After Hours: A Journal of Chicago Writing and Art, Issue No. 1
66 pages, $6.00, Published by After Hours Press, Oak Park, Illinois. Albert DeGenova, Publisher and Editor. Reviewed by Ken Morris
After Hours: A Journal of Chicago Writing and Art is editor and publisher Albert DeGenova's showcase of Chicago area writers and artists and is a good companion to the recent anthology Smokestacks and Skyscrapers: an Anthology of Chicago Writing (Chicago: Wild Onion Books, 1999, edited by David Starkey and Richard Guzman), which DeGenova refers to in his mission statement in his magazine's fronts piece. After Hours is particularly valuable because it helps fill an enormous gap in an otherwise excellent collection. If Smokestacks and Skyscrapers has any major failings, it is that it seriously neglects the large number of current Chicago-based poets who are producing important and insightful work, although editor Starkey has the good sense to recognize this and says so in his Afterward.
Foremost among the notable omissions in Smokestacks and Skyscrapers is poet David Hernandez. Six of his poems are the centerpiece of After Hours. There are few poets who have Hernandez's compassion, range and power. When DeGenova writes in his editorial comment about the neighborhoods of Chicago inspiring "an artistic voice that is direct, unpretentious, aware of the realities and inequalities of materialism yet sentimental in a streetwise-front-stoop-backyard sort of way," it could well be David Hernandez he is describing. In his poems included here ("Rooftop Piper," "Armitage Street," "Longings on a Sunday Morning," "Florencia," "Ramonita," and "Satin City Serenade"), Hernandez captures wonderfully the essence of living in Chicago and the character of the people and neighborhoods he clearly loves. In the last three stanzas of "Rooftop Piper," a tribute to departed musician, poet and friend Ken Serritos; Hernandez beautifully honors Kenny's memory with his description of Kenny's intangible but substantial legacy:
His saxophone is playing / reflecting streets below / where the old Champ shadowboxes / so he won't feel the blows. / And the music soothes his memory / with all the punch-drunk scars / Kenny is the Piper / He patches Beat-up hearts.
When the city reads the menu / her head is undecided / between her needs and wants / The El train slowly snaking / a rattle on her tail / the stars hang out on rooftops / to hear the midnight wail.
It hits the first shift workers / and calmly wakes them up / and it starts the coffee perking / and rattles all the cups. / The saxophone is playing / a morning virgin note / Kenny's on the rooftop / He leads the heart to hope.
Hernandez's other poems in After Hours are all very different from one another, but share the common thread of his genuineness and heart. He connects with the reader by describing the people and places in his poems in such a way that the reader can hear, see, feel and even smell why Hernandez cares about them so much. Of the others, "Ramonita the Avon Lady" is particularly affecting because Hernandez is able to make the smitten 11 year-old at the beginning of the poem very real. The impact of Ramonita on his life was a profound one and is typical of his celebration of the types of connections lesser poets would overlook. "Florencia" is not my favorite of his poems here, but its inclusion is important because the bleakness of its subject's experience and the poem's political context show Hernandez's range well.
After Hours is unusual among currently available literary magazines in that the writing throughout is of high quality; every writer here deserves inclusion in a magazine intended to showcase Chicago writers and artists. The writers featured in the Premiere Issue of After Hours are: Norbert Blei, Dan Campion, Martha Modena Vertreace, Richard Johns, Karen Peterson, Judith Valente, Mary Blinn, Charles Rossiter, Etta L. Worthington, Maureen Connolly, Helen Degen Cohen, Effie Mihopoulos, Ann Gearen, David Hernandez, Nina Corwin, Albert DeGenova, Suzanne Cosgrove, J.D.Smith, Lois Klein, Kate Bertrand and Larry Janowski.
Although DeGenova asserts in his editorial comment that "what Chicago lacks in polish, it makes up for in honesty," the work contained in the first issue of After Hours is both polished and honest, and is decidedly not all crude. This is true, however, only if polished is not equated with slickness, because what characterizes most of the pieces here is writing that is crafted thoughtfully to the point of being polished, but retains the emotional immediacy that does not leave out the unresolved rough edges and shards of human experience.
After Hours also features a number of photographs and commentary by writer and photographer Herb Nolan, which add a lot to the look and atmosphere of the magazine. The photos of Dizzy Gillespie, Elvin Jones, Dexter Gordon, Joe Pass, Ira Sullivan and Joe Henderson taken backstage at the Jazz Showcase on Rush Street in the 70's, like the mirror of the dressing room in which they were taken, manage to capture something of the essence of their subjects when they are relaxing, practicing or brooding between sets. In many ways, the images of these great artists away from the spotlight speak a thousand words each about the nature of an artist's soul. Nolan's commentary is concise and interesting and places the context of his photographs well. Other striking images contained in After Hours are two paintings by Associate Editor P. Hertel (one of trumpet wizard Bix Beiderbecke ). These add much to the overall appearance of the magazine, especially since music is integral to several of the poems here.
