The City Visible: Chicago Poetry for the New Century
Edited by William Allegrezza and Raymond Bianchi
Cracked Slab Books, $22.95 (paper)

In his staid 1968 anthology, Illinois Poets, E. Earle Stibitz observed that “a poem about Chicago today is likely to tell us less about a Chicago we can see and recognize and more about the psyche, the heart of the poet.” No doubt Stibitz would quickly lose his way in The City Visible, a gathering of work by more than fifty experimental poets, many of them younger academics fluent in the vocabularies of cultural theory and postmodern aesthetics. These writers are bent on destabilizing traditional assumptions about “psyche” and “heart” as they search for new, if transient or transitional, poetic stabilities. The collection intends to capture a local, urban poetry scene “in a high moment” of literary activity, galvanized by fledgling poetry presses, reading series, and innovation-friendly university appointments. Yet it also demonstrates that these Chicago poets—like their counterparts in Brooklyn or Boston—come from all over our digitally flattened earth, and are here united by a global sensibility and a desire, as the poet Bill Marsh puts it in the aesthetic statement accompanying his work, to represent “the limits of poetic structure, and perhaps, poetic imagination itself.” Other author commentaries range from enigmatic concision (“I believe in explanation but also in subterfuge.”) to dissertation-chapter overkill, and the poetry itself demonstrates a spectrum of methods and stances at once strategic and personal: Chris Glomski’s “autodialogues,” the spatial anxieties of Robert Archambeau, Dan Beachy-Quick’s sound-driven reverie, the oblique tracking shots of Cynthia Bond’s cinematic lyricism, Luis Urrea’s jackhammer haiku, Simone Muench’s redlined metaphors, Ed Roberson’s city eclogues, Michelle Taransky’s neo-Cubist re-formations of narrative. While some poems may try too hard to accomplish their authors’ rigorous agendas and others could try harder, The City Visible makes a strong case for Chicago’s current vitality and emerging prominence within the national poetic community.