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Posted by : cj on Saturday, December 04, 2004 - 03:13 PM
Chicago Poetry Reviews: Click Headlines AGAINST HOLLOW WORDS: POETRY BY DAVID NOVAK

This book, this 62 page book, has been collecting dust on my desk for a month or so, crying for my attention, accompanied by an email urging me to give it honest review. Holy moley. To be honest, I've been trying to put off reviewing anything written by David Novak, because, quite sincerely, I find his work to be the worst example of forced, formulated stinkola (and I mean pew!) I've ever seen; his work is completely absent of rhythm, so God-awful bad that I'll admit it, I've never been able to completely read through one of his books, especially not his big, thick torturous "epic". It's a shame, too, because his books are really well designed, perfect bound; you hold it in your hand and you think, what a cool looking book. But then you open the pages and you read a few poems and you have to scratch your head and say "huh?" Is he serious? Is this a parody of poetry? Because the poems read like a seventh grade writing assignment, and that's being nice about it. Granted, it's hard to write on a religious theme without sounding like a preachy Bible salesman, but lines like "A friend of mine, this past September / Was murdered by / A man depressed, who snuffed life's ember / With wish to die." sound offensive, sound to me like the disgraceful selling out of an American tragedy -- did 2800 people die in order to sell David Novak books? I don't care if Novak is hugging his puppy on the back cover; I don't think his new offering is cute, not in the slightest. These haikus or kans or whatever the hell they're suppose to be are not significant, do not contain any insight beyond the author's sloppy rhyme schemes, are no more profound than the ravings of someone ringing your doorbell on a Sunday morning trying to give you a free Watchtower. I usually slam the door and say "Shove off" when that happens.

And for this shameful marketing of humdrum to have come out so soon after September 11 -- well, it just goes to show how little effort, what little thought was put into this $13 pile of paper. Yeah, Novak's got the answer to this entire mess alright: "Subdued eroticism of / Those who attack -- / 'Twere better that they go and love, / Which is their lack." You know, there are a lot of extremely talented writers in this city who are struggling to get their books out, yet Novak popped this thing out like the grease inside of a zit, and because it looks so pretty, it's probably sitting on the shelves of big chain bookstores, making it appear as if Novak is one of Chicago's top poets. But, hey, look inside that pretty book. For one thing, the metaphors have been done a million times before: "A heron lands upon the pond, / The water ripples, / As he takes notice of the front / And takes a tipple." And if the "thou"s and "twere"s don't make you feel like you're reading The Night Before Christmas, then certainly the shovelling down your throat of unoriginal singsongs about God, Buddha and war will nauseate you before you can finish Against Holy War. It might be good reading on the toilet, 'cause it makes me want to dump. With brilliance like "Though it may be I am untrue, / It is not death -- / 'Tis easy to begin anew / Like counting breath." David Novak should realize he is not Milton and he never will be. He should either give it the heck up or practise at a Slam in order to find some energy. Poetry is a craft! It is not something you can create by closing your eyes, grabbing the first word that pops into your head, and then wrapping it up in a pretty package. At least, not in my opinion. I expect much, much more from Chicago poetry.

--C. J. Laity


Dear Patricia Smith,
I'm going to do something a little daring and tell you what I think without censoring myself. Past experiences have shown that I might lose a feature or two in my poetry fests for speaking my mind, but I feel that is a small price to pay for honoring the American right of freedom of speech. I'm not going to go too far into the details about how I was once your one night stand, Patricia, long ago when you lived in a lakefront highrise, other than to say that you picked me up at Weeds one night, took me home, made love to me twice with your pajama laden son in the very next room, and then, from that day forward, never spoke to me again, even ignoring my very existance during the Power Lines book release party, during which you, for reasons beyond most people's understanding, were the featured poet, who described in a poem then retiring Guild Complex Director Michael Warr as "fried spam." Allow me to ask a very important question: are you really a "great" poet? Do you deserve to be listed among the ranks of Gwendolyn Brooks, Maya Angelou and Alice Walker? I think not. I think your popularity has more to do with the talent of your literary agent than it does the actual significance of your words. Sure, you have the ability to inflect your voice on stage in order to give a Slam judge a hard-on, but will your voice survive the ages, do you have what it takes to be a truly significant American writer, or are you just a person who is selling your violation of sacred trust, packing every room you appear in for no other reason than that you have committed professional suicide? Some say you flaunt a career which has no shame, others describe you as having a smug self satisfaction over your cheap stunts. Patricia, nearly killing yourself with a handgun after being forced to resign from the Boston Globe for fabricating journalism does not make you a great poet. Suffering after your father was shot in the back of the head during a robbery is a tragic thing shared by many Americans, not just you, so neither does that make you a great poet.

