Distribution Automatique

Saturday, April 2

That Chicago Sound

Elaine Equi, Kimberly Lyons and
Sharon Mesmer wrote to us regarding
our post *The Chicago School* in
reponse to Sharon Mesmer and Elaine
Equi's recent reading at the Bowery
Poetry Club. Elaine wrote:

"...I think you're right, there is a Chicago sound -- funny, talky, kind of
surreal (they were big there for a while)."

Kimberly Lyons sent us the following response.

"Hi Nick,
I'm sweating cuz such a casual remark to you bloggers leads to a thing. Keeps us on our toes!
Sure, I was a freshman and Elaine a senior so to speak at Columbia College. A few years later Sharon Mesmer, and Debbie Pintonelli and Connie Deanovitch came to Columbia. We all studied with Paul Hoover and in some sense Maxine Chernoff. But there wasn't a school. Not sure how much social interaction there was of any of the aforementioned parties until NYC. There certainly are shared concerns through time in the work and styles if you will among these writers and many more - but I know most of them would resist identification as "Chicago" writers.

Elaine E and Jerome S. were at one time part of and even originators of a scene that I think came off of a punk and performance and various literary affilitations . Their work and audiences became inclusive of LA cohorts that I think involved Amy Gerstler, David Trinidad and others. Once they moved east and after years of intensive individual work they are quite independent and have even individuated from each others work! I think their work now needs to be read in the context of the New York School, including Ron Padgett, Elmslie and Brainard; Lang( and 2nd generation lang po) including Bruce Andrews, Rob Fittterman, Rae Armentrout and many other affilitations that criss-cross coteries. Equi and Sala's early work did manifest that cluster of characteristics you listed --as does Sharon Mesmer's work. The divergences and sympathies among these writer's work would be a longer dialogue and reading. Worth doing.
The Chicago poetry scene and the style you allude to or are trying to define, takes its energy, I think, from Chicago's particular working class politics, African American culture (think of the avante garde African American jazz performers coming out of Chicago), comedy, and Chicago's longtime involvement with surrealism - from Breton's famous visit to Maxwell Street to the collecting of the Bergmans; the centerpiece of the Art Institute's Cornell collection. When I was a teen, it was big news when Franklin Rosemont's group threw flour all over Robert Bly at a reading at the Body Politic. The Chicago Imagist painters work also reflects these forces: Big Table magazine, The Little magazine, even Poetry and the Chicago Literary Review and vestiges of other literary scenes has energized activity- even in the ephemeral way of these histories. The brief presence of Ted Berrigan and Alice Notley in Chicago instigated, I believe, a whole new opening up of styles and Barbara Barg, Susie Timmons, Bob Holman, Bob Rosenthal, Shelley Kraut's commitment to poetry and their later moving east. The 15 Chicago Poets group (my tag) are an intereresting constellation. Art Lange's Brilliant Corners, for instance, is a great unsung magazine. Anyway, this is a larger situation and I'm not making a claim for any of the writers' work mentioned as being subsumed in this context - more as being in an unavoidable relationship. My own and Sharon's work, as is evident from her great new collection of stories form Hanging Loose, I think remains haunted by the geography of the experience. The look and feel of things there....

yours, Kim"
Creeley Memorial Reading on The Radio

Matthew Shindell and James Meetze's new show
will open with readings from Robert Creeley
and some tributes from Timothy Yu and others
KSDT radio.org {click here}
on Sunday, April 3rd from 4-6 pm

wood s lot {click here}

Friday, April 1


Learning, finding, understanding, unraveling, working through:
all require patience, that transitional music between one melody
and the next. Every success, no matter how large or small
requires it, not just to locate the switch that turns on the lightbulb of
inspiration, but to then find a way to illuminate the room and the landscape
that are to be transformed by the benefits of such enlightenment.
Even procrastination has within it a tiny germ of how
this kind of waiting ought to feel.

All this rushing around is destroying everything: affection, charm,
connection- every possible accomplishment. Contemporary life
never ceases to conspire to deflect us from the one activity that can't
fail to bring us closer to all that we most need and want: real thinking.

