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dateline: Chicago, August 2004

the long, slow days of summer

August eases into summer's mellow days, but our dialogue on electronic poetry and lit' takes a slightly more political turn than it usually does. Read on.

jump to: serious games | poetry at large | Chicago events

in the greater electrosphere of lit'...

NEA report on US reading habits -
prognosis: not good
conclusions: not that clear

The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) published a report in June on literacy in the United States, titled "Reading At Risk". It is available as a free download in Adobe Acrobat (PDF) format. In about 60 sobering pages, the report posits that "literary reading" is in decline in the United States, and that such a decline of reading activity foreshadows The report defines literary reading as reading any novel, short stories, plays or poetry in leisure time, neither for work nor school.

electronic media antagonistic to reading?
When coupled with similar, earlier studies in 1982 and 1992, the data indicate long-term trends in the sampled population, showing that about 10% fewer people in the United States are reading literature now than in 1992, which also saw a decrease from 1982. The NEA report concludes that one of the potential causes for this is the rise of electronic media between 1992 and 2002, such as the web. But in casting electronic media as oppositional to literary reading, the NEA raised negative reactions among those who advance literacy in the electronic domain, included.

Blog entries by Wordherders, Nick Montfort and Matthew Kirschenbaum offered salient responses to the report. Kirschenbaum went further, writing an open letter on behalf of the board of Electronic Literature Organization (ELO) addressed to Dana Gioia, head of the NEA, stating, "Many of the projects the ELO supports attempt to take advantage of the unique approaches to writing that computers can enable and encourage, while simultaneously fostering a deep, reflective engagement with words on the screen rather than passive browsing and superficial surfing."

mixed signals for spoken word
The NEA report did take into account that listening to a book on tape or attending poetry reading was also a kind of literary reading experience. Common wisdom among most performance poets is that spoken word has never been more popular than it is today. The report, however, concludes the opposite, that the audience for spoken word has actually declined between 1992 and 2002. The report did state that more people were engaged actively in writing literature, and it suggested that this upswing in personal creativity may be a result of the public finding a creative release for their literary writing at spoken word venues.

In general terms, the NEA report raises plain concern about the negative trends for reading in the United States. But demographically speaking, "Reading At Risk" does not say much in specifics that an experienced open mic poetry host might not already know from minding their own audiences. In the finer points, the report states that literary reading is not losing as much ground among young African-Americans as it has among other ethnic populations. The same group is also committing more of their thoughts to paper. Statistics for literary writing among Blacks and women show strength. Literary reading among whites and males in general, however, seems to be in decline. This sounds like the typical urban poetry experience.

Mass media do figure in the study. But while the report was careful to mention The Oprah Winfrey Show as a positive factor for literary reading, the survey was taken too early to figure Def Poetry as influential, and so that program was not mentioned. Blogs, while active and present in the 2002 sample year, were not significant enough to appear in the study, either, much as they encourage creative journaling by aspiring writers and, today, are popular for reading, especially in social criticism, politics, and advocacy.

a different perspective on the matter
Here at, we watch our hit counts and notice when they fluctuate. We see activity from all parts of the world in all seasons. But as this month of August dwells on, we will see a clear upswing in our website's usage as students return to high school and college. They're browsing, researching and listening to poetry, perhaps for study, perhaps for personal recreation. This has been so every year since the website began, going back to 1999. Similar seasonal fluctuations were in this website's hit counts long before it had its present address. While we'll concede the NEA may define "literary reading" as it will, prefers to consider literary reading as something that may be done in school.

We have respected the interests of students and educators by taking up collaborations with the Chicago Public Schools in the Voces y Lugares Project. We also teamed students in the Vancouver high school writing programs with Young Chicago Authors, where, for seven years running, (and Telepoetics/Chicago, in the early years) produced live, 2-way videoconferenced workshops for the students. The outcome of these projects was not only poetic literacy, but cultural literacy, too.

