Wednesday, April 23, 2008


April 16, 2008

On the nobility of otters: I had never noticed before just how noble this creature is, how patriotic, how symbolic it is. Had it not been for Dave Snyder and Chris Bower’s symposium on Dunholt, I would have never laid eyes on that solemn otter in the middle of the town’s flag. Nor would I have seen the pile of ash, the drops of blood and the twin crows.

From Jill’s study of the historic treatment of women in Dunholt to Scott’s history of the flag; from Tim’s faulty dissertation to Chris’s life on the river; from Dave and Matt’s fascination with the town’s music and even to Mark’s Bush-like facilitation, the aspects of the town presented by this panel of experts kept the audience enthralled for the evening.

What I learned from this academic evening is that a town is really far more than the sum of its parts—it’s more than songs about losing things and looking for them and finding them only to thoughtlessly lose them again, or about accidental cannibalism and severed hands. It’s more than the struggles of a flag maker or of a female novelist, or the thesis of an inept scholar. How much can one really know about a long ago place? How does one really ever know a city, fictional or not? You see, a town like Dunholt is continually molting and evolving as we learn and unlearn about it; it exists only in our minds; it lives for only as long as we conjure it. A town like Dunholt, well, I mean hell, it’s not real—make it what you want.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

the four seasons: rec room's 4 year anniversary

april 02 2008

Writing about the seasons, while traditional for so many cultures, has never been my thing. When I was in grad school, a professor gave us an assignment where we had to write a poem to the prompt “autumn.” My poem began, “I have nothing to say about autumn,” and went on for about a page after that, unsuccessfully. So I suppose it’s kind of strange that I came up with the theme of Rec Room’s four year anniversary show, “the four seasons.” I was just brainstorming things that had to do with fours (four legs on a table, four chambers of the heart, the four seasons), and this is the one that we went with.

It turned out to be the right choice. The back room of Black Rock was decked out in all four seasonal decorations and balloons, along with collages of four years of Rec Room. The set list was huge. The audience was standing room only. Della sent us a raffle prize to give away. Old friends and new came out in support of our little reading series, all grown up.

I don’t think I can recap everyone who performed that night because there were so many. Our performers were diverse in their work and in the way they interpreted the theme of the night. They reminded me of what I think makes Rec Room unique: our ability to bring together so many different people who may not otherwise be in the same room, reading at the same venue, and then to give these people a stage to try out their newest, most outrageous or experimental, or even their most tried and true works in front of a welcoming and thoughtful audience.

So to everyone who performed--eric lab rat, Amber Drea (goodbye Amber, wish we could have met you earlier!), Abby Cucci and Sam Wagster, Jason Bredle, Sunny Byers, Miki Howald, Joshua Dumas, Eric Elshtain, Matthias Regan, Allison Gruber, Elizabeth Graettinger, Nina Corwin, Krista Franklin, Erin Teegarden, Meg Barboza, Nicolette Bond, David Digangi, and Sondra Morin, as well as Idris Goodwin and Mike Haef via digital recording—thank you for celebrating this anniversary with us. Thank you for making Rec Room everything that it is. We could never have done this without you. Aw shucks, "Seasons may change, winter to spring/ But I love you until the end of time..." Rec Roomers, I love you!

Dirty Minds/Filthy Mouths - mar 19 2008

What happens when you combine stressticles, Ken dolls, penis piñatas and eight dirty minds with rec room? You get Valerie Jean Johnson’s “Dirty Minds/Filthy Mouths” show, that’s what.

When it comes to what gets you up or gets you off, or the things that are just plain freaky deaky, leave it to performers at rec room to make a show of it. The evening’s performances ranged from Matthew’s novel with plushies and bondage to Erin’s online research. From Fred’s dirty joke and Sarah’s blog to the things that (don't) disgust Miki, and from Elizabeth’s Jesus poem to the sexy texts everyone sent to Nicolette.

We traded dirty jokes and personal stories till our faces hurt from laughing (or from groaning, depending on your comfort level). We beat that piñata all night till it ejaculated candy, and all the while Prince serenaded us in the background: “You sexy motherfucker…”

APOCALYPSE! - mar 05 2008

In the 1954 science fiction classic, THEM!, Dr. Harold Medford gazes upon the destruction wrought by giant ants the size of cars and remarks, “We haven't seen the end of them. We've only had a close view of the beginning of what may be the end of life as we know it.” I saw this movie at the Carnegie Science Center in Pittsburgh in 1995. The line stuck with me, at first because it was funny and melodramatic, but later because I wondered if I would be able to recognize “the beginning of the end of life as we know it.” That’s the thing about the apocalypse that gets me — the end of the world as we know it opens something completely new and unknown. For every time Michael Stipe proclaims that it’s “the end of the world as we know it,” Mike Mills’ harmonious counter-melody follows closely behind: “it’s time I had some time alone.”

Rec Room explored the unknown end on March 5th, with the theme APOCALYPSE! Genie introduced the show and explained her current friendocalypse, wherein Jeb Gleason-Allured moves to NYC. He responded by reading a story about a boy and his dad. Lauren Weinberg contemplated the “Left Behind” series, asking, most importantly, if an empire can be built out of those books, why can’t one be built out of good literature?

