Monday, December 31, 2007

Chicago Poetry Marathon: A Review

(pic from Robert Archambeau's "Samizdat Blog")

This year's version of the unofficial MLA offsite poetry reading, entitled "The Chicago Poetry Marathon," brought together over fifty poets and somewhere between 200 and 300 poetry lovers, to the ballroom at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Organized by Robert Archambeau, Patrick Durgin, and Jennifer Karmin, the event was 2.5 hours of poetry, in two minute slices, as is the custom of these massive wordslingings.

Durgin provided the opening salvo, introducing the event as one that "coincides with the MLA, but is not in or of it,"--which took the Jesuitical slogan "in the world, but not of it," one step closer to the margins. Durgin, one of the dandiest poets around (in all senses of that term, though his poetry, to my ear, hews closer to straight edge), ceded to the readers, beginning alphabetically with Joe Amato.

What follows is a somewhat documentary, mostly impressionistic take on the proceedings, as I scribbled down what I could of what I was hearing and seeing. Some of the lines quoted are no doubt mishearings, but isn't that part of the fun of consuming poetry?

Joe Amato: "this next one/is all I can say....all I can say is this next one." A perfect opening salvo, a metapoem of the stutterings of poetry reading introductions. This is the "A Salty Salute" (vague GBV reference) of the reading-- i.e. "the club is open."

Robert Archambeau, from his "Sheena is a Punk Rocker": "a big screen six foot pinup queen." A poem about how a song got written. Anyone who writes about the Ramones is okay in my book. Plus, he somehow got the speed and pop sheen of the Ramones into the poem.

Ray Bianchi, Chicago poet, editor of the new Chicago poetry anthology, and general propangandist and mafioso for the scene: "the composition delayed the season." Yes. Snow stopped just in time for the reading.

Tisa Bryant: "witnessing a type of entrapment." Wow. "Suddenly overwrought with sensations of going to the dentist." About a mythic figure whose name rhymes with Omeros...

Dodie Bellamy: appearing out of the silence of her earlier absence, reading "Snow Globe": "John, why didn't you get cigarettes before we dropped acid." And "we can't see out the windshield,"--homage, perhaps, to "no one to drive the car" and "look out where yr going"?

Charles Cantaloupo had us call-and-responding "light the lights," first instance of audience participation (willing, I might add, which is nice given the tough crowd that we poets can be about such things).

Stephen Cope: "Thirteen Ways of Killing the President": "the wrong finger fired." "I might as well kill the President." (After the reading, a distraught woman wandered the ballroom, asking if she might find this poet who offered to kill the President. He was never found.)

Josh Corey: "Lecture on Modernism": "they are, how do you say, apropos to zero." Very Jamesian indeed. And: "look I found a decorum" and "memory is rarely progressive" and "a banner is completed by a wind."

Joel Craig's "Ry Cooder": "he has recovered from what he has achieved." Amen. So few of us actually do.

Elizabeth Cross: "The Most Desirable Romance in the World": funny, bawdy dialogue between God and Eve, in which Eve tires of God's hangups about Adam, despite his sexual power. "I have chosen and made a chamber in thee." One of a number of women poets reading powerfully about sex. The men, however, somewhat absent on the theme (except for Kevin Killian and Bob Perelman's detachable penis). Are men poets afraid to look skeezy?

Garin Cycholl: "nothing in writing is easier to raise than the dead." And a funny, looped, "what's more American/than screwing/the ladylady/of the rent." Added and subtracted. Well done.

Michael Davidson, from "Bad Modernism": told from the point of view of an indigenous person displayed at the World's Fair, if I'm not completely mistaken: "the eyes go there while the will stands still."

Patrick Durgin, from "relay": "what's nearest is inhaled." And "luminaries suck and also-rans wheeze." If Pavement ever needs another lyricist, you're hired! P.S. Let's form a band.

Joel Felix: "with horror, I opened the toolbox." A real laugh-line.

Kass Fleischer: in a poem voicing a poet's disdain of what language poetry hath wrought (and the all form/no content dogma that it unfortunately has spawned): "hours and hours and not a drop of urgency." There was a palpable audience response--Archambeau heard both cheers and jeers--from my perch, it seemed like mostly positive. Courageous rant, given the crowd.

G.S. Giscombe: "a sexual image about the prairie might be a good idea." "Can't forget, Effingham." Also, referenced "content" as something that poetry does, rhyming with Fleischer.

Renee Gladman: "the solitary confinement of this part of our century." Yes, the century's already old. Let's blow this 21st century.

Chris Glomski: "Infinity", a recurring line: "to become a vague forest blooming where there is room." Line I wish I wrote. Vague keeps it real.

Steven Halle: "don't fight to stay ahead of weather." Very Emersonian.

Duriel Harris: what a word slinger, what a performer. She changed voices so fast I was afraid for her! "Jacket habit...slingshot pragmatic...."

Bill Howe: I'm still in debt to Bill for his multivocal piece last year (it generated at least a few poems, and led to what I did this year). I love his "concordant disorder," a poem about fauna.

Pierre Joris: regarding the Titanic, and perhaps our own imperial fates: "no, upgrading to first class won't save your ass." THE Pierre Joris.

Jennifer Karmin, she of the "walking tours" projects, did a dialogue poem from Ted Berrigan's words, with Chuck Stebleton: "an ongoing middle/made of words/larger than words." The more I do poetry, the more I'm interested in these sorts of multivocal arrangements.

