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Culture Wed Aug 24 2011

Five Questions With Joel Craig of The Danny's Tavern Reading Series

craig_photo2.jpg

The demurely high-polish gem of Chicago poetry and literary culture destinations, The Danny's Tavern Reading Series has hit its ten-year mark of stand-out readings. Front man and tireless lynchpin organizer since its inception, DJ and poet Joel Craig sat down recently to answer a few quick questions about his favorite readings, what happens next with the series, and some of his picks for the best in Chicago's poetry and literary art.

Ten years. What has been your favorite reading of all time and why?

We've had so many exceptional readings, some expected, others surprising in their effect, so naming a favorite is hard. If pressed, I'd have to go with James Tate and Dara Wier. James is one of my heroes. Had I not run into his poetry at an early age, I may not have come to love the art form as I do. He opened a huge window for me. He's such an established name, a Pulitzer and National Book Award winner--he didn't have to come to Chicago on his own dime to read at a tavern, but he and Dara really wanted to. James is not a young man, and he had such a hard time seeing in our darkened space, but he pushed through with much levity. They were both on fire.

The series has been through some changes, with your direction remaining constant. Besides you, who else has been involved over the years?

Indeed, I've had several co-curators, who each bring something unique. It all started with Greg Purcell, who was always the champion. We'd met at a conference through Fence editor Rebecca Wolff, and she pressed us, as we'd both mentioned doing something like this. Greg's energy really got me going. Got us going. Two years on he moved to New York, and John Beer was an automatic choice. We'd known each other for a long time, were brothers in poetry, and three great years ensued. Alas, New York claimed another, so I asked Chris Glomski to come on board. I'd only met him recently, but I loved and trusted his work, as well as his critical mind. I thought he could push me in some different directions, and it was absolutely true, for over four years. Now I'm working with Nate Zoba, a great young poet and visual artist. We've been friends for a while, and he was one of our most regular attendees, so it was a natural choice to me. We were already talking about poetry, and by extension what it is to curate, quite regularly; he's motivated, and has great taste.

What's next? Anything you hope specifically to see happen with the series at this milestone point?

In our early years, we did a lot more experimentation at the borders of poetry, and with other genres altogether. Comic art, video, music writing, comedy, sound design, and performance, making for some wonderfully off-kilter evenings that brought out a lot different (meaning not our regulars) folks out. We've become more linear over time, and I miss those experiments. We'd like to dabble again and see what comes of it. It seems like poetry is in a place where it needs, and also is open to some direct interface with the other cultural wheels. I hope we can help to facilitate or even inspire something interesting.

Anybody you've never been able to get for the series, but would love to have read?

John Ashbery. Anne Carson (more realistic.)

Thoughts on the future of readings in Chicago, and your non-Danny's favorites?

The poetry landscape in Chicago--well, it just feels weird to say that because it didn't used to exist. But it does now, and it's healthy. I always joke there is a reading every twelve feet, but it's basically true. The salon format is always fun, and I've been wanting to check out The Dollhouse, and Good Poems. I will get there. Myopic remains that enduring way to get THE STUFF.

Image: Joel Craig, longtime organizer of The Danny's Tavern Readings Series. Courtesy Joel Craig.

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