What happened next is difficult to explain. Fred Sasaki and Jacob S. Knabb, along with help from rec roomers Meg Barboza, Nicolette Bond, and Erin Teegarden, enacted the “End of Days…of Our Lives.” For anyone who ever spent many more hours than necessary watching the events of cardboard characters possessed by the devil, this dramatization was a must.

In the second half of the show we entered nuclear war territory. Julie Shapiro took everyone back to 1983 with audio recordings of different reactions to the made-for-tv movie, “The Day After.” Richard Fox ended the evening (but not the world) with a reading of poems.

The end of the world and its aftermath have inspired countless artists and writers. From the sci-fi classics of the 1950’s to “Jericho”, from “The Crazy Iris,” a collection of short stories and essays by Japanese survivors of the atomic bombs, to the stories, plays and poems by the performers at Rec Room, we’ve never ceased wondering not just how the world ends, but what happens then.

Out of the Hospital - feb 20 2008

In the absence of this week's Listener, please read some of the poems featured in this show

For Whom - feb 06 2008

The malls had closed. All flights out of O’Hare were cancelled. The local forecasters forecasted the end of the world (while national forecasters simply said there would be snow). Somewhere on the Kennedy, a car slid into the median. Somewhere on the streets city workers prepared for overtime. And Kyle Beachy said the show must go on.

It turns out that both the national weather forecasters and Kyle were right: there was some snow (but not the end of the world), and the show sure as hell must go on. Good thing, too, because the show kicked ass.

Liz Birch sent us a digital message to start things off. Then we had Anders Nilsen’s very touching graphic welcome to the world and the poetry of children and Margaret Chapman. Meg Barboza showed up in her pjs and showed off her lyric mastery, and Janie Porsche corresponded formally with John Donne. Lauren Pretnar shared a story filled with the fear and love of parenting. Erin Teegarden shined her red light on the age of Sagittarius, and Monica Long reminded us why we dislike Chuck Palahniuk. Kyle read a story for a woman he greatly admires. And the night ended with the mumblings from the strange and wonderful mind of Chris Bower.

Outside a fresh new layer of snow covered the soot-coated icy patches from before, and maybe the temperature dropped, and maybe the snow fell all night, but
the snow is snowin,
wind is blowin
but we can weather the storm...
what do we care how much it may storm?
we've got rec room to keep us warm

call & response - jan 15 & 16 2008

Since August we’d thought of nothing else. The MCA called, could we read there? This was it—finally we no longer were just kids doing skits in our parents’ basements; we had burst onto the Chicago literary scene; we were recognized and lauded and wanted. In our heads we imagined the cover of the Reader, no, of Chicago Magazine: Rec Room, the New Chicago Style. Or some other equally silly and self-aggrandizing headline. For months we went over set lists, read sample pieces over pizza in Lincoln Square, furiously g-chatted about the theme and format of our two-night show, something we’d never attempted before. After months of planning and anticipating, of arguing then agreeing over time limits, setting and extending and resetting deadlines, after months of revisions and fashion montages, the New Year arrived; we had a show.

January 15 @ MCA Literary Gangs
Della (all the way from San Fran!) and Erin started us off with a spoken collaborative chapbook, calling on each other for inspiration and confirmation. Fred Sasaki and Jacob S. Knabb followed with a radio skit about the new life we’ve all wanted to purchase at one point or another. Meg Barboza then reminded us why she’s the smartest woman we know when she read poems that kept growing long after having been read. Idris Goodwin, Rec Room’s oldest friend (from the very first show in 2004!) once again proved that he deserves the nickname Best of with his call to his generation. After Idris we were treated to best damn jug band I ever did hear. Ernest Legg and Brother Beaker led us through a square dance, calling out turns while Dave Snyder played the jug in the background. C.T. Ballentine then read a story about a junk man who just can’t win a junk lady with a series of ill-thought phone messages. And oh my did Sunny Byers make us laugh with her comic gold involving telecommunications, puking, construction, and of course, farts. Miki Howald sobered up long enough to read a sobering essay about the in-between, and Toni Asante Lightfoot wrapped the night up in that way only she can: with love, warmth, and a beautiful reading of poems.

January 16 @ Black Rock
OK, then we reconvened the following night at our normal location, and this is embarrassing, but few of us actually thought beyond the first night despite our months of planning. So anyway… Fred started us off—with the help of Dave Snyder (hey Dave, when are you going to come back on stage with your own stuff? We miss you!)—with a conversation about reciprocation. You know what we mean. Meg, again with the poetry and awesome word play and all those things she does so well. Then C.T. came up and gave us a different perspective on Sunny’s story from the night before—the serial killer’s perspective. Thanks Dexter @ Comcast. Sunny followed him with a kick-ass account (no, seriously, there was a lot of blood. Oooooh, blood. Shut up, Dexter) of a trip across the pond. Idris read some shit that he said was no good but of course was good, even though we came away from it with the only the word cock in our heads. Miki didn’t bother to think ahead, so she did a mad-lib with the audience. The same audience who came away from Idris’s performance with the word cock stuck in their heads. Della then read poems about New Zealand, a very serious and sincere subject which incited no big laughs, which was good, because the poems weren’t supposed to be funny. And lovely Nicolette ended the evening by asking us all to dance, or to couples’ skate, as the sweet strains of Precious Moments swelled in the background.

p.s. Chicago Magazine did call, but not putting Rec Room on the cover clearly was an editorial oversight.

metamorphasis - dec 05 2007

An Excerpt:

When Gregor Samsa woke up one morning from unsettling dreams, he found himself changed in his bed into a monstrous vermin. He was lying on his back as hard as armor plate, and when he lifted his head a little, he saw his vaulted brown belly, sectioned by arch-shaped ribs, to whose dome the cover, about to slide off completely, could barely cling. His many legs, pitifully thin compared with the size of the rest of him, were waving helplessly before his eyes.

