It’s no epiphany that the Twin Cities are a rich and diverse literary environment. For decades readers, writers, and behind-the-scenesers have celebrated a broad array of influences and created a wild spectrum of output. The new MCAD reading series WORDLAB seems intent to place this literary diversity on exhibit. Continue reading
In an event that showcased fiction, nonfiction, poetry, performance, and, um, “found art,” several of the Twin Cities’s youngest and most promising writers stood before an unexpectedly large audience and gave a taste of what’s to come. In all, eight candidates for the degree of Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing at the University of Minnesota presented a reading of works in progress at Magers & Quinn Booksellers on Friday, November 16, 2012. Continue reading
I should have learned my lesson. Just over a month ago, when Michael Chabon visited the Hennepin County Central Library as part of Talk of the Stacks, so many enthusiastic readers turned out that the overflow room overflowed. I knew the turnout wouldn’t be any less impressive for Zadie Smith, who stopped by the University Of Minnesota’s Coffman Memorial Union Theater on Tuesday, October 23, 2012. Yet, I didn’t arrive until ten minutes before the reading was scheduled to begin. Continue reading
I saw the listing for a new reading series called “OUR FLOW IS HARD” last week, and was so captivated by the description that I had to check it out. From thier tumblr:
OUR FLOW IS HARD is a collective of girlpoets bent on flooding the place, a small dam of sticks that like to make and hear sounds. would you like to come make and hear sounds too? we have picked out some great and glittery noisemakers for our first inbogural reading. we have made party hats out of the feathery mosses of their teeth. There will be punch!
The “inbogural Pink Swamp Poetry Reading” took place on Thursday, June 21 2012, and featured readings by UM MFA candidates Aaron Apps and Lucas de Lima, as well as visiting poet Natasha Kessler (from Omaha, NE). And it took place in de Lima’s apartment… About thirty people (most of them fellow MFA candidates at the U) crammed into de Lima’s living room and swilled punch (there was indeed punch! And it was delicious), mingling and chit-chatting for about an hour prior to the reading. As such, the event had the feel of a house-party more than a poetry reading: everybody knew each other, it seemed, and was ready to have a good time.
The OUR FLOW crew had donned de Silva’s walls with dozens of plastic dinosaurs, giving the room a prehistoric edge. Contributing to the bog/swamp theme was the fact that de Lima’s living room turned almost instantly to a sweat lodge. Thursday was one of the first not-disgustingly-humid days of the week, but you wouldn’t know it inside the room. I was fortunate, for the first two readers, to have been sitting beside the fan. And speaking of readers…
Natasha Kessler earned her MFA from the University of Nebraska, and now works for a small press and lit journal in Omaha. She read a series of poems from a manuscript titles “Tricks with Creative,” names of some of the characters in the work. (I’m not sure if that’s “Trix” or “Tricks” or something else…) As the first reader, Kessler was the first to try out the grandmotherly rocking chair set up for readers–equipped, of course, with a stuffed dinosaur cushion. Her poems nicely kicked off the OUR FLOW tradition (as I’m sure this will not be their last event) by pushing boundaries of both content and form: her initial poem repeated and reshaped the word “hole/whole” over the course of its lines, driving home some of the central themes to OUR FLOW’s mission. To give a sense of Kessler’s style, she read from one section entitled, “I’d Like to Shave My Head, Pretend I’m a Vulture, and Bury My Head in Your Chest.”
Aaron Apps is a local poet attending the U. His manuscript A Carnal Shitstorm of Affections will be coming out soon on Blazevox, one of our favorite presses around here, so this was an exciting chance to see him read. His immediate and stark poetry captivated the sweltering audience, often leading them to nervous laughter (as when he paused amid a description of the ebola virus to inflate a red balloon to a near-popping degree, then tied it off and let it bounce around the room). His manuscript also included images, which he held up for the crowd as though in show-and-tell: ”Somatic Self-Portrait of the Ear,” and “Somatic Self-Portrait of the Penis Tip,” etc. One highlight was his manifesto of a poem, “On Silence,” which read, in full: “Fuck silence.”
Lucas de Lima
The event’s gracious host took up the rocking chair after a ten minute break, allowing everyone to step outside and cool down temporarily. de Lima, a recent graduate of the UM MFA program, read from a manuscript that “orbits around an event” that the poet
went through several years ago: his good friend fell victim to an alligator attack. If there is any proper way to come to terms with a trauma such as this, orbiting around it in poetry seems ideal. As such, de Lima’s work was intense and haunting, violent and yet deeply affecting. Relating to and conflating the experience with natural forms (the speaker taking the shape of a bird, a discussion with an alligator/human hybrid), his poetry approached and acknowledged the event without ever fully confronting it, without ever forgiving it for having happened.
The reading portion of the evening concluded with the Mystery Swampbeast–billed as an additional reader, which it was, of sorts… the founding members of OUR FLOW IS HARD (Carrie, Kristin, Mary, Chrissie, and Amelia) had handed out index cards to attendees as they arrived. Each card bore a madlib-esque prompt. When the time came for the Swampbeast, these five women took the stage and performed, with the audience’s help, an interactive manifesto for the series–calling out a number corresponding to a card, and it was the audience member’s job to contribute to and complete that item of the manifesto. A nice, practical metaphor for the intent behind this new reading series: to generate a community united by poetry, rather than merely a market for poetry.
