HOOLIGAN // april 2018
April is National Poetry Month, a month that both Morgan and I deeply cherish. There is something inherently radical about poetry and the way it chooses to defy structure while oftentimes simultaneously creating its own. The term “radical” is one that has been used in different contexts for different reasons and it is more often than not misused, yet the same goes for many words with loaded connotations. Language, just like any other intangible socially constructed invention, is always evolving. This is why poetry, to me, is radical. It doesn’t question if it should; it just does. In this issue, we aren’t focusing solely on poets, although there are two features that emphasize and celebrate it as an art form, but we are looking at the ways art (and its creators) has strategically pushed against normal expectations by breaking down gatekeeping barriers. These barriers are usually upheld by systems of power, often rooted in elitism, classism, racism, homophobia, transphobia, and misogyny. Just like poetry, these artists reject structure. Just like poetry, they don’t follow a criteria handed to them, but rather, they create their own. Poetry is a play on language; it is a manipulation of form, space, perception, and sound. The art and artists that Hooligan is dedicated to showcasing, whether it is animation, poetry, screenwriting, filmmaking, or music, will always be based on a desire to confront those aforementioned systems of power. This does not mean the art itself has to be outwardly political, it just means that the intention to create was one set out in order to plant new, authentic, self-reflexive ideas into the world. When one is being specifically targeted by systems of power, doing almost anything becomes political. To us, art is just as much political as it is inspiring, soul-crushing, and moving. This issue is a celebration of the intersection between beauty and politics and the ways in which we are perpetually consumed by both. //
RIVKA & MORGAN
m ag i s s
ar we e
lad re that youâ€™re he
EDITOR IN CHIEF MORGAN MARTINEZ MANAGING EDITOR RIVKA YEKER ASSOCIATE EDITOR ROSIE ACCOLA issue writers charia rose minhal baig scout kelly levi todd special thanks chaz bottoms fatimah asghar sarah coakley rae, jess abbott emily dubin sean rhorer chris vinyard
hooligan mag issue #22
chaz There are some people on this earth that know who they are and what they are meant to do, a luxury most people will not have until their later years of life. Goofy and overflowing with charm, Chaz is one of those people. He has been animating nearly nonstop since high school, his most recent work being the short film All Kids Go To Hell, which is doing well on the festival circuit. He is currently an animated freelancer based in Los Angeles, having features in Vibe Magazine, ImFromCleveland.com and Saint Heron. On a breezy Saturday, Chaz and I met up for brunch. Weâ€™re both late due to the hectic Los Angeles traffic that does not rest even at 12:45 pm on the weekend. It was a genuine pleasure to spend an afternoon with someone I have considered a friend throughout the last few years. It was a time filled with pitching ideas for scripts, nerding out over comics and animation, a few too many mimosas, and envisioning the future of the film industry. / BY CHARIA ROSE
Do you think we are in an era of a “Black Renaissance” right now? I think there is. Things have changed in a way. More voices are able to get out. Someone like Chance the Rapper couldn’t exist like, ten years ago. He’d still be doing mix tapes. Last night I was talking to one of my roommates and I was like …wow, I forgot Moonlight won Best Picture! Like, what a time! Never before… Before this it would have to be the The Color Purple. Which lost to Out of Africa! A movie about a bunch of white people, in Africa! Like, are you kidding me? And there was almost that screwing of like, oh it lost to La La Land. But I think people are starting to come around. And if there is any question after Black Panther. I mean there is no question. Like, holy shit there is a market for this. I really want to bridge that gap between animation and culture. Cause people deserve a cartoon that is for them. As artists, we cannot control who views our content. How do you feel about the gazes on your content? Like, if you feel you are making something that is a love letter to Black people, how do you feel about that outside gaze? I think a lot of how you consume things is subjective. And a lot does depend on your background. I have always been in the mindset that the best artist can make things that, yes a specific group may feel it more, but everyone can still respond positively. I can watch something about an experience that I did not have but still feel connected to it. Like I did not have this experience but someone must have, and through that, there is connection. When I was doing All Kids Go To Hell, I wanted to have this dichotomy of seeing Black characters in these broad cartoon-y situations. And if you pick up on it, it’s about something bigger. But at the same time, it’s just a cartoon. So the dichotomy of trying to strive for your artistic statement or artistic message but also recognizing that it changes over time. Having that inner dialogue with yourself about what you are currently working on or what you want to [create]. It’s important to have. Just like any other external relationship. It takes time to grow to nurture it. You do a lot of things, but mainly, you are an animator. How do you feel about the world of animation? Is it still a “white bro” club or is it opening up? I am a big proponent in getting more diversity and more women into animation. I’m a member of the Women in Animation which is the big LA group that has a goal of by 2025 it being 50/50. I see it as having an ear down in the industry. It’s slow but I see it. We’re in that transitional period where the people in charge are finally seeing that it can work out. A show like Steven Universe, the most successful kids show that’s out right now was created by a woman. A queer woman at that. You look at that and can say, “wow it’s a kids show but I can still watch and get things from it.” I think it has to be a conscious thing moving forward. You can still look at the past and recognize there’s good artistry but I wish more people were looking towards the future and things were moving quicker. I don’t know why these things take so much time.
What was the first thing you saw that made you realize you loved art. And the first thing you saw that made you realize Black people could make art, too? The first thing I saw that spoke to me … When I was born, it was around the time the Lion King came out on VHS and my older sister had it. If I get in a rut or don’t feel very good, from a technical animation perspective, I can watch that. But also from a feel good, big life themes and finding your place in life perspective… The expression of emotion and depth. It hit every point. The first movie that made me realize I wanted do this as a career was Slumdog Millionaire. Shut up that’s in my top five. That was my favorite movie until Moonlight came out. Slumdog Millionaire was directed by Danny Boyle which, I mean, whatever with that. But it was this kid in the hood, real ghetto slums with no protection. That story of true comeuppance makes a movie like Get Rich or Die Trying look like child’s play. I think that was a moment of, there are so many other voices that aren’t being heard. And having it be from the perspective of these kids growing up. And perfect usage of MIA music. Seeing that there is something outside my experience but is still so relatable. That movie blew my mind when I was younger. I wasn’t into live action like that, but it introduced me to this new side of film that challenged what I thought movies could be.
