I am now officially the little sister of Michael Robins and Adam Clay. After reading the first blog post, they teased me incessantly about how I just talked about myself. Then, I said to Michael that I would give him my password and he could blog about the trip, too. He laughed and said, “I would destroy your blog from the inside out,” just like an older brother would say.
We have become a weird poetry family made up of late nights in small towns and car rides through America and cherry mash and cheap hotels and invisible tattoos. I will try, and undoubtedly fail, to explain what happened during the “Discovering the Mysteries of the Midwest Poetry Tour.” (I just made that up.) This is by far my longest blog post. It will never happen again.
* Chicago, IL
Arriving in Chicago on my 36th birthday, we went straight to Big Star and had tacos and margaritas. Michael came. Adam was there. (See guys, how I am mentioning you?). It wasn’t their birthdays at all. I met Michael’s lovely wife and his smiling daughter and we said things like, “Getting the band back together!” and "Another margarita, please!"
Adam and I then went to do a classroom visit at DePaul University. Mark Turcotte is an old friend that I just met. We talked to a full classroom of budding poets and the world of poetry and magic. They were about as wide-eyed as owls and talked about how to make a book and rivers and changes.
Then, after dinner with Joel Craig, Adam and I went to read at Danny’s Tavern—my new favorite bar in all of Chicago—with Nate Slawson (my first favorite owl). The rooms was dark and everyone looked wonderful. I was having wine and we sold books and Nate’s and Adam’s readings were moving and swaying. Two boys came up who had driven two hours for the reading. We liked them. We like Chicago.
* Kansas City, MO
The next day, Michael and Adam and I (see, there you guys are again), flew to Kansas City. Michael was bored. Adam sat reading his own book. I was hungry. We sat in the back row and Michael is not good at crosswords. And who knew that besom was the word for a broom made out of twigs?
Fresh (not so fresh) off the plane, we headed straight to Arthur Bryants in our Avenger that would be our touring vehicle. Suddenly, all the work I had done to stay fit was undone by the pulled pork sandwich and the beer. But it was worth it.
We walked around Kansas City. All the men had their shirts off. It was sunny and Kansas City was much more vibrant than I remembered.
We went to meet Jordan Stempleman, whose book, No, Not Today, is out from Magic Helicopter Press, at the reading series he curates, “A Common Sense Reading Series.” It was in a white gallery with strange art on the walls that was about sex and repression and cultural constructs (that’s what I thought anyway), and we read our poems and people came out and we felt excited about life. Here's Jordan introducing us.
We went to Grinders afterwards with poets and furniture makers and Jordan and I talked about death for a long time, specifically this text, Philippe Ariés Western Attitudes Toward Death From the Middle Ages to the Present. This was over a fried goat cheese salad.
In the morning, we toured the Nelson-Atkins Gallery and talked about art and Michael and Adam made me laugh and bumped my head on a bookshelf. I was hungry here too. Our favorites were the Bill Viola film, the Cornell box, the Rauchenberg, and the Giacometti. Jordan and his two lovely children joined us.
They went off to see the mummy, and we had lunch with the powerhouse Hadara Bar-Nadav whose new book, The Frame Called Ruin, will be out in October from New Issues.
We want to go back to Kansas City soon and see some baseball and have more barbecue. This is a true story.
* Maryville, MO
Michael drove us to Maryville, MO where we had to pick up some books I had shipped from Milkweed Editions, because I had already sold out! (That sounds better than it was, I hardly packed any.) We went to a little local bar where later we found out TC Boyle had also wandered in to when he was visiting Northwest Missouri State University.
John Gallaher was a good and funny host who told us he was no longer writing poems. I don’t think that will last. But if it does, he'll make more kinds of art.
The crowd was kind and attentive. We read in a style we call the round robin, but I think we should call it the “Tornado!” This is where one person reads a poem, then the next person reads a poem that connects in someway with the first poem, then the next person does the same. The marvelous thing about reading this way, is that you really get to hear how contemporary poems are speaking to each other. How, even work that is in different styles is still in conversation, still probing at the truth in the same ways. I loved it. We read that way for the rest of the trip.