I slipped out before the dance party started, but it seemed inevitable. The “inbogural” event in OUR FLOW IS HARD’s catalog may have orbited a little closely to the MFA program (this was, more or less, an MFA party with a reading thrown in), but it didn’t keep this outsider from feeling welcome, from having a good time, and from hearing some excellent and exciting poetry. As the series grows, I expect it to keep pushing boundaries–including the scope and breadth of its audience.
Were you There? Have something to add, or a different take on this event? Chime in on the comments below, or send us an email at LitSeen.Mpls@gmail.com! Be sure to check the schedule to the right and the Twin Cities Literary Calendar and be at the next LitSeen attended event. See you around!
The 2012 edition of Ivory Tower, a literary magazine of work by undergraduate University of Minnesota writers, artists, and musicians, celebrated its release on Wednesday, April 25 2012 at The Whole, in the basement of the Coffman Memorial Union. The book is a product of a year-long class in which undergraduate students learn and perform the entire process of creating a publication—delegation of responsibilities, calls for submissions, editorial selections, layout, design, printing, and now, finally, planning and hosting a launch party.
I wasn’t quite sure what to expect going into this event—I didn’t attent the U or have an opportunity to participate in a program like this when I was an undergrad. I spoke briefly with the one perennial constant of the Ivory Tower staff , the class’s graduate advisor and local poet Sarah Fox (Coffee House Press). Sarah seemed calmly optmistic about the night’s event. ”It’s all undergraduate work,” she made sure I understood, and when that didn’t cause me to run for the door, she explained a bit more about the program. Roughly, her synopsis was, “Every year its an entirely new staff of undergraduates, collecting submissions from other undergrads and putting the whole thing together… It’s a valuable thing.”
The reading itself was well attended by Staff, contributors, and their supporting friends (and a couple of nervous looking parents). The event was perfectly suited to the venue: the Whole Music Club is laid out like a tidy dive bar, with dark, low ceilings and chaotic wall art, yet organized and particularly well lit. The art recalls graffiti but is clearly intentional, commissioned work. On either side of the stage are large video screens. It’s a multi-purpose venue and has seen several local and national acts in multiple genres, which is why the Ivory Tower launch party fit so well. As the magazine incorporated fiction, poetry, and nonfiction into its pages, so too did it expand its submissions to include visual art and audio (the publication’s table of contents includes songs available to stream on the Ivory Tower website).
The performances were many and diverse, with each reader and performer giving voice to her or his vision. Joe Kopel played a few selections of his Dylan-influenced rootsy folk songs; Laura Burnes read from her short story “Because of Herman Melville” (including one memorable passage, which I misquote: “I hate the term ‘Sugar Daddy,’ like it’s sugar I suck on. It isn’t candy, all shriveled up like Grape Nuts…”); Torsten Johnson read a handful of beat-style self-searching love poetry; and Mark Brenden overcame his nerves to share some of the finest work of the evening (prior to reading his poem “Hooray America,” he declared that “If my hands are shaking, it’s just because you’re all looking at me”). Alyssa Pintar welcomed us back form intermission by tearing the house down with her pian0-and-vocal performance; Sarah Moen‘s creaky-voiced reading of her short fiction “The Relentless Sun” gave the subject matter—aging and degeneration—a palpable feel; Tim Schumacher slammed us with his sci-fi masculine verse, the microphone popping the P’s of his closing declaration, “I AM THE PISTON! I AM THE PISTON!”; Sasha Chandavong slowed things down with the poignant and brief nonfiction work, “Vibhadi Road”; and Erin Murphy recited her poem “Erosion” from memory before concluding the night with a smile and a curtsy.
The selections came mostly from the pages of Ivory Tower’s 2012 edition, though not everyone included in the publication read. And amazingly, none of the Ivory Tower staff was permitted to submit work, so many more clearly creative members of this community weren’t represented by either the words in these pages or on stage. The book itself is an achievement of layout and design, though: Shannon Fletcher, Teresa Hayes, and Megan Sharp are certainly a “design triumvirate” (their term) to keep an eye on. I particularly enjoyed the justification of including blank pages near the end of the magazine: “We learned over the course of this project,” went the pith of a statement made by one of the editors,”that our community extends beyond just the staff and the contributors. It includes the readers and the audience, and because you’re here tonight, you’re a part of this community too. So these pages are for you.” A touching representation of what this literary community means in all of its locations, shapes, and stages.
Much of the work on display seemed to still be searching for its persona, the work of a process more than a coherent expression. Yet for as tentative as the work may be, the performances were brazen and courageous. Ivory Tower captures a proud moment of transition in many young artists’ lives. The launch party for the 2012 edition of Ivory Tower was not so much a celebration of craft and accomplishment, but one of energy and potential. And though these attributes rarely appeared simultaneously, each abounded. A valuable thing, indeed.
Were you there? Have a different take on the event? Chime in on the comments below. Also, check the schedule to the right and be at the next LitSeen attended event! See you around.