Monday, November 01, 2010

The New Chicago School

[I'm reposting this here now that digital emunction is going out of business. I had linked to it when it first appeared but soon the link will dry up, I'm guessing.]

My pro­posal: That the clos­est thing we presently have to a “School” of younger, rig­or­ously inno­v­a­tive poets in the U.S. (one that stands clos­est chance of being ret­ro­spec­tively seen as akin in sig­nif­i­cance to the NY School in its first-​generation, proto-​formation years–and when I say “School” I mean in that sense of for­tu­itous con­stel­la­tion, some­thing very dif­fer­ent from a self-​identified ten­dency or “movement”) is what I’ll call the New Chicago School. It’s a list of accom­plished, exper­i­men­tal writ­ers, more poet­i­cally focused as a col­lec­tive, per­haps, than the con­tents list of the City Vis­i­ble anthol­ogy of a couple years back, and more geo­graph­i­cally focused, too, inas­much as all the poets have roots in the city, even though a few of them have recently moved else­where (though in most cases still nearby), and one now lives abroad:

William Fuller, Ed Rober­son (these first two the elder fig­ures of the group), Anthony Madrid, John Tipton, Devin John­ston, Peter O’Leary, Robyn Schiff, Bill Alle­grezza, Dan Beachy-​Quick, Michael Rob­bins, John Beer, Arielle Green­berg, Lisa Fish­man, Jesse Seldess, Nick Twem­low, Suzanne Buffam, Srikanth Reddy, Jen­nifer Scap­pet­tone, Francesco Levato, Eric Elsh­tain, Jen­nifer Karmin, Leila Wilson, Nathalie Stephens, Joshua Marie Wilkin­son, Garin Cycholl, Joel Felix, Chris Glom­ski, Erica Bern­heim, Larry Sawyer, Patrick Durgin, Joshua Corey out in the sub­urbs, Tony Trig­ilio, Daniel Borzutzky (though some­thing of a sep­a­rate case, the work of these last two, perhaps)… and a gaggle of bril­liant scholar-​editors asso­ci­ated, past or present, with the Chicago Review, along with Robert Archam­beau, on the out­skirts of town at Lake Forest.

To these names one could add an active (and often activist) group of even younger poets and pub­lish­ers: Michael Slosek, Kerri Son­nen­berg, Steve Halle, Eric Unger, Luke Daly, Brooks John­son, and Bar­rett Gordon, for exam­ple (the latter four have close con­nec­tions, and their work engages the visual arts and music scenes, as well).

For sure, there are others I’m just blank­ing on, or don’t know, and apolo­gies for that (please add). And obvi­ously (!) there are all kinds of superb poets in Chicago doing impor­tant work who don’t quite fit the avant-​aesthetic para­me­ters of the group­ing–Don Share being one promi­nent case, or David Trinidad, another.

From a poetic stand­point, what would jus­tify the set? It is a diverse group (as was the orig­i­nal NY School) and a large one, but it’s held together by a vibrant, active scene and cer­tain broad affini­ties of poetic pre­dis­po­si­tion and–quite often, and with the nec­es­sary excep­tions–affect. The tilt is towards a “scholarly,” brainy, less “pop-cultural” and more self-​consciously “critical” mode than tends to be the case around St. Mark’s, for exam­ple. And, I’d argue, the work by and large tends to be more the­mat­i­cally ambi­tious, more novel and chal­leng­ing in its reg­is­ters and forms, more earnestly in tune with the inter­na­tional than the work of the younger NY scene, still largely caught, the latter, within tonal frames of the hip, the pop, the ver­nac­u­lar, the anec­do­tal, the flarf.

