim Leftwich, Murat Nemet-Nejat, Mark Wallace, Roberto Harrison, Eileen Tabios, Mary Woodbury, Michael Basinski, Chuck Stebelton, Buck Downs, Larry Sawyer, David Meltzer, and Tom Hibbard et al.

Essays/Notes: Interview with C.S. Carrier and Elizabeth A. Hiscox, “Heritage Like Money Then” by Arpine Grenier, among others.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Save Michael Reese Hospital reading

When: July 25, 3-6 p.m. at St. Paul's Art Center
Where: 2215 W. North Ave.

Poetry readings by Larry Sawyer, Charlie Newman, & Al DeGenova
* * *
David Boykin -- solo percussion
* * *

Paul Hartsaw -- tenor saxophone
Dan Godston -- trumpet
Alex Wing -- drums
Jerome Bryerton -- drums

As part of its bid to the Olympics committee, the city of Chicago has decided to build an Olympic park on the south side in conjunction with their plan to make the city accessible for visitors and athletes should the city win its proposal to host the 2016 Olympics. The only problem is that the site of the future Olympics village is also home to Chicago architectural landmarks, including Michael Reese Hospital, which was designed by the legendary architect Walter Gropius with Reginald R. Isaacs. Gropius founded the Bauhaus School in Germany that was a lightning rod for new ideas regarding architectural design worldwide from 1919 to 1933. The influence of Bauhaus ideas on art of all genres is inestimable and continues to this day.

The city of Chicago seems very eager to raze Michael Reese Hospital to the ground whether the Olympic bid is ultimately successful or not. If it is successful and Chicago is chosen as the host city, the Olympics will come and go, and an important piece of Chicago history will be lost forever as a result. This seems like a very large price to pay for a temporary event, even for an event as illustrious as the Olympics.

The Save Michael Reese Hospital group his been organized to address this threat to a Chicago landmark.

Chicago is known for its architecture if anything, and the work of Walter Gropius in the city is an important piece of a puzzle that includes many other skilled architects who made Chicago what it is today, including Louis Sullivan, George W. Maher, Mies van de Rohe, and Frank Lloyd Wright. The work of these architects and others who made Chicago an architectural landmark that is visited by tourists from all over the world should be respected and the idea that the work of Walter Gropius should be destroyed to pave the way for the Olympics, a temporary event, is profoundly disrespectful to the memory of Gropius as well as to the citizens of Chicago.

Visit the Save Michael Reese Hospital Web site for further information now.

Also see Lynn Becker's, Writings on Architecture for more information.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009


The Group resurfaces.

grupo, groupe, gruppe, gruppo, группа, groep, ομάδα, grupp, مجموعة

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

“Collaboration”: An Official Printers’ Ball Lead-up Event

An Official Printers' Ball Lead-up Event

When: Sunday, July 12, 2:00 PM
Where: Woman Made Gallery
675 North Milwaukee Avenue

Free admission.

For this event, writers’ work and/or performance will involve interaction with other writers, performers, art forms, media, maybe even with the audience. Participants in the event include Simone Muench and Philip Jenks, presenting collaboratively written poetry; Mars Gamba-Adisa Caulton, working with her own music; performance poetry duo Marty McConnell and Andi Strickland just back from their Wandering Uterus tour; Jennifer Karmin, in a live improvised collaboration with Chicago writers; Carrie Olivia Adams, Daniel Godston, Laura Goldstein, Amira Hanafi, Coman Poon, and Larry Sawyer performing the text-sound epic Aaaaaaaaaaalice; and curator Nina Corwin in collaboration with Janice Misurell-Mitchell, internationally known improvisational flautist.

More information at Woman

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Reading at Michael Reese Hospital

What: Save Michael Reese Hospital reading
When: July 25, 6 -11 pm
Where: 2929 S. Ellis Ave.

[pictured: Bauhaus, Dessau]

As part of its bid to the Olympics committee, the city of Chicago has decided to build an Olympic park on the south side in conjunction with their plan to make the city accessible for visitors and athletes should the city win its proposal to host the 2016 Olympics. The only problem is that the site of the future Olympics village is also home to Chicago architectural landmarks, including Michael Reese Hospital, which was designed by the legendary architect Walter Gropius with Reginald R. Isaacs. Gropius founded the Bauhaus School in Germany that was a lightning rod for new ideas regarding architectural design worldwide from 1919 to 1933. The influence of Bauhaus ideas on art of all genres is inestimable and continues to this day.

