Chicago Review's British accent

Several dozen listeners climbed the stairs to a second-story space above Logan Square's Friendship Chinese restaurant Friday night to hear three British poets read from their work. Hosted by the nonprofit Elastic Arts Foundation, the event launched the University-published Chicago Review’s spring issue, a 232-page volume compiling poetry and criticism by UK writers.

Bristol-born Keston Sutherland, a literary-journal editor and small-press coeditor, kicked off the reading with a half-hour performance of his poem “Hot White Andy.” Describing it as both a love poem to two people (one of them a stranger chosen at random) and a political composition, he said the work, like his 2005 poetry collection Neocosis, was inspired by the rise of neoconservatism. Andrea Brady, a Philadelphia-born, Cambridge-educated poet now living and teaching in London, read poetry that was also political, albeit more lyrical and restrained than Sutherland’s sprawling and intentional absurdity. “If anything happiness is / our common predicament,” she read from “Sung to Sleep.” “not / knowing how to live in the bulge where our lives / bottom out, unelected popular incumbents, build capacity / to make good choices from / a given list.”

Acclaimed Mallarme translator and pamphlet publisher Peter Manson, meanwhile, injected a little black humor to the evening. Introducing “Depressions Gone from Me Blues,” about American blues guitarist Blind Blake, Manson said it was a poem “in which someone blows their head off twice.” After reading a recent poem dedicated in part to singer Kylie Minogue, he offered a verse he composed for a novelist friend who’d suffered a stroke six months earlier. “She felt much better after I wrote this poem,” he offered, smiling slyly. Later Manson, a Glasgow native, took the microphone to read, at breakneck pace, “An introduction to speed-reading,” an uproarious and delightfully nonsequitur prose poem by Chris Goode, who was unable to make the trip from London for the reading. “Tip: Undertake to read the text in a smoky environment,” the poem advised, while listeners laughed. “The text will think it is on fire and the words will form orderly queues and proceed to the nearest exit.”

The reading lasted a marathon two hours. Cheering each poet and taking breaks between performances, audience members—many of them U of C students—fortified themselves with beer, soft drinks, and bottled water from a counter at the back and perused the selection of books and journals for sale. “It’s been great to meet all of you,” Brady said during her turn at the microphone. “And it’s been great to get a new perspective on our work.”


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Photos (left to right): Andrea Brady with literary critic Matt Ffytche, whose writing also appears in the Chicago Review spring issue; Keston Sutherland; Peter Manson.

Photos by Robert P. Baird.

April 9, 2007