I feel like you are someone who is not afraid to work with women. Where does that come from? I shouldn’t have to ask that, but the way masculinity works... I get it! My father passed away when I was very young. I was predominantly raised by my mother, sister, and grandma. I was very influenced by the women in my life and have always been surrounded by that. I feel my work reflects that. I saw Ready Player One and did not like it. And you can put that in, I don’t care. I am so tired of this white boy protagonist. I am very tired of this “he’s an average white boy but he kinda gets lucky and saves the world!” I think it’s boring. Growing up, a lot of shows and movies that I was drawn to were a little bit more emotional and featured female characters. Like watching Rugrats and remembering how amazing Susie Carmichael is. She is the only character that can top Angelica! I always want my work to have a certain emotion to it. And I feel that Black women have this vibe to them that I just don’t see anywhere else. And I don’t want to be weird about that, but it’s true. There has never been a Black woman that has created an animated television show. There have been two or three black men but no black women. And I think that is a crime and a shame. I recognize the privilege of being a cis male. I am aware I have privileges, and if I were to tell things on my own it would come off as generic. I want more women artist and animators.
My upbringing has just made me more comfortable talking and working with women. I can get a much better product, as opposed to working with someone that is exactly like me. And I want to give that opportunity for creative space. Especially in animation where it is such a collaborative process. Filmmaking in general. A white producer will be more likely to take a chance on me than someone else. I just want all my friends to have the platform to tell their stories. That’s it. I’m fine. Having more people in your corner that you trust and work well with is super important. Thinking about the “starving tortured artist” thing. You haven’t had the easiest life. Tell me more about how you got to this point. The idea that you have to be a tortured soul to create good work... I sometimes wonder if the concept of “starving artist” is not supposed to be taken literally. Like, when you’re starting out you can’t create what you want right away. Having this starving need to create. You have to ask yourself what are you doing it for. I am a pretty big believer that if you are a good person and talk to the universe and let it materialize and work towards your goals, it can happen. I believe we live in a very carmatic universe in that people do get their comeuppance.
So, a lot of getting here has been meticulous planning, a little bit of luck and really wanting it and identifying what it takes to get there. When I was a kid before I was introduced to the world of athletics, I would spend a lot of time making and animating things on my own. And making things with the kids on my street. They werenâ€™t the people that wanted to be an artist or animators or in filmmaking. But if I worked with my friends and people Iâ€™m comfortable with, it could help me develop my voice more and figure out what Iâ€™m trying to do. And a lot of it has been working and doing my homework on the industry and how things are. I know a lot of people who are musicians and up and coming and what if I do a cartoon music video for them. And these are things that have gotten me in Saint Heron and Worldstar [Hip-hop]. And part of it is doing it so I can pay my bills and I need to work. But I want to do it on my own terms so I can still be fulfilled. And work with great people with good creative synergy. A lot of calculated risks. But you kind of have to. You have to know how to take the right risks. If I had to bet that I would have to move to LA without a real job, just freelancing kind of loosely, I was comfortable with that. If I could just get to that point and meet people I could build my business from there.
Is there one specific point in your life’s journey where you thought “oh this is too much”? Towards graduation. The last month of school. Track was over and I was done running and I had no prospects. It was a moment of like, “oh shit I spent ten years running track and that didn’t turn into anything. I don’t want to do this anymore.” I wasn’t going to the Olympics. It was a means to an end for college. But, I spent so much time on that, and I couldn’t spend as much time on animation that I probably could have. What do I do from here? I’ve always been comfortable reflecting and taking what I’ve gone through and applying that to the future. Situations I could potentially be in. It was taking a hard look in the mirror and realizing you’ve been through a lot but know things kind of always work out. It won’t be perfect but it will resolve itself. The only thing that is a constant is you as a person. If I continue to be myself and focus on the art and with the intention I have, it will work out. Last question. And this is something I ask everyone. It’s tough, so take your time. What does liberation look like for you? And this can be liberation in your life or artistically. For me, liberation is life without fear. Mine isn’t too far off. I think a lot of it is everyone has the biggest chance to become the biggest at whatever it is they want to do. Religion, creed, sex none of it should matter. Living in a world where there is so much art and different voices that a person can not be afraid to tell their story or be their truest self. Ideally, if I found a 22-year-old fresh out of college creative, and she had a script, and I had the ability to tell her “hey, take this grant and make this.” It’s no longer a high calculated risk. Opportunities abound. Saying you want to become an artist is no longer this far out unfathomable thing. Liberation looks like a world where they don’t have to question themselves. They can just do whatever they want to do.
You can check out Chaz’s work at his website at www.chazbottoms.com, on Instagram at @chazdraws and on Twitter at @chazzymcfly
interviewed by MINHAL BAIG
/ PHOTOS BY RAE
When Rivka reached out to me to do a profile on Fatimah Asghar, I could not have been more excited to interview someone whose work has affected me so much personally. Fatimah is the writer of the Emmy-nominated web-series Brown Girls, which has been picked up for development by HBO, and has a collection of poetry, If They Come For Us, published by One World, coming out August of this year. I will confess that I know Fatimah a bit personally, and so much of what I wanted to discuss were things I had always thought about asking her, but felt almost afraid to, until now.
Initially, I was very curious about how she felt about poetry being perceived as an elitist medium. “When I first learned about poetry, we’re often thinking about Shakespeare, or Homer, or the Odyssey, and it’s interesting because, during their time, they were speaking in colloquialism,” she says. “Poetry exists in so many communities of color, and has such a rich historical tradition. It’s fascinating to me that that can be overlooked. A lot of authors of color are constantly overlooked. To do away with some of that, why can’t we have poems that are lyrically vulgar, or sound like me and my friends speak? My work rides that line, how [poetry] can be lyrical and everyday.” There is a poem of hers, titled “Super Orphan” that contains the line: “What to do then /, when the only history you have is collage.” I wanted to understand, what is it like being Pakistani and Kashmiri and Muslim and living in a diaspora? “To me, being an orphan, you’re born into questions,” she says. “Who am I? Who are my people? What are the stories that I don’t have access to? A lot of my art comes from wanting to grapple with those silences. What does it mean, to be able to invent a kind of family history?” I read another poem of Fatimah’s, entitled, “Oil,” and in it, she speaks about what it was like for her as a child after 9/11. “I felt a palpable difference. Where I grew up, it was super diverse. I was watching the news with my aunts and uncles and that feeling, and I remember feeling like once I realized that the people on the planes were Muslim, it was ‘oh, shit.’ The whole room shifted and it was this feeling … things are going to get bad. I remember going to school the next day. People were asking me, ‘where you from?’ in a threatening way. Being at recess, I was with my best friend Marilyn, and this boy came up to us and basically kind of like, so where is she from, and is she Muslim? My friend Marilyn said, she is but she’s cool. She’s one of the good ones. I feel eternally grateful for her saying that, but what does it mean, to be a good one?”