Kevin Killian, who, by the way, inspires this post from his previously lush recollections and instamemoirs posted to the Buffalo list, about Orono conferences in the past. Just to prove that he is absolute gold--he actually went around at Orono and asked those who published in the Best American Poetry series to sign his book. "Norwegian Wood," a poem about K.O. sex (which involves something like four downers, if memory serves): "when people say they are having sex, what is it that they are having?" I think I got that wrong, but it seems to match the spirit.

David Lloyd: "the act split from the work." "The pleasure of a ghost." Yes, I'm a fan of spiritual visitation.

Nicole Markotic: "Joey avoids dark liquids to make his body see-through." This, I gather, a poem about Mormon scripture. Mitt Romney, cower in fear of Markotic! She will caffeinate you!

Cate Marvin: "Flowers Always." She of the LEGITIMATE DANGERS. "I have never seen an always." A line worthy of Magnetic Fields' Stephin Merritt.

Philip Metres: I did a Lev Rubinstein performance of "Unnamed Events," soundtracked by Pavement's "Zurich is Stained" and with shouting of the Russian--which, apparently, some couldn't hear and others couldn't see. Next time, I was instructed to stand on chair and yell louder. Here's a digital version of the text, for those of you shut out from view by the Bill Howes. I mean, Bill, how tall are you, 6' 10"?

Laura Moriarty: "nothing is left to bark the dream...everyone was suspicious and resistant." Telling moment.

Simone Muench, whose name, it was revealed, is pronounced like "mensch," a poem about Leatherface: "misunderstanding seduction, you urge your chainsaw forward." Sounds like a dream date.

Aldon Nielson, whose name, it was revealed by Susan Schultz next to me, is actually pronounced al as in alchohol, not al as it "all." "The Virginia Monologues": "knocking the table of contents." "What was new about making it new?" Whose performance was shouted short by Joe Amato, to make way for

Mark Nowak, a poem about mine disasters. Kudos to you, Mark Nowak, for docupoeting us a little bit. Words is good, and yet coal is real.

Kristy Odelius: "a listing agent negotiates closing." "Rising out of history like a scandal." Awesome. Are poets getting more beautiful, or am I just susceptible to people with beautiful words? Or I am just getting uglier?

Bob Perelman's "Current Poetics": reminding me why you're still my favorite language poet (all homage to the Hejinians and Wattens), bringing politics into painful pleasure with language: "porn the only commodity still behaving itself." Not to mention the detachable penis.

Kristen Prevallet read "The Day Lady Died" backward, for "Benazir Bhutto," and I was reminded again of Andrew Ross' controversial reading of that poem by O'Hara, in which he Marxisted O'Hara's consumerism. When Prevallet got to "ugly hamburger" and then the "poets in Ghana" line, I gasped.

Jen Scappetone, reading from something generated from (was it?) the Goat Island Performance Collective: "tunes Casanovas motorize." Williams's poem as machine crossed with the Boss?

Robyn Schiff: "it's March, there is fatness in the air." And, heartening to those of us mayflies who can't seem to write shit right on the first draft (damn you, Josh Corey!): "it's not true they last a day....they were larvae first...that takes many years..."

Susan Schultz showed us some signs that have appeared on fences in her Hawaiian town, part of the Sidewalk Blogger's freeing speech: "would Jesus waterboard?" and "Cheney=Straightshooter." More signs!

Don Share, a poem echoing the Bishopian "House that Jack Built" structure, found his way to "the hurt of older houses" and "the pudge of Prozac." Yeah, my body too.

Ed Skoog: "I count on this poem to investigate wrongdoing...reading this poem is like belonging to a group." Metapoetastic.

Chuck Stebleton: "hemorraging talent" ("so much style and it's wasted") and "You put Ohio in my impromptu." And a hilarious line echoing Shakespeare: "if pubes be wool..."

Mark Tardi, who confessed to be obsessed with nuclear waste disposal post-Chernobyl (aren't we all?): "roadsides favor promiscuity."

Catherine Taylor: "the lyric's past seduction." That works in so many ways.

Tony Trigilio: "They sound bells for us." And, about Rumsfeld's house: "the cameras in the Secretary's birdfeeders can see (?) them."

Nick Twemlow: a Howl-esque tribute to his hometown of Topeka: "the black keys being Topeka...Topeka, the sickness will go unnoticed." Topeka is a song, isn't it?

Quraysh Ali Lansana spun a tale of a slave named Jacob who finally escaped, because he loved the dogs more than the master: "the dogs never moved."

Lina Ramona Vitkauskas, from a poem called "Erection: A Single Entendre." Somehow, the title was poetry enough. Thinking of the Spinanes's "Rummy": "the power of erection/the tallest building in Chicago."

Barrett Watten, sampling Williams: "democracy is impossible and must be preserved." I could see the computer screen echoes in his eyeglasses. Somehow, that's a detail that seems right for the poet of exteriority.

Tyrone Williams, taking a collage of SUN TIMES lines: "can you see me now/caption only." Caption only, as refrain.

Tim Yu, bringing us home with an abecedarian: "the turning world gravitates on its absent stem....yowling unspeakable names to the zero of hearing."

Thanks to all the readers and ears out there. Jennifer Moxley, among other poetry luminaries, was spotted...but not on the readers' list?! I should have ceded my time.

Here's Bob Archambeau's piece from


Susan said...

It occurred to me that you were taking notes for such a blog performance. Nice take on it all! And good to see you, Phil.

Philip Metres said...

Great to see you too, Susan! Next time, I hope, we'll have more time to chat--my people were readying for an early departure back home to Cleveland...

Archambeau said...

Wow. You're il miglior fabbro of the blogosphere, man.

Don Share said...

Great stuff - thanks! - and I'm glad that we met at last!!!

Philip Metres said...

Don, good to meet you as well. Keep working on opening up the field of poetry in Poetry!

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