I know that some of the poets above–John­ston, O’Leary, Tipton, and Fuller–have already been “aesthetically” grouped together by Stephen Burt (Bobby Baird has pointed out here that this group rep­re­sents a rhetor­i­cal and formal drift locally known for some time already as “Flood Poetry”), in his recent essay “The New Thing,” where he also iden­ti­fies recent theory coming out of the Uni­ver­sity of Chicago as key source for what he sees as a devel­op­ing cur­rent of poetic epis­te­mol­ogy. Burt is refer­ring to “Thing Theory,” as pro­mul­gated by, among others, Dou­glas Mao and Bill Brown, the latter living in Hyde Park, appar­ently. In short, these younger poets are turn­ing away from the still-​fashionable modes of lin­guis­tic and con­cep­tual abstrac­tion and towards a redis­cov­ery of “ref­er­ence” and “con­crete, real things,” tend­ing to render their expe­ri­ence with terse­ness and con­ci­sion. Though some of the poets he names, it should be noted, are not exactly laconic…

Now, I fully agree with Baird, in his post here some months back, report­ing on afore­said essay, that Burt is a ter­rific critic. I sup­pose Burt and Adam Kirsch are more or less neck and neck right now to be the next Helen Vendler, Burt the horse on the left, Kirsch the one on the right, strid­ing to the pole, pulling their crit­i­cal sulkies behind. (Though who, one won­ders, will be the next Mar­jorie Perloff?) So there’s no ques­tion he’s very good. But I find his neo-​Objectivist “Thing” group­ing to be some­thing of a stretch: John­ston, Mark Nowak, Juliana Spahr, Joseph Massey, and Jen­nifer Moxley, for exam­ple, placed in the same stable accord­ing to the poets’ (very dif­fer­ent) ren­der­ings of their atten­tions to objects and their (usu­ally wildly dif­fer­ent) the­matic appli­ca­tion of these phe­nom­e­no­log­i­cal encoun­ters? Well, OK, I guess, though really, I wonder what U.S. poetry since Williams’s isn’t haunted at least a little by some manner of Husser­lian susurra­tion inside it. Come to think of it, forget Williams; even spooky Dick­in­son is chock-​full of stuff and Things. So is Whit­man, and in over­drive, though he’s not quite “con­cise,” so maybe he wouldn’t qual­ify as a “thing” poet. In any case, what’s all that “new” about the New Thing, if such a thing actu­ally exists, is not all that clear.

As you can see, I feel Burt’s argu­ment is a bit forced and con­strain­ing, a bit too much of a bit and halter, as it were. (Inci­den­tally, inter­est­ing to me, and as I wrote Burt after I first saw his essay, I’m pretty sure the first-​ever seri­ous appli­ca­tion of Thing Theory to post-​avant poetry, includ­ing quo­ta­tions from Mao and Brown, et. al, was in Eric Hayot’s 2005 PMLA essay, “Araki Yasu­sada: Author, Object.”) In any case, both Baird and John Latta have pretty neatly taken Burt apart on all this.

And maybe my grumpi­ness with Burt’s bridling clas­si­fi­ca­tion isn’t all that nec­es­sary, anyway. Supe­rior poets will almost never try to con­form to this or that critic’s tax­o­nomic cri­te­ria, and I’m sure some­one like Burt would be the last to want them to. The point I’m trying to make, though per­haps I don’t even have to, is that you don’t need–as again, the New York poets proved, or the Black Moun­tain poets proved, or the Beats proved, or even the Objec­tivists proved–any kind of solid critical-​philosophical frame to con­sti­tute a vig­or­ous “school,” or even ten­dency, of poetry. You don’t even need a quasi one. All you need is a locale(s), smart ambi­tious people, and a cer­tain affec­tive habi­tus (often found in tav­erns) that is friendly, con­tentious, gos­sipy, mutu­ally sup­port­ive, and pro­fes­sion­ally inces­tu­ous to some degree. The modal, orga­niz­ing affini­ties, which rarely funnel down to strong affini­ties of “pro­gram,” grow out of these. If some­thing is right, and who knows what that is or how it works, things flower.