"What's happened to me?" he thought. It was no dream. His room, a regular human room, only a little on the small side, lay quiet between the four familiar walls. Over the table, on which an unpacked line of fabric samples was all spread out--Samsa was a traveling salesman--hung the picture which he had recently cut out of a glossy magazine and lodged in a pretty gilt frame. It showed a lady done up in a fur hat and a fur boa, sitting upright and raising up against the viewer a heavy fur muff in which her whole forearm had disappeared.

rec room retro - nov 07 2007

Anyone who has spent at least ten minutes in a car with Erin Teegarden knows where & when her musical heart lies. Anyone who has spent at least ten minutes in a car with Erin Teegarden also knows she likes fortunes, signs from the radio gods signaling our futures. At Rec Room Retro on November 7th, everyone had the good fortune to experience the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, Rec Room style, and surely the radio gods were pleased, because the night was perfect. Old friends and new gathered to celebrate three tumultuous and fantastic decades of history and three tumultuous and fantastic decades of Erin.

The evening’s performers included: Avery R. Young, whose soul and lungs grow even stronger every time he sings; Louie Holwerk, or Dr. Funkenstein as he’s known in some circles, paid some delicious homage to the vivacity and sexiness of Rec Room (we concur); Fred Sasaki, with the help of trusty Jacob S. Knabb and Erin Teegarden, entertained with his reading of Star Whores; the sublime Abby Cucci, accompanied by the angelic Sam Wagster and the ever-lovely Elizabeth Graettinger, serenaded us into the break with Linda Ronstadt songs.

Hopefully everyone paused to take in the INCREDIBLE slideshow of music and performance in from 1950-1979. How could we have forgotten how hot Jimi was?

After the break, we returned to performances by: Toni Asante Lightfoot read a poem imagining the future; Meg Barboza followed with electro-shock therapy; Miki Howald broke out some “kick-ass 1970’s feminism”; Nicolette Bond read 30 short poems written from lines of Beatles’ songs; old friend Sara Zubroff did a fortune poem for Erin, then read a lovely Brautigan poem about friendship (and catfish); Nina Corwin brought us all together in song; and Krista Franklin brought the night to an end with an incredible poem by Ai.

But, as always, a night at Rec Room is more than the summary of performances. It was a night of finding rock star parking without trying, endless hugs and smiles from friends, singing happy birthday with Marilyn Monroe, and basking in the awesome talent of the musicians, artists and writers of those decades who inspired many of us. Happy 30th birthday, Erin, and thanks for a wonderful party.

I fought the law - oct 17 2006

rec room needed money cause we had none
I fought the Law and the Law won…

Dear rec roomers:
I can't tell you how happy I am that you have paid your debts to rec room society. With your honest attempts at rehabilitation and reconciliation, I think you can be released back into society at large. Seriously though, you helped us reach over 100% of our fundraising goal for the evening. And this money isn't going to waste--our next big project will be a book about rec room featuring its many artists and performers. We couldn't do it without you.
For those of you who were unable to make it, "I fought the Law" was a ridiculous--and by ridiculous I mean raucous partying fun--show featuring poems, slutty cops and robbers, stories, bondage, and the musical theft of Psychojail. It was like a seventh season episode of Law & Order, you know, the season with Jerry Orbach and Benjamin Bratt as detectives Briscoe and Curtis… Thomas Hodge read three pieces from his chapbook. At one point, I giggled while his narrator described the desire to kill someone. I apologize. Sometimes it's like I can't help it, all the violence just gets funny, like in the movie version of "American Psycho" when Christian Bale runs around naked, covered in blood and chasing his next victim with a chainsaw. Hilarious. After Hodge chilled us with the notes of both psychiatrist and narrator, Officer e.t. thrilled us with a poem about making out with the cop poet, and other interesting stories about growing up with them Indiana boys on an Indiana night. Louie Holwerk read us some work where he showed off his great "country" voice and had us all laughing at the idea of stoner ninjas. Tommy D'Angelo reminded us that yes, we want things until we get them, and that yes, it is quite unfortunate to be stoned and hungry with paper as the most edible thing around you. During the break Psychojail made one wrong move and found themselves under arrest. The audience quickly responded by posting bond, but we raised the bail to keep that menace off the streets. I mis-told a story about how I was on the Ricky Lake Show (I was, that's no lie, and yes, there was a contract saying we were responsible for the production costs--$15,000--if we were caught in a lie). Margaret Chapman listed the ways in which she totally fought the law, and Corrections Supervisor Meg Barboza shared a story about her school friends who've been in jail way too much. Sheriff Eli announced that Psychojail had made bond, just in time for them to bust out of prison for some jailhouse rock. (Oh god, did I just write that sentence?) I don't know, after BTS (he is a beautiful woman) crawled on the floor and flashed us some, the evening devolved--or evolved, actually--into a dance party. Just like every evening should.

