Sunday, April 28, 2013

Making Helen Adams Proud

I took myself on a poetry date yesterday, celebrating the at-long-last seasonable spring weather and my new work schedule that gives me Saturdays off. I headed downtown to the Harold Washington Library to see Campbell McGrath read.  I like his work, especially the long-lined poems that wrestle with American culture.  In the Q and A portion of the reading he was asked a question I couldn't quite hear about rap music.  I could hear his reply, which was basically that there are two strains of poetry in American culture: the popular, populist, poetry of rap and slam-style work, and the more sedate and cloistered poetry of academia.  He said we must remember that poetry is at its root a performance art--poetry was meant to be heard out loud, and enjoyed by groups of people listening to the poet. He added that both strains of poetry could learn from each other, and that the strongest work being done currently was a hybrid mix of the two.

 After the reading I bought a copy of his latest book, In the Kingdom of the Sea Monkeys, got McGrath to sign a copy for me, (he was very pleasant but I think a bit tired and ready for to be out of there) and then I went upstairs, in a grand marble library room, to work on a piece for my upcoming gig with the Tuesday Funk reading series.  It takes inspiration from three things: my recent fascination of the freaky dark ballads of Helen Adams, my long-time obsession with spiders, and my recent discovery that there were servants in the middle ages called "spider brushers," people whose job it was to brush spiders and other vermin off of the nobility in the house. So I am writing "The Ballad of the Spider Brusher's Son."

It rhymes, it hopefully will work well aloud, and it contains some of the darkness, gore, and twisted sexuality that Helen Adams' work contained. I have another draft or two to get through, but its going to be ready for its debut. I want to make Helen proud.

Monday, April 22, 2013

"The Unobstructed Silence of the Advocado Dawn"

I'm going slightly crazy with planning events and promoting events and structuring and taking care of events at my job, where I coordinate the things going on in a children's department in an independent bookstore.  Yesterday I got to meet director, writer, and producer Chris Columbus--he directed Home Alone, and wrote Gremlins, as well as directing the first two Harry Potter movies.  He was at our bookstore promoting his new book House of Secrets.  We were lucky enough to have a big crowd, mostly due to the fact that he has a lot of family in the Chicago area.

So I've been crazy busy, and expect to stay that way until mid-May at least.  Tonight I reached into my book bag that I carry everywhere with me, and found Lisa Jarnot's new book of selected poems, Joie de Vivre.  I'd forgotten that some kind book rep had sent it to me, and that I'd put it in the bag.  It's from City Lights books, so it's one of those handsome little volumes like Frank O'Hara's Lunch Poems or Allen Ginsberg's Howl.  And man oh man I love Jarnot's work.  I love the sound of it, the beauty of the sound, the flow on the page, absurdity into beauty and back to absurd again. She makes me want to dare more, veer more, and sing better in my own work.  Here's a section of Sea Lyrics:

I am here inside the freezer where you left me, I am the unobstructed silence of the avocado dawn, I am the neighborhood of foreign things, I am the telemarketer of evening, I have only donuts and the doors are locked, I am as thick as the morning down on Broadway, I am walking near the freeway as it shakes, I am the overpass and shattered in the midst of day, I am the last of the partially submerged vehicles on the waterfront on Sunday buying jam.

See?  If you need a prompt, just write "I am..." and begin.  Make it new, make it wander, make it leap across a stage, make it sing.

In other news, I am reading at The Book Cellar this Thursday with friends and fellow poets Jen Besemer and Richard Fox. I think I am going to read almost all new works from my book-in-progress of letter poems.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Flurries, But Still

So, here's a few things I want you to be aware of during this, our National Poetry Month:

1. It's snowing here in Chicago today. Flurries, but still.  For a poetry prompt, write a haiku about snow in April. It might include such phrases as "I shake my fist at the sky," but really, just do your own thing.

2. If you buy a poetry book online this month from some select and wonderful publishers of poetry, those presses will send another copy of your purchased book to a friend.  For free.  As in zero dollars and zero cents.  The suggestion is to send poetry to someone who does not normally read poetry.  It's like the Jehovah's Witnesses knocking on their door, but slightly less invasive.

3. There's a project going on this month, where various poets take Pulitzer Prize-winning novels and use those texts and via erasure and other collage techniques, make poems.  This would be a great journal exercise or writing practice for, well, for me, but probably for a lot of other people, too. Here's one of my faves, from Germany-based poet Sarah Sloat.

4. I am still plugging away at my project to write 69 letter poems.  Here's a draft of one:

Dear Family Chronicle of a Flock of Pigeons,

There are so many of you!  And so few
pigeon heros, or dastards,
and also, I think,
so few affairs since
each and every character
for life—the history of pigeons is a story
with no wars, and no sons
elected bishop, just over and again
the tale of how you rose
on a January morning
on wings nearly
white against
a bank
of darker cloud, and I read this
and was thankful
to be cold, here, waiting
on the train, nearly
to love the world the way
a flock of pigeons loves
the sky.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013


I used to always be a bit sour on National Poetry Month.  "Here," we tell Poetry.  "Have a month.  We'll do a special issue, we'll interview a laureate, we'll publish a poem on our website, and then we can relax and and ignore You as soon as April is over."

But I've mellowed somewhat.  The national media, and indeed our nation and our culture, do not pay much attention to poetry and do not value it as an art form or as a commodity.  Why should I sneer at poetry getting it's few scraps of attention? I won't be attempting a poem a day for 30 days, like some people I know. (Worthy an endeavor as that is.)  But here is a place with prompts for those of you considering such a move:

And here is such a cool National Poetry Month project:  I wish I were involved in this:

What i will be doing is working hard on a manuscript of letter poems, trying to finish as much of it as I can.  I think I'll throw in the goal of submitting 12 batchs of work to 12 differenct journals or websites, while I'm at it.

It's also National Sexually Transmitted Disease Awareness Month. Just so you know.