Wednesday, March 30

The Best Minds

"I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed
by madness, starving, hysterical, naked..."
Allen Ginsberg

"In art, there is all too much thinking about liking
and disliking."
Jackson Mac Low

For quite awhile now I’ve been postponing reading
*The Best American Poetry 2004* edited by Lyn Hejinian,
though I knew I would, inevitably. How could I ignore a
project like this from such a first-rate mind?
I took it home from the library today, and I dipped into it
and thought: this is going to be difficult. Of course, there are
the expectable ideas or reactions about not having been
included, any poet might feel this. But, as I read through it, I realized
a few of the reasons that I have had some problems reading
AND writing poetry, especially of late. For a very long time, especially since
9/11, I’ve noticed that I frequently avoid newspapers,
news broadcasts, sad movies and many other things
that might depress me. (By the way, my work as a
therapist does not at all affect me this way – on the
contrary, it is stimulating and interesting because I find
doing therapy intensely engrossing,
more and more over time, especially
because I enjoy learning and most of all following
and trying to assist the process of change.)

As soon as I began to read the book, it occurred
to me that a great deal of contemporary poetry continually
reflects on disillusionment and suffering, and not
a little of it, including much of my own recent work
focuses on the hardships of being a poet.
I am tired of thinking about this. I think about it
all the time. It feels like I have always thought
about this all the time. I closed the book and considered
writing a satiric parody of a contemporary poem. But
oh please, not that again! So I reopened the
book and continued reading here and there.

Then, as I paged through the book, I got an idea.
I thought of pulling out one sad, depressed, angry,
bitter or tragic line from each poem. At first I
did this in a provocative or critical way, but then
it became a way of reading the book with an eye
towards insight. While thinking about the work in
this way, I discovered that the book is, in fact,
very worthwhile reading, an absorbing assemblage
of poetic minds and approaches to writing
and thinking about poetry; and also, that the
overall selection does connect; and very beautifully
so. In this manner I forced myself to read each and every
poem completely , though quickly, in order to select the one
line or phrase from each work to include here.
It's interesting also to note, that
when I have read a book of poems in this way, I will
inevitably return to it, as I have made my acquaintance
now with the poems (and in a number of cases, the
poets), and I have become curious about getting to know
them better. (The obvious benefit of a useful anthology).
Finally, I constructed a title from two of the lines.

“Going Toward Nothing”: “The Self-Stung Unfolding”

(Lines from The Best American Poetry of 2004, edited by Lyn Hejinian)

“she should have stayed in her little cage
shat on by her sisters above her” (15)

“Not some writhing in a tortuous canine presence” (17)

“tighten up your resumé sphincter living for a better suicide” (22)

“Almost all the words we’ve said to one another are gone” (26)

“bombing another car…you so hate” (29)

“Now see the damage” (31)

“We were going toward nothing/all along” (32)

“Does something for everyone mean nothing for anyone” (34)

“Memory is to life like a band-aid to a wound” (38)

“I know I’m fucked” (43)

“…he went ballistic” (45)

“’From those who have nothing, even what they have
will be taken away,’ I thought” (46)

“I am on a drive where a mirror has collapsed” (48)

“his face a glass that has shattered but not yet fallen” (51)

“…the city on the hill having failed us” (54)

“It is difficult to describe what we felt” (55)

“who’s pushing who?” (58)

“-your negligence constantly reminds-“ (59)

“and there’s plenty to be unhappy about” (61)

“*I am wretched*” (63)

“stunned from the sleep of a Nobody” (66)

“Inducing doubt and self-hatred in all you come into contact with” (71)

“sent out a feeble cry signifying
grief and confusion, et cetera” (73)

“its heartless calculation, its profound sadness” (78)

“something dirty, something you only do if you are sick and caught in deep clots of blood” (81)

“Adolf Hitler’s radio rant” (85)

“Desperate to see themselves as merry/
In the mirror they carry around with them” (88)

“I returned your book of poetry to the store/
I returned to the scene of the crime” (90)

