Thursday, March 8, 2012

My Top Ten Chicago Poets: Suzanne Buffam

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...


Rex Walton said...

You must have been sideswiped by a Larry Levis moment some time in the past ....

Terry Lucas said...

More like a head-on collision...