So I’m making the case that there is some­thing that has devel­oped in Chicago over the past few years, an accre­tion of poetic felic­i­ties whose parts and sum are unri­valed by any other avant locale in the coun­try: St. Mark’s has a wealth of talent and enough in-​house sound for a School, but the tex­tual ambi­tion seems com­par­a­tively slight; Austin has Slow Poetry, and this is full of promise, but it’s more an embry­onic move­ment, not a School; the Bay Area has a great scene, but the crazy var­ie­ga­tion of it all (see Bay Area Poet­ics) makes any notion of School unten­able; Philadel­phia is loaded with smarts, but true Schools of poetry cannot abide ven­er­a­ble Head­mas­ters (well, OK, except­ing the Sons of Ben, during the reign of Charles I); Iowa City has the most expert prac­ti­tion­ers of the period tachisme, but that is not any kind of School, it is a career; Prov­i­dence has riches, but it takes more than stu­dents; Buf­falo is home to some fine out­lier poets, but SUNY is cov­ered in snow; Boston, appar­ently, has fallen into the sea.

In con­clu­sion, what I’m propos­ing (it would appear I am begin­ning to repeat myself) is some­thing that’s begin­ning to have a sense of the self-​evident to it already, I think, and no doubt others have noticed it, too: that Chicago, right now, is home to the most inter­est­ing and vital avant “poetic cluster” in the country.

And I feel con­fi­dent enough of the claim to name it again, even though I know the name is not all that flashy, but that’s appro­pri­ate to the city’s spirit, too: The New Chicago School.

–Kent John­son

[One hun­dred miles from Wrigley Field, in Freeport, Illinois]

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Vanitas 5: Film :::: available now

Purchase Vanitas, Vol. 5 , because it's available now with: Louis Armand, Rae Armantrout, John Ashbery, Mary Joe Bang, Michael Basinski, Michael Brownstein, Tom Clark, Steve Dalachinsky, Ray DiPalma, Elaine Equi, Clayton Eshleman, Jim Feast, Richard Hell, Robert Hershon, Anselm Hollo, Jack Kimball, Gerard Malanga, Eileen Myles, Jerome Sala, Tom Savage, Larry Sawyer, Ilka Scobie, Peter Jay Shippy, David Shapiro, Tony Towle, Anne Waldman, and John Yau among others .. (that's the editor Vincent Katz,in Vienna, as photographed by Vivien Bittencourt)

Monday, August 30, 2010

Unable to Fully California (Otoliths Press, 2010)

Unable to Fully California with cover by Krista Franklin is officially available on Lulu and Amazon .

I love the clear style, unforced music. It is not so much a strange poetry as the poetry of a stranger, the way Bishop was a Brazilian in Boston and a Bostonian in Brazil. I fell in love with your “blue fruit” and “inescapable tomorrow,” also what seems like renunciation not of sentimentality but of cliché …I like even the quasi-Romantic dislocations here: “There is a beauty to ice/only a statue understands.” I’m not a statue, so I only partially understand, but that should be more than enough for Sawyer’s uncanny picnic on no grass … seemed as real as the Bronx, and I couldn’t stop thinking: I am so lucky that this poetry is so good.

—David Shapiro

The split infinitive title that is Unable to Fully California prompts the question: What in 2010 is most real? Larry Sawyer leads us in response to “the exotic trigonometry” that invokes twirled concepts, blended wines, plus deliciously intentional mistakes. In this spree of sight and sound, nouns take up residence while collocating in new roles as verbs alive in trans-plantation. The tenor and vehicle of similes yield a vivid array of bleached blond poems that skid across the page. Their x axis is transmuted from horizon line to stars as yet unnamed from which we readers readily infer we’re not in Kansas anymore.

—Sheila E. Murphy

The poetry of Larry Sawyer arrives free of any investment in a “poetics” or worldview and therefore ties its shoes on the run: “The city is a Smith and Wesson covered in noon.” The sublime lies in “covered in noon,” the waking world in the Smith and Wesson. So there’s a spontaneity of composition (anything can happen and does) that reminds us of what René Char was supposed to have been. On first impression, the poems can seem scattershot, like the art works of Niki de Saint Phalle composed by shotgun. Some of the pellets form patterns, some impressions they make are deeper than others, and some even pierce the metal canvas. Because Sawyer’s style is so open, the casual and intense find comfort in each other and the remarkable detail emerges: “What horizon / spreads in the distance / muscles ripening?” Much of this work is therefore fresh and unexpectable, like the final line of his elegy at Char’s gravesite: “Quiet snow, gossip over the hero’s grave.”

