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dateline: Chicago, September 2004

transition zone

As summer cools off in Chicago and elsewhere, arts activity starts to warm up. We offer respectful evidence of this. See below...

jump to: insinuating poetry | LGBT/Q calls for writing | forbidden texts aloud | other Chicago events

in the greater sphere of literature...

persona work:
Black writers converge on form

This June, Chicago's Guild Complex presented their annual reading at Printer's Row with A. Van Jordan reading from his new book "Macnolia". The book explores the life and fate of MacNolia Cox who, in 1936, became the first African American to reach the final round of the US national spelling bee. She did so at the prodigal age of 13.

A. Van Jordan's book Macnolia
A. Van Jordan's recent book, "Macnolia" (W.W. Norton, New York)

The main aesthetic vehicle for the book is the persona poem, a form with ancient roots illuminated in much more recent times by Patricia Smith and others during the rise of American performance poetry. The persona poem is distinguished not by its structure, but by its tactic and voice. The persona poem engages the reader by casting its language, experiences, and points of view through the person whom it most concerns. That figure is necessarily an other, someone distinct from the author. (Persona poetry's sister, where the point of view shifts from the Other to the Self, or poetic "I", is identity poetry.)

Simply by competing in the spelling bee, MacNolia Cox broke a race barrier in the perceptions America had about educating Black children. Basing his new book of poetry upon Cox's life, Van Jordan uses persona poetry to shift perspective between the various personae and bring meaning to the consequences of segregationism that might otherwise rest as sterile facts in history books. The book vignettes MacNolia Cox's life in reverse time, from a date after her passing back to birth. The poems are written in the points of view of MacNolia, her husband, her mother, a journalist, and others who appeared in Macnolia's life at critical times.

and then there were more
Back in June, "Macnolia" looked like a solitary exercise in persona work from a single, distinguished African American writer. But very soon thereafter (some would say about the same time) came other books by contemporaries of Van Jordan who are also vigorously exploring persona poetry in book-length works.

Quraysh Ali Lansana's book They Shall Run
Quraysh Ali Lansana's book "They Shall Run" (Third World Press, Chicago)

Quraysh Ali Lansana's new book of poetry illustrates the life of Underground Railroad conductor Harriet Tubman, and draws deeply from historical research into her public and private lives. Like "Macnolia", it builds out from fact using persona pieces to put living breath into history. Dialogues between Harriet Tubman and her husband critique their stations in life -- and reactions against or acceptance of them -- as much by point of view as by direct action. Lansana's book seems destined for considerable recognition, too. Sharon Olds, Cornelius Eady, and other well-respected writers lended their advice and criticism to Lansana during the creation of "They Shall Run."

Two other books await publication that will amplify public awareness of persona work among Black writers, beyond Lansana's and Jordan's immediate efforts. Tyehimba Jess, a Cave Canem fellow and longstanding featured artist on, was recently tapped for one of five books to be published through the National Poetry Series. His new manuscript is titled "Leadbelly." It was selected by Brigid Pegeen Kelly and will be published in 2005 by Verse Press. Persona writing is a significant part of the book.

Contemporary with the creation of "Leadbelly" is Tara Betts' own persona exploration of the life of Ida B. Wells, the African American journalist and social progressive of a century ago. Her manuscript is in its final finishing stages, and is awaiting a publisher.

the view from here
Persona poetry by itself is not new. It could be argued that persona work is as old as the playwright's craft where, in soliloquy, a character illuminates a moment as much by their plight and perspective as by their words and actions. Much credit for the form's present vitality is due to those poets who explored persona work early in the slam poetry movement.

Today, the persona poem is a renewed anthem in contemporary African American writing. The persona poem's protagonist's condition and point of view is the meta-level discourse of being African American, of being connected with a living history that needs remembrance if we're all to face the future as stronger people. With each return to the form, a new author adds a new name to the libation that celebrates life. promises continued coverage of this work as it develops, both on page and in aural form. We look forward to the evolving and deepening dialogue among this generation of African American writers, as they explore form, culture, history, and memory in the persona poem.


global guerilla insinuation: drop a poem in an unexpected place

We got this interesting item from partner Jayne Fenton Keane of the Gold Coast, Australia, and were piqued by the guerilla artist tactic it advocates:

Notes To A Stranger invites you to complete the 2004 mission between Sept 4th and the 11th.

