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Mark Eleveld
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The Chicago Tribune hosted the largest literary festival in the Midwest over the weekend. I had the pleasure of hosting the Arts and Poetry Tent. We had several readings that moved audiences. Here are some amateur photos of the event. Saturday morning started with Angela Jackson reading from her first book in 17 years, It Seems Like A Mighty Long Time. Soulful, intelligent, passionate, and filled with wisdom and wit, Jackson was a delight to have. The mystic Paul Breslin read from his new book, Between My Eye and the Light. Spiritual and on point, Paul began his reading by talking about the madness of the world post-9/11. Editor of poetry at Northwestern Press, and poet of her long-awaited first book Vessel, Parneshia Jones was cool, clever, and open. "I want to get personal, raise your hand if you remember your first kiss. Good, now raise your hand if you remember your first French kiss ..." inquired Jones of the audience. Daniel Wolff flew in from the East Coast for his book tour supporting his collection, The Names of Birds. He read every poem twice, with a small description in the interior. It was a metaphysical call and response. Also dropping into the Chicago Tribune Arts and Poetry Tent from her book tour, actress and poet Amber Tamblyn . Amber read from her latest collection, Dark Sparkler and was interviewed on stage by Megan Stielstra, author of Once I Was Cool. Amber's book includes poems about child stars who died, Hollywood at large, and features art by David Lynch, Marilyn Manson, and other notables. During the interview, the actress/poet thoughtfully commented, "When people ask what I do, I tell them I get professionally rejected. I've been acting since I was 11, and I didn't take a break until I was 26. I had success, I had failure, but it is always going forward. So I tell people, they don't see all of the rejections behind it." Amber filled the poetry tent, sold out of books, and had to make a flight for a reading in Calgary. And closing the weekend with what has become a tradition over the last three years, author of Wine for a Shotgun, Marty McConnell performed her exceptionally acute and piercing poems. Download 15 The World's Guide to Beginning Another fine weekend of poetry at her best. Continue reading
Posted Jun 8, 2015 at The Best American Poetry
I came up in the ‘poetry readings’ world under royalty. I was in the military for a small bit (small note about the military: When you are on, you are on, and when there is nothing, there is nothing. “Stand around and wait,” which for me meant, stand around and read. I probably read more books in the military than in graduate school) and when I came out I went to a small Midwestern, liberal arts school to work on or fly airplanes (my MOS in the military was 68 Golf). I lasted a day in an engineering class. My father worked evenings, and I drove to his business late at night and told him I couldn’t be in aviation. He smiled and gave me a hug (he was good at making big world problems seem small) and told me to take some classes that I was interested in. I loaded up on English courses, philosophy courses, and journalism courses. I was attracted to the work, but also to the character of these professors. Dr. Richard Prince was (and remains) one such inspiration. If English offices were supposed to have books dripping off of the shelves, low light, uncomfortable chairs that had butt prints grown in, with a partially filled ashtray somewhere, and a small flask of something hidden not too far from the ashtray, then his office fulfilled that duty. He was smart. He was giving of his time. He was very interested in the lives of others. And when he spotted something interesting about a student, he helped develop and nurture it. Personally, he introduced me to Chicago as the hot bed of literary activity. And, he introduced me to poet Marc Kelly Smith. Marc is the poetry slam founder. He runs a weekly show (it is the longest running poetry show in Chicago, quite possibly, the country) that has the poetry slam in it. He created the poetry slam in 1988. The Green Mill Jazz Lounge is the home of the poetry slam. Marc Smith built it. I am a behind-the-scenes guy, mostly. But I was lucky that I had this very hard discipline from the military, a very formal education from the Christian Brothers, and the juxtaposition of living, breathing poets and writers. It very much interested me to read Carl Sandberg and see Marc Smith. It interested me to read Gwendolyn Brooks and see Patricia Smith. It interested me to read Nelson Algren and see Stuart Dybek. So, as I was reading the books of unerring truth, I was meeting with Marc to work on shows, or book tours, or write articles; Marc would always ask me what I was reading and we’d sit on his couch and go back and forth about how good, or how awful it was. Marc is an artist, one of the most pure minded artists I have been around. He is a tough nut. I came up with a bunch of tough nuts. All of them filled with love,... Continue reading
Posted Jun 4, 2015 at The Best American Poetry
Robert Frost reads "Nothing Gold Can Stay" I was in an American Studies course in high school. It was my junior year. The course was taught by Mr. and Mrs Sprague. He worked in some capacity for the Federal Government with Native Americans (we were required to visit their home for tea once a semester where he would give a tour of the Native American artifacts he had collected during his time on the reservations) and taught the history part of the course and she (this delightful sprite’ish looking, overly enthusiastic and biting strong, strong woman) taught the English portion. The class was in the bell tower section of the original high school building: Pimped out cherry wood everywhere, creaky wooden floors, built in books cases, with statues of all the great writers bopping around the room. It was cool. The classes were double-blocked, so we would have American Literature first, and then go to U.S. History right after, and vice-versa. It was as much a ‘show’ as it was a class. The context became a medium for their message. There were girls in class that I wanted to impress. Mrs. Sprague was big on recitation. I think she read most of The Scarlet Letter to us aloud. Not so much reading as performing. Not so much performing as inhabiting the soul of those characters. I remember her jumping about whenever she read anything to do with Pearl. She was ghostly. I enjoyed the performance, but I crashed and burned on the test. When she handed the test back, she asked if I had read the book. Aloud. She asked if I belonged in the class. Aloud. I was not impressing anyone. I was a high school athlete, but I worked a job as well. At Hong Kong Village, my best buddy Dave and I bussed tables. Dave went into the work force at age 16 and never looked back. He graduated, but it was tough on him. I told him about the test. I told him what Mrs. Sprague had said. He was good to me, he respected that I liked books, and that I liked to read, that I wrote things at an early age. He told me they were reading The Outsiders. And, as if out of a film, he went to the coat rack (he had a biker, black leather with a hand painted cover of Metallica’s ‘Master of Puppets’ on the back of his jacket) and tossed me his classroom copy. I read it that night. I fell in love with it. I watched the film a bunch. (Val Kilmer told me he was offered a part in The Outsiders film). All of these tough kids. All of these heady, traumatic experiences. The innocence of it all. The deep well of reserve that Pony Boy maintained. He was a good kid. Even Dally was a good kid. And Johnny was Captain America in spades. More than anything, my head kept coming back to Pony reciting... Continue reading
Posted Jun 2, 2015 at The Best American Poetry