Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Poetry in Chicago is a Small Pond Lacking Oxygen

I have not been very active in the Chicago Poetry Scene this year. Being unemployed and trying to get on with life my energy has been sapped and I am trying to just keep things together.

Three of the events that I have participated in are the Mark Nowak reading organized by the Poetry Center of Chicago, The Italian Poet's Reading organized by Litmus Press and Jennifer Scappettone co-sponsored by the Poetry Center of Chicago and a reading at the Sullivan Gallery where the Poetry Center asked poets from many genres of poetry, from Slam to Experimental to Regional Writers to reflect on a piece of art in a new opening.

All of these readings have been first rate. Mark Nowak who I introduced is a great poet who brings to so much to our current economic situation. The Italian event was spectacular. It was a much needed infusion of Global Poetics to our all too provincial reading list and was well produced and the Sullivan Gallery event brought together genres and poets to do something great.

The fact is that Francesco Levato is diversifying the Poetry Center amidst budget cuts, loss of donors and a general contraction and keeping it in the forefront. Francesco along with the Danny's Series, Chicago Poetry Project, Dancing Girl Press, Series A, and other groups are trying to give our poetry scene much needed oxygen that our small pond is lacking.

Of course there are critics and one of them has decided that there is an evil Kabal I guess organized by Francesco Levato and Myself to ruin Chicago's poetry scene which is ridiculous. One of the things that Francesco organized are poetry workshops at the Poetry Center. Now I realize that this is a radical idea but in most cities there are literary centers that do workshops. Some of these are really sought after and in some cities Literary Centers actually work to create literary community. Sometimes they actually charge for these workshops because the product has value.

Literary Centers cost money. In New York, St Marks, Poets House, Bowery Poetry Club and many others are actual physical places with endowments and staffs. They are not just websites with one crazy mediocre poet spouting hate and division. If only more energy was expended to build a literary center rather than defaming good people.

Francesco Levato of the Poetry Center has seen fit to devote himself to a vision where the Poetry Center actually engages the whole poetic landscape and tries to create something new in a tough time. I write this post because I salute Francesco's work on behalf of our community.

I also dare to ask the question will Chicago ever have a literary center? The fact is that it is the very lack of poetic oxygen that the critics revel in that stands in the way. My feeling is is whatever kind of poetry you want to do- do it well. But do not use your own personal vitriol to attack others because their vision is different.

Chicago was not always a great theatre town. But in the 1960's small theatre companies decided that they were going to do serious theatre here in Chicago. Innovative things that could sell tickets and fill theatres. Today we are a great theatre town it took vision to do that not harping and defaming people's character. It seems that within our poetry community that will never be possible.

The fact is that whatever poetry community you are a part of in Chicago, Experimental, Latino, African American, Spoken Word there are poets who stand out for their excellence be they Kevin Coval, Simone Muench, Ed Roberson, Francisco Aragon, William Allegrezza, Garin Cycholl or Peter O'Leary and all of them would benefit from a literary organization. Francesco Levato has been struggling to build that and I applaud him for it.