When I returned to Chicago in 2003, five years ago, poetry here was infused with a dynamism.
That is now slowly dissipating. Chicago's poets are getting older and without the institutional support that other cities have the energy is seeping out.
Last night I was out with my friend Mark Tardi and we were talking about the city and the poetry world here and some things became very clear about the small pond that is Chicago Poetry.
One of the problems with Chicago's poetry scene is that we do not have a quality MFA program in the city and our two best Universities, Chicago and Northwestern might as well be in some other city because they are not engaged with working and creating poets who live here. They would rather do magazine issues on poets writing in Patagonia or Baden-Baden. When I think about the amount of literary activity that goes on in Iowa City, Minneapolis or even Houston and how influential the various writing, book, translation and literature enterprises are in those places the moribundity in Chicago are all the more sad.
Another problem is that many of our poetic institutions are really vanity exercises for groups or individuals who use these venues to promote their own poetry or agendas. The result is a
malformation of the poetry scene and a emphasis on "a scene" and "friends" and "groups". But because we have so few small presses that matter we cannot get a critical mass together. There have been some good additions like Literago.com but that is really an all literature site and poetry is swallowed in an ocean of fiction.
Cracked Slab Books which I publish with William Allegrezza has been guilty of some of this "friendism". The reality is the our anthology, The City Visible: Chicago Poetry for the New Century was limited to 'experimental' and 'serious' poets- we made a choice to publish our own kind. But I think we encapsulated a Chicago moment that might now be passing and is in need of new blood and new poets- to augment who is here doing good work.
But having said that one of the problems with poetry in general is that the cost of entry is low. We all know people whose poetry is crap but because they are 'nice' or 'involved with the community' they get books published or are invited to read and then we all ask "Why do we have to sit through this?"
Poetry in Chicago and Chicago is in transition. As money and influence continue to be global Chicago sits at a crossroads. Without permanent institutions the poetry scene will continue to peter and patter until the next wave of poets injects new energy into the city.