Students and teachers read our pages for poets' histories and biographies. They read poets' original texts on our site. They read these in their homes and libraries. They also listen to poets perform from our audio archives. We allow readers to engage literature in an intermodal way -- in text, images, and sounds -- because our media allow intermodality while books do not. Intermodality is a perfectly common thing, given the wide access to television in the world. And given that many authors today create their work intermodally -- for page or stage or screen -- it's reasonable to encourage this kind of study. Our readers enjoy ample literary reading experiences. They can back up, re-read, and re-audition poetry on their own timetables, and so they may think more critically about it.

a different conclusion
We hope with the next study, due in 2007, the NEA will not overlook literary reading that is communicated in electronic media. Dana Gioia said in the preface to the 2002 report, "While oral culture has a rich immediacy that is not to be dismissed, and the electronic media offer the considerable advantages of diversity and access, print culture affords irreplaceable forms of focused attention and contemplation that make complex communications and insights possible." We agree, but not to the exclusivity of print over such considered thought.

Is literary reading going away? Perhaps for some, especially if it is metered by recreational book consumption. But for others, ourselves included, literary reading is as strong as ever and getting stronger because it is changing shape to meet the literary culture we know. We are following our audience's lead by putting literature where they spend their attention. We invite the NEA to come along for a clearer view of literary reading in its many fresh manefestations.


when is a game deadly serious?

When the following blurb crossed our gaze, which we also spotted on, we were certainly piqued:

Serious Games Summit DC
October 18 - 19
Washington DC

Serious Games are applications of interactive technology that extend far beyond the traditional videogame, including: training, policy exploration, analytics, visualization, simulation, education and health and therapy. These applications are allowing immersive training and modeling on a scale never before possible.

The Serious Games Summit DC gathers the leaders in this space to study successful applications of interactive technology, understand the fundamental process of building a game, and build relationships to work together on successful projects.

Public and private sector project leaders, policymakers, contractors, military personnel, government administrators, educators, and leading game creators are expected to be the primary attendees of this conference.

Register online at and use priority code GFH4 to get an additional $25 discount on your pass.

Electronic games are surely the most developed commercial segment of the e-literature field, if you consider electronic games to be a product of an author's creativity. This industry is well capitalized and some publishers in this field, such as Sony and Sega, are known worldwide.

Less known is that the games business has a longstanding and intimate relationship with defense industry research. Ivan Sutherland, for example, whose pioneering 3-D model research began in the 1960s, was well aware of his systems' creative potentials when he playfully demonstrated it rolling over wireframe pyramids, cylinders, and cubes on US television. But clips of his work from a decade later depict realistically shaded planes and helicopters flying over varied terrains with trees, fields, and atmospheric effects. War games for playing out different simulations (fictions, if you will) have been part of the US defense business for many decades, and research continues to push the realism and subtleties to greater detail. Today, the reality simulations that Sutherland and his colleagues created twenty years ago are easily bested by a Sony PlayStation in Grand Theft Auto, where authors frequently script fire, smoke, and personalized characters with expressions. While the significance of a game such as Grand Theft Auto is fodder for pop culture, such digital realism at one time would've been a state secret.

Those who design games for play and games for war often share a desire to tie together a narrative and still give a fictional opponent a personality and disposition, perhaps even the ability to intelligently react and adapt in game play. And so here, we come to a dilemma that challenges e-lit' authors designing interactive fictions as much as anyone at the RAND Corporation designing defense scenarios: At what point in the interaction between a software program and a human is the human supplying more of the narrative than the game? How oppositional are narrative and interaction? Where do the authors of a game have realistic and plausible sway over its outcome, versus surrendering any message and direction to the whims of the players? And given the desire for such free interaction, is the authorship and design of a game's premise (not necessarily the gameplay itself) sufficient to make, say, an aesthetic statement? ... a value statement? ... a literary statement?

We look forward to news from this sector, though with guarded optimism, for its implications to creative play, narrative, and warfare. We also speculate when the US government will invest in literacy in the electronic domain as much as a mere percent of what it invests in electronic gaming for warfare.


poetry at large

outspoken "who's who" in NYC

Continuing on this political tangent, we received this note from Ram Devineni, publisher of Rattapallax Press, New York City:

Hello Everyone: the big protest reading on the RNC, President Bush and the crisis in Iraq called "DEMO: A demonstration in words: was featured on the front page of the City Section of the New York Times on Sunday [1 August, 2004]. To read the article, go to the [New York Times website].

Wednesday, September 1, 2004 at 8pm. St. Mark's Church, 131 E. 10th St. & 2nd Ave., New York City. Free. Featuring Sonia Sanchez, Grace Paley, Carl Hancock Rux, Sapphire, Katha Pollitt, Mark Doty, Cornelius Eady, Vijay Seshadri, Hettie Jones, Hal Sirowitz, Kimiko Hahn, Bob Holman, Grace Schulman, Eileen Myles, Marie Ponsot, Robert Polito, John Yau, Rodrigo Toscano, Carol Mirakove, Greg Fuchs, Anselm Berrigan, Laura Elrick, Bruce Andrews, Kathy Engel and many others.