Fatimah has a book coming out this August, but before this collection, she also had a chapbook titled After that was published a few years ago by YesYes. A mentor had told her, “your first book is your first book”, and after a while of struggling with a collection of poems that delved into her sexual assault experience, she decided she would curate the poems and put them into a chapbook instead. The book was only limited to 400 copies. “It got easier to get a lot deeper to get into that story of sexual assault when it’s 400 people. And these 400 people are going to get that super intimate story, told on my terms. I actually don’t want my first book to be about my sexual assault, I wanted my first book to be about a lot of other things,” she explains. “I crafted a really intimate story and this is ‘After’ and you have it when you have it and then it’s gone. That was a really fascinating experience. The book sold out in pre-order, and that was it. It was gone. What does it mean to make an art for an audience that’s huge and for an audience that’s really small?” We get to the part of the interview where we talk about Brown Girls. Since there are so many interviews about where the work comes from, and what it means, I wanted to instead focus on the experience of transitioning as a poet to a screenwriter. As she describes, “I think of poems and web series, especially as I’m developing a show from a web series. A web series is also about moments, distilled moments which you get down, which is very similar to a poem. I’d been writing a lot of poems and I was always interested in screenwriting, and this is the first time I’ve written something like this, and not even taken a class but I’m going to try.”
Fatimah says Brown Girls was her first experience in screenwriting. “It was just really fun. Literally fun, just to try this. And now these are the characters, and where they live and how they talk to each other. Sometimes, too, because I was working intensely on my project in poetry, it was a great release to work on, just for fun, that I’m trying.” Her book, If They Come For Us, comes out this August. The book recently received a starred review in Publisher’s Weekly. “[This collection] is a deep interrogation of statehood of everything: race, religion, gender, sexuality and nationality. What does it mean to draw a border and say that this is now this thing. So that’s really what the book is about?” Fatimah spoke about how she decided on the collection’s themes after her first chapbook: “After After, I started to write a lot. I didn’t touch my childhood in my writing. When I really think about it, was it as bad as all I remember? I leaned into the moments I loved as a child, and the moments I felt nostalgic for. I started writing these poems, high narrative, high nostalgia, of being an immigrant and being from an immigrant family.” Through some digging, I found out that Fatimah had written fan-fiction (and yes, for Harry Potter). A lot of writers are often shy or embarrassed about having written fan-fiction, so I was genuinely so surprised when Fatimah embraced this part of her own narrative. “Fan-fiction taught me so much. It taught me a lot about, how this is an existing world, and what are you able to play in. I wrote mostly male characters and mostly male storylines and I don’t think that’s weird. I definitely was writing slash, and I wrote a lot of darker characters. I was fascinated by the friendship of the four boys, by James and Sirius. There was a lot of richness, in the older generation, that I didn’t always find in the younger generation [in Harry Potter].”
want to build active solidarity amongst persons of color. How do I show up for other groups of color? How do I constantly want to learn and be in solidarity with other people. I am pro people of color telling their own stories.”
I wanted to know Fatimah’s secrets. First, how does she write so much? And from where does she draw her inspiration? She has a good answer for that: “I’m very disciplined. Art and craft, you have to be disciplined to be good at [it]. I don’t have the time or luxury to wait for inspiration. It can be a bad draft, and that’s the thing. I write in the mornings and I write at night, that’s when I write the most.” And finally, we talk about what she’s working on next — a question I personally hate asking but it needs to be done. “For myself, I’m working on a feature, and I have a draft, and I’m getting it to a place that I’m getting it to a place I feel really good. I have a dramedy pilot and there’s a more traditional drama pilot. Those are the things that are purely mine.” We delve into some of her inspirations, literary and otherwise: “I’m really inspired by so many people. I feel lucky to be alive. I feel grateful to have seen two visual albums by Beyonce,” she says. You know right away that Fatimah is a voracious reader and lover of her own medium, as she lists off the poetry that she’s loved recently: “Dictee, by Theresa Hutchins, it’s a really tragic story, and it’s so good. Split by Cathy Linh Che. I love Ross Gay’s writing, and I think he’s such a visionary as a poet. Patricia Smith is very similar, and she’s an amazing writer and poet, and has taught me so much about form and craft. My friend just published a book called Not Here by Hieu Minh Nuyen, and Danez Smith’s book, Don’t Call Us Dead. I love Toni Morrison. The God of Small Things (by Arundhati Roy) is a masterpiece. And Junot Diaz. Drown and This is How You Lose Her. Junot speaks to men the way that a lot of women can’t. What I’ve seen is that his work makes cis men better. Junot is such a master. He’s one of the most important writers of our time.” What is all the more impressive about Fatimah is that she is not just an artist, but also an activist. “I want to build active solidarity amongst persons of color. How do I show up for other groups of color? How do I constantly want to learn and be in solidarity with other people. I am pro people of color telling their own stories. I am more excited more people of color having platforms to be poets and make a living as a poet, as a screenwriter, things like that. Those are all things I’m passionate about.
TENDER AGES / WRITTEN BY SCOUT KELLY / PHOTOS BY EMILY DUBIN
on w it h
WALKING THOUGH CHICAGO’S LOGAN SQUARE, I felt slightly out-of-place, like the Tennessee kid I was when I was 15 and, admittedly, still am now. I was on my way to interview Jess Abbott of Tancred. They’re set to release their new album Nightstand, on June 1st through Polyvinyl and I had spent the last few weeks revisiting their earlier records and consequently being sent down a wormhole of my teenage days by my favorite tracks like “Harvest and Holly” from 2011 and “Twelve” from 2013. I usually try to think of myself as a little bit aloof, but this was a special opportunity to me, having grown up listening to her music at some very tender ages of my own, weird adolescence. From her work in the indie pop band that got their break on Myspace – Now, Now – to her records released as Tancred back in 2011, I was gonna have to admit that I’d heard it all and most likely cried to it. I approached the white tour van parked in the alley beside the Chicago’s own Subterranean. It was parked right underneath the train tracks; the roaring overhead was another stimulus that made me just a little jittery. The window rolled down and Jess popped her head out and yelled, “Do you wanna get in the van?” We laughed as I crawled over a skateboard and some bags to get into the van where the band was lounging, simultaneously shaking hands and exchanging names. They had just gotten to Chicago from Kansas City, where they had their first show on a month long tour opening for Julien Baker. Jess said it went really well; it felt like a good start to performing a new record with a little bit of a different vibe than their previous 2016 release, Out of The Garden. I was a big fan of the record with its bold lyricism and power-pop guitar arrangements so I was excited to hear more about it.
