Archive | Chicago RSS feed for this section

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. ❤


Aye, the Haggis Is In the Fire For Sure.

22 Sep


I totally betrayed my TNG blood oath with that title. But what can ye do when the haggis is…um…a-burnin’…?

My real live book is coming out in October (oh, I so hope!). Interestingly, the process is driving me completely insane.

Mainly I blame myself for being such a perfectionist. I also chose one of the most discerning, exacting poets I know to be my editor. I have four days to finish, and I will – not on some Mozart deathbed requiem shit, but engaged until I can feel almost every single molecule that makes me pulsate? Yes.

On the sweetest side, looking at the PDF of my theoretical book cover made me cry, it’s so goddamned pretty. Credit Angela Davis Fegan and the Write Bloody design staff for birthing gorgeous art. They inspire me to live up to the high standard they’ve set.

Content will get finished very soon. If you like to look and think, my book will engage you. If you can buy it once it’s done, please do (money = food). Buy it from me if you can (talk to me here or via FB or email), ’cause I make more that way, but if that’s too high maintenance, or if it makes you squirmy, for def get it off the Write Bloody website. I’ve gotta pay rent, and so does my press; we both work very hard for the money.

This book is going to bring you somewhere you’ve never been. I’ve been a closeted people-lover for a long time, and a loner for a long time: my voice is distinctive. At the least, you’ll arch and furrow your brows regularly. At the most, you’ll suddenly decide to fuck someone strange for an unexpected reason, or disappear into the desert for all time.

Speaking of change, Chicago’s proved to be a great place for my writing to thrive. Yes, I’m growing and bearing fruit. It’s extremely uncomfortable! 🙂 A small part of me feels I’m resisting that as much as I’m cultivating it. Demons and angels stay battling, right? And it’s hard to know which is which some days; sometimes demons are the greatest agents of change.

My housemates and I are relocating to a new place in Logan Square at the end of the month, which is where the next Real Talk Live will be held, if all goes well. I’ll keep you posted.

My next update will probably be a condensed review of/homage to Chicago as a poetry town. As I’ve mentioned, I could give a million different reasons why I moved here, but at this point I can mostly answer that with an online round of applause for the poets and organizers of the place itself.

I love you guys. Thanks for loving me back. Extra special thanks to all y’all who’ve cheered me on throughout this process, and thanks to those who’ve chided me for dallying online, &c. – although that actually doesn’t help very often. The brain has to scatter and breathe, and I allow that. I allow it. Otherwise I wouldn’t be here. ❤

Shake the Rust (with Apologies to Anis Mojgani)

5 Sep

So I moved to Chicago. It’s been five months now, and the transplant is going better than I could have hoped. Maybe I haven’t yet made it to the Sears Tower to see my feet levitating stories of air above the Chitown streets, but I have developed an obsession with hot dogs (that is not a euphemism).

With the exception of poetry shows and the rare date, I don’t get out a lot – but I’m someone who partly makes life sustainable on her ability to read a place and people quickly and accurately, and to sufficiently adapt to her surroundings. Developing these skills has helped to make this move very smooth.

Much of what I’ve learned in the last couple of years has come to me from the Great Lakes region. For a year before moving, I seriously dated a man from this area and got in the habit of visiting him, and wanting to know more about his home. He’s the one who first gave me the bug, I guess.

Although I’ve seen more of this country than most, touring all the time constantly reminds me how vast is our homeland, and how ignorant I still am. The Chi is neat because it’s so old (for this country), with well-established culture and a host of thriving subcultures. The city is far too complex to be grasped on a series of visits, or even a few months of living here. Chicago is Great Lakes, it’s Midwest, it’s North Country, it’s Rust Belt, it’s cosmopolitan, it’s small town, it’s farm and country. Chicago’s a big city, so diversity of lifestyle is generally accepted, but the Chi also has a very strong neighborhood mentality. I’ve talked shit on the Chi regarding ghettoization and such, but I understand that there’s a beauty in people of like minds or backgrounds collecting together as well… The racism here sometimes disgusts me – it’s no mean feat to find shows or events that don’t sharply reflect this trend – but this has also traditionally been one of the hotbeds of black culture, and boasts immigrant populations out the wazoo. The endless contradictions of this place keep my mind super sharp.


INTERLUDE: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Rust Belt (Quick Thoughts on Regionals)

My friend Logic organized a regional slam that came together soon after I arrived in the Chi. A regional slam is what it sounds like, and the Rust Belt Slam is what it sounds like, too: a chance for poets from Pennsylvania, Ohio, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, &c. to get together and spit amazing poems.

I’d heard great things about last year’s Rust Belt Slam from Will Evans, so I was very excited to go. The tournament this year took place in East Lansing (don’t ask me anything about East Lansing, I don’t learn much about places when I travel for tournaments). The event was very, very well run. The bouts were all well-attended (having them all in the same venue helped enormously), and the event as a whole always gave me the impression that folks were looking out for me. Traveling there with my dear friends Billy and Andi helped with that, and hanging with Karen Garrabrant gave me great joy. 🙂

And the poetry… I was familiar with many of the poets already from tours and national competitions, but the impact of seeing all these incredible writers gathered together was something else. Columbus brought highly sophisticated humor and darkness in epic proportions from both its venues. The burgeoning Cleveland scene delivered a surprise uppercut to contenders, Chi Town represented beautifully, and Minneapolis’ fresh-faced squad shook the house to its foundations.