The reading is presented by Rattapallax, Poetry Project at St. Mark's Church & Issue Project Room.

For full details on this program, see the Rattapallax Press announcement As we figure it, our readers will probably get a lot more out of this affair than from Serious Games.

call for (political) submits:
The Pedestal Magazine

Literary journals in general are also feeling the political heat this season, so we know it's not just us. It's given that poets in aggregate trend toward someplace left of center. Otherwise, they tend to go apolitical, whether a given artist is liberal or conservative, lest they color themselves with politics that they'd rather not affect how their work is perceived. Given the political character of the US today, it's ironic that conservative poets -- And we know they're out there! -- tend to be challenged by this climate.

Enter The Pedestal magazine, which seeks new writing and is, "... open to all views and positions; i.e., liberal and conservative, Democrat and Republican, etc. There are no length restrictions. We are open to extended/complex works or brief statements, pieces that take on specific themes or are more generally philosophic in nature." Ah, balance and diversity of viewpoint. A good thing, we think.

The Pedestal Magazine will release a special "political issue" in early October. All work should somehow address current political concerns, however popular or obscure, general or specific, they may be. And for this issue, the journal is especially seeking submissions from writers outside the United States. Sure, Yankee poets are OK. But, well, you know... The world hears you clearly already. Or not... Well, anyway... You get the idea.

Send all work by e-mail. If you are submitting artwork, please send all images as attachments in .jpg format. In the subject line of the email, type: Submission/Political Issue. Please do not use the submission form provided on The Pedestal Magazine website to submit work for this special issue. The deadline for submissions is September 21. Please feel free to email the magazine, in care of John Amen if you have any additional questions, or click to their website to review the magazine.


events in and around Chicago...

the solid citizen:
Buscani presents one-woman show

The "Solid Citizen" monologues focus on people who serve their community and the conundrums this service can create. It relates moments in the lives of an abortion clinic escort, a grand jury member, and a woman helping a friend through a dissolving marriage. "Solid Citizen" considers the real costs of reaching out, and the price both parties must pay.

"I was brought up to believe the concept of service, in volunteerism and helping your neighbor," Buscani says. "But no one ever addresses the indignity of needing help, and the awkwardness of trying to give it. 'Solid Citizen' is about the mess that can be created when you try to muddle through a problem."

Buscani's work, previewed earlier this summer in the LIP revue, is as strong as ever. Today it is seasoned by the writer/performer's life experiences and years of creative work beyond Chicago. Whereas LIP was Buscani's informal re-introduction to Chicago audiences, the "Solid Citizen" monologues should instigate a much fuller dialogue between her and the audience. This columnist believes there will be much to talk about. Check this out!

Fridays and Saturdays, 6 - 28 August at 8:00 PM at the Neo-Futurarium, 5153 N. Ashland (Andersonville, Chicago). Tickets are $12, $8 for students and senior citizens.

new by Edward Thomas-Herrera:
Fun While it Lasted at Live Bait

Long ago a slam poet for Chicago's Green Mill team and always a great writer, Edward Thomas-Herrera, has an autobiographical theater piece out called Fun While it Lasted, subtitled as "Death and Texas." Typically, he has written in a mode with a lot more swank, so to speak. His original and successful fare at Live Bait includes shows such as "Death on a Pink Carpet" about the Lana Turner/Johnny Stampanato story; "Cocktail Confidential," the adventures of a social-climbing North Shore bon vivant; and "Of Diamonds and Diplomats," based on memoirs of Latitia Baldridge, once the social secretary to Jaqueline Kennedy and the White House.

Now, the new piece's perspective is more personal and less flamboyant than the playwright's earlier work. According to Thomas-Herrera, Fun While it Lasted is the, "... true, funny, sad, gross, boring, angry story of what happens when a solo theater performer from Chicago drives 1,100 miles to attend his mother's funeral in Houston." An excerpt was previewed at this past June's Partly Dave Show, and it proved to be warm and very evocative. Thomas-Herrera is directed by Stephanie Shaw, and the show is presented as part of the ninth annual Fillet of Solo Festival, Live Bait Theater's late summer celebration of the best of Chicago solo performance.