“You have certain lyrics that I relate to really, really well,” I tell her, in reflection on some of the writing from Out of the Garden. “Oh, yeah? ...What’s your sign?” “Virgo; you?” “Gemini. What’s your moon?” “Pisces.” “Me too!” She laughs and says that, Nightstand is her Pisces moon album, whereas Out of the Garden was her Sagittarius rising album. Nightstand, as she describes it, is a little less aggressive than the 2016 release: “It’s still confrontational; there are songs on there that hit pretty hard, but it’s less vindictive.” What about releasing “Reviews” as your first single? That’s an interesting choice. It seems like it deals preemptively with how the album is going to be received. “It feels like the new album is … well, half the songs are more downtempo; I don’t feel like ‘sad’ is the word, but not exactly as upbeat as the other half of the songs are. So, “Reviews” is almost about both. It feels like a good bridge, because it felt drive-y enough to be connected to Out of the Garden, but it has some other stuff goin’ on enough to show that this is going to be a new album.” You’ve been making music for a really long time. “Yeah, it sucks,” she says while laughing in a way where I can tell she doesn’t entirely mean it. How old are you now? “26.” That’s what I thought. You’ve been making music since you were pretty young! I’m 25. I feel like if I had art released into the world when I was younger, I feel like I’d be like ‘OH MY GOSH.’ “Embarrassed?” She laughs.
YEAH, I mean not embarrassed but… Yeah, maybe embarrassed. “Sometimes, I’ll look at another artist and think, ‘They’ve put out a lot of albums and they all sound really different and that’s kind of weird and I’m like…’OH SHIT THAT’S ME,’ Then I see people that release their first album when they’re 26 and I wonder what that’s like.” I’ve been listening to your music for a long time; I’m 25. I grew up kind of like the same time you were with YOUR music, which is kind of odd. So, it’s really interesting to be able to sit down with you. “ -like Now, Now?” Yeah, but also Tancred, I mean I’ve been listening to your work for a long time. I grew up alongside those records, mostly from Myspace. “That’s funny. It’s cool to do an interview with someone who has context for this new record. I met Now, Now on Myspace. My high school girlfriend heard of them on a Tegan and Sara forum and I didn’t know what to get her for her birthday, so I wanted to order her Now, Now’s EPs and I got on Myspace to order them. So, I started messaging them and then I was somehow moving to Minnesota and joining Now, Now. What really got me into the kind of music that I make now was just everything I was absorbing off of Myspace.” I think of my own creative work, and the feeling of being 25, and never knowing what’s going to happen to me next, and I can’t help but ask: How have you been doing it for so long? “I think with any creative project, it’s hard. It’s really hard to go on tour, financially. In terms of your own self-worth, it’s like, if you have a good show you know think ‘that’s why I’m doing this!’ and if you have a bad show, you’re like ‘why am I doing this?!’ Going on tour when you are in a relationship is like… the worst thing of all time. Sometimes, it feels like ‘what am I doing?’ I almost got into music management. I had some opportunities to do other things, and I thought, ‘I could just do that.’ No matter what; I just can’t stop doing this. Sometimes, you’re lying in bed at night and you hear a song and it just pops off and you love it or hate it, but either way it’s a huge deal. I wonder, what did this band do to get to this point? Sometimes you hear the greatest song ever and no one gives a shit about it. And you’re like, how did that happen? It’s wild. There is no answer to it. I just knew I’d feel deeply unhappy if I didn’t do it. When I think of what music did for me as a teen, it feels comforting to know that maybe I’m paying that forward in some way. I got really into music kind of because of Slingshot Dakota. I saw them when I was 14. They played at a hardcore show in Maine, and I was like, ‘HOLY SHIT.’ I immediately added them on Myspace and asked them to come back to my hometown to play and I had no idea what I was doing. They pretty much showed up and had to take care of everything, and they were so nice about it. First and last show I ever put on.”
I mean, I know that I’ve sent people links to your music and your music video, specifically for the song “Pens” because I, like, really love that video and send it to people all the time. I don’t know; there are so many different types of success, you know? There are certain phrases in that song that stick out to me that make me love the song so much, similar to how I feel about that line in your song, “The Glow” that I adore. I’ll listen to that song over and over and over just to hear one that one line: “I want to kill myself inside your mouth,” and I’d feel like totally overwhelmed by that line. That’s a line that I wish that I had written and put in a poem, you know? “Whoaaaa, hahaha; do it!” Ha! Like Steal it? And italicize it and put your name under it as a footnote? “No, it’s a collab! …It’s fine! Lyrics are my favorite part of music! I even hate putting reverb on my vocals when I’m playing live, which makes sense to do, but I like my vocals to be dry and upfront, because I really want people to hear what I’m saying. It’s really important to me. Guitar is fun and I love it. I mean, if I had to prioritize my skills, guitar would be first, before singing or lyric writing, but lyric writing is my favorite part of it. Playing guitar is just a vessel for me to write.“ Yeah, I mean, you have multiple songs where certain lines just punch me, and I’m like, “wow this is great.” “It’s encouraging to hear that that’s translating.” Later that night, I got to hear Tancred play songs from their new record, and I wasn’t surprised to have my heart buckled by the lyrics and the energy. I had never gotten to see them live before, and I was happy to be surrounded by friends dancing with me and singing along. At one point, I heard a line from a new song and I turned around, sweaty, with my jaw dropped and saw Morgan Martinez and Julien Baker both nodding, understanding what I felt. Morgan mouthed, I know. She threw her arm around my shoulder and we dove into the crowd a little. This past week, Tancred released a noir influenced music video for their song “Queen of New York” which embodies the feeling of a quick, heavy-handed romance that leaves you wondering when will I see them again? It’s a classic crush song and unabashedly queer. Incidentally, “crushy” happens to be my favorite category of songs. There’s nothing more satisfying to me as an adult than hearing queer artists celebrate a heart-throbbing romance. I’ve driven home from work with the song blasting as I drove through Tennessee fields and highways, shamelessly. I think of Jess, a musician who has been a signed artist for years, whose music has been in my iPod since 2012, still hoping to “pay it forward” with her music. I think about the joy of new love and the devastation that it can leave behind it when it goes away, how delicious it all is in its entirety, how grateful I am to be able to experience it alongside the right songs. There are few things as precious to me as finding an album that rearranges time, that can make you feel older or younger, taller, bigger, more of what you are or even what you aren’t. There are few things as precious as a song that you sing along to with your friends in a crowd. I’ve been lucky enough to get a sneak preview of the album, and I know good and well that Nightstand is going to give me more precious moments away from time. I know I’ll be 15 and 17 and 25 and 26 during this album. I’ll sweat to it again. I’ll sing it in my car after kissing someone or maybe getting my heartbroken, who knows.