My question is this: does your poetry really speak to a larger truth, as so many have claimed, or is it designed for the immediate gratification of a naive audience otherwise ignorant of what poetry is and is not? So you tied Jimmy Santiago Baca in a controversial Taos Poetry Bout decision: so what! So you think you can criticize Poetry Magazine Publisher Joseph Parisi for not stepping out into your circle: hey, maybe he just doesn't have enough time to attend your Slam after reviewing 70,000 poems a week (did you ever think of that). You have been labled the most influencial anti-academic writer of our century, yet you isolate yourself and sell yourself in a more capitalistic way than any big time author I can name. For example, when was the last time you stepped out to hang out with the old crowd? Hey, it wasn't the old gang that lied to the world, so why blame us? You made your own bed, and it certainly hasn't hurt you any, as so many contemporary poets still idolize you as an award winning journalist and slam champ (though I should know about the rules of your bed). Patricia, why? You enjoyed a cushy gig as a newspaper columnist with the opportunity to speak out for the poor, for African Americans, for women, for the oppressed, and you were even nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for it -- and what did you do with all that opportunity, screwed it all up! Nobody is listening to you anymore; you're nothing but a freak show on display for anyone who has enough money to cover your stipend. Yet you take on this attitude toward those who were once your friends, as if it is somehow our fault. Did we fabricate lies? Did we abuse our position of trust. No, Patricia, you did this, so spare us the shit face look the next time our eyes meet yours. As far as I know, as controversial as I can be, I still maintain a certain amount of respect for my craft. So don't act like you are a step above me. You are not. Don't act like you are a step up above anyone in the Chicago Poetry Scene. You are not. We don't take short cuts. We don't feel like imposters. So you grew up on the west side and gave birth out of wedlock at age 21: again, so what! That describes about a hundred thousand Chicagoans. So you won the Carl Sandburg Award and you somehow became a columnist for Ms. Magazine, despite your fall from grace -- well good for you. That just proves you have a great agent! You've been a journalist twice as long as you've been a poet, so you have absolutely no excuse. Poetry today is not about slamming. Slamming is only one part of the poetry scene today. Slamming breaks the traditional rules, granted, but it does not give you the right to burn those who loved you. You had an obligation to live up to a certain standard and you failed. You represented the entire Chicago performance scene; you made us all look amateur. Then you spit in the face of common sense and told those who loved you to fuck off. You betrayed us all. Yet, beyond all logic, you remain one of the most talked about poets of this day and age, though not always in a good light, as in Janet Cooke's article which calls you "not very original" and "morally repugnant." Patricia, I think you said it best when you spoke before the Society of Professional Journalists (and being paid a healthy honorarium to do so); remember, you said, what's the big deal, "I did not suck the president's cock." I think I understand that, Patricia. You are a very busy woman now with your professional agent owning your soul, and you don't think you did anything wrong. You have no time to wonder who you hurt. You have no time for honesty. You have no time to reveal the inner you, only time to fabricate elaborate fictions about sad case studies you deem worthy of your demented imagination. Yummy didn't die to make you money, Patricia. Sorry, Ms. Smith, I do not subscribe to the popular opinion; I find you to be one of the worst poets ever to come out of the city of Chicago. But, hey, that's just one man's opinion.

--C. J. Laity

Letter eX is announcing the launching of a full scale "Operation Poetic Justice" in order to raise the standards in the Chicago Poetry Scene. We encourage all poets to write strong new material and have it ready for the great Chicago Poetry Invasion of 2002, to be held near Damen and Division on the weekend of July 20 / 21. There will be limited open mic. spots available between the features as well. We are presently preparing our third surgical poetry strike, but for security reasons, we can not reveal the target at this time. Be prepared for a decisive poetry battle.


