Word Play: Experiments in writing with the Red Rover Series

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It’s a typical experience to be walking down a Chicago sidewalk and be stopped by a volunteer activist who wants your help (in other words, credit card number) to save whales or trees or something else in danger. Imagine how surprised you might be to run into someone offering only letters, and for just two or three dollars each.

That’s exactly what writer Jennifer Hofer did in the first part of Red Rover Series’ Experiment 37: Public Words—Letters and Interviews.

At three o’clock on June 3, Hofer set up a folding table and two chairs on the corner of Damen and Milwaukee. On the table, she placed two things: her mother’s antique typewriter, and a cardboard sign listing her fares, in both English and Spanish: LETTER: $2, LOVE LETTER: $3. Her journal sat in her lap. Read the rest of this entry »

Lit 50: Who really books in Chicago 2010

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Illustration: Pamela Wishbow

A strange and unpleasant wind blows through the literary land. Our obsession with technocultural toys, whether iPhones, iPads or Kindles, makes the foundation of thought almost since thought was recorded, that is ink on paper, seem increasingly destined to be twittered into obsolescence. And it’s not just mere media frenzy, either. Massive upheaval among major publishers these last few years has left some of Chicago’s finest writers stranded in a strange land: that is, the work is finished, but no one is around to put it out. Who knows, maybe in two years when this version of Lit 50 returns, some, if not all, of our authors will be publishing mostly, if not entirely, in the digital realm. If that’s the case, let’s enjoy an old-fashioned book or two while we can. Read the rest of this entry »

Go Ask Aaaaaaaaaaalice: Jennifer Karmin’s poetry and the Heisenberg uncertainty principle

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Local poet Jennifer Karmin’s “Aaaaaaaaaaalice” isn’t your standard book of poems, and Karmin’s May 16 event promises not to be your standard one-author-and-a-mic poetry reading. Instead, the book-release party will feature Karmin performing excerpts from her “text-sound epic” in concert with Chicago poets Joel Craig, Kathleen Duffy, Krista Franklin, Chris Glomski, Laura Goldstein, Lisa Janssen and John Keene (all of whom will also read a few selections from their own works).

As a book of poems, it’s a meditation on foreignness and language, combining impressions from her travels through Asia with excerpts of a sixties-era Japanese-language textbook and echoes of “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.” After returning to the States, she explains, she had the raw materials for some kind of travelogue; “Alice in Wonderland” provided “an example of a female travel narrative, one that is not based on mastering and conquering.”

“The meaning of language is always changing,” she says. “I’ve tried to create a form on the page that can facilitate this experience for the reader and performer.” While Karmin calls “Aaaaaaaaaaalice” “a word score for polyvocal improvisation,” its identity as a performance text was less the result of intent than of logistics. “I wrote the book with multiple voices in my head,” Karmin says, and after finishing the manuscript, “I realized that I couldn’t read the book aloud myself.” She encourages performers to “equate the style of each text with imagined tones, rhythms, voices, etc.”; other than that, she leaves the direction of the readings to physics. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Myopic Poetry Series/Myopic Books

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This Sunday’s installment of the Myopic Poetry Series features experimental poet and artist Jennifer Karmin,of the Red Rover Series and Anti Gravity Surprise. Karmin’s adventurous work has included 2008’s “4000 Words 4000 Dead” project, a massive anti-war poem for which she took submissions. In her poetry, Karmin has a way of comforting you so much that you don’t even realize how much she’s experimenting with the text. Her power as an artist sometimes hits you long after she’s finished performing. Prolific and multi-talented, Karmin’s become a Chicago fixture in the literary scene. Joining her tonight are poets James Bellflower and Tom Orange. (Tom Lynch)

August 9 at Myopic Books, 1564 N. Milwaukee, (773)862-4482, at 7pm. Free.

411 Seven Days in Chicago: The War in Words

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Five years have passed since the United States first invaded Iraq, and recently the American death toll passed 4, 000. “It’s difficult to think about,” says Jennifer Karmin, who is collecting 4,000 words, ten words at a time, for the 4,000 dead in Iraq from authors, friends, strangers and anyone who will send them in. “I want to have a public memorial and bring the war physically back to Chicago. I think that the number 4,000 is shocking, and I’d really like people to ponder it.” Karmin will be reading the 4,000 words and another war-related poem entitled “Revolutionary Optimism” May 2 during Looptopia beginning at 5pm in front of the Vietnam War Memorial at Wabash and Wacker. “We haven’t been seeing images of the dead or any sort of body bags or caskets,” Karmin says. “Perhaps when some people hear the number 4,000, it will hit home for them.” The sobering exhibition may seem strange for the celebration that is Looptopia, but Karmin says that goes with the territory of art. “Art isn’t always about pleasure and beauty,” she says. “Sometimes you have to think of the difficult things. It’ll be interesting to see the response.”

Preview: Chicago Marathon Reading

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An event coinciding with the 2007 Modern Language Association Convention, this mammoth reading—sponsored by the Poetry Foundation and the School of the Art Institute’s writing program—features more than fifty poets in all. Highlights include appearances by Joel Craig, Elizabeth Cross, Chuck Stebleton, Jennifer Karmin, Chris Glomski, Ray Bianchi, Robert Archambeau (who co-curated the event), Kristy Odelius and Simone Muench. The reading spreads for two and a half hours—a bit long in the line break as far as poetry readings go—but it’s a worthy event during what is a notoriously dead week for the arts, and, basically, a marathon of language. Plus, it’s free, for those of you who reached well beyond your means for the holidays. (Tom Lynch)

The Chicago Marathon Reading is December 28 at the School of the Art Institute Ballroom, 112 South Michigan, at 7pm.