after hours, Issue No. 8
After Hours Press
Reviewed by C. J. Laity
After Hours Press Publisher Albert DeGenova keeps getting better and better at what he does. Besides the quality of the writing he selects, the consistent professionality of the design of his publication is one of the reasons it so quickly became synonymous with Chicago poetry. Not an inch of the pages in Issue No. 8 is wasted. The Winter 2004 issue of DeGenova's "journal of Chicago writing and art" is enhanced with visually stunning, black and white images by Stewart Kenneth Moore, P. Hertel, Suzanne Cosgrove, Joseph M. Giordano, and William Gutmann.
Each issue of after hours highlights a featured poet, usually with five poems at the center of the magazine. This time around, Chicago poet Martha Modena Veatreace-Doody is chosen for the spotlight. Keeping in the tradition of focusing this publication on the local, Veatreace-Doody's five poems are related in theme to the life of Elizabeth Caldwell Smith, who became "first lady" of Illinois by marrying Joseph Duncan.
Veatreace-Doody's rich poetry can be read like watching a whip unwrap:
Bees at my fingers,(from Nothing to Relate but a Dream, 1824)
a honeycomb in the leafless aspen. Branches
bleed when thunder
snaps old growth. Glass stems
root in my bedroom, on my books,
letters—each petal a silvered window
where I see my double
Veatreace-Doody is a craftwoman who helps feed the standard of excellence expected in the modern Chicago Poetry Scene. Once again, DeGenova has made a brilliant choice as editor.
Let's take a look at just a few of the other poets featured here, along with some small snippets of their work.
Melissa Severin feeds our mind's eye with her poem "How to Run Away":
Buy a bus ticket. Steal a black car.
Find the highway and head north,
closer to the sky.
Lee Kitzis once again masters his fine sense of audience in his poem "Love Poem for Alanna":
You said our first
meeting was like two
Woody Allens talking
Maureen Tolman Flannery, who had her poetry adapted for the stage by Smoke and Mirror Productions, finds inspiration in the smallest things, as illustrated by her poem "Whas me":
Large finger-penned letters
scrolled into the winter's
splash slush and muck
on the back of a delivery van
Kathleen Kirk captures the essence of the beauty of simple things in her poem "Tres Leches":
Which spoonful would hold
the winter we first held hands
coming out of the movie
into fat coconut flakes of snow?
Frank Matagrano keeps the collage of styles called after hours captivating with his prose poem "Stealing Roses Early in the Morning":
I spent several minutes trying to decide what food is best served on a historical face.
The winner of the 2004 Juried Reading (sponsored by the Poetry Center of Chicago), Kristy Bowen, shows us how she has broken her "Honorable Mention streak," in the poem "Destination":
Like broken dolls, they litter
her landscape as the graveyards
swell with small bones.
Laura Van Prooyen, who is one of the poets featured in the upcoming Chicago Poetry Showcase in the Gwendolyn Brooks Poetry Tent during this year's Printers Row Book Fair, stimulates the senses with her poem "Three Encounters Not to be Ignored":
Dirt sifts down
through cracks like flour
dusting the years stored
under the stairs
Richard Johns' poem "Taking Off from Midway" is like a tiny rock thrown into the pond of memory, causing ripples that extend off the page:
Strange how the world of childhood
remains in what we know,
and how as it recedes
almost mythically it grows . . .
And E. Donald Two-Rivers, who recently suffered three heart attacks, a stroke, was diagnosed with diabetes and lung cancer, had surgery and then fell down a flight of stairs, receiving twelve stitches, BUT WHO IS STILL KICKING, shows us why he will always be one of the top dogs of the Chicago school of writing with his short story "Mr. Buxley, The Good Luck Indian." You'll have to buy this issue of after hours for a glimpse.
I'll be honest. Not all the writing in this new issue of after hours is as exciting to read as the above examples. A couple of the poems break the momentum by sitting there on the pages like someone's damp, moldy rags.
Specifically speaking, Robert Klein Engler puts on airs and rehashes tired clichés, sticking out like a sore thumb among the masters of language in this journal:
me to swim, you made sure he burst like a balloon
of blood when he stepped on a mine in Vietnam
(from The Poet Kindly Addresses Death)
Just ambling as tourists from shop to shop with some friends. Listening to the chatter of the crowd. Looking not buying.
(from Window Shopping)
The first thing I think of when I hear the word "burst" is a balloon, and Engler, out of lack for an original thought, has decided to look no further than that first thing, with his choice of dry simile. The same tedious hum-drum is orchestrated by describing Window Shopping as "Looking not buying." Wow. How original!
In another Engler poem, he attempts to hide his near plagiarism of thought with controversy:
The Jesus Action Figure with Posable Arms
is sold, sealed in clear plastic. He waits, you suppose fittingly, on a shelf at the comic book store next to the Moses action figure with removable tablet and staff. The Jesus figure glides on hidden wheels, while Moses just stands and stutters . . .
I don't know how anyone can take a subject as quirky as a "Jesus Action Figure" and write a poem about it that contains no surprise, but Engler does exactly this. As a poet, one of Engler's worst vices is confusing his own hidden contempt for civility with the opinions of his audience; this is demonstrated constantly in his poetry, but especially in his neo-fascist political essays (which are not included in after hours), and appears here when he includes the reader into his god-bashing with the phrase "you suppose fittingly." Based on the lack of originality his poetry exhibits, I'd say the problem is Engler has no idea what his audience "supposes" or otherwise thinks. And I doubt he cares. That's probably why he fills his "hollow heart" with hoards of burnt-out metaphors, hoping nobody will notice that he doesn't know what he's talking about.
Engler's poetry is insulting to the intelligence of the Chicago Poetry Scene. I can admire the fact that his persistence gets him published, but his work speaks for itself. His lazy, uninspiring words do not belong on the porch with the big dogs, and his persistence can be equated with fanaticism. He has a hidden agenda in his poetry, and in this age, when fanatic nonsense is dragging the world into brutal, ugly wars, hidden agendas need to be looked at very carefully.
Fortunately, the visions of the other Chicago poets featured in this issue of after hours are much more authentic, making it easy to skim off the Engler fat from this cream of the Chicago crop. Metaphorically speaking, the accumulation of such powerful poetics into one collection makes after hours a Chicago poetry deity. As you can see, at $7, this issue of after hours is a true bargain.
--C. J. Laity
GO TO STYLE EIGHT
**We hope you found the information on this page useful. ChicagoPoetry.com needs your help. We are holding a fundraising drive in order to stay online. There are two ways that you can help:
Click here to offer a financial gift or click here to order the new book by ChicagoPoetry.com Press.
Note: After Hours Press Publisher Albert DeGenova keeps getting better and better at what he does.