I'm going to move from aweful to pure genius, as I take a look at what I've found forgotten under piles of paper over the months. Well would you look at these. These are the books only a few people see, books that haven't yet stirred my attention, maybe for no other reason than that I'm lazy and don't like to read. So I'm not even going to read them. I'm just going to flip through them and make pretensive comments like a good prissy critic should. I'm serious. That's my job.

Oh, ah right, I'll try to read 'em, but I warn you--I have a low tolerance for bad poetry and poorly designed books.

The first book I find under my personal mess is "Soul Rebuttals" by Pierre Sutton, Jr., born "to Pierre Sutton, Sr." we are told on the back cover. Okay. Junior Sutton is a mixture of your mom's poetry and a fine blues singer. He's got the rhythm but he don't say all that much.

"Lawd knows, I rescued that woman. / She was a damsel in distress! / But now I realize / With her, I was blessed!" (from Sonny Boy's Blues).

Sometimes Sutton will put his clichés to good use:

"This old man when he died. / Was believed to be dancing in his grave / To the somber accent the trumpet boy played." (from Old Man Jazz).

But in other poems he just adds stereotypes to the mixture of mundane:

He rots with scoundrels and lies like jackals.
He ignites fires within,
Smiles with a sinister grin.
He'll watch you die,
Watch you plea and beg.
He'll put hemlock in your wine
And he'll leaven your bread.

(from "Judas")

It's hard to be frank about it, because Sutton works hard at his poetry and it shows. But he needs to take some writing classes and relax his voice if he really wants to go places inside the literary circuit. I don't have the ability to finish reading a book once I realize it is not polished. I'm putting "Soul Rebuttal" down. I bet Sutton's next book will be better. He'll be older and he'll probably have more to say. It might take many years, but I'll wait until then.

The next poet I want to look at is Lee Kitzis. He's known for being such a young poet, but he's getting older and more experimental. Don't know if that's good or bad. His new chapbook "Jazzmen," for example, is a book with a black man (I thought it was Regie Gibson at first) on the cover, a book written by a white boy. First of all, what's up with the tiny little print, so tiny you need a magnifying glass just to see? Kitzis is a pretty good writer to the eye of the bionic man. He usually gives you something to think about:

Only Light of Likeness

If the devil
taught history
I might better

and if like
the light were
to shift for
one brief

might better

His poem "Sexbomb" is a classic. This entire book, however, (if you could see it) would take all of five minutes to read. I would like to see Kitzis write some prose poetry. His short lines sometimes seem self satisfying at best and "tryin' hard / to be holy" at worst. Lee's got a way to go in life, but he's on his way. But as for "Jazzmen," it's little print is hurting my eyes like needles, so I'll put it down too.

Now, on to a book by Dan Godston. This one's weird. Nutty title and all ("Note An Author An' Pitch A Book A Pitch An' Author An' Note"); try to remember that one when someone asks you what you read lately. He hand made it, cut and pasted the cover with yellow, black and white paper, with pieces of felt stapled to it like a bookmark, and with wire and red beads holding it together. Took a lot of work, I'm sure. And very nicely done, with three thick cover pages making this self printed collection at least of a physicality which will last the ages. Godston has a wild form though (one poem--the centerfold "And the sixth angel"--takes up both pages in width). Another one looks like a big W. I have to really like what a poet is saying to spend the time deciphering a code in order to enjoy it. Godston is at his best when he abandons the experiments and sticks with his prose poetry:

Wind rushes over oblong, mica-like layered scales of pine bark and coerces branches to bend. Coils of wind cut across the lake, then shift and tear over black waves. A ferry knifes slowly through the February water.

(from "Obong-san")

Nice usage of language, wouldn't you agree? Godston should give up trying the exotic forms and concentrate on that ability he has to poetically express himself clearly. He's not that good yet to throw obstacles in front of our yes. Sorry, I charge extra for figuring out which block of words to read first; just not my cup of tea, so I'll put it down as well.

Finally, let me get to something nobody's ever going to see, and it's too bad, because it's filled with work by Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Billy Collins, Charlie Rossiter, and about twenty other poets. It comes from the National Association for Poetry Therapy Foundation, and is called "Giving Sorrow Words". This finally speaks my language:

"While I held my husband in my hands / as ash, like finest sand, / all the hard edges of us disappeared / with the smoke. I rubbed him on my skin" (from "While Watching A Video Of The Dalai Lama" by Perie Longo).