Short Films - july 19 2006

You know the awesome thing about movies? For me, it's everything. I love the movie-going experience of the theater: popcorn, sticky floors, surround sound, and not being able to stand the last five minutes of any movie because I just drank 44 ozs of Diet Coke and it needs to go somewhere. I love that large screen and the way moving pictures (oooh, moving pictures) take up that space. I'll watch pretty much anything on the big screen, except maybe "You, Me and Dupree." Once, when I lived in Alaska, I dragged myself out of the apartment (it's very hard to do that in the winter. Or fall. Or spring. It's all kind of the same…) and to the Anchorage Film Festival, where I saw a bunch of shorts (including a really disturbing one about a sociopath and an old blind woman. Blech, that still gives me the creeps) and a great feature-length animated film called "Mutant Aliens"(totally recommended for anyone who has a sense of humor).
I also love movies at home. That's why I own a DVD player. et has thought about buying a DVD player before but hasn't gotten around to it because someone once promised her one and now it's some weird principled stand not to buy one. Anyway, this is only mildly important as I had to lug said DVD player to Black Rock for Short Films night, and it was totally worth it. I don't really want to summarize each of the films we saw, and I apologize to anyone who missed the show and therefore may want some kind of TWOP recap of the night, snark or no. Originally I had so many ideas as to what I would write about for this show, ncluding something about how in the course of 10 minutes I developed and lost a gigantic crush on Bob Rokos. I'm sorry, Bob, it's just not going to work out between us. It was just moving too quickly or something. Maybe other people don't do this, but I have strange attachments to movies that have nothing to do with the merit of movie, necessarily. For instance, "12 Monkeys" is one of my favorite movies because every time I watch it I'm reminded that I don't need to depend on linear narratives to tell my stories. Such a simple thing, but I've been dragged down by attempts to move from point A to point B when really they have no relation other than being immediately next to each other on a timeline. Given the way we think and process information, that just doesn't seem too a strong connection to me. Another movie that always stands out to me is "The Jerk," which I watched in 2002 in a time of intense emotional distress that had been carefully suppressed for months. But the moment I saw Steve Martin trying to dance with his poor, sharecroppin' family and not having any rhythm, I burst into tears and cried through the entire movie. I don't know if any work of art has been that cathartic to me. Then there's "The Big Lebowski," which, in addition to being really funny, sort of remains a cue for me to go to bed. et, back me up on this because I think it may have happened to you, but my old roommate in Pittsburgh had a habit of coming onto my friends when I brought them over. After we were all trashed or whatnot, and it was 2 or 3 in the morning, he'd suggest we watch "The Big Lebowski". Because I'd seen it 100 times, I would usually excuse myself and go to bed, leaving him alone with any one of my hot friends. The man was not shy. JD never failed to make a move (though he sometimes failed to get a positive reaction from it)! Other movies that have meant a lot: 'SLC Punk", or the story of why I left Pittsburgh; "The Little Mermaid" (I don't know, I was 12); "Thin Red Line", or, how lyricism in image works. I like movies because they are not, as my father contends, stupid. They do not dumb me down, instead they make me think harder about what I'm trying to write or create. They remind me of new ways-angles, images, voices-to approach things I already know. Short Films night at Rec Room was probably one of the best nights I've had there. It's really exciting to know that so many people are playing around in this medium, and more than just playing around, coming up with good films (I admit, it's totally magic to me). Anyway, I really hope we do another film night sometime. I think everyone enjoyed it, even if we are all having nightmares about the world's oldest boy…

Flight - june 07 2006

If you must know, I've been singing about building simple little paper airplanes since Wednesday night. That song, a lovely improv moment, has apparently taken flight (the theme of Rec Room on June 7). The reading was really impressive, and it stuck with me in a way that many recent readings haven't (this is not to say that I haven't enjoyed the other readings, it's more that flight is a concept that hits me close to home or something). Maybe it's because of the myriad possibility of meanings and connotations for the word. Among the synonyms I found: aerial navigation, aeronautics, arrival, aviation, avigation, departure, gliding, hop, journey, jump, mounting, navigation, soaring, take-off, transport, trip, volation, volitation, voyage, winging beat*, break*, breakout, escape, escapement, escaping, exfiltration, exit, exodus, fleeing, fugue, getaway, getaway car*, lam, out*, powder*, retreat, retreating, running away, slip*, spring*. Flight: possibility. Thank you so much to all the readers who simple-little-paper-airplaned their way through the show, and thank you especially to See More, not only for singing that lovely ditty, but for recording the evening for the upcoming Rec Room CD. (*informal or slang)

And to Della: happy birthday, my friend! I love that I've found you again after meeting you so many years ago in that crazy Pittsburgh place. I hope we continue to run into each other in this way. This week, when you were in the bathroom, Erin announced that the exquisite corpse poem should be about you, and although I didn't get a chance to write a line for the poem, here is what I was going to say: "Dear Della- I hope this time can be preserved, recorded to fit in your hand, replayed and remembered for when you're away." Cheesy, but what the hell.

