Basic stats: The Harold Washington Library, located at 400 S. State, plays host to four annual readings known as The Chicago Poetry Project (CPP). All readings are held in the Chicago Authors Room on the 7th floor, unless otherwise specified.
Incorporated: Fall 2001.
Web site: Chicagopoetryproject.org
Fringe benefits: The series is held in the Harold Washington Library, and is free to the public. The facility is beautiful, the acoustics are breathtaking and the location is easily accessible from a host of L trains and busses. Bring the kids!
When: Four readings spread over separate Sundays in September, November, January and March, each beginning at 1 p.m.
Up next: Robert Adamson, Andrew Joron and Patrick Prichett
One of the lesser-known lights in Chicago's poetry solar system is the Chicago Poetry Project (CPP). Curated by Chicago poet John Tipton, the series has built a steady following among literate apes in the know, but is long overdue for a wider audience. Tipton selects exciting voices from contemporary poetry, focusing primarily on risk-takers: voices who are taking chances and forging new ground.
While Tipton is better known as the quietly intense fellow with the thick black specs who writes intellectually tight poems of substantive philosophical heft, he's often overlooked an organizer, and wrongly so. Along with Danny's, the CPP spearheaded an underground welling of poetry, staging free and all-ages readings in the posh Chicago Author's room. But despite all this, much is still left unsaid about the series. This is not to be missed. Just be sure to check the Web site each August for the scheduled dates, as word of mouth can sometimes flit past the most willing of ears.
Centerstage: When did the Chicago Poetry Project Reading Series begin, and how did you become affiliated with it?
John Tipton: I started CPP back in 2001 simply because at the time there weren't many places where you could hear literary (i.e. non-performance) poetry outside of the universities in town. I wanted to run a series that was independent of the schools, so naturally I wanted a location that was neutral, so to speak. I contacted the Harold Washington Library and they were more than happy to have us. The Chicago Public Library has always been a very gracious host for us, accommodating and promoting the series. They only stipulate that the readings be free to the public, which is just what I always intended anyway. Of course, things have changed in town. Not a week goes by anymore when you can't hear someone reading verse in all types of venues.
CS: What is your most memorable moment from past readings?
JT: Hard to say. Probably the first reading. Like I said, there really wasn't anything like this before I started. Greg Purcell and Joel Craig got the Danny's series going right at the same time, so I didn't know if there was any audience for poetry in Chicago. I sent out some fliers, told friends, and e-mailed as many people as I could. I showed up that first Saturday wondering if anyone besides the poets would show up. But people I'd never seen before starting filing into the room and they have ever since.
CS: Are you planning any events not "specifically" poetry-related?
JT: No, can't say that we are. I've thought about lectures or panel discussions or even a straight-up prose reader, but never very seriously. I like to keep it simple: poets and poems.
CS: Who can we expect to see reading next year?
JT: We've decided to organize the series around religious poetry, and Peter O'Leary will curate. We're interpreting "religious" rather loosely, but nearly all of the poets reading next fall will share a noumenal bent. You can expect to hear Andrew Joron and Patrick Prichett. Joron writes beautifully crafted, sonic poems informed by surrealism. Prichett is hard to describe but he's definitely cosmic. Not a religious poet, the Australian Robert Adamson will also be reading next year. That's because he'll be touring the States and we just couldn't pass up the opportunity to host him in Chicago, religious theme or no.
CS: What kind of readers can a potential audience expect from this series?
JT: Our tastes run toward innovators so at times this brings out some crazy stuff, disjunctive, asyntactic, indirect, but not always. People should expect to be surprised and challenged. One great thing about hearing a poet read is that he or she usually gives some context for a poem and offers points of entry that you won't find on your own, particularly if you're unaccustomed to contemporary verse. One of my biggest hopes for the series is that it bring interesting work to people who may not otherwise encounter it. Not all poets write about backyards in Omaha. I've got no problems with backyards in Omaha, mind you, but I do, from time to time, want to read about other things. To paraphrase Whitman: American poetry is large; it contains multitudes. We want the series to show some of that diversity.
CS: What influences your sense of aesthetic, both on a personal level, as well as in curating this series?
JT: As I said, I've got a soft spot for innovators and experiments, folks who take risks. I want to bring out people who do unusual things or have novel approaches to traditional subjects. This comes right out of the choices I make in what I read and what I try to accomplish with my own poetry.
CS: Aside from running this reading, what else are you involved with?
JT: I'm a poet, not incidentally. So I'm always writing and will, on occasion, read my own poems around town. I also suffer from the same affliction millions of others live with: I need to work for a living. Between writing, running CPP, and work, I stay pretty busy. I do manage to get to a lot of readings, however, so I guess that also makes me kind of a poetry hipster. There are a lot of great events in town now and I try to make the scene. You know, for appearances sake.
CS: Do you have any forthcoming publications?
JT: I've usually got a poem or two submitted someplace, as is the case now, but I don't have any large poetry projects pending. I've just finished a draft of a translation of Sophocles' play "Ajax," which I've circulated with a few readers for comments. A couple small sections of it are in the current "Chicago Review." I hope to wrap that up this summer for publication early in 2006.
CS: Why bother with a reading series anyway?
JT: I ask myself this question all the time. Until Godot shows, I guess I'll keep it up.
CS: If you were to declare a thumb war with John Beer, who would winů?
JT: John, as you may know, is a disciple of Hegel. This gives him a distinct advantage in a dialectical agon like thumb wrestling. My philosophical lights stem from Wittgenstein via Rorty, which makes me logical but pragmatic. I would probably lose the match and, despite knowing full well that losing doesn't matter in any universal sense, still feel bad about it.