Trust me, this is a good book to have, and it's free. I don't exactly know how you get one other than schmoozing with Rossiter, but you might try or make a long distance call to (202) 966-2536 and ask.

However, this is not something to read cover to cover in one sitting; it is something to be picked up off your shelf from time to time, when you're in the mood, when you are looking for a bit of hope or an inspirational poem to start your day with, when you are longing for the strength to take a deep breath, so I'll put it away and save it for when I go up against the "winds of darkness."

So I didn't read them. So what. What'cha gonna do 'bout it. Talk shit 'bout me? Heh? Heh? Hey, it's Summer. For your information, I don't have time to read. Things are crazy here at the Letter eX News Room as it is. For example, a newly discovered audio file of Lee Groban has been uncovered. It will be premiered here in a few days, exclusively at, and I hope you see it as ultimate proof, as undisputed evidence, as propaganda more powerful than your logic, that terrible squid Yog has been unleashed upon us. Beware.

--C. J. Laity

Yog, the giant, octopus-like monster from outer space, who once turned Tokyo into a pile of rubble, was recently set free after spending thirty-two years in captivity. The nuclear beast rampaged the poetry tent, attacking Mr. Laity, the publisher of Letter eX, at his Printers Row Book Fair After Hours feature on Sunday, June 2. It is suspected that a militant group of untalented poets smuggled themselves onto Monster Island and set the ferocious creature loose in order to stop the full scale Operation Poetic Justice Laity had recently launched. Laity barely escaped with his poetry, as the rubbery alien bounced around, controlled by giant strings coming from the heavens above, its long tentacles tipping over book display tables and chairs. Horrified poets ran aimlessly back and forth on Dearborn Avenue as blocks

The following is a short excerpt from the recent interview Letter eX did with Ishiro Honda, Yog Expert.
LX: What is Yog?

IH: The foe you know as Yog is actually better known as Gazora, or the "Island God." Despite recent fears that have affected your city, I assure you, Gazora is actually a space consciousness possessing the body of a giant squid, not an octopus or micro-organism.

LX: Where does Yog come from?

IH: Yog came from the "surface" of Jupiter. Yog was brought to a remote island in Asia by an Apollo era spacecraft. Then Yog was captured and sent to Monster Island by the human race.

LX: What does Yog want?

IH: A big battle, otherewise known to monsters as a "kaiju." Yog's first few attacks upon you are probably merely a challenge. Something big will most likely go down in the upcoming weeks. Yog lives only for the big battle.

LX: How can Yog be destroyed?

IH: Fire is too risky because Yog is so big. Yog can more effectively be captured by "sound pressure." Certain sounds can put the Yog in a permanent 8th dimensional limbo where, where awesome Yog will be trapped for good, that is, until once again someone frees him with a chant which takes four days to complete. There are three sounds known to man which can send Yog to its personal Yog hell, and they are: the sound of a school of dolphin; or, the sound of a swarm of bats; or, two full days of words never before uttered by the human race.

LX: How can we protect ourselves from Yog?

IH: Be careful of blue lights or shimmering blue mists. Yog is not actually the squid, you see, but an astro-quasar possessing the squid. Unless you want fifty foot tall poets walking around smashing buildings, Yog must be captured before the entity escapes the squid body to enter the host of the poet.

LX: Thank you, Ishiro.

IH: No ploblem, C. J.
Letter eX is calling on the poetry scene to begin writing new material, and to have it ready for the upcoming invasion of Wicker Park. We are planning to present "two full days of words never before uttered," sending Yog Monster Gazora to HELL. . .ha, ha, ha, ha, ha,. . .TO HELL!

