“The Bhagavad Gita,” a small part of the Sanskrit epic “Mahabharata,” is a conversation in verse between the central Hindu deity Krishna and the warrior Arjuna, who is reluctant to go to war against his own family and friends. Torn between doing his duty as a warrior and his wish not to fight against those he loves, Arjuna tirelessly questions Krishna not only about why he should go into battle, but also about the meaning of life and the path to enlightenment.
Hindu professor Gavin Flood and poet, critic and translator Charles Martin’s new translation balances the philosophical, spiritual, historic, poetic and narrative forces that together make the Gita such a challenging and enthralling text. There are big philosophical questions (“What undergirds all creation?”) and enchanting details (“all beginnings are enveloped / by error as fire by smoke”). The Gita is intended to act a guideline for right action, and while contemporary readers may not, like Arjuna, accept Krishna’s responses, they will likely reap some reward, if only a noteworthy turn of phrase. Others may find a new perspective or challenge to action: perhaps to become less attached to the material world, or to become braver or less impatient. Read the rest of this entry »
Maybe this is one of those silly, self-centered illusions of life. Like the one about being the hero of our own life story. Or the one about the universe coming to an end when we die. But it sure seems from where I sit (in my classroom, in Chicago, just east of the corner of Division and Milwaukee, down the street from Young Chicago Authors and Nelson Algren’s old haunt) that Chicago is one of the centers of America’s literary universe. Maybe not as big-titted, tummy tucked, ass-lifted sexy as LA, or as swagger, swagger, yadda, yadda important as NYC—but what is?
At least it seems that an awful lot of poetry has been written about this city over the years. Not just by the big guns, like Carl Sandburg who, in one long, frequently reprinted poem named after our town, tried to do for Chicago what Walt Whitman did for Manhattan. But plenty of lesser-known poets, not to mention slam champs and runners-up and high-school poets hoping to be louder than a bomb, have tried to leap on and pin down some wild aspect of our untameable city. Ryan G. Van Cleave found enough contemporary poetry about this big, loud, crass, graceful, amazing city to fill a 174-page anthology. And the University of Iowa Press thought it was important enough, and interesting enough, to publish it. Read the rest of this entry »
By Kelly Forsythe
This is quite possibly the last interview I will ever do. Having spent an afternoon with two-time National Book Critic Circle winner, renowned poet and all-around great guy Albert Goldbarth, I am beside myself with perspective. Yes, perspective. The kind one can only gain after lunching with a man who describes himself as “impractical,” yet has a type of knowledge many young poets and writers actively seek across the nation.
Goldbarth, who has been teaching at Wichita State University in Kansas for nearly twenty years, was visiting Chicago to give a reading at Roosevelt University. Having spent many years living in Chicago and attending the University of Illinois at Chicago campus, Goldbarth was instantly familiar, welcoming, generous and, above all, terrifically funny. His warm nature and approachable demeanor made it easy to forget that he is also a Guggenheim fellow and a recipient of the Poetry Foundation’s 2008 Mark Twain Award for Humorous Poetry, a prestigious $25,000 prize given to poets who contribute to humor in contemporary American poetry. Read the rest of this entry »
By Naomi Huffman
“Poetry is an important thing,” says local slam poet, story-teller and writer J.W. Basilo. “People are often not aware that poetry—and performance poetry specifically—is an absolutely viable and entertaining art form.” Basilo is the artistic director for Chicago Slam Works’ 2012 season, which kicks off on April 3rd with its show, “Two Sides.” Basilo has represented Chicago at four National Poetry Slam Championships and was a finalist in both the 2007 Individual World Poetry Slam and the 2009 National Underground Poetry Individual Championship. He has also published his own chapbook and released four full-length spoken word albums.
Basilo has worked with Chicago Slam Works, which has held three National Poetry Slam Championships and celebrated its twenty-fifth anniversary last year, since its inception. And according to Basilo, this is a season like none before it. “What we’re doing with this season specifically is combining performance poetry with other art forms, whether that be dance or story-telling or drama. We’re working poetry in as a way to show people poetry is an absolutely engaging thing to see. This is really heightening the game.” Read the rest of this entry »
Much of “Beauty Was The Case That They Gave Me,” Mark Leidner’s first full-length collection of poems from Factory Hollow Press, presents situations that are both surreal and familiar, as if they have been ripped right out of a movie. Many of the poems wield altering perspectives, suggesting the reader engage them as if “watching your favorite TV show through a straw.” The cleverness of these poems is a speaker forthright with his obsessions, like in these lines from “Blackouts”:
“It’s like learning the German word for the specific kind of shame astronauts experience when they masturbate in space.”