I have no time to explain to the doubtful that poetry is not, in fact, dead. In any era, the often repeated statement is laughable. There are always poets working tirelessly to promote their art to the world, and there is always a devoted audience willing and ready to receive it. Anyone who is confident that poetry has died must also believe that music is dead, or maybe they think visual art is on its way out the door as well. Poetry is not just eeking by; it is thriving. This has always been and will always be true. However, it is especially true today. On a daily basis, I give thanks that my friends and I were born into this era. We are surrounded by absolute icons who are creating work that expands the cultural canon, who are bringing poetry to new audiences, and who are showing us all the ways in which poetry is the lifeblood to our lived experiences. Poetry book sales are skyrocketing, with 2017 being the best year for poetry sales to date. We have poets performing for late night talk shows while being treated with the same reverence as musicians. I cannot begin to list the poets who are both embracing and redefining convention while producing stunning collections of work, but how blessed are we to be living at the same time as Layli Longsoldier, Tyehimba Jess, Morgan Parker, Ocean Vuong, and Fatimah Asghar, just to name a few? (I almost want this essay to simply be a list of the countless living poets I’m leaving out.) This poetic greatness is true across the globe and across the US, from Rochester to Los Angeles to Muncie to Austin. But if the poetic renaissance can be seen especially anywhere, it is in Chicago. Numerous publications have taken note that something special is taking place in the Windy City. There have been articles on Young Chicago Authors’ youth poetry festival, Louder Than A Bomb, and the outstanding young poets who are making names for themselves. The New Yorker did a feature on No Blue Memories, Eve Ewing and Nate Marshall’s shadow box play utilizing puppets to celebrate the life of Gwendolyn Brooks. The Chicago Review of Books highlighted just a few of the countless poets who continue to center their work around the city. The CRB was bold enough to call our current cultural moment what it is: the Chicago Renaissance. Of course, the CRB is not the first to recognize that Chicago is fostering a cultural renaissance, and it is certainly not the first to give it its proper name. Local musicians, writers, dancers, and artists of all kinds have long been celebrating each other’s work before it becomes recognized at a national level. Noname, Saba, Ravyn Lenae, and countless other local musicians have moved past the Chicago circuit to venues across the country. Artists like Hebru Brantley, Max Sansing, and Sentrock are finding innovative mediums to showcase their work, from book covers to public murals to music videos. This essay alone cannot capture the scope of the cultural garden that is blooming (and already grown) in Chicago. But since it’s National Poetry Month, let’s focus on the poets. It is absolutely impossible to talk about poetry in Chicago without talking about its youth. In an era where public schools are slashing their arts budgets, countless organizations such as 826CHI, the Chicago Poetry Center, and Young Chicago Authors are stepping in with classroom visits and afterschool programming to guarantee that our students are exposed to poetry at a young age, and that they understand its accessibility, potential, and importance. Increasingly, more schools are developing slam poetry teams to compete in Louder Than A Bomb, and these students spend the entire year gearing up to share their work in front of audiences of hundreds. The result is that our students are saved from thinking that poetry is outdated or dull, or simply not for them. When I recently volunteered for a poetry field trip hosted by Open Books, we asked the visiting 6th grade class what they thought poetry was for. Without missing a beat, one girl raised her hand and said “Poetry is for resistance.”
AN ESSAY BY LEVI TODD
The impact of prioritizing our young people in poetry communities is that once they find a home in poetry, they stay. For example, the same students impacted by Young Chicago Authors’ programming at its inception are the ones now leading it. The success of poets who studied under YCA such as E’mon Lauren, Jamila Woods, Britteney Black Rose Kapri, and Nate Marshall proves that once young people are brought into poetry, they stay, and they lead the next generation. This legacy of mentorship continues to pay homage to Chicago’s own Gwendolyn Brooks (one of many participants in the Chicago Black Renaissance of the early 20th century), who didn’t just dedicate her life to her own writing, but also taught free poetry workshops and hosted opportunities for young poets to showcase and develop their work. Unlike cities such as New York or Los Angeles that have flocks of artists moving there to begin their careers, the majority of our creatives are built up within the community. Poet and curator H. Melt summarizes this well by saying, “Chicago poets care about each other. We actively support each other--not just as writers and teachers, but as whole people too. We see ourselves not solely as individual poets, but as part of larger communities who all deserve to be heard. We value telling our own stories equally to listening to the stories of other people. We celebrate each other, hold each other accountable, and frequently collaborate. Poetry in Chicago is thriving because we recognize that being a poet is not simply about writing, it’s about supporting the people around you.”
“Our silk-screen babies baptized in these Third Coast holy springs. Imagine the Lake Michigan waters washing jubilee into our streets.
Watch us closely. Resurrection. Be our witness.” FROM “LITANY: CHICAGO SUMMERS” Quotes from H. Melt, José Olivarez, and Daniel Kisslinger were collected from interviews over email.