—Paul Hoover

Saturday, July 24, 2010

New Myopic Poetry Dates, 1564 N. Milwaukee, Chicago, 7pm

Sunday, July 25

Devin King & Peter O'Leary

Saturday, August 7

Amy De'Ath, John Wilkinson, Kristina Jipson & Joel Duncan

Tuesday, August 17

Nico Vassilakis, mIEKAL aND, Crag Hill, and James Yeary

Friday, September 10

Catherine Wagner & Dana Ward

Saturday, September 18th

Adam Golaski & Jennifer Karmin

Saturday, October 2

Chicago Calling with Dan Godston (guests to be announced)

Saturday, October 16

Mark Wallace

Saturday, October 30

Carol Novack

Past readers at Myopic Books include:

Duriel Harris, Joel Craig, Jessica Savitz, Mark Tardi, Thax Douglas, Hugh Behm-Steinberg, Jennifer Karmin, Lisa Janssen, Brandi Homan, Daniel Borzutzky, Katy Lederer, Gabriel Gudding, Patrick Durgin, Kristin Dykstra, Krista Franklin, Tim Yu, Marvin Tate, Liz Marino, Dan Godston, Bruce Covey, Daniel Nester, Ed Roberson, Francesco Levato, Gina Myers, Simon Pettet, Joel Felix, Jason Bredle, Diane Wakoski, Jenny Boully, Todd Heldt, Eileen Myles, Tyehimba Jess, Michael Robins, Nate Slawson, Philip Jenks, Garin Cycholl, Kristy Odelius, Ela Kotkowska, Melissa Serverin, Bob Archambeau, Garrett Brown, Lina Ramona Vitkauskas, Carrie Olivia Adams, Jesse Seldess, Arpine Grenier, Yuriy Tarnawsky, Patrick Culliton, John Beer, Kostas Anagnopoulos, Lea Graham, Jeremy Davies, John Tipton, Charlie Newman, Edmund Berrigan, Gene Tanta, AD Jameson, Joshua Adams, Carrie Etter, Dave Awl, Chris Green, Bill Allegrezza, Peter O'Leary, Nathalie Stephens, Megan Volpert, Luis Valadez, Simone Muench, Joshua Marie Wilkinson, Carolyn Guinzio, Chris Glomski, Farrah Field, Zach Harris, Lauren Levato, Steve Halle, David Meltzer, Paul Hoover, Kerri Sonnenberg, Cheryl Clark Vermeulen, K. Silem Mohammad, James Bellflower, Aaron Fagin, Maxine Chernoff, Tom Orange, Fred Sasaki, Wayne Miller, Karyna McGlynn, Tony Trigillio, David Trinidad, Kent Johnson, Linh Dinh, Judith Goldman, Reb Livingston, Jen Tynes, Elizabeth Harper, Mirela Tanta, Erin Teegarden, Chuck Stebelton, Stella Radulescu, Roberto Harrison, Charles Ries, Kristy Bowen, Bill Berkson, Oni Buchanan, Donna Stonecipher, Abraham Smith, Ray Hsu and many others...

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Bright Lighghts, Big City

Is the cultural mix lonelier, emptier, thinner and far less interesting now than it was in the 1960s? I would guess not lonelier or emptier, given that more are writing poetry now than at virtually any other time in American history. As to whether it's less interesting, that's a purely subjective question, but again not from my perspective, although all of these players are some of my heroes/heroines of poetry. Of course, Saroyan's poem "lighght" is still the pop-cultural, conceptual tour-de-force it always was.

Monday, February 08, 2010

New Myopic Poetry Series Dates

Come spend some time in a cozy bookstore rubbing elbows with poets and ... books. The Myopic Books Poetry Series is free, which is best of all. This, however, is an interior shot of Filter, the venerable Wicker Park landmark, while it was still kicking.

