With the holiday season already in full swing, “A Christmas Carol,” Charles Dickens’ yuletide story about surly old skinflint Ebenezer Scrooge, will once again be brought to life on stage and in countless TV movie adaptations. Yet most workers, in the wake of the Great Recession, can’t help but identity with Bob Cratchit, literature’s most put-upon worker. Given the devastation of both the national economy and the global economy, having a job and keeping a job, any job, has prompted many individuals to re-evaluate not only their work life but the very meaning of work itself. Creative writing has always provided fertile ground for such inquiries: fiction (“The Jungle,” “The Grapes of Wrath”), plays (“Death of a Salesman,” “Glengarry Glen Ross”) and the ragtag poetry of Charles Bukowski, Frank O’Hara and others, question our capitalistic system, the Scrooges who run it, and the value of what all workers do each day to earn a buck.
“Résumé,” Chicago poet Chris Green’s latest collection, takes readers on a contemplative journey through his hardscrabble employment history, which includes stints as a janitor, landscaper, adjunct poetry instructor, security guard and other wage-slave positions. The poems that comprise this slender collection explore the highs (such as they are) and plumb the depths of the catch-as-catch-can world of unskilled labor. Read the rest of this entry »
Any project Marvin Tate undertakes is just a sliver of the performer’s multimedia career—he’s been one of the funky minds behind the band D-Settlement, performance poet and all-around mixer-upper. That said, a sliver of Tate bursts with rhythm and spice, and his slim volume of poems, “The Amazing Mister Orange,” channels and chronicles the down-on-their-luck, the temporarily mighty going for a fall, with zingy grace and tempo. We chatted over email about the book’s genesis and style.
Who was “Mister Orange”?
Mister Orange is/was a name I once called my good friend Ainsworth Roswell, an amazing performance artist who taught me how to be in touch with the freak in thee. His favorite color was orange, he was Jamaican by way of England and so he had this incredible accent that blew MF’s away. He would put on these underground shows in Post Wicker Park in dank basements, BDSM clubs and on street corners. He ended up committing suicide by jumping from the seventh floor of the Water Tower Place and landing in the food court. I bet he was making a statement; he was always interested in class, weed and race. Read the rest of this entry »
When I consider buying poetry for other people, there are two main groups I typically shop for: those who have not studied poetry but have an interest, and those who have. Neither group is particularly easy to shop for: the newbies need something that can be read on the surface, yet possibly has greater depths, while buying for the vets requires knowledge of their particular taste: did they study critically or creatively? Do they like narrative with their poems or are they all about sound? Do they like experimental poems or do they find them pretentious? The joy of discovering Mary Jo Salter’s new collection, “Nothing By Design,” is that she has given me a book I can give to both groups without fear.
For the newbies, Salter should be a revelation. Her poems feature easily defined narratives, some of which arc between poems, such as the ones in the section, “Bed of Letters,” which mediates on the divorce of the speaker. Poems throughout the collection deal with universal topics and themes ranging from infidelity, war and death. Read the rest of this entry »
By Micah McCrary
His author’s bio reads: “Dan Beachy-Quick is the author of five books of poems, most recently ‘Circle’s Apprentice.’ ‘A Whaler’s Dictionary,’ his celebrated collection of meditations on Melville’s ‘Moby-Dick,’ appeared from Milkweed Editions in 2008. Beachy-Quick teaches at Colorado State University, and lives in Fort Collins.” The Chicago-born Beachy-Quick, most recently the author of “Wonderful Investigations,” is an author willing to scrutinize his interests—both academic and aesthetic—in a way that many writers of nonfiction seem afraid to try.
Beachy-Quick spoke about his “Wonderful Investigations”—about his willingness to look deeper and closer and further into the things that make him want to read and write. Read the rest of this entry »
To anthologize is a political act. As political acts go, though, it’s a relatively subtle one. Still, to make decisions about inclusion and exclusion in something that will stand as an authority on a field—a handbook for the uninitiated—carries the heavy burden of cultural gatekeeping.
“Angles of Ascent: A Norton Anthology of Contemporary African American Poetry” joins the ever-increasing Norton family of anthologies this year under the capable direction of editor Charles Henry Rowell. Rowell is a professor of English at Texas A&M University and the founder and longtime editor of Callaloo, a well known literary quarterly of the African Diaspora.