The Detroit poets really stood out to me at this particular competition, with blockbusters from Jamaal May (a favorite of mine since ’05), plus T. Miller, whose craft has skyrocketed even since her appearance on WoWPS Finals Stage two years ago, and Mic Write, one of the most talented new poets to rework hip hop styles for poetry audiences. Power, power, superpower. Very impressive indeed.

This is all to say that the regionals did exactly what I’d hoped: they greatly deepened my respect for Midwestern poets and organizers. I’m very happy to be a new member of this incredible extended family.


Chicago hasn’t been all sunshine and flowers. A little while ago, some interpersonal challenges came to a head and I seriously considered leaving the city. Because so many wonderful things were happening to me outside of that, it took me a long time to fully realize that something was wrong. My performances were totally off for months: on the rare occasions I actually took the mic, I dropped poems and songs I should have been able to rattle off in my sleep. I was drinking a lot more than usual, leaving my room a lot less, and clutching my laptop like a security blanket. My confidence was shot, frankly, and it wasn’t until the National Poetry Slam a few weeks ago, when I reached the height of instability, that I understood just how wrong I felt.

But one of the reasons I’m a slam poet is because slamming makes you tough. It’s a means of directly confronting an audience and absorbing whatever criticism they lob your way. I also had an inkling that moving to Chicago would make me tougher in a good way, and it has. And it still has more to teach me. I’m looking forward to getting schooled.

Real Talk Live: It’s the Sexiest Room You’ve Ever Seen.

20 Aug

It’s Real Talk Time! If you missed last month, make it up to yourself and join us for our next installment on Friday, August 27, 2010, 7:30p (Doors @7p) at the Real Talk House (4520 N. Monticello Avenue, Chicago, IL).

We’ve got an amazing night planned for you. Poet Jamaal Vs. May from Detroit and Comedian Brendan McGowan from Chicago are going to wow the crowd something serious.

Some info about them: Jamaal Vs. May is a poet, editor, producer and recording artist from Detroit, MI. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Indiana Review, Atlanta Review, Verse Daily and The Collagist among other magazines and anthologies. He has received a Bread Loaf Work Study Scholarship, a Pushcart nomination, an International Publication Prize from Atlanta Review and a Cave Canem Fellowship. May is a two time Midwest Regional Poetry Slam Champion and two-time Individual World Slam finalist. He is an MFA candidate at Warren Wilson College and teaches poetry in public schools through the Inside Out Literary Arts Project. His first chapbook “The God Engine” was published by Pudding House Press in 2009. Production and engineering credits include The Last Poets, Dead Prez and The Four Tops.

Brendan McGowan is a stand-up comedian with a focus on storytelling and social satire. Born and raised on the north side of Chicago, he has performed at all the premier independent showcases in Chicago, as well as in comedy clubs throughout the Midwest. Brendan recently ranked among the Top 10 best comedians in Chicago by

As always, we are an 18+ performance space. There will be an open mic, but the list fills fast! Get there early to grab a spot. Requested donation at the door. Rumors of a cash bar with wine, PBR, water and soda for sale.

Join our FB group here. Invite your friends, tell everyone you know. ❤

The Avenue at 4520 Presents: Real Talk Live

16 Jun

Gorgeous Humans!

You are all cordially invited to the first ever edition of Real Talk Live, a house variety show taking place at your friendly neighborhood poet house, 4520 N. Real Talk Avenue (“Monticello”, to the layman).

We’ve planned a stellar evening for y’all, with two mind-blowing features. Our poetry feature will be none other than Omoizele “Oz” Okoawo, a force in poetry slam for nearly a decade, both as a remarkable performer and a talented coach. Oz placed in the top ten individually ranked poets in the 2007 competition, represented Boston’s Cantab Team in their 3rd place finish at the National Poetry Slam, and also represented the Cantab at last year’s Individual World Poetry Slam. If you don’t know this man’s work, prepare yourself for spectacular craft and performance, both.

We’re also going to have a special performance from two violinists from the Chicago Symphony (yeah, I said it!).

For our inaugural venture, all of the Real Talk poets will also be performing: Roger Bonair-Agard, J.W. “Baz” Basilo, Emily Rose Kahn-Shehan, Stevie Edwards, John Paul Davis, and Laura Yes Yes.

There will also be select open mic spots open, but spaces will fill up quickly – so arrive promptly at 7 PM if you want to share song, poetry, comedy, or the elusive other performing arts.

Strange games and prizes, rumors of PBR, and requested donation at the door. 18+ please! Invite your bros and sexy neighbors.

The Real Talk Family

I made a lot of mistakes.

21 May

Preface: Language consists of placeholders. In the same way that money is an almost universally accepted placeholder for value/worth, words are placeholders for thoughts, images, and emotions. Words and phrases mark what people who share the same tribe, village, town, city, culture, class, lexicon or beyond hold in common understanding as to definition or value.

