Archive | October, 2010

you came to take us/to recreate us

14 Oct

What an insane month it’s been. Capping off an insane summer. Working through my first manuscript was by far the most challenging and loneliest process I’ve experienced as a poet. Right now I feel exhausted, a little sad but satisfied, and eager to make new work.

So let’s not talk about that just yet. Let’s talk about Chicago instead.

This song right here.

Yes, a little love post about the Chi poetry scene. I moved here to be a part of it, feeling like I could both learn and contribute in a meaningful way, and folks have been really welcoming. I’ve stayed transient since moving here, and when I’ve been home, I’ve stayed fairly agoraphobic – so there are a lot of shows I either haven’t seen or haven’t seen enough of to really talk about; here are just a few Chi-town poetry highlights from your favorite misanthrope.

The Encyclopedia Show

Robbie Q. Telfer’s brainchild is one of my favorite shows in the country. Encyclo is among a new wave of shows that’s redefining performance. Their super-talented ensemble cast stays sharp, fresh and funny, and they invite top-shelf artists from all fields to contribute to each happening. Blockbuster and beyond, babe, if you didn’t know. Small wonder Encyclopedia’s gone viral, spreading from Oklahoma City to South Korea. *shrugs* You prolly don’t have to hit the Chi to see this show; at this rate, some permutation will be in your town very soon. (monthly)

Uptown Poetry Slam

The show that started it all stays one of my favorite slams in the nation. A lot of that has to do with SlamPapi Marc Smith, the man who invented the game that revolutionized poetry. He still hosts at the Green Mill, and he still shapes what the show means. Loves, you haven’t lived until you’ve seen Marc do his thing. And for the slam nutcases: it’s very difficult to grasp the heart of the seed of this thing until you’ve heard SlamPapi himself sing, rant, and berate m’fs, all out of love. (weekly)

Mental Graffiti

MG doesn’t have the same outsider pull that the Mill does (by virtue of venue and legacy, in large part), but MG is where poets perform for poets. It’s one of the hardest rooms in the country – but also one of the most attentive and familial. I stay swearing that Tim Stafford, the host on most nights, is the funniest man alive – and the crew that works mostly behind the scenes includes Emily Rose and Amy David, two of the most solid organizers we’ve got. It’s a great place to get an honest read of your poems, and it’s a great night if you want to hear a range of fantastic work. (monthly)

Vox Ferus

This organization, in an earlier incarnation, actively brought me to Chicago. I moved here so I could be a Vox Ferus poet, back when the group I lived with was still defined as such, and our house was still the meeting place for the Vox Ferus After Dark workshops. The workshops still bring together professional and aspiring poets from a range of different sources, offering challenging and very diverse critique from its varied participants. Marty and Tristan work very hard to make the space safe in the right way, and difficult in the right way. VF is a great place to grow your game, and a great place to network with poets and poetry lovers. (bimonthly)

Real Talk Live

This is my baby. I developed the concept of this show in conversation with Andi Strickland, then my housemates, neighbors and I worked together (and continue to, although we’ve all moved) and made a pretty cool thing. Our idea is a commitment to honesty, joy and diversity. The notion is to give ourselves, the performers, and the audience permission before each show begins to be genuine. All the Real Talk folk are poets, but we try to book and invite folks who rep outside of that realm as often as possible, trying to actively cross genres and encourage collaboration while maintaining serious integrity of performance. This is also the most racially mixed show, in leadership and attendance, that I’ve seen in the Chi. (monthly)

Young Chicago Authors

This 20-year-old organization is incredibly crucial to the Chicago poetry scene. It would be difficult to understate its importance. With programs like WordPlay, the Saturday Morning Writing Program, GirlSpeak, Louder Than a Bomb, and all their other programs that bring professional and youth poets together, YCA has breadth and influence that benefits the poetry community immeasurably. They’ve got a few rockstar poet-organizers in their ranks, notably Toni Asante Lightfoot and Robbie Q. Telfer.

Muzzle Mag

I might be jumping the gun a little here, as Muzzle’s second issue hits the net tomorrow – and perhaps it’s a bit off-base to praise an online magazine that could be read as national, but eight out of the ten chief editors (including me) currently live in the Chi. Anyhow, I’ll praise Muzzle as it feels right now. Stevie Edwards, one of the poets who came out of Vox Ferus, recently created a magazine that’s truly progressive in its mission and influence, with high standards of content, but true openness to the spoken word community, and a real commitment to stylistic diversity. As an editor, I’m particularly impressed with the process Stevie’s implemented, which allows the rest of us to critique submissions with total anonymity. (quarterly)

Other noteworthy poetic endeavors in the Chicago community include: John Paul Davis’ Bestiary, a gorgeous lit mag that highlights the work of excellent poets and authors; the Speak’Easy Ensemble, a performance poetry troupe Marc Smith founded that brings performance poetry into awesome and unexpected places; In One Ear, the weekly poetry show at Chicago’s legendary Heartland Café; Safe Smiles, Billy Tuggle’s monthly, high-quality open mic at Trace nightclub; Mojdeh Stoakley’s Lethal Poetry, an amazing show that actively connects artists to community service; Cara Brigandi’s Grown Folks Stories, a monthly forum for storytelling that’s just as it sounds; Ian Belknap’s Write Club, a monthly show that challenges select artists to duel, debate-style, on pre-set topics; The Paper Machete, a weekly “live magazine” that stays topical, and doesn’t have the poetry bias that a lot of the other shows I’ve mentioned do. 😉

So yeah. This is a great town for art. Come visit. Move here. And if you already live here, even if you’re a homebody/introvert like me, you should be very proud of the way art breathes in this city. I sure am. ❤

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