rec poetica - may 31 2006

when i heard the theme of rec room going to be rec poetica, i immediately thought of an old friend of mine who once wrote a poem called ars poeticrap, the first line of which read something like, "what the fuck is this shit?" rec poetica, were it a poem, could start with the line, "what the fuck is the awesome shit?" this was a night of awesome shit: hits and new stuff--chris bower, della, erin, eli, megan, melissa and others read from their greatest hits while the rest of us tested out new stuff or read something in the spirit of rec room. the thing about this night is that we're going to hear it again--oh yeah, you know it--when the rec room cd comes out. see more perspective was there not just to break it down for us, but to record our voices for posterity. so if you ever check this website bobby paycheck, here's to your poem and all of ours: so you know, it's not all crap!

Battle of the Art Bands - may 17 2006

word on the street is that will oldham attended battle of the bands. can anyone confirm?

eat me - may 03 2006

by erin :

Let me give this to you straight: I’m not much of a “foodie”; I was raised on hot dogs and cheerios, whole wheat toast and slim fast shakes. In the past, my gay boyfriends have tried to break me of my bland palate and culinary bad habits, giving me endless lectures on mustard seeds and marinades, dull lessons on how to perfectly pair wine with entrée, how to make “easy” frittatas and fluffy soufflés, but these lessons never seemed to stick. I’m always back to my bachelorette standards -- scrambled egg sandwiches or over-microwaved lean cuisines.

And this is all right by me. I get freaked out when food is taken too seriously, anyway. The worst is when food is sexualized -- I often find myself cringing at birthday parties where some guest announces, “Omigod! This chocolate cake is ORGASMIC!”

Give me a break. No chocolate will ever come close to being “better than Robert Redford.” (Have you seen “The Way We Were”?!)

Similarly, I get skeeved out when food is personified. Example: those billboards on the interstate that advertise rib joints up ahead. These sweet cartoon pigs are standing on two legs, potbellied, smiling from ear to ear, wearing little checkerboard aprons and holding knife and fork while a bubble above their heads reads: “EAT ME – next exit”. And don’t even get me started on the explicit cannibalism in that preview before the movies … you know the one. A masculine, hulking Popcorn takes prim and doe-eyed Drink on a date to the movies. In a gesture of chivalry, Popcorn heads to the concession stand to bring Drink a drink …and she… drinks it, coyly sipping it and making eyes at her hero, Popcorn. BUT WHY?! WHY ON EARTH WOULD SHE INGEST HER BRETHEREN?

I just don’t get it.

Needless to say, I was expecting to have a similar reaction to “Eat Me” at rec room on Wednesday, May 3. I was expecting an uncomfortable two hours, where food was sexualized and personified, loaded up with a heapin’ side of stinkin’ adjectives.

I was pleasantly surprised, as I always am at rec room. I had a great time. Megan Martin did a wonderful job curating the show. She laid out colorful placements on all the tables, and her introductory essay provided a nice frame for the literature featured in the show. Her essay spoke of food as it is linked to human emotion, how she “reads” people by what they eat. Later, she did a hilarious revision of the words of Emily Post, inserting the words “suicide” and “adultery” to spice up Post’s ridiculously anal essay on table manners. Speaking of anal, Shawn Huelle read an essay that detailed his extremely…organized process of making, packing and eating his lunch. (After, several women in the audience reported being simultaneously attracted and repelled by Mr. Huelle's eating habits.)

The always dynamic duo of Olivia Cronk and Melissa Walker stole the show with their collaborative performance on a mother/daughter dinner conversation. (I lost it when Olivia donned a ridiculous 80s “mom wig”.) In their piece, the daughter (played by Melissa) hears the mother (played by Olivia) accusing her of having an eating disorder (“God Mom! I don’t have an eating disorder! I’m just not hungry right now! I’ve been eating Doritos all day! Why do you always make me eat?! I’m not anorexic!”) when really the mother is criticizing the daughter’s life, in general. (“I found Chiclets and condoms in your purse!”)

Other show highlights included: Della Watson’s poem about leading a (4-H) lamb to slaughter for profit, Brandon Heckman’s detailed reading of a recipe for a particular marinade utilizing (and apparently this is VERY important) aged balsamic vinaigrette, (audience members were encouraged to close their eyes and imagine making this, but because I could not suspend that much disbelief, I imagined Brandon making this for me…), Kathy Regina’s imitation of William Carlos Williams’s “This is just to say”, and the sensory satiating poetry of both Shannon Mulally and Miki Howald. (Miki handed out recipes after her reading that many audience members told me they were eager to try. She also distributed fortune cookies and encouraged us to use these fortunes in the reading of the traditional rec room exquisite corpse poem.) The night’s musical contribution was served to us by the talented ladies of Salute your Sweetheart in their haunting song, “I’ll Be Your Food.”