Click to for more program information on this and other Fillet of Solo shows. There are only four performances of "Death and Texas" (August 6th and 7th at 7:30 PM, and August 13th and 14th at 9:00 PM). Call Live Bait 773-871-1212 for reservations. Tickets are $10. Live Bait Theater is at 3914 N Clark Street, Chicago (Wrigleyville).

Homolatté for August 2004:
new location

Queer words and music are celebrated each week at Homolatté, MC'd by singer/songwriter and queer activist Scott Free. Homolatté is a "no open mic" venue, featuring one spoken word artist and one singer/songwriter or band each week. See the full listing at There's a big change of venue. Only the first two programs this month will be at the old location, the No Exit Café, 6970 N Glenwood, Chicago (in Rogers Park):

  • Thursday, August 5th, 8:00 PM: James Scalfani, Thax Douglas & Aaron Frankel
  • Thursday, August 12th, 8:00 PM: Kamika & Lazy Sunday

Homolatté will take a one-week hiatus, then will return at its new venue on Fridays, at Soul Cafe 1301 W Hollywood (at the intersection with Ridge Avenue, in Edgewater). Phone 773-907-9306:

  • Friday, July 27th at 7:00 PM: Kay Barrett, Chezwick & Emily White

poetry radio: Wordslingers

Michael Watson's Wordslingers show takes to the airwaves the first and third Sunday night each month at 9:00 PM, heard in the Chicago area on WLuW-FM, at 88.7 Mhz. The station supports a real-time streaming webcast of its outgoing program on its very groovy website, The program's stated mission is simple: "To feature the works of Chicago jazz, blues, rock, psycho, political, love, published,unpublished, page, stage, slam poets." Featured talent in the days ahead are:

  • 1 August: Jason Bredle, the 2nd place finalist in the Poetry Center of Chicago's Juried Reading contest
  • 15 August: Anna West, teacher, performance poet, and Young Chicago Authors workshop leader, whose literary excursions have taken her from the heart of Chicago's hardscrabble west side, to outlying Havana, Cuba

  • new monthly poetry venue:

    Descended from the Trace/PolyRhythimic poetry series, Eargasm promises fresh sounds and familiar, respected poets to give the DePaul neighborhood something with flavor to stay up for. It launched this past month with the venerable Maria McCray. They'll have a new show up in August featuring the poet Reality, with funkadelic jazz fusion sounds by the Effusions. As the host says, "Come out and spit on what is about to become Chicago's number one monthly open mic word performance in an intimate lounge setting with an attentive audience." If it means spitting poetry, word!

    Eargasm is coming Wednesday, 20 August, to Leila Jane's, 1008 W Armitage, Chicago (DePaul neighborhood). Start time is 10:00 PM. No cover. Hosted by Jane, who's appeared as a spoken word artist at The Green Mill (Chicago) and Nuyorican Poet's Cafe (New York). You can click into Jane's blogsite for more show info, contact info, and other Eargasm affairs.

    links we like...

    An assortment of clickable things, many of them political, that we hope will provoke your thoughts in creative and constructive ways...

    The recent essay by Jim Andrews, the Canadian e-lit author, social critic and publisher of Vispo, i.e. "visual poetry"... You should have the Macromedia Shockwave plug-in to get the most out of this site.

    Paul Nelson's Global Voices Radio, a project that will put new spoken word on the air and online...

    New media poetry rules at, where French artist and poet Philippe Boisnard offers interview, notes on "téléperformance," and visually arresting poetry video clips. This place makes many of us wish we knew French a lot better! ...

    The poet promo and blog site by Mingus Tourette, whose movie trailer makes this guy the biggest poetic bad-ass on the web... Well, at least in recent memory...

    Joe Gouveia and the Cape Cod Poets' Theater... The Stroll of Poets in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada... Malik Speaks by Khiry Malik and the Mahogany Poetry crew is a jammin' website from Sacremento, California. And yes, that's the menu speaking to you when you put your mouse over it..., which offers local/regional poetry calendars, poetry discussion forums, news and more...

    Finally, for those who absolutely have to have their literature with a highball, we offer this little jigger of fun: Drinking and Writing: the web brewery, a little online zine and promo for the ongoing Drinking and Writing show, now at the Edinburgh Fringe Fest.


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    - Kurt Heintz, founder
    e-poets network, Chicago

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