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A Line or Two: Saturday Night at 38th and Chicago

When my wife, Laurie, and came in the door of the JoyFace Arts and Poetry Collective's temporary art-and-poetry-happening space at 38th and Chicago last Saturday night (see last week's Line or Two for the lowdown on it), my friend Patrick Werle, one of the organizers, grabbed us and explained that the round-robin poetry reading had just begun.

The rough-but-gorgeous space was packed with art and with lively people dressed in winter-alternative style, bohemia's dark colors predominating. Guests could seat themselves at any of several clusters of chairs, and little groups of poets came to them and read. I got to hear good poems from Patrick, a musician and artist who has just returned to poetry-writing, and the writer-raconteur Brian Beatty, with whom I've shared a storytelling stage, and several other poets. When co-organizer Paula Cisewski read a  poem called "First Person," the top of my head came off, which is how Emily Dickinson says you know a good poem.

I followed Paula around the room for a while like the starstruck fan I was, and finally caught up with her to ask where I could read "First Person" (she gave me her copy of the unpublished poem) and to give her a check for her book Ghost Fargo, which you really should read if you want to see where the best poetry is going right now. (Hint: challenging, full of surprises, not an "easy" read, but emotionally true and appealing, not "heady.")

The feel of the place reminded me why "alternative" or "avant-garde" or "edgy" art practices  and art spaces--however you want to characterize them--are so exciting, despite Garrison Keillor's gentle sneers at them, and the prevailing idea that they are all style, all poser pretension. JoyFace, in its wooden-floored, raw-walled beauty, was alive with potential, with improvisatory excitement, with friendship, with the spirit of trying-things-out.

Some of the art was clumsy and some of it was brilliant. Some of the poems just sort of hung in the air, and some raised a smile, and a few made you humbly grateful for the gift of language. That's the mix you get when you hang with the folks who are trying new things, trying to create genuine new art, not just (on the one hand) expressing themselves nor (on the other) repeating themselves.

So often we get art and literature delivered to us as monuments of culture, or as lessons in good behavior, or as rituals of exclusion, that it's exciting to be in an atmosphere of genuine experiment--even the round-robin reading approach was an experiment)--that also feels friendly and open. (This latter value, by the way, is not guaranteed in similar gatherings on the coasts.)

The JoyFacers include some of the most accomplished and ambitious artists in our towns—but most of them are still below the civic-pride radar. If you care about new art and culture here, "friend" these folks—and follow 'em.  
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