“Molten days, because of lingering
Nothing’s personal, including yours” (93)

“I have lost the doves of Milan, floating politely” (94)

“Baby would be raped or murdered by now
kidnapped or placed in a holding cell at the police station…” (99)

“*I think I know, but the world’s still mum*” (109)

“Anything can happen under these conditions. Nuclear bombs, dirty/ bombs, small time random murder, and abduction” (117)

“and then everyone gone and not found” (123)

“the beginning of a sentient, formless life” (125)

“I am none but the king of sad persuasion” (126)

“I heard a voice saying ‘Blundering
Coma dancing wild ineptitude…” (131)

“The speculations of that secret self/
For whom to even try to talk to you is death” (134)

“…a replenished body
singing its way into doubletalk” (136)

“Dark passages wait for us…” (142)

“And still we did not speak, did
not know to whom to speak…” (146)

“…a republic of none, the one included/us,/
no one to speak it with, dumbstruck” (148)

“no longer dreaming plowing on through thick mud” (153)

“Perhaps Paul Celan is the crematorium built
especially for Language poets” (161)

“…frozen in terror” (169)

“Is bad weather coming/
how would we know/
Is bad weather coming
call everyone” (174)

“an era of night sweats, gasps and pants” (177)

“the paranoia I feel about all the award
I’m like king of the losers again” ( 179)

“why is the president so popular? because he is vicious” (184)

‘Like an x-ray of infant bronchitis. Wrist slitting stuff” (186)

“Don’t invite me to your pity party.
Don’t call me up on your pity party line
and invite me over for punch and cookies.
I won’t come…” (187)

“terrible vision. I don’t think I can fall asleep” (188)

“a terror that being emperor in no matter how many other brains/can’t squash” (191)

“but nothing sticks, that doesn’t/
have to. Not memory;
not the naming…”(193)

“City of healers and cheaters” (195)

“Your themes/ are plein-air/ endless/ sad.” (197)

“jumping in flames from roaring height for a fooled god/
and his cow disease of long rotting memories” (198)

“Don’t look here for a view
the ice will just cream all over you
latency barometer zero” (201)

“on I trouble raped” (204)

“listen to me./ mirrordown./ these notions are halfbaked understand/
it’s just what’s right/ I’m tired just let me rest” (206)

“The melanoma on my skin
Resumes what’s wrong with me within” (207)

“In the injured house
made of local sun and stone-
In the city of numbers
Which everyone counts and hates and wants-“ (214)

“Lines link lives like words,
glances, an embrace, capable
entirely of administration, deceit,
want, need, the long sigh,
meaning evident to no one.” (223)

“*slowly, poetry had failed me*” (224)

“People are like ciphers. They say this. They say that.” (227)

“just a mistake- I scream outright at the likeness.” (228)

“…when the sky opens up/
and pelts the earth with a momentary lapse of crying.” (229)

“eighteen women in singular postures of
mourning along the sides of the sarphagus;” (231)

“The sudden pressure to
act normal was killing me.” (233)

“..inventing a paranoia into the sleepless
monster that is this bastard maggot poetry.” (236)

“Raucous how fun to rip it apart soon…
Poetry scene lurker as mass-popular unit.” (240)

“We who love precise language
Need a finer way to convey
Disappointment and perplexity.” (241)

“And the chorus of tone-deaf guards is bellowing
Lock down and Body Search! Silence and Lights Out!” (243)

“Nothings undoing among the self-stung unfolding of things.” (244)

Tuesday, March 29

susan and connie

susan and connie

Susan Bee and Corinne Robins*
(Charles Bernstein in background)
taken at the Poetry Plastique show
at the Maryann Boesky Gallery
February 2001

*photo by Toni Simon
Poetry Radio Show with Matthew Shindell and James Meetze-Coming Soon!

