Last Tuesday we attended a poetry reading at the Poetry Foundation. This was our first opportunity to visit this new building constructed with a large grant given to the foundation some 10 years ago. The building was completed in 2011 and is an amazing intimate space. One enters through a outdoor garden that is actually inside a three or four story mesh metal wall. The building is mostly glass where one can clearly view the two-story 30,000 book reader’s library. This reader’s library of poetry is also visible in the performance space behind the small stage. The ambiance of the building is warm, welcoming, and accessible. Harriet Monroe, the founder of Poetry Magazine in 1912 which is presently part of the Poetry Foundation, would be very pleased, and perhaps a bit shocked, at the generosity of space and care provided by this building devoted, as Monroe stated in her first editorial in Poetry Magazine, “to help poets pursue their art, increase public interest in poetry, and raise poetry’s profile in our culture.”
We went specifically to listen to Amy Lipman, a friend of our son’s, who is presently working on her MFA in poetry at Columbia College. The performance was part of the Open Door Reading Series which features two established poet professors in the city and a student that each professor selects to read with them. Lipman was selected by her mentor, Lisa Fishman. The other professor, Quraysh Ali Lansana from Chicago State University, selected his former student, Keith Wilson.
The room was packed with poetry afficionados and certainly friends and students of the poets reading. Amy’s mother even came from a warmer southern clime. The event felt important and from the audience response, the poets certainly seemed well-held.
Lisa Fishman read first, a very low-key soft-spoken presentation. But her poems were quiet, gentle, and intimate too. She introduced Amy with profusive praise. When Amy got up to read, she returned much praise to the guidance of her mentor especially in her help in sharpening her ability to observe very carefully. Amy shared that her poetry dealt with the domestic, focusing on friends and family, memories and the world inside her living space. Her poems were filled with her personality, her spirit, her sarcasm, her humor. I especially enjoyed the poem which ended with her father and she playing with a tennis ball and when they lost the ball, they stopped playing. Her imagery was simultaneously precise to her own experience but also wide open for the listener to leap into with their own.
Quraysh Ali Lansana introduced his former student Keith Wilson by describing his broad palette of myth and hip hop, history and epic. Wilson read an excerpt from a long poem about Nat Turner, with whom he said he first was intrigued when a very young boy.
Quraysh finished the evening reading from his series “The Bible Belt” from his book The Walmart Republic which he said we all should buy because he was being sued by Walmart and would very soon have to change the title. His poetry reflected his experience as a man of color in a very racist world.
The poetry reading at the Poetry Foundation was delightful and intriguing, intellectually and emotionally engaging. The space helped to create that feeling of intimacy and focus. And seeing IB’s old friend, Amy Lipman, becoming a master at her craft, her unique voice more finely tuned, her creativity growing more sophisticated yet feeling effortless, was a wonderful gift on an actual Chicago warm winter (40 degrees!) evening.