It would have been even better, however, if more the use of graphics were expanded to complement the poetry, especially since many of the poems (particularly Nina Corwin's "Mr. Music Plays A Solo None Too Sane") are about or refer to music. One place in After Hours where this is done effectively is Etta L. Worthington's photograph of a street view of a silhouetted fire escape across from a skyscraper. The face of what can be seen of the building is covered in varying degrees of light and shadow. The implicit symbolism of this image complements the mood of Larry Janowski's "Chicago Cantata" very well. An expanded use of graphics along this line in future issues of After Hours, done thoughtfully, would enhance the magazine's overall look and impact.
Many of the poems in After Hours offer observations on similar themes. The contrasts between poems offer an opportunity for insight that is usually only possible in an anthology. A good example of this is the influence of ancestry and heritage on an individual's perception of identity and emotional resonance. This theme appears in J.D. Smith's "American Solitudes," "The End of Snow" by Helen Degen Cohen, Hernandez's "Florencia," and poignantly in Albert DeGenova's "Family Album":
These are pictures of
I breathe these pictures into my lungs
and smell my grandfather's cigar,
his wine press and the emptied oak barrels.
My sons read this family album like a text book,
the dry branches of a family tree, the sterile history
My sons will never know what an Italian smells like.
There is a similar examination of family history in Martha Modena Vertreace's "When Pockets Held Dreams," but in her poem, the emotional resonance transcends generations. I quote this beautiful poem in its entirety:
Under white gloves in a vanity drawer: lined
with red silk, a black change purse—the kind
old women stuff with pennies, saltwater taffy,
safety pins, your mother's stashed blessed medals:
Saint Christopher for travelers, Jude of lost causes;
a reliquary of bone flecks in velvet; solitaire settings
the color of marigolds on your dresser,
a white gold filigree, a silver, whose missing gems
bought passage across the Atlantic when her father,
navigating by strange stars, read water's angry hunger
for light; when your father greyed in Depression dust,
counted coins like stars mizzling the eastern Horizon—
mine now as her ghostly hand trusts me to carve stone names
as real as those they lived when pockets held dreams.
RIVER OAK ARTS: AFTER HOURS AT HEALY'S WEST SIDE
7217 W. Madison, Monday, July 10
Shhhh. You need to calm down. You need to relax. You need to go where the poetry whispers like a dove's wings gliding on an ocean breeze under a sliver of a moon. First of all, get out of this city. It's a hot day and you'd be better off in the cool cellar, where old, nostalgic things are collected. Try Forest Park. That should be cool enough for you. That ought to sooth your wacky nerves.
There is nothing to inspire feather floating peace within your soul like a good old fashioned, classy Irish Pub. Sit down at the bar. Take a deep breath. Order an Irish Bacon Burger: a half pound of ground sirloin on a toasted bun with imported Irish bacon and Swiss cheese (ask for your thickly cut fries "spicy" and they will spinkle magic red dust on them for you), and wash it all down with a nice cold pint of Guinness. It feels good, doesn't it. Just ignore the All Star Game on television (you're not ready to rumble); concentrate on the inflatable Leinenkiugel canoos or the little bags of pretzels. There is scotch on tap if you have the stomach for it. Yes, you're at O'heilighe's. Where else? Rest assured, nobody will bother you and "unattended children will be sold as slaves."
You chose a good night to enter this establishment. It's the second Monday of the month, so Charlie Rossiter is in the back room with an audience of about forty people for the poetry. His son, Jack, sits at a table selling raffle tickets and assuring people, "It's not a slam. It's an open mic." There are very few familiar faces, which is just the way you like it. New people; new voices. So relax. It's more of an "adult open mic." In other words, people don't get up and leave after they've read. You won't hear the "F" word every five seconds. Sit back under the comfort of the ceiling fans and enjoy the third anniversary of this poetry venue.
The microphone stands in a corner just west of the emergency exit, near an American flag capped with an eagle and surrounded by frosted glass advertising Tangueray. Through the mic. hums the beautiful words of the wise and mature during the open mic.. Such as Mr. Wilcox's description of corn crops: "the energy of warming light / gathering within the yellow ears." Or Michael Anderson's ode to a paint can: "she's dented in a bit there. . . / but what a strong can." Or the wisdom of Gail Seawick: "How many beers does it take to get the flu . . . / if you didn't spend so much on beer / I might still be there / why don't you buy a clue." Good advise. You should listen to it.