Maximum Go in the Resulting Hogshead {click here}

Monday, March 28

Stacy Doris and Chet Weiner, The Ear Inn, January 1996

Stacy Doris and Chet Weiner, The Ear Inn,  January 1996

Chet Weiner and Stacy Doris at the Ear Inn,
January 1996*

*photo by Toni Simon

Sunday, March 27

The Chicago School of Poetry

A google seach of the above phrase led me to a citation
on Carl Sandburg, Vachel Lindsay, and Edgar Lee Masters
who were active from 1860-1914. I would like to propose
a more recent phenomenon that might be known as
the Chicago School, that includes Elaine Equi, Jerome
Sala, Sharon Mesmer, and Kimberly Lyons. Would welcome
hearing about others: please write me by clicking the
contact box above. I am
quite sure there are many others, and would love to
learn who they might be. Kimberly Lyons* and I got to
discussing this right after Sharon Mesmer's and shortly
before Elaine Equi's readings yesterday afternoon
at the Bowery Poetry Club. It happens that Kimberly
was studying in Chicago around the same time that
Jerome Sala, Elaine Equi and Sharon Mesmer
were writing and performing there. By now you must
surely know that Jerome Sala was challenged to having
the first known performance bout held in a boxing ring,
back in the 70's, certainly one of the earliest if not *the*
first inspirations for what is now known
as Slam Poetry (this will be documented, I learned from
Jerome in a book of interviews on Oral Poetry to be published
by Soft Skull Press, including an interview with him).

Although I am unable to list enough characteristics
right now to definitively elucidate the qualities of a possible
Chicago School of poetry, one of them would certainly be the presence
of sparking, provocative, witty, charming, and not infrequently
hilarious, paradoxical and/or shocking anecdote. Yet these
so-called anecdotes might be better described as parables
or even fables. In Mesmer's performance I am thinking
of one in particular that offers an account of an intimate
relationship in the 70's with the bass player of the Bay
City Rollers. Here, my own descriptive powers fail me.
Like an excellent film, I will be thinking about it for days.
But I will say the following about this reading as
well as Elaine Equi's reading yesterday:
amazing, awesome,breathtaking, brilliant,
fabulous, fantastic, magnificent,
marvelllous, outstanding, sensational, super,
superb, tremendous, wonderful. Got the idea?

I had a few free moments right before the reading to
run over to the St Mark's Book Shop at 31Third
Avenue, near East 10th Street. Fortunately,
this is only a very short walk to the Bowery
Poetry Club, at Bowery near Houston Street,
so the two activities make for a great double
feature. One of the books I purchased was
*The Frequencies: a poem* by Noah Eli Gordon.
from James Meetze's Tougher Disguises Press
in 2003. In the very first poem, Noah Eli Gordon
writes: "It might be adding amnesia to my
watering can, but the saddest thing in the world
is someone's to-do list stuffed in the pocket of
my new thrift-store coat." When I read that line last
night after getting home after the readings, and
after dinner with Jerome and Elaine and after
going to the St Mark's Bookstore a second
time yesterday, I remembered a haunting
poem that Elaine read yesterday which I can't
quote precisely but was dedicated to Joe Brainard
and said something to the extent that one should always
leave something undone on one's to-do list
so that one feels there is always something left
to do. Oh, I wish I had written out the one about
the seasons that went something like: Winter is
fortitude, Spring is longitude, Summer is turpitude,
Fall is gratitude (this is only a paraphrase of sorts,
but it went on beautifully like this for a few rounds).

Elaine Equi {click here}

Coming soon at the Zinc Bar: A book party
for a new book of stories by Sharon Mesmer from
Hanging Loose Press {click here}

Sharon Mesmer {click here}

*This is from Kimberly Lyons' new book *Saline* (Instance Press, 2005):
"At night, with a fever, the smell is of my own tongue,
swollen and of a washrag. Peppermint pink
stripped, it feels alien and particular as though my skin had
detached and was being reapplied in rough strokes by a
hovering woman. She is shushing but I'm not sure who
is making noises or why."
Thanks to Jordan Stempleman (Growing
Nation) {click here}

for writing to us about
The Poetry Center
of Chicago {click here}

Gina Myers was at Elaine's reading

A Sad Day For Sad Birds {click here}