Friday, January 25, 2008

Moribundity and Chicago Poesie

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 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.


Anonymous said...

I generally "enjoy" the poetry scene in Chicago, when I have the time to get out. But I agree that it is mostly a social scene. The readings that I go to are sometimes good and sometimes awful, but there's not a strong sense that the curators are out to get ahold of some idea, some project -- unlike you, I like people with agendas as long as they are wacky and weird. (Actually, that's not quite true about the agendalessness -- I think Series A is very good although I've only been able to browse the lists recently and not actually attend.)

The essential essential problem is not the Universities -- which generally are I think a drag on awesomeness, existing to promote their faculty, students, etc. -- but the fact that Chicago is a very provincial city.

Yes, there's plenty of "capital" flowing in, but not the human kind. If you're an adventurous young creature, you wobble out to San Francisco or New York -- I meet very few writers here who aren't (a) in school, (b) teaching, or (c) about to leave for somewhere cool.

Raymond Bianchi said...

Chicago is no more provincial than New York or San Francisco. Because of the cost of living those cities are losing many more artists and poets than they are gaining.

The problem in chicago is that for those poets who want it there is no press, university or writing community infrastructure.

No one is going to convince me that the average New Yorker or the average SFranciscan is more educated than people here; the difference is that in those cities there are stable institutions.

There is nothing in Chicago to compare literarily with Berkeley, the New School, Columbia U, SF State, NYU et cetera and there is little money for small presses there is allot of money in NY and SF for these presses.

Also, since 90% of the publishing houses are in New York of course they will attract writers to that city but I think you will find that real "working poets" or "working writers" are as likely to be in St Paul, MN or Seattle or Los Angeles as they are in NY.

Johannes said...

Provincial isn't necessarily bad. A lot of interesting poetry movements have taken shape in the "provinces." Perhaps a majority (Zurich or Helsinki for example).

Bloody Ice Cream said...

With all due respect, I think your assertion that the dynamism of the Chicago poetry scene is “slowly dissipating” is bunk. I can name thirty “young” Chicago poets whose work I am excited about. However, many of these poets are students or former students of those crappy, nothing-like-The-New-School MFA programs at Columbia College or The Art Institute; so, perhaps you wouldn’t care for them...

Anonymous said...