Even the violence in Healy's poetry is contained within a dreamy fog, as in Susan Messer's story about getting into an auto accident on the way to visiting "grammy." And Charlie Rossiter is the most laid back host a stressed out poet from the city could request. Enjoy the tight, short poetry of Adrienne describing: "four men wearing out of synch blue shirts / representing the arch of the universe." Clean, sober writing. The only thing these writers are under the influence of is Diane DiPrima, and that includes Cynthia whose "enough Billy Holliday and not enough Three Dog Night" poetry fills the fresh air. Lisa Grayson's short, short story (which was written during a River Oaks Arts workshop), "put a little distance between a man and his shadow." Aaaah. I see you're smiling. The Healy's magic is starting to work on you. Now that the open mic has tamed the raging beast within you, get another pint and get ready for the feature presentation.
You see, River Oak Arts offers a feature on the second Monday of every month, but tonight there are a handful of features, all of whom are published in the first edition of After Hours, a journal of Chicago writing and art. Albert DeGenova, Publisher and Editor, gives credit to his partner P. Hertel, and then brings on the poets.
Ann Gearan, a River Oak Arts contest winner, was going to read in the open mic. because she had to leave early, but she "couldn't start until her fan club was there," so here she is now. She speaks of "loss poems." She reads about her mother who has Altheimer's Disease: "diapering mother like a great pink baby." And then, for once, good poetry that also rhymes. She also reads about a boat accident: "something you should never do / no matter how fine the day. . ./ no sound but the ocean / lapping the boat's wooden sides."
The next poet is Maureen Connolly, who is the winner of a fellowiship from Ragdale and a recipient of an Illinois Arts Council Award. Her poetry purrs like a toy top: "perhaps to spin forever / perhaps not." She performs her work in a well articulated, clear voice. She let's us know that she likes to think about things such as "chaos theory" --for fun: "I do not want our love to be a circle / stilted by its own perfection / I want an ecliptic love." Her imagery then swings to the nitty, gritty description of Cook County Hospital at 2 AM. And she finishes off with a bit of humour: "If I had a Harley. . ." What a pleasure to see Connolly's wide range of talents demonstrated in a short, perfectly thought out set of poetry!
Charlie Rossiter, the recipient of an NEA Fellowship, changes the gender of the feature., and he reminds you of William Burroughs, doesn't he?. He reads about the "X": "the worst kind of monster / made up of old parts of yourself. . ./ like a bad dream that keeps coming back / when you leave your guard down." He also reads about Memorial Day, his imagery travelling from Wicker Park to Humboldt Park to "a hundred faces of my father" to kids "slouched in poses of casual disrespect."
Now for Mary Blinn, who has a wonderful, rambling, hysteric, frantic, edge of your seat style of performing her poetry: "Hey babe what's doin wanna little / razle-dazzle hot jazz take me dancin tonight / handsome pop the cork and watch it spray / kick 'em in the air and let fly. . ." She taps her thigh with her palm as she resites: "who made you / God made me / dum dee dum dee dum dee dee / a pumkin headed child with a jack 'o lantern smile."
Karen Peterson also reads, with a soothing, theraputic hush of a voice (shhhh, if you listen closely you can hear her): "Lon Chaney holds / a lit cigarette between his toes. / He is Alonso the Armless, / the murderer disguisd / as a circus freak."
The last poet of the evening is Larry Janowski, who has an MFA in fiction. Such beautiful poetry is very rare: "light / like the grass / or flesh we devour / decays." He reads a "self portrait with hardly any adjectives," in which a hole is described as: "the one in my soul / is shaped like your face." I have my own poem for you, which goes something like this: "I think that I shall never see / a poem as beautiful as Larry Janowski's."
See, I told you. You're feeling much better now, aren't you. Sometimes you have to get away from the angry, harsh mouths of the city's performance poets. Sometimes you need to expose yourself to work which concentrates more on the words than on the style of performance. Sometimes it pays to sit back and soak in the wisdom of some more mature writers. River Oak Arts at Healy's is just the place to do it.
Now go home. Pleasant dreams. Tomorrow is another day.
--C. J. Laity
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Note: Here are two fantastic articles about the premier issue of Chicago's poetry publication, After Hours Magazine, one reviewing the book, another reviewing the release party at the River Oak Arts reading, formerly at Healy's.