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TONIGHT!

Friends, we have a special evening planned for you! The Chicago Cultural Center reading is absolutely free. Doors for the panel discussion and afterparty opens at 8 pm, but we don't expect to get it started it until 9 pm. The Chicago Reader listed us as a recommended event! We're pumped. If you click through to the rest of this post, you'll see a flier for the after party.

Curbside Splendor Literary Magazine Review by Josalyn Knapic

On the cover of Curbside Splendor Issue 1, Spring 2011, there are soft white lights from blurred black streetlamps. An allusion to the cover art as well as the content, it is simple yet alluring. This newly developed literary magazine publishes fiction and poetry. It hails from the Chicago neighborhood, Logan Square. Edited by Victor David Giron, this semi-annual magazine brings to light urban (and sometimes sub-urban) settings.

Photography is intermixed within the text. The black and white images capture urbanization¾ through photojournalistic city landscapes, abstraction, and close ups. All photos are taken either by designer of the magazine Karolina Koko Faber or by photographers: Garrett Holden, Michael San Filippo, and Eirik Gumney.

This magazine can be defined from a poem entitled, “What We Talk About When We Talk About the End,” in which Ally Malinenki writes, “It goes in different directions. I try to stay away from the panic.” Each story or poem takes the reader in some new direction while exploring the "panic" of life, whether it is meeting your death somehow on Rue de Nil in opening story "Second-Hand Blue," meditating on city streets in Frankie Metro's poem "Kingsley Ave.," or living as children struggling during the month of Ramadan in Farah Ghuznavi's story "Waiting for God."

These different directions also take us into fiction winners of Curbside’s 2010 Winter Short Story Award Opportunity. Brandon Jennings “Doc the Fifth” is the first place story of a soldier in the Iraqi War. Second place winner Yovani Flores introduces us to a Puerto Rican father’s kitchen habits in “El Lloron.” Third place story “Onida” by Michael San Filippo takes us through young adult's troubled relationships.

Everything in this issue begs to have the reader understand what it means to share stories (tragedies or successes) with people that are close to us. They also show how strangers can influence our lives. That's what being an urbanite is all about, lives intersecting other lives. The casualness of the issue gleams what all of us are looking for: meaning in the obvious, the routine, and the fascination in the behavior of people. Curbside Splendor focuses on appreciating the substance of what it means to be urban.

Check it: the best of Chicago readings

CBS Chicago's Mason Johnson reviews the top literary readings in the city. Check it out (and then check them out in person) to see if you agree.

“[H]ere I’ll stay, enchanted”: a review of Anthony McCann’s "I Heart Your Fate," by Jennifer Moore

Anthony McCann’s third collection of poetry reveals a preoccupation with how we encounter, experience and process the world around us. He places emphasis on processes of perception and modes of discovery, and the objects in McCann’s view are charged with vitality: material is imbued with life, the inanimate is animated. And though at times what’s seen is threatening or ominous, these poems are ultimately celebratory, and the world is one in which “it’s nice to be held while watching the waves.”

 

In the opening poem of the collection, “Post-Futurism,” we glimpse the early stages of the processes of reflection, which mark most of McCann’s poems: “When I was young, life/ was instrumental and/ through experience (in life)/ (through which I poured myself)/ I passed through various/ Containers of/ pre-dawn excellence” (3). The speaker’s way of discovering his surroundings involves gathering tactile and sense impressions, as in “Samuel Taylor Coleridge,” in which events are as-yet-unfulfilled:

A list of friends and our very own...

Just of ahead of Printer Rows Lit Fest (we'll be there, of course, come say hello!), New City released Lit 50: Who Really Books in Chicago 2011. It's a list (no way!) of Chicago's literary stock. ACM's own Editor-in-Chief, Jacob S. Knabb, clocks in at 42.

Nelson Algren Documentary Kickstarter

Check out the Chicagoist article about the new Nelson Algren documentary and what you can do to help raise funds through Kickstarter!

Review of "A Beautiful Name for a Girl," by Kirsten Kaschock

In her most recent collection of poems, A Beautiful Name for a Girl (Ahsahta Press, 2011) Kirsten Kaschock explores different concepts of identity, and how identity is constructed. These concepts become increasingly constricting, and the book ultimately acts as a means of finding an escape from the self and society.

