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Posted by : cj on Monday, December 06, 2004 - 11:54 AM
Chicago Poetry Archives: Click Headlines .
October, 1990
by Barry Cassilly and David Meyers

(The following are excerpts from the October, 1990, eX-Out Column, which was the original Letter eX Gossip Column.)

The Letter eX modest writer of the year award goes hands down to our own Luis Rodriguez for the incredible restraint he showed in announcing his receipt of San Francisco State University's 1989 Poetry Center Book Award for his book Poems Across the Pavement. Luis, who must run into one or another Letter eX staffer a good 20 or 30 times a month, has to my knowledge breathed nary a word of his good fortune to any of his cohorts in these parts. Imagine my surprise when I opened up Poets & Writers to see his picture, saying to myself, "Hey, I know that guy." I guess now that the word is out Luis will be using some of the prize money to take us all out to dinner. I can't wait.

In yet another significant move in response to the NEA's new-loyalty-oath-type "obscenity" regulations, The American Poetry Review, with 14,000 subscribers, has refused this year's NEA grant. Their name can be added to The Iowa Review, The Paris Review and The Gettysburg Review, all of whom have returned NEA money in protest over the politically motivated changes at the institution.

Li-Young Lee is in the news again. This time it's for receiving the prestigious 1990 Lamont Poetry Prize. Lee was awarded this year's prize for his book The City in Which I Love You, which will be brought out this Fall by BOA Editions, Ltd. Judges for this year's award were Marvin Bell, Sandra McPherson and Robert Morgan.

My first and as yet only visit to Marc Smith's Slam at Fitzgerald's in Berwyn was, well, not exactly a quiet evening listening to carefully constructed verse. Michael Zerang, as folk singer Jimmy Jihad, was absolutely wonderful. He opened his act with a tongue-in-cheek question and answer session which he introduced by telling the audience that he was a certified expert on the Middle East. Actually, Michael is highly knowledgeable about the political situation in that part of the world, and his answers wryly pointed out the imbalanced pro-Israeli, anti-Arab slant that characterizes most media coverage of events in and around Palestine. The lyrics to his songs many worked out in collaboration with Carl Watson also had an off-beat, cutting quality. All in all, Michael's featured performance and the poetry which was read were quite entertaining. But the evening took a rather outer limits turn to the weird during Marc Smith's performance, when he drew an audience member into his act who had earlier waved a gun yes, it looked very real at the audience during the open mic. Pretty soon this fellow was ranting out of control, leading Marc to storm out the door, his performance ruined. Serious arguments broke out like wildfire among seemingly uninvolved members of the audience and soon the situation was completely out of hand. Questioned about these going-ons at a later date, Marc explained that in a way the performance had succeeded because it provoked people into asking questions. And, I would have to agree, because, at the height of the confusion, I was asking myself quite a few questions, like, for instance, where in the hell I had put my car keys.

This month Achy Obejas hosted a Girls Night Out at the lesbian nightclub Paris that was quite a success. I have to admit I was moved to attend half from wanting to hear the poetry and half from wanting to see the club. I don't know what I expected, but after I embarrassed myself by asking if they had a bathroom for men, I settled down to listen to Susanna Ruth Berger tantalize the crowd with a tale of unrequited love and several poems shredding some male only identified as D.H. Mary Hawley read some challenging work that many in the audience clearly didn't know how to react to, but, in spite of this hurdle, she won the room over on the strength of her material. Her first poem, focusing on a blind woman, was a masterful investigation of non-traditional forms of strength. Lisa Page also read a series of rhyming poems that were interesting, but left one with the impression she hadn't received much serious feedback about her work.

Start saying your good-byes to Pat Smith. She's moving to Boston, and I know, for many people here, Chicago will be a lot emptier for her absence.

--Barry Cassilly, October, 1990

As the fledgling Guild Complex embarks on its second year of programming, C.J. Laity's performance review in this issue poses a relevant question: why did the Complex move to the edge of the lookingglass form their previous location on North Lincoln? According to Michael Warr, director of the Complex, there were two basic reasons for the move: to attract audiences from beyond the North Side, and the larger space that the edge has to offer.

"Guild has always tried to bring together the diverse cultural communities of Chicago," Warr said. "The North, West and South Sides are in many ways isolated communities, and we wanted to start some kind of communication. The Loop struck us an an area that could get the kind of mix we were looking for." He added that the South Loop's growing reputation as an arts community contributed to the decision.

We will continue to have one or two events a month at Guild Books," said Warr. "But we need to win people over to the accessibility of the South Loop."

Makes sense to me.

--David Meyers, October, 1990

BACK TO 2004.

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