Friday, March 9, 2012

My Top Ten Chicago Poets: Ed Roberson

#2: Ed Roberson. "I'm not trying to create a new language," said Roberson in a 2006 interview, "I'm just trying to un-white out the one we've got." I never took a workshop under Ed, but I trudged with him more than once through the soft moguls of Wabash Street before Chicago's mini-snow plows cleared the sidewalks. And on those walks he told me the story of a poet reinventing himself in his sixties, a successful writer coming to Chicago from Pittsburg after surviving terminal illness, creating a new life, creating new work, teaching young poets--inspiring me to force the white page to yield to my pen. After a half dozen books and more awards to his credit than could fit on the back cover of most books, City Eclogue was born in 2006. Since then, The New Wing of the Labyrinth and To See the Earth Before the End of the World have appeared, along with the Lila Wallace Writers' Award and the 2008 Shelley Memorial Award from the Poetry Society of America. In a recent panel entitled "Chicago as Literary Birthplace" Roberson discussed how he was captured by Chicago--almost against his will--how he gave in to the city whose poetry had seduced him from his youth, driving from Pittsburg to Cleveland to spend food money on books published by local Chicago black presses that eventually became mainstream: Broadside, Third World, Lotus. Listen to what poet and critic Michael Palmer has called "one of the most deeply innovative and critically acute voices of our time" in the following poem from City Eclogue:

Urban Nature

Neither New Hampshire nor Midwestern farm,
nor the summer home in some Hamptons garden
thing, not that Nature, not a satori
-al leisure come to terms peel by peel, not that core
whiff of beauty as the spirit. Just a street
pocket park, clean of any smells, simple quiet--
simple quiet not the same as no birds sing,
definitely not the dead of no birds sing:

The bus stop posture in the interval
of nothing coming, a not quite here running
sound underground, sidewalk's grate vibrationless
in open voice, sweet berries ripen in the street
hawk's kiosks. The orange is being flown in
this very moment picked of its origin.

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