On Friday, June 7, at 2:30 pm Chicago time, the bell closed the Dow Jones at an all time low. Investors scrambled to sell after learning that horrible, ugly Yog Monster is not really an octopus at all, but is a giant space amoeba!! The line "I am not Gezora-Ganime-Kameba: I am not Kessen! Nankai no daikaiju: I am not Toho Kaiu Eiga Senshu: I am not Supesu Amiiba" was found during an investigation into the poetry of Mr. Lee Groban. is claiming this line of poetry is evidence that Lee Groban did indeed set Yog free, and that the reason Yog can not be killed with conventional weapons is that Yog is not a sea creature at all, but a massive micro-organism from space! Of course, when confronted with this dreadful revelation, investors worldwide began selling in a panic striken frenzy. By the end of the day, the market had lost over 5% of its value.

The Chicago Poetry Scene has declared a state of emergency, as Yog, the giant octopus shaped nuclear space monster, once again has attacked poets at the very heart of where they gather. On Thursday, June 7, during what would be happy hour, Danny's Tavern in Bucktown was attacked by terrible, dreadful Yog. This unholy beast is the same powerful being who once took on Godzilla in a death match which shook the earth, a beast believed to have been unleashed by angry poets in response to the recent full scale Operation Poetic Justice surgical strikes, led by Letter eX leader C. J. Laity. As Danny patrons drank in the bar, grainy tentacles appeared outside as if their windows were huge magnifying lenses. Screams and hollars could be heard inside as beers spilled. Then the glass smashed and Yog slithered in, flopping himself around like living calamari. Having been previously put on alert, plastic Guild Complex tanks quickly pulled up outside and fired their payload. The cannonballs only caused sparks to shoot out of the Yog Monster before he made way through the bar, toppling stools and ramming right out the back wall. Yog was slowed down by live electrical cables, which had been set up in advance in nearby alleys by Kurt Heintz, in an historic cooperative effort to rid the poetry world of evil Yog. Branch-like blue lightning bolts whizzed across the monster's big eyes and forehead as Yog struggled, appentages flailing--a long, drawn-out, slow motion sequence lasting over seven minutes--but after milking it for all it was worth, the cables one by one began to snap and Yog defiantly broke free and escaped through the smoke. There seems to be no logic in the monster's mischief, as it wasn't even poetry night at Danny's, nor is Laity a regular, nor does he live in Wicker Park and / or Bucktown, but it is suspected that Lee Groban is somehow reponsible for the eight armed demon's rebirth, and that Yog is waiting in the yuppified neighborhood for Laity to lead his planned invasion, to confront him in an all-out encounter which may be the end of It is also not clear why bin Groban would set the Japanese nemesis loose; Laity reports having no prior issues with the mushroom man, and wants to assure Groban that there was no plan sitting on Laity's desk to make a surgical strike against the author of the long poem, The Cure For Isomnia. However, it is no secret that the only way Yog could have possibly been freed from captivity, is if one recites a complicated chant which takes four full days to complete. The only known poet capable of doing such a thing, is, of course, Lee Groban. Be on the lookout for a giant, gray octopus, and a tall, bearded man wearing a colorful hat. Please report any sitings to

Letter eX is issuing a general warning to the poetry scene, not based on any specific or confirmed information, to be on the lookout for Yog, Monster From Space, who may be planning to attack a poetry venue in the upcoming weeks. We are temporarily haulting the surgical strikes until the Yog situation can be controlled, for the safety of the community. The author of the longest poem in the world, Lee Groban, is being sought for questioning regarding how this dangerous fifty foot land-octopus was unleashed from Monster Island. We will have more details when they arise.

New information may be shedding some light on the Chicago Yog mystery. It seems poet Lee Groban might not have performed the four day chant needed to unleash Yog from its personal limbo afterall. Several witnesses to last Sunday's slam champ intrusion claim that upon closer observation, Yog is not a real squid at all, but is a giant man in a foam rubber outfit. If this is true, then Yog is an imposter. It is highly possible a scorned poet may have harvested some astro-quasar energy. With this energy the poet may be using it to periodically enlarge him / herself. Disguised as Yog, this terrorist scribe may be attempting to cause conflict among the poets at large by framing Groban. In light of this new evidence, is dropping all charges against Mr. Groban until clear evidence may be acquired. We are raising the state of alarm to turquoise. If this threat is actually a thinking human being behind the dumb octopus front, we are in more danger than previously anticipated. However, if this poet is indeed using the entity from Jupiter to transform him / herself into Yog, then the same rules apply. We still plan to invade Wicker Park and hold two full days of words never before uttered by the human race in order to send this villaine back to Monster Island. We encourage all to write new material for the invasion. The previous Yog reports are documented for your convenience below.