The city of Chicago seems very eager to raze Michael Reese Hospital to the ground whether the Olympic bid is ultimately successful or not. If it is successful and Chicago is chosen as the host city, the Olympics will come and go, and an important piece of Chicago history will be lost forever as a result. This seems like a very large price to pay for a temporary event, even for an event as illustrious as the Olympics.

The Save Michael Reese Hospital group his been organized to address this threat to a Chicago landmark.

Chicago is known for its architecture if anything, and the work of Walter Gropius in the city is an important piece of a puzzle that includes many other skilled architects who made Chicago what it is today, including Louis Sullivan, George W. Maher, Mies van de Rohe, and Frank Lloyd Wright. The work of these architects and others who made Chicago an architectural landmark that is visited by tourists from all over the world should be respected and the idea that the work of Walter Gropius should be destroyed to pave the way for the Olympics, a temporary event, is profoundly disrespectful to the memory of Gropius as well as to the citizens of Chicago.

Visit the Save Michael Reese Hospital Web site for further information now.

Also see Lynn Becker's, Writings on Architecture for more information.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Why hasn't poetry disappeared?

[pictured: The "poet" tags a train in Slovakia.]

Every so often, I get excited about the discussions that wax and wane regarding the cultural relevance of poetry. This
has more to do with globalization, but it had me thinking again about poetry's cultural relevance. Lately, it seems that national newspapers and magazines have been chiming in with articles about the disappearance of poetry and nearly the same few names are always mentioned (i.e., Remember John Ashbery? He’s the one who writes the cryptic poetry that still confuses all the critics. Or, what about Bob Dylan, wasn’t that poetry? Wait, Bob Dylan is still around. He just came out with a new album. Or, didn’t Jewel and Billy Corgan write poetry too? Didn’t Byron get his cousin pregnant? Remember suffering through The Waste Land in college?)

Well, why hasn’t poetry disappeared? Good question. Does it still have cultural relevance? Yes. Answering why it has cultural relevance isn’t easy.

It’s easier to make the case why poetry doesn’t really matter, in the sense that fiction matters or popular music matters. Namely: Poetry cannot truly be sold. This, paradoxically, is "good" for poetry.

It isn’t a commodity, although it does have an aesthetic weight. It can’t be sold for much more than the cost of its materials. Rare first editions of select books and folios notwithstanding, poets are not working for the marketplace. Fiction authors who are successful receive large advances and enjoy commissions based on book sales. Painters and photographers, even, are producing new works and hope to sell their work for huge sums of money. Artists like Jeff Koons even take orders from benefactors and tailor commissioned works so that the final product is more pleasing to the buyer. Koons is a visual jukebox and that’s why I have no respect for his work. Collectors now pay millions for paintings. Painting as an art form is gaining in value as it becomes an anachronism while other art forms that are more ubiquitous are becoming less appreciated. Video art, which seemed so novel 20 years ago, is now becoming devalued as the technology to create it becomes available to everyone.

In June 1855, Walt Whitman presented his brother George with a newly published first edition of Leaves of Grass and his brother stated flatly that he just “didn’t think it was worth reading.” Modernist poet Ezra Pound called Whitman "America's poet... He is America."

However, poetry does serve a function that is crucial to society because poets are the Geiger counter that registers the fallibility and the struggles of the human race. Poets create imaginal language that portrays abstract thinking in vivid visual descriptions. Poetry is also supremely portable. The best poetry has the power to transcend cultural differences and national borders. The best poetry defines human consciousness in such a way that the universal nature of our existences comes into clearer focus. Poetry introduces us to ourselves.

Poetry resists commodification because it cannot be quantified. Its value is fleeting and indefinable. I would say that this is a best-case-scenario for poetry, because its nebulous qualities ensure that it will never gain mainstream popularity of understanding. In this age of information the need for understanding our surroundings hasn’t disappeared, although most get it from other sources. Resonant themes and problems that were first presented as poems filter into resonance through movies, television, and the Internet. A popularizing of poetry wouldn’t help it become more relevant or alter its function.

As we look back into history, the lens through which we view literature has led us to make an error in judgment. Poetry has never been popular, so it can’t be “less” popular now. Ezra Pound, Walt Whitman, or Emily Dickinson were relatively unknown to the masses during their lifetimes. Only succeeding generations recognized that their work had any cultural relevance.

