The Dollhouse Reading Series #6

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Poetry readings are notorious for being snooze fests. For people outside of the writing community, they can be all kinds of boring. It would be negligent of me to not make this statement. For those of us who are creative writers, we are used to the format: rows of chairs, a mic, sometimes a podium, introductions of the writers who are reading, inside voices, cell phones off.  There are the running jokes of finger snapping, turtlenecks and berets.  There is the singsong rhythmic poet’s voice, the aggressive performance poet—yelling, pained. There are cardigans and scarves and cigarettes and the occasional tumbler of whiskey. The Dollhouse Reading Series is not this series. On second thought, maybe I did see a lot of cardigans and cigarettes and perhaps some whiskey.

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On Friday night, I attended the sixth installment of The Dollhouse Reading Series. The series is co-curated by Dolly Lemke and Stephen Danos and takes place in Dolly’s Apartment in Irving Park. It’s a salon style reading, meaning really, a gathering of folks with usually a common interest, in at the very least, the subject matter being gathered for. What sets The Dollhouse Series apart from most other readings is the gathering part. We like poetry; we like other writers; we like hanging out. And it’s BYOB. The reading is casual, most of us sprawling ourselves about the apartment, mingling with Dolly’s two cats and arranging ourselves on her porch stoop in between readings. The group that gathers is a mix of Columbia College Chicago MFA students and faculty, local writers, and guests of people who are reading.

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Friday’s event featured poets Dora Malech (from Iowa City), Holly Amos (Columbia Poetry MFA Alum), CM Burroughs (Elma Stuckey Poet-in-Residence at Columbia) and Ryan Spooner (Second-year Nonfiction MFA). Malech Skyped in from Iowa City due to an onset of the flu. This is not the first time that the series has used the art of Skype. During installment four, Sarah Fox was also Skyped in due to illness.

Dora Malech read some newer poems and an assortment from her books Say So and Shore Ordered Ocean. I was drawn, in particular, to an Italian translation that left me saying: Whoa. She described it as a poor translation, one that didn’t do the original justice. I don’t agree. Not one bit. Her book is now on that obscene Amazon wish list of mine.

This is the second time I’ve heard Holly Amos read. Her poetry is sparse and physical, containing infinite threads that return to the same wells over and over again. Amos doesn’t tell you what she’s up to. At the end of each poem you are left somewhere in the white space, in between the breaths, in between the line breaks.

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Ryan Spooner’s work is involved and urgent, at times blending and bending genre. His reading presence is infectious. He paces, he sways back and forth. And, when he says, “I know just how dark a living room can get,” I believe him. I know he knows what he’s talking about. And if he doesn’t, he’s damn good at pretending.

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I wasn’t familiar with CM Burroughs‘ work prior to this event. Burroughs’ words are precise, calm, and haunting. I had goosebumps for the duration of her reading, and afterward, I immediately asked her to look over my latest essay (more like I told her it would be in her mailbox on Monday). I was intensely captivated while she read and the consensus of most everyone at the reading was that they were too. Her book also made it onto my Amazon wish list.

This is my favorite reading series, because of the laid-back format, the cats, the carpeted seating, the wine, the smoking out on the stoop. But, mostly, I think that this series is one that breaks the poetry reading mold and pushes against the traditional stereotype of what these things are supposed to be like.

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