The monstrous Yog, in an apparently misguided response to Letter eX's third surgical strike, has struck again, this time targeting "the one that began them all." As poets took to the historic Green Mill stage for the Team Chicago Final Night on Sunday, 6/16, the audience was stunned to find that the words coming out of the slammer's mouths did not match their lip movements. Then an eerie blue shimmering haze appeared from the ceiling and nasty Yog came crashing down. Guest poets from Minneapolis managed to stomp on and cut off the tip of one of Yog's tentacles with a piece of broken Guinness pint; green blood squirted out and smoked as it burned the bar floor like acid. A screaming, wounded Yog dove over the bar and escaped with a rain of glass out the front windows, quickly disappearing under the el tracks. Meanwhile, has decided to release the recently discovered Lee Groban audio file to the public. CLICK HERE TO LISTEN TO THE LEE GROBAN TAPE! Why did Groban decide to release Yog? It is suspected that Groban might have been disturbed by C. J. Laity's comments regarding his poetry. It is also suspected that Chicago Poet Jacki Wolk may be the next target of Yog's advances. CLICK HERE TO LISTEN TO THE WOLK FILE!. If you would like to review the entire Letter eX Live Show, including the lost audio files of Marcus Sroge, Sandra Wilcoxon, Charlie Rossiter, Marty Campbell and others, please click on the following domain name:

BREAKING STORY: Horrible space monster Yog was unsuccessful in its cowardly attempt to silence Chicago Poet Lee Groban. Groban, known for his long poetry, was recently cleared of all charges stemming from the recent rumour that he had freed terrible Yog Monster with a chant which lasted four days. It is now believed instead that an angry, right-wing poet is probably behind the Yog attacks, and that Groban may actually be an asset in helping to stop Yog. Despite a barrage of computer virus e-mails believed to have been sent by the unknown poet disguised as Yog, the Groban audio file remains online and has escaped nearly unscathed; though its web-book known as the NETwork List was utterly destroyed in the process. The mystery still remains. Who is behind the Yog attacks which have terrorized the Chicago Poetry Scene? Letter eX may have a clue; it has learned that the astro-quasar energy from Jupiter not only possessed Yog in the 1970 Apollo spacecraft incident, but that it also possessed a lobster and a turtle as well. It is now believed that a rogue poet managed to penetrate Monster Island, that he or she has harvested some of the evil energy, either from the turtle or the lobster, and that she / he is using it to periodically transform her / himself into the likeness of giant Yog. It has also been brought to our attention by Animal Planet, that squids actually have ten appentages, not eight, renewing the theory that Yog is either an octopus or a giant nuclear space amoeba! Meanwhile, poet Jacki Wolk has been relocated to an underground facility, with walls made out of lead and concrete, three feet thick, where she will be kept safe from Yog until her scheduled feature for the upcoming Wicker Park Invasion. We suggest all other talented Chicago poets take precautions as well. In other news: CLICK HERE.

On the weekend of July 20/21, 2002, the poets in Chicago joined together to create "two days of words never before uttered." At least 70 poets planted themselves right on the corner of Wolcott and Division to face evil and learn the truth, in a kaiju battle like no other before it, to once and for all rid the poetry scene of Yog, Monster From Space. The invasion came right on the heels of the revelation that "Y.O.G." may stand for "Yuppies Organizing Gentrification." Foaming at the mouth and whipping its tentacles at the poetry stage, Yog spewed a few racial slurs before it rolled over and died, unable to withstand the dosage of truth it was being attacked with. After pulling the foam rubber mask off the giant octopus, the leader of Operation Poetic Justice, C. J. Laity, to his horror, discovered Yog to actually be the leader of a local arts organization he was associated with, an arts organization which had recently lost city sponsorship and may be losing its nonforprofit status. C. J. Laity bravely continued the invasion, regardless, but did not escape the battle uninjured; he wounded the heels of his feet jumping around for two days on the asphalt and could barely walk for a week. After the smoke cleared, Laity realized he forgot to thank all the great poets who appeared in The Great Chicago Poetry Invasion of 2002, so he'd like to do that now....



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