Basic stats: Located at 1951 W. Dickens, Danny's has long housed Bucktown's indie elite, keeping folks loyal with its low-lit rooms, leather ottomans, DJs spinning funk and soul and cheap booze. It also plays host to a two-reader monthly poetry series that typically begins at 7:30 p.m. on the third Wednesday of every month.
Incorporated: Second Wednesday of August, 2001.
Web site: Noslander.com/dannys.html
Fringe benefits: It's free and afterwards you can shake your thing to the house DJs.
You should know about the Danny's Reading Series by now. It's the series that featured Marvin Bell and Mark Strand, reading their laureate verse to 20-somethings cradling PBRs. The series for which award-winning poets from Poland and unknown poets who once resided in West Virginia are willing to flock to Chicago, no expenses paid, in order to perform their words to a crowd of 40 lucky bums. It's the reading where the talent is actually talented.
What you likely don't know is all the other stuff, the "5 W's" of Danny's so to speak. You might not have known much about the hosts, for instance. After all, both Joel Craig and John Beer are poets themselves, with forthcoming publications this spring: Craig in the "Iowa Review," and two of Beer's "Sonnets to Morpheus" in "Canary." They're friends off the set (and can occasionally be seen downing booze at the Whirl-A-Way). And they even have day jobs (John teaches at Robert Morris and Joel does graphic design for a "firm in the 'burbs"). One of them can dance (I'll let you figure that one out). And they both love corn (well, maybe not corn exactly, but they did go to Iowa).
That still leaves the "why?" After all, given the vast number of open mics and slams around the city, why did they feel compelled to start one at Danny's in the first place?
Joel Craig: I have to be honest, I hadn't checked out much in the way of open mics in the city, as everything seemed geared towards spoken word. Beyond the Poetry Center, the Chicago Poetry Project and what the local colleges had (a handful of readings each year, often during the day), there was nothing going on. There was no Discrete Series. Myopic had a completely different program. So there was definitely the potential for a series to work. When I met Greg Purcell (original co-host), we had very similar ideas of how a reading could work. He was also far better connected locally, so between the two of us it seemed like we could really do something exciting.
John Beer: I'll just add that Greg and Joel filled what was for me a sorely felt lack, so much so that I ended up camping out at nearly every reading over the first couple years. And now here I am.
JK: But why Danny's?
JC: I had already been deejaying regularly at Danny's for several years. They knew I was a poet and had even offered me use of the space for a reading long before I met Greg. I think they imagined a little knitting circle in the back room, not an audience of dozens taking up the entire bar. Anyway, when Greg and I hatched the idea, the space was automatic. It's one of the coolest, most ambient rooms in the city. It's got a great sound system. And, we already had permission.
JK: What is your most memorable moment from the series over the last year?
JC: The Fence Books showcase we held last March was amazing: the readers superbe and the bar near capacity. But the December reading by Ed Roberson was out-of-hand good. He's quite shy and quiet when you first meet him. Then he gets behind the microphone and has full command of the audience because he's sincere and emotive, but also surprising and playful.
JB: It says something about how Joel and I work that I would pick the same two moments. Ed Roberson's "I want to kill God" reliably gives me shivers a month later. Other high notes abound: Chris Edgar was a major revelation last June, erudite and crafty; Ben Doyle's Blake impersonation in September, elegant; fictioneers Michael Byers and Thisbe Nissen. Mark Strand head-to-head with Joel Sloman.
JK: Who can we expect to grace the stage at Danny's in 2005?
JC: Cole Swenson, Eleni Sikelianos, Stephen Healey, Tenaya Darlington, Mark Yakich, Suzanne Buffam...
JB: Let me just mention, with no intention of slighting our other fabulous readers, that March's pairing of Cole Swenson and Eleni Sikelianos brings together two of the most highly regarded young poets currently working.
JK: Are you planning any events not specifically poetry related, like last summer's long-form Improv Comedy night?
JC: I think another Improv night would be great. We just need to meet some more funny people. We're talking about an event featuring sound poets this summer.
JK: What is the Danny's aesthetic? Are you part of, or helping to create, a "moment in American poetry?"
JB: I'm sure we're the worst people to ask about the Danny's aesthetic, though I do think there's been an increasing coherence about what we do. Joel and I aren't plotting out ways to seize the demesne, or if he is, he's left me out of it. As for moments in American poetry, I think there's been enough: enough of O'Hara vs. Kerouac or Lowell, enough of Berryman on the bridge or Crane off the stern, enough of biographies of poets whose lives are better than their poems, like Millay or Cummings, enough performances of A-24, enough blogging, enough barbaric yawps at one's own singular genius. I'm currently in favor of small rooms and low light.
JK: What other things do you do to kill boredom in the windy city?
JC: I still deejay now and then, which means I record shop at places like Hardboiled, Gramophone and on-line at Forcedexposure.com. I'm an avid long distance bicyclist, so I spend a lot of the warmer months on the road. Of course, I write poems, which means I hang out.
JB: My time's about evenly divided these days between working on my dissertation (at the U. of C.) and anxiously avoiding it. Amber Sutherland and I play late-night chess at the Starbucks on North and Wells. I also scribble about theatre now and then. Someday I'd like to keep bees.
JK: Do other modes of expression influence your (collective) poetic sensibility?
JC: So many different aesthetics do this. Music, especially electronic music built of obvious yet subtle components; or blatant music, like early Butthole Surfers. Artists like David Hockney, Martin Kippenberg and recently, Lee Bontecou. Even food and wine does, when you think about flavor components and layering.
JB: The films of Andrei Tarkovsky and Michael Snow, the music of Will Oldham and Macy Gray, the painting of Egon Schiele, the novels of William Gaddis, the plays of Mac Wellman, and the television criticism of Heather Havrilesky, though she underrates "Arrested Development."
JK: Who is more of a man?
JC: I'll have to let you decide that.
JB: Is there someone I can complain to about this?