That Chicago Sound
Elaine Equi, Kimberly Lyons and
Sharon Mesmer wrote to us regarding
our post *The Chicago School* in
reponse to Sharon Mesmer and Elaine
Equi's recent reading at the Bowery
Poetry Club. Elaine wrote:
"...I think you're right, there is a Chicago sound -- funny, talky, kind of
surreal (they were big there for a while)."
Kimberly Lyons sent us the following response.
I'm sweating cuz such a casual remark to you bloggers leads to a thing. Keeps us on our toes!
Sure, I was a freshman and Elaine a senior so to speak at Columbia College. A few years later Sharon Mesmer, and Debbie Pintonelli and Connie Deanovitch came to Columbia. We all studied with Paul Hoover and in some sense Maxine Chernoff. But there wasn't a school. Not sure how much social interaction there was of any of the aforementioned parties until NYC. There certainly are shared concerns through time in the work and styles if you will among these writers and many more - but I know most of them would resist identification as "Chicago" writers.
Elaine E and Jerome S. were at one time part of and even originators of a scene that I think came off of a punk and performance and various literary affilitations . Their work and audiences became inclusive of LA cohorts that I think involved Amy Gerstler, David Trinidad and others. Once they moved east and after years of intensive individual work they are quite independent and have even individuated from each others work! I think their work now needs to be read in the context of the New York School, including Ron Padgett, Elmslie and Brainard; Lang( and 2nd generation lang po) including Bruce Andrews, Rob Fittterman, Rae Armentrout and many other affilitations that criss-cross coteries. Equi and Sala's early work did manifest that cluster of characteristics you listed --as does Sharon Mesmer's work. The divergences and sympathies among these writer's work would be a longer dialogue and reading. Worth doing.
The Chicago poetry scene and the style you allude to or are trying to define, takes its energy, I think, from Chicago's particular working class politics, African American culture (think of the avante garde African American jazz performers coming out of Chicago), comedy, and Chicago's longtime involvement with surrealism - from Breton's famous visit to Maxwell Street to the collecting of the Bergmans; the centerpiece of the Art Institute's Cornell collection. When I was a teen, it was big news when Franklin Rosemont's group threw flour all over Robert Bly at a reading at the Body Politic. The Chicago Imagist painters work also reflects these forces: Big Table magazine, The Little magazine, even Poetry and the Chicago Literary Review and vestiges of other literary scenes has energized activity- even in the ephemeral way of these histories. The brief presence of Ted Berrigan and Alice Notley in Chicago instigated, I believe, a whole new opening up of styles and Barbara Barg, Susie Timmons, Bob Holman, Bob Rosenthal, Shelley Kraut's commitment to poetry and their later moving east. The 15 Chicago Poets group (my tag) are an intereresting constellation. Art Lange's Brilliant Corners, for instance, is a great unsung magazine. Anyway, this is a larger situation and I'm not making a claim for any of the writers' work mentioned as being subsumed in this context - more as being in an unavoidable relationship. My own and Sharon's work, as is evident from her great new collection of stories form Hanging Loose, I think remains haunted by the geography of the experience. The look and feel of things there....