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.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Thinking of Baseball in January

When I was growing up in Chicago I always hated January and February. I would sit in my room with my mitt and my ball and wait for the end of the cold.

There is nothing more soothing or exciting than a ball game. To be running errands in the car and have the Sox game on the radio is a simple pleasure that I missed horribly when I was living in South America.

I have to say that I have been to Macchu Picchu, Hong Kong, Istanbul, Rome and Rio and I love all these places but there is no where I would rather be than in Comiskey Park (US Cellular Field) watching the White Sox play a great pitchers duel with a team that I hate- like the Tigers or Twins or Indians. Getting to Watch my Sox win the World Series the third greatest moment of my life after Marriage, college degree it is October 2005.

Some White Sox fans enjoy the Cubs/Sox rivalry. But I love the fact that my city has two teams with over 250 years of Baseball history. I like the fact that north is north and south is south and that Luke Appling, Luis Aparicio, and yes Ernie Banks and Ron Santo are ours. Is there anything better than a hot July day in a bar in Chicago with the Sox and the Cubs on the TV?
I love the fact that Mark Tardi and I can have a three hour conversation about Baseball and after it is over we have solved nothing except the ball crossing the infield.

I find the middle of January to be the worst time in the year. It is our Lent before Lent but I wait it is only 29 days to Pitchers and Catchers.... and another year.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Brasil e Poesia

I was in Brazil last week for work and I got to have a fabulous lunch with Poet Regis Bonvicino who has been a guide for me on my entrance into the Brazilian poetry world.

I love Brazil and its poetry. Unlike Hispanic poetry which is so married to lyric and tradition Brazilian poetry is full of vigor and newness. I love the fact that in Brazil a big literary event is when poetry by Pound or Creeley or HD is translated into Portuguese.

Sao Paulo however has been a little bit of a threatening place. I have been going to Sao Paulo for over 13 years. The first time I went to Sao Paulo in 1995 I was a poor young volunteer with no money. I arrived from Bolivia by bus, dirty, thin ( really I was thin then) and amazed. After living for two years in provincial Bolivia to arrive in Sao Paulo was a revelation to me.

It has been said that New Yorkers are jarred by the city of Sao Paulo. It has changed over time. There is more violence and kidnapping which adds a flavor that hurts what Brazil is about but in some ways this adds to the dynamism. If there are cities of the future then Sao Paulo is one of them.

I love Brazilian poets, Regis is a favorite, Sergio Medeiros is a master, Josely Vianna Baptista is the best poet I know of apart from Jennifer Moxley....

But all too often Brazilian poetry gets wrapped up in this country into the moth eaten world of Michael Palmer and Marjorie Perloff when in reality its dynamism is lost on most American poets who are so used to reading their own weak water poetry that they cannot see the dynamism of a culture where poetry can still matter and is not just the purview of the denizens of Berkeley and the Upper West Side.

I recently translated work for Aufgabe magazine and I remain amazed at the sheer range of the poetry in Brazil, poetry about everything from color of water in the Iguacu Falls to personal violence all with an innovation that does not exist in many places. For my money you can keep all the American "experimentals" and give more poetry from the land of the Beautiful Game where poetry still possesses pure dynamic power.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Barack Obama won in New Hampshire

Barack Obama finished second in the New Hampshire primary. In the face of the 'Bradley Effect' where White voters say they will support a candidate and then vote for another and also the hot protests of Bill Clinton, Mr Obama got 37% of the vote.

We are as a nation at a moment of generational change. Those of us who are under 45- born since the murder of John Kennedy are frankly tired of spending our time arguing about the meaning of 1968 rather than the meaning of 2008. It is time to stop all the talk and address the fact that we are nation that is declining in the face of China and India. We are a nation that needs young leadership and the energy that Barack Obama can bring to us.

The 1990's were a good decade but do we really want to go back to all of that? Or do we need to try to reinvent ourselves as a nation? Someone needs to call us to greatness and to change and that person is Barack Obama.

Barack Obama won the New Hampshire primary in my mind and those of us who support him need to continue to fight for change- a generational change and a move forward away from 1968 to 2008.