Cliches and stereotypes exist for a reason. Both definitions overlap with the word “truism” because a cliche or a stereotype is “true-ish”. We use cliches and stereotypes as placeholders in our brains to help us to operate more efficiently as we travel through the world. At their best, cliches and stereotypes help us to read or communicate a situation quickly; on the other end, of course, they foster sloppy writing, ignorance, or sometimes transmute into slurs, hate crimes, or worse.

A self-conscious writer, one who’s just begun to consider the craft in the context of all who’ve written before, soon learns to disavow cliches. Although they communicate meaning quickly and efficiently, relying on cliches can hinder the development of a writer’s unique style. More sophisticated poets or satirists sometimes return to cliches to play with these notions after they’ve gained confidence in their own voices and feel they understand well enough the framework these placeholders set up.

When you announce to people you’re moving somewhere or traveling somewhere, most respond in cliches. The first time I traveled to Guatemala alone, as a woman, and knew no one there, whenever I told people, everyone who’d been told anything about the country said, “Be careful. Guatemala’s dangerous.” Likewise, when I told people the naturalist and I were moving to the Bay Area after graduating college, people said, “Well, it’s expensive.”

In both cases, I ignored the talking people, but in both cases, the talking people were generally correct. Guatemala definitely can be dangerous, if you don’t pay attention: as in many Latin American countries (and many outside the US), the CIA’s meddling (read: assassination and conspiracy) disrupted the country’s foundation 56 years ago, just as it was coming into its own as a democratic nation. I haven’t been to Guatemala in eight years, and I’m not the most observant person, but when I went, the fissures were obvious. You could see it in the broken infrastructure, and yeah, it sounds cheesy, but you could see it in the eyes of the people who lived there. And you knew where you were supposed to travel with back-up, because folks warned you where to go and not go alone. Our government annihilated something integral to that place, and poverty and despair breeds violence. But the place is in no way overrun by that fear. So many things we forget are still alive there.

Because few of us (US citizens) travel often, people tend to have overblown stereotypes when it comes to places. When the naturalist and I moved to the Bay, life was expensive. Very, very expensive. The rent was astronomical compared to what I’d known living off-campus in Massachusetts for a few semesters. The food was much more costly. Rent was obscene. And gigolos were charging $150 a quickie? As if. *snorts* Not like I have to pay for it. But I told the naturalist the same thing I told myself: We can exist here. There’s a way. There must be a way, or else no humans would be here at all. The Bay was and is habitable. But it was much more expensive than I thought, in the end, in ways I hadn’t imagined.

The major Chicago stereotype I’ve encountered thus far, having lived here for six weeks? “You’re coming to Chicago at a good time,” this from the natives or residents. Folks who don’t live here say, “…but the winters…” Hearing the same thing over and over gets boring, but I suppose I’ve grown old enough to listen to the truisms others spit. I’d like to live here, but I’m not at all interested in braving a full winter with full wind chill nowadays. And if said coldness should have a double meaning the way “expense” does in the Bay? *shakes head* I’m not into that. I’d rather be the one who feels than the one who doesn’t.

Right now, this city is gorgeous enough to shatter me. The buildings and bridges and parks and rivers and people… It’s a special place. I live in Albany Park, a quiet, family-oriented, leafy,

Dandelions and shit.

multicultural neighborhood in northwestern Chicago. Yesterday, my excellent Aunt Lee took me to lunch downtown, where tall shiny buildings sprout,

very shiny.

and we talked family and life in general. She dropped me at the Bucktown/Wicker Park Library and I browsed the stacks like an addict, then sat for a few hours reading graphic novels,

This one made me sad, which makes it good, right?

nervously avoiding families (I was reading in the children’s section). When my time was up, I walked to the Young Chicago Authors hideout in the East Village and worked with the Speak’Easy Ensemble for a show we’re putting up next week.

I work with crazies.

So far, the balance feels good here. I think I have, at the most, two more years of semi-city living in me. My guess is I’ll live in the heart of a major city when that hourglass runs out, but the potential of farm or country, or mostly transient life stays possible for me. We’ll see.

Yesterday I got an email telling me I’d been accepted to be a Cave Canem poet. I still don’t know what that means, really. And it’s beginning to look like none of my close friends will be there. Grateful, but sad. Maybe that’s my default. Working on owning aloneness, and happiness. I love you. I’ll see you soon.

Slacker is NOT spelled L-A-U-R-A.

15 Apr

My darlings, my dears,

I have so much I want to tell you about the last month or so, but I simply can’t do it just yet. After making Finals Stage at the Women of the World Poetry Slam, I went to a competition in Atlanta, moved to Chicago, started writing a poem a day for National Poetry Writing Month, and just found out I’ve been selected to be a finalist for a press that might publish a book for me. The latter means, however, that I need to submit a complete manuscript (40+ poems) in less than two weeks. I don’t have the writing juice to concentrate on that and post here – at least, not without doing the love we share a grave injustice.

Wish me luck – and I’ll be back in May.