Although there has been a boom in creative writing programs nationally since the 1980s, emerging poets find that what they take so seriously is received with indifference but this is not dissimilar to the reception that ground-breaking art has always received. It’s the perception on the part of those creating the art that has changed. College students now can decide to become poets, much like someone might decide to become an engineer or a physical therapist.

In this world that’s drowning in data, abstract written thought that represents a synthesis or a culmination of information into a digestible form is in short supply. That’s always been the prescription for poetry that matters.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Unable to Fully California

I stare up at the sky and notice Orion, the
Big Dipper, the North Star, and see Venus on the horizon.

On my sleepwalk

this dark-purple lacquer, a sudden comforter, this

French kisses me
while the trees just stand there serenading.

We really can’t trust this nocturnal sightseeing

but the climb does sweeten, as the air thins ever higher
toward some point we try to make.

Words bake in that hot moonlight.

Beastly pinecones have a conversation with me.

Save us from this poem. We need to tell you something.
We’ve been watching you try to
write your way out of it and we’re tired.

I’m tired too, but I look out at the edge of this
paper and see some mastodons there, I say.

The next morning I can’t remember a thing, overhear something about a
bad dream.

Life goes on. We live a life of itineraries.

I’m glad, however,
that together we can open a colorful brochure for some

new world called hope.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Nietzsche as Ashtray

Filled with revolution.

Is nothing more delightful than the wind,

perhaps a kite-full

should the last page never return

be an attaché, diplomat.

Just as amber preserves

arm yourself with dreams.

At a minimum love it in the night.

The museum inside the eye wide


There on a tiny barren island our

big dark universe,

(but maybe you were thinking about the country).

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Crawlspace Tango

On a bench my newspapered nerves flutter.
Bloom of a dark, wide silence, the human
Tether keeps pulling. Like a snake bisected
Some hypotenuse out of sight, caffeinated.
The rejection of the forest floor, therefore
Is, in its elevator, a wordless weight, while
Originality convalesces in a retirement ward.
Can you see them? Festooned with teenagers
These quixotic gymnasia replete with audits
Move, slender and klutzy, as if incomplete.
But when the revolver of Indianas reloads
Accomplished summers annex talismans.
Every piñata from my childhood owes
Me a climax or a switchblade. What
Thumbnail December powered the twittering
Machine of our darkest months, yet kept me
Sheathed in the comfort of that celestial
Grinding? Do the cement notes of Orpheus still
Drip from the trees where the laundry
Of our lives waits in such rustic quarters?
Neither, say two final gondoliers ad infinitum.

(on the occasion of Kenward Elmslie’s 80th birthday)

Friday, April 17, 2009

The Bullfighter's Secret

It’s been a while since Simon Pettet read at Myopic Books, but I remember the night well, because Pettet’s poetry was a subtle revelation, so I was glad to see his recent interview in Brooklyn Rail . Pettet is a poet who is comfortable in his own skin, and seems to address his own philosophical world with a understated bravado that is no less weighty for being inherently likable, which is no small task. Pettet excels at setting up an expectation in a poem, rhythmically or via imagery, then gleefully confounding that expectation. I was honored to publish some of his stuff in milk magazine . Here's Simon with the poet George Wallace (r).

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Tomorrow Night

First Friday Poetry Series
Friday, April 3rd (8 p.m.)

Jennifer Karmin
Elizabeth Harper
Larry Sawyer
Dan Godston

St Paul’s Cultural Center

2215 W North Avenue
2+ blocks west of the Damon Blue Line stop
Street parking available
Beer, wine, soft drinks available @ cool-low prices
Free Admission
Donation Requested
The First Friday Poetry Series is a Poetry Green Zone.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Poetry RIP

Once again, poetry is
. This oft-repeated prognosis always surprises me here in Chicago, because we are rife with magazines and reading series. Whatever your malady if you need some resuscitation stat, call in the life suport with these links. Newsweek didn't do its homework on this one.

Chicago Review

Another Chicago Magazine

After Hours



Book Slut

The Myopic Books Poetry Reading Series

Series A

milk magazine

Woodland Pattern Book Center

The Danny's Reading Series

The Poetry Center of Chicago

Monday, March 16, 2009

look/ out where yr going

Coming up on 4 years now--since Robert Creeley’s passing (March 30), which has me thinking again of what a vacuum exists in his absence. Many poets champion or cheerlead only the work of other poets most similar to their own, but Creeley had a reputation for being much more magnanimous. He would respond to an e-mail in a kindly and forthright way that not only answered the questions at hand but also provided new avenues of consideration -- this is something I had heard about him from other poets and then I also experienced it myself. Being one whose writing doesn’t resemble Creeley’s in its brevity, I marvel over what he accomplished (and in such few words). One gets the sense that each and every syllable in a Creeley poem is absolutely crucial to the poem’s construction. In the alchemical sense, all dross in his work was melted away and nothing but the gold remains -- wit and wisdom that doesn’t seem didactic. Creeley’s Wikipedia page is a useful start.