We ate a truck stop in the morning. My pancake was very big. After that, I wasn’t hungry anymore.
* Pit Stops
On the way to Lincoln, we stopped in Hamburg, IA to have a milkshake at Stoner Drug. I had some of Adam’s milkshake (though this is a picture of Michael's milkshake. They’ve been around for 116 years.
Then, there was the Lewis and Clark museum where the main thing we learned about was the big dog named Seaman they took with them. It was pretty though, even though it had strange signs. Under this buffalo it said, “Buffalo—the Indians four-legged department store.”
* Lincoln, NE
We arrived and immediately had beer. There were too many beers to choose from and even Adam (who is our resident beer expert) had a hard time deciding. Then, we joined our lovely hosts, Kate & Derek, who fed us and brought us to the Clean Part Reading Series where Jeff Allesandrelli and Trey Moody introduced us. There were 65 people there and we felt very warm and happy.
There was a late night game of pool where a new friend gave me the line, “the nicest pie,” and I used it in a poem. Joshua Ware bet me $20 I wouldn’t be back to Lincoln, NE in the next 10 years. I’m going to prove him wrong.
There was brunch in the morning where we laughed non-stop and I over-shared about my novel. Then, after so many days on the road with two boys, I joked that it felt like I lived here:
* Omaha, NE
We sang some songs in the car that you will never know about. We pretended we would all start smoking and never leave Nebraska. We saw a lot of roadkill. We saw some birds we liked. Because it was April first, which marked the first day of National Poetry Month, we pulled over at the Dundee Dell and had bloody marys with bacon in them, and wrote our poems.
We went to Jackson Street Booksellers, and Antiquarium Records, and lunch, and a bar, and I said, “Happy National Poetry Month!” And Michael shook his head and said, “Ada, Ada, Ada, don’t you know that National Poetry Month is a fake holiday made up by Hallmark?”
We perform for 15 minutes a day. Michael pointed that out. Just 15 minutes a day, that’s all we ask.
We met Natasha Kessler who hosts the Strange Machine Reading Series, and Dylan who read his poems for us, and we read poems, and the boys wanted very badly to get tattoos of Nebraska, but they were thwarted by a closing tattoo parlor. This tattoo still might happen.
In the morning, we had stopped in Des Moines and had pastries and coffee and we were starting to get a little tired. Then, I slept in the backseat and we arrived in Iowa City where we went to Prairie Lights bookstore. Each of us found our books on the shelves and we liked that oh so very much. We met a young woman while standing in the poetry section, and she knew my work, and we felt lifted. Also, I bought too many books.
* Galesburg, IL
The best part about Galesburg, IL is a woman named Beth Marzoni. She hosted us and I am now obsessed with her. Super funny and smart and just all around awesome. Maybe the worst part about Galesburg, IL is the trains, or not the trains, but the sound of the trains (we didn't sleep too well for the sounds in our ears).
But here in Galesburg, is where we closed out our tour to a large crowd, large book sales, and a super sad large-hearted goodbye to our tour. Oh sigh, goodbye to the fun and romance of the road!
We were so punchy at the end of the night (the end of the tour), that we could hardly remember all the stories to tell Beth, and at one point, Adam was describing something and I said, "Oh right, that happened to me too."
On the way to Chicago, we picked up the cutest hitch hiker, well we knew her and got to hear all about her projects with the Knox Writers' House. It's an awesome project and if you ever get an email or a call from Emily Oliver asking to record you, do it!
I already miss my touring partners, but luckily I will have their poems. We're each writing a poem a day, and I am fortunate to be getting their poems via email. Next, all we need is to plan a west coast tour.
Until then, it's oh so pretty in the bluegrass and oh so very good to be home.
P.S. Michael & Adam--I'm sure I forgot so much, but know this, I miss!