BY PARNESHIA JONES
Chicago poets understand that the only way towards our communal success is through collaboration. This is the city indebted to the work of small presses, independent bookstores, and DIY shows, all of which work in harmony together. Independent shops (which vastly outnumber Barnes & Nobles here) like Women & Children First, Uncharted Books, The Seminary Co-Op, and Volumes Bookcafe make a concerted effort to stock small press books and zines, and host readings for local and visiting poets. Open mics and readings take place regularly across the city, whether they be in someone’s living room, or at a neighborhood bar, or at a gallery. Small presses like Haymarket Books are making an intentional effort to anthologize the work of poetic greats, through projects like The Breakbeat Poets, The Breakbeat Poets Volume II: Black Girl Magic, and the forthcoming Volume III: Halal If You Hear Me. There’s simply no room in this city for a sense of competition among poets. The community is always willing to share its resources and knowledge in the name of uplifting local talent. As Eve Ewing puts it in her New Yorker feature, “There is a Midwestern cultural aspect to it—a cultural norm of sharing and abundance, rather than scarcity and competition,” The culture in Chicago is not just do-it-yourself. It’s do-it-together. We don’t just have a duty to develop and hone our own craft, but also to be kind citizens both to our local communities and to the poetry community at large. Poetry inherently aims to resist the traditional lenses we view the world with, and this resistance is a sibling to political resistance. The hardworking activists behind #LetUsBreathe Collective, Assata’s Daughters, and #NoCopAcademy fighting against the city’s police violence, housing inequality, and lack of investment in the city’s South and West sides are the same people you see at the open mic. Protests and direct actions make space for poems in between speeches, understanding that they are two heads to the same coin. On this connection, poet and organizer José Olivarez says, “I think our poetry communities developed in response to our particular socio-political realities. Chicago is famous for being segregated. The city has a gang database that targets and discriminates against Black & Latinx people. Artists in the city have responded by making work that imagines alternative possibilities & by creating spaces that attempt to uphold values more in tune with the city we hope to make.” Chicago understands that we use the same language to write poems as we do to write manifestos and visions for equitable futures. Chicago’s poetry community isn’t perfect, certainly. Like any community, we need to continue to improve and open the door wider to guarantee that everyone truly feels like poetry is relevant to them, and that they are capable of breathing their own life into it. Producer and creator Daniel Kisslinger explains, “I think sometimes we sugarcoat what community means and leave out a lot about how community means tension and disagreement but not disposability.” When we talk about a renaissance of poetry in Chicago, we shouldn’t imply that we have all the answers that folks can learn from. Rather, we should open ourselves to the likely possibility that we will make mistakes, and that we will be better for listening to the folks that hold us accountable for them. Poetry and imagination go hand in hand, and poets in Chicago are trying to imagine the city they want to live in. We know that community will take us there, and that it is both our responsibility and privilege to hold each other up. At the end of the day, it’s not just about poetry. It’s about Chicago. Our artists are creating work with the people who live here at its center. We care about each other first and foremost. The incredible poems that continue to pour from our city are part of a larger task: to let the world know that our community is home to people with their minds set on a more inclusive, radiant future. It takes activists, artists, workers, dancers, organizers, musicians, and yes, poets, to get there. It’s not a Second City complex that makes us rep Chicago wherever we go and whatever we do. We’d just like you to join us.
SPILLED INK SPILLED INK SPILLED INK SPILLED INK
THINGS I NEVER TOLD YOU by Molly Gunther My mom says the bottoms of her feet have gone numb. The doctor says this is common in people with diabetes. She doesn’t have diabetes. The doctor says she only has to worry if she stops being able to tell the gas from the brake. The night before she goes to the neurologist, she fills out a questionnaire. How old were you when you got your first headache? She writes fifteen.
“That was the night I drank all that wine and then I drank whiskey and then I lost my phone.” I hate America. You tell me you’re not safe here. You dream you are sitting in a bar when someone walks up and stabs you. The knife goes in twisting over and over, your chest torn to ribbons and crushed. No one moves to help because they’re afraid of getting stabbed. Sometimes you look in my eyes like you’re trying to see the bottom of me. I don’t hate America. You were born here.
1. by KD Sims The Bather spreads sleek shins like novice breaststroke kick to cradle Her between (draws a bath cause there’s no heat). They, two stuck-on prunes under lukewarm rings, Her chest breathing beneath water’s line but for hard tipped pink – pounding faucet upright bass over the printed voices of Eric and Yves. Bather leaves guess alphabet on Her spine and the swift passing of smoke at the end of sentences and the craning of necks to get to each other’s throats and nothing gets washed. And nothing needs washing.
AN ODE TO FERVENCE by Sean Green Let’s coalesce, love like only the religious can, signal incoherence in glossolalial scraps, all fish-eyed fried and jelly-donut glazed; stints for a cannibal heart, prayers slicked with seminal blessings. Let’s sing “oh god” in unison, study the bisyllabic, strengthen our knees. Let’s absolve, find God for five minutes, confess mouths become basins when necks pitch for baptizement, pretend first communion in sip-of-wine breaths because the past was grape juice. Let’s make the bed like a coffin, dig our graves before we die. We’ll be a one-hitter in the pew of a carved out Bible.
A CITRUS GARNISH ON ICE by Emma Ruff if I could sip the loneliest of drinks without futile conversation and menacing gazes i would and i will as i do and will do i’ve seen this sight of myself countless times my fingers stuck into cold ice taking a lemon slice pressing it on my lips i’m three drinks in and you’re late
VANISHING POINT for Bear by Josh Corson I rent a car and drive to Myrtle Hill where your body’s buried. It’s summer and the black granite bench your parents put in singes the back of my leg. I’ve brought my latest batch of poems. The only ritual I keep. I picture high school—Taco Tuesday at your house. And after hours of sangria, you start picking out a riff on the guitar, your brother’s beat boxing, and I’m reciting sixteens I’ve practiced all week. Our friends, gathered around the table like we will around your casket. Here, alone on your bench, there’s nothing but the whir of the highway. The smell of freshly cut grass. I feel foolish. I keep mumbling
ANAMNESIS by Jerene-Elise Nall Your black eyes shimmer in the amniotic night. Neon signs flicker like nerves, like déjà vu then splatter across your back, wash everything in pink. Everything is ephemera – the tiger-print denim on the back of your vest. Synth lines rattling thru black box speakers. Music that someone made once. Love that someone made to you.
FOR NICKEL by Katie Rejsek Nickel, I know you never had to say anything. I know you never had to say anything. Nickel, Know you never had to say anything Nickel I-You never had to say anything Nickel I know-Never had to say anything, never had to say Had to say anything Nickel, I know you never-To say anything to say anything Nickel, I, Say never say anything say never say anything say Anything anything I never know. I never say anything.