Honestly, I came to the show expecting to need a few shots of Pepto (or something stronger) to get through the night. But by the end, I was still hungry for more show, more food (rec) ruminations. Luckily, Megan had made brownies for everyone to take home, and I got one from the edge of the pan – my favorite. And, I gotta tell ya, the brownie wasn’t better than young Robert Redford. But it could definitely give old Robert Redford a run for his money.

wrecked room - april 19 2006

to begin with, i was wrecked. the night before the show i called erin teegarden in a panic. it was almost 7 p.m., she was late for a dinner date with della, and there i was, on the phone panicking because i was hungry but in too much pain to lift a knife and chop some vegetables. (while my plan to not have ready-made, processed food in the house seemed like a good one, it didn’t take into account intense and inexplicable hand pain which renders one useless at a writing job ((typing was totally beyond me)) or at preparing dinner. ((other activities at which i was suddenly useless: bike riding, basketball, laundry, dishwashing, and hair brushing))). erin teegarden, always breathlessly direct—often a little late—told me to order food, dude. so then, wrecked, on wrecked night at rec room (definitely wrecked—did i mention that my cat knocked a brand new roll of toilet paper into the toilet and left it there for me to discover at 5:30 a.m. that morning—after i’d already peed ((thank god for plastic bags, hallelujah))?). scott barsotti curated this show based on an idea of jen dickie’s, pulling together the wreckage of emotional dependency and mortality, of ships and records and language and lyrics. there was a lot of creative energy, a desire not just to read to, but to interact with, converse with the audience, the listener, the not-so-passive receiver. there was also the special treat of hearing della’s voice read through the mic, and not just through her trusty tape record (please don’t misunderstand, i love her tape recorder, but i love her unrecorded voice, too), and also the voice of new rec roomer, rebecca jane. beyond moby dick and captain ahab, wrecked by rage and torn out pages there were reconstructions of words and events, fictional, in homage, or not. someone later suggested that rec room do a wrecked night once a year, and i think it’s a great idea. bring us your wreckage, your debris, your chemical by-product of great effort. bring your intense and inexplicable pains, your horoscopes soaked in urine (to borrow an image from a worthier poet than i), the manuscript you ripped apart with your teeth then later taped back together in a completely new order. i hope see our wrecked faces in this again next year.

Honeymoon - april 05 2006

oh rec room, happy anniversary, love! doesn't it feel as though our honeymoon has just begun? as though we met and fell in love only yesterday? it does to me. and maybe to all of those who joined us for the rec room second anniversary show, the cotton show, the terrible toddler show.

so what's been happening for these two years? Well, old friends have moved away and new friends have joined us. words have been read, crafts made, music played, etc. we've been carving out a fanbase, making a niche, staking a claim.

i'll stop with the lists of three.

last night someone said that art without discord is art without discourse, and art without discourse doesn't seem like art at all. but we—rec room, you and i and all our friends—are overflowing with discord and discourse. we are the new ideas. we are the new artists. so now from our honeymoon we move forth into the world and learn how to live together: the artist and art, married. i hear from some that it'll probably eventually suck, that the honeymoon phase, euphoric and dreamlike, cannot last forever. well that's probably fine. frankly, with all this loving sweetness and togetherness and awareness and sleeping in and breakfast in bed and amazing sex and cuddling and pet names, i'm not getting any work done. the honeymoon is over. now let's go do something.

post - feb 15 2006

guest post by francois:

Posts. Charles William Post (1854-1914) - created Grape-Nuts, wrote and edited company advertising, and committed suicide shortly after having his appendix removed. Emily Price Post (1872-1960) – wrote a book, Etiquette, a syndicated news column, and espoused good taste. Wiley Hardeman Post (1898-1935) – made the first solo flight around the world and died in the same plane crash that took the life of celebrated humorist Will Rogers . Yes, writers and riders. On this night I should’ve arrived posthaste, because of the large crowd, but I didn’t, though I still sat. At the usual post, near the defunct bar in the back, there was post mail and literature.

  • Scott Barsotti: correspondence with the CTA regarding noise. An eventual demand for the total cessation of public transportation. Each letter falls to the floor. The dog receives earmuffs, the dog runs away, and we discover that earmuffs are useless without ears to muff .
  • Liz Cross: letters influenced by archaic/varying forms of words in the English language (influenced by French, Latin, Greek, etc.), and the pronunciation of these words, with a contribution from Alex Jovanovich. Described as “erudite.” Alex exits this performance around a third of the way through, without returning (ah, words live a transient existence too, coming and going).
  • Krista Franklin: brief compositions on postcards with a slightly acrimonious bent.
  • Della Watson and Eric Blank: tin cans, indicating distance, with muffled noises recorded in a car trunk and on a train. Comprehension is difficult, whether with tin cans or digital phone service, if the communication itself is compromised.
  • Nicollette Bond: a stirring letter from grandfather to granddaughter, or a circuitous “truth” campaign against smoking? Pro smoking? I mean, the grandfather’s still around at a ripe age despite the nicotine addiction. And, a letter from a disenchanted friend in Paris (là, au début, on m’a dit que c’est difficile pour les étudiants américains).
  • Allison Gruber: a medley of electronic exchanges (voice mails, text messages, etc.) with a comical angle.
  • Carina Farrero: one of the few letters that she has actually saved, from a friend who was moving, and it’s a good thing she did .
  • Dave Snyder: a letter to his nine grade English teacher in Seattle, who’s now at Harvard. He apologizes for his deviant behavior. Pine trees were an omnipresent corporate logo found in his school. Pine resin is flammable to the point of being explosive, but many species of pines need fire (a trauma) to regenerate (and subsequently mature). I hope this was the metaphor being used.
  • Erin Teegarden: an original poem about being with…someone. These are little nuances, quirks, idiosyncrasies embodied by an entirely spurious figure.
  • John Weagly: what happens to the sunrise? What happens to the dusk?