Welcome to the 2004 Notes to a Stranger Festival where poets from around the world are asked to join us in creating a new 'public library'. A library that is transient, personal and dynamic. A library forged by the invisible traces inside the 'Seven Degrees of Separation' idea; where poets leave notes to strangers in the covers of poetry books and then leave them in a specially chosen public space. The books are launched into a life of public nakedness. They become mobile and vagrant. Please join us by completing the template below and fulfilling your mission.

To read last year's mission files, visit the website and click on the S-Files 2003 button. I look forward to litters of poetry books squirming their way through public spaces.

If you want to accept the mission, please submit via email by completing the template below.

Poet's mission file:
I ______________________ accept the NPW mission
scheduled between the 4-10th September 2004
Anticipated Time of book/CD departure: ________________
Anticipated Place of book/CD departure (place, city, state, country):
Name of book/CD: _______________________
Contents of note: ________________________
Any comments about the mission:

Looking forward to your espionage!
Jayne Fenton Keane, Director
Notes to a Stranger Festival & National Poetry Week

So... to summarize. Australian? Yes. Strictly confined to Australia? No. Consequences? Have a lotta fun.

We thought you'd enjoy this!


a call to Blithe-ness:
webzine seeks new queer fiction

Blithe House Quarterly, the leading online journal of lesbian and gay literary fiction, is pleased to open submissions for its 2005 issues.

Now entering its ninth year of online publication, Blithe House Quarterly features new short stories by emerging and established lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered (LGBT) authors. With an average of over 24,000 readers per issue, Blithe House Quarterly is the most widely read of LGBT literary periodicals.

Philadelphia Gay News wrote in October 2003, "(BHQ's) virtual pages have brought the likes of Andrew Holleran, Ann Wadsworth and Kirk Read to a regular readership of about 24,000 that otherwise might not pick up a literary magazine or have access to a bookstore with gay titles." Other past contributors have included Jane Eaton Hamilton, Felice Picano, Leslea Newman, Brian Bouldrey, D. Travers Scott, Frankie Hucklenbroich, Bernard Cooper, and Eileen Myles.

For guidelines on submission, please visit the Blithe House Quarterly site. Stories must be previously unpublished, fictional (as opposed to memoir), and usually 1500-7500 words in length. We recommend reading stories in recent issues. Open submissions for 2005 will be read by Cheryl E. Klein and Chip Livingston.

call for new writing on/by
LGBT/Q youth

Billy Merrell and David Levithan are compiling an anthology of nonfiction writing about being young and gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, or questioning in today's world. Knopf is set to publish it in late 2005. The book promises to be auspicious for its pioneering effort, to lend visibility to a heretofore silent community. And the since royalties benefit GLSEN (the Gay Lesbian Student Education Network, a national organization ensuring safe schools for all LBGT students), the book will serve the very people whom it explores.

About the writing sought:

  • This anthology seeks nonfiction about being LGBT/Q in today's world. The tone can be serious, humorous, open to anything.
  • The submitted writing can also be whatever form the writer wants, be it prose, poetry, comic, and so on.
  • All writers must be between the ages from 13 to 23 inclusive.
  • Contributing writers do not need to be LGBT/Q themselves, but must stay on-topic regarding LGBT/Q issues.
  • The deadline for submissions is 15 October 2004.

For more information about submitting writing, click to the project's website at

events in and around Chicago...


Verbatim Verboten:
the faux pas you weren't supposed to
hear has become public comedy

Michael Martin writes, "Every last one of 'the words you long to hear' has been transcribed." He's referring to his new show produced by Vicki Quade, called "Verbatim Verboten", a show where the cast perform, "over 125 transcripts of the rich, powerful and famous saying the unvarnished things they say when away from the public ear." Think of it as high satire of low-brow bloopers spoken by the high and mighty in their more, um... common moments.

Dave Awl hosts the show, with opening weekend special guests, Curious Theater's Jenny Magnus (Friday night, as Judy Garland and Cubs manager Lee Elia), Chicago Dramatists's Ann Filmer and Hell in a Handbag's Steve Hickson (both Saturday night, as Jeri Ryan, Prince Charles and two of the Enron traders). Literally hundreds of public figures' transcribed gaffes will be illuminated by nearly as many local theater talents in the show's run. Michael Martin promises a new show with every opening curtain, and we believe him. This should be a feast for the ear, for any spoken word afficionado.