 

The opening poem, “Assemblage,” gives readers a sense of ownership and construction, using architecture as a trope for constructing a self that is wholly self and not dependent on any outside factors. By placing this as the introductory poem, Kaschock establishes identity as something that must not rely on outside standards but must be constructed within; shelter cannot be sought, only built. “This is the house Jane built by being the house / Jane built by being” (32-33). She establishes the search for identity not as finding oneself, “Once, this was Jane finding Jane” (2-3). but as embracing what is already there.

 

This foundation crumbles with each poem that follows, however, as Kaschock writes from increasingly varied perspectives, and in doing so writes her own mythology of gods and angels and demons, spiders and machines. Each poem follows a thread of this mythology, exploring the different perspectives of human, monster, dancer, teacher, mother, woman. What makes the poems so intriguing is how these perspectives interact and weave their way throughout the collection through her masterful repetition of words and themes. Just when a subject seems thoroughly exhausted, Kaschock brings it up again, forcing the mind to stretch to encounter it in a new way.

 

The culmination of these variances is most apparent in “Snuff Ballet (A Monologue for 2, 3, or 7),” a long poem that makes up the entire middle section of the book and captures the voice of a playwright, her critics, and her audience, all fixated on the display of the single dancer, a woman. The poem oscillates between these voices, and although the voice of the dancer is never heard, she is described:

 

one dancer

 

required to be omega

older than her peers, in some way

bird-like, quick and puckish, prone to flight

prone to spasms

prone to on-stage orgasm

armed with working feet and a hole

in her heart that could lead

to certain death (strains of the 5th—three duhs

one duhm) therefore

damaged

karma-wise, all birds have issues

hollow bones, a diet of seeds

small eyes, their alertness instinct

not intuition, not intellect although

appearing intellect, required to

required to fool us all—up to and including

moment omega, and crucially

 

she must not believe in her own death (68-86)

 

These descriptions of the dancer’s character, costume, choreography and motivation are interspersed throughout, each increasingly eerie and invasive until eventually it is the playwright, the artist, who is on display and poised to fail.

 

“Fail. Now— / there’s a beautiful name for a girl” (35-36), is how Kaschock ends the penultimate poem of the book. This line seems the inevitable conclusion to these fable poems, the word “fail” serving as a reminder of what happens when all these voices are heeded and the foundation of the self is not preserved. But it still comes as a shock that this mythology is also tragic in nature: after listening to all these voices, there is still no hero to banish them, and Jane must build the house herself after all.

 

BIO: Kirsten Kaschock earned her Ph.D. in English from the University of Georgia, and is currently a doctoral fellow of dance at Temple University. A Beautiful Name for a Girl is her second collection of poems and is available from Ahsahta Press. 

Language entropy

According to a study by the University of Manchester in England, the amount of information in word order is a universal trait in languages, regardless of origin. This could point to a universal factor in how people process language cognitively. So what does this mean for writing and translation? How about the way language is used in poetry and fiction across cultures? Check out the article in Wired.

Library evolution

So even though the apocalypse did not occur as predicted yesterday, if libraries continue to close around the country, life as we know it will never be the same, according to Charles Simic in the New York Review of Books. His point: that even though the Internet makes research easier, it doesn't exactly create lifelong readers. And it's true; there's something comforting about the fact of a library, even if its purpose is slowly changing. But I'm hopeful that even as libraries evolve to accommodate the latests trends in technology, they will never actually go extinct.

Review of Larry Sawyer's "Unable to Fully California," by Connor Stratman

“Life only seemed worth living where the threshold between waking and sleeping was worn away in everyone as by the steps of multitudinous flooding back and forth.” – Walter Benjamin, “Surrealism”

 

            Reading poetry has become an act of flooding, a flood of words, a bleeding between of meanings. The very act stimulates a panic in the reader, an almost political paranoia of language. Can we even trust poetry? What can it offer us now?