Krista Franklin, Elizabeth Graettinger, Alex Jovanovich, Erin Teegarden, and Della Watson all provided the visual mail art nestled in spots around the room. New attendee Dawn won the raffle – a book on ballroom dancing and two books by John Weagly. Surprisingly enough, the 90s alternative rock band Letters to Cleo weren’t included on the soundtrack.

Major Sullivan Ballou's emotional letter to his wife Sarah seven days before being killed at the first battle of Bull Run was not read by Richard Curtis.

list night - feb 01 2006

guest post by francois:

Lists1. I felt on this night that I listed. Congested2, sitting in the far back, leaning, favoring the right ear to hear the performers, the left ear occupied by typical bar activity. Disappointed, initially, that I couldn’t recall the majority of items on the various lists, and so I was a sieve. But, what do sieves do but retain the bigger, more substantive pieces? These I remember3. And the tots.

  • Manda Aufochs Gillespie: presented a list of ten (10) rejections (excuses) from a terribly unsympathetic (incompetent) publisher (publishers). It hurts but it can be funny, too.
  • Sarah Mallin: an explanation of how Keith, the boyfriend, attempts to disrupt the Chicago Transit Authority with…his saliva. Specifically, his frozen spittle expertly deposited on train tracks. Despite the consequences of a roughly 400 ton, 40 mph train derailing in a crowded area, Keith’s wish for the safety of any passengers involved is genuine.
  • Chrissy Courtney: items and abstractions, some immediately graspable and some not. It’s learned, eventually, that these assorted bits exist, on some plane, in her studio.
  • Melissa Walker: described an awkward but unexpectedly natural triangle involving two men and a woman4.
  • Dave Snyder: a comprehensive assortment of images, moments, and spectacles that conveyed the grandeur of dual symmetry/asymmetry in the world.
  • An intermission: there was no handheld glockenspiel playing a four note chime, as it turns out.
  • Elizabeth Graettinger and Abbi Cucci: lead a game of “I Never” with the crowd. I quickly understood that these were two very spirited young women.
  • Erin Teegarden: offered “Afterglow Emotions,” available for two low payments of $19.95, on two cassettes or one compact disc (shipping and handling not included). Act fast as supplies are apparently limited5. Della Watson contributed.
  • Chris Bower: a list, and it seemed dark to me. I was reminded of a slightly menacing landscape. I thought that I knew these, but not inside, in the warm.
  • Michelle Taransky and Meg Barboza: a pop quiz, Scantron style, questions asking the student to identify between pop icons or public school poets. I didn’t dare incompletely fill in a bubble, nor did I risk marking outside of a bubble. No talking. Eyes directed forward upon completion of each question. Thinking caps on. Attempts to reconcile these demands of my schoolmarms past with the same charges issuing from two young women proved…stimulating. Is it acceptable to admit that?
  • Della Watson periodically played what I assumed were excerpts from conversations (or perhaps the same conversation). Voices at a higher speed. What I distinguished was her laugh; when she laughed, everyone did. At one point, Elizabeth Graettinger read an inspirational letter (which, in three pieces, comprised the body of this event’s flyer), an item she actually reads to herself after a breakup. Elizabeth also shares this letter with her friends when they suffer a particularly onerous split (and it’s not embarrassing; it’s beneficial). Beth, the librarian, won the raffle – “Hits Throughout the Ages” and a 2005 almanac6.

Richard Curtis did not post the 95 Theses, thus he didn’t spark a theological debate; he was not in attendance7.


1. English isn’t my native language.
2. I’m mostly over it now. Plenty of rest and fluids. Thanks for your concern.
3. No specifics, only an overview.
4. I believe I have correct the number of individuals and assigned sex.
5. Yous l’avez compris, Francaise, et il me semble qu’on besoin d’interdire toutes les publicites.
6. These two items can’t be found in her school’s library.
7. Come back, Richard Curtis. Come back to Rec Room.

Once More with Feeling - jan 18 2006

All of what I admire and find interesting about covers I learned through the Afghan Whigs. In the mid-nineties I was obsessed with the Afghan Whigs. In 1996, I bought the *Honky's Ladder* ep, which included a cover of "If I Only Had a Heart" from the Wizard of Oz. Now, we all know the song: "*I'd be tender, I'd be gentle/ And awful sentimental/ Regarding love and art/ I'd be friends with the sparrows/ And the boy who shoots the arrows/ If I only had a heart..." *It's a pretty silly song from a musical. But oh my God, that song through Greg Dulli's lips! He transformed it, turned it into something dark and sexy. Imagine how, through inflection and discord and intent you could change the lines: "*Just to register emotion/'Jealousy,' 'devotion'/ And really feel the part…" * In the Afghan Whigs version, I don't think there were any lyrical changes other than one: "*I'd be friends with the sparrows/ And the boy who shoots the arrows" *turned into "*I'd be friends with the arrows/ And the boy who shoots the sparrows."* And honestly, I've always heard that "arrows" as "eros." But still, the same words, the same rhythm (different speed, different key): completely different song.

