The Guild Complex Helps Change The Poetry Landscape For The Better
On Wednesday, March 19, 2008, I trekked out to Humboldt Park to check out the Guild Complex's Palabra Pura poetry series at the California Clipper, 1004 N. California. The Clipper is by far one of the best poetry venues in town, with a long bar in the main room and cozy tables and chairs in the back where the poetry takes place. I took advantage of the $2 Pabst Blue Ribbon, but the Clipper specializes in a variety of drinks, including various martinis, for reasonable prices.
The Clipper was simply packed with people who came out to hear some great poetry. This venue competes with Danny's Tavern for having the most non-poets in the audience, and that is a real achievement when it comes to the poetry world. Who does our poetry reach when we read to the same twelve people week after week? Palabra Pura is a bilingual reading series, and the audience as well as the readers represented the diversity that makes the city of Chicago so famous. Because March is Women's History Month and because both featured poets were female, the women outnumbered the men four to one this time.
The host for the evening, Johanny Vazquez Paz, was a pure delight, as she introduced the poets in the open mic. The Guild Complex was gracious enough to let me read a poem and I fed off the energy in the room.
The first featured poet was Olga Ulloa, who was born in Cuba and grew up in Madrid. At times like this I wish I would have paid more attention during Spanish 101, because Ulloa's entire set was in her native tongue, so I can't tell you much about her passionate poetry other than that, judging by the audience's response to it, it must have been awesome. Don't let this scare you away from this series if you don't speak Spanish; the rest of the night was either in English or was translated and I found beauty in the musicality of Ulloa's voice anyway.
The second featured poet, Aracelis Girmay, came in from New York City to read. She is a Cave Canem Fellow and the author of Teeth (Curbstone Press). Her set, entirely in English, was filled with variety, including a wide spectrum of styles and subject matter, from her heart wrenching anti-war poem to her humorous anecdote about one of her students. Her wonderfully written work inspired hope while taking an unflinching look at the human experience. Her most powerful poem of the evening was inspired when people were encouraged to send George Bush a bag of rice with a note that says "If your enemies are hungry, feed them." Girmay pointed out, "My enemies are not hungry. They drive in jets to parties. They wear ball gowns.
"Next year the Guild Complex will be celebrating its twentieth anniversary. Isn't that something! I remember the first days of the Guild Complex when they did their shows in the window of a place called Guild Books on Lincoln Ave. I bet most of you reading this right now were not part of the poetry scene back then; I bet some of you were just entering preschool. Where does the time go?
Palabra Pura always happens on the third Wednesday of the month, but not always at the same venue. On April 16, Palabra Pura will be at The Center at 3656 N. Halsted and will feature Lorna Dee Cervantes and Rigoberto González. You can always check out GuildComplex.org for information about their programming. --by CJ Laity