CONFLICT by Rosie Accola My queerness is when I hold my own heartbeat in my hand. The first time I ever really loved someone coincided with a bout of food poisoning courtesy of xo Asian Cuisine. I puked violently on the front hall rug awash with sadness at the realization that I wouldn’t see her at school tomorrow. Now I’m resting my head on Jo’s shoulder after not seeing them in months. They say, I don’t believe in leading people on, but I do believe that people can be manipulative with their affections, and that’s boring. They give a presentation on their respective work crushes at a Loyola party structured around the idea of fake TED talks. I ask them: What’s the best worst thing that can happen? I allow men to see me on Tinder for the first time in almost a year. I say hi and they ask for, A kinky slutty girl; I don’t wanna drive around with guys who think my body is an alien system. The conditional image of awestruck hands struggling to unclasp an old bra. He says we could go to a bar, or he could come over, but I am tired. I don’t like letting strangers into my space -a stray dog who snaps when someone reaches for their food bowl. He wishes I wasn’t tired over and over again, a perfunctory pout. I can feel the hunger seeping through the text message, giving way to a cavernous unease. I look at girls the same way a frontman with tooth-pick arms sings, “uncomfortable,” never quite loud enough to triumph over posturing crowds or blown out amps. If performance is stored in the body, then part of me will always be looking down at my boot laces trying to say hi.
CYCLE ONE by Alex Fisher “Shit!” I screamed out. You turned to me, knowing Expectant. “Settled.” You said, it was? settled. yes. My thoughts wound around the other things that settled. Soil in the water hole after my toes slid through it like silk. That’s like us. The silt In the hole. One magnetic strike to its heart dirty dishwater I’d wade in for years. But sand falls unexcited by these too familiar toes over time Feet that brought me to you, pull me from this vast lake now too horrifying with its clear clear streams and “Shit!” I screamed out. You turned to me, knowing Expectant.
PRAYER TO OBLIVION by Jane Merker Should my mind descend from its lofted mountain bed, like the bear from his season’s dreary dreaming, and wander on your plains so vast and sudden, the marsh of men with a constant sky – I expect not forgiveness, but your total embrace, not so greedy as a lover’s, but with my body yours to the same effect, as one in the plain starts thinking himself a quiver of tall grass. Should I find a color in your pithy landscape, I know it to be carbon-black or white-on-white; no hold on a corner, not the companion shadow, and there will be no horses there. I will be a body in your space, everything gone, as words shouted in a gale, plucked like lost fruits, fires hidden deep since destruction, little bells ringing softly in the distance – And I will go towards them, in my blindness, trudge towards that wound like bloodied snow, one legless torso gaining cogged speed, and I will strive and pull from you, in red.
MCCLAIN II by Whitney Bard Put a thorn in the soft whorl part (of my index finger) I’m following you down and through split my lip and tasting blood looking at the denim of you disappearing, enfolded in salal In the future, we, The World is upside down Away from your home town I’m eating red fruit: a place holder AND a harbinger Come to my house, It’s dark, I’m not there Anymore I want to see the cedar bough making a shadow rhythm on your face through the thin, slanted northwestern summer light I want to hold the edge of your thumb nail in between my teeth holding your gaze in my pupils where the tide comes in over us slow Soaked, lapping, saturated
LIPSTICK by Haley Green I buy a tube of lipstick the same color Of the dead cockroach on the floor of the bathroom. I notice it when I get out of the shower It’s near my toe, and the size of my thumb. She lies belly-up, her slender legs splayed. She’s the color of lipstick I will buy in three months. I pick her up with a thick pad of paper towel, And I pick her up this way, so I don’t have to feel Her fragile little body as I crush it.
THE UNIVERSE, ME, AND YOU. by Francesca Impastato I felt the ground shake Before the universe shifted And shoved you into my life with intent It swallowed me whole and spit me out Curbside, winter, in blackened snow and Told me to wait for
— It lies in the sixth sense, loving you. Embedded in the tips of my fingers and the cartilage of my ear like Love was a planet that we pioneered Etched into a stall, our initials already Enclosed in an asymmetrical heart With sweaty palms and stolen knives I imagined we carved in our past lives — There are an untold number of sun-like stars in the universe That bring life to planets we’ll never know to go to I fear, only there is where I am allowed to love you.
UNTITLED 1 by Julien Baker a wadded up receipt paper cutting your tongue never mind what you meant, by the material cost of loving a person I wanted you to see first me and then my ugliness and to love both without hesitation or protest but there will be no shoes on the carpet I will have to peel off my pariah layers before I can be touched my father used to ask what matters more at times when that felt uncalled for when I ruined his shirt showed up late as I swept up broken glass with bones intact after totalling a car now, maybe foolishly, i do not care enough about anything to give my joy to it
THE UGLY by Scout Kelly There is a fish in a tank at the cafe, plants spilling over their cheap containers. I don’t see the fish but I know it’s there. I hear the tank; I hear the bright orange of the fish. I can’t stop looking at the blue floor, imagining my body across it. I want to kiss it, want to press myself into it, beat it. I want to wear the floor underneath my clothes. Twice, I think, I’ve worn a slip. Once to a wedding, the other on a night that I wanted to guide home. The night was dark purple and that’s all I remember of the night. I can hear the tank bubbling and the orange fish turning over and over like it will do for the rest of its life. I can hear the blue cold of the floor and I think it wants me back. It wants to weigh me down, too. I can hear a dark purple night going wrong and the sound of the slip I wore twice. I have not heard your voice in four months, but I’ve heard many others. None of them peel me back. None of them know about the concrete floor or silent bloom of a bruise. I can hear your hands at night in my dream and your anger and the blue, cold concrete and you telling me to stop trying to break the floor with my small wrists stop, you say, it’s impossible.
