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Performance Tue Jul 17 2012

Preview: Chicago Slam Works Presents "In Any Tongue" @ The Vittum Theater 7/21

Chicago's Speak'Easy Ensemble perform in translation with Germany's Word Alert at the 25th Anniversary of Slam at the Metro last summer.

Chicago Slam Works is busy preparing for their next performance, "In Any Tongue" at the Vittum Theater, 1012 N. Noble. This is no small undertaking -- poets have been flown in from Germany to participate in this bilingual event, and have been staying at the home of CSW Director J.W. Basilo. "There's three of them sleeping in my basement right now. Not only am I directing the show, I'm performing in the show and I'm housing the poets, so I can't get away from it if I wanted to, its my life for the next two weeks... it's a lot of work for one show," he says. "A lot of shows we did this season were really big undertakings, we're going to continue putting up four shows a year, and we're looking to change the way we're attacking them. We really wanted to make a big splash the first year."

In May, CSW presented "Dead or Alive," where dead poets (represented by living poets) competed against living poets in a performance that invoked the spirits of Adrienne Rich, Walt Whitman, Frank O'Hara, T.S. Elliott, Lucille Clifton, and Audre Lorde. If you're picturing a bunch of quiet, stiff readings from a podium, wipe that image from your mind. Roger Bonair-Agard's reading of Lucille Clifton was electric; Joe Janes' interpretation of Walt Whitman was funny, hilarious even; and Mary Fons made magic by taking on T.S. Elliot's "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock." "Prufrock" was the first poem I ever memorized through sheer repetition of reading. I've been stumped and amazed by that piece since I first read it in high school, and it thrilled me to no end to see a woman portraying the man who represents the pinnacle of English language poetry.

doafons.jpg

Mary Fons as T.S. Elliot in "Dead or Alive" at the Vittum Theater in May.

"In Any Tongue" is a different animal from "Dead or Alive," and a much more complex one. Basilo shed some light on the project.

"The biggest challenge is trying to make people understand what we're doing - so many people have never seen a multivoiced poem. They're a leap for some people because they've never seen them, once you see them it makes perfect sense. Poetry in two languages simultaneously makes it even more difficult to describe. I think most good art is that way -you just kind of have to see it." (Watch the embedded clip at the top of this article to get an idea of what a multivoiced poem sounds and looks like.)

"Subtext becomes a big deal [in a multivoiced poem] and there's no such thing as a perfect translation, the most important thing for us is to get as close to word for word a possible without losing the visceral impact that poetry."

Basilo and the crew at CSW are working with people they don't know very well in a language they don't know at all, which makes for an intense stage experience. "Most people in Germany speak English, almost no one here in Chicago speaks German...There's a lot of catharsis that happens onstage. It makes us that much more proud of the project."

In Any Tongue comes to the Vittum Theater, 1012 N. Noble St., this Saturday, July 21 at 8pm. Tickets are $14, $10 for students. For more information visit Chicago Slam Works or call 866-811-4111.

 
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Architecture Tue Nov 03 2015

Paul Goldberger Describes the "Pragmatism and Poetry" of Frank Gehry's Architecture in His New Book

By Nancy Bishop

Architecture critic Paul Goldberger talks about Frank Gehry's life and work in a new book.
Read this feature »

Steve at the Movies Fri Jan 01 2016

Best Feature Films & Documentaries of 2015

By Steve Prokopy

Read this column »

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