Myopic Books
1564 N. Milwaukee Ave Chicago, IL 60622
Contact: 773.862.4882

Saturday, January 23 : Roger Bonaire-Agard & Kevin Coval

Sunday, January 24 : Nick Demske & Michael Bernstein


The Chicago Review
Saturday, January 30 : Christian Hawkey, Uljana Wolf, & Monika Rinck


Sunday, January 31 : Robert Fernandez & Anthony Madrid


Sunday, February 7 : Philip Jenks & Allyssa Wolf

Saturday, February 20 : Michael Robbins & Daniel Borzutzky

Sunday, February 21 : Aldo Alvarez & Dave Awl

Sunday, February 28 : Jon Thompson & Lisa Fishman


Sunday, March 7 : Michelle Taransky & Jordon Stempleman

Saturday, March 14 : Jamie Kazay & Lina ramona Vitkauskas

Sunday, March 15 : William Allegrezza & Chris Glomski

Saturday, March 20 : Seth Landman & Lewis Freedman

Sunday, March 28 : Carrie Olivia Adams & Josh Corey


Saturday, April 3 : Laura Carter & Erika Mikkalo

Sunday, April 4 - Steve Halle & John Keene

Wednesday, April 21 - Jerome Rothenberg

Saturday, April 24 - Ben Doller & Sandra Doller

Sunday, April 25 : Barry Schwabsky & Matvei Yankelevich


Sunday, May 2 : Connor Stratman & Philip Jenks

Sunday, May 9 : Robert Archambeau & Don Share

Saturday, May 15 : Brandon Downing & Macgregor Card

Sunday, May 16 : Aaron Fagan & Daniela Olszewska

Sunday, May 23 : Andy Fitch, John Cotner, & David Trinidad

Sunday, June 13 : Debrah Morkun & Kim Gek Lin Short

Thursday, June 24 : Greg Purcell & Joel Craig

Saturday, July 10 : Chicago/Milwaukee Poetry Fest!
Roberto Harrison, Nick Demske, Mike Hauser, Brenda Cardenas, Caryl Pagel, Larry Sawyer & more!

Saturday, October 16 : Mark Wallace

Saturday, October 30 : Carol Novack

Monday, January 11, 2010

Metrophobia: Poetry as Last House on the Left

Are you afraid of poetry?

I’m afraid of it only to the extent that it has given me some sense of the awesome power of language to expand awareness. So, to some extent poetry is a conduit that has increased my awareness and an expanded awareness can seem to shift our perspective and unfamiliar ground can be frightening, but can’t that particular definition of frightening also be more aptly described as “exhilarating”? My two cents.

There's an interesting post at Robert Archambeau's great blog, Samizdat, re: “poetry is being read by an ever-smaller slice of the American reading public” which begs the question “is it being taught ‘wrong’”?

When poetry is defined as 'self-expression,' which is how I believe that it might be taught at the high school level, then students of poetry walk away with a stunted awareness of the possibilities of language. In fact, most would probably opt to get their self-expression ya-yas out in any other way that might be construed as more "fun." Making a movie for YouTube or starting a rock band for example. Poetry is a distinct art form with distinct tricks of the trade. If no awareness of craft is imbued in students then there won't be any appreciation of the multi-levels of meaning and the depth of observation apparent in poetry that was written by the most skilled practitioners of the art.

(And further “news” today at HuffPo about the issue.)

Of course, the fact that fewer people seem to be reading poetry can also have much to do with the fact that we’re witnessing a huge shift in how information itself is being transmitted. From newspapers and books to the Internet, for example. You’re reading this now via computer screen rather than a printed page, but I’m glad you tuned in. Here are a few poems that can help you to expand your own parameters. (This is a pic of Drew Barrymore after her first reading of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.)

Here are a few poems that are well worth the fright.

Song by Frank O’Hara

from Tender Buttons by Gertrude Stein

No Liquor in the House by Kenward Elmslie

Two Poems by Nicanor Parra

Five Poems by Aimé Césaire (trans. by A. James Arnold and Clayton Eshleman)

To Brooklyn Bridge by Hart Crane