Friday, March 13, 2009


James Joyce, in "Finnegans Wake," coined the word Bababadal­gharagh­takammin­arronn­konn­bronn­tonn­erronn­tu

Aristophones, in his play "The Assemblywomen," coined the word lopadotemakhoselakhogameokranioleipsanodrimypotrimmatosilphiokarabomelitokatakek

Pseudopseudohypoparathyroidism: The longest nontechnical word in the OED

Antidisestablishmentarianism: The longest noncoined/nontechnical word

Of which, Wikipedia provides the agglutinative origins:

establish (9)
to set up, put in place, or institute (originally from the Latin stare, to stand)
dis-establish (12)
to end the established status of a body, in particular a church, given such status by law, such as the Church of England
disestablish-ment (16)
the separation of church and state (specifically in this context it is the political movement of the 1860s in Britain)
anti-disestablishment (20)
opposition to disestablishment
antidisestablishment-ary (23)
of or pertaining to opposition to disestablishment
antidisestablishmentari-an (25)
an opponent of disestablishment
antidisestablishmentarian-ism (28)
the movement or ideology that opposes disestablishment.

Honorificabilitudinitatibus is the longest word in all of Shakespeare's works.

One of the longest place names is Taumatawhakatangihangakoauauotamateaturipukakapikimaungahoronukupokai
whenuakitanatahul. (It's a hill in New Zealand.)

But if we're talking about paraskavedekatriaphobia "the origin of the link between bad luck and Friday the 13th is murky. The whole thing might date to Biblical times (the 13th guest at the Last Supper betrayed Jesus). By the Middle Ages, both Friday and 13 were considered bearers of bad fortune. In modern times, the superstition permeates society.

Five Friday-the-13th facts:

1. Fear of Friday the 13th - one of the most popular myths in science - is called paraskavedekatriaphobia as well as friggatriskaidekaphobia. Triskaidekaphobia is fear of the number 13.

2. Many hospitals have no room 13, while some tall buildings skip the 13th floor and some airline terminals omit Gate 13.

3. President Franklin D. Roosevelt would not travel on the 13th day of any month and would never host 13 guests at a meal. Napoleon and President Herbert Hoover were also triskaidekaphobic, with an abnormal fear of the number 13.

4. Mark Twain once was the 13th guest at a dinner party. A friend warned him not to go. 'It was bad luck,' Twain later told the friend. 'They only had food for 12.' Superstitious diners in Paris can hire a quatorzieme, or professional 14th guest.

5. The number 13 suffers from its position after 12, according to numerologists who consider the latter to be a complete number - 12 months in a year, 12 signs of the zodiac, 12 gods of Olympus, 12 labors of Hercules, 12 tribes of Israel, 12 apostles of Jesus, 12 days of Christmas and 12 eggs in a dozen.

Pythagorean legacy

Meanwhile the belief that numbers are connected to life and physical things - called numerology - has a long history.

You can trace it all the way from the followers of Pythagoras, whose maxim to describe the universe was "all is number.'" (

However, there are also those who have no hesitation in using the number. "In the Great Seal of the United States there are 13 olive leaves (with 13 olives), 13 arrows, and 13 stars. These form a triangle over the eagle with the number 13 on each point. On the reverse the pyramid has 13 levels.

The number 1138 (1+1+3+8=13) is scattered through many of George Lucas' films, namely owing to the fact that one of his early films was THX 1138. In fact it is represented in all six of the Star Wars movies.

Ozzie Guillén, manager of the 2005 World Series Champion Chicago White Sox, has worn the number throughout his baseball career. Alex Rodriguez began wearing it upon joining the New York Yankees (three, the number he had previously worn, is retired by the Bronx Bombers to honor Babe Ruth). Dan Marino, an American football player known for passing the 2nd most yards in NFL history, wore the number 13, although pundits in the sport have often cited him as the greatest quarterback never to win an NFL championship. Basketball great Wilt Chamberlain wore the number 13 on his jersey throughout his NBA career." (Wikipedia)

In Italy, 13 is considered to be a lucky number. Ciào.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Readings at Myopic Books

Readings are free in the Myopic Books Poetry Series, and there are exciting upcoming events on the calendar. Hope to see you.

