The venue: The Raven Lounge in Philadelphia, not far from Rittenhouse Square. A scene for unlikely juxtapositions: downstairs, you’ll find board games, and upstairs, a stripper pole. Strobe lights in the bathrooms. This bar earns bonus points for offering nightly drink discounts for teachers (“Teacher Appreciation: Show your Valid ID and get 50% off drinks!”). And on this hot mid-June evening, approximately 70 people have crammed into the dark second floor of the Raven Lounge to celebrate the publication of English teacher and poet Iain Haley Pollock’s first book of poetry, Spit Back a Boy, winner of the Cave Canem Poetry Prize. A local bookstore owner recently informed me that the average number of attendees at poetry readings in Philly—and perhaps across the country—falls between 3 and 10, so drawing this kind of crowd is a major feat. What follows is a series of photos from the book launch party.
Summer is a season of midnight. At least that’s how it feels to me. No matter how much sun I soak up it is night and night alone that gives Summer it’s special feeling of (sorry to the strict Lacanians) jouissance, a kind of pleasure-in-defiance. A defiance of what’s rational, what’s healthful and sane. Sleep, for instance. Summer never sleeps and for the months of June, July, and August, neither do I.
Among some of my oldest relatives, there’s a custom of recording weddings gifts given and received in order to ensure that no family is left feeling cheated. So, for example, if Jupiter Uncle gave Volkswagen Uncle’s daughter one thousand and one ringgit* on the occasion of her marriage, then when Jupiter Uncle’s son is getting married, Volkswagen Uncle will consult his wedding-gift book, look under Jupiter Uncle’s name, and duly stuff one thousand and one ringgit into the clean white envelope he will slip into his shirt pocket on the morning of the wedding. The custom works in reverse, too: Jupiter Uncle will write down in his own book what he gave at Volkswagen Uncle’s daughter’s wedding, so that he will know exactly how much to expect when his own children are getting married.
I have been reading Italo Calvino’s Cosmicomics at a speed that indicates I must be reading dot by dot. Although I relish Calvino’s experiment for the obvious pleasure its witty, sometimes laugh-out-loud funny, and intellectually compelling tales offer, I also resist it. I read a mere bit before I run off to pour more tea or move clothes from washer to dryer or decide that the windows must be washed immediately or that the garden needs tending or the animals petting. Alternatively, I sit with the book in my lap and stare…at the page, off the page, into space. Today, I think that I may have figured out why. I find and experience a great sadness in reading this work. It has to do with change and transition, and it cultivates an aggravated restlessness that both makes it difficult for me to read and also accounts for the emotional genius of the Cosmicomics.
While my graduate writing program at UofM is on break for the summer, I’ve adopted Chicago as my temporary home. And in the past several weeks, while strolling around town, seeking some inspiration for my next short story, and enjoying the lakefront path that winds from the northern to southernmost points of the city, I’ve come to realize that Chicago is overflowing with public art. Its statues, ornate fountains, and contemporary sculptures are casually integrated into some of the busiest parts of the the city, turning Chicago into a veritable walking museum that anyone can enjoy for free!