“It’s like only being able to become angry when things go right.”
“It’s like interrupting polishing silverware to beknight yourself with a little knife.” Read the rest of this entry »
The notion that “the medium is the message” is attributed to Marshall McLuhan, but the folks at Rose Metal Press seek to marry the media to the message with their individually designed, beautifully custom-printed editions of what they describe as “hybrid genres.” The result is books that could seem pricey and precious were it not for the fact that they offer a perfect match to the right readers. The Brookline, Massachusetts-based (with a strong Chicago presence due to its co-founder’s local residence) publisher’s books aren’t for everyone, and that’s the point: they don’t need to be, considering each so gloriously fits its own highly personal niche.
Consider the appropriately retro fifties packaging of Tiff Holland’s linked short-short stories, at the center of which is a judgmental, far-from-perfect working-class mom dubbed Betty Superman, whose chief “super” virtue may be honesty to the point of bluntness. Read the rest of this entry »
Lawrence Welsh’s collection “Begging for Vultures” is a muscular, sometimes menacing antidote to the anemic chapbooks by which some poetry is dribbled as tightfistedly as rain on the Southwest borderland. His poems are likewise not niggardly but rather generous and humane, sometimes chiseled as if on a mesa, then rapping with word play, proof of a virtuoso at the top of his game.
Befitting a first-generation Irish American who uprooted himself from L.A. to occupy El Paso two decades ago, his works manifest the mixture of hope and resignation required to claw purchase where “the lease is over / the dreams locked in / how the west was won,” an arid border where ghost towns populated by living apparitions sustained by booze, drugs and Saturday nights is the gateway through which illegals chase their hope, “men running along / the river / the coyotes a long way / from home” (“Myth”). Read the rest of this entry »
William Carlos Williams lived his whole life in New Jersey, became a much-loved doctor who delivered thousands of babies, hung out with that fascist Ezra Pound and, incidentally, revolutionized American poetry. Not in a wishy-washy way, either, but truthfully, and with the simple maxim “no ideas but in things.” Two of his poems, “The Red Wheelbarrow” and “This is Just to Say,” are often held up for praise in earnest college poetry classes, easy to both parody and love, but for those of us who cherished those eager, bright-eyed discussions in class, well, wouldn’t it be great if you could talk to your blue-collar dad about those poems at Thanksgiving? Or your bus driver, or your co-workers at whatever stodgy job you ended up with when your college degree let you down? Read the rest of this entry »
By Mike Gillis
Out in the suburb of River Forest—in an apartment complex housing the last remaining literary journal dedicated to light verse—is a living metaphor. Like the flickering form of light verse itself, the office of Light Quarterly is filled with both relics and curiosities: A cylinder of enchanted “Indian House Blessing.” Shelves of books torn in half by age. A cardboard box crammed with rubber-band-bound notecards on which founder John Mella wrote a novel during his thirty-two years working for the Postal Service.
Even more interesting are hundreds of letters to celebrities, stacked in plastic mail crates. Solicitation letters, to be exact, going out to the likes of the Dalai Lama and Conan O’Brien.
When asked if Light Quarterly has ever received a response, Mella, at sixty-nine years, smiles, his face suddenly illuminated. Read the rest of this entry »
Alice Friman’s “Vinculum” embraces the internal, the deep inside, the emotional interior as it interacts with our biological makeup. A “vinculum,” the horizontal line that appears between two numbers that are being divided, or to indicate repeating digits in a decimal, can also be translated as a “bond” or “tie” between two ideas. Friman’s attempt at creating a connective tissue between her poems is so successful that often individual poems fold back into themselves, each moment relating and recreating another.
“Vinculum” seems to work with three major concepts: the body, the location, the emotional moment or instance. In almost all of the poems there is an interaction between these that gives the reader a strong, multidimensional experience. Read the rest of this entry »