The run kicks off Friday, 27 August, 9:30pm at the Royal George Theater, 1641 N Halsted (DePaul/Ranch Triangle district). For more info, call 312-988-9000.

To celebrate the GOP convention, there will be a one-night-only all-Dubya "Verbatim Verboten" night. Sunday 29 August, 7:00 PM instead of 9:30 PM. The last 4 years as a glorified live blooper reel! The show will benefit, with most of the regular cast, plus: Jonathan Abarbanel, Michael Buino, Julie Caffey, Mike Driscoll, Ed Dzialo, Stacy Earley, Simone Jubyna, Beau O'Reilly, Kathleen Powers, Vicki Quade, Vernon Tonges, Yahale Yadede, Eric Ziegenhagen, and others.


Danny's Reading series
poetry for 22 September

This Bucktown literary reading series celebrating its third birthday on 25 August. Now the series settles down to normal business with three new authors.

Rebecca Wolff is the author of two books of poems, Manderley (University of Illinois Press, 2001) and Figment (W.W. Norton, 2004). She is the founding editor of the literary journal Fence and of its publishing arm, Fence Books. Born and raised in New York City, she is relocating soon some where up the Hudson River with her husband, the novelist Ira Sher, and their two children.

Ben Doyle’s first book, Radio, Radio, won the 2000 Walt Whitman Award. He has taught at West Virginia University, The Iowa Writers’ Workshop, and Denison University, where he is currently Visiting Professor. His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in American Letters & Commentary, Boston Review, Fence, Jubilat, New Republic, Tin House, and many other journals both web and print.

Catherine Wagner is the author of Macular Hole (Fence 2004) and Miss America (Fence 2001), and many chapbooks, recently including Imitating (Leafe Press, England) and Exercises (811 Books). She directs the new Center for Poetry and Politics at Boise State University, where she also teaches, and edits a poetry column for Radical Society.

7:30PM, Wednesday, 22 September at Danny’s Tavern, 1951 W. Dickens, Chicago (Bucktown district). This is a "21 and over" venue, so please bring proof of age. More info: call 773-489-6457 or click to Coming Wednesday, October 13th, writers from eastern Europe: from Slovenia, Primoz Cucnik, Gregor Podlogar, and from Poland, Adam Wiedemann.

WordSlingers: Mario on the air
19 September

The activist and poet known as Mario is still on the air, broadcasting News from the Service Entrance 1:30 PM to 4:00 PM every Thursday on WHPK-FM, out of the University of Chicago. But this month, South Side meets North Side when Mario is the guest of Chicago's other rock-steady poetry and radio host, Michael Watson. What happens when two of Chicago's best known poet-broadcasters meet in the same studio? Tune in and find out!

Listen to WordSlingers with Michael Watson, from 9:00 PM to 10:00 PM, Sunday, 19 September, on WLUW (88.7-FM). Or click to hear the program online through the streaming webcast at

Guild Complex branches into fiction

Long renowned for its progressive poetry events and positive attention to diverse cultures, the Guild Complex is embarking on new programming in the realm of the short story. While Chicago has long been active community for poetry, fiction and short story writers have sometimes taken the back seat. The Guild is aiming to jumpstart some of the local writing community's dialogue on fiction by drawing upon the energies surrounding poetry.

The first of these short story events is set for 15 September. Earlier this season, a call went out for new writing by local authors. Manuscripts were mailed in, and selections were chosen from that pool of writers and stories to produce this show. Featured authors and the titles of the selected stories for this special event include:

  • Edith Bucio: Calaca Dreams
  • Beatriz Badikian-Gartler: The Promised Land
  • Maggie Kast: Joyful Noise
  • Billy Lombardo: The Hills of Laura
  • Irasema Salinas: Tio Nati's Clowns

The program is Wednesday, 15 September, at the Chopin Theater, 1543 W. Division (in Wicker Park). The reading starts at 7:30 PM. All writers who submitted their work for the reading are invited as special guest of the Guild Complex. Contact the Guild Complex at 773-227-6117.

