TWO VIEWS OF THE BEACH POETS: ON THE SAND AND IN THE AIR
Letter eX explores Cathleen Schandelmeier's BEACH POETS VENUE:
REVIEW #1: MARS AT BEACH POETS, SUNDAY, JULY 29, REVIEW AND PHOTOS BY JANE RIPLEY
On a day so foggy you could hardly see the shoreline, after I plunked down my backpack and dollar-store orange towel on the Roger's Park sand/grass combination July 29, I found out through Steve Glabman that Cathleen Schandelmeier, who usually hosts Beach Poetry, was out of town. Cathleen, who is almost nine months pregnant, is planning to have her child "on the road" in true Keroaucian fashion. Impressed as I was by her brave feat, the proverbial show must go on, albeit, with a new cast of characters. Also already in attendance were Liz Moreno, sipping out of a Lancôme water bottle, Larry Winfield, Kate Cullan, and Brad Markus, and late-comer Joffre Stewart.
The first poet up was Larry Winfield (photo above). Against a backdrop of Steve Glabman's Miro-influenced mostly royal blue backdrop (Steve in space filmed the entire experience), Larry's verse consisted of a poem lamenting how "rebellion and subversion are marketing strategies." His despair was apparent while visions of MTV's "The Real World," Mountain Dew ads, and N'Sync danced in my head. Also covered were the sad souls of the world "slouched between paychecks," waiting for some media stimulation. Larry has been on the scene for many years, and is well know for combining a Jazz band with his poetry, yet even solo, he manages to be well spoken, cover relevant topics, and write cohesive, original verse. It's obvious he's pissed off about a lot of things, but he performs it in a refined, subtle way; one really has to listen to pick up the cynicism of the message. Sometimes it's nice not to be clubbed over the head with performance metaphors, and his mature, seasoned approach to the material is a welcome relief from the more visceral, vocal poets out there (myself included).
Brad Markus is an adequate poet, but I would be lying if I told you that his verse blew me away.
abstract messages of the greater good
were lines included in his poetic tribute Sun-Ra. This was a pretty good effort, and having heard a bit of this jazz musician's work, appropriate. However, in another section, "a beautiful crystal sphere of splendid beauty" sounded not only cliché, but like something my grandmother might order from the home shopping network. He didn't exactly have a sizzling stage presence, but his demeanor did seem to suit his material. Subtlety was the rule, so far.
Mars Gambia-Adisa, who was a team member of the National Poetry Slam in 1999, and has been on the scene for almost five years, was the featured poet. Wearing a white dress that resembled the undergarments of a ninetieth century lady, Mars held court while sitting on the ground stroking a silver tabby-faced kitten with a milky body (photo above). Mars's performance was part-song, part conversation, and part narrative, delivered in a voice that owned authority without flaunting it insecurely. She began with a poem: "I split watermelon / count black seeds." Then she sang what seemed to be an African folk song, with references to dragons being slayed, then more narrative, and a bit more singing, with lines such as:
strong and mean
these lean young trees…
and these lines
from Compton and Wimbledon
a modern fruit has sprung
all woven together to form a strong, cohesive piece, full of righteous anger at the days of slavery, with magical references, finishing up with the Williams sisters. It was as if Mars has flown around all through history picking up pieces of her culture and examining it with pride coupled with disgust at the historical injustices. And to really drive home the fact that this poet is a one-woman show of several performances happening at once, she finished with a birdcall.
In the piece called "Decade," Mars discussed, and used song and narrative again to express disdain with the prejudices associated with skin tone and sexual preferences, and the possession of knowledge and the reclaiming of the African-Americans' humanity ("steal knowledge of thieves who stole our humanity"). One cannot negate the importance of history, and this poem, although not unfamiliar territory for most Chicago poets—audience and participants alike, shows how to take a topic like this and bend it into something to continue to spark awareness and discussion.
Liz Moreno stood up to face the video camera, flanked like we all were, by Glabman's banner. A poem called "Sunday Morning" was well enunciated and executed with a flair classy confidence. Not at all my cup of tea, but a line like "a bagel-basketed delivery boy will bring a paper," certainly has my vote as there just isn't enough alliteration on this scene, what with many poets so busy making a mockery of seventies culture and poems about pop culture. When she recited the lines in the second round
I know what women think
I have read both Madame Bovary and Fear of Flying
I thought to myself, "well she knows what upper-middle-class, intellectual women think anyway." It's good to hear this sort of thing once in a while, but it's like Orange Chutney: I just can't stomach eating it every day.
Steve Glabman did a piece in his military cap and tambourine (photo above) -- his garb was very Abbie Hoffman in style. His poem used the most basic language, words such as "suck / nut / hung," to express some weird alpha male anti-intellectual message, which was appropriate enough, considering he's a member of the Unofficial Soup Kitchen, and they always did loathe pretension. The juxtaposition of him and Liz was almost comical.
