Sunday, June 10, 2007

The City Visible: Chicago Poetry for the New Century


We know. The rooms seem empty.
Our names are in the most lost registers.
We were given a system to cut the life from our mouth.
Or no system. Either way a scream.

All the sheets here are white,
with behind-the-back faces.
You can do a thing with a faucet,
a concussion. This nation knows to bruise.

Death is a very close door in the hall—
see how our foot slips in?
(The sweet taste of shit.)
See how everything, history, is a chute?
See how our tongue, this close door,
is also that black, that sweet?

Fuck us in springtime.
Let the air roll over the mass grave like petals.
It also smells sweet. It is our hair.
It is chalk, bags of rice, nails.

There is a star here called America.
We follow her everywhere.
She is a ball of gas,
a fired-off round, a stove, a blackout.
She keeps us in her kitchen.

We could be anyone.
Under the bed, we are anyone.
Any genocide we've mentioned. (Arielle Greenberg)

If anybody has been wondering why there hasn’t been any updating of Chicago Postmodern Poetry lately (an interview with me has apparently been forthcoming for some time, for example), wonder no more, with the appearance of The City Visible: Chicago Poetry for the New Century (Chicago IL: Cracked Slab Books, 2007), edited by William Allegrezza and Raymond Bianchi, two very active editor/publisher/poets in the Chicago area. I've always been a fan of geographic anthologies of writing, to get a sense of what (according to the particular biases of the editor/s, of course) is happening within the particular area (see even a Chicago blog here). Working to produce a Chicago anthology of postmodern poetry "for the new century," the book includes a cross-section of works by Srikanth Reddy, Jennifer Scappettone, Suzanne Buffam [see my recent note on her here], John Tipton, Eric Elshtain, David Pavelich, Peter O'Leary, William Fuller, Michael O'Leary, Mark Tardi, Erica Bernheim, Michael Antonucci, Chris Glomski, Garin Cycholl, Luis Urrea, Kristy Odelius, Simone Muench, Lea Graham (see her here with Parliament Hill in the background), Ed Robertson, Arielle Greenberg, Robyn Schiff, Nick Twemlow, Tony Trigilio, Shin Yu Pai, Dan Beachy-Quick, Maxine Chernoff, Kerri Sonnenberg, Jesse Seldess, Paul Hoover, Michelle Taransky, Robert Archambeau, Bill Marsh, Larry Sawyer, Lina ramona Vitkauskas, Cecilia Pinto, Johanny Paz, Ela Kotkowska, Jorge Sanchez, Joel Craig, Daniel Borzutsky, Joel Felix, Raymond Bianchi, Cynthia Bond, William Allegrezza, Jennifer Karmin, Tim Yu, Laura Sims, Roberto Harrison, Brenda Cárdenas, Stacy Szymaszek, Chuck Stebelton and Jordan Stempleman. As Bianchi writes in his "Introduction,"
The dialogue is between these poets who more or less care about the same things and whose work has influenced each others' like a series of Venn diagrams touching all and influencing some. There are many more poets and movements in Chicago which did not make this volume. There is a complete lack of Slam Poets and regional writers; these groups are strong in Chicago, and they have a press infrastructure that supports their work. In this volume you have a variety of poets writing on the edge—experimental, multi-lingual, internationally infused writing at the heart of the United States.
When I first heard of this anthology, I wondered if they might even have included work by Canadian expat (they already have at least one other Canadian in there, with expat Buffam) Nathalie Stephens, living and teaching in Chicago these past couple of years (with a book out with Nightboat this fall), but for whatever reason she's not included.

Part of what adds to the collection is that, even though some sections might be smaller than others, each poet works to provide a small "poetic statement" of some sort (although two of the contributors have statements only a short line long, but for Mark Tardi, certainly say enough) to go along with their writing. Poet Maxine Chernoff's "Poetic Statement: Form and Function" reads like a small essay, much longer than the rest. Arielle Greenberg (a poet I've heard about for some time, but not yet read until this collection) writes this as hers:
In my first book, I was seeking to allow myself permission to be playful, messy, funny—to risk failure, as a true experiment should. My second book was an attempt to address issues I felt I'd been avoiding and needed to face—issues of selfhood, of anger, of cultural and historical legacy—without making poems that were didactic, overtly representational, or humorless.

After the birth of my daughter, my poems became more direct and urgent, I think: I had less time and energy for games in my work than I once did. Now this, too, is slowly starting to change. My poetic project is the project of the life I'm living, which is to say I have little control over where it might need to go next.
I might not be into what everyone here is doing, but I very much like the range, moving from more formal applications to the easily more informal; but if Nathalie Stephens isn’t here, I'm intrigued to know just how many other poets there are in Chicago that I might not be yet aware of?

The Rushing

Forsythia at roadside
arcing up,

a reach for
what? Passing on foot or in

reluscent car—past already—
so brilliant

a wanting
and yet. Yearning already

for the next before bloom: Love,
perhaps, or

not love—but
its desire, things as Michael

might say, Turning…on and off
and on

phloem, lenticels, xylem,
this old wood

flowering (Lea Graham)


bill said...


concerning nathalie, just late last year, coach house asked me to book her for a poetry reading since she was visiting chicago. they made it sound as though she was still living in canada. so, it was with surprise that i heard she was living here through you. she was not part of the poetry scene portrayed by the book, and she was not here soon enough to be included in it.

i still have not met her at any of the city's many readings, but since i heard she was in town from your blog, i have contacted her and hopefully soon will meet her, especially since i quite like her books.

rob mclennan said...

no worries bill; was merely a query. apparently she has a book with nightboat books out this fall that's fukkin fantastic, looking forward to seeing it myself...