            On one hand, there are those who place infinite faith in the hope of poetry’s renewal, those who theorize and attempt to write works that are conceived as the great new innovation of the art (Conceptual writing, or the new trend in “theme” centered collections of lyric). On the other hand, there are those who wholly disparage poetry (beware the New Classicism! and the alienated non-reader!) for its allegedly growing obscurity and inaccessibility, and therefore its alleged uselessness as a social fact.

            Larry Sawyer’s Unable to Fully Californiais wholly aware of these questions. Yet, in lieu of quelling the reader’s anxiety about poetry’s place, his poems rather expand upon the aforementioned questions; he does not seek to answer, but to complicate. The poems themselves are frenzied and varied, vocalizing both a multitude and a solitude.

            The opening poem, “Crawlspace Tango,” presents a kind of heteroglossia of entropic clashing of voice and breath. The use of the capitalized first letter of each line (“On a bench my newspapered nerves flutter./Bloom of a dark, wide silence, the human/Tether keeps pulling.”) gives a charge of individuality to each line, to keep each breath different, separate yet always engaged in a dialogic presence with each other, which calls to mind Ashbery’s disruptive vocal flow that blows apart the binary distinction between the intimate and the publicized. Thus, Sawyer presents a poetics of a split world, one of drifting and one of torpedoing.

            Sawyer’s sense of politics takes the form of surrealist juxtaposition and disruption. For example, in “Circle the Wagons,” he writes: “nothing like a good Afghanistan/to clear the sinuses.” The infringement of the political landscape into the nasal cavity forms a central theme in Sawyer’s poems, that of the ever-pressing potential of an aesthetic and revolutionary consciousness. The surrealist techniques Sawyer employs—from the long tradition of Koch, Ashbery, Wakoski, etc.—inverts the overstuffed imagery of media and literature on its axis, blurring the lines of image and noise.  

           The social function of poetry is also a baffling question. He writes in “For Guillaume Apollinaire”:

 

sad music of presidents regard the women beautiful

you are an orange or else the moon

a house, a table, the lips of a rose

you resemble a song, familiar as yourself

brilliant son of lost waters.

 

             The place of the poet in such a context becomes a place of hesitation. The aforementioned passage gives us a list of options, a minor litany of poetic choices that poets can concern themselves with. The poetic voice is thus an appropriately Melvillian “brilliant son of lost waters,” an Ishmael-esque body without a center and a voice without a set timbre. Left with no absolute essence of subject, the poem/poet then chooses that all of these choices are up for grabs, no choice of content being incorrect.

            The poet now becomes an elasticityof social function, both the legislator and the schizoid ranter. Thus, in such confusion, Sawyer’s poetry compels us to main an emotionalresponse to these stimuli, the ultimate necessity of lyricismas poetic act:

 

Without dolor the character

muses, dialogue moons,

edges me into time

(“Like You Know”)

 

            The character of lyric is maintained through dreaming. This stanza, echoing Lorca, engages the voice with non-existent elements that become existent through wordplay and sound textures. The lines employ traditional figures (“dolor,” “moons,” and “me,” especially) to reconfigure lyrical logic into a recognizable yet shadowy imagination.

            Sawyer’s book engages not only information but also the act of poetry itself. When language becomes so fraught with media blending and abstraction, the poem becomes both the stretched mediator and the conscientious objector. But the poem must always strive to actwithin a context of passivity and unconscious flow. Therein lies the relevance of Sawyer’s work: the struggle to write poems that are, as they should be, an act. An act upon meaning, on language itself. As he demonstrates in “From 27 Voices,” (“Salmon hands, Pacific hands, Pisces-born, there are flies in my sleep”), the formulation of a poetics is necessarily a state of indeterminacy, of uncertainty. Neither the poet nor the reader can sit satisfied with clear definitions of “the dream” or “the real.” The act of the poem, for Sawyer, is the entropic expansion of these spaces of meaning and feeling. This expansion becomes the key to relevance, to the survival and recreation of the poem.

 

 

Bio:Larry Sawyer, who lives in Chicago, is the current editor of milk. He also curates the Myopic Books Reading Series in Wicker Park. The author of several chapbooks, his first book, Unable to Fully California, is now available from Otoliths Press.