Sounds Good to Me

To ridicule the nonsensical rules of English pronunciation, George Bernard Shaw demonstrated that the word fish can logically be spelled ghoti:
gh as in laugh
o as in women
ti as in nation

Homophonic translation means translating not the sense but the sounds from one language to another, or even within the same language.


Charles Bernstein on the homophonic translations of Celia and Louis Zukofsky in Jacket #30: “Zukofsky’s iconoclastic approach to translation would flower with Catullus, which he wrote with Celia Zukofsky, working on it from 1958-1966. For Catullus, the Zukofskys developed a technique that has come to be called homophonic translation – translation with special emphasis to the sound rather than the lexical meaning. Since Latin and English share many cognates, the results are sometimes uncannily resonant, even passionate, versions, of the original poems.”

“Leading with the sound, homophonic translation reframes what is significant in translation, challenging the idea that the translation should focus on content or create poems that sound fluent in their new language. Zukofsky insists that the mark of the translator be pronounced, and that in making the translation strange, we may provide a way to come closer to its core.”

Here’s the first chunk of Pablo Neruda’s “Gentleman Alone” followed by my homophonic translation:

Caballero solo/Pablo Neruda

Los jóvenes homosexuales y las muchachas amorosas,
y las largas viudas que sufren el delirante insomnio,
y las jóvenes señoras preñadas hace treinta horas,
y los roncos gatos que cruzan mi jardín en tinieblas,
como un collar de palpitantes ostras sexuales
rodean mi residencia solitaria,
como enemigos establecidos contra mi alma,
como conspiradores en traje de dormitorio
que cambiaran largos besos espesos por consigna.

El radiante verano conduce a los enamorados
en uniformes regimientos melancólicos,
hechos de gordas y flacas y alegres y tristes parejas:
bajo los elegantes cocoteros, junto al océano y la luna
hay una continua vida de pantalones y polleras,
un rumor de medias de seda acariciadas,
y senos femeninos que brillan como ojos.

El pequeño empleado, después de mucho,
después del tedio semanal, y las novelas leídas de noche, en cama,
ha definitivamente seducido a su vecina,
y la lleva a los miserables cinematógrafos
donde los héroes son potros o príncipes apasionados,
y acaricia sus piernas llenas de dulce vello
con sus ardientes y húmedas manos que huelen a cigarrillo.

Lost, jubilant homophone, errant amour
My largess, so viable, suffers delirious insomnias
And my jovial woman, prescient with hours,
You lose rancheros and cats, cruise tardy and blasé
Comely in your collar of palpitations. Sexual ostrich
Rodeo solitary residences,
While enemies establish alma maters
And conspire in trial dormitories,
Cakes large as waking kiss wives on consignment.

Radiant veranda, conducive to enamel
Wear the regimented uniform of melancholy
Etched with gorgeous flame, allegories and trysts parry
Bars with elegant cacophonies, jump oceans in the moon
Hide continuous lives, as if pantomimed and pollenized
These rumors of medicinal aviaries, sane and
Feminine, keep brilliant company amid eyes.

Piquant employee, despair is mocha
Destined for tedium, seminal novels leaden night
With roads and definitions, seducing vaqueros
Who lay in wait for miserable cinematographers.
Done are the years, and their sons poach principals’ passions.
Why carry such piers? Lead us, dulcet violins
Con sunlight ardently, as humid men walk cigars.

Monday, March 02, 2009


Word is that Little, Brown is to publish posthumously David Foster Wallace's novel The Pale King next year. Illinois is getting even more attention of late: The setting for the book is an IRS office in Illinois in the 1980s. Thanks to The New Yorker for the excerpt.

Saturday, February 28, 2009


Tom Clark is now blogging at Vincent Katz's new Vanitas blog. It's good to see Vanitas running strong and Clark's running commentary.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Sayonara, Rod.

I once thought I caught a glimpse of ex-Illinois governor Blagojevich sprinting the sidestreets of Lincoln Square in his black running gear and wanted to say thanks for the helicopters. There's nothing like being awakened by the sound of a swarm of helicopters, because you happen to live too close to a disgraced politician on the morning when the story breaks. Sayonara, Rod.

