Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Hog Butcher to the World

Just back from a whirlwind of a visit to the Windy City forty hours which included three gigs in a span of twenty hours.

chf_logo_black I was invited by the Chicago Humanities Festival to speak on my new book Well Defined: Vocabulary in Rhyme.  The theme of the festival this year was humor and festival director Mary Kate Barley-Jenkins found my book amusing after someone at the Chicago Poetry Center sent her a copy. So they brought me in.

Now the life of an independent teaching artist is somewhat similar to that of an airline pilot whose vocation I have heard described as hours of monotony interspersed with seconds of near cardiac inducing panic.  As the old adage goes when it rains it pours so after what seemed like weeks and weeks holed up in my home office I found myself in a blizzard of travel and engagements.  Since Halloween I’ve been in Boston, the greater Cincinnati area, Wooster Ohio and Chicago Illinois visiting schools, signing books, taking walking tours, driving, flying and riding.

After the school work in Boston I was the guest of Christine and Larry Charbonneau who walked Sara and me all over historic Boston. We visited Paul Revere’s abode, ate lunch at the celebrated Parker House hotel where Malcolm X was a busboy and JFK proposed to Jackie, visited the grave of Mother Goose (I didn’t realize she really existed either) ,and ate some pretty damn good cannolis at Mikes bakery on the North End.

Returning from Bean Town we immediately drove to Mason Ohio as chronicled in the post below. Then it was home for a couple days and off to the Buckeye Book Fair where not only did I sell out of books but got my pic taken with Big Chuck whom I mention in the post Boom Boom Boom.  Immediately afterwards I drove to Cleveland Hopkins and hop a plane to Chicago to participate in the 2009 Chicago Humanities Festival –  the past few weeks becoming a serendipitous swirl culminating in the visit to the city of the big shoulders.

I slip into Chicago as if putting on a tailored suit jacket. The city fits me well – it’s like a bigger better equipped version of Cleveland, same basic ethnic makeup, same weather, same Midwestern unpretentiousness plus the added bonus of hotdogs that are a meal. I landed with just enough time to check into the nice suite at the Seneca Hotel provided by the festival then grab a cab to catch the final half hour of a cocktail party being held in honor of the CHF’s presenters and organizers.

edkoren I am forever finding myself in water than is a little deeper than I belong and looking around this party seeing the likes of Matt Groening let me know I wasn’t in Kansas anymore. I just managed to muster the restraint to keep from whipping out my Blackberry and requesting photos with the luminaries present thus not appearing the country rube in the big city – but betraying my true lack of sophistication I do kind of regret it. I did feel a little vindicated the next morning in the hospitality suite where I helped the award winning and apparently technologically challenged  New Yorker cartoonist Ed Koren  print out his boarding pass for his flight back to Vermont after chatting about bikes and running.

My presentation the next afternoon went pretty well – I was not 100% happy with it but the organizers and attendees seemed to feel no need for violence afterward and to torture  the pilot metaphor a bit more – any landing you can walk away from is a good one. I even had folks line up for me to sign books afterwards so it must have been OK. I was especially happy to meet up with a former student of mine Jonathan Lykes who now goes to the University of Chicago and we had dinner following my presentation. That evening I was a featured performer at the Green Mill – the Mecca for Slam poets.

chf01I don’t know what it is about that club but it brings out the best in me. A lot of the credit goes to Marc Smith the man who invented Poetry Slam who has cultivated and nurtured the show for over twenty years – the audiences are smart, attentive and vocal.  No wonder I ran into such slam luminaries as Roger Bonair-Agard, Marty McConnell and Robbie Q Telfer there.  It was one of the best sets I’ve done in a long time – it was good to get back to my roots per se and somewhat consoling to know I still had some chops left. I think I kinda identify a smidgeon now of how the Buddha faced Foreman felt the last time he grabbed the belt.

The next morning I visited Von Steuben High School on Chicago’s North Side where I was joined by Jonathan and we talked about poetry and performed some pieces for an assembly of students.  The kids were receptive (they even took notes!) and I was given a pretty hep t-shirt emblazoned with the school’s panther mascot. Then Mary Kate her silver Honda Civic and I chased down a yellow taxi piloted by a Sudanese driver who took me to the airport where I was able to get on an earlier flight pretty much walking into O’Hare and directly onto a plane.

Sometimes things just fall together and it just looks like you know what you’re doing…


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