“Angles of Ascent” seems clearly designed to update a mainstream history of black literature, poetry in particular, to include its most recent movements and movers. Rowell’s introduction gives us a clear and accessible mini-history of black poetry in the U.S. and its socio-political contexts. He traces for us the difficulties of the “divided mind” throughout that history—a schism created by pressure from the white publishing establishment to be mainstream and apolitical, and pressure from the black communities to be political. Read the rest of this entry »
With his signature contorted syntax, Carl Phillips ushers us through the woods of pathos and logos—a steady procession through ourselves and those we love. “Silverchest” vividly reminds us that we are reading a book of individual pieces, pieces that have stood and continue to stand on their own curious and wobbly legs. Phillips imbues these examinations of the mind, memory, the heart and human intimacy with a delicate and deliberate pace that defines the world of each poem. The voice is patient, insistent, tells all—every last hesitation, every stutter of thought, seducing a reader to the point of certainty, of conviction, and then pulls back. And this seductive voice, this belief riddled with doubt, ties each poem to our lives, to the knee-jerk nature of life. These poems, their condensed heft, revolve around moments of clarity, of simplicity with subtle, vibrating metaphors and architectures that force us to slow our read, to intentionally move from word to word, increment by increment. Early in the collection we come to the poem “And Other Animals,” suggesting an ellipses before the title and contributing to the tone of “Silverchest”:
So the dead become earth
and then nothing, things that will never matter
now in the way they used to, for— Read the rest of this entry »
Poetry is intimate by nature. Consider how it is consumed: slowly, first with the eyes or ears, then steeped within the body until the language is unraveled and revealed. If prose is drip coffee, poetry is a French press. A poem must make direct, lasting contact with the self who invites it in. However, many levels of intimacy which poetry is capable of producing are frequently overlooked. Poems have a tendency to exist independently of a larger narrative—they shy away from deep character development.
Enter Kathleen Rooney. An already accomplished Chicago poet and professor, her newest collection, “Robinson Alone,” is a brave and extended meditation on a specific character (the titular Robinson) whose life and losses are fully witnessed throughout the book. This is art that stitches itself between the world of poetry and of the novel. Furthermore, the book is an homage to the late Weldon Kees, whose poem “Robinson” (originally published in the New Yorker in 1945) and whose life inspired Rooney’s project. Read the rest of this entry »
It has been eight years since Catherine Barnett published her first collection of poems, “Into Perfect Spheres Such Holes Are Pierced.” Since then, she’s won a Whiting Writers’ Award and a Guggenheim Fellowship, and has split time between teaching gigs at NYU, the New School and a shelter for young mothers in New York City.
Eight years of waiting ratchets up a reader’s expectations, and the pressure on the writer to meet them. Barnett’s latest, “The Game of Boxes,” thankfully does not disappoint. Here’s a precise, august and deeply moving collection of poems easily devourable between Red Line stops. Split into three sections—“endless forms most beautiful,” which deals with parental abandonment; “sweet double, talk-talk,” about sex and unquestionably the strongest section, which is saying something; and “the modern period,” on motherhood and creativity—Barnett dispenses bullets of wisdom with a frightening accuracy. Read the rest of this entry »
By Alli Carlisle
We’ve all said it: a poetry degree just isn’t what it used to be. That’s why Chicago poet Francesco Levato started his own poetry school.
Levato is himself an avant-garde poet whose work draws on cinematic and documentary techniques—in his own words, “engages subject matter through disruption of content and form, fragmentation of narrative and radical juxtaposition of visual and textual elements.” His poems, truly products of postmodern culture, sample: they collect, cut and redistribute pieces of other poems into new configurations. One long work, “Aura,” makes a fragmented, haunting dialogue of pieces of Robert Browning’s and Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s poems. A significant part of Levato’s work is something called cinépoetry, a kind of collaged videographic poetry that does with footage what his other work does with language. Levato also translates, a kind of work vitally connected to his poetic work, which involves so much transformation of extant materials into new forms. Read the rest of this entry »
Nabokov is a name so revered in literary circles that to write of him, edit an anthology, translate his works or review any of the above, you had better be a relative. Such is the meteoric stature of the “poet-king,” whose given name in Russian means, aptly, “ruler of the world.” Considering that, editor Thomas Karshan is safe from at least one angle. “Selected Poems” contains twenty-eight never-before-seen translations by the late Dmitri Nabokov, the author’s son and closest literary executor, whom the elder hailed a “marvelously congenial” translator in the preface of “Invitation to a Beheading.” Never one to shy from a tussle, Vladimir found “no devil of creative emendation to fight” in his son’s translations. Both held that, in transposing letters, fidelity to the author came first—no matter how twisted the result. Alas, even Dmitri is not immune to misstep. Read the rest of this entry »