Now Do You Believe Me?
Cheryl Trykv & new revue

At first, we thought we were confronted with some babble by a spam-bot. Here's what the press statement said: "Variety Event deactivates phase lock and pulls the plug on secret government weather machine. Thwart Plan B Indigo Hijack. Generate your own harmonic resonance chamber, and never hear no again. Turn off cell phones and get a spanking new lease on life." But anyone witnessing Trykv's monologue this past season at the Partly Dave Show will know that these are really language games of hers as much as anything.

Trykv is what the cyberkinder would call an "early adopter." Want further evidence? Listen to vintage episodes of This American Life on public radio in the US, and you'll hear her storytelling, setting the tone. She's been out playing late again with her words. And now Trykv is back with a new spoken word, music, and performance revue called Now Do You Believe Me? Check it out and be an early adopter, too.

Cheryl Trykv hosts this show, starring: critically acclaimed comic Jimmy Carrane; Reid Coker and Bobby Conn; Diane Izzo, singer; photographer Jim Newberry; performance artist, musician Matthew Owens; animator, filmmaker, performance artist Chris Sullivan; and singer Vernon Tonges. Now Do You Believe Me? at The Hideout, 1354 Wabansia, Chicago (east of Bucktown). 10 & 11 September 2004. A donation of $10 is suggested. Showtime is at 8:00 PM.

raging Def-ness hits Midwest

The fourth season of Russell Simmons' Def Poetry has offered an apparent bumper crop of performance poetry from Chicago. Chicago poet Nikki Patin was a recent feature this summer, on a program featuring fellow East Coast poets Gemini, Javon Johnson, and Suheir Hammad who doubles as one of the show's talent directors. Chicago's own Kanye West made a special appearance on the show, too. Other shows in the current season have featured Robert Karimi, Kelly Tsai, Marlon Esguerra, and Marvin Tate.

If you haven't seen the Def Poetry show, here is how yours truly (a middle-class and -aged white guy from the Midwest, declared here in the interest of full disclosure) would describe it...

Think of a poetry slam where nobody's working for scores, and so the poets are free to work on their pieces' timetables, not the judges' because there are no judges; where the poets are pretty much guaranteed to be mackin' like preachers but using the whole language, nasty parts and all, and not just the sanctimonious bits. Think of stand-up comedy using wordcraft, or wordcrafters using sharp-witted tongues, so that those "Ah-hah!" recognitions lift up from the audience freely and frequently. Think of 30 minutes of this without commercial interruption on a basic stage, with turntables and without props. It's largely urban, largely Black, and (really) just plain large. I read it as time well-spent. It reminds me a lot of the Mental Graffiti series here in Chicago, albeit done with a real budget for real TV. And, on close consideration, you'll see there's overlap between these ventures. The Chicago poets on Def Poetry are well-known to Mental Graffiti audiences.

Academics may dismiss this exercise as superficial. But given what recognizes as some serious writing and scholasticism among the talents we see appearing on the show, we're inclined to reserve judgement, favoring instead a contrary opinion. Anyway, poetry can entertain without apology. The program is a vehicle for spoken word talent functioning in a range of modes, offering pieces created primarily for entertainment, pieces that are artistic and entertain, and pieces offered purely as artistic vehicles. Def Poetry has a New York-centric feel, so we see the presence of Chicago artists as a good thing. To our delight, Def Poetry is coming home to Chicago. See below.

Check out a free Def Poetry Jam showcase and episode screening at Arie Crown Theater (McCormick Place, 2310 South Lake Shore Drive). The showcase features Chicago poets Tara Betts, Kevin Coval, Nikki Patin, Robert Karimi and Red Storm on Thursday, 2 September. Doors open at 6:00 PM. Please call 877-298-9357 or e-mail HBO to reserve a seat.

a Bridge once more: new issue &
readings on 8 September

Bridge Magazine is back. After much backchannel buzz about its direction, we see that this occasional journal has at last returned with a new issue. New format? New contributors? Check it out. The proof is in the print. Featured readers include Becky Bradway, Thomas Geoghegan, and Jonathan Messinger. Music for the celebration will be spun by DJ Plastique.