Four years later, Rec Room co-founder, eric cressley, gave me a stack of CD's from the record store where he worked. Someone had traded in their Afghan Whigs singles and eps, and eric knew I would want them. Finally I heard, for the first time, the Greg Dulli version of the Afghan Whig's song, "My Curse." The track on the *Gentleman* CD is sung by Marcy Mays. Her ragged and passionate voice gives the song a sense of desperation, of needing to hide behind one's own façade in order to survive love. I had played that song over and over upon break-ups; for awhile I put it on every mixed tape I ever made. And then years later I finally heard it as sung by the band's vocalist, and I was floored. In both versions, the band is the same. It's the Afghan Whigs on bass, guitar and drums. The tempo is the same, and I think the key is the same. The only difference is in the vocalist. Where Marcy Mays had been more of desperate victim, a sub to the song's subject's dom, Greg Dulli was suddenly perpetrator and instigator. Lines like: *"**Oh, i do not fear you/ And slave I only use/ As a word to describe the special way/ i feel for you…," *which had seemed so sad from the mouth of Mays, suddenly felt insidious and dirty. It was beautiful.

I tell you all of this to lead up to last night's *Once More with Feeling: Covers and Imitations* show at Rec Room, a night of new interpretations, renditions, and revisions. I admit that I'd sort of expected something life-changing at the show. No, that's hyperbolic…more like…inspiring. I'd expected to experience a new version of a known thing and run off so excited by it that I would stay up for the next four nights straight, just writing. This did not happen. It was a tall order. Instead, what I got was a really good time. I don't mean to put that lightly; good times are hard to come by these days. To begin with, Della's shadow puppet version of the death of Frank O'Hara and was beautiful and haunting in a strangely comic way. It made me want to communicate everything through boxes and candlelight. And Meg Barboza's cover of an Elizabeth Barrett Browning sonnet made me want to pay more attention to sonnets (this is totally true, as I've been writing them lately, much some people's alarm ((why would you want to write in an old form? Aren't we done with that? Shouldn't we be breaking out of all of that?)), and others' displeasure). I believe Robert Buscemi was next, and I can't imagine not laughing when this man performs. His sketches (covers of his aunt and of a poet) were funny and well-acted. And perhaps the aunt sketch was too nuanced for a comedy-fest, I don't know. It's sad and funny and funny because it's sad and sad because it's funny and many other things that probably don't make sense. But Rec Room, being neither a comedy fest nor a straight-up poetry reading, gives work like that a venue. That's pretty cool.

Later that night we heard Erin covering her own work when she read the revised version of an older poem. She showed us that it's possible to take a crowd pleaser and make it mean something more. See More Perspective crooned appreciatively about the joys of gin and juice, much to the audience's delight. And as uncomfortable as his previous improv may have been, I'm so glad I had the chance to experience Rich's rendition of Miles Davis' "Kind of Blue." I mean, really, how did he do that? As a child, did he sit around with a tape recorder for hours at a time, recording himself trying to sound like a trumpet or an upright bass and playing it back to perfect his technique? And that he managed to work a giant roast beef sandwich into his performance was no small feat, either. psychojail ended our evening by rocking out to a couple of tunes made famous by bands far more popular than psychojail. Still, what a performance.

So, I'll continue to write my sonnets at night, searching for hidden meanings in inflection and nuance. I'll listen to the Afghan Whigs and marvel over the meaning that comes from voice, wonder how to translate that into writing, try. And then, I'll do it again, maybe a little differently, maybe not: once more, with feeling.

total fiasco - jan 04 2006

the jan 04 2006 reconstruction room reading turned out not to be the fiasco we all thought it would be—what with the lack of planning and the vacation scheduling and the illness abounding. in fact, it seemed to have gone pretty well, broken noisemakers and all. at one point, when i blew into my broken noisemaker and it unrolled silently like a blue tongue sprinkled with glitter, a friend looked at me and said, "that's the most depressing thing i've ever seen." i told her i'd write a poem about it, but i'm not going to; this blog post will have to do. i had invited another friend to the reading as well, but he declined. he said most readings were a fiasco, and he couldn't imagine what a real fiasco would be. he suggested i read from don quixote, stop in the middle, look up and say, "and this is where i stopped writing because i realized that not only does my novel suck, it's don quixote." now that would have been a fiasco, he told me.

instead the night was what it was—early in the new year, coming off the deaths of miners just when we've been told that coal is the future of energy, right after the arrest of one of the most prominent lobbyists in washington, after a string of fatal terrorist attacks in iraq, and right before the start of the new american idol season—not too different from any other night. same as it ever was—maybe that's the fiasco. but i don't really mean to be that depressing. any time we can convene and share stories of a glorious string of new year's eve embarrassments, applaud the poetry that gave up on reason, listen to a promising dual movie review, laugh at computer-repairing hookups and suicide, witness uncomfortable improv and someone who memorized an incredibly long poem, then get a bad grade on a group project, it's a good time. no, i don't think it's a fiasco at all that we're doing what we do, whatever may be happening around us. i mean, really, what the hell else are we supposed to do?