While in Chicago for AWP, having dinner with a poet friend of mine, I learned that she hadn't read a poet recently that she was excited about. I suggested the name of a Chicago poet to whom I always turn whenever I need inspiration. It fired from one of my synapses quicker than a 9mm Luger cartridge because I maintain an arsenal of loaded poets ready to defend me from the enemies of daily writing: mind numbing, soul-deadening day jobs, family drama, the common writer's block--you name it, and I have the right word-Smith & Wesson to put down anything that gets between me and the ecstasy of poetry: reading it, writing it. During the panel presentation, Chicago as Literary Birthplace, I jotted down the Chicago poets that I regularly read. I share them here with you, as antidote, as inspiration, as the core of Chicago poetry as I know it--a school of poetry that defines itself by not defining itself, except by adhering to its delightful divergency and multi-faceted excellence. Here then are My Top Ten Chicago Poets.
#1: Suzanne Buffam. I met Suzanne when she was a visiting poet at Columbia College Chicago. She was quite young but not without accomplishment--neither in scholarship, nor with her poems. She had two master's degrees (MA in English Literature from Concordia University in Montreal and MFA from Iowa Writers' Workshop), gave the most brilliant lectures in her classes, and had already (at age 24) won the 1998 Canadian Literary Award for Poetry--without a published book. In 2005 her Past Imperfect won the Gerald Lampert Award for best first book of poetry published in Canada, and in 2010 her second book, The Irrationalist (reviewed in an earlier post on this blog), was a finalist (one of only three) for the acclaimed Griffin Prize. Suzanne now teaches at The University of Chicago. But, as Michael Waters joked about himself after a glowing introduction at AWP, is she any good? Judge for yourself. Here is "The New Experience," from The Irrationalist:
The New Experience
I was ready for a new experience.
All the old ones had burned out.
They lay in little ashy heaps along the roadside
And blew in drifts across the fairgrounds and fields.
From a distance some appeared to be smoldering
But when I approached with my hat in my hands
They let out small puffs of smoke and expired.
Through the windows of houses I saw lives lit up
With the otherworldly glow of TV
And these were smoking a little bit too.
I flew to Rome. I flew to Greece.
I sat on a rock in the shade of the Acropolis
And conjured dusky columns in the clouds.
I watched waves lap the crumbling coast.
I heard wind strip the woods.
I saw the last living snow leopard.
Pacing in the dirt. Experience taught me
That nothing worth doing is worth doing
For the sake of experience alone.
I bit into an apple that tasted sweetly of time.
The sun came out. It was the old sun
With only a few billion years left to shine.
My Top Ten Chicago Poets will be continued...
Thursday, March 8, 2012
My Top Ten Chicago Poets: Suzanne Buffam
was born in the Midwest, grew up in New Mexico, and has lived in the San Francisco bay area for two decades. Terry has published in numerous literary journals, including Best New Poets 2012, Crab Orchard Review, Green Mountains Review, Great River Review, New Millennium Writings, and The Comstock Review. His work has garnered six Pushcart Prize nominations. He is the winner of the 2014 Crab Orchard Review Special Issue Feature Award in Poetry. His chapbook, Altar Call, was a winner in the the 2013 San Gabriel Valley Literary Festival, and appears in the Anthology, Diesel. His chapbook, If They Have Ears to Hear, won the 2012 Copperdome Poetry Chapbook Contest, and is available from Southeast Missouri State University Press. His first full-length collection of poems, In This Room (CW Books, 2016), is now available, and his second, Dharma Rain, was released by Saint Julian Press in October of 2016. Terry is a 2008 poetry MFA graduate of New England College, and a free-lance poetry consultant. For more information about him and his work see www.terrylucas.com