I’m trying to remember when I first heard of 100,000 Poets for Change. I know as a poet I picked up on it much more quickly than the general populace probably. Anything with “poets” in the title would end up on my radar eventually. I do remember being on the phone with Michael Rothenberg at some point talking with him about something else and saying “so, what’s this 100,000 Poets for change”? I mean, 100,000? What do you mean by change? Whose change? What does that look like? I remember Michael answering my questions fairly patiently, if not giving me the impression that I was being too skeptical. Almost the tone of his voice, from what I remember, being kind of like, don’t you get it?
I did get it and he knew I did, but I was asking questions because I was intrigued.
I do think that since being written up by the major news media (Huffington Post for Yahweh’s sake), poets and the public at large are taking it much more seriously as a vehicle for dialogue and a motivator for communities to band together and solve problems with art. Essentially that’s what it is. But its nebulous qualities are what makes it unique. It’s really all-inclusive, nearly to a fault. Bob Holman pointed out that the strength of it lies in the fact that anyone can take the idea and pour it into the mold of what works in their own community. I agreed.
For Chicago, my plan was to provide some sugar, maybe some hilarity, so the bitter pill of what was happening in America would go down a little easier. Everything in the news reminded me of being on a bad date. It was BAD DATE AMERICA. The idea of being stuck in a clock-watching scenario and grimacing through every moment of it. The worst bad dates also involve a CHAIN OF EVENTS that progressively worsens. “Well, at least THAT hasn’t happened, yet.”
Also, giving the event a conceptual theme might make the audience feel a bit better about an event involving 15 to 20 poets. It seemed to work.
After organizing it and coming up with a viable concept, of course I had to act as MC and participate by reading my own poetry and recounting an actual bad date experience. I dressed up like a waiter, wore a white shirt and black tie, threw a towel over my arm, and seated each reader at the front of the room at the candlelight table we’d propped up just for the occasion. The audience tittered and gasped and I think came away with more of an understanding of how art can bridge gaps between communities and also grease the wheels of change. I enjoyed myself.
After all, has there been a time when more is at stake? In addition to the complacency on the part of many regarding the evidence that the earth is in danger of the kind of climate change that could at the least ruin lives and at the most result in a world war over resources, disruption in trade and eco-disaster, IN ADDITION TO THAT the United States was still involved in two foreign wars and the global economy was in the midst of a recession that had curbed everyone’s enthusiasm for anything.
I was astounded to see that so many local poets and publishers agreed to participate, including such talents as the following: Kaveh Adel, Barbara Barg, Jen Besemer, Dan Godston, Laura Goldstein, Ezzat Goushegir, Kurt Heintz, Marcy Rae Henry, Philip Jenks, Jennifer Karmin, Francesco Levato, Toni Asante Lightfoot, Monica Long, Anthony Madrid, Mario, Ario Mashayekhi, Charlie Newman, Ladan Osman, Timothy David Ray, Roger Reeves, Kenyatta Rogers, Jacob Saenz, Don Share, Keli Stewart, Tony Trigilio, and Lina Ramona Vitkauskas.
I look forward to the next event this coming September. I hope you’ll plan something, too. I feel like those poets and artists who participated in the first event deserve something for lighting the fire.
Bad Date America is an event I coordinate here in Chicago:
On September 24, 2011, many poets around the world [first] made their voices heard. To declare the change they’d like to see most in the U.S. and throughout the international community, events were staged on four continents and in over 100 countries in an event called “100 Thousand Poets for Change,” which was conceived by poet Michael Rothenberg, editor of bigbridge.org and editor of Philip Whalen, David Meltzer, and Joanne Kyger.
In Chicago, Larry Sawyer, Lina Ramona Vitkauskas, Jennifer Karmin and Laura Goldstein in conjunction with the Red Rover Reading Series and The Chicago School of Poetics asked poets to go on a hypothetical “date” with America as the satellite event in Chicago for “100 Thousand Poets for Change,” and asked Chicago poets to recall some of their worst dating experiences, read a poem and talk about what’s going wrong and what they think is going right with America.
It’s Bad Date America.
Poets read and discussed how their own “date” with America is going with the audience. Participants included: Barbara Barg, Dan Godston, Laura Goldstein, Philip Jenks, Jennifer Karmin, Francesco Levato, Anthony Madrid, Charlie Newman, Larry Sawyer, Don Share, Tony Trigilio, Lina Ramona Vitkauskas, Jacob Saenz & more.
Larry Sawyer: poetry and literary reviews have appeared in publications including Action Yes, The Argotist (UK), The Chicago Tribune, Coconut, Court Green, Esque, Exquisite Corpse, Hunger, Jacket (Australia), The Miami Sun Post, MiPoesias, The National Poetry Review, Outlaw (UK), The Prague Literary Review (Czech Republic), Rain Taxi, Shampoo, Skanky Possum, Tabacaria (Portugal), Van Gogh's Ear (France), Vanitas, VLAK (Czech Republic), Ygdrasil, and elsewhere. His work appeared in The City Visible: Chicago Poetry for the New Century (anthology, Cracked Slab Books, 2007). Convulsive Editions will soon publish a poem as a broadside with visual art by Allyssa Wolf.
He’s curated the Myopic Books Poetry Reading Series in Wicker Park, Chicago since 2005, and has hosted readings there nearly every weekend that have included poets such as Eileen Myles, Ron Silliman, Cole Swensen, and Bernadette Mayer, as well as many Chicago-area poets. His debut collection, Unable to Fully California (cover art by Krista Franklin), is available on Otoliths Press (Australia). An ebook, Werewolf Weather (cover art by Gary Sullivan), recently appeared as an Argotist ebook. Sawyer also edits milk magazine (since 1998) with Lina ramona Vitkauskas and has published work by a wide variety of international poets and artists including Charles Bernstein, Jerome Rothenberg, Bill Berkson, Pierre Joris, and Wanda Coleman.
Larry coordinated an online installation of the work of Japanese surrealist Yamamoto Kansuke for milk: the only online magazine granted permission to do so by the artist’s estate. Larry has read his work at venues such as the BONK! Reading and Performance Series in Racine, Wisconsin; the Chicago Printer's Row Lit Fest; Columbia College Chicago; The Hideout in Chicago; Myopic Books in Chicago; The Poetry Center of Chicago; Quimby's Bookstore in Chicago; The School of the Art Institute of Chicago; and Woodland Pattern Book Center in Milwaukee.
The last word: About UNABLE TO FULLY CALIFORNIA: “ … seemed as real as the Bronx, and I couldn’t stop thinking: I am so lucky that this poetry is so good.” —David Shapiro