Bridge 11 Release Party at Rodan, Wednesday, 8 September, from 6:00 PM to 11:00 PM. Rodan is at 1530 N Milwaukee, Chicago (in Wicker Park). Suggested donation at the door: $5.00. Readings run from 8:00 to 9:00 PM, followed by DJ'ing. Bridge 11 will be available for an $8.00/issue price. Limited complimentary beverages from 6:00 PM to 8:30 PM, provided by Bridge Magazine’s official beer sponsor, Two Brothers Brewery. 10% of all food orders over average go to support Bridge. Check out Rodan's menu online as well as

Bucktown Arts Fest: respect &
tradition in Chicago poetry

The Bucktown Arts Fest is one of Chicago's summer finales, signalling that the season is coming to a close, but not without some neighborhood fanfare, art, and good, clean fun. This year's Fair respects the traditions in Chicago's voice with some classic, well-spoken poets. And is proud to say that many of them are present on our website. The readings are hosted by one of the city's most respected poets in the hometown voice, Cin Salach.

Saturday, 28 August, from 4:00 PM to 6:00 PM:
Mary Fons - John Starrs - Paul McComas - Samaiya Ewing

Sunday, 29 August, from 4:00 PM to 6:00 PM:
Lisa Buscani - Nina Corwin - Billy Lombardo
example: none
("poke" music by Kate Anderson & Steve Seddon)

The Bucktown Arts Fair is in Senior Citizen's Park, at the intersection of Oakley and Lyndale Avenues in Bucktown, Chicago (just southeast of Fullerton and Western Avenues, and southwest of I-90/94, the Kennedy Expressway). Phone 312-409-8305 or click to the Fest's website for more information.

Homolatté for September 2004:
Fridays at the new digs

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 at least one spoken word artist and one singer/songwriter or band each week. Now ensconced in its new venue, the show moves from Thursdays to Friday nights at 8:00 PM:

  • Friday, 27 August: poetry with Kay Barrett, and original music with Chezwick & Emily White
  • 3 September: spoken word by Xan and music by Ellis
  • 10 September: fiction by K.R. Randen and music by Christopher Becerra
  • 17 September: poetry by Chris Kozlowski, music by Katie Reider
  • 3 October: poetry and fiction by Rose Tully, and folk/rock music by Dylan Rice

Homolatté at Soul Cafe, 1301 W Hollywood, Chicago (Edgewater). Phone 773-470-7605. See the full listing at Donations are always welcome in Scott's renowned "Ikea tip jar."

what's new around here

Recent updates at include an amusing essay by the fabulous... the charismatic... the worldwide juggernaut poet of Chicago, otherwise known at Daniel X. O'Neill, in our Plain Text op-ed section, titled "Will Work for Food". Also, we've added a new catalog by culture to the Book of Voices, for poetry that's rendered with audio art or music. Just follow the links to listen! (You'll want RealPlayer to audition these selections.)

some final words...

"E dash P O E T S dot N E T":
how you spell authenticity

Lately, some spoofing has been going around the web, in what looks like an attempt to dilute the readership of with what has been called a look-alike website. But "look-alike" is, frankly, pretty subjective. Our impression? Anyone with an attention span long enough to read a whole paragraph can tell the difference between us and whoever else. Our substance is in the text, audio, and video that anyone can click to now, as always, without a password in the whole domain. is one of a kind, and we invest it with real art by real authors and real spoken word artists. No fake names in bylines. No polemics to run up our hit counts. No scene-mongering or preening for the mic. Instead, we echo the Bucktown Arts Fest (mentioned above), when you click to their website: "It's the Art, Stupid!" Spoken well. has undergone no change in regime whatsoever, and no change is forthcoming. No one has bought our domain name, it's not for sale, and we're not selling it. We've always been at this address and will continue to be so, in faithful support of the laypeople, teachers, and students who count on us to have their favorite bookmarked poets online and audible. If anything, we feel stronger than ever that our mission is right: to bring you considered poetry that crosses cultural and geographic frontiers. We remain as we have always been, authentic to purpose and principle. And interestingly, we've seen some genuine sympathy from the Chicago poetry scene in the wake of this spoofing.

It's a pity that, instead of developing literacy, some feel they have to instruct their readership with ridicule. We at speculate on that two ways: 1.) How long will it be before readers see the poverty in that, and simply unplug? 2.) How long will it be before readers realize the kind of attention we're getting now is also holding them hostage?

True poets are free thinkers. As always, we encourage them to aspire to their best. In that best spirit, we're here for them, and we're here for good.

Keep your info and updates coming in... We're grateful as always for your support in readership and contributions to the Newswire.

- Kurt Heintz, founder
e-poets network, Chicago

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