WHEN THEY ASK ME WHO I PRAY TO after Jess Rizkallah by Ibiene Minah to the indented valleys in every womanâ€™s shoulder to the birthmark that has taken years to form in the basin between my breasts, a stain that rubs my presence into the ground when i wake up and have no name to call myself to the hairs I donâ€™t shave, wax, pluck or trim growing in like weeds the women in my family congregate to scheme pulling out to the spaces between my teeth, open doors to usher in my father when he returns so he is not frightened by the many ways we have diverged from our resemblances
welcome, happy to meet you, sit down to the smell of palm oil on the stove, the Holy Oil of our kitchen the god of walking barefoot to school with Ramadan sweeping through the sand the god of drinking hot orange Fanta out of glass bottles, 4 piled up sick against each other in one bed, the sweat of my lips cooling Nunuâ€™s back the god of children in bathtubs with gun barrel bruises in their forehead & armed robbers looting the house the god of the soil that grew me the god of the yellow mustard heat of where the blood that runs through my veins took seed to the god who listens to the god who stumbles across the prayers first & gathers them to down stuff their pillows so in the end it is the prayers that comfort the gods and not the gods that comfort the praying the god of my aunties accent that is so swollen with the riverbed crayfish and ngolo that fall from her mouth. we pay so much for them at the fish market. in her throat she is trying not to sing but Sirens on land have no other language but the dialect of their youth passed down like an heirloom a language i am waiting to inherit and makes all the others that have uttered my name before sound crude and juvenile
TWERKING WITH WOMANISM ON MY HEART by Mikey C. Apollo Blessed be what my mama gave me. The hips that opened like wildflowers, the seeds that run rampant while I gyrate and twist and twist and twist. Blessed be the way bodies move. The way Black vibrates like a surprised night sky, a concert hall, Milwaukee PrideFest, the way Black jiggles in front of a laughing reflection. Blessed be the evenings where shame has no name. When I am drunk off the energy, off the vibes, the sweat, the sound of my own breath.
Matter of fact, Blessed be the alcohol, for it is, in fact, to blame. Thank the tequila for the confidence the carefree burn a story to tell on a rainy day. Blessed be me, in all of my glory, in this temple that twists and twists and twists. Blessed be the Black girl body, and all that she is, in all she holds.
FULL by Tatiana Rodriguez To be near you is to smell waves crashing I exhaust myself with thoughts of you Keep your laugh on the stovetop and let it simmer in my brain Memorize how your hands look when they are still Swallow a locket with a silhouette of your profile Wear it in my stomach and scratch my initials in your back We tuck our feelings into bed at night They like to stay up and make shadow puppets They know nothing of verbal communication But maybe they should A greeting when you blink And a farewell in your voice I can’t tell when you’re saying hello or goodbye to me I hate that the only time I know someone wants to stay near me is if they are inside of me I hate that I don’t hate you When I kiss you I do it con ganas When you look at me it’s like you have knelt down in a church pew I know you are not a Christian But I can tell you know what it is to pray To get down on your knees and speak to someone who you have not met, but could only hope to hear back from You blow out the candles when you are finished and go on with your day But I cook my dinner in an oil of you Lick my plate and wash my dish Never any leftovers, I always finish what I started I keep trying to save the best bite for last but my food is getting cold Every bite is the same and I must learn that I must learn to eat with my hands less To chew slowly and maybe I’ll feel more full the next time
MULBERRY STAINS ON SUNDAYS by Summer Farah baba goes to the farmer’s market & gets everything fresh, the fresher eggs the better & i don’t like the taste or texture but when the yolks are bright i think we are okay i watch mama gently pick up produce and test its strength as she tells me she read that pesticides make fruit weak these chemicals are too harmful for our roots. i read about gaza, left with fields of spoiled roots herbicide sprayed needlessly on crops stomachs bare, water supply bare (baba, have you checked in with our family far away?) me, spoiled— indulges on boxes & boxes of the sweetest berries whose name i do not know while dollar signs punctuate my stomach my parents remember the berries call them toot & we savor this taste of the old country untainted by the fleeing tongue mulberry juice a remnant of nursery rhymes i never called my own i cannot fathom this fruit to exist outside of this home & i know it grows far away but i imagine it to look like nazareth & i know you want to find love in this land, too, want to ask these roots to nurture our roots
but our roots are dying mama & baba have four hands working as fourteen he chops & she cooks pretending to feed a family of ten jibne sizzles as they listen to music & i wonder how the mawwal bursting from the tv speakers compares to records echoing against stone walls & staircases there are four chairs at the table baba hands me a plate of ijee & even though i do not like eggs i dollop on lebane & we have leftovers so i have seconds & thirds & in our home we think we know where the mulberries came from but
i like to pretend weâ€™re pretending weâ€™re in nazareth & nothing is wrong here & 1948 is just a year & no one left & the land is ours & i know the sweetest fruit by only one name
JUST IN FROM A WALK IN THE RAIN by Christian Lyon wound down, thinking of dinner now and not any next-steps. The day was gray but tonight, I release the whirring mind and hold the moment, unmoved by all overtures and plans for the future. I am made multiple, so let me contradict myself and say the premonition came to me while passing under a streetlight, slowly gravitating the crosswalk to the leafy, relative darkness of the next neighborhood. At times, I get flashes of the future like this. I saw myself, perhaps in my 40’s, saying to someone, I really need to wind down, it will be at least an hour-long walk.
How certain an assessment I was able to make of myself, I think while my mind resists the meditation app asking me to stop thinking. As a child, you hear adults prove in just a phrase how they’ve come to know themselves. I need to take a bath with some wine, you hear, or I think I’m going to hang back a while, I’ll catch up with you guys later. An easier art, to know what you need to live well, after navigating every other way you could live it.
I can’t help that there isn’t a self-help group for bad habits of omission. Who can say why I forget to floss, to write, to text you on your birthday? They are small crimes, a commitment issue to commission. The Alcoholic’s Anonymous have a saying, I am not quitting drinking, I am just not drinking today. And so after a few days, you look back to learn with surprise that you have quit drinking for a few days, at least, but who’s counting? I listen to the meditation app in an alley next to the El. Since steps are louder than breaths I begin to count my steps as one of the trains washes past me like sound. I assign each step a number, 1 to 10, reaching 10 at the train’s climax and starting again, my walking cadence percussion set against the prolonged roar of white noise barreling by, once again reaching 10 as the volume cusps, then climbs down to nothing. The rain steady, but slow, I lift my face and welcome the present moment, inwardly smiling because a late night postal service worker is unpacking his truck 10 feet away. He receives me with a side-eye as I clamber out of the alley, perhaps wondering why have I stopped 10 feet from him in the rain, frozen on a dark sidewalk of the city? If it were two feet instead of 10, he would see I am rewinding the meditation app