The good news is that Chicago is really heating up in the next few weeks. Thermometers aside, the city will be a hotspot thanks to the upcoming AWP Conference in the coming weeks. These are only some of the events in store. Hope to see you.

February 2, Andrew Terhune, David Trinidad, & Jan Beatty @ ELBOWING OFF THE STAGE reading space, 1278 N. Milwaukee 4W.

February 4, A.D. Jameson & Philip Jenks @ Series A. 7:00-8:00 p.m. At the Hyde Park Art Center, 5020 S. Cornell Avenue

February 11, Rebecca Wolff, Simone Muench, Philip Jenks, Ish Klien & Lewis Warsh @ Danny’s Tavern, 1951 W. Dickens, Bucktown, Chicago.

February 13, Red Rover Series presents Experiment #26: Friday Night in Chicago: A Small Press Showcase with Switchback Books, Action Books, Flood Editions, Futurepoem Books, Les Figues Press, Ugly Duckling Press and more @ Link’s Hall, 3435 N. Sheffield, #207.

February 13, Kevin Coval, Simone Muench, Larry Sawyer, Ray Bianchi, Chris Glomski, Jennifer Scappettone, William Allegrezza, Melissa Severin & Jackie White read @ School of the Art Institute Ballroom, 6:30pm, 112 S. Michigan Avenue (sponsored by the Poetry Center of Chicago).

February 14, Denise Duhamel, Jenny Boully, Susan Wheeler, Daniel Nester, Prageeta Sharma, Gene Tanta, Jen Tynes, Lea Graham, Reb Livingston, Mirela Ramona Ciupag, Gina Myers, Natalie Lyalin, Emily Kendal Frey, Zach Schomburg, Larry Sawyer & Bruce Covey @ Myopic Books, 8:00 pm, 1564 N. Milwaukee, Wicker Park, Chicago.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

A Writers' Congress

California sounds nice about now, because we're getting a lot of snow. I'm glad I'm in Chicago, though. There's a lot going on. Look out for the new anthology edited by Chris Green titled A Writers’ Congress: Chicago Poets on Barack Obama’s Inauguration with contributors including:

Christian Wiman, Josh Corey, Jan Bottiglieri, Brandi Homan, Larry Janowski, Tony Trigilio, David Trinidad, Arielle Greenberg, Richard Jones, James Shea, Elise Paschen, Rachel Webster, Francesco Levato, Alice George, Mary Hawley, Mike Puican, Cecilia Pinto, Eileen Favorite, cin salach, Anna Marie Craighead-Kintis, Liam Heneghan, Ralph Hamilton, Virginia Bell, Jackie White, Simone Muench, Haki Madhubut, Deborah Rosen, Helen Degan-Cohen, Charlie Newman, Allan Johnston, Garrett Brown, Maureen Flannery, Chicu Reddy, Suzanne Buffman, Susan Hahn, Reginald Gibbons, Calvin Forbes, Mary Kinzie, Judith Valente, Kevin Coval, Li-Young Lee, Julie Parsons Nesbitt, Dina Elenbogen, Quraysh Ali Lansana, Vicky Anderson, Ray Bianch, Bill Allegrezza, Ed Roberson, Kathleen Kirk, Maureen Seaton, Barry Silesky, Jeff Schiff, Susen James, Brenda Cardenas, Christina Pugh, Max Barry, Patty McMillen, Michael Watson, Stuart Dybek, John Keene, Marc Smith, Lauren Levato, Luis Alberto Urrea & Larry Sawyer.

Here's Yusef Komunyakaa's blurb for the book...

"This anthology of varied voices feels like a single praise song, in the spirit of a larger democratic project, with varying pitch and tone, and this nuance is accomplished without sacrificing the uniqueness of each poet. The reader actually encounters an element of the Barack Obama phenomenon; the philosophy of a shared experience at this poignant juncture in the life of America seems to focus the collection. At times, candid and truth-seeking, personal and public, entertaining and meditative, urban and suburban, imagistic and indebted to orality, these wonderful poems not only convey the complexity of Chitown, but they also unmask the nation's soul, without being nostalgic or overly whimsical. We all can embrace this Obama-inspired anthology of timely praise."

Sunday, January 04, 2009

I'll read some new poems at the Poetry Center of Chicago, AWP Off-site Reading. Hope to see you there.

What: Chicago Poetics Reading, sponsored by the Poetry Center of Chicago
When: Friday, February 13, 2009 - 6:30pm
Where: SAIC Ballroom, 112 S. Michigan Avenue