Kate Cullan and Joffre Stewart also performed. Kate did a poem about a boy who rejected her which stood out only because she sang "the cheese stands alone," sung to the tune of the "Farmer in the dell." I think I prefer her nastier poems, because she's a master at being cruel. Joffre did his usual anti-Zionist Shtick, completely with the obligatory passing out of the copies of his latest mini-manifesto.
There were two rounds of poetry, and at one point, Mars stood up at some point in the second round. The kitten kept stealing the show, and there was a small child that was wandering around which really gave it a retro-sixties magical quality (gad? Did I really write this?).
"Were not doing the Lake Poem," Steve announced to a crowd that probably didn't really expect it, but it wouldn't be the same without Cathleen's wacky prescense anyway. If Glabman had tried to recite it, it would have been like Marc Smith attempting to sing the Yammer theme. Even though Cathleen was not there, there hasn't been this caliber of poetry at the beach since I can remember.
REVIEW #2: TINA HOWELL AT BEACH POETS / DAVID MUNGER ON WZRD, SUNDAY, AUGUST 5, REVIEW BY C. J. LAITY
Chicago poets Al Bichiunas (left) and Ron Rosoff come out on a sunny day to Loyola beach to read some dancing poems for a good group. What a great escape from the whiny poets who don't write poetry (oops, sorry Ron, I'm ranting again). Most of the poets at Beach Poets were reading from hand written journals and from stuff written on the back of flyers. There was no pretension in the air. Everyone there was there to share poetry, and that's exactly what they did. It was totally refreshing to hear some tight, condense writing for once. Many passers by stopped to listen.
Beach Poets host Cathleen Schandelmeier was about to bust. She was expecting her next child any minute now. She had some tales to tell as well as some poetry to share. She started from her book "Suck My Toes" and she finished with her infamous "The Lake Is Closed." Her husband played the trumpet for us. And her children running around were a delight. What a great, original venue! What a great idea, to bring poetry to the beach. The show has wonderful vibes, my man. Take it from a poet, even if I don't rhyme all the time.
The intimate poetry circle created a mellow energy which put us in a trance. No matter how softly the poetry was orated, we heard it above the breeze, above the radios, above the sounds of splashing waves. It was a magic circle. It took us through darkness and light. It tied us all together and summoned the muse. Little did the people having picnics around us know what adventures we would conjur. You better hurry. The Beach Poets gather every Sunday at 4:30 next to the Heartland Cafe booth at Loyola Beach, but only for a few more weeks!!
The feature was a dynamo. Tina Howell (center) read some political prose which asked the question of why do we care so much about this white intern when there are two black babies missing? She also read some party poetry which asked the question of why leave to go to a club to see people looking to have sex when you can stay where you are and watch people having sex? Howell stressed the importance of editing, and it shows in her work. She is one bad ass poet and if you see her listed as a feature somewhere go see the show (hell, even if it's in Wicker Park). Howell has had a long history influencing the poetry scene.
The Beach Poets have been getting some good exposure. Recently they had a nice write up with a photo in The Chicago Tribune. Though it's tough to pull it out. Steve Glabman got his car towed last week as Mars read to a real intimate audience. The location has been gentrified around over the years. And of course, Cathleen is always pregnant. But they survive, and the group is open to anyone who would like to join them for a poetry sit in at the beach. See. That's what I'm talking about.
After the beach, Larry Winfield, Maggie Rubin (on our anniversary, no less, as we met last year at the Rubins' party on the same date), crashed WZRD and carried on a lengthy conversation with Vicky Rubin (photo) live on the air. We got to read our poetry and bitch and moan about everything we'd like to see improved in the poetry scene. Yahale was very talkative. Maggie didn't read because she had that thing that's going around which makes you cough. And I got to plug The Bucktown Arts Fest which is coming up poets, see you there! :<))
It was also a chance to meet David Munger, an up and coming Chicago poet who is the author of "How to know what you know," a chapbook. David has the unique style of turning ordinary things such as an S.A.T. exam into fantasy and word play. The book is twenty pages long and has what appears to be a skull with a hole in it on the cover. It is a mixture of fiction and poetry, and since we are a poetry website, and we are about poetry, and our goal is to promote poetry, why don't we do our job, and end this article with one of Munger's poems:
That was about sixty-four
We went down to Mary's house
We were all there at Mary's house
And she told me I was getting drunk
But I'd only had three beers
At Mary's house
But she told me I was getting drunk
And her husband
His name was Sam
He told me I need to leave
But I wouldn't go
And then he grabbed me
And tried to pull me outside
And I wouldn't go
Don't want to go
Told him I'll have all the beer I want
I am in charge of myself
And he said steady steady steady
And I hit him
And he fell down and Mary was screaming at me
That was about sixty-four
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Note: Jane Ripley and C.J. Laity check out Cathleen Schandelmeier's venue.